Monday, February 20, 2017

Talking OSR - Dungeon Crawl Classics pt.1

              It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that has read my blog before that I am a massive fanboy. Like many within our shared hobbies, I cannot quite contain myself when the object of my interest (read: unadulterated obsession) can become the topic of conversation. Allow that to be a caveat for all that follows. I am positively obsessed with the Old-School Renaissance (OSR). While not old enough myself to have gotten into Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st Edition (let alone Holmes or Moldvay Basic), I was fortunate enough to begin my role-playing career during the days of AD&D 2nd Edition, which was glorious. Throughout the last six years or so, I have become somewhat of a collector of the box sets and books which make up the early days of fantasy role-playing, and it is through this strong collector’s impulse that I first came across the OSR. So, allow me to digress as I talk about my absolute favorite offering of OSR goodness: Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG (DCC).
                At face value, DCC appears to be another D&D Basic retro-clone; it is so much more than that. While DCC employs race-as-class and the same class options as basic, the similarities stop there. DCC, while undeniably OSR, is not a retro-clone, but rather a re-envisioning of Basic. That is what makes Joseph Goodman’s (A.K.A. The Dark Master) hard work so impressive. The feel is undeniably old-school. When I sit at the table to play DCC I have the same sense of wonder that I had when I started playing 2nd Edition back in ’98. To me, this ability to elicit this feeling is what really makes the OSR what it is. So what is Dungeon Crawl Classics doing to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack?


                The first thing that really makes Dungeon Crawl Classics stand out is the point of inspiration from which The Dark Master came when he first scribed the illustrious tome which has now seen its fourth print run. While Basic Set (as discussed above) is something that had an influence on the game, The Dark Master has made it no secret that he consulted that most sacred of lists (Appendix N) directly when crafting DCC. He went through and read the works that inspired Gary Gygax and thought about that influence and how it would affect his own game. I have read a few blogs that seem to be dismissive of the Appendix N, but I whole-heartedly disagree with those

sentiments. It seems reasonable that to understand a thing, one must understand its foundations. To this end, Goodman was incredibly successful. The very fabric of the game is dripping with influence from the texts that comprise the Appendix N, and this explains DCC’s unique feel.
                In DCC the setting is wild, the monsters are unfamiliar, and the magic is potent and terrifying. The distinction between science fiction and fantasy is blurred almost into non-existence, and this makes for a supremely interesting game world. Combat is quick and explosive (often literally), and the dungeon crawl has had new life breathed into its (quite frankly) withering remains. The game encourages a different, higher level of imagination and immersion, and it does so in a way that feels different from other table-top RPGs. Ultimately, it is a game that must be played to be understood.

Rulings, Not Rules

                Another thing I have come to love about the OSR which DCC epitomizes is the concept of stressing a judge’s rulings over a set of rules. In a lot of modern gaming circles this idea seems more controversial than I think I should be. It seems to me that it is a conceit of the medium that the Game Master’s word should be treated as law, for the GM is the individual that is giving up the time to help create a consistent world for the players to game. Since the advent of the 3rd edition and its bastard offspring (Pathfinder) players have become more committed to the idea that if it is in a splat book, it should be honored in the game. This, to me, is absurd for several reasons which I will save for another post, but Dungeon Crawl Classics successfully avoids this trap by containing the ruleset to one enormous volume. No splat books. That’s right people: none.
This leaves a certain amount of ambiguity that necessitates a Game Master’s discretion to adjudicate. If you are tired of your players insisting on building multi-classed half-vampire/half-centaur shield-warden/space-necromancers, then this is the game for you. DCC is a system that truly understands that flavor does not need to be codified to be implemented. Think about it for a moment: is the barbarian truly as necessary class, or is a fighter flavored a different way sufficient? This is not to say I have a problem with the barbarian as a class, by the way; just ask anyone I’ve ever gamed with.
Dungeon Crawl Classics has no skills, no feats, and no unnecessary rules. It is bare-bones in a way that truly enables a Game Master to craft the kind of game s/he really wants to run, while still having enough interesting features and rules to keep game play from feeling stale and boring. DCC is the Aristotelian Golden Mean of table-top gaming.

Strong on his mountain (err… at his desk),