Clarification Topic: Why do you like DCO Prince?

A reader by the name of Lanifarne on Dragonsfoot (grognard forum, page 3 of the topic and onward) has commented on my review of Deep Carbon Obervatory, in response to the recent kurfuffle surrounding the statements of the Honoured Kabuki Kaiser, whose Castle Gargantua is currently on my reviewing slab.

Since I am banned from Dragonsfoot (for reasons I cannot recall, but I suspect they might involve RPGPundit in some fashion or another), I sadly cannot comment, but I would be more then happy to comment on them here. Perhaps it was profanity or sockpuppetry. Anyhow, I give full permission to transcribe my responses for the perusal of any of the denizens of Dragonsfoot.

A preliminary clarification is warranted:

Fair Lanifarne writes:
Now, I have to agree with PoN’s sentiments on most of that, but will opine that most of the creative and interesting stuff falls into the second half of the adventure.

I shall not argue over opinions over aesthetics, but merely clarify my opinion. I would argue the first half confirms to my outlined standards of creativty based on the following merits:
1. The opening random-table flowchart from hell is an unconventional way to get characters invested in the setting and the actual encounters somewhat transcend the format of random encounters and many serve a purpose of getting you invested in the adventure, via hooks or whatnot.
2. The magic items are all unique and varied.
3. The encounters in the first part combine to form a bizarre faery tale disaster area sort of aesthetic that I, again, have not seen before.

Yeah, but it is essentially a monstrous, evil version of Pat W’s dungeon golems, from ASE. PoN was charmed by the the module’s creativity, as can be seen here [I’d just ask that he clarify what the OSR is]:

I believe the definition I gave on my blog is something like this one:

OSR: Shorthand for Old school Revolution. An informal group of twats that started making games that emulated the old editions of dnd or were based around the mindset of old school play. Noun, adjective or verb. As in: Ich bin OSR, This blog is OSR, what a bunch of OSR, Prince is one OSR sonofabitch, I OSR’d your girlfriend last night etc etc.

A Broader and somewhat more reverent definition would be:
The OSR is a community of hobbyists who centre around playing, revising, making new material for and otherwise pertaining themselves with, Old School D&D (anything pre 2e if I read it correctly) and other Old School Games of similar design.

The resemblance between the Dungeon Elemental and the Giant is well-spotted (I have not read ASE1), but I would say the juxtaposition of the encounter and the environment is what sells it for me. The serial killer monster gambit is not one I have seen that often (Ragg’s The God that Crawls, somewhat arguably Hadric from X7: The War Rafts of Kron and the Mirror Fiend from X12 come to mind), and I enjoy it when it used to such effect.

Although I like a lot of DCO’s creative ideas and clever descriptions, I’m no where as enthusiastic as PoN overall. If he hadn’t been perma-banned here [bad boy, what did you do?], perhaps he could have followed up his review with some comments in this thread. There’s a big discussion going on now at K&KA regarding the importance of material being polished, immediately useful, and capable of being incorporated into a normal campaign. I do give the Potentate of Nada props for anticipating each of those points one year ago…

I give thanks. It depends on one’s preferences. I will not argue with anyone who states that DCO has a shit (uh, Family friendly alternative: terrible) layout and requires work before use. It is rough, unprofessionally so at times. In general I agree that modules should be designed with utility in mind, but in this case I feel the negatives are outweighed somewhat by the positives. Perhaps I was carried away by the youthful exuberance of my first few read throughs. The way the encounters explode of the page and detonte a firecracker in your brain. The overwhelming cascade of aethetic and game-play generating design choices that crystallize in the hind-brain.

Any further questions r.e my review of the work may be directed at the comment section of this post. I hope this proved somewhat illuminating.

As an aside, I think a big problem with reviewing in general is that one does not have time to playtest all of the products and even if one does, factors like group composition, personal playstyle, GMing style, the open-endedness of DnD and misscelanious factors render a single test run entirely inadequate in determining whether a product would be useful to a general audience. I have tested Carcosa and Tower of the Stargazer extensively and feel that in general, my verdicts on them stand the test of time.

As for material being adaptable for use in a campaign: I disagree. The very hetrogenity that makes the OSR appealing tends to ensure that Campaign world A differs greatly from Campaign World B. The demand assumes a common frame of reference that is often lacking. Even if we assume the reference point is something like Appendix N, the magnitude in which various S&S novels influence the campaign world in question tends to vary. Campaign World A might be more influenced by Amber and Elric whilst Campaign world B drinks deeply of Vance and Clark Ashton Smith. They are both recognisably and unmistakably DnD, yet thematically they are sure to vary.
The only solution is to A) make modules that can be set in a sort of common reference campaign world i.e Greyhawk, but if you do that why not make your own spiffy campaign setting and set your published works therein  B) make modules generic and thus easily adaptable or to make modules that do not affect, nor even define, the cosmology and world in which they are set. As I pointed out in my review of Isle of the Unknown, making things generic or undefined makes them boring and less usefull. Let the GM figure out how to incorporate something into his campaign world.

I hope this will help.

Your Prince.

EDIT: HELL AND DAMNATION! Both the Cave Giant and the Dungeon Elemental could charitably be said to be inspired by the demon prince Blikdak from Jack Vance’s Guyal of Sfere story.


8 thoughts on “Clarification Topic: Why do you like DCO Prince?

  1. [Dragonsfoot response thread. Thank you ViP for your dediction to the cause]

    A gentlemen by the name of ScottytooHotty Writes:

    “The majority of the random flowchart encounters are pretty closed-ended, so not sure how much of a hook they are to get invested in the full adventure. They seem a lot like Elder Scrolls minor fetch quests.”

    Curtis Ghoyll knows about the family tomb (later described). Seluminum Tenn has the key to the church later on in act one. Kon-i-Gut introduces the Cannibals in the Village. The Children give hints for the witch encountered later on. Hans Gökul provides a monetary incentive to figure out what the fuck is going on. Tzani Spillos introduces the Crows and carries scrolls with a hint. Stary Hrad also is involved in an encounter that foreshadows the Crows, Tham Rusie’s relic has been stolen and it will end up with the Crows and Zarathusra offers money for figuring out what the fuck is going on. That is about 50% (9) of the encounters. Technically we are both wrong.

    “Well, I’ve never seen a populace start turning to hardcore cannibalism the day after a disaster. So that is certainly a unique aspect! But a DM that uses the concept is going to have players calling him out on that. we DM’s love our players calling us out on basic logic issues. NOT.”

    I’ve already adressed that. I wrote in my review: “Another gripe, the Dam broke the day before the PCs arrived in the region. Are we to believe that people will resort to cannibalism in disaster areas after a single day? Kind of a stretch.” It is perfectly fine to dislike something for its flaws, but you are preaching to the choir. The two statements in no way contradict eachother.


  2. I wrote in my review: “Another gripe, the Dam broke the day before the PCs arrived in the region. Are we to believe that people will resort to cannibalism in disaster areas after a single day? Kind of a stretch.”

    It wouldn’t bug me so much, if it weren’t for the fact that most of the enemies are an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. Stu’s stuff really makes it hard for me to maintain my sense of disbelief because it lacks versimilitude- there always seems to be a detail or two which doesn’t ring true to anybody who isn’t a shut-in. I think that’s why Durr Hurr tends to dig this stuff.

    If I can be arsed, I’ll post a bit about the ‘light’ section of ‘VotE’ at the mothership…. or motherfuckership, as the case may be.


    1. Verisimilitude’s an interesting thing. I generally view it as the hobgoblin of small minds, and ‘sense of disbelief’ as the domain of the story game, but you are correct in that the mind nags on a random grab-bag of monsters and wonders how and why this has come to pass. I don’t give a rat’s toot for verisimilitude as a rule (there lies the path that ends with Alexis and his god-damned leather price/seafaring weather cross-reference charts) but I give a hearty toot of my own for a consistent theme and aesthetic, which are threatened by the same things in a similar way.


      1. [Aesthetic vs Versimilitude]

        I should think if DCO does one thing right it does Aesthetic. I guess one could gripe about Platypi, lungfush and Pikes not really belonging in the same ecological niche but DCO seems to work for me, imagination wise


    2. [Stupatrick versimilitude]

      No doubt a consequence of StPat’s neural architecture. Some Gm’s are so focused on visual imagery or strange concepts that the actual meat and bones or logistics behind many of their creations are an afterthought if at all.

      I remember a dnd session where we had to defend a town from an orc invasion. The fishing-village/town had 2.000 inhabitants, yet had the oldest and most desirable library on the continent. The Orcs were laying siege to it by constructing a Trebuchet next to their Orc King on a nearby peninsula about a mile from the actual city. I forget the town guard and their strength.

      The point is, the GM clearly wanted a siege, yet also wanted the town to be minor, yet important enough to be a serious blow to the good guys if lost. Now a smart sophist could probably find some reason for these idiosyncracies (the Library is older then the village by millenia and all of its books are written in a different dead language thus only a few apostate scholars are sentenced to translating the UNKNOWN LIBRARY every decade) but it is all about the method of adventure construction. Do you make something that makes sense and figure out what can happen in such an area or do you want something cool to happen and do you worry about that shit later? Stu worries later.

      A dam flooding would probably fuck up your harvest and kill a lot of people but I don’t see it causing that many food shortages, especially with the deep sea fish spread out over the barren ground later on. That is an excellent point.


  3. On an even more grating note, StuPat’s design tends to mess with player agency in favor of a ‘narrative’. He gives an elaborate backstory and future timeline for his precious NPC party, giving them a bit of a DMPC air. Similarly, all of the vignettes in which the players cannot change the course of events smack of railroading.

    His bit about the giant definitely killing characters is railroady… one of the great joys of playing is coming up with a tactic which totally throws the DM’s plans into disarray, and one of the great joys of DMing is seeing what sort of crazy shit the players can pull off to wreck your plans. Stu may as well have had Elminster or some Dragonlance character make a cameo. Funny thing is, Bryce usually calls out this kind of nonsense.

    Fuck it, I’m in the hobby to game, I’m not in it to read some British shut-in’s bad fantasy novella.


    1. [Railroadering]

      A serious charge! I never interpreted it as railroading. Entry 2 has a description of a cleric that says “He will drown soon” but looking at the description of the entry below, it is clear that the information is meant to indicate his fate should the PCs not intervene. The Boat captain will respond with lethal force IF the PCs do nothing to alter the course of events and so on…

      There are some railroadery events such as the death of the adventuring party or the boy SHOULD he go to a meeting with the Crows and the PCs accompany him, but I do not share your interpretation of the events in the first act. To me the events seem designed for intervention, the proposed course of events takes place only upon non-intervention by the PCs.


      Stewpatrice writes:

      “As a note to DMs: if all the potential treasure in the observatory is counted up, it nearly equals that of a minor dragon’s hoard. It is virtually unguarded. The only major built-in threat is the giant.

      If you cannot kill at least one player with this giant then you are probably doing something wrong. Kill them. Make them afraid. Explain nothing.

      It would work well in room 39, the slave observation room. It can climb down into the hall quite easily. That being said, the exact placement is up to you.”

      I get why you see that as a railroad, and it goes without saying that especially clever players should be able to escape, but I took it more as general advice then railroading. No unfairness, tinkering or meta-gaming quantum-ogre horseshit is required to make a single kill with a 15 HD silent death giant.

      That being said, I completely agree that one of the joys of DnD is the clever plotting that players do. I enjoy it to such an extent that at some point I stopped worrying about building in an escape route in my Dark Heresy Adventures, since my PCs usually came up with something that was both more inventive and effective and about three hundred times as crazy as any escape route or solution I’d figured out. I don’t think that Stewpatrice is guilty of violating that type of play, since my Players would immediately start trying to figure out a way to murder the giant or trap it and collapse part of the Observatory if need be to get rid of the fucker.

      I’d be curious to reread the Observatory part to see if I can figure out a way to kill the bastard. I think Bryce, like me, differs in interpretation on the railroading parts though I think a slap on the wrist for neglecting to mention the layout and editing problems as well as the general sloppiness would be waranted.


  4. I don’t really see much of a similarity between the Dungeon Elementals of ASE and the DCO giant. The Dungeon Elemental (which are on no encounter tables) exist as part of the ASE’s meta-game – they reset traps and repair damage, a sort of embodiment of the dungeon itself rather then a monster that stalks the players hunting them through the dungeon. You never encounter a Dungeon Elemental in ASE unless the players start griping about how the traps are reset and doors closed. If anything the giant in DCO is closer to “The God that Crawls” in that LOTFP adventure.

    The Blikdak connection may be better taken, but one could make an argument that the entire genre of Dungeon Adventure and the mythic underworld owes something to Blikdak.

    The false ring of Landifrane’s original argument comes from his failures to make distinctions like the one between the DCO Giant and the ASE Dungeon Elemental – an unwillingness to recognize that while he might not like DCO for his own game (and DCO has flaws – no doubt) that people such as myself liking it aren’t part of a conspiracy to ruin “The OSR” by writing material that doesn’t amount to “There’s Orcs in A Hole – kill them”.

    Indeed, in a recent discussion with some OSR folks we were all remarking how the joy of Tabletop games came from that discovery of the strange new and evocative. That when we were young and first meeting the hobby this was found in the descriptions and adventures in things like B2 or Vault of the Drow,which now through endless reiteration, repackaging and bleed into video-games and culture as a whole are cliches. The joy of discovery and the wondrous in playing tabletop games is not likely to be found in mere repetition of the the old classics – but in new ways of describing fantasy worlds and novel adventure ideas. Things precisely like DCO, which to me makes up its shortcomings by being descriptive and novel.

    Liked by 1 person

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