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Friday 28 July 2017

Free RPG Day 2017: Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure

Now in its tenth year, Saturday, June 17th 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. One of the regular pieces of support for an existing roleplaying game in 2017 is the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure, which serves as an introduction to one of the leading Dungeons & Dragons-style roleplaying games published by Goodman Games. It takes its cue from Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Adventure Starter published in 2011, but has been greatly expanded to the rules enough to take characters from Zero Level to Second Level, provide two adventures, and introduce the key concepts to the roleplaying game. Thus, it has been expanded from sixteen to forty-eight pages.

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 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. 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, 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.

Bert Truss
Zero Level Human Caravan Guard
STR 13 (+1) AGL 15 (+1) STM 8 (-1)
PER 13 (+1) INT 12 (+0) LCK 10 (+0)
Hit Points: 3
Saving Throws
Fortitude -1 Reflex +1 Willpower +1
Alignment: Lawful
Birth Augur: Unholy House
Luck Benefit: Corruption Rolls
Weapon: Short Sword (1d6)
Equipment: Linen (1 yard)

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 Bert’s case, for rolls against corruption. 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. 

Magic works differently to the Vancian arrangement typically seen in Dungeons & Dragons. Magic is mercurial. What this means is that from 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; 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.

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 and definitely progress towards Second Level.

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 adventures 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 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 ‘Gnole House’.

Drawing on the writings of Lord Dunsany, it presents a bucolic, moss festooned house infested by Gnoles, grubby little creatures with a love of hats, scarves, and eating other humanoids. The legend of Gnole House tells of the house and its inhabitants in the woods, of missing merchants and travellers, and of the emeralds and other treasures. This is reason enough for the adventurers to investigate. What they find is a house of horror hidden under a veneer of gentility. It is definitely not a dungeon in the classic sense, but should be played as it is, having many of the classic dungeon features. Again, there is a good session or two involved in the adventure, a good mix of exploration and examination with some combat and a little roleplaying.

Physically, the 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. If there is an issue with the layout it that it could have been better organised with stopping for the Game Master and the players so that they do not need to read everything to the play of the game and are ready to jump into ‘The Portal Under The Stairs’ adventure as soon as the Zero Level characters have been created. Then there could have been another section dealing with going up a Level and creating First Level characters already to play ‘Gnole House’. This would have made it a better introduction, a more organised introduction, and better suited to those with less experience of roleplaying.

Although it is not quite perfect, the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure is a thoroughly good package. The rules are nicely explained, the style of game is nicely explained, the artwork is good, the two adventures are good. 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. The Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure is simply a good introduction to the game and a little bit more.

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