The first thing one can not escape when scanning through the 488 pages of Goodman Games Dungeon Crawl Classic (DCC) Core Rule Book is the art. It’s everywhere, and I do mean, everywhere. The TOC is laid out inside art panels held up by characters, credits, play tester thank yous, designer notes, all tucked into the artwork, that is…for lack of better explanation, straight out of the 70’s. Seriously, this IS your daddy’s artwork folks lol. The art instantly took me back to my childhood and the style of RPG games that were on the shelves at my local game-store when I first got into role playing as a hobby. Is it cheezy art? Oh yeah, but in all the ways that make it good, that type of silly weird art that feels like a guilty pleasure.
Not looking to simply be yet another retro clone, DCC holds it’s own with a rule-set that brings old school simplicity to today’s audience of players, with just enough of the standards in today’s rules to make even hardcore edition warists feel comfortable learning how to play. One of the first things that stuck with me, when reading how one designs a character for DCC, was that your race is your class….you’re an elf, or a wizard….remember those days folks? No Elven Wizards here, nor Dwarven Warriors…nope, uh uh. Old School standard put elves and dwarves as their own class, and so does DCC. We also have the concept of the Zero level character, which I could see being an absolute bloodbath for the poor players. Building characters as the rules layout, which will really irritate those min-maxers out there, you will end up with at least four zero levels characters per player at the table, all with truly random abilities and gear. Why so many? Why so Random? Simple. You roll your stats and right them on the sheet in the order you roll them, with 3d6, no re-rolling, no dropping low rolls, just take what you get…then roll for a profession to determine what piece of gear you get to take with you (anything from a farm implements to barnyard animals). You create a handful of characters because, well, you have no real weapon, skill, or armor….and barely any hit points, your gonna die, a lot, lol. But, with a crowd of characters the odds of one making it to 10 XP is good, and at 10 XP you become first level, and get to pick a class, and begin building your character into someone. Where as the concept of how to start a character is very different from most games in it’s approach to forcing a player to truly play a nobody at start, its a refreshing difference, and one that I think has the potential to be a lot of fun for a group, I can see them tracking the dead pool, and sharing tales of how their zero’s died, lol.
Another of the many concepts within this system that I found interesting was that magic corrupts, pure and simple. The longer one uses it, the higher in level one gets, the more chance the run that magic will corrupt them, both physically and mentally. Why? Simple, magic is derived by dealing in pacts with demons and devils, negotiating with celestial beings, and harnessing raw elemental forces never meant to be channeled by humans…so it kind of makes sense when you put it in perspective, and I find myself amazed that more mainstream systems have not tackled the very same issue as a standard rule as of yet. The magic section contains several d100 charts (I know, how long has it been since these were the standard for everything, mass nostalgia) handling magical effects, corruption results, costs of doing business with demons/devils, results of spell burns (a method for “saving” failed spells), and the most interesting chart of all, in my opinion, the Mercurial chart. Mercurial Magic, the concept that everything, and I do mean everything matters when it comes to magic, and therefore no two spellslingers could possibly be the same. The first born child of a hanged witch, child born as a rare comet reached the apex of the twilight sky, man subjected to blindness by looking into the well of the abyss….all of these people are special to the fabric of reality in a different way, and magic flows through them differently, as it should, hence the mercurial magic chart, to determine the different results of their spell castings. Just another concept of random weirdness to remind you that fantasy games are supposed to keep you on your toes, and never grow complacent.
And of course, it would be wrong of me to fail to mention that this system already has an immense amount of support material, not only int he form of adventures from Goodman Games, but from 3PP’s as well, and at least in my point of view, when you see a compatibility logo, it’s a good sign that a system is worth checking into, as it’s going to have new material and support from more than one source, which usually means there will be plenty of material for GM’s and players alike.
For those who are missing a simpler time in gaming, when demons were demons, and the bad guys wore black, this game will feel like coming home. For those who are looking for an alternative to their current mainstream that will take them back to their childhood (or at least their older brother’s), then this game will be a lot like dropping by the neighbors for a fun night of hanging out…something different, but all together enjoyable and familiar.
The formatting is top notch, in that it makes you think you are reading a book from the 70’s. I found practically no typos or editing glitches, and in a book of this size, that’s saying something. The layout jumps from single to dual column throughout the book, with artwork both embedded and on splash pages. The artwork is B&W and all invokes the era of the 70’s when it comes to the style of art that was popular during that time period, I swear a few of these pieces would have worked as side murals for vans back in the day, right down to the shirtless muscled warrior with sideburns saving the day.
The rules are solid, and fun, which is an all important detail when it comes to a game system. They are simplistic enough that a group could learn the game quickly, but complex enough to make sure one does not feel like they are playing a stripped down game. The balance found there was a good one, and impressed me with how easy the rules felt to grasp, while still being subtly complex in their design.
Overall, this is an excellent product to add to a gaming shelf, both as an alternative game for a group, a new game for those groups disillusioned with their current game, a instant favorite for the old school crowd, or a great way for the younger generation to reconnect with the older generation of gamers on common ground at the gaming table. I can not recommend this book enough, it really was a blast to read and reconnect with my roots, and I urge you to pick up a copy for yourself.