[Review] Dungeon Crawl Classics Core Rulebook Pt. I; Very Advanced DnD.

The time has come to delve into that most powerful and influential creature of the new wave of the OSR, mighty DCC. Forged by the sages of Goodman Games after their attempts to ressurect old DnD from the war-torn hellscapes of 3e and 4e, DCC is a triumphant return to the old ways. Like a phoenix, it soars high above the OSR and into lands beyonde, recognisably old school yet refined, triumphant and glorious. A vision of an AD&D that could have been but never was, now made manifest, to capture heart and soul and to dazzle us with old school goodness.

DCC is an impressive creature, its every aspect and angle a declaration of undying love for the formative years of dungeons and dragons. Some would call it a cynical attempt to cash in on nostalgic love for a game that never was, but these are nay-sayers and liars, and we should not heed their hate-filled bile, driven by envy and latent story-gaming sympathies.

DCC takes the opposite route of many retroclones, seeking to embellish and refine where others merely have the ambition to streamline and pay tribute. So too does it seek to refine on a thematic level. For where the later editions of DnD became muddled and strayed from their origins until they became formless and generic, DCC positively drips Leiber, Moorcock, Vance, Lovecraft and Howard from every pore whilst retaining the classical elements of the old dungeons and dragons game. Art thou neckbeard enough to venture forth onto this, this Very Advanced DnD? Read on traveller and find out!

It is interesting to observe that while DCC is so Old School Gary Gygax might fondle it if they were ever to meet in a boy’s locker room, it does retain some useful evolutionary adaptations from its 3rd edition origins. The D20 is still the most prominent means of resolving any and all task resolutions, be they combat, spell, skill or saving throw. So too has the elegant saving throw system of 3rd edition, with its reflex, will and fortitude trinity, been replicated in full. For those elfgame luddites already sneering in outraged dismay at so much unwanted innovation, fear ye not. Races are classes, one has only 3 alignments to choose from and prestige classes have been consigned to the dustbin of history, as Zygag intended. Forward then!

The first major change from your grandfather’s DnD is that in DCC, to introduce the game and to remind you that you are frail and mortal and you will die, everyone starts at level 0, a peasant of little ability, no class, 5d12 cp, barely any equipment and d4 HD. Interesting enough, you generate at least 2 and as many as 4 characters this way, before unleashing them upon the Character Funnel, that fearsome first dungeon that is the crucible in which heroes are forged, often violently and hopefully with many casualties. Should you survive, even with more then 1 character, you may select a class for these lucky few and begin the game proper.

A particularly irksome and in the author’s viewpoint probably unnecessary element of DCC is the use of so called Zocchi Dice, the d3, d5, d7, d14, d16 and even a d30. While the use of these abberations cuts down the use of excessive bonuses and thus saves the player much addition-induced headaches, the game is magnanimous enough to provide you with an alternate means of generating the same results with normal, wholesome Dnd dice. Thank God.

Chapter I: Class(ics)

Character generation is done without whistles and bells: 3d6 in order and you are good to go. No swapping or discarding. Simply roll up your peasants and go. Hardcore but, given the use of the funnel, probably alright. Ability scores have been altered somewhat. Charisma and Wisdom have been collapsed into a single stat, by the name of Personality and a Luck stat has been added, which in addition to giving a bonus on critical hits, fumbles and misfires, also provides a bonus on a random type of roll (e.g survived a spider bite: saving throws vs poison, born on a battlefield: damage rolls etc). It may also be burned permanently (though the bonus to the random stat is based on starting luck, not current luck) to get a bonus on rolls, and may fluctuate during the course of the adventure, neat. It is mentioned that once alignment has been selected it should be done wisely since it will become more important as our heroes gain more might and influence and become embroiled in the eternal struggle of Law against Chaos, a wonderfully Moorcockian conceit that I hope shall see effective realisation.

XP has also been simplified in what is probably a very smart and wise move, characters gain between 1-4 XP (GM’s discretion, as is only natural) for surviving an encounter. This avoids a descent into either hackery or solely greed-driven sociopathy whilst still containing the tendency of would-be dramaturges to hog the spotlight and fill it with tedious solliloquy and navel-gazing. Encounters must be survived, by flight, might of arms, trickery or sorcery, or there shall be xp for none.

“What man calls free will is but the options remaining after destiny and the gods have made their plays.”

Neat. Classes are OD&D/Basic Standard, with neat additions to mix shit up a bit. All classes gain additional action(s) (not merely attacks) initially at a reduced die (d14 fuck you!) as they progress towards the undreamt of heights of power reached only by elfgame aepex predators that is the 10th level. Classes seem a bit more front-loaded then is usual in the noble elfgame, but then again they have to survive the character funnel and in DCC they are unlikely to live very long anyway so that is no more then a blessing.

Clerics are given a list of deities, appropriately S&Sey (e.g Malotoch, the Carrion Crow God and Shul, god of the moon), based on their alignment, and may turn various creatures that are seen as profane to their religion. In an interesting twist, Clerics may cast all of their known spells (they know a fixed amount, not all spells per level) without losing them but as they cast more often the chance of failure and “divine displeasure” increases (All spellcasting in DCC is by no means a sure thing and is done by rolling d20+ability score modifier+Caster Level against a DC based on level). Turning counts as spellcasting for this purpose as does the very versatile laying on hands ability that all clerics have. Sinful use of divine power, such as healing someone of the opposite alignment, also increases the chance of divine displeasure. In another neat twist, clerics may sacrifice material wealth such as treasure to reduce the chance of divine displeasure.  As a last resort, Clerics may beseech their patron deity for direct aid, though this is never attempted lightly (the rules are open yet provide enough structure to figure out how this may be arbitrated).

Ah, and what of that most essential and beloved of the adventuring professions, the noble thief? Thief skills vary depending on alignment, an interesting modification, and are otherwise expressed as a simple numerical bonus on a d20 roll. Backstabbing does away with complex multiplyers or exploding dice pools and is instead expressed as a simple bonus to hit and results in an automatic critical hit (critical hits are, however, fairly complex in DCC). In addition to the usual thief skills, the creation of disguises, forgery, the use of poison, the reading of languages and the casting of spells from scrolls is all handled in a similar fashion (spellcasting is handled via a diceroll, not a bonus). To top it off and to add mechanical stilts to that wonderful S&S trope of the rogue’s luck, Thieves (and their demi-human counterparts, the Gypsy Halfling) recover burnt luck at a rate of 1 point per level each night and each point of luck gives a variable bonus that increases with your level!

Even the fighter, or as he is called in this exciting ludus, the Warrior, has been beefed up significantly. A stout champion of the forces of light or ruthless reaver with murderlust in his savage eyes, the Warrior’s HD have been beefed up to an awe inspiring d12. In DCC, fighters are the Tits! With such frivolous additions as a variable attack bonus to both hit and damage rolls in the form of a dice, a better crit table as he progresses and his level to initiative, all will fall before you. Complex maneuvers such as disarming, knocking down foes or pushing them back have all been folded into the Mighty Deeds of Arms roll, allowing you to perform a plethora of interesting combat maneuvers with each attack roll. While many examples are given later on in the book, the player is encouraged to get creative. No longer the tedium of attack roll hit, damage. Your player may now use his creativity to smash people in the face and smash them well!

The Wizard, that most powerful and alluring of all Dnd classes, has about the same features as the AD&D model, although the nature of magic means a radical difference nonetheless. To add more Elric, Faffhrd and Conan to the mixture, wizards can pick a patron (whether demon or other supernatural entity) and invoke its power for various benefits and drawbacks. The dangerous, unpredictable and transgressive nature of Sorcery is expressed clearly by way of corruption and various mishaps. More on this later.

No retroclone, nor inheritor to DnD would presume to do away with demihumans and thus we get DCC versions of the beloved Tolkinian archetypes with little or no alteration. It is perhaps fair to say they have actually been made MORE archtypical, if such a thing is possible. Dwarves get a shield bash, and can smell concentrations of gold and gems. Elves are allergic to iron and automatically receive the ability to invoke a patron (to add a hint of Melniboné to doubt). Halflings may fight with two weapons and are not just lucky (i.e they may regenerate burnt luck points) but are capable of invoking it on behalf of their party members. A halfling functions as a literal good luck charm. Magnificent.

To top off this part, the second chapter of DCC incorporates a wonderfully elegant skill system for skills ranging from skills learnt in one’s background (i.e blacksmithing) to more common activities (climbing or sneaking, which is possible for nonrogues, though not at the same level of ability). A simple system that incorporates background, a d20 or d10 and the appropriate ability score modifier. 2 pages.

DCC seems a worthy successor to the elfgames of yesteryear. If it is a pretender to the throne, it is at least a very well dressed one. Join us soon for part II, covering such worthy endeavours as equipment (short section) and combat (long section).

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