Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Classic Experience

As I mentioned previously, Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game is posed to be the game of the OSR thus far. But this a tall claim, isn't it? Aren't rules, after all, just rules? Indeed, from first glance, DCC shares all the major tropes found in early editions of the Dungeons & Dragons game. What makes DCC so significant?

While the rules take up the least space in the book, and appear to be broadly descended from traditional Dungeons & Dragons, the differences are subtle and nuanced. Importantly, these new rules require an open mind, as DCC is not merely a distillation of the games that have preceeded it. It is not the perfection of past attempts, or a fine-tuning of a well-worn concept. There is a new theory behind this game which takes us back to the moment we first cracked open the Basic Dungeons & Dragons box as kids and peered in with wonder.

Of course, as we know, D&D developed on a course predestined by its wargaming roots. Chainmail was a set of medieval warfare rules, and the later iterations of D&D that it inspired focused increasingly on characters, combat roles and abilities. In a way, this even sort of made sense; the most memorable aspect of fantasy literature remained the characters, who then became more and more the sole focus of fantasy games. But there is another moment, a spark, that this timeline has long since left behind. This spark lies at the heart of our first roleplaying experience, when we still did not understand D&D fully, and the oceans of our imagination, buoyed by a ravenous diet of novels and art, met with the first shores of a gaming system. There was a tremendous amount of promise in that moment, precisely when we rolled our first strangely-shaped polyhedral, craned over to see the result and thought, "well, what does THAT mean for my character?"

And this moment is precisely where the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game departs from Dungeons & Dragons. While the later focused increasingly on providing easy and clear answers to dice results, DCC harnesses the interpretive moment of the die roll for asking more questions and creating more difficult situations. The use of dice throughout the game creates dots, which players are then inspired to connect according to their experiences. The die roll is always a negotiation, never a prescription, and demands engagement.

A great example of this can be seen in DCC's rules for Mighty Deeds. Warriors lack an attack bonus, and instead get an ascending bonus die that adds to attack and damage. Additionally, warriors are encouraged to describe their maneuvers, tactics and tricks with each attack. The result of the bonus die determines how successful this feat was, challenging the players to rethink how they can best defeat a powerful enemy.

At the same time, the use of dice in DCC tends to create, rather than resolve, conflicts. Wizards must bargain with their patron daemons, and choices always suggest future challenges. On the Goodman Games fora, there has already been at least one story of the dice being read as transforming a character into a greater daemon.

The end result is a little game that packs a lot of punch, with dice rolls that bring up questions instead of providing answers. The kinds of questions that come up in a regular game feed directly from the inspirational literature of Appendix N, giving Dungeon Crawl Classics consistent atmosphere that any swords and sorcery fan can enjoy. Armed with Vornheim, The Random Esoteric Creature Generator and Dungeon Crawl Classics, a referee might feel young again.


  1. "Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game is posed to be the game of the OSR thus far."

    No it isn't. It is a good game, but to call it "the game" of the OSR? You've now put it in the ring with OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord among other and it simply doesn't compete with those titles.

  2. Thanks for the comment. OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord are simply clones of previous games. If we want to call the OSR a "renaissance" in the true sense, then DCC RPG does what a renaissance ultimately must: it moves beyond imitation into something new. I am glad to hear you are a fan of OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord though - those are two great games. Cheers.

  3. Very nicely written. I particularly liked your phrasing of how DnD "focused increasingly on providing easy and clear answers to dice results." That phrase very succinctly captures my own disillusionment with DnD across editions.



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