Since the Dungeon Crawl Classics role playing game came out (in beta, originally) a couple of years ago, we’ve been playing it in our regular group, where it took over from various old school games like MERP and the free Dark Dungeons.
The main attraction, for me at least, was that Dungeon Crawl Classics attempted to bring back the lost sense of wonder to role-playing games, where monsters were horrific and unknown, magic was capricious and shit-your-pants scary, and every combat was desperate, deadly and exciting – all at the same time. The fact that it came in one (admittedly exceedingly thick) volume and that I didn’t need to catch up on 20 years of D&D edition wars and as many hardback volumes, was also welcome.
What I didn’t realise was that Dungeon Crawl Classics represented something more than just a new game to many people: the so-called Old School Renaissance (or OSR if you must abbreviate it). This movement was apparently a reaction to the excessive number of D&D rulebooks, the prescriptiveness of those rules, and certainly D&D 4th edition becoming a miniatures board game rather than role-playing. These chaps yearned for the old days where things were simpler, and where imagination won out over finding a rule to support your insta-kill attack.
This seemed all well and good to me – because I missed out on those intervening years of over-complication, it sounded like what was “old school” to these guys was just a continuation of normal role-playing to me. Should be easy for me to fit in, and hopefully the “new” old-school games will have fixed all the problems with the originals, you know the sort of thing: missing rules, self-contradictory rules, references to rules that aren’t there, badly worded rules that cause thermonuclear arguments at the gaming table, and so on. And when they removed unnecessary complexity, perhaps they might have added things too: indexes, reference tables, example of how rules worked, and maybe even some artwork that didn’t look like something an untalented but earnest high-schooler had produced for his heavy metal band.
So did this happen with Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG? Well, yes and no. Well mostly, no and no.
Admittedly, on initial reading, my excitement and inspiration to jump in and start gaming was higher than it had ever been, at least since mid-1984 when I stayed awake entire nights, reading a borrowed copy of the Dungeon Master’s Guide from start to finish. Everything I wanted was in the Dungeon Crawl Classics rules: dwarves were dwarves and elves were elves, not magic-user/fighters (and certainly not half-elven/orc fighter-thief-druid-bard-monks), fighting was simply roll high to hit things, magic was spectacular when it worked and insanely spectacular when it didn’t, and all the classes seemed to have good reasons to choose them. Finally, a cleric who wasn’t a second-rate fighter once he’s cast his single poxy Cure Light Wounds for the day! These guys can keep laying on hands over and over…at the cost of immediately and dangerously pissing off their god.
I could understand Armour Class now going the wrong way and didn’t even lament the loss of THACO. I’m down with the kids and can adapt to change. Sure, Saving Throws seem a bit funny and keep mentioning Forts and Refs and Wills without proper explanation, and the artwork varies from vaguely evocative black and white line drawing to arse-bendingly awful black and white line drawings. Sure, yes, there seem to be a few sections missing from the rulebook, like most monsters, treasure and magic items, but that will encourage my imagination. Oh, wait, there’s some magic items listed here, in the middle of a spell description – hmm, that’s bit odd. Never mind: the book specifically tells you to “fear no rule” and make up your own ideas. Oh, no, wait, now it’s admonishing me for thinking of allowing any character reach the excesses of 3rd level; get more than a handful of copper pieces in their adventuring; or travel further than the end of the road to find those coppers.
OK, all this is kind of problematic, but the vibe is still very cool. We started playing.