[Review] Dungeon Crawl Classics Core Rulebook Pt. II; Swordcraft…

(This post was originally titled Swordcraft & Sorcery but given the length I think an additional part is warranted, join me next time for Magic in DCC).

Before we delve into the baroque majesty that is the DCC combat & spellcasting ruleset we take a slight detour into equipment. Equipment is handled in several admirably terse pages. The gold standard is in full effect and silver pieces or platinum pieces differ from gold pieces by magnitudes of ten. Simple, effective and time honoured. Encumberance is handled via common sense arbitration (as it usually is, even in games with complicated encumberance laws) and the armour check penalty makes its reappearance. Even wizards may wear armour but the penalty is deducted from their spellcasting rolls. In addition, wearing heavy armour will exacerbate your critical failures. Simple and effective.

The equipment section proper should feel so intimately familiar to anyone who has ever played an early version of DnD that it is barely worth commenting on. Everything is kept to its bare essentials. Same with the armour and misccelanious equipment section. The bare basics are all present. The mundane items do not even get a description (with the exception of holy water and burning oil, which both get rules). AC GOES UP BITCHES!

It is time for the nitty gritty of combat in DCC. The basics are identical to or a streamlined version of the earlier iterations of the world’s most famous roleplaying game and should feel immediately familiar and comforting. Situational modifiers (Cover, Prone etc.) higher then +2 are handled by altering the dice type. Everything is simple and streamlined, and the combat section as a whole should be seen as Slightly Better Old School Dnd Combat by virtue of Sensible Playtesting.

One elaboration to the tried and true DnD combat system, no matter how lacking in the realism of how an actual fight between an elf and a pig man would go like Dwayne!, is the addition of fumble and critical hit tables. Though often times your Royal Highness of Nothingness would improvise results whenever a critical hit or fumble was rolled, DCC has taken some time off to give you actual tables, and what glorious tables they are! Fumbles are about what you would make up on the spot if you were a GM bereft of tables and thus they are very suitable. Critical hit results start out relatively mild with extra damage and stunning but can turn vicious for high level warriors, inflicting permanent stat reduction, mutilation, a chance of instant death and so on. The results are expressed in appropriately graphic terms to give it that visceral thrill; dented skulls, cracked ribs, severed spinal columns, collapsed gut and voided bowels and so on. Not quite on par with Warhammer but very close.

Mounted combat rules are given in a single page, and feel like a distillation of all the simple and good parts of various mounted combat rulesets over the years. Immediately intuitive, useful and possessed of a not inconsiderable amount of versimilitude (e.g mounted combatants have a considerable advantage vs standing opponents after your warhose loses half of its hp it begins to panic and you must make agility checks to prevent being thrown etc.). Simple yet complete.

Another big change to the tried an true DnD combat system is the addition of Mighty Deeds of Arms, described previously. In short, every attack made by Warriors or Dwarves may be roleplayed and some whistles and bells may be added by the player. You kick your opponent down the stairs, you attempt to blind or disarm him, you bash him into his companions, with a flashy display of puissance you rally your men and give them new hope etc. Many examples are provided to give the GM a sense of scale and mechanical effect but the only real limit is imagination. In a triumph of efficient mechanical design, the Mighty Deed is incorporated into the attack roll so one knows immediately if it succeeds or fails (although sometimes the opponent gets a saving throw). Any complex form of combat is really covered/replaced by Migthy Deeds of Arms.

Death and injury is nasty, brutish and short. If you drop below 0 hp you bleed out and you get one round for each character level in which you may be healed magically, but even then you lose 1 point of Stamina (Con) permanently (and a terrible scar). Hardcore. If someone is dead and his buddy recovers him within an hour he may roll under his Luck and if he succeeds he was merely knocked out. You still take permanent injury and thus stat loss though. Everything else is more or less what one would expect. In addition, do not fall in DCC. Every 6 on a 1d6 means you break a bone and 1 point of permanent Str or Dex loss.

Amusingly, two weapon fighting make a re-appearance (I think most OSR games tend to avoid it like the bubonic plague), and comes off as fairly well balanced…unless you already have high agility (dex). At any rate, the penalties of two weapon fightning are a nice counterweight to the benefits of having one and I mean one! attack with a lightweight weapon.

The last major mutation in DCC’s otherwise baseline combat system DNA are the rules for counterspelling, or as they call it, spell-duelling. While it is far more complicated then the relatively barebones counterspelling systems we are no doubt familiar with, it is, indesputably, a cooler system, even though it consists of 9 steps (albeit with a simple opposed spell roll to start off with) and 3 tables to reference!
Spells can be countered but they do not always cancel eachother out. A variety of nuanced results may occur, from a slight weakening of the original spell to outright negation or reflection. A momentum mechanism adds tension to the spell duel and serves as a counterbalance to stalemates. The most interesting results occur when both wizards have an equal check result, which triggers all manner of crazy shit (combatants get transported to a pocket plane, temporally displaced or disrupted, cause planar breaches, summon demons etc.). While it is a bit on the complicated side, I suspect wizard duels are sufficiently rare as to warrant the extra elaboration if the goal is to generate a more exciting game.

The combat section is a refinement of oldschool DnD, with the only real major change the Mighty Deeds of Arms mechanic, a codificiation of what experienced and creative players already do anyway (if they are worth a damn). DCC is brutal and I’d be suprised if characters manage to get through the first few levels without stat loss if they live at all. Just the way I like it. While the use of tables is going to slow down the game at first, the bulk of the combat system should be familiar enough to neckbeards to ensure freeflowing and exciting hackery and slashery with only intermittent perusal whenever the dreaded 20 or 1 comes up. An excellent section, I cannot wait to find out more.

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5 thoughts on “[Review] Dungeon Crawl Classics Core Rulebook Pt. II; Swordcraft…

  1. One door closes, with the Mighty Deeds of Arms addressing the elaborate combat to-and-fro which has in the past demanded Feats and other nonsense. Another opens, and lo! our old friend Cruft creeps back in, with Counterspelling.

    How rare are wizard duels going to be when one has a wizard in the party? Not that rare, I’d imagine. Elegance is always to be prized and a surfeit of resolution stages always to be detested. NO EXCEPTIONS.

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    1. The daemon Cruft, that cunning and devious spirit, is not so easily banished indeed.

      Wizard duels are going to be relatively rare since the percentage of encounters consisting of wizards in DCC are probably going to be rare. I would wager less then 5% of your average DnD party’s combat involves wizards. Nevertheless, you are correct, it is a cubersome mechanism.

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      1. Really such a shortage of wizards? No moustache-twirling conjurors, would-be liches, summoners of things the like of which no man nor Dutchman should wot, actual liches, spellwielding drow temptresses or evil adventuring parties containing perverse mirrorings of the Big Four?

        I’d have thought there’d be a lot of Bad Wizards around the place.

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      2. How, sir, does one define ‘adventure’?

        This is not a trick question. Common ground on these matters is essential if progress (small P) is to be achieved.

        It should be noted that at lower levels of play I think the encounter and the adventure synonymous. Only a Fool takes up the sword and treks across perilous Xanadu on his first day outside the city walls. In a sword and sorcery milieu one might expect half of such early adventures to involve a wizard in some antagonistic capacity or another.

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