Saturday, June 7, 2014

Stitching Together My Ideal DCC Game

I never quite did a campaign post mortem for DCC, because I jumped straight into my Edge of the Empire dual campaigns that I was running at the time.  Long story short, it was a lot of fun, but the game didn't quite work the way I wanted it to work.  I don't blame the game system, but the game system does have some traits that lend itself toward some craziness that might undermine what I was trying to create.



My Expectation

I wanted to make a Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign that was closer in tone to Conan, Elric, and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser.  I think DCC's influences definitely lend themselves towards that type of game, but I was also attempting to "bridge" between an old school D&D game and DCC's tone.



In the first session I introduced an elf character that was pretty vicious and cruel, but was a major hero in the campaign, which was my Elric stand in.  The point of this introduction was to get across the point that elves in this setting were weird, decadent, vicious jerks.  

I was still trying to introduce more "grey" versions of standard D&D races.  Orcs were a bit more "World of Warcraft."  Dwarves were a bit more "Dragon Age."  That said, playing a game where you have levels and classes (especially familiar classes), and familiar terminology, allows implications to work their way into the game.

Reality

Every time I introduced Elven things in the game, no matter how weird  ("here is where the elves kept their human slaves"--"here is where the elves kept their hallucinogenic drugs"), "Elf" seemed to translate to D&D Elf.



Thankfully the group did jump in at the end and lead a group of orcs versus the evil elves invading human lands.  But it felt like I was really forcing the subverted tropes on the group.  The final dungeon of the campaign was really "look how evil and weird Elves are!"

But more than all of that, it was hard to get anyone invested in their characters.  The assumption in DCC is that if you take a 0 level character and have them survive over time, you are invested in that poor guy that managed to survive against all odds.  That did indeed work for a couple of characters that did survive.  About half of the party was constantly dying, then killing one another, then not really care much about their characters.

I also made another huge mistake that I think did the opposite of what I wanted.  I allowed the players to bank their XP so that they could level up another character if their current character died.  The problem with this is that randomly generated characters that didn't look that good didn't get any XP spent on them, and died at really bad times in the campaign, causing us to have absolutely silly moments when another character had to show up to replace the dead PC.

So, in conclusion, the game was a fun gonzo old school fantasy roleplaying experience.  I like the system.  Pretty much everyone liked the system.  The campaign issues were from my expectations and how I presented the setting, and largely in my special rules that kind of played with the random nature of the game.  However, at its base, DCC does expect that you will eventually form a bond with a character that might have been hapless at one time.  It makes for some crazy sessions, but it can work a bit against long term character development and story.

What would I do if I did it again?



I still have a desire to create a Conan/Fafhrd and Mouser/Elric toned game with DCC.  There is a lot to like in the game.  But since I started running the game there have been some third party supplements that have come out.  Normally, I wouldn't lean this heavily on ripping bits and pieces from third party supplements, but for an old school game like DCC, it almost feels right.

What would I add?  I'd take some rules from Tales from the Fallen Empire and Transylvanian Adventures.  There are some great ideas in them, but I don't want to adopt either one completely.  Let's see what organs I'd pull out of them, then, eh?

I'd take some classes from both, to have an available class list that looks like this:

  • Barbarian  (Tales from the Fallen Empire)
  • Man-Ape  (Tales from the Fallen Empire)
  • Sentinel  (Tales from the Fallen Empire)
  • Witch  (Tales from the Fallen Empire)
  • The Half-Breed  (Transylvanian Adventures)
  • Thief
  • Warrior
  • Wizard


I think I'd use the monetary system from Tales from the Fallen Empire  (basically moving things more towards a silver standard rather than a gold standard).  

I'd definitely take the Ruin system from Transylvanian Adventures, as well as the "Party Like its 1899" table from that book as well.

All of the above are really to reinforce a different fantasy style than D&D.  No clerics.  No Elves, Dwarves, or Halflings.  The only non-humans are Man-Apes and Half-Breeds, which are just humans that have something in their bloodline that makes them "not right."  

The silver standard is another thing that feels more "grubby" and doesn't invokes the mounds of gold such as you would find in Smaug's horde, for example.  Heck, you can have tons of silver, and feel rich, but the noble that throws around gold still seems like he's beyond the grubby adventurers.



Without restating the whole thing, the Ruin system from Transylvanian Adventures replaces the "recovering the body" rule from DCC, and the rating for Ruin goes up the more the character falls below 0 hit points, and higher ruin means the character is more likely to die when they fall below 0 hit points.  Also, the GM can spend Ruin for his side if he feels like it, which I like, because it's like reverse Luck for GMs.

Finally, and most blasphemously--I'd start characters at 1st level, 4d6, arrange how you like.  I know, I know, that's like a cardinal DCC sin.  That said, it almost seems like that level of customization for a 1st level character is the minimum to get someone interested in making the character they want.

No 0 level bonus abilities, like 0 level hit points or birth signs.  

So, that's my blasphemous thoughts on the game.  Someday I'd love to give it another whirl, and hopefully nobody comes to my house to confiscate my coveted DCC book, because I am kind of attached to it.

7 comments:

  1. I'm moving away from the traditional D&D feel of the system and (with Crawljammer and Thundarr stuff, as well as The Anomalous Subsurface Environment) more into Lasers n Rapiers type things. A la Carcosa. This permits a good deal of leeway in the classes and races so that people can get their hands on a concept they like and run with it, despite exceeding schmuckiness in the funnel.

    You will burn for your blasphemies, heretic! I joke, I joke. I am always surprised at how onerous people feel the 3d6-in-order-thing is. The best thing about it is you can take the suckers and play them with real abandon in the funnel, and hold out for a sound heroic moment for the keeper(s). I think it's a hoot, but I dig that some people like a concept and build from the start. If done right, every character in the game can get exposed to corruption and horrors and magical weirdness that can change the development of the PC in all kinds of fun ways.

    This was a good read - I like the Ruin rules, also. You clued me in to the Fallen Empire thing which I think went under my radar. Do you like it?

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    1. The look and feel of Tales from the Fallen Empires is great. Really like the classes and the setting. There are a few bits that feel like they needed a bit of work to level out. For example, I don't quite "get" all of the fiddly bits for rituals, although I understand the "big picture" of how they work, and the lore rules are interesting, but feel a little fuzzy in the implementation.

      Despite that, I don't regret the purchase at all.

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  2. All very valid thoughts, very interesting. DCC has both been wonderful and falling short at the same time. And you laid your finger on some of the sore spots quite aptly.

    While the basic rulebook wants to see elves more Appendix N - for whatever that means - besides the demon pact thing they are just D&D elves. And none of my players did go for a patron! My own B/X D&D elf with his strong moods and bouts of violence was actually more this-is-not-Tolkien than any DCC elf so far. People bring their assumptions from D&D and LotR, and unless you already give them a name that leads their basic idea another way, giving players elves will lead them to play like elves...

    I like both Tales and Transylvanian Adventures, and I like your idea of how to mix a future campaign together. Given the complaints I had from my players so far, I would commit similar heresy next time. Or let them play Monsters & Magic, the heretic little things they are.

    Both DCC and the supplements you mention work best when you have players that don't stick to their characters "like baby butterflies." A few games of Paranoia and/or Call of Cthulhu might prove instructive to a group before coming back to any D&D-ish game, I guess.

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    1. My players are pretty good at accepting PC death, it's just they got a little too used to it and embraced it a few times when a new 0 level character entered the game. ;)

      The funny thing is, it's not so much that a PC Elf will be to "Tolkien," it's that when they make the PC Elf into something else, the assumption is that he's playing against the Tolkien type rather than against weird Elf type.

      I actual had one player run a very interesting Elf that ended up getting mutated and eventually took on the mantle of a monster in one of the adventures, and he wasn't a D&D Elf by any means, but I've also had other players that just assumed he was being weird, not being an Elf.

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  3. Yeah, I get you with the elves. It might be helpful just to call them Melniboneans.

    And I'll second your blasphemy. I've never played in or run a funnel that wasn't a lot of fun, but it has never seemed like a proper start to a campaign. I woke up this morning a radish farmer. I went to bed this night a cleric. And getting stuck with a crap character... The +1/+2/+3 attribute modifiers in DCC are a big deal, IME. I have a wizard with a +1 in Int. He never succeeds. I have a warrior with a +3 in Str. He never fails. It's not such a big deal at lower levels when your characters are basically nobodies. And I think DCC does a good job of making failure fun. But when you get some levels on you and really heavy stuff starts happening, you need to succeed sometimes. I think 4d6 to taste is probably a better norm for DCC.

    Character investment is also a big deal. I think a lot of frustrated DMs from 3.5/PF/4e come to DCC and get too kill happy. And consequently, I think a lot of players sort of harden themselves to this style of DCC by not getting invested in their PCs. It's hard to have an ongoing campaign in the traditional sense with a constantly rotating cast of characters.

    I'm still playing a lot of DCC, but have mostly switched to running Labyrinth Lord. I think when/if I start my next DCC campaign, I'd like to implement the humans only, wizards & warriors only suggestions from Crawl #1. I'd also probably dispense with the Lucky roll & mercurial effects. There's a lot of room for power gaming by unscrupulous rollers there.

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    1. Every funnel I have ever run has been a blast, but I don't know how much they contribute to the overall campaign. They almost feel like a separate game. Also, going back to the Appendix N thing, did we really ever see Conan, Fafhrd and Mouser, or Elric as 0 level characters? We see them "level up" sure, but I don't think we ever saw them as hapless and only surviving on luck a some random good ideas.

      And yet, the funnel is a lot of fun, and it does lead to some cool character development. And then on the other hand, you also have to have a reason for 0 level Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings to be hanging out in town as well.

      I'd love to come up with something for funnels that let me hang on to the idea, because it is so much fun.

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  4. I want to reiterate, I think DCC is a brilliant game. I love it. I'm drawn to it. I'm hesitant to change any of the settings because it is a brilliant game. I just think that I have certain expectations, and my players have certain tendencies and tastes, and some tweaking may be in order.

    In no way should that be taken as me saying the game "doesn't work" or should be something other than what it is, because if it was, I wouldn't want to spend the time tinkering with it.

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