Tuesday, August 16, 2011

More Thoughts on DCC

The more I read through the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG (beta), the more things I see that I like.

I’m not talking about artwork…God no!...presentation is a secondary consideration IF THAT. There are plenty of games with great artwork, inspiring artwork, that are complete duds as far as I’m concerned. And there are other games (Boot Hill for example) that are well designed (both from a game standpoint and practical layout) that may have less-than-stellar graphic presentation.

And everything in between, of course. However, I’ve seen more than one review that praised DCC on its artistic merits and that’s probably the LAST thing on my mind right now.

[for what it’s worth, I find the illustrations in the pdf to be a mixed bag]

No, when I say I’m seeing things I like, I’m talking about in-depth rules delving. There are more than a few things that I’m really digging.

Not that the game is perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Of course not…it’s still in the playtesting stage! And the game is, at its foundation, a fantasy heartbreaker,” much as was HackMaster Basic, and that is just a no-go.

Or is it? I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Maybe I should talk about what I LIKE first…you know, start on a positive note? It’s just so hard when there are so many things that irritate me. Hmm…better get THOSE out of the way, first:

D20 Sensibilities: Look, I know a lot of people like Pathfinder/D20. That’s fine and dandy. Doing a variation of it…even a “slimmed down” version…is making a heartbreaker of a heartbreaker. To me, DCC misses an opportunity by using D20isms (like initiative, skill checks, and ascending AC).

Over-Use of Random Tables: Um…that’s it.

Over-Complicated Combat: See the first two along with the addition of crits and fumbles (especially varying by class-level-equipment).

Minor Issues with Character Creation: Discussed in a prior post.

ALSO: Certain class-related issues, specifically specificity of character background based on intersection of class and alignment, certain skills (notably thieves), certain conceits (dwarves’ “sword and board”) and certain holdovers from old school editions (like infravision). I haven’t read through the spell caster stuff yet, so I can’t speak to my feelings on clerics and wizards or the magic system.

[by the way, there are some aspects of DCC I can’t discuss due to their absence from the pdf…notably advancement systems, awarding of XP, GM information/direction, etc.]

So, yeah, you’re probably asking what does JB like considering all of the above?

Quite a few things actually:


This is by far the biggest food-for-thought area in DCC. I consider my own (not-yet-published) “B/X knockoff” games to be fairly innovative in this regard, but DCC does an excellent job even within the confines of the usual OS dungeon crawl model of “collect XP, level up.”

I absolutely LOVE the “start as Normal Human” requirement of the game. I’ve written before that 1st level characters should be respected individuals in the game world, but forcing characters to start at 0-level REALLY drives this point home. I’ve got a 1st level character that doesn’t have a single ability over 11, and let me tell YOU he could wipe the floor with half-a-dozen 0-level characters (at least!). It is so damn inspiring to see your hit points rocket up from 2 to 12 (not to mention, picking up armor and a two-handed sword), that you don’t care some other guy rolled a 17 strength for his 0-level farmer. Yeah, try to hit me with your cudgel, buddy!

I even went out and bought a new miniature for my (otherwise fairly pathetic) character.

When I played Rifts, my absolute favorite OCC (after the doomed/tragic Juicer) was the Vagabond…the Palladium equivalent of the 0-level nobody, complete with trucker cap and maybe a knife for defense. I always saw so much potential in this class…after all, it’s not like he can’t later “borg-up” or get kidnapped by spluggortha and tattooed with magic powers. I even forced my brother to play a vagabond in my original Rifts game, and he DID end up with a bionic leg…after I burned off his flesh one with a Wilke’s laser pistol.

Point is, there is something very satisfying in the idea of the “normal dude becoming heroic” model. It may be why I dig Harlan Ellison’s writings (recently watched Dreams with Sharp Teeth, and one of Ellison’s critics talks about his knack for showing the dignity of the everyday person by throwing said person into the cauldron). DCC does this in a very simple, very practical way.

AND unlike, say, a White Wolf game, this is done IN PLAY. What do I mean? Well, let’s look at WW…say Aberrant (superhero game) or Vampire (Goth superhero game): in either one, part of the chargen process involves doing a “prologue;” figuring out what your character was BEFORE he acquired “great powers” in hopes that background will give you some grist to grind in-play (angst or backstory or whatever). DCC has the Normal Humans go through their prologue in-play (the first session), which instills in the player’s mind what their urchin or pig-farmer really was like before he became badass.

[side note to DCC designers: I recommend making the “level 1” after session 1 a hard-and-fast rule. It jibes with B/X (“normal humans that gain ANY experience points become 1st level characters”), AND it allows players to get to the badassery in the 2nd session]

So, yeah…Normal Humans. That might not even be a bad house rule for B/X (making players start at 0-level). I’m not 100% there on the way chargen is handled, and I think the number of PCs each player has should be based on the number of players in the group. But it’s an excellent start.

And that’s not the end of what I like in character development. The max level 5 thing is excellent. I don’t know if the final version of DCC will have more (or unlimited) levels but I think a practical limit of 5 or 6 isn’t a bad thing at all. Do fighters need three-four attacks per round when they can do Mighty Deeds of Arms? I don’t think so. Do PCs need dozens or scores of hit points? Probably not. As I said, my 1st level dwarf is sooo head and shoulders above the Normal Human it’s sick…but I’d suspect a dragon would take him down in a chomp or two regardless (and that should apply even up to 3rd level). I’ve been enamored of the “low max level” thing ever since someone suggested using the Holmes Basic Edition as a complete game by itself (where characters only go to 3rd level).

I dislike most of the level titles they’ve come up with, but I applaud the fact they use level titles at all. If made non-alignment-specific it would cut down the number to an easily remembered number, making class descriptions useful forms of identifying badass individuals by title.


You can see the B/X roots in DCC’s inclusion of “The Great Seven” classes, though this in itself isn’t worthy of praise. I mean, it’s already been done…if my only concern is fewer archetypal classifications and “race-as-class,” I can still play B/X (or Labyrinth Lord), right?

What IS of note is the distinctions between the classes. Wow.

Each class gets a handful of unique abilities specific to their class, giving each class a very different play-style. Sure there is some over-lap, but not enough to make, say, dwarves feel like “short fighters with infravision.”

If I was to try my hand at a fantasy heartbreaker, THIS is definitely something I’d want to look at doing.

Don’t get me wrong, I truly do enjoy the simplicity of B/X character classes. But there is a lot of holdover from OD&D in B/X and Moldvay demihumans are, for the most part, simply fighting men with a couple bennies and a level restriction. DCC is better.

And it’s a HUGE improvement over D20 where classes are simply varied combinations of the same formula: X number of skills, Y number of bonus feats, Z hit dice…along with A base attack bonus and B saving throw bonuses. Aside from the different combinations of variables, there are very few class abilities that really distinguish PCs from each other in D20…especially once they start multi-classing.

Now REGARDING the specific class distinctions in DCC there is certainly room for improvement. However, some of them are spot-on. Adding level to warrior’s initiative (a la the Solo from Cyberpunk)? Genius (and only workable with D20 initiative, so that’s +1 for them). Advancing attack die for warriors and dwarves? VERY EXCELLENT…and makes “strength bonus” a truly secondary consideration in melee (while still being a contributing factor). Luck bonuses for thieves? Very cool AND appropriate…and same with those furry footed Halflings who (as described by Tolkien) always seem to possess such an inordinate amount.

And I really like linking so many of the class abilities (including thief skills) to ALIGNMENT. Again, here’s something I’ve done in my B/X-based games: linking alignment more mechanically to the game system to make it more of a factor. But by linking it directly to CLASS ABILITIES (as DCC does), it essentially provides multiple character archetypes where only a handful previously existed…that is NOT something I ever thought about, as I still associate “alignment” with “role-playing.”

DCC still associates alignment with role-playing, but more literally…choice of alignment determines what ROLE your character will play in the game!


That’s it for now. As I said, I’ve only just skimmed the cleric/wizard sections so I can’t make a judgment yet on whether or not I like their particular rules. However, I will be returning to DCC (and my thoughts on it) over the week, especially as my group play-tests further.

Oh, yeah…almost forgot:

This Rob Kuntz interview…along with Oddyssey’s recent musings have been bubbling in my brain along with James Raggi’s statement:
The answer to "Is there room for another...?" is always yes, as long as it's good enough
There are several billion people in the world. Even if I were to limit myself to just the literate, English-speaking folks I’m sure I’d make a ton of money if I could sell .001% of ‘em on a great fantasy game. The trick to it is two-fold:

- Make the game accessible
- Make the game fun to PLAY

It might offend some folks to say, but I think these are the two ingredients missing from the vast majority of RPGs. While B/X may well have met these criteria back in 1981, the simple fact that it is out-of-print greatly limits its accessibility. And many, many “in-print” (i.e. current RPGs) are inaccessible to the average Joe based on their presentation (huge books, RPG assumptions, poor layout interspersed with prose/fiction)...to say nothing of their actual (fun) playability.

DCC isn’t a complete game. It isn’t “finished” yet. I have no idea if it will be a runaway hit or a passing novelty people pick up for a week or two before turning back to their AD&D and retro-clones.

But I’m starting to feel that it’s fine to TRY. It’s not just tilting at windmills to take a swing at a fantasy heartbreaker. If you make a good enough game, people WILL buy it. Really.


  1. I believe the game will top out at 10 levels, and 6th level and higher are considered high level.

    I liked the 0-level play but I wouldn't want to do it more than a couple sessions. So many PCs makes minis impossible, hard to keep track of who is who, etc.

  2. people could probably run a slightly lower-risk 0-level game and still get the same vibe, but without necessitating as many characters. But then again, ours is probably not the typical gaming group in this day and age. Most people would be THRILLED to have our problem of "too many players."

  3. @ Fumers/Luke: I've been using max level 10 in my own designs (like the Shadowrun-ish game you folks played), but for DCC I'm not sure you need to go above 5 or 6. I mean adding a +D12 to attack rolls at level 10 makes warriors the equivalent of 12th level B/X fighters (average) or possibly 21st level fighters (max). You could keep the power spiral compact (using Moldvay-scale dragons, for example) just by capping the characters at 5 (attacks as 9th level fighter on average).

    I hear you on the "hard to track" thing.

    @ IG/Heron: Oh, I TOTALLY agree with you, and think it's great to have so many players for dungeon-crawling.

    At the same time, it sure makes it tricky to run any other kind of RPG...
    ; )

  4. Re: Artwork

    I think the DCC RPG could use with a lot less artwork. While I like some art in my books I don't buy a game for its art, I buy it for the...well, game. There has to be 20+ pages worth of artwork in the BETA. When I also consider the fact that the BETA rules, which are incomplete, sit at 168 pages I think the DCC RPG could do with shedding some artwork, especially the comics, and trimming the page count down.

  5. @ Monk: Yeah, I thought about ranting the same issue, but my post was more about what I DO like rather than what I don't.

    It's kind of weird...in my own projects, I try to complete the writing first and THEN look at adding artwork. I suppose Goodman is trying to build "Buzz" while still developing the thing. To me, this detracts from the game but, as I said, people have been raving about "the great art."