Today I went to Phantom of the Attic in Oakland the play Dungeon Crawl Classics for the first time, I’ve seen the core book around quite often and it always catches my eye. Given the number of fantasy based RPGs I’m already invested in I’m always a bit reluctant to dive into another one. However, I really love Phantom and this gave me a good excuse to try the game out. Two GMs ran two tables of about four players a piece. Now,if you’re familiar with DCC let me tell a few interesting pieces of information. If you’re just starting out you begin with 4 characters at level zero, these characters aren’t really heroic at this point. Most of them are pretty much just NPCs with a few pieces of gear and not much else. Generally they have a very low armor class, and just a few hit points. The average creature, trap, or misfortune can kill your character in a single hit. In fact two of our characters (an orphan and a dwarf) were both crush by rubble while trying to climb their way into the fortress we were exploring. The process is called the funnel, essentially your weak nobody characters are being out through their paces as they try to make it level 1 heroes, at which they become much more effective gaining a class and improved abilities. It is interesting to note that in this game certain races are in fact a class unto themselves! Elves, dwarves, and halflings have unique abilities that are enhanced if they manage to survive long enough to make it to level 1.
In my case I had: a tax collector, an elf sage, a future man, and a wizard’s apprentice. Our party also included a collection other wannabe heroes ranging from a spartan warrior and sci-fi movie extra to a ditch digger and dwarf fungus farmer. Our GM threw ina few more adventurous characters which are not included in the standard fair, most of them died before we concluded our adventure. Rip the future man drowned, and our gladiator friend was killed by a hippoman who he attempted to kick into a well.
The module we ran through was Sailors of the Starless Sea which set us against beastmen, a lich, tentacle monsters, and some very unpleasant creatures from some far flung pit of the cosmos. Thanks to a newly created patron (This came in the form of my wizard’s apprentice who merged with a lich to become a powerful other-thing), the enchanted ax our ditch digger recovered, a magic ring, and a bit of accounting from the tax collector we managed to throw down the monsters and emerged victorious.
This was an enormously fun experience for me as a player, and as a GM I couldn’t help imagining the great time players could have employing this system. It captures the feel of an old school dungeon crawl really well, but the system of employing multiple characters mean you can run through deadly threats and see what works for you. Finding that apothecary you rolled a bit boring? Send her to the front lines and roll up something new! the game employs a Luck stat which can be used to enhance rolls under certain circumstances. By the end of our game I was rooting for my last living character Lionel the tax collector, surprising as it was he’d grown into a hero in my mind. He’d faced down the beastmen with a longsword and proven that he had more mettle than either of us had expected at the start of the adventure.
Whether you’re a new GM looking for a fun system that can inspire your players to take on the role of unlikely heroes, or a veteran who wants to try things at a different pace I strongly recommend Dungeon Crawl Classics.
If you happen to be in the Pittsburgh area Phantom Games is going to be organizing monthly events at their location, it is a great way to try the game out and see if it is for you.