Having played through the “old school” era of D&D, as well as numerous other fantasy RPG systems over the years, I can definitely say that Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG pushes all the right buttons for recreating that nostalgic feel of heroic fantasy games from the 70s and 80s. And while I am definitely a 4E fan at heart, I must admit I want to run a mini-campaign or two of DCC RPG for my gaming groups, just for the sheer fun of early edition swords and sorcery roleplaying. What I really appreciate is that the authors created the old edition experience, but with some surprising and interesting mechanics that make every character feel special as part of an adventuring group. And some of the new mechanics really add a horror element to the heroic fantasy which you find quite prevalent in novels of the genre since Howard’s Conan first started hacking up demons and undead wizards decades ago. And I can respect the unapologetic mindset to the game. It’s “old school”, like it or leave it, but they made it fun enough that I think a lot of D&D gamers would like it, regardless of edition. It certainly isn’t trying to market to all D&D and fantasy gamers of every edition, but then again, DCC RPG seems to know what it is and makes no buts about it. The authors really brought together a complete package in one book – a player’s guide, a spell compendium, a monster manual, and a GM guide, plus a couple modules thrown in for free! So whether you buy the hardbound or PDF, you are ready to head off on a grand quest to slay horrible monsters, discover strange new places, and grab all the gold you can carry!
I love DCC RPG. It's really swingy, random, unpredictable, exciting, fresh, enjoyable, adventurous and fun.It is way more interesting than it's title suggests and you can play it in many ways from serious (yes you can) right through to weird gonzo lunacy.The product support is great, with a mountain of official modules and lots of cool third party stuff available as well.It uses the expanded poly dice types.. d30, d24 etc and that is just fine and dandy with me. They are used with a mechanical logic and not just to be silly.The artwork is mostly black and white line and ink work of the highest order, with a few crazy super colour pieces too.Did I mention that I like this game? Loosen up, try something other than the same old thing and play DCC RPG!It's well cool.
This game has wonderful art, and a lot of attitude. I consider it worth a buy just as an art book and inspirational reading.
For play, I'm not sure. The system boils down to a very lightweight 3E/d20. The monster stat blocks are beautiful in their concise brevity, while still being interesting. The classes are similarly streamlined. If they left it at that I'd be thrilled, but three glaring things detract from it:
First, it uses usual dice: d3, d5, d7, d14, d24, etc. I already have players peering uncertainly at their dice trying to decide if its the right one, I can only imagine when you have a dozen varieties that all look similar. Plus when you inevitably lose only one (cat!!), you're up a creek, so I need redundant sets of odd dice. It's a minor detail, but dice are a big deal and they matter.
Second, it is very, very dark. This is the game I always felt AD&D 1E wanted to be with its cacodemon and spiritwrack. DCC relies explicitly on pacts with dark gods and demons, and these are hard to avoid. Mechanically and fluff-wise, I think this is well done, and captures the literature they are trying to emulate (Elric, etc). The sample demons and patrons are interesting and evocative, and the whole system is directly engaging. It really does look fun, in the same way it's fun to go insane in Call of Cthulhu. But how many games call for ritual bloodletting or bargaining one's soul to a demon as a core mechanic? How many games have Cthulhu has a merely "neutral" god, and tempt you to BE the cultist? It yanks the game down a very dark path, one that many people will find uncomfortable or worse, and greatly limits its versatility. Pretty much all the patrons are evil, and while a lawful patron is possible, it is hard to write, since it is the horrific consequences of these pacts that are a major balancing factor in the magic system. A benevolent "good" patron makes it too easy, and a wizard without a patron is somewhat handicapped.
Finally, and this is I think the biggest for me: every spell has an intricate custom table you have to roll on when you cast it. I don't really understand this. They did such a great job with streamlining combat and feats and skills in favor of just using your imagination, but then they go and muck up spellcasting with all this table rolling? It is impossible to play the game without constant page flipping in a 500 page rulebook. The spell takes are loaded with minor mechanical gradations in range, area, effect, and so forth... exactly the kind of details I don't care about, and one of the things that drives me away from pathfinder. So I just don't understand this.
I would rate this 5 for the art and fluff, and 5 for the simplified d20 core, but the spell tables and pervasive darkness knock it down for me. I have yet to actually play it, partly because nobody I know wants to play with such dark and grim things.
Ok, so it's been a LONG time since I've written a review for a product, and this actually has less to do with people who might read this review, and more to do with me having a moment of catharsis. Mostly, this is just me waxing philosophically about play styles. If you don't want to read that, feel free to move along.
So, I had a chance to play a game of this over the weekend at a local convention. Prior to that, "DCC" meant a collection of modules from the d20 days. Little did I know that this existed in RPG form. Why they didn't bother actually coming up with a name for the RPG, I have no idea, but nevertheless. DCC, the RPG is an interesting take on role-playing.
Now the philosophical part. When you roll a 1st level character, there is a bit of a "gap" between the character's first adventure, and whatever might have come before that. In every core rulebook since the beginning of time, there is a chart that tells you what your "starting gold" will be. With this somewhat meager amount of money, you are to procure your items and begin your adventuring career. For some GM's, presumably, this amount of money is tantamount to a fortune. Just how, pray-tell, did this individual come up with 80gp anyway? Especially given that your average potato farmer might never see a single gold coin in his or her lifetime. There is some amount of reality-bending that we assume on behalf of the game experience that we wash over this nuance. But not DCC - nay. This area is rife for role-playing and "gritty" combat, life-or-death stuff, even. While I can certainly appreciate the many aspects of backstory that this can provide, is it really necessary?
The economic reality of the game play experience also really breaks down in most games. Let's face it: how many times in your gaming career have you ever actually purchased mundane full plate armor? By the time you've got the funds to buy full plate armor, you've already got +1 chainmail, and the full plate becomes kind of irrelevant. Surely, there's room to more fully explore this area of the role-playing experience, and somehow even drag out this experience over a longer period of time? I can certainly appreciate that. But the reality of it, I think it's also kind of boring. But I can appreciate the effort.
The last aspect of this that I want to touch upon is the spellcasting system. As others, in other reviews, have pointed out. This is overkill, and strikes me as (as my subject line says), "show me on the doll where the bad player touched you". In other words, this entire system reeks of a solution to a problem that the author probably had with flying wizards throwing down fireballs from above, and decided that an entirely new system that screwed players - especially wizards, needed to be built. Some clever player, probably more clever than the author, found a loophole, or used some clever combination of magic to utterly decimate the BBEG in their campaign, and they got butthurt over it. The solution to this isn't to completely rebuild an entire new spellcasting system that is so complicated, and has so many baked-in penalties into to basically guarantee that no one in their right mind would ever want to play a wizard. The solution, I feel, is to just play 5th edition. The concentration mechanic easily, and sublimely solves most of these problems. The authors of DCC should be ashamed in thinking they needed to devote hundreds of pages towards rewriting the magic system. A more simple mechanic could have solved it, and it just kind of reeks of GM-payback.
I think DCC is an interesting system. Full disclosure: I've never read the book, only played in a game, so obviously take this review with a large grain of salt. I just feel like it's a really heavy-handed solution trying to solve problems that don't really exist.
TLDR - A beautiful system for emulating sword & sorcery/pulp short stories. Theme and mechanics mesh wonderfully to provide unusual and rich experience.
Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) is a vibrant love-letter to the old pulp and sword & sorcery stories as well as a "simpler" more evocative era of D&D (the way people "remember" it being, not the actual mess it sometimes was). The design conceits are deliberately odd to support the flavor DCC is trying to achieve. It is almost unfair to consider DCC without the accompanying line of adventures which are incredible rich in detail and deliciously bizarre in execution.
DCC begins with the notion of funnel adventures to start of play - hilariously dangerous and odd events where players begin with a handful of peasants, bakers, tax-collectors and other oddities with little to no adventuring experience. Their numbers are soon whittled down making every survivor precious and special. It is remarkably effective in getting players into the game and having a stake in characters that are often bizarre and would never have been made deliberately. The included funnel adventure is probably my top adventure/tutorial ever - evocative, enthralling, and mysterious in spades.
DCC then buckles down to putting the survivors in a world of dark sorcery where magic is otherworldly and dangerous. The universe is a big place and mortals are small players. Leaning on its sword & sorcery roots DCC jams both its mechanics and its accompanying adventures with the spicy thrill of real danger and genuine mystery. For example, casting spells always requires rolling on a table. As you advance and level the chances of hilarious mishaps in spell-casting shrink but never vanish. Spectacular rolls are rewarded with increasingly powerful spell effects while poor rolls mutates and otherwise hampers the characters. Wizards are grasping at power beyond the mortal ken and the mechanical flavor is immense. The implementation for clerics is just as good.
I gave DCC 5/5 stars because it wears its purpose on its sleeve and is totally committed to its mission: pulpy rich adventuring with danger and death nipping at your heels (Appendix N all the way!) The book itself is filled with gorgeous art and ridiculous ideas. Critical tables (by class and level!), miss tables, roll your own dragon/demon/magic item tables... the stories that emerge from play are guaranteed to be memorable. The game works reasonably well for short-mid length campaigns and is a perfect palate cleanser for one-offs. Longer campaigns suffer a little as high-level DCC characters become relatively resilient in a system that is mostly tuned to high-risk high-reward play.
Having sung DCC's praises I will end by saying it isn't for everyone. Character death is always just around the corner. Some players may find the punishments for bad rolls too harsh. While many of the accompanying adventures in the DCC line are incredible they can also be a little obtuse (you know, eldritch mysteries and all). But if you loved the old Conan stories (or Buck Rogers, or Grey Mouser, or John Carter, or Chthulhu, or...) you'll find a lot to love in DCC. I'd also recommend that DM's of any system pick up a copy and leaf through as this book is jammed with great ideas to adapt, both thematic and mechanical.