Dungeon Crawl Classics #102: Dweller Between the Worlds is a scenario for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, the Dungeons & Dragons-style retroclone inspired by ‘Appendix N’ of the Dungeon Master’s Guide for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. Published by Goodman Games, scenarios for Dungeon Crawl Classics tend be darker, gimmer, and even pulpier than traditional Dungeons & Dragons scenarios, even veering close to the Swords & Sorcery subgenre. One of the signature features of Dungeon Crawl Classics and its post-apocalyptic counterpart, Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic, is the ‘Character Funnel’. This is a scenario specifically designed for Zero Level Player Characters in which initially, a player is expected to roll up three or four Level Zero characters and have them play through a generally nasty, deadly adventure, which surviving will prove a challenge. Those that do survive receive enough Experience Points to advance to First Level and gain all of the advantages of their Class. Dungeon Crawl Classics #102: Dweller Between the Worlds is not such a scenario, but is instead designed for use with First Level Player Characters, perhaps ones who have survived their own Character Funnel, such as Dungeon Crawl Classics #67: Sailors on the Starless Sea.
Dungeon Crawl Classics #102: Dweller Between the Worlds, however, begins with a problem. Or at least, the physical product does. The scenario lacks the map for the Judge of area where it is set, meaning that it cannot really be played from the book as presented. Fortunately, the PDF version—for which there is a code included in the physical book—does not have this issue, giving the Judge access to the necessary map. Get past his hurdle though, and the scenario is different to other scenarios for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.
Dungeon Crawl Classics #102: Dweller Between the Worlds presents some big challenges and big set-pieces for First Level Player Characters. These include a battle against the forces of Chaos, a trek across the wilderness, and then an attack against the leaders of the attackers. It takes place in the valley of Dalur, home to various independent clans, where word has spread of strange raiders attacking out of the eastern forest over which strange lights have been seen and an early and servere winter has come. The Player Characters are in the service of Lord Jannssen, thane of a larger clan, who has come to the Fell, where as is traditional, the thanes attend councils to discuss issues which threaten them all. Nothing initially happens, but the Player Characters have the chance to gather rumours, ready themselves for what might come next, and so on. Suddenly, on the third day, giant chaos beasts descend out of the sky and attack the council! Here the Player Characters do not fight alone or together, but instead lead military units—spearmen, mounted knights, bowmen, and magicians—against the forces of Chaos. The scenario’s appendix provides ‘Alternate Rules for Large-Scale Combat’ which simplifies a unit’s combat effectiveness down to a single value or ‘Host value’ which represents their combat effectiveness. Attacks are made as normal, and if Player Character-led, can be modified by Class abilities, such as the Deed Die for the Warrior and the Dwarf Classes, Clerics can heal, Wizards and Elves lead magical units and add their spell check modifier to unit spell checks. The mechanics are simple enough, but they are different and the Judge should take the time to run a mock combat as part of her preparation to run the scenario.
The battle is run on the primary handout for scenario, ‘The Fell’, which is reprinted instead of the map of the area for the Judge. That said, having it printed full size means that the battle at the Fell can be run as a mini wargame. For that though, the Judge will need to provide some counters or playing pieces to represent both the Player Characters and the attacking forces of Chaos.
Once the battle at the Fell is over, the Player Characters have the opportunity to rest and recuperate before being sent by Lord Jannssen to the other half of the valley, and there persuade the Eastern clans to join the Western clans in investigating and defeating the forces of Chaos. Options are suggested if the Player Characters decide to go elsewhere, but it is expected that they will follow the thane’s command. The Player Characters have several choices in terms of routes, over the mountains, through the swamps, and so on, and the landscape of the ‘Eastern Valley of Dalur’ feels dark and dreary, often blighted by dark acts of the past that are highlighted in the various encounters which can be had in the region. Making for the hillfort village of Graenn, the Player Characters have the opportunity to rescue the villagers from the encroaching influence of Chaos.
The scenario’s finale takes place in the ‘Reft’, a portal to the edge of existence through which the wormspawn of Chaos that is Talaat can reach out and feed upon, sending his hosts to render the world into a barren wasteland. In order to stop Talaat’s assault on their world, the Player Character must enter the ‘Reft’, navigate its changing landscape—hopping across a series of islands moving in random directions and at random speeds—to confront the wormspawn’s regent. Getting across to him is challenging enough in itself and the Judge may want to adjust the process accordingly lest the players’ attention wanes. Suggestions are provided on concluding the adventure and beyond, including what happens if the Player Characters decide to stay on the other side of the ‘Reft’.
Physically, Dungeon Crawl Classics #102: Dweller Between the Worlds is decently presented barring the issue with the unprinted map. It is a pity that the image on the front cover does not match the description given of Talaat’s regent. Otherwise, the illustrations are decent and the maps nicely done. Rounding out the scenario is afterword by the author explaining the scenario’s influences which gives it a personal touch.
Dungeon Crawl Classics #102: Dweller Between the Worlds is an entertaining and challenging scenario, offering the players and their characters a surprising variety of situations to deal with and overcome. These situations—the battle and the island hopping in the void—do mean that scenario is not quite as easy to run and thus needs more preparation than other scenarios for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, but get those right and they will be what Dungeon Crawl Classics #102: Dweller Between the Worlds will be remembered for.