Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Free RPG Day 2018: Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure

Now in its eleventh year, Saturday, June 16th is Free RPG Day and with it comes an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Like the support for Free RPG Day in 2017, Goodman Games has released the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure, which provides an introduction to the publisher’s Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. It takes its cue from the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Adventure Starter published in 2011, but has been expanded enough for the rules to cover characters from Zero Level to Second Level, provide two adventures, and introduce the key concepts of the roleplaying game. In the process, it has grown from sixteen to forty-eight pages.

As with the previous version from 2017, the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure can be divided into three parts. The longest are rules, followed by a short introductory adventure and then by flipping the booklet over, a longer adventure. 

Derived from the d20 System, the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game sits somewhere between Basic Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in terms of its complexity. The most radical step in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game is the starting point. Players begin by playing not one, but several Zero Level characters, each a serf or peasant looking beyond a life tied to the fields and the seasons or the forge and the hammer to prove themselves and perhaps progress enough to become a skilled adventurer and eventually make a name for themselves. In other words, to advance from Zero Level to First Level. Unfortunately, delving into tombs and the lairs of both men and beasts is a risky venture and death is all but a certainty for the lone delver… In numbers, there is the chance that one or more will survive long enough to go onto greater things! This is what the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game terms a ‘Character Creation Funnel’.

Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure provides rules for the creation process, a player rolling for six Abilities—Strength, Agility, Stamina, Personality, Intelligence, and Luck—in strict order on three six-sided dice, plus Hit Points on a four-sided die and an occupation. The latter will determine the character’s Race—Race is a Class in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game just as it was in Basic Dungeons & Dragons, a weapon, and a possession related to his occupation.

Ernest Truss
Zero Level Human Herbalist
STR 08 (-1) AGL 08 (-1) STM 13 (+1)
PER 15 (+1) INT 12 (+0) LCK 12 (+0)
Hit Points: 4
Saving Throws
Fortitude +1 Reflex -1 Willpower +1
Alignment: Lawful
Birth Augur: Warrior’s Arm
Luck Benefit: Critical Hit Rolls
Weapon: Club (1d4)
Equipment: Herbs
41cp

Of the stats, only Luck requires any explanation. It can be used for various skill checks and rolls, but its primary use is for each character’s single Luck Benefit—in Ernest’s case, when rolling for critical rolls. It is burned when used in this fashion and can only be regained by a player roleplaying his character to his Alignment. The Luck bonus also applies to critical hit, fumble, and corruption rolls as well as various Class-based rolls. For example, the Elf receives it as a bonus to rolls for one single spell and a Warrior to rolls for a single weapon such as a longsword or a war hammer. Further, both the Thief and the Halfling Classes are exceptionally lucky. Not only are their Luck bonuses doubled when they burn Luck, they actually regain Luck each day equal to their Level. In addition, if a party has a Halfling amongst its numbers that Halfling can pass his expended Luck to other members of the party!

Mechanically, for a character to do anything, whether Sneak Silently, cast a spell, or make an attack, a player rolls a twenty-sided die and after adding any bonuses hopes to beat a Difficulty Class or an Armor Class. Rolls of one are a fumble and rolls of a twenty are a critical. The Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure includes a Fumble Table as well Critical Hit Tables for each of the Classes. Famously, the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game also uses a multitude of dice, including three, five, seven, fourteen, sixteen, twenty-four, and thirty-sided dice as well as the standard polyhedral dice. Although penalties and bonuses can be applied to dice rolls, the dice themselves can get better or worse, stepping up or stepping down a size depending upon the situation. For example, a Warrior can attack twice in a Round instead of attacking and moving, but makes the first attack using a twenty-sided die and the second attack using a sixteen-sided die. Fortunately, neither of the scenarios in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure make much use of this full polyhedral panoply, but if necessary, dice rolling apps can be found which will handle such dice rolls.

Magic works differently to the Vancian arrangement typically seen in Dungeons & Dragons. Magic is mercurial. What this means is that from one casting of a spell to the next, a spell can have different results. For example, the classic standby of First Level Wizards everywhere, Magic Missile, might manifest as a meteor, a screaming, clawing eagle, a ray of frost, a force axe, or so on. When cast, a Wizard might throw a single Magic Missile that only does a single point of damage; one that might do normal damage; unleash multiple missiles or a single powerful one; and so on. Alternatively, the Wizard’s casting might result in a Misfire, which for Magic Missile might cause the caster’s allies or himself to be hit by multiple Magic Missiles, or to blow a hole under the caster’s feet! Worse, the casting of the spell might have a Corrupting influence upon the caster, which for Magic Missile might cause the skin of the caster’s hands and forearms to change colour to acid green or become translucent or to become invisible every time he casts Magic Missile! This is in addition to the chances of the Wizard suffering from Major or even Greater Corruption… Some ten spells are detailed Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure, taking up roughly, a quarter of the booklet.

One notable difference between the 2018 version of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure and previous versions is the inclusion of different spells. So no Magic Missile, but Choking Cloud and Colour Spray for the Wizard, for example. Certainly, the lack of any healing spells will change the players’ approach to either adventure in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure, but perhaps Resist Cold or Heat will prove to be useful in the second, new adventure.

Once past the funnel, the characters can move up to First Level and acquire a proper Class—either Cleric, Thief, Warrior, or Wizard, or one of the Races, Dwarf, Elf, or Halfling. Further information is provided so that a character can progress to Second Level. The adventures in Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure should be enough for a character to reach First Level. Getting to Second Level and the second adventure is another issue, at least with this version of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure.

Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure includes two adventures. The first, which immediately follows the rules is ‘The Portal Under The Stairs’, which appeared in the original Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Adventure Starter back in 2011. This has the would-be adventurers venturing into an ancient war-wizard’s tomb after its entryway becomes open when the stars come right. Designed for Zero Level and First Level characters this is a short, just ten location dungeon primarily consisting of traps and puzzles with some deadly combat encounters thrown in. Its three pages are short enough that a group could roll up their characters and funnel them through the adventure to see who survives in a single session. The second scenario, located on the opposite side of Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure is ‘Man-Bait for the Soul Stealer’.

Now in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure from 2017, the scenario included was ‘Gnole House’. Inspired by the writings of Lord Dunsany, this presented a bucolic, genteel demesne, a lonely house full of detail and hidden horrors. Designed for characters of First Level, it provided a good mix of exploration and examination with some combat and a little roleplaying which could easily be run after the players have funnelled their characters through ‘The Portal Under The Stairs’ with some of them hopefully have survived to First Level. The scenario in the 2018 version of Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure is a little different.

‘Man-Bait for the Soul Stealer’ is a classic dungeon rather than the ‘house of horror’ that is ‘Gnole House’. It is also designed for between four and eight player characters of Second Level who have drawn to a lake in which stands Blood Smoke Island. Enshrouded in crimson smoke, the island is said to be home to a dragon, a demon, or even a mad wizard, but above all, the rumours tell of treasure and glory. On the shore stands a statue of a shield maiden and it is she who gives the adventurers their real motive for rowing across to Blood Smoke Island: She wishes to escape from the servitude of her master Odag, a centuries old wizard who is mining a strange meteor on the island. If the adventurers can find and smash his means of prolonging his life, then freedom will hers and a boon will be theirs!

This is not the only possible hook into ‘Man-Bait for the Soul Stealer’, but the Game Master will need to foreshadow any one of these hooks in a prior adventure. What follows is a short, eight-location descent into a steaming hell, with lots of fire and lava related themes and encounters. Each of the locations is nicely detailed beyond just the monsters and overall, it should take no more than a session or two to complete. It is relatively easy to add to an ongoing campaign for which it is really just a side trek.

As decent an adventure as ‘Man-Bait for the Soul Stealer’ is, as an adventure for Second Level characters, it does not work as a sequel to ‘The Portal Under The Stairs’. The latter will get the player characters, those that survive that is, from Zero Level to First Level, but not Second Level. There is nothing in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure to bridge that gap and no advice as to where to look for that missing link. In fact, ‘Gnole House’, from the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure in 2017 would actually work as that link… That said, Goodman Games publishes numerous adventures for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, many of which could be used as that bridge.

Physically, the 2018 version of Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure is well presented, the writing is clear, and artwork is in general excellent throughout, echoing the style and ethos of the three core rulebooks for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Ultimately, the issue with it is the step between ‘The Portal Under The Stairs’ adventure and ‘Man-Bait for the Soul Stealer’. 

Although it is not quite perfect, the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure is a good package. The rules are nicely explained, the style of game is nicely explained, the artwork is good, the two adventures are good, if disconnected. Any player or Game Master with any experience of Dungeons & Dragons will pick this up with ease and be able to bring it to the table with relatively little experience—and once the first adventure is complete, only a bit more preparation is required to play the second adventure. Perhaps not quite as good as versions released in previous years, The Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure is simply a good introduction to the game and a little bit more.