Monday, April 23, 2012

D's Common Dungeon Crawling: In the Heart of the Minotaur

What ho!

The regular group didn't get together to continue White Plume Mountain this weekend so I DM'd for my buddy and his lady friend who had never rolled the dice before.  We played the new Dungeon CrawI Classics RPG.  I don't even have the hard copy yet.

I pulled out the Heart of the Minotaur one page dungeon.  Beware of spoilers for this sweet little dungeon.  These one pagers are really great for one shots and quick games.  You can have a nicely wrapped up story in a few hours.

The characters were an Elf and a half-elf Thief.  Both were Chaotic.  The thief was tracking the gremlins that had abducted his sister and step mother.  I described these gremlins as little guys with green stocking caps, long pointy hears and big mouths with pointy teeth.

The thief approached a bored sentry at entrance, feigning ignorance, and the gremlin thought maybe he was a tranny kook, but the elf let fly with a wayward arrow and the gremlin scampered back into the cave.  The two gave chase and encountered three more little dudes.  This fight got ugly quick. The elf took a hit which spoiled her Sleep spell (-3 to the roll for getting hit while casting).  Luckily some failed Morale checks went their way and one gremlin was back-stabbed while running away.  Both would-be heroes were fighting with knives.

Further, there came a room with a glowing pool of water.  Gremlin voices could be heard echoing around the many cave exits.  In the pool was a large blue diamond set into the stone, giving off bright blue light.  The jewel was magical and the water was warm.  The elf dislodged the gem and held it up.  The gem changed from blue to red as the water drained away.  The gem pulsed at an ever increasing right, getting warmer and brighter, so they threw it down the hallway and ducked as it exploded! causing a cave-in.

Later, a portcullis trapped them and forced them into a strange stone duct, crawling along to escape a lowering ceiling.  They came upon a break in the floor and looked down into a cathedral cavern where a ritual sacrifice was taking place!  From their vantage directly above a massive minotaur statue they watched a shaman shove a bound human woman into a crevasse!  After waiting a prudent amount of time for the congregation to leave, the thief and elf rappelled down, ignoring the golden eyes of the statue and pursued the sacrificial victim.  Slipping down a pile of cow and goat bones into ever descending damp limestone passages, the partners came upon a beach with a rowboat, and large hoofprints in the sand.  They rowed across and slipped into the Lair of the Minotaur unannounced!

The thief burned all kinds of Luck to sneak up behind the Minotaur as it raised its sword over the cowering woman, his mother.  His critical hit found the bull-man's kidneys, stunning him.  The elf shot it in the back.  Now the monster raised its curved sword and hacked the thief, who knew he could not survive another blow.  However the monster missed its next strike and the thief brought it down with a dagger strike to the leg.

"Mercy" growled the Minotaur as its medallion glowed golden.

"Why? When you showed no mercy to my mother?"

"I was only... I was only..." the monster's voice was strangled and it stuttered, finally repeating "Mercy."

The thief hesitated the player said, "I grab the medallion!"

The bull snorted and tossed its head, goring the thief and tossing him in a bloody heap.  So ended the life of the brigand posthumously named Welbeck.

Now the minotaur asked for mercy of the elf, who's arrow pointed at his eye.  She showed none, and pierced it's brain.  Then she claimed the medallion for herself.

The woman screamed, "Now YOU are the monster!"

And the Curse of the Horned Lord continues...

So, a TPK, but entirely of the players' own devising.  I'll note that they really needed a Warrior.  If I had rolled differently for wandering monsters, or if they had explored any of the more dangerous side passages, they would have been in big trouble.  Also, they didn't use their Luck.  The new player was totally new to RPGs so the spellburn rules were a little much to absorb  as it was, but the thief was very reluctant.  He is coming from Type IV D&D and seemed to consider this another resource that he was very wary of depleting.

Anyways, a fun evening.  I'm totally digging these DCCRPG rules, including my houserules.  It's interesting how much different it is to play than IV, just having a simpler character sheet and less toys on the table focuses everyone's attention on the imaginary world a bit more directly...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Huzzah! A review of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG

I dig it.


This is the game I've been wanting ever since 2nd Ed AD&D started repackaging itself with crappy covers.  I always wished they'd just release a limited edition 3e (then 4) without all the crappy dungeon punk art and just do a throw-back version with the same rules, and maybe an authorial voice that didn't remind me of stereo instructions.

I guess Joseph Goodman was wishing the same thing.  When the Beta came out last summer, I was burning out on DMing Type IV D&D (after a 1-13 campaign and a stint DMing Encounters), and I have happily pinned my rpg hopes on DCCRPG.

I have been looking forward to the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG for so long now that I feel a bit like this will be a rave more than a review.  It was a long wait, and it's only the pre-order PDF!  The actual book doesn't come out for another month or so.  I played and DM'd the Beta quite a few times over the last year and have even gone so far as to create an extensive houserule doc that must now be reconciled with the final product.

This game is well written.  It is loose and weird and has personality.  The names of spells and demons and monsters are cool, the art is inspiring and entertaining (I particularly enjoy Kovac's full page illustrations), and Goodman writes in an engaging manner full of obscure vocabulary and strong opinions.  Small valleys are important to him.  He is promoting the game he wants to play, and his enthusiasm shines throughout a book full of good humour and excitement.  Goodman know his audience as well.  He forgoes the traditional "What is roleplaying?" paragraph and just says something like, "Hey most of you guys are old hands at this rpg thing, and the rest of you can figure it out."
The art!  This is definitely a book that is fun to just pick up and read bits while grooving on the pictures, much like the old AD&D PHB and DMG.  The first couple of pages feel like an old Groo comic! This is on par and better than my two favorite clone pdfs, Swords & Wizardry and AD&D3.

The only part of the presentation I don't dig all that much is the cover and name!  I think I just don't care for the colors of the cover.  Of course, the black'n'gold Warpig cover is epic.  I think I'll have to laminate that onto my copy since I didn't spring for the deluxe edition.  Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is a pretty awkward title.  DCCRPG is a mouthful.  Whatever.  It's D&D, and I've taken to calling my hack of it DC'sRPG based on my own initials.
Ok cover

The rules are exactly as may be expected from any d20 derived game.  A d20 is rolled and a number is added.  Beat and AC or a DC.  DCCRPG changes this up in a couple of ways.  First, Goodman discourages DMs from asking for too many checks during the exploration and roleplay phases of  the game, encouraging player ingenuity over dice rolling.  However, once initiative is rolled, the dice rule!  The game uses obscure dice, like d30s, d16s and d7s.  I think its funny when I see people on the internets being grumpy about buying d14s, d24s and such for this game.  Aren't they buying dice anyways?  I am.

Combat is highlighted by Critical Hit tables by class, Fumble tables, and Success/Misfire/Corruption tables for each and every spell.  It gives the impression of a very swingy, unpredictable game, but this is mitigated quite a bit by two things, LUCK/Spellburn, wherein players may sacrifice their Ability Scores to adjust Fate to their liking.  In my play experience, the Luck and Spellburn rules go a long way towards giving players agency and some metagame strategy options during play.  This leads to the other major difference from standard D&D type games, character classes.

Classes are standard fantasy archetypes: Warrior, Thief, Cleric, Wizard, Elf, Dwarf and Halfling.  Goodman implores the reader to roll ability scores  3d6, 6 times, arranged in order.  The ability scores are a bit different.  Constitution and Dexterity have been renamed Stamina and Agility.  Wisdom and Charisma have been combined into Personality.  The new Luck stat rounds out the six.  Personality is a nice change for me, as the Intelligence/Wisdom divide has always been weird, but Luck is the fun one.  Luck is the stat that all classes may sacrifice to nudge the dice their way.  Thieves and Halflings in particular ride their luck.  Wizards and Elves may sacrifice their physical traits to make sure a spell is successful, though nothing may revoke a roll of 1!

Wizards are scarey and dangerous in this game.  They can roll high and punch far above their weight, casting an epic spell, and they can fail spectacularly, cursing themselves with the marks of chaos.  Every spell is different.  Every time a Wizard casts a spell it is a risk that must be weighed.  Rather than loss of a spell, the wizard risks losing his soul! or at least a lot of Strength.  It's all very evocative, but it also plays well, making the wizard a unique experience.  Clerics, by contrast, are far more predictable with their prayers, though they to risk angering the gods.

Warriors are the stars of the game.  They have a great mechanic that is so simple and fun I can't believe it has never been thought of before.  Instead of a straight +1 to hit at 1st level, the Warrior rolls 1d3 and adds that to his attack and damage!  The dice advances with levels.  This makes the Warrior capable of hard hits, but somewhat unpredictable.  The best part of this Deed Dice mechanic is that it incorporates an open-ended panacea of Might Deeds of Arms.  A Warrior describes some type of blow or tactic he is attempting, such as a knockdown, called shot, disarm or whatever, and, if the Deed Dice comes of 3+, it's a go!  So easy!  This eliminates the need for weird encounter/daily/feat rules and encourages shenanigans.  Thieves can do all their thief-y stuff, but they also the most out of their Luck score, which encourages shenanigans as well!

There's a lot of other great stuff in the book.  The monster and magic item sections are short but really evocative and creative.  The rules for Wizard Patrons are great and left me wanting more.  There's some neat stuff in the appendixes, including a pretty cool shout-out to OSR blogosphere.  The experience rules are really simple and a lot of people will dig it.  I do.  And, of course, its basically D&D tarted up with rad pictures and a couple cool rules, so any of your endless stacks of old game books will work just fine.
This is the game for me.

Appendix H
This game is made to Hack.  Hacking goblins and hacking the rules.  So I have hacked.  I've done all kinds of things to the Beta.  I've changed Dwarfs from Shield-bashers to ShieldWallers and I've slowed down all the attack bonus progressions.  I've fiddled with damage dice for weapons.  I've lowered Warrior HD to d10.  I made a Barbarian class with d12.  I've toyed with redoing stat bonuses and having Wizards use Dice Pools for spells that start at d14.  I have players rolling 5d4 for stats... I'll post all that another time.  It has certainly gotten me invested in the game.

Appendix R
I've been drawn to the OSR over the last couple years for the style and creativity.  So many great blogs!  I've read and DM'd DCC modules for years as well.  I still play Type IV D&D, and I used to really dig the tactical combat, but I've gotten frustrated with the glacial pace of the story when each battle takes a whole evening.  I've had multiple short DCCRPG sessions where we have made characters and completed a dungeon mission/adventure in one sitting.  So much fun!
To rant for a moment, though I like the computerized Character Generator for Type IV, all the dizzying options available seem to lure players into playing strange exotic characters that strike their fancy at the time but tend to be unrealized at the table.  I have a player with a genasi artificer, and I don't think anybody really has any idea what she does or looks like.  It/s kinda hard to imagine.  It's like disassociated character generation.  Making a DCCRPG is much quicker, deals with well know archetypes, but uses the whims of the dice to add unexpected twists to the common character.  A gong farmer who was struck by lightning you say?  Well I'm a thief now!  Watch me backstab for an automatic crit!  Huzzah!

Dungeon Crawl Classics is Emerging

Well the DCCRPG pre-order PDF is out, and I am really stoked. This game is great. The art is fun, the writing style is engaging and knows its audience (long time gamers).

I've been playing the game sporadically for the last 6 months, and really having fun with a fast and loose play-style as well as an ever expanding house-rule document (which I'll post here pretty soon). My house-rules have veered a ways from the final rules, but that doesn't bother me at all.

In celebration I thought I'd post a couple things I've generated over the weekend using some great random tables included in the Monster and Sword Magic chapters.

Rat Razor
+1 Lawful Shortsword
Sword smells Skaven within 100’
Sword detects Invisible 1/day, by sense of smell.
Wielder is convinced Skaven exist, and can convince others of the truth of this unfounded rumour.
Int 6, communicates with Inarticulate Urges, Moans and Groans
Forged by dwarfs, with a pommel shaped like a gear and basket hilt guard, this stout triangle blade of tarnished silver was forged during the Forgotten Vermin War of the preceding century.

Dunzagron the Old Bronze Steamer, an Ill-Tempered Erudite Chaos Dragon
HD 5 (small house size)
Speed 50’
Initiative +5       
All Saving Throws +5         
AC 20        HP: 30
Attacks 4d20 +8:  Claws(d8+5), Bite(d12+5), Tail Slap(d20+5)
  Dive Bomb: +12; 2 Claws 2d8+5 or Bite 2d12+5
Steaming Breath: dmg 10; Fort DC15 for half
  2/day; Cloud 1d4x10’ radius, range 60’
Spells: d30+6  Charmer: 100’
Ekim’s Mystikal Mask, Animal Summoning, Patron Bond: The Three Fates, Invoke The Three Fates, Detect Good, Nythuul’s Porcupine Coat, Ray of Enfeeblement, Slow, Runic Alphabet, Fey
Dunzagron lives in the Sunken Temple of Yoong, unearthing and studying the cuniform scales that are continually lost and found again by his slow-witted servitors.  Occasionally he holds seances with three Devil Frogs that can last for months.
His treasure is a horde of tarnished silver coins, and elven arms piled in the offerings basin of the great idol (which he unconsciously resents) in the chapel.  He steams cleans the creeping muck regularly.
What the Dragon is doing when found:
  1. In a sussurating trance state
  2. Steam cleaning himself while perched atop the idol
  3. Debating with the Devils of Yoong
  4. Steam cleaning his treasure
  5. Sleeping while hanging from the ceiling
  6. Directing a lizardman work crew
  7. Interviewing a talking elf skull
  8. Out hunting