I never quite did a campaign post mortem for DCC, because I jumped straight into my Edge of the Empire dual campaigns that I was running at the time. Long story short, it was a lot of fun, but the game didn’t quite work the way I wanted it to work. I don’t blame the game system, but the game system does have some traits that lend itself toward some craziness that might undermine what I was trying to create.
I wanted to make a Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign that was closer in tone to Conan, Elric, and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. I think DCC’s influences definitely lend themselves towards that type of game, but I was also attempting to “bridge” between an old school D&D game and DCC’s tone.
In the first session I introduced an elf character that was pretty vicious and cruel, but was a major hero in the campaign, which was my Elric stand in. The point of this introduction was to get across the point that elves in this setting were weird, decadent, vicious jerks.
I was still trying to introduce more “grey” versions of standard D&D races. Orcs were a bit more “World of Warcraft.” Dwarves were a bit more “Dragon Age.” That said, playing a game where you have levels and classes (especially familiar classes), and familiar terminology, allows implications to work their way into the game.
Every time I introduced Elven things in the game, no matter how weird (“here is where the elves kept their human slaves”–“here is where the elves kept their hallucinogenic drugs”), “Elf” seemed to translate to D&D Elf.
Thankfully the group did jump in at the end and lead a group of orcs versus the evil elves invading human lands. But it felt like I was really forcing the subverted tropes on the group. The final dungeon of the campaign was really “look how evil and weird Elves are!”
But more than all of that, it was hard to get anyone invested in their characters. The assumption in DCC is that if you take a 0 level character and have them survive over time, you are invested in that poor guy that managed to survive against all odds. That did indeed work for a couple of characters that did survive. About half of the party was constantly dying, then killing one another, then not really care much about their characters.
I also made another huge mistake that I think did the opposite of what I wanted. I allowed the players to bank their XP so that they could level up another character if their current character died. The problem with this is that randomly generated characters that didn’t look that good didn’t get any XP spent on them, and died at really bad times in the campaign, causing us to have absolutely silly moments when another character had to show up to replace the dead PC.
So, in conclusion, the game was a fun gonzo old school fantasy roleplaying experience. I like the system. Pretty much everyone liked the system. The campaign issues were from my expectations and how I presented the setting, and largely in my special rules that kind of played with the random nature of the game. However, at its base, DCC does expect that you will eventually form a bond with a character that might have been hapless at one time. It makes for some crazy sessions, but it can work a bit against long term character development and story.
What would I do if I did it again?
I still have a desire to create a Conan/Fafhrd and Mouser/Elric toned game with DCC. There is a lot to like in the game. But since I started running the game there have been some third party supplements that have come out. Normally, I wouldn’t lean this heavily on ripping bits and pieces from third party supplements, but for an old school game like DCC, it almost feels right.
I’d take some classes from both, to have an available class list that looks like this:
- Barbarian (Tales from the Fallen Empire)
- Man-Ape (Tales from the Fallen Empire)
- Sentinel (Tales from the Fallen Empire)
- Witch (Tales from the Fallen Empire)
- The Half-Breed (Transylvanian Adventures)
I think I’d use the monetary system from Tales from the Fallen Empire (basically moving things more towards a silver standard rather than a gold standard).
I’d definitely take the Ruin system from Transylvanian Adventures, as well as the “Party Like its 1899” table from that book as well.
All of the above are really to reinforce a different fantasy style than D&D. No clerics. No Elves, Dwarves, or Halflings. The only non-humans are Man-Apes and Half-Breeds, which are just humans that have something in their bloodline that makes them “not right.”
The silver standard is another thing that feels more “grubby” and doesn’t invokes the mounds of gold such as you would find in Smaug’s horde, for example. Heck, you can have tons of silver, and feel rich, but the noble that throws around gold still seems like he’s beyond the grubby adventurers.
Without restating the whole thing, the Ruin system from Transylvanian Adventures replaces the “recovering the body” rule from DCC, and the rating for Ruin goes up the more the character falls below 0 hit points, and higher ruin means the character is more likely to die when they fall below 0 hit points. Also, the GM can spend Ruin for his side if he feels like it, which I like, because it’s like reverse Luck for GMs.
Finally, and most blasphemously–I’d start characters at 1st level, 4d6, arrange how you like. I know, I know, that’s like a cardinal DCC sin. That said, it almost seems like that level of customization for a 1st level character is the minimum to get someone interested in making the character they want.
No 0 level bonus abilities, like 0 level hit points or birth signs.
So, that’s my blasphemous thoughts on the game. Someday I’d love to give it another whirl, and hopefully nobody comes to my house to confiscate my coveted DCC book, because I am kind of attached to it.