Saturday, June 16, 2012

Free RPG Day 2012

Game Date: 6/16/2012
Game System: Dungeon Crawl Classics
Module: "The Undulating Corruption" (Level 5)
DM: Rusty
Party: Cleric (Greg), Dwarf (Nat), Warrior (Matt), Wizard (Chere)

Today was "Free RPG Day", where several gaming companies contribute free samples to game stores in order to drum up interest in their products.  I played in a short session of Dungeon Crawl Classics, a game designed to be reminiscent of the earliest editions of D&D.  I had already played this once before, around this time last year.  At the time I only got to play 0-level characters, which was neat in itself but didn't really give me a good taste of the full game.  So today was my first time playing a leveled character. 

The Session:
We used pregenerated level 5 characters.  Spellcasters are subject to a corruption system in this game, and by level 5 you would more than likely have failed a few castings, so our wizard was suffering from a couple of minor curses.  Most noticeably, she had the head of a rat (no biggie).  Our party had heard rumors of a magical place where she might be able to cure her corruptions, and therein lay our plot hook.

As we neared our destination we saw a large explosion.  We went to check it out, and saw a man fighting off some black blobs.  We fought the shapeless whatchamacallits and tried to rescue the man.  When we reached him, a lot of his skin had been eaten away and his legs were gone.  Soon some sort of corruption overcame him, and he attacked us.  We granted him a quick death.

Leading away from ground zero was a very wide trail.  Some gigantic thing had recently left the area, and we were just fool enough to pusue it.  As we followed the trail, we saw odd effects where the giant creature's aura of corruption had tainted the plant life.  Some plants had been crystalized, others had grown eyeballs, and so on.  Eventually we reached a river, and had to cross a bridge.  Halfway across the bridge, a couple of gigantic mutated catfish burst from the water, demolishing the bridge in the process.

Our dwarf spent most of this battle underwater, tangled up in his horse's harness.  The cleric got stuck in a catfish's mouth, and when we finally killed it, he was taken underwater with it.  The warrior and the wizard managed to kill the second catfish (which had legs, by the way).  Right as the second catfish expired, our dwarf had his Crowning Moment of Awesome:  After failing several checks to disentangle himself, he finally rolled a very high strength check.  He came trudging out of the water, dragging his horse behind him, and asked, "Okay, what'd I miss?"

We walked a bit further until we came to a small building, which had been magically warded from the monster's corruptions.  It was the residence of a cleric who gave us a bit of information and some potions.  We continued following the trail and finally caught up to the monster.  It was a giant worm/centipede creature, with a reality-warping aura.  We attacked.

When my warrior got close enough, she climbed up the worm's body and (with a little help from some magic boots) stood on its head.  For the rest of the fight she held on and kept hacking away, critting twice for impressive damage. 

The wizard got swallowed during the battle, and inside the creature was like another dimension.  There she encountered a swarm of flying leech monsters.  She used a force barrier spell to keep them away, and discovered that the leeches could suck away her magical corruptions.  She took advantage of this and soon her rat-like head was back to normal. 

We finally killed the worm, and as it died its magical effects began to dissipate.  Unfortunately for our wizard, this included the dimensional weirdness inside its body.  Our mage had one chance to make a life-or-death will save, and she failed.  She was sucked into a dimensional vortex and wound up in limbo.  But wherever she is, at least she no longer has a rat head.

I had a lot of fun.  But don't take that as an endorsement of the game, as I'm pretty easy to please.  Give me some dice and some cool people to hang out with, and I'll probably have a good time.

One of the most significant things about DCC is that it uses odd dice.   In addition to the usual set, it also uses d3, d5, d7, d14, d16, d24, and d30.  There have been complaints about this, but as my DM says, "People who play D&D are complaining about odd dice?"  On the other hand, we were playing in gaming store, which didn't have most of these dice for sale.  You can find them online, but it's not easy or cheap.  Still, there are always other options if you don't have the right dice.  My preferred method is to roll the next highest die and reroll if the result is too high.

These extra dice are used in interesting ways.  At times where other RPGs might give you a plus or minus for certain rolls, DCC sometimes has you use the next higher or lower die.  So if you would normally roll a d20, you might roll a d16 or d24 instead.  If you attack twice in a round, you typically use a lower die for the secondary attack.  The wizard's spells often had her rolling a d24 for attacks and spell effects.

It could get pretty complicated, and it took me a couple of fights to really get the hang of it.  My warrior mades attack rolls by rolling a d20+d7+weapon bonus+melee bonus+whatever buffs I had at the time.  Then for damage I rolled d7+d6+weapon bonus+melee bonus+buffs.  Then if I wanted to make a secondary attack that round, I did all that again but using a d14 for the attack roll instead of the d20.  Then if I rolled a crit (and I critted on 18-20, so it wasn't entirely uncommon), I had to roll a d24 on a crit chart, which often had me making yet another attack or adding even more dice to the damage.  And all the while I'm rolling a d20 for the d14s, and rerolling them each time I roll higher than 14...  which is sickening when you see yourself roll nice high rolls three times in a row, knowing you have to reroll it each time because you rolled too high.

...and that's the warrior, traditionally the simplest class in RPGs.  It was crazy watching my magic-using teammates across the table, looking up spell effects on chart after chart.  Spellcasters seemed to be quite powerful, but playing one is risky.  Too many fumbles and you risk getting corrupted with various curses.  I don't know how far this goes, but it's a neat take on the world.  It makes me think of low magic settings like Dark Sun, where wizardry is feared and discouraged.

I still can't get past the "Races as Classes" thing.  You can play as a Fighter, Wizard, Thief, Cleric, Dwarf, Elf, or Halfling.  You can't be a Halfling wizard or a Dwarf thief; a Dwarf is a Dwarf is a Dwarf (and so on).  Glancing through the rulebook, it appears that the Dwarf "class" is basically another type of warrior, while Halflings are thief-like and Elves are pretty much wizards.  Does this seem racist to anyone else?  I know it's a callback to early RPGs, but there are some things that got updated for a reason.  They knew better than to bring back Thaco, but they kept this?  It's very nearly a deal-breaker for me.

For me, the bottom line is still the same as it was last year:  This is a game designed to appeal to nostalgia, but it's a nostalgia for things I never experienced.  I didn't get into RPGs until after they had fixed their early mistakes.  I understand wanting to go back to "a simpler time", but DCC doesn't strike me as remotely simple either.  The game does have a quirky old-school charm, and I'm sure I'll enjoying playing more of it in the future.  But where old-school/modern remixes are concerned, so far I'm much more interested in the upcoming D&DNext.

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