Game Date: 6/11/2011
Party: Cliff, Jesse, Matt, & Nick (3 characters each)
Instead of jumping right into our normal campaign, we agreed to devote part of our session to Dungeon Crawl Classics. This is an old-school style RPG, currently in open beta. DCC uses rules similar to D&D 3.5, but a lot of the rules are an intentional throwback to the earliest days of D&D. Instead of planning a character, you start out as a level 0 nobody, and everything about you is rolled randomly. Which stats you excel at will help you decide what class to choose later, when you reach level 1.
This is a bare-bones system, and that's considered a feature, not a bug. It only takes a few minutes to generate your character, and combat is also very quick. There are no feats and no skills. For skill challenges, you just roll using the appropriate ability modifier, with a possible bonus if you can justify it as relating to your occupation.
You start with very few hit points, and the game is quite deadly. The idea is that you roll up and run multiple characters simultaneously, and the ones that survive a few levels are the ones that actually become heroes. Currently the system only goes up to level 5, but it's still early in the game's development.
We played a module called "Legends Are Made, Not Born." We started out in the small town of Dundraville, which was living under the thumb of a local Ogre. The townsfolk had previously been tolerating the Ogre's small demands, which was usually just supplies or ale. But recently the Ogre started demanding bigger things, like gold and captives. After the Ogre kidnapped a few of Dundraville's citizens, the town held a meeting to discuss the problem. Our characters were the last ones to arrive at the meeting, and found that we'd been elected to go negotiate with the Ogre. So the moral is, always be punctual.
Along the way, we met a Hobgoblin sheep herder, who worked for the Ogre. He seemed somewhat ambivalent about our mission; he seemed to enjoy his work, but recognized the Ogre wasn't always such a nice guy. His life's dream was to be a mushroom farmer.
We watched the Ogre's den until nightfall, when the Ogre rolled a large stone in front of the entrance. We pushed the stone aside and began exploring the lair. The rest of the adventure took place...
We soon encountered the Ogre's pet wolf, who we killed, concerned that the sounds of battle would alert the Ogre. We needn't have worried. When we found the Ogre, he was fast asleep at the dinner table. We tried to quietly steal his club so he would be unarmed when we fought him. We managed to get the club, but we made enough noise to wake him.
On my turn, one of my characters (Paul), poured some oil onto the Ogre. Another of my characters (Mary) hit the Ogre with a torch, causing him to catch fire for some ongoing damage. While Mary had the lowest strength score in the group (5), she actually proved to be a bit of a bad ass several times during the session. After a few more rounds, the Ogre went down.
We kept exploring the lair, and found some secret doors and other cave passages. We fought a few fire beetles, and were later attacked by some centipedes while looting an old corpse. In one room we saw a dire skunk, but we backed off before it got agitated.
In another cave passage, we found some rooms that appeared to be part of a Wizard's lair. We were attacked by a magic broom, which we deactivated and kept. In the Wizard's personal chambers, we fought some animated books. We opened one treasure chest to find that the loot was being guarded by a viper. Who uses a viper to guard their valuables, really?
Down another corridor, we opened a portcullis and found a couple of missing townsfolk. There was also a Dwarf building more cages. When we ordered him to stop, he charged at one of Jesse's characters. Jesse managed to hit the Dwarf first, rolling a crit which killed the Dwarf in one hit.
Down another hallway we set off an alarm in the form of a Shrieker (screaming mushroom). While Jesse's solder (Sven) stabbed at the mushroom, one of Cliff's characters tried a ranged attack. In this edition, firing into melee gives you a chance of hitting your ally, which he did. Sven, probably the most powerful character in our group, went down from friendly fire.
In the next room, we fought the evil Wizard who owned the place. One of my characters (Peter) rolled a fumble, and as a result, killed another of my characters (Paul).
But after a few rounds we did kill the Wizard, with 7 characters left from the original 12. We gathered up our loot and headed back to town, where we all leveled up. Mary has decided to become a Cleric, and Peter will become a Wizard.
Surviving characters: Chappy, Gizmo (Cliff); Achmend, Slappy (Nick); Mac (Jesse); Peter, Mary (Matt). That's actually more than survivors than I was expecting, since we started with such low hit points. But of course we greatly outnumbered our enemies. Even the really hard monsters could only kill one of us per round, while we were making 7-12 attack rolls per round. And two of our five deaths came at the hands of our own teammates.
I don't hate it, and I would definitely play it again. However, it would not be my first choice for a long-term campaign. This system is designed to appeal to nostalgia. I wasn't playing D&D during the early years (though I would have liked to), so the sentimental angle is lost on me. Nevertheless, I did find the concept entertaining. I think it's neat how character creation is like part of the game itself, with everything being so random. It's fun starting out at level 0, with an occupation instead of a class. It reminds me of the computer game Dungeon Siege, where you start out as a farmer and develop your combat specialty as you play. I'd love to take that concept, simplify it even further, and turn it into a board game like Wrath of Ashardalon. I'd increase the XP rate if I did so, so that you'd go from 0 to retirement every time you play - first player to hit level 5 wins. But I think that goes to show that I don't take this game very seriously.
I also like how the combat doesn't take very long, though I would still prefer to use miniatures. I don't care if the combat is simple enough not to need them. I don't even care if the minis are placed on an actual combat grid. I just like having something to represent where the characters are standing. I have trouble following combat in my head, and minis help me remember details like how many enemies are still alive, how far away they are, and so on.
The game is highly unbalanced, but again, that's considered a feature. Early editions of D&D weren't exactly fair, either. Some classes were easier than others. Since you don't get to pick your stats in DCC, you might not get much of a choice when choosing your class. Again, I wouldn't mind seeing that in a board game, many of which revolve around pure chance (there's not much real strategy in "Sorry!"). But for an RPG, generally I like to know my role before I sit down. D&D is practically a different game for the different classes (especially in pre-4e editions). Some people might not enjoy playing certain classes, and it's unfair to expect them to show up every week to play something they hate, just because they rolled badly during character creation.
One of my more anal nitpicks is the use of so many uncommon dice. The luck chart has 30 items, the equipment chart has 24, and the fumble chart has 16. So if you don't have a d30, d24, or d16, you have to do clever things with your other dice. I actually collect strange dice, and even I don't have a d16 (yet). What, they couldn't think of 4 more types of fumbles to round out a 20-entry fumble chart? When I was DMing, I made up a 100-point fumble chart for my group, and I'm not even a professional game designer. Personally, I think if you truly can't think of four more simple ways of dropping a sword, then you're an uncreative hack who's in the wrong business. Little blemishes like that make me look down on the rest of the entire game, because I know if they fail there, then I'm going to run into bigger problems down the road.
But overall, I think this is shaping up to be a pretty decent game... just not necessarily one that's right for me.