Tuesday, June 10, 2014

On Dungeon Crawl Classics

I've been reading Dungeon Crawl Classics lately. I looked into it when it first came out and (at the time) found it wasn't what I needed at that moment....but time has a way of changing one's perspective, and after my recent B/X D&D binge I decided to give DCC another look-see. Glad I did; I secured a copy of the Easely cover edition with the art insert, and a couple modules (with a bunch more on the way). I also recently snagged DAMN! issue one in PDF and the first two issues of the Crawljammer fanzine in print (still not sure how to get my PDFs, need to ask), which really is a weird blast from the past.....I was "cutting edge" in the world of fanzines in the 80's and its really interesting to see the form come back into existence. Tempting me to try my hand at it again.....no! That way lies madness. I'll stick to the blog. Still.....

DCC is probably a familiar game to most bloggers and blog-perusers in this neck of the woods, but if by some miracle you are not familiar with it, here's six points worth noting about the game:

The Weird Dice: You probably know it has weird dice. It also has conversion notes for how to play without them in case that's not obvious. However, I discovered that this guy sells DCC dice sets and so there you go (I plan to order a couple sets).

The B/X Classes: DCC uses B/X styled classes, at least at the core. So elf, dwarf and halfling are races. This is something I was not keen on until the last year or so when my mind about this gradually shifted from one of intense dislike at the concept (dating back to 1981 when I hated the concept even more) to a weird sort of acceptance.

The Crazy Random Spell Effects: DCC is nothing if not determined to make every potential spell cast a deadly or weird event if you don't do it right...or luck is not with you. This is pretty much half the book; spells and their enormous, sometimes complicated, always interesting unintended side effects and escalating craziness based on how good (or bad) you roll. The first time I saw this I thought it looked like work. With my more recent reading I realize it's a stroke of evil genius.

An Effort to De-Typify Monsters: There are a fair number of standard monsters in the book, but DCC makes a special effort to randomize whenever possible, or provide suitable direction on how to make every humanoid, demon, dragon and other weirdness just a bit hard to identify, or unique in its own right. This is part of the philosophy of making the game feel "new" in the sense that it works to defeat player expectations that they can identify and type/categorize creatures.

Appendix N as the Weird Fantasy Mashup Genre: This is what D&D would have looked like if Appendix N was gospel rather than just an interesting reading list of fiction at the time. A lot is made about Appendix N from the original AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, but one thing which is often overlooked is that back in 1978 there wasn't nearly as much constant, never-ending output in fantasy and SF as there is today. For this reason many people interpret Appendix N as some sort of holy grail as to what AD&D was defined by, and they are partially right in so far as when you look at the broad swathe of fantasy fiction in the 1960's and 1970's Appendix N isn't a niche corner of that selection: it's a good representative sampling of everything that was available. Indeed, one could argue that if Appendix N was meant to be the "special secret sauce" tp AD&D then you could learn just as much about what AD&D was not by looking for fiction from the time period that was excluded from the list. But here's the catch: it really wasn't "all that was D&D" for the time, it was an example of what Gary Gygax liked, and what inspired him; but I like to think he realized his game was bigger than just him, just Appendix N, and all that....and also that Gary in all likelihood never stopped reading fantasy fiction...right? So from a D&D historical perspective Appendix N is an interesting myth and parable of how someone can historically go back and find greater meaning in something than perhaps was relevant at the time the subject was young and new.

So what does that have to do with DCC? Well DCC is what I would call a alternate history D&D in which AD&D was built specifically to emulate Appendix N, by someone who specifically called out the most delineating features of weirdness and the exotic from the tomes on that list. It's a fascinating study in just what D&D could have looked like if it had been bult from the ground up to be a sort of 60's/70's weird fantasy genre mashup emulator specifically aimed at drawing out those tropes, and not what D&D actually was: a wargame turned into the first RPG with an effort to encapsulate fantasy fiction in a broad manner which allowed for a wide array of interpretations (for the time).

Anyway, the thing about this is that it makes DCC a very interesting modern variant on D&D. DCC is D&D viewed backwards in time through the lens of a modern viewer, who is seeing fantasy that was once the default, the norm....and realizing that in the last forty years we've moved quite a distance away from it all, such that an artifact like Appendix N now stands out as a unique benchmark of something that while unique today was at one time "no big deal" if you will (other than that between the age of 10 and 14 I used that list in the DMG to read every book I could get my hands on by every author on the list....)

The Modules are Great: I love the DCC modules I've read so far, and I also like that I think I could port them over to pretty much any variant of the game (and if I don't actually get to run DCC I will almost certainly adapt the modules to either D&D 5E or Pathfinder). I'm not a big fan of most modern modules....but DCC's style hits the right spot for me. If you never buy DCC the game, at least look at the modules.

About the only thing I don't like so far in DCC is that damned warrior in his bell-bottom striped pants. What the hell....I may have been a kid in the 70's, but I don't recall anyone actually liking bell-bottoms. Some fashion trends need to stay buried in the dungeon.....


  1. I highly recommend you check out the Spellburn podcast, and the Iron Tavern actual play podcast. Both are excellent.

    1. Thanks for the tip! I will check it out. DCC is proving to be dangerously compulsive for me.