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Friday 25 November 2022

Holiday Hullabaloo

is one of those originally clever fantasy settings that you wonder why nobody had ever though of it before. Originally a setting for the d20 System and published in 2002 as Xcrawl: Adventures in the Xtreme Dungeon League, what it did was take the concept of dungeoneering and turned it into not only a spectator sport, but an arena sport, in the process combining the razzmatazz of American sports with the bloodiness of Roman gladiatorial combat. Xcrawl is set in an alternate fantasy eighties where America is ruled by Emperor Ronald I and all of the fantasy races of Dungeons & Dragons have survived to the modern day, many living in the underworlds below each of the continents, whilst others sign up to work as ‘monsters’ and NPCs in the area. The Player Characters form teams and by successfully beating defeating Xcrawl runs, work their way up the different leagues, becoming famous and picking up sponsors on the way. The setting was adapted to Pathfinder, First Edition with the Maximum Xcrawl Core Rule Book, and it has been announced by Goodman Games that there will also be a version compatible with the publisher’s flagship Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game in the form of the Xcrawl Classics Roleplaying Game. Until then, fans of the Xcrawl setting or fans of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, can experience the setting with the scenario, Dungeon Crawl Classics 2017 Holiday Module: Xcrawl New Year’s Evil.

Dungeon Crawl Classics 2017 Holiday Module: Xcrawl New Year’s Evil is a short scenario for Second Level Player Characters which can be used in one of two ways. First, it can used as written, with the Player Characters are dedicated Xcrawlers looking to break into the next league up. Second, it can be run as some kind of weird dream for Player Characters who come from another fantasy setting and awake to find themselves fully aware of where they are and what they are about to do. Either way, the players will be using standard Dungeon Crawl Classics Player Characters rather than those creating the earlier versions of Xcrawl. Of course, with the forthcoming version of the Xcrawl Classics Roleplaying Game—or its XCC beta rules—the Judge could run Dungeon Crawl Classics 2017 Holiday Module: Xcrawl New Year’s Evil using a version of those rules and thus the appropriate Classes of Athlete, Blaster, Jammer, Gnome, Half-Elf, and Half-Orc. (Alternatively, pre-generated Player Characters can be downloaded here.)

Dungeon Crawl Classics 2017 Holiday Module: Xcrawl New Year’s Evil is set in Toronto on New Year’s Eve and the Player Characters are members of a Division III team which has unexpectedly found itself entered into the Toronto New Year’s Eve Xcrawl. If successful, they are assured of sponsorship and opportunities for promotion. All it will take them is heroic play, dedicated teamwork, and the occasional grandstanding. However, the gods—or rather the one god—has decided to intervene and turn the event into a raucous, alcohol-sodden festival which can be enjoyed by everyone, including the Player Characters, the event staff, and the audience, and if that disrupts the event, that just adds to the fun. Drink is a recurring motif throughout the adventure and is supported with rules for various degrees of inebriation, from being tipsy to wrecked. Also included are a glossary of terms particular to the setting and several rules that the setting requires. These include the Mojo Pool, which each Player Character has and which provides points that can be spent as modifiers in play. They can be gained for rolling a natural twenty in game and for exciting game play, but all are lost whenever a player rolls a natural one. However, a player cannot use them on his own character, but instead must give them as bonuses to his fellow players’ characters. This encourages teamwork, of course.

A Player Character can also grandstand and work the crowd. This is a Personality check and earns a Player Character a point of Fame. Expressed as a percentage, this is measurement of the Player Character’s recognition. However, it does not actually have any mechanic effect in Dungeon Crawl Classics 2017 Holiday Module: Xcrawl New Year’s Evil. So unless the Judge has access to the Xcrawl Classics Roleplaying Game, the inclusion of the Fame rules have no effect as the scenario takes place entirely in the area.

The Toronto New Year’s Eve Xcrawl consists of twelve locations and is, like most other Xcrawl ‘Dungeons’ a linear affair. This makes sense, since an Xcrawl can be run again and again and a team’s progress can be measured against that of other teams, and infamous Xcrawls can be rerun at a later stage, in the case of the Player Characters, likely with a tweak or four to take into account the fact that they have gone up a Level or two or three. In the main, the Xcrawl itself consists of three big set pieces, although that was not originally the case, since the meddling god has also made a few changes to the Xcrawl and it no longer runs quite as smooth as the designer originally intended. There is jousting, a sailor cap-wearing devil with horrid biting pugs—one under each arm, paper monsters, riddles and puzzles to solve, and a finale in the cubicle from beyond the grave, complete with Office Zombies, Maintenance Skeleton, and Ghoul Bosses. There are a few side rooms along the way, but these do not represent any significant danger to the Player Characters after the meddling of the god. It should take a session, perhaps two, to play through the whole of the Xcrawl, after which the Player Characters should acquired some decent treasure, sponsorship gifts—some are also available at the beginning of the scenario depending on which sponsor the players selected, some fame, and perhaps a chance at promotion to the next league.

Physically, Dungeon Crawl Classics 2017 Holiday Module: Xcrawl New Year’s Evil is cleanly and tidily presented. The map is easy to read and the artwork throughout good.

The change from the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game to the Xcrawl Classics Roleplaying Game requires a little adjustment and getting used to because of its very modern setting—at least by the standards of Dungeon Crawl Classics. However, its novelty value is worth it, because the setting is different and the emphasis in an Xcrawl is all on action with some puzzles to solve, and playing to the crowd by being heroic, and so on. Of course, the novelty factor will go when the Xcrawl Classics Roleplaying Game appears, but until then, Dungeon Crawl Classics 2017 Holiday Module: Xcrawl New Year’s Evil is a diverting, entertaining one-shot.

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