I am currently invested in Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC). It is not a new system to me and it is one I return to frequently. Today’s post is all about why that may be the case, and why you should consider this gem that most would fit into the Old School Revival (OSR) style of Role Playing Games (RPG). If you want the TLDR version of why I play it, it is just because it is so damn fun. I have never had a game of this and felt like it was not a good game. But, if you want the longer version, and believe me it is worth the read, join me with the rest of the post.
OSR is a term that has been about for a while and some people (generally the veterans or oldies among us) understand what that means straight up. Others do not so let me give you a brief idea of what OSR means to me. OSR is a term used to define games that seek to emulate the feeling of games in the Seventies and Eighties. Dungeons and Dragons, Tunnels and Trolls, Traveller and others. The games of this time tended to be (with some notable exceptions) a simpler style of game.
Rules were much lighter, in that there were not so many rules to consider. Take for example the modern-day trend to break a turn-up into actions. There can be multiple types of actions; move, attack, extended, opportunity, ritual and the list goes on. In an OSR game, the rules were much simpler and designed for a lot of leverage and agency to be taken by the player and the GM. It does not mean the rules were not, at times, complex. Just look at Traveller’s rules for space travel which were aimed at emulating some physics and required some decent math skills to get right.
Much of the glossy pages and full-colour books of today started to be seen around the nineties. Before then, the games came with black-and-white content, and a lot of line art to illustrate the game. Do not get me wrong, some of this art is fantastic and extremely iconic in some cases. But there was less of it and it was of a simpler style (not necessarily simpler to create). It was the front cover of the books where many created the art that many expect to see on every second page of a book these days.
The games of this era tended to be simpler to play. The choices for the character were often made based on a series of roles, not a design choice. Dungeons and Dragons got you to roll your stats and assign them down the line and then choose the class you wanted after that. Traveller did the same, sort of, but also allowed for the character you were making to die of an incident in character creation and you would have to start over!
DCC is pretty close in the above departments. I would say that the game has a simple base set of rules. That said, there are a LOT of rules in this game, but they are more aimed at providing random elements to spice up the game. For example, casting a spell does not give a set result, it gives a result based on how successful it was cast, as well as maybe being affected by other random twists. The base rules of a round are pretty simple to follow and easily understood.
The art in the book also follows the idea of line art. Much of this art is cartoony and designed to make you laugh. The reason for this is the game is designed, at its core, to be fun. The covers are fantastic splashes of inspiration designed to emulate the seventies and early eighties style of psychedelic or pulp book covers, just reinforcing the theme.
DCC is a modern game though. It emulates OSR, and many would put it in that bracket, though to me it is an edge case of an OSR game. The game modernises OSR and attempts to bring that style of game to a new audience with a new focus. To me, and for veteran readers of this site this is going to be no surprise, DCC champions the idea of learning while you play for all roles.
Learn while you play
By this, I mean the game focuses on taking the game in unusual and unexpected directions. The player calls out to their patron and rather than the GM knowing what is going to happen, or the player for that matter if they succeed, a number of things could occur. The game is full of random charts to facilitate this style of play.
OSR had this but in limited quantities. Random critical tables for great successes often came with a random table roll, and fumbles as well. But DCC takes this to the nth degree. Spells, Patron interactions, specific monster qualities, magical item powers and the list goes on. It makes the game fluid and non-specific. It changes the way the story plays out at almost every juncture.
Highly suggested for players to choose their characters is the idea of the funnel. In true OSR where you rolled down the line of stats and chose your class replaced by the player starting with a number (normally 3-4) characters, all randomly rolled and 0 levels. They will be peasants, beggars, haberdashers and more. Then these characters are thrown through a gauntlet of fire and the characters that make it get to move on to a class. This is genius.
OSR you could very well end up with a list of stats that you hated and be forced into a bad choice with a character you did not want to play. Many a time I sat in on games where players aimed to have their characters die so they could roll again. With the Funnel, you start with a bunch of characters, some with good stats, some with poor. You would look them over and then get into the game, trying to have just one of them (or more) survive.
Because it gets you to play all of the characters. Good and bad stats. The Funnel is often designed so that many characters will be taken out by random events or worst place, wrong time. But once a player comes through that with a character, they have played them. They have a feel for them and because of that, an attachment. Often I will see players come through the game with a 1 HP feeble weakling after all their great characters died and then go on to LOVE playing that character. That is why this setup is absolutely genius.
Other Things I Love
I could easily write a mini ten thousand-word treatise about this game and why I keep coming back to it, so here are briefly a few of the reasons that I run this game now. I, after all, do not want to bore you with the minute details of everything that I find great when the broad strokes do the job just as well.
There is one official rulebook. That is it. It is a hefty tome, but there is only one. There is a DCC Annual, which is the only other official rulebook, but the introduction to that book almost tries to discourage you from buying it as it is not necessary. And they are right, it isn’t (but I love it anyway).
There are a bunch of modules, and there are third-party books and other supporting materials that Goodman Games creates that complement the game. They are not supplements and are not even mentioned unless you start digging into the community for inspiration.
There is a thriving community of people that play and love this game. Goodman Games forums, Reddit and pretty much anywhere that people that like RPGs gather you will find people willing to talk about this game. The main book gives you a bunch of places to go in the final pages to help you in this journey.
The focus here is on the story. From characters to monsters and beyond you will find the advice in this game focussed wholly on the story. How to describe things, how to run things, and suggestions for organisations and patrons. It is all crafted with the story at the centre of it. There is no default setting but everything comes with a flavour that you can use or change however you want.
I am running this system in my own world, but I am adopting the central patrons and gods to my world. My world had a much different pantheon and concept around the gods when I started it in Pathfinder 2E but I am changing that concept to be more interesting. And DCC does interesting in spades.
Zocchi Dice Chain
If you love dice, this game is built on an expansion of standard dice for RPGs. Zocchi dice expand the dice you have to a plethora of multi-sided goodness. I find it hard at times to get sets of these dice, but I do live in a very regional area. If you are worried about that though the main tome tells you how to use your existing dice for that purpose. The above said I do actually have a few sets of them now, inclusive of a set that glows in the dark!
Get Amongst It!
I will be writing about DCC as this blog continues. It has become a mainstay at my table and I hope to write many articles for the game. I hope that many people who play it will consider reading these posts and building a community here around the games also.
Over the next weeks, we will look at a couple of reviews on games (one a current Kickstarter) and a sci-fi system I have only recently become aware of. I also want to talk about Virtual Tabletops and how I am using them today. Keep an eye out for those as they pop up! Until then keep rolling…
Just a final note, I have started a Patreon. If you feel you could support this blog with as little as a dollar a month (and a couple of other tiers) please take a look at the page here and join if you can. The Patreon is about keeping the blog going. There are no secret posts, or hidden posts if you do not join. Just a way to help me to keep the blog going into the future. Thanks for considering it.