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

Three decades ago I was introduced to 1st edition D&D. More weekends than I can count were spent in imaginary places as a fighter, thief, cleric, or magic-user. (I loved the monk and the bard, but never had the opportunity nor the inclination to play either.) Eventually I also picked up the red and blue boxes featuring “Basic” and “Expert” D&D as well as Dungeon! the board game. These three incarnations of D&D arranged classes a bit differently, adding such “racial” classes as Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling.

Though we never looked back at those demi-human “classes,” I was reminded of them a while ago when I dug out my old Dungeon! game to play with my family. And then there’s the recent release of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game (DCC RPG) which features them quite prominently.

You may think it a bit odd to focus an entire part of this review on DCC RPG classes alone, but I want to give them the time they deserve. And honestly this short chunk of text probably won’t do them justice either. Tony @ Year of the Dungeon recently reviewed DCC RPG and commented on the “missing” 250 additional pages of flexibility between the lines that are in there. And I wholeheartedly agree.

What are your choices once your 0-level character survives to first level? Cleric. Thief. Warrior. Wizard. Dwarf. Elf. And Halfling. That’s it. Seven core classes. Now you may be wondering in an age of hundreds of classes, variations, and paths of advanced characters how can this RPG scale it back to just seven? I’ll tell you why and it’s going to sound cliché. It’s not the number of classes – it’s how you use them. And built into this set are some great story elements that really made me smile. I’m not going to cover every class, but want to hit some highlights.

Let’s start with the Cleric. Clerics are cosmic referees for the gods in the multiverse. If they do well, they get bonuses in their divine paychecks. If they do poorly, their gods show their disfavor in many ways. Beyond holding the laws of order and chaos and the ear of their chosen deity (or deities), clerics have other jobs. Spread the word. Persuade heathens to convert or repent. And if they don’t listen to the eternal reason of their divine masters, destroy them.

Clerics are martial priests – skilled in the weapons of their chosen gods and vessels for his or her god’s power and mindset. As vessels, they get to channel some of that god’s power to help their friends and smite their enemies.

So far so good, right? Sounds like most clerics I’ve ever played, seen played, or read about. Where things get interesting is where magic is concerned. There are rules governing how a god’s disapproval affects the priest when magic goes awry. If the cleric casts a spell, the player rolls a spell check (d20 + Personality modifier + character level). If the casting is successful, the magic happens and all is good (well, maybe not for the target of the spell, but that depends on the god, the spell, and the caster’s intention). If they fail…

  • A natural 1 means disapproval.
  • Each failed check increases the chances of disapproval. If you fail once, next time the casting of that spell fails on a 1 or 2. Fail again, it fails on 1-3.
  • The cleric can offer sacrifices to their deity to offset the penalty (once the failure chance goes beyond 1). (Think tithing money or items back to your church or donating to the needy more than killing the occasional stray chicken.)
  • And you don’t want to tick off your deity by using your powers in a way that goes against what the god stands for. These infractions can go from +1 to +10 on the failure chances.
  • Once you’ve failed, you roll on the Disapproval Table. Options go from simply atoning for your sins to the loss of abilities (Turn Unholy Creatures, Lay on Hands, loss of spells, etc.)

This was the first time I’ve seen rules for godly disapproval codified in such a manner. GMs and players both have tools to deal with things when they get out of balance. Satisfy the gods and get back in balance. And if a priestly character goes off the rails, the GM can use spell failure to pull them back into the fold and show them the error of their ways.

The Cleric here is much more like a medieval cleric – dedicated to his or her faith and scared of losing the favor of their gods. But it doesn’t stop there – here are a few other cool things about DCC clerics. It’s not “Turn Undead” – it’s “Turn Unholy” – which could be used against good characters by the priest of an evil god or against evil creatures by the priest of a good one. And then there’s the rules for “Lay on Hands.” It’s easier to heal the faithful or those more closely aligned to your faith than those opposed or aligned against it. Healing ability is limited by class levels and hit dice. And miracles can be done, but they take some serious juju.

DCC RPG Interior Art - Erol Otus

Wizards also have relationships with powerful beings, but those beings are not always as rational or forgiving as their godly counterparts. Magical energies seem to involve quite a bit of chaos and randomness, meaning that sometimes even experienced wizards lose control. This chaotic taint affects all 1st level wizards in that their beginning spells are determined randomly from any level the caster may have available to them. Though higher-level spells may be more powerful, they also incur more risk when the spell fails.

The trick with magic is that it comes from other planes of existence and supernatural places. Deals are made with beings that have their own agendas – demons, angels, ghosts, elementals, elder gods, aliens, and more are happy to give you magical knowledge – for a price. In extreme circumstances, a wizard may call upon one of these other-worldly beings. Negotiations will be required – for goods, services, quests, or worse. If a deal is struck, the patron will send help as they see fit.

Other classes have unique abilities and benefits. Thieves rely on Luck, so regenerate it faster than other classes and get to use it to a greater extent in their work. Warriors get Mighty Deeds to add to their repertoire – encouraging players to think creatively in combat. Dwarves are skilled warriors with underground senses that can help them find their way to gold, gems, and detecting traps, strange passages, hidden doors, and more. Elves are long-lived, with great skills in magic. Halflings are lucky to have around and stealthy little folks when the need arises…

I really like the costs associated with arcane and divine magics. If you mess with gods or magical beings, there should be a price to pay. It adds another dimension not only to the classes themselves, but to the players roleplaying them.

This is part II of the ongoing review of DCC RPG. For part I, check here. I’m slowly working my way through this 400+ page tome and enjoying every minute of it so far. DCC RPG has not failed to impress or intrigue!

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