About a year ago, I purchased a PDF of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. I was in the main throes of returning to the hobby and had a voracious appetite for D&D and it’s family tree of d20 systems.
As you would expect though, there was no way I could play all of these systems and DCC didn’t get much beyond a cursory glance. Partly this was because, while PDFs are great for introducing you to a system, they are less useful for just general browsing. I’m also a sucker for a hard back book – a physical object. DCC remained in my digital library. Every so often I would search eBay or Amazon for a physical copy but it was either out of print or only available from US sellers where the postage cost exceeded the actual cost of the core book.
Last week I casually checked eBay and found that not only was there a split new copy available but it was located only about 30 miles away in Falkirk. The purchase was made.
Firstly, I want to outline what this review isn’t. It’s not a review of game mechanics (although I will touch on a couple of high level concepts I found interesting) nor is it based on any experience of game play.
Where do I start. Probably from the beginning.
It’s a big book. It’s chunky and runs to 480 pages. It’s a beautiful thing. An incredibly retro feel cover design and thick, high quality paper for the pages. It also has two placeholder ribbons which is something I first encountered with the Call of Cthulhu core books and now wish was incorporated in every RPG book I own. The provision of two ribbons is very clever though. After all, who needs to bookmark just one section of an RPG book?
When I first got into gaming 35 years ago, it was because I was given a copy of the Moldvay D&D Basic boxed set (which I still own to this day) as a gift. From then on I pretty much exclusively played B/X D&D before jumping to 2nd Edition in the late 80s. And I loved it. It filled my every waking hour. I’d draw monsters, weapons, armour and helmets on every spare inch of my school notebooks. I was obsessed.
What really drew me in was the incredible artwork of that era. Erol Otus, Jeff Easley, Jim Roslof among others. When the DCC RPG core rulebook arrived, the thing that really struck me was that almost every page is beautifully illustrated by these self-same artists. I immediately felt drawn back to my youth. I was 13 again. And it felt good. The artwork and the feeling it generates within you is worth buying the book for alone. It really reminded me of why I was drawn to RPGs in the first place, way before the days of complex rules and glossy campaign setting books.
DCC heavily promotes the classic dungeon crawl era of tabletop RPGs (it’s in the name after all). Most of the published adventures seem to start at the dungeon entrance and events within aren’t confined by such things as logic and story arc. The very kind of dungeons I liked (and created) when I was a boy. It’s unashamedly old skool. Old skool mechanics have always discouraged me from returning to those early systems though and it’s refreshing to see that DCC has managed to keep the old skool feel while implementing d20 system staples such as ascending armor class and skill checks.
So, after first reading, what is different about this than other RPGs on the market today?
The main things to jump out at me are:
- The Funnel – where everyone rolls up and plays around 4 characters of level 0 in a meatgrinder adventure. Many will die. Those who remain go on to become fully fledged adventurers. Nice idea. I’m not sure how it will play in reality with each player managing 4 characters but it sounds good in principle. You start with a random occupation such as ‘Farmer’ and have to become a hero, creating your own backstory as you go.
- Race as Class – You can be a Cleric or a Dwarf. But not a Dwarf Cleric. This is true to the D&D I grew up with. It seems restrictive at first glance. In reality though I think we are all guilty of restricting our races to certain classes anyway (who regularly creates a Dwarf Warlock for instance?) so maybe it limits options less than it may seem. Time will tell.
- Funny Dice – It uses more than just the standard set of polyhedrals. You’ll need a d3, d5, d7, d16, d24 and d30. They’re not cheap and they roll awkwardly. I’m not sure the ‘dice chain’ mechanic DCC runs with is better than Advantage/Disadvantage for instance. Still, you get to roll even more weird and wonderful dice.
- Lots of tables – There are tables for everything. Spell effects/success, critical hits and many other things. Again how this plays out in practise is unclear at the moment as I haven’t run a game yet.
Having picked up a couple of adventures from Goodman Games excellent online store, I’m keen to give this a whirl and I’ll report back on my experiences in due course. Even without that experience though, I’d rate this as an essential purchase, if only to draw you back to the days of escapism that you lived through as a teenager.
A fantastic product that sits proudly on my bookshelf.