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Dungeon Crawl Classics: The Game That Finally Won My Heart

I’ve posted more than once before about my love for DCC. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic though, I’ve been playing it more and more. Partly this is because lockdown provided so much more time for gaming, with very little else to do and also because I’ve been able to play with lots of fabulous people like Judges Daniel Bishop and Brendan LaSalle as well as many others.

I’ve made no bones about my love for old school D&D, specifically the Tom Moldvay B/X edition from 1981. That magenta boxed, Erol Otus illustrated opus is still with me to this day. In fact, the guys I gamed with back in the 80s recently bought me framed prints of the Basic and Expert covers for my 50th birthday.

As a result of this love, I’ve also dabbled in Old School Essentials, Basic Fantasy and Labyrinth Lord. However, while I love the old school aesthetic, I’m less keen on the old school rulesets which is why DCC, with it’s blend of the old skool feel with new skool mechanics really lights a fire under me.

My regular Friday night group has been slogging through D&D 5th Edition’s Empire of the Ghouls by Kobold Press for the past year. Thankfully we’ve been playing fortnightly, alternating with a Call of Cthulhu campaign but Empire of the Ghouls has been a linear dirge of an adventure and my players and I were both relieved when I finally broached the subject of abandoning the campaign.

That campaign also really brought to the fore some of the major gripes we have with 5th Edition D&D. Granted, we’d made it even more complicated by playing in the Midgard setting with all of the resultant additional race and class options but even still, 5e was killing us slowly. The party had reached 6th level and combat had started to become an all consuming beast that could eat up an entire session once players started to activate powers and use bonus actions etc. The Wizard would unleash 3 Magic Missiles then end up waiting half an hour for his turn to come round again. All of D&D 5e’s flaws as a tactical boardgame masquerading as a Roleplaying Game were laid bare and it just wasn’t doing it for us.

One of the adventures I’d wanted to run for this group for a while was Sailors on the Starless Sea by Harley Stroh. It’s considered the gold standard “funnel” adventure for DCC. My intention was to start with this meatgrinder funnel and then play a series of DCC published adventures with the characters levelling up after each adventure. I’d estimated that it might take us about 10-12 sessions to get through.

We also switched from Fantasy Ground Unity to Foundry VTT for this one and while Sailors is available as a purchasable module for Foundry, I’ve had to start prepping the subsequent adventures in the campaign by hand. Prepping DCC in a VTT is an absolute dream. I’ve grown to detest the complicated stat blocks of 5e – especially when setting them up from scratch in a VTT – and the super light DCC stat blocks are an absolute dream in comparison. I certainly don’t think that the monsters are any less deadly or interesting just because they have 3 lines of stat block instead of 30. Far from it.

The biggest difference between DCC and 5e is that players, after a brief adjustment, stop looking to their character sheet for solutions to problems. Or if they do, they only reference the sheet to see what they can fashion out of their meagre resources. It immediately opened up the options in play. No longer do the players go looking for the answer to the problem in the text of a spell description, a power or some ability they could perform as a bonus action. The solution comes from the player – like it did back in the old Basic/Expert D&D days.

DCC still has a bit of a name as being a convention game, or one only suited to episodic campaigns. I’ve still not played enough of it to make a call on that one way or the other. However, it has won my heart regardless.

Return of the DM View All

I am a 40 something DM/GM located in Scotland. In 2016, I rediscovered the joys of tabletop role-playing games. This blog documents my journey back into the fold.

4 thoughts on “Dungeon Crawl Classics: The Game That Finally Won My Heart Leave a comment

  1. One of my best campaigns was my heavily homebrewed DCC RPG campaign called Terminus. It started out in the dark alleys and dangerous sewers of a Lankhmar-like city state and ended after ~25 sessions with the players blowing up a planet eating sentient machine god from the inside. Since the campaign had no real structure, all the random bullshit that can happen and ruin well-planned campaigns instead enhanced it and provided new opportunities. If I had the time and resources I don’t nowadays, I would run a DCC RPG sandbox again in a heartbeat.

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  2. Well I am happy that you are enjoying a system that for me i’ll never bring myself to play. However what will this mean for your future blog posts?

    I prefer Basic Fantasy for my OSR fix since I never grew up with the older editions, 5e being the edition i joined dnd in but tried to play solitaire with Basic Fantasy. For me I never enjoyed what the OSR emphasized (especially when lethality’s in question.) but I understand well different people prefer different things in TTRPGs. I respect what the OSR can do (or bring back into fashion) but some of the things they emphasized put me off. 5e and Basic Fantasy covers what I wanted out of a TTRPG.

    Still it’s good to hear DCC’s doing well for you and our friends.

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    • Thanks. Seems an unusual comment for you to say that you prefer BFRPG because you never grew up with the old editions. I mean BFRPG is every bit as much inspired by B/X as DCC is and it’s audience is largely made up of players who played back in the old days.

      DCC is my first choice Basic/Expert inspired modern system. In terms of more direct retroclones, I’ve a lot of respect for BFRPG as you’ll see from the review I did of it. However, for me, Old School Essentials is where I’ll go now for my B/X fix. The games are largely similar but for me, the presentation of OSE is far superior. I appreciate that BFRPG is free and I commend the system for that. However, I’m of a certain age, with a certainb amount of disposable income, and I like nice RPG books so I’m prepared to pay more for that higher level of presentation.

      The 5e Player’s Handbook is a beautiful, elegant RPG. Best in class if I’m honest. However, once you add all of the other splat books it becomes a bloated mess of overlapping options. As someone who prefers systems with less options, this is not a positive feature for me.

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