I have started working on things for my DCC campaign using some constraints. This is helping. I love running games but I often find myself breaking down into analysis paralysis during planning. I often find myself worrying obsessively about distances, hex sizes, and other things are not really that important. My constraints are helping enormously.
I have decided to make use of:
1 wide-ruled composition notebook
The Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG core book
The Tome of Adventure Design
The Swords & Wizardry Monster book
And maybe some modules if the mood suits me.
After about an hour's work I have a reasonably fleshed out area map. Normally I would never reach this stage because I would be too worried about hex sizes. The lack of scale is liberating. I could always take it, scan it, and apply a hex grid after the fact if I want some more precise distances.
I am also focusing on the small world notions of DCC RPG (the book suggests 100 miles square - 10,000 sq. miles - as being plenty for a lifetime of adventure). What I have in my tiny map so far: one tiny farming village, one small town, a haunted* forest, a weird monastery, a few ruins, and plenty of woods, hills, and marsh to put more goodies into.
I think from now on, I will stick with drawing first, worrying about distances and the like after, this is working so much better for me.
*or at least that's what people say.
Of course now that I am finally getting smart about how to plan for a game, my group appears to be on the verge of disintegration.
I ran Portal Under the Stars for four players: one person very experienced with both OSR games and modern games (he had read the beta rules but not the final rules), one with some experience with both but no knowledge of DCC, one really only a modern D&D player, and one who had never played an RPG before. Each created four characters and 8 out of the 7 survived.
Things I noticed:
Portal Under the Stars is a very solid adventure in play, nice to have something so high quality in the rule book. It is full of great opportunities for creative play and problem solving.
For sustained play it would be really good to have multiple copies of the rulebook, with all of the table referencing that is required. If we keep playing in a sustained way I am sure it will wind up full of tabs like my old MERP book was.
I would really like to see spells handbook, maybe spiral bound!
It seemed like people rolled a lot of demihumans in character creation (1 elf, 2 dwarves, and 3 halflings).
Modern RPG players are very concerned with distances and movement rates. I tend to be imprecise about these things when I am not forced to be accurate. This caused the only consternation over description, theater of the mind, what have you.
Zero level play is excellent for new players. Having few rules and no abilities let our rookie player focus right in on what is important in the game - asking questions, exploring, experimenting, and problem solving. For example . . . [[SPOILERS!]] when the statue started shooting fireballs, she had her characters run and leap on to the statue instead of simply fleeing, from there the statue had no shot at them. Also, after collecting the demon horn, she searched around for places to put it.
Except for my most dedicated modern-games-only player everyone loved it. Still two in my group who were out of town to test it out on.
Luck is an awesome way to select targets.
I don't foresee any problems mixing 0 and 1st level characters (although this is yet to be tested) making it a good game for inconsistent groups.
Random occupation and equipment is awesome and brought out the best in my players. Most of the time they entered rooms pushing the wainwright's pushcart ahead of them for cover. Saved at least one life.
The DCC RPG arrived this week. I fell instantly in love. I waited to write this post until I had read the whole book (minus spell and monster descriptions) and had a chance to reread some sections. I wanted to make sure I had read thoroughly and the fires of lust had cooled a bit before commenting.
This is a game for a specific audience, and being part of that audience I am very happy. I love that this is not a game for beginners. Assuming that the readers are experienced is a great place to start. There is no attempt to make the game bad-DM proof.
They have taken the good of modern D&D - the d20 system and the save system - and combined it with many things I find excellent about traditional D&D: simple combat, skills based on profession, race as class, single axis alignment, and high-risk adventuring. Something that I in particular find appealing but others may not: institutionalized low-magic. Throughout the book it talks about the rarity of magic, the specialness of magical items, the unusual nature of adventurers.This is something I have tried to bring into D&D but the systems often seemed geared towards high-fantasy play. I also love the focus on low-level play. I suspect that DCC will become my fantasy RPG of choice.
With the possible exception of halflings as two-weapon fighters I love the treatment of every class. Clerics are awesome holy crusaders, thieves are cool and useful, warriors are mighty, wizards are probably about as much as fun as I can imagine (although if you don't like randomness they won't be for you), and the demihumans are special. I also like how alignment plays into actual game mechanics.
The elimination of wisdom and charisma is an excellent choice. Personality is a much more useful statistic and I like the way luck plays into the game in a variety of ways.
The experience framework is brilliant. Getting experience granted for surviving encounters and based on the difficulty of the encounter can help solve some of the fairness issues I have been talking about. An example of a 4xp encounter is one in which you expend all of your resources and have to retreat. So even if you run, you can still potentially learn something and advance.
That being said there are some annoying vague areas and contradictions. The book explicitly states that it is not intended to be comprehensive (that it is a framework not a straightjacket) and that one should feel free to fill in the blanks but there are areas where clearer intent would be appreciated. For example, as one spends luck (which for most classes is a permanent expenditure) does your luck bonus degrade? Basically, is luck spent like a regular statistic or like hit points? The fact that it is a statistic (and that there are areas where luck uses the initial bonus) says the former is probably accurate but it would be nice if that was a little more spelled out. Likewise, it is not entirely clear that deeds of arms do not need to succeed for the attack to succeed (I am almost certain this is the correct interpretation, but again, not entirely spelled out).
The one major contradiction I have found is with wizard spells known. Most parts of the book seem to imply that the wizard's "spells known" is the maximum spells that they can know. So a 10th level wizard can know up to 16-18 spells depending on intelligence. However, the book also says (on p. 126) that if a wizard "should ever know more than this many spells [referring to the master spell list] he will be a great mage." Since a 10th level character is a semi-divine, a few times in history power level character, he would certainly seem to be a great mage. So what exactly is the spells known? Is it supposed to be a minimum? There is other evidence in a few places in the book for each interpretation.
I realized that I spent more space talking about what I didn't like than what I did, but that does not reflect how much I love this game. There is just more to talk about with the confusions.
Probably should have posted this a while ago . . . . Got some clarification on this apparent contradiction from the man himself here.
I also wanted to add that there has been some people confused and or unhappy with the treatment of alignment in DCC. I will definitely go on the record saying I love it. First of all, it is single axis which is good. Second, at least under my interpretation, law is not at all a proxy for good, and chaos is not a proxy for evil. Elves are chaotic, goblins are lawful. This bothers a lot of people on the forum. I like the nuance of it. Elves, while being generally non-destructive, traffic with outsiders, exchanging favors, souls, whatever, for personal power. While goblins might generally be in opposition to humans, live in communities and pursue their own communal goals. Law and chaos is not the same thing as good guys and bad guys.
When I played a lot as a kid/teen I spent a lot of time thinking about campaign worlds. I drew up new ones habitually, devoured many of the 2ed campaign worlds and I even bought the first version of Campaign Cartographer and spent a lot of time learning how to use it. Now I mostly play in vaguely defined worlds with maybe a small region mapped - or maybe not. This works fine for the most part.
I have been thinking though that their might be advantage in spending some time creating a more detailed campaign world. A world that I could reuse across campaigns. I wouldn't start at a high level of detail, but at least I could put all of my campaign design efforts in one direction. As I add things for different games they could all just go on the map somewhere.
Now let's see if I really start or if this stays in the realm of imagination.
Discussion with Brendan has started me thinking more about fairness issues. -C has covered the issue brilliantly with regard to traps. To put it simply: clues to traps should be given in description, players who listen carefully will be rewarded by not dying. But what about monsters? The threat level of a monster can be difficult to gauge - particularly if the DM uses a lot of unknown monsters. Also, I want to reward players who think - not necessarily those who know the game best. I think particularly in systems that heavily incentivize combat (e.g. Pathfinder) this is a serious problem. We want players to be wary of combat - but they have no other way to advance their characters (unless you dabble in the modern D&D devilry of a magic item commerce - a topic for another day). Therefore the players are inevitably going to take risks and fight unknown monsters. If we just let them die willy-nilly we will end up damaging fun. It may be fun at first to hurl characters at unknowable enemies, but its frustrating after many sessions of either starting new characters or not gaining experience.
CR: Ick. The WotC way is crappy and is not the game we wish to play.
Knowledge skills: the Pathfinder sort of fix. Roll and learn the monster's capabilities! Not only is this a horrendous example of a skill tax ("let's see, I'd better take knowledge-planes because no one has that yet") but it destroys the sense of exploring the unknown.
"So what if they are frustrated? They should learn to play better.": Not exactly swimming in grognards here. Plus, shouldn't the game be fun?
Scouting: My awesome solution. We need to provide clues and opportunities for the players to learn the capabilities of nasty monsters before they decide whether or not to fight them. The rust monster does not leave much intact metal around, ghouls leave a lot of gnawed on body parts around, you might be able to sneak up on the ogre encampment to determine their numbers, etc. As great as surprise is, players making intelligent decisions is better. If we can start them thinking in a scouting mode, then we can include real baddies, and start littering the dungeon floor with corpses of the foolish.