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

That’s right – I’m back with more from the land of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game from Goodman Games. And this time, we’re going to focus on two areas that sometimes become totally out of whack in other games. I know we went overboard in both areas with the Moebius Adventures RPG once upon a time and we were not (and still aren’t) alone on that front.

What are they? Skills and items. So let’s start with “Chapter Two: Skills”…


In Moebius Adventures we had nearly 100 skills split across a ton of areas, with easily 100 (probably 2x that) more in the wings for the modern world. It was crazy. D&D 4E has fewer than 20. 3.5e had more than 30. Palladium Fantasy seems to have around 150 skills… So it’s easy to get out of whack. Personally I think of the games I’ve played lately, FATE has the best idea by having some suggestions, but largely leaving it up to the player to decide what abilities a character might have.

That’s where DCC RPG comes in. There are trained skills – “A character’s 0-level occupation determines the basic skills he can use. If the player can logically role-play the connection between his occupation and a skill in a way that the character’s background supports the skill in question, then his character can make what is called a trained skill check.” There are untrained skills – “If your character’s background does not support a skill use, your character is not familiar with the activity. In this case, he makes what is called an untrained skill check.” There are skills in-between – “If there is ambiguity – for example, your character may have used the skill somewhat but not regularly – the character may make an untrained check with a +2 bonus.” And there are common-sense skills – “Finally, if the skill is something that any adult could have a reasonable chance of attempting, then any character can make a trained skill check.”

And that’s it. No muss. No fuss. There will be some debate between the GM and the player about which skills might come into play, but they’re not listing every skill known to man. We’re not arguing over whether a particular skill means one thing or another based on what is written in the book. We’re role-playing finding and using the right skill, then resolving whether it was successful or not.

How do you resolve it? Easy. If it’s considered trained, roll 1d20. If not, roll 1d10. Apply modifiers. Compare the result against a difficulty challenge (DC). If the roll beats the DC, it was successful. If not, it failed. DCs go from 5 (“child’s play”) to 20 (“hero’s work”).

If someone or something is resisting the action, there’s an opposed skill check for the skills they’re trying to use to oppose one another. The highest roll wins.

And here’s my favorite part of the skill check section. “When Not To Make a Skill Check.” The first paragraph says it all – “Skill checks are designed for use when a system of abstract rules is necessary to adjudicate a situation. Only make a skill check when practical descriptions by the players will not suffice.” If failure has significant consequences (i.e. damage or death), roll a check.

Goodman Games

Goodman Games (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In two pages, DCC RPG sums up 98% of the rules for skills without the need for lengthy skill lists or descriptions.

There is a brief list of “Skill Checks for Common Activities” that describes some of the things dungeoneers will need to do – like balancing, listening, sneaking, and so on. If it’s not a specific knowledge-based skill, then it’s associated with a particular ability score. For instance, balancing and sneaking would be Agility, listening is Luck, and searching and spotting are Intelligence. Some could be either – for example climbing could require Strength to climb a sheer cliff or Agility to climb a tree. But again – “use common sense” seems to be the thought here.

Now by leaving it this open-ended, I suspect DCC runs into the same issue I’ve seen in FATE-based games where some folks aren’t used to thinking about their characters in these terms. Sometimes if it’s not written down explicitly, people get confused. But this is good, old-fashioned gaming here folks. Role-play your reasons, negotiate with your GM, and run with it. 🙂

As a player (or GM) using the system, I can see myself writing down a skill on my sheet after I used it, just so I knew what I’d used before. And over time I could see the list getting quite long in some cases. But the list would be specific to the context of that character, not general to the system, so it becomes a much more organic process than simply picking skills from a list.


Now lets move on to “Chapter 3: Equipment”… Here’s another area where D&D and other games have gone insane for years

Starting 0-level characters have 5d12 coppers. Higher levels start with slightly more coin (gold pieces) to get the various tools of the trade. But you’re not going to see a 0-level farmer character charging into battle wearing plate mail and swinging a longsword… He simply can’t afford it.

Beyond that there are three things to keep in mind…

The “check penalty” that comes into play when characters try to wear heavy armor and use fine-motor skills or skills that require dexterity. It’s tough to leap chasms, scale walls, trace runes, etc. when being weighed down by armor. So every suit of armor comes with a check penalty. Wearing scale mail? Subtract 4 from your die roll. Full plate? Subtract 8. Sure, you get to absorb a bit more damage, but it comes at a cost.

Encumbrance. Oh how I’ve hated that word as a player. “What do you mean I can’t carry around a million gold pieces on my person?” Here’s another place where common sense comes into play. It’s simple – “A character who carries too much weight is slowed down. Use common sense. Players must explain how they are carrying their equipment: which hand holds which weapon, which sack or backpack contains which objects, and so on. A character carrying a substantial ratio of his body weight is slowed to
half speed. A character cannot carry more equipment than half his body weight.” Works for me.

Lastly, there’s a “Fumble die.” When you fumble (i.e. roll a 1 on a combat roll), your armor type determines the die you use to determine what the results of that fumble might be. These go from d4 (for unarmored or padded armor) up to d16 (for full plate). And based on a quick scan of the fumble tables, you’re better off with lower numbers. Higher numbers often bring bad consequences!

That’s it for the “rules” associated with equipment in DCC. After that you get tables for weapons (battleaxe to warhammer), ammunition (arrows, sling stones, etc.), armor (padded to full plate and shield), basic equipment (backpack to waterskin), and the cost of mounts and any related gear (barding to stabling, donkeys, horses, and ponies).

Four pages. That’s all. I’m sure there will be plenty of room to expand with more items for specific settings, but this is perfect. Everything you need to get started.

So that’s DCC RPG‘s skills and equipment chapters. As you can see, we’re not talking a lot of pages and it’s extremely open-ended, which should (hopefully) lead to more role-playing of skill resolution and equipment buying.

Now if you don’t mind, my 0-level urchin is going to go back to ogling some poor passerby’s sword and coin purse…

(This is part III of the ongoing review of DCC RPG. Check here for part I and part II. I’m slowly working my way through this 400+ page tome and enjoying every minute of it so far.)

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