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Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game» Forums » Reviews

Subject: For the Love of Old School Style! rss

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Modocus
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Summerville
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I should preface this little review by starting with my RPG background. I began roleplaying in the early ‘80s with my parents buying me the Red box set and from that point on I have been playing a variety of different RPG, but still very narrowly focused. My main RPG interests are either fantasy, historical fantasy, or horror based. Off and on throughout the years I have always had my dice bag handy.

I decided to purchase the Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG based on the hype a local gamer had been going on about at one of our recent game days at our game club. He knew I liked old school RPGs and he thought this was right up my alley and so he was right. Last night I finished reading the core mechanics sections of the book and I am floored with what they have done. The following are my thoughts on a variety of aspects about the physical product and rules.

Book: What a hefty book in terms of size, 400+ pages of RPG goodness. The book is bound nicely and I do not see having any issues with the binding in the future. The pages are thick and the ink is very stable. Despite its size, the book is rather light.

Art: What can I say? I am sucker for old school art and this book has no shortage of art. The artwork is evocative and really captures the feel of the old school genre of roleplaying. It terms of artwork, nothing seem to be misrepresented or out of place in the book. The layout editors did very good job.

Mechanics: I really like the blend of old school RPG feel with some modern mechanics mixed in. This is by no means another OGL system like we have all seen since the invention of the OGL. DCC RPG using parts of the OGl and part old school mechanics really captures the feel through, the rules, of the days gone by with some nicely blended OGL concepts. No THACO to be found here! Instead a nice d20 based system (well sort of). The dice chain mechanic is, in my opinion, not new ground, but instead a functional aspect of the game that blends nicely. The dice chain mechanic incorporates the major +/- bonuses of particular challenge. Thereby, minimizing the majority of the modifiers that would need to be applied after moving up or down the dice chain. All-in-all I am very happy with the way the mechanical aspects of the game read in the book. I plan to put them through their paces soon enough.

At face value I really like how the magic system was approached! I feel they got it right. Magic is something that should be revered to certain extent and no two magics area alike. The concept of individualized spell signatures is really cool. The individualized manifestation of the effects of casting a spell is rather nice and really represents the uncertainty of magic. Couple that concept with the concept of variable spell effects that are based on how well the mage succeeded above the target DC and you have a system that is really cool and yet can result in horrific consequences for the mage if the power of magic is abused.

Attention to Detail: One would expect a game of this size to be littered with complexities and layer upon layer, not here! The game mechanically is rather easy to grasp, but the designers of DCC RPG have paid attention to a lot of the little details that make a game better. For example, when you drop a torch there is a percentage chance that it will be extinguished. While this is by no means a revolutionary though, how often do we actually find it clearly written in the rules without a large amount of situational modifiers? DCC RPG approached a lot of the aspects, like dropping a torch, from a realistic perspective. This is the type of detail I like and I find it sets DCC RPG apart from the others.

Final Thoughts: I really like DCC RPG after just one read through the rules. I have plans to get this to the table as quickly as possible, because I want to experience the old school style once again. I think this book and system will become a mainstay of my RPG collection and will get it fair share of mileage over the coming years.
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Damien
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Pretty much hit the nail on the head. I agree with everything you said so rather than write my own review I'll add to yours based on our experiences from one 0 level session and two 1st level sessions using the 0 level published adventure from the main rules and the Doom of the Savage Kings (DotSK).

Basically this is a list of highlights and minor concerns from go to woe:

The funky dice:
OK I'm still not a fan but I don't mind them so much now. From my "local" store I can pick up a d3, d5, d14, d16, and d24 for about $15 AUD. That's not too bad. There are ways around them but I find them a bit clunky so $15 isn't too much of an outlay and I now I do recommend them. I am still surprised how that darn d5 seems to roll true but it does - somehow ... At the end of the day you could just house rule and replace the dice chain with +/- modifiers but given the Core Rules price tag means you get a load of bang for your buck, $15 on top isn't a big deal and worth it for us at least.

The funnel system:
Roll up several characters each using on 3d6 and play with what you get. Not only is this so old school its great! I agree wholeheartedly with the rule book, you have to try it. I had one concern that given each player will have their chosen heroes and chosen cannon fodder the whole thing might become a circus and lose all seriousness. However, while there were plenty of fun moments in our first session at the expense of the characters with the lowest abilities, we didn't lose site of the horrors we faced and the mission at hand. To me it was a perfect balance of humour mixed with danger. Being a 3 player group it was decided to have 5 characters each for DotSK which meant we do have our favourites that lead from the back, but I am now rather fond of all my characters, in some ways the weakest are more interesting than those with "middle ground" or more appropriately "assigned" ability scores.
For example, we have a 1st level character whose 1st four abilities including STR are so low they have a negative bonus, but INT is 11 and Luck 12. He's called Lucky the Warrior. Twice or three times when he had seemed to have perished he made his luck roll and lived - mealy unconscious. In the end he survived DotSK albeit with even poorer physical abilities. We now want to see how long he'll survive so he has the 2 of the party's meagre magical items (we may have a third but don't know what it does). So now he is able to go into a berserk rage with our only magical weapon. Why? Because its fun. We almost gave the weapon to our best warrior but its more fun this way - as its supposed to be. Lucky the Berserker ... how long will he live?
Another example. I have an Elf and a Wizard. To keep it simple I control the Wizards while the other player controls the clerics. I have a guy called Mors with 9,10,11, and 12 for 4 stats but 16 PER(sonality) and 15 INT. Ability wise he would make a good wizard or better cleric. I didn't want another Wizard and keeping clear of clerics I made him a warrior. Due to the funnel system a +1 ability bonus is good. If you have a +2 you're doing really well, and a +3 is almost unheard of. Thus a STR 10 Fighter (+0 to attack) - who cares. We have 4 fighters one has +2 STR, another +1, and Lucky -1. Having +0 doesn't really heed you as your not far off the best guy. On top of that Mors landed the killing blow on the "Boss" monster POTENTIAL SPOILER: 3 times. Given his 16 PER, he may not be strong but the ladies love him ... So a side effect of the funnel has been Roleplay rather than Roll and play. I didn't see that coming but its so cool.

Classes:
Once you reach 1st level you choose a class. Most of the classes are pretty standard affairs with some neat twists. Oh and races Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling are classes. The only way to be one (by the rules) is to roll a demi-human as your occupation when you create your characters.
Clerics: I can't say much about clerics given the other player is running those guys. What I do know is they are pretty standard with a few tweaks. You can keep casting spells but the more times you fail the less chance your god will answer. You can turn undead but rather than waste your spell allocation on 3 Cure Light Wound spells, all clerics can appeal to their god (roll) and heal a certain number of points. They can even heal specific conditions like breaks, poison, paralysis etc - all wrapped up in the one ability - not all separated into different spells. Finally your healing is more effective on someone of the same alignment, be it chaos, lawful, or neutral.
Thieves: Mostly standard, hide, traps, backstab etc. But they can also burn luck that comes back. Any character can burn luck (reduce stat to get a + to a particular roll) but they generally have to do something grand and alignment specific to get it back. Thieves can burn it but get 1 point back each day. This plays out wonderfully in real play as luck is an important component of DCC RPG so this is a nice boost for thieves.
Warriors: Get Mighty Deeds, Bonus Initiative, Better Criticals, and get Criticals more easily. Mighty Deeds are kind of like feats (bad choice of word) but all combat orientated - blind your opponent, pushback, trip, etc. They come up quite often in combat and really make the warriors shine. None of our warriors have luck but they can choose a weapon to add their luck to when fighting if they diid.
Elves: Fighting Wizards. Mine has crap stats but is our only demi human who made it to 1st. Of the 16 characters that started at 0 level, only 2 were demi-human and the dwarf died. Basically he fights somewhere between a thief and a warrior and can cast spells. Any wizard/elf can wear any armour but armour makes it harder to cast spells without failure. More on spells under Wizard. Basically the Elf is a nice support character but given you don't choose where your stats go and an elf fights and casts spells you can easily end up with a elf with crap STR and INT. He is still fun though.
Wizards: Spell casting for wizards is risky and the system really does well to make you think if casting a spell is really worth the risk. The various Mercurial Magic and Manifestation effects (rolled randomly for each spell you learn) are a neat idea that works really well in play. They make magic more real. Rather than "I cast magic missile" over and over, my Elf says "Time for my golden Eagle to feast on the worms" (My magic missile is in the form of a golden eagle, and when I cast it white worms appear and wiggle about before dying). Every spell is indeed different. When my Elf casts Read Magic the closest creature is drained of hit points - so she has two offensive spells. My wizard has chill touch as his only offensive spell but it each time its cast it has a 1% cumulative chance of opening a rift and a nasty will appear who will either a. Beat me up, b. Take my Spell; c. Steal the souls of my fellow party members! I haven't cast that one yet - but I'm dying to. Casting spells is more fun than ever, but you really do think about it - is it worth it?
Others: Can't comment on Dwarves and Hobbits only to say Hobbits can burn luck and wield two weapons easily for some reason, and dwarves have loads of hit points. To date I think each class has its "thing" or "things" its brings to the table that keeps them distinct and fun. Are they balanced - don't care - they are fun!

Skills:
Simple system. If your beginning occupation suggests you may have the skill, roll d20. Otherwise roll d10. Any character can do aything (within reason) just some better than others. Simple yet works really well. We have used a number of skills to date and hadn't had to consult anything other than to remember occupation and relevant ability score.

Combat:
Fun. I thought Fumbles and Criticals might be a drag over time but no they're still fun. We have the tables printed on our DM screen which I recommend as that saves looking results up all the time.

Magic:
Covered under Wizards. Generally you gain spells randomly but this isn't always the case. My wizard/elf have a mixed bag but have faired well at the end of the day so it has been fun. Can always house rule if you get a real dud list but for us, playing a dud character and surviving is part of the fun. One suggestion though. I have cut and pasted each spell from the pdf into spell books for my Elf and Wizard. I included each spells Mercurial and Manifestation effect as well so I don't need to flip through the rules to find the spell result each time I cast a spell. This really speeds up play.

Judge:
There's some stuff on travel and henchmen but we haven't needed those to date - pretty standard stuff though. There are also Judges rules for various stuff that again hasn't come into play other than Patrons and Luck. All Elves have a patron that they can invoke (call, roll, and gain a magical effect - if willing to risk/sacrifice) and some wizards eventually gain a patron - mine got one at 1st level. They have several examples in the book and all look fun. Both my Elf and Wizard have King of Elfland has their patrons and just the other day my wizard invoked the King of Elfland to go back in time but the cleric didn't listen to him ... that's anoyther story. I would like to see more example patrons because I am (will be) a lazy DM but what is there should be enough for a while.

Monsters:
There is a monster list and I have only seen it from the players side of the screen but suffice to say my play experience has been great. Every encounter we have had no real idea how powerful our opponents are and what tactics to use until the fight is underway. This adds great tension during combats and the rules encourage this with words to suggest things like every orc shouldn't be the same (or why even have orcs).

Summary and Qustions:
OK so play has been fun. Great fun. I, like several others have mentioned in various reviews I have read, haven't been this excited about a RPG for ages. I can't recommend this game enough to anyone but especially anyone who has or thinks they want to play an Old School D&D type fantasy game. DCC RPG is a hoot! To date the only things that have come up are some areas of the rules are not so clear on the first read but the Goodman forums answer most of these questions. A lot of these come up because we're stuck in 3.5E or 4E mentality. For example:

Initially we didn't know if clerics choose spells each day or are stuck with what they choose or roll. We went with choose four appropriate to your god.

How far does a lantern/torch shine? Not in the rules but research shows it wasn't in the original rules or at least was vague - this is Old School so make it up, house rule it, change it, whatever works.

You can charge but is it part of a move action? We have said you can move, and then move again finishing with the charge effect (roll to hit) so you get an attack at the end of two moves - a bit 3.5 ish but seems OK. Otherwise warriors (in armour) can generally only move 25 feet then attack or move up to 50 feet with no attack.

Luck - still need to answer this: can you burn luck to save your life? By the rules a character is dead unless healed within x round of going to 0 hit points, where x is his level. Price is you loose 1 point of STA(mina) permanently. If you die (aren't healed in time) you can try and roll under your luck and still be alive (I wasn't dead, I was just knocked out). You pay the price though of one of your 3 physical abilities being permanently reduced by 1 (STR, STA, or AGI(lity)) To date we have allowed luck burn to save our skins and in doing so not one character died in DotSK. However the Elf now has a STA of 5 (from 8) having been bleed out (healed within 1 round) twice, and used luck once. The Blacksmith thief has managed to roll 3 times under his luck to stay alive but is less physically able because of it. Lucky has also managed the feat once or twice. So while we seem hard to kill, we realise luck has been a factor, but also we are less capable now having lost ability scores to live. Another couple of adventures like that and my Elf won't have enough STA to walk. So burning Luck to stay alive seems reasonable and luck burnt is permanent unless you're a thief or hobbit - so thieves may be really hard to kill ...

All in all very few questions have come up during play. Nothing like playing 3.5E or 4E where the rules were constantly open in the first few sessions.

If this sounds like the kind of game for you I definitely recommend go ahead and try it. If like me the funky dice bother you - ignore them - play the first session without them - you will only likely need a d16 and d3 in the first session so use d6 and a d8/d6 combination to do those. Certainly for me this is the best thing since, well, since playing Blue Book D&D when I was 10.

One line summary:
A great game that brings back the old school feel with simple rules that encourage roleplay over roll play and no matter what happens its always fun.
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