A more recent release in comparison to my other reviews, I made a rare exception to cover the Class Alphabet for several reasons. Partly because it’s a collaborative community effort by over two dozen people, and the different writing styles and design philosophies are presently obvious. But also because the book has a more “gonzo” flair without being overly ridiculous save in a few cases; when 3rd party class sourcebooks are typically made, they tend to follow a formula where they either have a set theme in mind or they are done mostly to cover a niche in the game mechanics. The Class Alphabet is different in that the 26 provided have no real overarching theme and while overall built with fantasy dungeon crawls in mind come from a wide variety of otherwise-unrelated genres. With the Class Alphabet, you can very easily have a warrior who fights with the power of rock and roll, a copyright-friendly Starfleet Officer from an advanced interstellar civilization, and a carefree thief who derives magical powers from tarot card-themed pantheon of gods all in the same party. I haven’t seen many books like this in the OSR, much less 3rd Party Dungeons & Dragons, so I have to award them for the novelty alone.
The project that became the Class Alphabet began four years ago in a Google Plus community of Dungeon Crawl Classics fans known as Gongfarmers. So named for their eponymous fanzine of regular content, they saw the official Alphabet-themed series of books by the official publishers and sought to do a faithful ode to the series but with their own literary spirit. Once enough prospects gathered they were tasked with making a class whose title began with a chosen letter, but no other guidelines were provided besides making it fun to play.
Discussion of Unfamiliar Terminology
Dungeon Crawl Classics has quite a bit of reviews out there that go over the base game in detail. Still, I’ll briefly go over some terms that may be frequently cited during this review that are more or less unique to this game.
Level 0 Funnel: Not really relevant to this book but is mentioned here and there. Funnel adventures are every every player controls 3-4 Level 0 PCs who are effectively 1d4 HP peasants proficient with a single randomly-assigned weapon and piece of equipment. PCs that manage to survive the funnel adventure can be played as proper Level 1 characters, although it’s typical for 1 player to choose 1 PC to play from then on out in case they’re lucky enough to have multiple survivors.
Zocchi Dice & Dice Chain: Oddly-shaped dice such as d3, d7, d30, etc are in use. Certain effects can move the roll for a task up or down the “dice chain.” This means that the dice rolled for said task changes one step better or worse. For example, a d20 moving one step up becomes a d24, while moving one step down it becomes a d16.
Action Die: Action Dice are the dice rolled (almost always a d20) when a character attacks, performs a spell check, uses certain class features, or uses a skill with which they are proficient. Sufficiently high-level characters gain a second action die, albeit one that is initially lower on the dice chain and increases with level. Said second action die allows the character to perform a second action and move again in a combat round. A rare few classes in this book gain a third action die at 10th level, and said classes in this book tend to be the martial ones. Interestingly, 4 out of 7 of the core classes gain a 3rd action die: the Dwarf, Elf, Warrior, & Wizard.
Personality & Luck: Barring Dexterity and Constitution being renamed Agility and Stamina, ability scores are more or less the same barring two exceptions. Personality substitutes for both Wisdom and Charisma, and Luck is entirely new. Luck modifiers are added in situations of pure chance, for critical hit tables, and to some relevant tasks based on your astrological sign rolled during a level 0 funnel and for your class (like a favored weapon for a Warrior). But Luck can also be ‘burned’ to provide bonuses on certain tasks. Burnt Luck is permanently gone, although Thieves and Halflings can regain it with time and rest, as can a few classes in this book such as the Black Cat.
Mighty Deed of Arms: The Warrior, Dwarf, and some martial classes in this book are capable of performing awesome and creative feats in battle as part of an attack roll. They roll a deed die, and if it’s a 3 or higher and the attack lands then the Deed is performed in addition to the attack’s normal effects. If the deed die is 2 or less then the Deed fails, although the attack in question may still hit. What this means is that those with a Mighty Deed of Arms should be using it with every attack they make, given there's no reason just to do a normal attack. Mighty Deeds are context-based and don’t have hard and fast rules, but the core rules give a set of guidelines for effects based on the result of the deed die. Such suggestions range from imposing penalties to a certain action to blinding an opponent or moving them into a disadvantageous position.
Crit Table: Inflicting additional damage is but one of many possibilities when you score a natural 20 (or 19 or less if you have a notable class feature, magic item, etc). There are five tables for PCs mostly dependent on their class, and five tables for monster types, and each one has a myriad number of results that can cause all manner of woe to a foe. Generally speaking, the martially-oriented classes have the better crit tables.
Corruption, Disfavor, & Spellburn: Casting a spell is never a surefire thing, and requires a roll known as a spell check. Each spell has its own list of effects depending on results, although critical failures and successes can impose unique curses based on the spellcaster’s class. Clerics can earn the disfavor of their deity, while wizards can find their bodies and souls changing from magical corruption. A wizard can perform spellburn by temporarily lowering one of their own physical ability scores to gain a bonus on a spell check on a 1 for 1 basis.
Ape Ascendant: You were once a gorilla, but became sapient due to some appropriately sword and sorcery-related phenomena and now have limited mental powers! The class is a rather brainy warrior type, with a d10 hit die, adding your Luck modifier to rolls relevant to being smart, and you gain 1 weapon proficiency every level in addition to primitive clubs, improvised weapons of all kinds, and thrown objects by default. You have a pretty good saving throw progression, with your worst save (Reflex) being nearly on par with a “good progression” value of the core classes. You can read and use magic scrolls similar to a 1st-level Thief, can deal additional damage in melee that increases with level (+1 to 1d10), and can also deliver an AoE psychic brain blast attack that can be used an unlimited number of times per day unless you roll poorly and temporarily fry your brain.
The class sounds rather entertaining and makes a passable warrior, although it does not list Action Die progression or a Critical Hit table which is a bit of an oversight.
Black Cat: You’re literally a talking cat with magical powers from Shammat, the Lady of Cats. You are predictably fragile, with a 1d3 hit die but are rather nimble (+2 AC, always go first and never surprised), have incredibly good Reflex and Will saves beyond the normal core progression, and are surprisingly resilient in that your Nine Lives allows you to come back from death up to 8 times. Albeit you suffer one step worse on the dice chain for all rolls for a short period as a consequence to revival. You can also see in the dark and do a few sneaky things that Thieves can do plus turning invisible for a limited time and walking on fragile surfaces, and you can inflict debuffs on opponents such as a Cat Scratch Fever rash or burning Luck to impose penalties on a target’s roll. You can even learn a limited number of spells provided that they are suitably feline-themed.
In addition to this class we also get a new Patron and spells for the Black Cat, as well as Elves and Wizards. Shammat is the embodiment of all things feline and her Invoke Patron spell (that all Black Cats know automatically) creates various fortunate yet usually plausible circumstances for the caster: depending on the spell roll results can range from suddenly finding a helpful item, a small portal or door appearing that leads to a neary desired locations, distracting and dangerous environmental obstacles to confound opponents, and the like. Other spells include Furball from Hell that is upchucked as an acidic ranged attack, Land on Feet which can reduce falling damage for you and your allies, Enhanced Cat Sense which gives you bonuses on perception rolls and additional natural and supernatural detection abilities depending on the die roll, and Nine Lives which reincarnates a slain non-Black Cat caster into a Black Cat with a lesser number of lives than normal.
This class is kind of all over the place, and given that it has 14 authors credited to it (most classes have just 1) I can believe this. The Black Cat is sort of like a trickster caster whose abilities are themed around bringing misfortune upon foes. In spite of their nine lives and natural weapons whose damage goes up in level, they make incredibly fragile fighters. Like the Ape Ascendant there’s no Action Die listed. Fortunately every other class in this sourcebook does not repeat the same mistake.
Cyber-Zombie: This is a rather special class in that you cannot take it initially, but must have died before you can become it: PCs who died in a 0 level funnel can rise as one, and PCs with class levels become a Cyber-Zombie of the same level provided that the corpse is reanimated in a specially-designed technomagic laboratory. The Cyber-Zombie’s a warrior class...kind of. You have saving throws in line with the corebook standard (good Fortitude, Poor Reflex, average Will) and 1d7 hit die, are only proficient with the weapons you could wield as such in life, and have cybernetic armor but cannot wear better armor over that. Whenever you crit you roll a 1d8 to see what critical hit table you use (including monstrous results), and you have some vestigial memories which allow you to retain some minor class features (a single spell, four thieving skills, etc). So far rather average or strange abilities, but the Cyber-Zombie’s major feature is the ability to automatically gain a Cybernetic Upgrade at 1st and every odd-numbered level. We have a respectable assortment of Upgrades, such as an inbuilt laser cannon that can be “charged” to deal more damage over time, reinforced legs that give extra speed and a bonus d20 action die at the cost of hit point damage for activation, and the ability to transform into a motorcycle or winged vehicle (purchased separately) which can other people can ride on. Sweet.
The Upgrades make for a rather fun and oddball class, although the Cyber-Zombie as a whole doesn’t truly excel in any particular classic dungeon-crawling role. That they have some weaknesses of zombification (slower base speed, cannot make use of Luck, recover only half HP from non-magical healing) makes this a bit of a gimmick choice. I suppose that’s the penalty for dying but still wanting to play your PC.
Drug User: As a fine procurer of mind-bending substances, you awakened to a higher state of being and gained the ability to perform superhuman feats while under the influence. The Drug-User is sort of a gimmicky caster in that you initially start with a 1d8 hit die, but said die for future levels decrease as drugs ravage your body long-term. Your base Fortitude saves waddles randomly from going low to high then low again, and your Will save is peculiar as past 3rd level you roll a die to determine its base value every time you’d make a save, ranging from d3 to d10 based on level. Your weapon proficiencies are a sparse array of the familiar such as daggers, crossbows and swords, and some new equipment such as bongstaffs and syringes. You can learn special abilities known as Trips that are activated when you perform a Trip Out roll, which is 1d20 + Trip Out (based on class) + Dose (the strength of an ingested drug).
Trips are grouped in thematic Paths: the Path of Euphoria revolves around hallucinogens and includes such things as being able to read a target’s mind, adding your Trip Out die to a single action due to intense calm and concentration, and imposing emotionally devastating damage or blindness to one’s foes from a bad trip. Path of Hypnotica is more debuff-focused, such as putting a target into a deep slumber, causing others to forget about your presence, or reducing a target’s brain to thoughts of immediate panicky survival. Path of Excitica is the physically-focused group, including bonuses to Strength and Stamina actions, being able to move really fast, and some offensive effects such as stealing a target’s memory or inducing crippling anxiety in them.
We also have a short list of new equipment that can give bonuses on drug-related checks: mobile labs, junk bag for smuggling drugs, and syringes that can deliver drugs and/or poison as part of an attack are but a few of these choices. We also get tables for randomly-generating names and properties of drugs. There’s also new Thief-like skills for druggies that revolve around their lifestyle, from gonzo journalism, find meaning in otherwise-meaningless things, alchemical knowledge, and smuggling items of all types. The last seems rather odd to me, as the pulpy sword and sorcery and post-apocalyptic settings that Dungeon Crawl Classics derives inspiration from aren’t really known for having strongly anti-drug societies.
Overall this class is more narrow than the typical caster, but has a number of interesting tricks that can be of good use.
Editor: You have the power to rewrite reality...literally. You have a 1d4 hit die and no base attack progression or weapon proficiencies (these are expected to be edited in), but you can change the very campaign itself in a number of broken ways. Eraser of Doom can rewind a number of rounds via a Deletion check, Eat Your Words allows you to physically tear and eat pages from the Dungeon Crawl Classics corebook to remove certain rules from the game, Breaking the Fourth Wall allows the player to peek at the GM’s notes for 1d30 seconds, and so on and so forth.
Although a lot of the classes in this book have a bit of a gonzo or even humorous nature to them, the Editor’s the only one that engages with outright rules disruption on the meta-level. I cannot see it being played in any sort of game, being written up more or less as a fourth wall joke.
Thoughts so far: The first batch of classes are rather specialized in comparison to the corebook’s broader concepts, although a few of them function quite well in the roles they intend to fill. The Ape Ascendent and Cyber-Zombie have a few neat tricks that can deal a lot of damage, but without a Warrior’s Mighty Deed of Arms they can end up feeling like more of a one-trick pony in long-term play. The Black Cat is a pretty good utility caster if fragile, and the Drug-User is similar albeit with a narrower focus. The Editor...well, what else can I say that I haven’t already said?
Join us next time as we cover another five classes, from the tragic Flesh-Forged to the beastriding Jockey!