Last weekend we drove to Kuru for the first session of Dungeon Crawl Classics DMed by our guild member and fellow admin Sami Villa. What follows is my game session debriefi as well as a review of the game from a player’s perspective.
As always we started with the creation of characters. In Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC from now on) each player starts with a handful of 0-level characters (we started with three) created at random.
My abysmal dice luck kicked in right from the beginning and I was stuck with a group of characters with low attributes. Luckily that seems not to be a big problem. Though it might have been nice to have higher bonuses.
In addition to basic stat line (anyone familiar with the d20 mechanics knows these by heart) a starting occupation is rolled. I had a hawk-eyed cheese maker called Domnos, chaotic dwarven miner called Ganebon and my personal favorite from the beginning – a potato farmer Shull with his chicken Kotka (“kotka” means “eagle” in Finnish and chickens make a sound “kotkot” so it was a bun of word totally losing its edge in translation).
The main reason for each player to start with more characters than one is the 0-level. Each character starts with few hit points (Domnos only had 1…) so they are killed pretty easily. This enforces the idea of regular people going on an adventure. I liked this idea but the fact that we also had six players kind of buried the point. In an ideal situation this means that you will have the chance to fall in love with your character only to witness his death so that a menial character may take his place.
The starting occupation is also the skill set of your character. If you can justify that your character would know something or possess the skill for something according to his starting occupation, you get a bonus to your skill roll. This is an excellent idea and makes all occupations usable and allows the game to have a bit more depth than just bashing monsters in dungeons (which kind of is the point of DCC on the other hand).
Spoiler warning: From now on I’ll be discussing about the 0-level adventure (or a funnel scenario, as the game itself calls it) “Sailors on the Starless Sea”.
So off we went to the forbidden castle of old. We all had randomly determined why we saw the castle as the source of the ill times that had fallen upon our famous village of Grouse (yes, That Famous Grouse…). My characters were convinced that the bodies of dead chaos lords where buried in the castle and that Domnos’s cheese would lure them out.
We decide to circle the castle searching for an entry point other than the gate and found out that a part of the wall had crumbled. Ganebon quickly determined how we could enter the castle this way (using his “dwarven miner” background as a skill set for the roll). The party got in though one of the elfs in the group met his end under a boulder after stepping off from the safe passage.
Inside the castle we made really elaborate plans to storm the tower (or one player in our group did, while the others were yawning, to be more precise). The plan kind of worked and we were able to face the horde of mutants storming out from the tower instead of stepping into their ambush.
The most memorable moment for my characters was the fight between Shull the Potato Farmer and a bloodthirsty minotaur leading the mutants. With a bit of luck I managed to castrate it with my pitchfork killing it on the spot. From now on this would be his signature move.
We searched the keep and found a lot of evily evil stuff all over the place. A group of imprisoned villagers were freed and three of them joined our group (Kuha had had his entire starting party killed already so he needed three new characters). Under the castle we found the starless sea (which in fact was really loose use of the word “sea”) and summoned a magical boat to take us to the final encounter.
At this point the Keeper made the choice to inform us that while he was playing this adventure some time ago their whole party was killed shortly after stepping on the boat. He strongly encouraged us to take another look at the castle. Though this was a bit too in the face (for me at least) we took the chance.
Going through the castle once more we found some hidden treasure, fought a tar monster and got enough experience to reach the 1st level!
Spoilers off for the moment
When 0-level characters gain 10exp. they move to the 1st level (the normal starting point for d20 games). At this point you must choose between all of your characters that are still alive and elevate one of them. He will be your main character as others remain as his retainers.
I naturally chose Shull making him a warrior. Warriors have a bit narrower range of “cool stuff” than other characters. They can do deeds that are epic acts of battle but their range is a bit limited (as is their use). Clever players can come up with a hundreds of different ways to use the deeds and the fact that the player has chosen the warrior occupation justify this quite nicely.
As a warrior I got expertise in almost every weapon in the game. Other characters gain the expertise in the last weapon they have used in the game. It is a nice touch and allows the characters to be variable.
Other players chose variable classes so that almost all of them were represented by our group (elf, cleric, wizard, thief and another warrior). Elfs in DCC are in essence wizards, Dwarfs are warriors, and Halflings act as thieves. They all have their special niche in addition to regular stuff but these races are their own classes nevertheless.
Back with the spoilers
Once we had used almost a couple of hours character advancement we were ready to hop into that strange boat and sail the Starless Sea. We encountered the abomination living under the sea’s surface and were able to pass it. As all of my characters were still alive I kind of wanted to get something done and used the chaotic Ganebon to push Domnos the cheese maker over board to satisfy the elder thing. It might have been unnecessary but in my defense my characters were not sure of it.
The epic fighting a top of an ancient ziggurat was as satisfying as it should be. There was some arguing amongst the players and overly complicated planning (again) but after all we managed to slaughter a host of mutants and a resurrected chaos lord. Ganebon died a horrible death during the battle and Shull himself was mortally wounded but saved by a Black Lotus Oil.
After the death of the chaos lord the whole cave was collapsing (naturally) and we managed escape narrowly.
END OF SPOILERS
All in all I really liked the game. The big group was the biggest challenge this time.
Distributing of your own interest to all of your characters when your own screen time was a bit low (again, six players) was a challenge. I did not get anything out of playing three characters at the same time. There never was an actual danger to any of my characters until the very end. We managed to kill every NPC with a little trouble and only a small number of our PCs died in fights. Most of them were killed by off-battle events (and one in the middle of battle by another character with a sling shot). I suspect that this element works better with smaller groups where you have the time to develop them all in your mind and love them all equally.
The game system worked like a charm for dungeon crawling. Fights were simple and didn’t take too long but they were still interesting and in some cases challenging. The differences between characters became clear after they had reached 1st level and this made the game more enjoyable.
My experiences with D&D (and the games using the same system) are limited to D&D 4th edition in addition to DCC. I think they both have their pros and cons that make them suitable for different kind of games. D&D4th gives you the possibility of min/maxing and tactical combat while DCC gives you the same feeling but with less rules. Though I whole heartedly enjoyed our 4th edition games a few years back, if presented with the choice, I would continue playing DCC. Less is more in my books.
And speaking of books the hefty tome that is Dungeon Crawl Classics looks like the books of old. It is really simple considering layout and the art is just terrible in some cases. Though this enhances the feeling of playing something old it is in essence really ugly book.
As a summary: Dungeon Crawl Classic delivers what it promises. It is an excellent game for dungeon bashing with rules written as simply as possible. I didn’t even read the book before we started but had no problems grasping the whole system immediately. I would recommend DCC for anyone searching for a light system for dungeon crawling that can be as complex as needed. 9/10
p.s. DCC uses some weird ass dices. Which is excellent news! I love my dices and this gives me reason to buy new ones!