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Saturday, 12 September 2020

[Free RPG Day 2020] Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure

Now in its thirteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2020, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 25th July. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been 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. Again, global events meant that Gen Con itself was not only delayed, but run as a virtual event, and likewise, global events meant that Reviews from R’lyeh could not gain access to the titles released on the day as no friendly local gaming shop was participating nearby. Fortunately, Reviews from R’lyeh has been able to gain copies of many of the titles released on the day, and so can review them as is the usual practice. To that end, Reviews from R’lyeh wants to thank both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles.

Like the support for Free RPG Day in 2017, 2018, and 2019, 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, 2018, and 2019, 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.

Farmer Galton
Zero Level Human Mendicant
STR 9 (+0) AGL 9 (+0) STM 12 (+0)
PER 8 (-1) INT 10 (+0) LCK 11 (+0)
Hit Points: 4
Saving Throws
Fortitude +0 Reflex +0 Willpower +0
Alignment: Lawful
Birth Augur: Harsh Winter
Luck Benefit: All Attack Rolls
Weapon: Pitchfork (1d6)
Equipment: Hen (Daisy)
34cp

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—which unfortunately, Farmer Galton lacks. 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 is the Halfling’s Luck bonus doubled and the Thief’s determined by a random roll 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 of the major differences between the 2018 version of the 
Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure and the editions before it was the range of spells it included for the Cleric and Wizard Classes. Notably, it Magic Missile with Choking Cloud and Colour Spray for the Wizard. The 2019 version was tweaked again, and similarly, the 2020 version has also been tweaked. So instead of Magic Missile, the Wizard has Flaming Hands

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 a Level 1 adventure, ‘The Legend of the Silver Skull’.

The other adventures in the 
Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure have been different each time. ‘Gnole House’, the adventure from the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure from 2017 was inspired by the writings of Lord Dunsany and presented a bucolic, genteel demesne, a lonely house full of detail and hidden horrors. Where ‘Gnole House’ provided a good mix of exploration and examination with some combat and a little roleplaying, the scenario for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure from 2018, ‘Man-Bait for the Soul Stealer’ was again different. It was a classic dungeon, as was ‘Geas of the Star-chons’, the second adventure in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure from 2019—and the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure continues this trend for 2020.

In ‘The Legend of the Silver Skull’, the Player Characters are lured to a mysterious island with a skull atop its single barren hill, with promises of treasure. Inside the skull they find stairs going down to a damp, water-surrounded complex of rooms where fishmen and other salty creatures lurk… Both dungeon and adventure are quite straightforward, the former consisting of just eight rooms and it being highly possible for the Player Characters to discover and confront the antagonist behind the plot very shortly. What nicely drives the Player Characters into the confrontation is a series of visions one of them will suffer throughout the adventure, and if they defeat the antagonist and survive, then the adventure comes with a decent handful of plot hooks and a really nice artefact—if any Lawful Cleric will the Player Characters use it. However, The Legend of the Silver Skull’ is not an enticing adventure or a bad adventure or a good adventure. It is simply okay for s single session’s worth of dungeoneering. To be honest, the only thing to be said against it, is the fact that it is not set entirely within a giant skull. That, as they say, would have been cool…

Physically, the 2020 version of 
Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure is, like the previous versions, 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. Notable for this edition is cover—which depicts the demon skull, iconic to the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, in gold on a black background. It really stands out.

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 ‘The Legend of the Silver Skull’ is a fun one session adventure of visionary and potentially fishy 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.

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