This adventure is designed for 15-20 0-level characters or 8-10 1st-level characters. Remember that players should have 2-3 characters each, so they can continue enjoying the fun of play even if some of their PCs die off. In playtest groups of 15 0-level PCs, 7 or 8 typically survive. The author has playtested this adventure with groups of up to 28 PCs and experienced one complete TPK and several sessions with only a handful of survivors.When I first read that, I was floored. "15-20 0-level characters?" My first thought was that it couldn't possibly be serious. My second thought was that it made a HackMaster-esque mockery of old school games' lethality. But as I thought about it, the more it started to make sense to me, especially in light of my own experiences playing D&D back in the day. Nowadays, it's commonplace to reduce all discussion of character mortality in old school gaming into one of two extremes. Either old school campaigns were non-stop killfests of characters without any depth or, well, character or they were in fact finely crafted epics of song and story little different than the trendiest indie RPGs of the 21st century. As usual, the reality, at least as I remember it, lies somewhere in between.
In days of yore, characters did die in droves and few of us gave it a second thought. You played D&D for three hours and were slain by an elf? Ah well, time to roll up a new character. What's often forgotten, though, is that it was primarily low-level characters who died in droves. Certainly it's true that even high-level PCs in OD&D and AD&D were significantly less mechanically "robust" than are their contemporary descendants, so they could die, but it was, as I recall, pretty rare for them to do so and even rarer for them to remain so permanently. No, what has, over time, become exaggerated into this notion that old school gaming was an abattoir is based on the fact that low-level characters were pushovers and it took a combination of skill, luck, and referee kindliness to get them beyond that point.
In reflecting back on my old D&D campaigns, most (though not all) the character deaths I can still remember, occurred when the character in question was somewhere between 1st and 3rd level. There was the ill-named Hercules, who was slain by the minotaur in The Keep on the Borderlands and there was Father Miles, paralyzed and then consumed by ghouls in the Moathouse outside The Village of Hommlet. I could go on, conjuring up the names and circumstances of long-dead PCs who never had a chance to gel beyond being "a 1st-level fighter" or "a 2nd-level cleric," but I think the point is clear: in old school gaming, there's no guarantee that any newly-created character will make it beyond 3rd-level and indeed the odds are somewhat stacked against that possibility. But characters did (and do) make it beyond 3rd level if luck is on their side. And the fact that they did so while many of their companions did not is, in my experience, an important part of the old school experience and a major element in the transformation of "a 3rd-level fighter" into "Morgan Just, Scion of the Snow Barbarians and Bane of Trollkind." That Morgan Just would never again be in serious danger of death doesn't matter; that he once was and overcame it is the significant thing.
That's where I think the DCC RPG has the right of it. By making it clear from the outset that a player needs 2-3 characters at the start of a new campaign sets the proper tone. It gives the referee leave to let the dice fall where they may and it warns players not to expect that any given character will ever become more than a bloody smear on the floor of some godforsaken dungeon. Because of this, I imagine that any PC that manages to survive to 3rd level or higher will feel much more fun to play, even if he's not necessarily the character one would have chosen in advance to make it that far. He'll feel real, like someone with actual experiences and a genuine past -- a past filled with the corpses of his fellow adventurers who weren't so lucky. I actually think that's pretty cool and about as fine an evocation of old school gaming in a modern context as any I can imagine.