I just played my second session of DCC RPG (run by Josh from Being Giant) yesterday. Our first session was a zero level funnel with four character each. Two of mine survived, and became Natan the Cultist (wizard) and Javid the Thug (thief). I rolled for their alignment, and both turned out to be chaotic. Natan’s background was a trapper, so I’m picturing him a bit like a mountain man but with some voodoo going on. Javid was a scribe with an intelligence of 5, so he must have been a failure at that career, probably just writing random characters and hoping nobody would notice. For the second session, I generated another zero to serve as a retainer (Pergamoy the smuggler).
There was one other player in our second session, with a first level cleric, a first level halfling, and a newly generated zero. I have read the criticism that DCC is insufficiently lethal after zero level, but that was not our experience. Of our six characters, only two survived (Natan the Cultist and the halfling). The less fortunate were slain by the rakes and hoes of some sort of underworld gardeners. It’s true that characters reduced to zero HP get one round per level of bleeding out during which they can be saved, but that was not enough for us, even with a cleric in the party. I do think there is an aspect of the funnel which is 3d6 in order, four times, choose the best. The only character of mine that survived from my first four probably had the best scores. It seems natural to be more cautious with the character that has the most potential.
Characters above zero level also have a “not really dead” chance which is a luck check (it functions sort of like a saving throw), but the thief and the cleric both failed their second chance roll too. This is a nice compromise between danger and survivability (and is similar to how I play basic and original D&D, with a save versus death at 0 HP, success indicating unconsciousness rather than death).
Every class felt like it had interesting things to do without having a huge list of powers. The magic system really shined. For every spell (you begin with 4 + intelligence modifier), you roll for a unique side effect (this is called “mercurial magic”). For example, Natan becomes ravenously hungry every time he casts detect magic, (mechanically this is a personality penalty until he eats). Whenever he casts magic missile (which for him is a ray of frost), he changes something nearby into lead and something else into gold (determined randomly).
Spell checks are required for every casting, and you can use the spell again if you don’t fail the spell check (so the system offers more spells than traditional D&D without being unlimited). In practice, this felt very similar to my vancian variant 1 rule (save to retain spells), and I like it a lot (though I still think all those tables are probably overkill, and unique spell fumble charts might be a better use of that space). You don’t need to prepare specific spells beforehand though, which destroys the planning aspect of the magic-user class. The thief ability to burn luck for temporary bonuses was also nice. It allows you to have a greater chance of success on important rolls, without making the outcome certain.
Having absolute control over zero level characters that you don’t care very much about can lead to a hazardous style of play. (We used one of our zeros to fish for plant people in a pit.) I think I prefer how retainers are traditionally handled in D&D, where they are pseudo-NPCs. As a player, you can only partially control them, the referee can veto anything, and they are subject to morale checks. Also, if you mistreat retainers, it may become harder to hire more later. Since zeros are “PCs” though, and control over PCs is sacrosanct in D&D tradition, these constraints to not work.
Whatever else this game might be, it is not rules lite. It feels very similar to Third Edition D&D in play, with ability checks (roll high against a DC) replacing most skill checks. DCC lacks much of the customization complexity of 3E though, so it is much easier to get started, and doesn’t feel as overwhelming. There is little opportunity or pressure to optimize. We had to look things up several times, though I expect such need will decrease once we have played a few more sessions.
There are lots of tables that need to be used in play. Critical hit charts that vary based on class, general fumble charts, one chart per spell, and probably a few more that I am forgetting. That being said, I didn’t mind. All of these tables added to the fun of the game. It would be nice if the book had an index though, and it would also be nice if each spell chart was exactly one page. But those are minor issues. In any case, I’m really looking forward to my next session, and in the end I think that is the best for of praise for any game. (Also, I think Josh might have space for another player or two, if anyone is interested; we have been playing on Thursdays so far.)
The guy who runs our bi-monthly DCC game (we just had session 05) has an index he downloaded and printed out — I think it’s somewhere on the Goodman site.
I’m having a blast with it, although after our first 2 sessions were ‘funnel,’ all subsequent PCs start at level 1.
We lost 2 PCs last session, so I don’t know how to measure lethality, but I think DM fiat seems to have a much bigger role in DCC than in 3e. Pretty often in the game, our DM will say, “You need to make a reflex roll… ummm… lets say 10 or better… to keep from falling into the pit” and similar things, and then we add any modifiers for ability or luck if we choose to burn it. I have no idea if we are doing it right, but we sure are having fun.
That’s another nice thing about the traditional saving throw system. It is more impartial than having to set a difficulty class at the table. It’s just “save versus wands” (or whatever) and the number is on your character sheet. Theoretically, the DC system could be more tied to the game world itself, but realistically you have to improvise so many DCs at the table that it becomes more of a question of whether the referee things this particular challenge should be easy, medium, or hard.
One thing I’ve been considering it to have the player not roll a character’s stats until they actually use them. So you don’t roll strength until you attack and done roll hit points/Con until you get hit.
I’ve seen the suicide character problem in all the games I’ve played or DMed that used hardcore die rolling.
I think that DCC exacerbates the problem by giving you such a direct comparison between all the potential characters. Like, all four of them are right next to each other and numerically comparable. Whereas if you are doing 3d6 in order the traditional D&D way with one character, you only have one guy and he’s your guy so you are rooting for him (and also because it is kind of a hassle to work a backup character in, etc). I personally haven’t seen the suicide problem since I started playing RPGs again, and if it were to come up I would likely blame power gaming.
But that is probably another couple conversations, one about the increasing importance of ability scores, and the other about games that allow unviable characters to be created regularly (that seems like a flaw to me, and one that led to the point buy madness of recent versions of D&D, which has its own problems).
I do like some side effects of the funnel though. It makes death more obviously a thing that happens sometimes, and makes it less likely that character deaths will derail the game later. At least, it seems like it would have that effect, I haven’t actually played a long running DCC game yet.
Okay, that’s not entirely true now that I think about it. I did have some players in my recent 4E game create new characters and “suicide” the previous ones. But that was more about wanting to try out a new concept/build, and not because of bad ability scores (since 4E gives array and point buy options).
Actually, Runequest is where I saw player suicide most frequently. That game was so deadly normally that there really wasn’t any point to trying to play a character without an above average constitution.
OD&D is a good example of the downside to making ability scores more important. In the original books, a character with normal or below average intelligence can become a magic user, he’s just a little slow. Add the Greyhawk table to the game and now an average 10 Int MU is effectively level capped at 11th.
Yeah, agree. Supplement I: Greyhawk is proto-AD&D, and AD&D was the beginning of increasing ability score importance (and the attendant inflation). Probably unsurprisingly, I don’t care for any of the character options in Greyhawk other than the thief class (which for my Pahvelorn game I interpret in a very Men & Magic way; d6 hit dice based on the fighting capability table, etc).
Neither of the D&D versions that I prefer (OD&D and B/X) have class ability score requirements, though B/X starts to reward high ability scores more with increased utility and bonuses.
I’ve never read any Runequest materials (in fact, I don’t think I have ever even seen a Runequest book in person), but having only high-constitution characters be viable certainly sounds like a flaw to me (or maybe the game is not intended to be combat heavy?).
Thanks for the summary. I was wondering how DCC was in practice.