I really like the feel of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG by Goodman Games. They really nailed the aesthetics of those Appendix N stories – the primordial fantasy stories that inspired Gygax, Arneson, and countless others when the hobby gaming industry was still in its formative years. Leiber, Moorcock, Howard, Vance, and so many others, the authors that really blazed the trail for fantasy gaming to take shape.
That being said, there’s a strange disconnect with the game for me. The disconnect comes in the assumptions between the characters and the published adventures. The adventures are almost all crazy and out there, and in really interesting ways. Post-apocalyptic, Dying Earth kind of stuff, with robots and horrendous beast-men and savage monsters that defy description and corrupt sorcerers that just need to be stopped. These adventures are what really connect with those Appendix N stories.
The characters, however, seem to fall more into the classic archetypes of fantasy gaming that came about after those Appendix N authors. Or maybe it’s so indelibly linked in my mind with Dungeons & Dragons that when I see the list of classes – cleric, warrior, thief, wizard, dwarf, elf, halfling – I immediately go, not to the Appendix N authors, but to the Gygaxian adventures of the early years.
Because, while the starting point may have been Leiber and Moorcock and Vance, the ending point became it’s own thing entirely. It seemed to blend in heavy doses of Tolkien, leaning heavily on the iconic images from Lord of the Rings to base these various races on. This combination resulted in a new style, one that has grown with its own tropes and archetypes over the past 40+ years.
I grew up reading Tolkien, so as far as Appendix N authors go that was my introduction. I didn’t pick up the other masters until much later, so D&D had that Tolkien-esque feel for me right from the beginning. I didn’t glom onto the Vancian spellcasting system – it was simply the D&D spellcasting system. The play between Chaos and Law from Moorcock was secondary to the primary battle between Good and Evil from Tolkien.
All of this is to say that the characters as presented in the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, and even the blurb at the beginning of every adventure, seems to call back to the early days of fantasy gaming, but the content of the adventures themselves reaches back way before that. It creates a disconnect for me that’s been hard to reconcile.
I’ve been itching to play more Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG but I think I’m going to need to change something about it. It might be as simple as removing the demihuman races as options – play humans, simple as that. It might be that simple, though it would require some adjustments to the 0-level funnel table. I like that idea a lot actually and is certainly the easiest adjustment to make.
On the other hand, I’ve been tinkering with some ideas on how to move some aspects of DCC RPG into a more stable core fantasy setting, with those elves, dwarves, halflings, and more thrown in. I even have a great starting point, but I’m going to have to think about it some more. I’m sure you’ll see more here on the blog though!