RPG Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG from Goodman Games, Part I

A few months back I had the pleasure of interviewing Joseph Goodman of Goodman Games. In that interview, he talked at length about the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game (DCC RPG) that was coming out and now that I have it in my hot little hands I want to work my way through it a bit at a time. At 450+ pages, this is a behemoth.

The first thing you notice is the gorgeous full color cover from artist Doug Kovacs… Then you open the book and the interior of the front cover is full color and gorgeous (again from Kovacs)… And then there’s a black and white interior piece featuring “DCC RPG” in big rock-hewn letters used as homes for monsters from artist Peter Mullen… The title page with the list of credits and copyright sheet showing armies colliding on a battlefield… Do you get the feeling that art is important to this book?

Goodman said art was important when we did the interview, but I had no idea there would be this much of it!

By page 10, you are introduced to the qualifications necessary to play DCC RPG… Imagination. Dice. An appreciation for art and storytelling. A love of fantastic adventures. And a desire to share roleplaying with any other newcomers – young or old. Though it seems a bit old-fashioned to me to include such a list these days, I like that it’s there for new players and old to get an idea of what the author (Goodman) intended for this tome. On page 12 you get an overview of “The Core Mechanic” and how DCC RPG is different from D&D 3.0/3.5 (or AD&D). We’ll get into a few of these differences as we cover some of the different classes available…

The first difference is that all characters start at level zero and most of them are going to die. Yes, you read that right. The author suggests that you roll up at least three characters each using six simple steps and offers some simple advice: “Don’t get attached.”

What are the steps? Roll ability scores. Determine a zero-level occupation. Choose an alignment. Purchase equipment. And try to survive your first dungeon. If the character survives and get 10 XP, they get to go up to 1st level and choose a class. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Sounds like all the tough folks in a village are going to fight with pitchforks and torches and most of them aren’t going to return… Great method for population control, isn’t it?

Now DCC RPG does use the standard dice – d4-d6-d8-d10-d12-d20 – plus a d30. But it also includes what are known as “Zocchi Dice” – d3, d5, d7, d14, d16, and d24. Even the d30 is a bit odd these days (though I’ve had one forever in my dice bag of doom). I’ve never seen these other dice in the flesh (or plastic, wood, or bone either), but there’s a paragraph on page 17 describing how to substitute for them using normal dice (like rolling a d20 and ignoring anything above 14 for a d14 or rolling a d6 and dividing by 2 for a d3).

The ultimate idea is that you end up with a “dice chain” going from d3 to d30 that you can move up or down based on different properties of your character. If you have to reduce the die, bump down a notch, or if you get a magical boost, bump it up a notch.

So now that we have the basics, it’s time to roll up some characters. You only have a few ability scores – Strength, Agility, Stamina, Personality, Intelligence, and Luck. This is a little different than D&D (Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha), but keeps things on the straight and narrow. Anything below a 9 has penalties for rolls. Anything above 12 has bonuses. And depending on your class, you can gain additional spells based on the character’s Intelligence score. For Luck, you roll 3d6 and then roll a d30 on table 1-2 to gain a random modifier.

La bildo estas kopiita de wikipedia:es. La ori...

La bildo estas kopiita de wikipedia:es. La originala priskribo estas: Dados típicos de 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 y 20 caras (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nothing flashy here – roll 3d6, add ’em up, and run down the line. My first peasant had some horrific rolls, but the rest averaged out…

  • Str: 8, Agi: 7, Sta: 10, Per: 5, Int: 8, Luck: 10 (3 – Fortunate date: +1 to Missile fire attack rolls)
  • Str: 13, Agi: 8, Sta: 14, Per: 13, Int: 17, Luck: 11 (7 – Path of the bear: +1 to Melee damage rolls)
  • Str: 12, Agi: 9, Sta: 10, Per: 12, Int: 12, Luck: 9 (11 – Fox’s cunning: +1 to Find/Disable traps rolls)

Not sure any of them will survive, but if nothing else they’ll slow down an enemy… slightly.

After that you roll 1d4 hp (+ any Stamina bonus/penalty), 5d12 copper pieces, one random piece of equipment, and one random occupation. The occupation may bring with it some additional equipment.

  • HP: 4, CP: 32, Equipment: Holy Symbol, Occupation: Cutpurse (Dagger, Small Chest)
  • HP: 1, CP: 26, Equipment: Iron Spike, Occupation: Hunter (Shortbow, Deer pelt)
  • HP: 3, CP: 27, Equipment: Crowbar, Occupation: Jester (Dart, Silk Clothes)

Wow. Now I’m pretty sure they’re all going to die. If I was going to play, hopefully we’d have 3 or 4 players at least and have a small mob of zero-level characters to charge into battle. Anybody who survives must be blessed by the gods (or cursed!).

If they survive, they can then choose a class – Cleric, Thief, Warrior, Wizard, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling. Yes, this is back to really old school D&D now where races were more like classes than just flavor text for a character. And I have to admit I kind of like it.

Next time, I’ll focus on the classes – because that’s another area that really sets DCC RPG apart from current editions of D&D. I have to admit that as I’ve worked my way through the book it’s grown on me a bit.

Before I end this however, I do have to go back to the art for a moment. I love it. There are a variety of artists and different styles – just like in the hardcover PHB and DMG books I treasure from my youth. But I’ve never seem this much art in a single book. I’m about 30 pages into this huge tome (that could be used in hand-to-hand combat) and there’s at least one piece on every page. Sometimes they’re small – others they’re large and span two pages.

But it’s a bit distracting! I’m not complaining – just stating a shocking
truth. I never thought I’d find a book where there was too much art, but DCC RPG comes dangerously close. It would be much shorter without it all, I’m sure, though we’d lose something in the process. Today’s books are usually sparse on art simply because it costs a fair amount of money to get artists to generate a fair amount of art.

The DCC RPG book has a suggested retail price of $39.95, which I think is quite reasonable in an age when smaller hardcover books are going for the same general price point. But when you think about all the art in the book, $40 is a steal. And that’s part of my point about it being distracting. I turn the page and get lost in the art, some of which is amazingly detailed and then I have to reread the page prior to remember what I was reading about…

So let that be a warning – it’s going to take me a while to work my way through this book folks!

Next time – classes!

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3 comments to RPG Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG from Goodman Games, Part I

  • Nice overview! I’m a huge fan of all the art in the book, especially Doug Kovacs and Jeff Easley. If you look closely in the monsters section, you’ll notice that almost all of them are done by Easley. Way cool. I’ve had a blast every time I’ve run this game, and now that I have the gold-foil $70 version in my hand, it is by far my favorite RPG book of all time.

    Get the book. Pour over the art. Play the game. Rediscover the awesomeness that your RPG game has been missing!

  • Just ordered the collector’s edition based on your review….this sounds excellent! As far as your previous query as to what’s next for Escape Velocity Gaming? I have currently been collecting a ton of custom-made, high-quality art work. The look of our products are about to take a quantum jump forward! It’s exciting times.

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