Thursday, June 14, 2012

DCC RPG and Me

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I've joined a regular Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game group on Thursday nights, playing via Google+ with Jason Sholtis and Will Douglas as my (regular) fellow adventurers and Shawn Sanford as our Judge. Shawn started us off with the recently-released 0-level module, Sailors of the Starless Sea, so we all generated four new characters. I elected to use the awesome online character generator over at the Purple Sorcerer Games website. This resulted in my playing a healer named Dalmas (with 8 Stamina), a merchant named Fortin (with 16 Intelligence), a hunter named Marin (with 6 Personality), and a smuggler named Talon (with 16 Luck and a +2 bonus to missile fire damage rolls). My compatriots were a similarly motley collection of misfits, the two most memorable being a disbarred elven barrister and a ditch digger named Joe.

Like the Zocchi dice, I've heard a lot of complaints about the fact that DCC RPG expects a new campaign to begin with a ridiculously large group of 0-level characters (four per player), all of whose attributes -- from ability scores to occupations to starting equipment -- are determined randomly and whose chances of surviving the "funnel" are slim. DCC RPG assumes that player characters are not born but made in the fiery crucible of their first adventure. It is expected that each player will lose one or more of their initial four characters and that it is one of the survivors (if any) who will then become the player's character thereafter.

It's an admittedly unusual approach and one in sharp contrast to the ever-increasing resilience of characters in Dungeons & Dragons over the years, but I have to say it works for me. Over the course of our sessions thus far, watching these 0-level nobodies try to win using the stacked deck placed before them has been remarkably enjoyable. Our first combat began as a decidedly Keystone Kops affair and I fully expected our little band to be slaughtered. But that's not what happened. Instead, a string of lucky rolls made several characters, including my hunter and smuggler, start to look competent and we survived without a single fatality. This emboldened us to venture further into the abandoned keep whose tower was reputed to hold forgotten wealth and whose walls might hide the answer to the riddle of why so many inhabitants of the village below were disappearing.

Our second combat didn't go as well for us; one of our number died, cloven in twain by a beastman's axe. Thanks to some well thrown flasks of oil, the rest of us managed to survive, though, simultaneously fearful of the dangers within the keep and all the more curious to take them on. As fragile as we knew we were, we made use of stealth, guile, and cowardice to proceed without endangering ourselves any more than we had to -- and it was fun. 0-level PCs have no classes. They have little money and thus little gear. We had no magic or healing at our disposal. All we had were our wits and luck to rely upon, resulting in a session that was both tense and lighthearted at the same time. Subsequent sessions have proven just as delightfully tense, including our most recent one where we lost several characters to a tentacled beast in an underground lake that initially seemed impervious to our attacks.

I'm really enjoying DCC RPG. I look forward to playing each Thursday night, which probably says as much about the Judge and my fellow players as it does about the game. But I am finding the game a great deal of fun and that's no accident. I think DCC RPG works so well for me because it's very clear about what it is and what a player can expect from it. For example, by making each player roll up four characters to start, it highlights in big red letters that this is a game where characters die. A lot. Consequently, players quickly come not only to expect random, senseless death but even enjoy it, much in the same way that I've noticed veteran Call of Cthulhu players come to expect and enjoy the inevitable insanity and/or grisly deaths of their characters.

That said, DCC RPG isn't for everyone and I can easily imagine that not every gamer will find it as enjoyable as I have come to. It's a very specific kind of game with a very specific style. If you're not into that style, you won't have any fun with the game. That's not a fault of the game nor is it a fault of the gamer and I think that it's important to realize that. Not every RPG is written for every player. As niche entertainments, I personally think RPGs would be better off if they weren't designed with the frankly implausible goal of attracting a huge audience. That's just not going to happen in 99% of the cases, so it's foolish to assume otherwise. Make the game you want to make and let it find its own audience; that's the mantra I'd prefer RPG designers followed. It won't result in many (or any) games that everyone will enjoy, but it will result in many more games that some people will enjoy, which is far preferable in my opinion.

39 comments:

  1. Rolling up four characters at once reminds me of Dark Sun, except you don't play them all at once.  Maybe they should have made it that way....

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  2. I've been reading the low level adventures and, other than the occasional roll on a table, they seem like they'd work just fine in regular ol' D&D. I think that, just like The Enemy Within set the tone for the WFRPG, that these low level adventures will set the tone for the DCC RPG more than any instructions in the rulebook itself. 

    The game has some dark humor aspects to it and I was wondering if you could play up those aspects by using adventures from Hackmaster 4e. That game promised lots of character death but their way-to-long character generation system and 20 hit point bump sabatoged that goal. 

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  3. I like the funnel a lot, but having run Sailors four times now, and a smattering of other 0-level mayhem, I think it's possible to outstay it's welcome. The Funnel is absolutely brilliant for introducing new players to the game as you can improvise an adventure really, really easily. 

    I'm putting together my first homebrew adventure for this Sunday (my birthday!) and some haven't played DCC yet, but I'm going to start them at level 1. They're going to roll four characters and pick the two who survived that adventure.

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  4. Good insight, and I can appreciate the comps to Call of Cthulhu.  I don't have DCC RPG yet, will get it either at or before GenCon, but I'm really looking forward to the finished product.

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  5. I agree that DCC is a "style" thing and it's not for everyone. On the other hand, I've also found that most people who don't like DCC also seem to be the folks who have never played it. They object to the dice and tables and stuff like that, but once they play the game most of those objections seem to die out.  :-)

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  6. I might quibble about it's Appendix Nishness, but that's ok. Elements that make a game more enjoyable and satisfying always trump literary emulation and I think the funnel does that it in spades (metaphor belabored). 

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  7. DCC is the only game to come out in the past few years that I actually want to play. True story.

    Perhaps it's because it doesn't try to emulate anything specific, instead "finds an audience", unlike the numerous OSR efforts out there that duplicate D&D. Or maybe it's because I'm a sadistic bastard and cannot wait to run it.

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  8. It JUST struck me. DCC is fantasy-genre Paranoia. Six clones (or four PCs) to begin with, 'cause you WILL be dying off during the game.

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  9. I think the idea of the funnel and excessive early character death works well in DCC RPG because 0-level character creation is painless. The (amazing) generator you mention literally takes seconds to run. I think the blood bath would be harder to bear if you needed to spend a half hour (or more!) rolling up another batch of characters.

    The book itself is pretty inspiring, even if you don't end up playing the game. There are lots of ideas. It reads like a call to action.

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  10. I think all the character death that starts a DCC RPG campaign works because 0-level character creation is so painless. (With the generator it's basically a couple seconds and you are good to go. Picking your character names would probably be the slowest part of the process.) In other systems the blood bath could get tiring quickly if you are constantly stopping play to roll up some new players.

    DCC RPG is pretty inspiring. The book itself is a serious call to action.

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  11. I agree with the two above comments.  0-level play has set the tone and reputation of the game, but I've been playing it as a straight D&D game, albiet one wherein magic spells are super unpredictable.  I think as people play the leveled version of the game the magic system will set its own tone.  Lots of fun.

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  12. I remember reading somewhere that medieval flasks of oil did not burn at a very high temperature and probably would not have been effective as incendiary molotov cocktail type devices.

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  13. I've been inspired by the DCC adventures I've read so far.  "Sailors..." and "People of the Pit" are excellent - thoroughly enjoyable and very evocative. I may never get around to running DCC, but I'd happily use the adventures with B/X or 1E.

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  14. I miss your Dwimmermount posts.

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  15. I agree the easy adaptability of adventures to other 'old school' systems is a real plus, because the focus of future releases is all on adventures, not additional rulebooks. And as you note, the adventures are strong (I really liked "Doom of the Savage Kings" as well), with a very cool vibe.

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  16.  Have you played it? It plays nothing like Paranoia. The characters aren't disposable like that. I'll put it this way: in Paranoia, when Bob 3 gets his mandatory ceremonial clearance badge caught in the paper shredder, misidentified by the Computer as confidential, and pulped, it's funny.

    In DCC when Blisters the leprous halfling dies trying to silence an ogre's guard sheep, he gets his name carved in stone by the village mayor/stonemason.

    Okay, its funny...but it's meaningful.

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  17.  Honestly, you are less than 10 pages of rules from playing DCC. Just overlay them on b/x, toss out the few B/X differences and follow the character generation of DCC and the funnel. The twist on magic (unpredictable), pc development (survival of the meekest) and local (medieval fantasy adventures are nearby) is well worth it. XP is a snap.

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  18. Wow, I've never branched from OD&D much. (Have never needed to, I've enjoyed it so much.)  This is probably the only tidbit about another game system that tempts me to pretty much even buy another system.
    I like the flavorful, simple backgrounds you outlined above.
    That concept of having 4 characters steers away from the video game mentality, to a degree, where even if you die a lot, you never really die. (Reminds me of DM'ing and watching playes play humanoids from "GAZ10: Orcs of Thar."  PCs had to be really resourceful, and appreciate all the tidbits of equipment they could get.)

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  19. Sometimes, you gotta let go.

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  20. There may be more in store, since I began a new campaign last weekend, but I want to wait till the second session to see if it "takes" before committing to reporting about them.

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  21. It sounds like a low level 1st ├ędition Warhammer FRPG game...

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  22. I miss Petty Gods.

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  23. How can you miss something that's never been out? :)

    It's next in line after Dwimmermount. I'm sorry it's taken so long, but this will be a freebie, which means it'll always get bumped by work for which I and anyone else involved are remunerated. Finding a way to get this out without spending any money is harder than you'd think.

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  24. I am going to try and get DCC this weekend during free RPG day at my FLGS. I really love the tone and I look forward to playing it at some point.

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  25. Thanks for the shout out about the character generator James.Just checked my logs: 10,000+ plucky peasants created since you linked. Grognardia gamers are active gamers.
    :)

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  26. I really wanted to like DCC when I first saw it. It seemed to hearken to everything I love about Appendix N gaming, but after delving into the rules a bit, things started to bother me.


    Things like the new abilities (luck as an ability? What happened to the dice as an arbitrator of luck?), weird exploding dice mechanic (still don't really get that), incomplete list of content (too much world-building overhead) , and worst of all it's a D20 based system. Calling DCC a game that hearkens back to the old-school and still relegating all non-combat encounters to dice rolls really is a deal-breaker. Player skill over character skill is the very heart of classic D&D, why, oh why did they decide to go with the terrible D20 skill system???


    I also don't really like the "gauntlet" thing or whatever they're calling it. Why must I spend my first gaming session killing characters off for no other reason than an excuse to call this game, "really hardcore!". What's wrong with simply rolling a character and playing him? If he dies, he dies. Roll up another. Not hard folks...


    It seems there is simply too much here that adds to the old-school game for no real good reason. I don't like games that do that. I hated Castles & Crusades for turning classic D&D into a D20 system (read: character skill) too.


    Now, Stars Without Number - there's a game to be proud of for living up to 1E's name.

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  27. Meh. I admire them for creating a vision and sticking to it, it's just not a vision I care to play in anymore.

    To me, if you want to point up a flaw in newer school D&D (from 3.0 on, really), the problem isn't too powerful characters at lower levels, it's the fact that after several levels the PCs begin to resemble Greek gods in terms of power (and capriciousness, but that's for another comment). In most of the old school games I've played of D&D back in the day or more recently, 1st Level characters are underpowered, as I'm afraid that a lot of "old-school" GMs I run into these days seem to think running Old School D&D means that a Call of Cthulhu game breaks out in the middle of a 1980's era dungeon crawl.

    The start at Level 0 thing is a cutesy, one-time maybe thing as an option (and I have gone there before, for one shots, primarily)...would I want to go there, or run a game where I have to tell the players that there's an even or better chance you're going to die in your first adventure but that's good because that's how your real characters are forged? My players would be firing me as a GM and planning on running a newer version of D&D, or another system rather than play this.

    Between this and the having to pay Lou Zocchi blood money for his heavily overrated (and overpriced) dice? I'm out on this, however gorgeous the book is.

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  28. Well...I would have to say you opinion is just that: opinion. Nothing you have said shows any faults with the system. Just things you "Don't like" or Weird".

    Personal preferences doesn't mean their is fault within the system.

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  29. I'm not without experience in this arena.


    Anything I can do to help?


    Unknown and Petty Gods are the foundation of my campaign.

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  30. when running the playtest for DCC, I had a blast. I didn't know how my players would like it, we played up to level 3 and then got side tracked by something else (Encounter Critical possibly) and never returned. The other day, my most "new school" player said, "What was that game we played? I had 4 PCs and two died in the first 30 minutes? Yeah, that game was so cool!" So I guess I will be looking for a copy of DCC!

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  31. yep!my kind of game!!

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  32. DCC RPG does not use an exploding dice mechanic.


    DCC RPG does not have a d20-based skills system. The skills chapter is only 2 pages long to deliberately highlight that skills are based on player decision-making, not dice-rolling.


    Check out an actual session at a local con or game store. I think you'll find the game plays very differently than you think!

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  33. Keith StricklandJune 15, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    Unfortunately my gaming group hated the 0-level funnel and don't want to play DCC again. :(


    While it is an interesting approach (and fun to GM IMO), I think it gives players new to the game the idea that being low powered cannon fodder is what the game is all about. If I ever get a chance to run it again I think I will just have them make up one or two first level characters and go from there.

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  34. How COOL would it be, James, if Petty Gods was DCCRPG compatible?

    It could be the perfect synergy.

    Those tables involving "Invoke Patron" (on page 322) would totally rock when combined with the tone you've shared from Petty Gods.

    Wow.

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  35. Funky dice, exploding dice, whatever they're called:
    d3, d5, d7, d14, d16, d24 and d30. Why are these needed? Seems like more added novelty for the sake of adding novelty.


    I disagree with you about the D20 skill system. The game is explicitly advertised as being a D20 encounter system. In other words, skills are not class based like 1E D&D.


    The beauty of AD&D was the fact that (if you were going by the rules), only certain classes could roll for skills which they had. A fighter could not roll on the thief's climb table - which meant he was forced to use player intuition and role-play to get past such challenges. There was no cheese or cop-out where he could say, "well I'll just roll the die this time", like you can do in DCC. DCC may suggest you use player skill first, but they haven't outright banned dice rolling for certain skill tasks as they did in 1E for certain classes. There's an enormous difference there.

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  36. First off, thank you for the kind words, James. I'm having a blast as well.

    In response to the comments, it seems that critics of DCC generally focus on one part of the game (the funnel), and completely ignore all the other cool stuff it brings to the table. The funnel happens once per campaign. After that, your 1st level PCs (forged in blood and not min maxed like a tax form) have an arsenal of coolness at their disposal: mighty deeds of arms, mercurial magic, patrons, a "burnable" luck stat, sub class differentiation due to alignment, spellburn, corruption, crit charts, fumble charts, spell duels and counter-spells, divine aid, etc, etc.

    As for the dice, they are completely optional. All of the funky dice can be replicated with regular polyhedrals or you could use one of the ten bazillion die rollers available online. Many also complain that the dice are just a gimmick. In a way, they are, but really, aren't all polyhedral dice a gimmick? Nevertheless, the funky dice in DCC are used for what they call the dice chain. This is another tool for the Judge to modify die rolls. For example, a particularly advantageous situation may move you up the die chain (e.g. from a d20 to a d24), while a disadvantage may cause you to move down the chain (d20 to a d16).

    I agree that DCC isn't for everyone, but I get tired of people dismissing it outright because of the dice or the funnel. Give the game a try and see what you think. Don't like the funnel? Start PCs at first level. Don't like the dice, use your old dice or one of the online tools.

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  37. Wasting loads of sketchy 1st level characters just beacuse it's more "realistic" or "hardcore" that way? I just don't get it either...

    Recently we played a session of Anomalous Subsurface Enviroment using Labyrinth Lord rules. The module lagged behind my expectations a lot (killing robots in a room, then lion-headed generic monsters in another isn't my idea of a grand adventure), and decimating clueless losers as adventurers was just tedious. Watching one sucker buying the farm after another in various senseless accidents may be fun in a parodistic way and for a very short while, but the joke gets old real fast.

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