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Friday, 5 July 2019

[Free RPG Day 2019] Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure

Now in its twelfth year, Saturday, June 15th 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 and 2018, 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 versions from 2017 and 2018, 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 Roleplaying 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.

Peasant Grizzel
Zero Level Human Mendicant
STR 17 (+2) AGL 11 (+0) STM 10 (+0)
PER 12 (+0) INT 17 (+2) LCK 10 (+0)
Hit Points: 4
Saving Throws
Fortitude +0 Reflex +0 Willpower +2
Alignment: Lawful
Birth Augur: Pack Hunter
Luck Benefit: Attack & Damage Rolls with Zero Level Weapon
Weapon: Club (1d4)
Equipment: Cheese Dip

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 Peasant Grizzel’s case, when rolling  her attack and damage rolls with her Zero Level weapon. 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 would have changed the players’ approach to either adventure in the 2018 version of Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure. The 2019 version adheres to that lack of healing spells, but does restore Magic Missile for the Wizard.

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 ‘Geas of the Star-chons’.

Now in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventuree 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. ‘Man-Bait for the Soul Stealer’, the scenario in the 2018 version of Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure was a little different.

‘Man-Bait for the Soul Stealer’ was a classic dungeon rather than the ‘house of horror’ that is ‘Gnole House’. It was also designed for characters of Second Level, so getting the characters who survived ‘The Portal Under The Stairs’ and thus went from Zero Level to First Level needed to be further adjusted upwards without playing through their First Level in order to be Second Level and thus suitable for ‘Man-Bait for the Soul Stealer’. Fortunately, the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure for 2019 does not repeat that error.

‘Geas of the Star-chons’ is an adventure for First Level player characters, one which could be literally straight after the events of ‘The Portal Under The Stairs’. It opens with the player characters being selected—or rather being placed under a geas—by the Star-chons, guardians of fate from beyond time and space, to stop Yndrkalla, an ambitious wizard from escaping the fate which has been written for her. This selection process takes place in a tavern, so it could take place the same day that the player characters are celebrating making First Level. The Game Master can add any adventure that she wants between the tavern and Yndrkalla cliffside lair, or indeed none at all, and just transport the player characters to the base of the cliff.

Getting into Yndrkalla’s lair is a challenge in itself, but inside what they find is a relatively straightforward, all but linear complex consisting of just twelve locations. For the most part, Yndrkalla’s minions are a distraction and the complexity of the adventure comes in dealing with the high magic that she is casting, as well as its consequences. The final confrontation is an over the top confrontation with a wizard who is about to unleash powers that the player characters definitely do not understand—though there is definitely an opportunity for them to do so, especially Elves, Thieves, and Wizards. This scene requires careful preparation upon the part of the Game Master, but it is clearly written and it does a nice job of illustrating the dangers of meddling with powers beyond the ken of mortals. Although not necessarily as gonzo in its fantasy as other adventures for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, there is definitely a strong element of ‘damned if you don’t, damned if you do’, so survival is not guaranteed. Then again, that just carries on the ethos of ‘The Portal Under The Stairs’ into First Level.

Physically, the 2019 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.

As in past years, 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, quickly graduate onto running the second. Overall, ‘The Portal Under The Stairs’ might be getting somewhat long in the tooth, but ‘Geas of the Star-chons’ is a fun one session adventure of high magickal weirdness, together serving to make The Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure simply a good introduction to the game and a bit more.


  1. Luck works a little differently than you describe it. You burn Luck to influence any roll, literally any roll you make. Your Luck has a modifier like any other stat and that influences certain things like fumbles as you note. So as you burn Luck, your modifiers get worse. What you call the Luck benefit is modified by the Luck modifier, but that one modifier is set at character creation and does not change as the character’s Luck changes after character creation. Thieves and halflings get to do more with Luck as you describe, but thieves don’t double burned Luck. Instead each point of Luck they burn is worth a random amount of Luck, with the die size increasing with the thief’s level, e.g. D3 at level 1 and D6 at level 4.

    You mentioned a lack of healing spells, there are no healing spells per se in DCC RPG. Miraculous healing of injury, poison, disease and other conditions is a cleric class ability.

    The funnel adventure is Portal Under the Stars.