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Friday 1 January 2021

[Fanzine Focus XXII] Crawl! No. 6: Classic Class Collection

On the tail of the Old School Renaissance has come another movement—the rise of the fanzine. Although the fanzine—a nonprofessional and nonofficial publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon, got its start in Science Fiction fandom, in the gaming hobby it first started with Chess and Diplomacy fanzines before finding fertile ground in the roleplaying hobby in the 1970s. Here these amateurish publications allowed the hobby a public space for two things. First, they were somewhere that the hobby could voice opinions and ideas that lay outside those of a game’s publisher. Second, in the Golden Age of roleplaying when the Dungeon Masters were expected to create their own settings and adventures, they also provided a rough and ready source of support for the game of your choice. Many also served as vehicles for the fanzine editor’s house campaign and thus they showed another DM and group played said game. This would often change over time if a fanzine accepted submissions. Initially, fanzines were primarily dedicated to the big three RPGs of the 1970s—Dungeons & Dragons, RuneQuest, and Traveller—but fanzines have appeared dedicated to other RPGs since, some of which helped keep a game popular in the face of no official support.

Since 2008 with the publication of Fight On #1, the Old School Renaissance has had its own fanzines. The advantage of the Old School Renaissance is that the various Retroclones draw from the same source and thus one Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG is compatible with another. This means that the contents of one fanzine will compatible with the Retroclone that you already run and play even if not specifically written for it. Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay have proved to be popular choices to base fanzines around, as has Swords & Wizardry. Another choice is the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.

Published by Straycouches PressCrawl! is one such fanzine dedicated to the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. Since Crawl! No. 1 was published in March, 2012 has not only provided ongoing support for the roleplaying game, but also been kept in print by Goodman Games. Now because of online printing sources like Lulu.com, it is no longer as difficult to keep fanzines from going out of print, so it is not that much of a surprise that issues of Crawl! remain in print. It is though, pleasing to see a publisher like Goodman Games support fan efforts like this fanzine by keeping them in print and selling them directly.

Where Crawl! No. 1 was something of a mixed bag, Crawl! #2 was a surprisingly focused, exploring the role of loot in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and describing various pieces of treasure and items of equipment that the Player Characters might find and use. Similarly, Crawl! #3 was just as focused, but the subject of its focus was magic rather than treasure. Unfortunately, the fact that a later printing of Crawl! No. 1 reprinted content from Crawl! #3 somewhat undermined the content and usefulness of Crawl! #3. Fortunately, Crawl! Issue Number Four was devoted to Yves Larochelle’s ‘The Tainted Forest Thorum’, a scenario for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game for characters of Fifth Level. Crawl! Issue V continued the run of themed issues, focusing on monsters, but ultimately to not always impressive effect.

As the title suggests, Crawl! Issue No. 6: Classic Class Collection is all about Classes in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing GameOne of the interesting aspects of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game is that Goodman Games has supported it with scenarios and campaign settings, but not with expansions to the core rules. So no new volumes of monsters, character Classes, spells, and magical items, thus giving scope for the community to create this content, for example in fanzines such as Crawl! and the Gongfarmer’s Almanac. However, this does mean that in coming to Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game there are fewer Classes to choose from, certainly in comparison to classic Dungeons & Dragons. The choices include Cleric, Thief, Warrior, and Wizard, plus because Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game does ‘Race as Class’, then Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling each as a Class. Which means that there are some classic Dungeons & Dragons Classes omitted, and these omissions are what set Crawl! No. 6: Classic Class Collection sets out , if not to rectify, then at least, give the options if a playing group wants to rectify them. Crawl! No. 6: Classic Class Collection does not provide the playing group with all of the ‘missing’ character Classes, but just four of them, plus options for a standard Class in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.

The first Class in Crawl! No. 6: Classic Class Collection is the first of two by Jose Lira and is the ‘Bard’, possibly one of the most contentious Classes in Dungeons & Dragons. Like the Cleric, Thief, Warrior, and Wizard, it is a Human-only Class, this version of the Bard being a knowledgeable performer, able to cast limited magic spells, and has a number of Bardic Talents. How the Bard performs depends on his Alignment. So the Lawful Bard is typically found as a village or town entertainer or historian, perhaps even a heard for royalty; the Neutral Bard is common, a travelling entertainer, collecting tales and songs, sometimes in a troupe; and the Chaotic Bard puts on challenging performances, such as walking on a tightrope over a waterfall or dancing around swords, and they might even be spies or con-men. The Bard’s spells are randomly gained from a limited list which changes and grows smaller as the Bard gains Levels from a limited list. The Bardic Talents are Call to Arms, Challenge, and Calm, and can be used in and out of combat, but all require a roll on the Bardic Talent Checks Table with the Bard’s Talent Die plus Personality modifier to give results ranging from ‘Failure’ and ‘Boo, Hiss’ to ‘A Noble Performance’ and ‘A King’s Show’. Overall, it is nicely playable, but stripped back version of the Class which retains its major features.

Jose Lira follows the bard with a version of the ‘Paladin’, the classic, holy warrior. Key to the Class is his Alignment. So Lawful Paladins follow gods of good, harvest, light, and protection, Chaotic Paladins worship dark gods of war and destruction, and Neutral Paladins adhere to a balance between the two. A Paladin has access to divine magic, use Smite to add a bonus or Smite die to his attack and damage rolls made against his god’s enemies, and can do Holy Deeds, such as Lay on Hands, Instil Bravery, and Cause Fear. These require a roll on the Paladin Holy Deeds Table, with a chance of failure. When that happens, the Paladin gains his deity’s disapproval and his Disapproval rating is raised by one. The greater a Paladin’s Disapproval rating, the greater the likelihood of his Holy Deed failing and the greater the act of attrition necessary. Lira’s version of the Paladin follows that of the Bard not feeling overly complex, but retaining the Class’ notable features and their potential for roleplaying.

The only non-Human Class in Crawl! No. 6: Classic Class Collection is the ‘Gnome’ by Yves Larochelle. Consisting of just five Levels, the Gnome is generally a Neutral Class and although a spellcaster, has access to a limited number of spells. Most of the Class’ spells consist of illusion, deception, and trickery magic, such as Charm person, Colour Spray, ESP, Mirror Image, and the like. The Gnome also has the Trick die, added to the roll to determine the outcome of a spell check, instead of the Gnome’s Level. The Gnome is also resistant to magic and can detect gems and precious stones, but more importantly, a Gnome can create sturdy illusions that can cause damage or even instil fear. It is accompanied by a new spell, Scripted Illusion, which enables the caster to build a programmed response into the illusion. This enables the caster to be inventive in setting up traps and effects, adding another engaging element to the Gnome Class. 

The last Class in Crawl! No. 6: Classic Class Collection is the ‘Ranger’ by Raskal. Another Human-only Class, it is again flavoured by a Player Character’s Alignment. A Chaotic Rangers is a fearless raider, dedicated protector of nature, or obsessive trophy hunter and a Lawful Ranger is likely to be an army scout, frontiers patrolman, or bounty hunter tracking down criminals, but most Rangers are Neutral, lone wanderers in the wilderness. Mechanically, the Ranger receives a Deed die instead of a fixed bonus to attack, can either become an Archery or a Two-weapon Expert, and gains various wilderness skills. It is a decent adaptation of the Class to Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, but does not feel as inventive or as interesting to roleplay as the other Classes in Crawl! No. 6: Classic Class Collection

Lastly, Colin Chapman offers ‘My Thief, My Way! Custom Thief Skills in the DCC RPG’. It decouples Thieves’ Skills from the core tables in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and thus Alignment. It instead offers the player with a Thief character more options in how his character’s skills progress. It is a small change, but gives reasons to look at the most skill-focused Class in the roleplaying game.

Physically, Crawl! No. 6: Classic Class Collection is neat and tidy. The few pieces of artwork are decent and the issue decently written. All four Classes basically do a good job taking traditional Classes from Dungeons & Dragons and mapping them onto the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. In many cases, there is an element or two of inventiveness that will encourage interesting roleplaying, such that Classes such as the ‘Gnome’ and the ‘Bard’ look interesting and fun to play. In fact, the four ‘new’ Classes feel lonely, as if there should be more of them to round out those missing from the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, as if Crawl! No. 6: Classic Class Collection should have been either longer or actually a supplement in its own right rather than just an issue of a fanzine. However, as an issue of a fanzine, Crawl! No. 6: Classic Class Collection is a solid edition, its contents easy enough to add to a Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game campaign and hopefully to be further explored in future issues.

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