Friday, February 18, 2011

DCC RPG Report

I have just returned from Genghis Con here in Denver, and as promised, I am writing up my impressions of my first time playing Goodman Games' newest effort: The DCC RPG.

First off let me say that I had the particular pleasure of having the dynamic Harley Stroh as a DM...And I'll tell you right now, if you EVER get the chance to play in a game that this guy is running, do NOT hesitate to drop the dough (or whatever) and jump at the chance. I've been gaming for many many years (since the late 70's) and I can count on one tentacle how many DMs were better. (I don't actually have tentacles, in case you're wondering...That'll give you an idea how many I've encountered. That's right, none.)

So, saying that, this report might be a bit biased. Because, like all games 90% of the energy, pacing, setting, etc. comes from the DM. But I will in all honesty give you my most honest impression of the game.

I played in the second session of the day, a scenario called Beyond the Black Gate. Some of you have probably already read a bit about this at the Goodman forums...Douglas Keester wrote quite a nice review as well <>, go check it out. Yeah, Douglas and I played in the same game.

On with the review then. Our pregens were 3rd level and I got lucky enough to grab the Elf. I say "lucky" for a couple of reasons:
  1. I wanted to check out race as class and see if it had much of an effect.
  2. I wanted to sling some spells and see that dynamic in action.
  3. I didn't want to be a "squishy", and just stand in the back. I also wanted to mix it up in melee.
Oh, I must also premise this w/ the fact that I didn't roll all that well in the game (two '1's along w/ some basically lowish garbage), so keep that in mind. Yeah, you pay for poor rolls in this game. Which ROCKS on TOAST! I'm terribly fond of games where you react to situations, where all is NOT known and very little is truly under your control. Good fun. Very old school in "feel".

I'm not going to actually get much into the module part of it, just in case Harley and Joseph are thinking of publishing any of what we went through. Which btw, I certainly hope they do. This had such a cool feel to it. Sort of a mix of Greek myth that draws in a Persephone and Hades vibe as well as a few other things that were just flat out wicked backdrops.

As most of you already know, the character sheets were very brief. The standard things, attributes (named a bit differently), an ascending AC, hit points, some spell stuff, a few stats on how you hit things, some special racial or class abilities (e.g. I could see 60' in the dark and I wasn't affected by sleep and charm. Definitely old skool there.) and that's really about all the mechanical things on the page.

Now of course the spell slingers each got a small pamphlet of spells, which of course will likely be in the book when it's published. Each spell description had a few different little doo-dads on there that were kind of cool. The famous spell affect tables, listing what your spell roll actually netted you. (I'll explain a bit more about that in awhile.) There was also this area for how it manifested... I think that's what it was called, I don't actually have the spell sheets in front of me at the moment.

But under that manifestation area there were affects that you could roll for and it would be a cool descriptor of how the spell .... uh, well manifested. Duh. Kind of a neat "flavor" piece I thought. It reminded me a bit of that Savage Worlds mechanic of "trappings".

There are many different places that you can read about how casting works, but briefly you have only a few spells (I was third and I think I had a total of 5 spells). But the cool thing is that dependent upon the roll, those 'X' number of spells can last all day long, could fizzle out in a heartbeat (as I quickly found out), might grow in power and effect (thus actually nearly becoming something completely further for more on this.), and of course it might turn you into something pretty nasty if you roll poorly.

A cool mechanic I hadn't heard about before though was the arcane ability to burn a physical attribute point to regain a spell you've lost (usually by rolling poorly in the first place), which was kind of cool. And mechanically it really tied the casting to the affects of magic on the caster's body. I liked that.

Let me give an example: (No spoilers I hope) We were beset upon by some rather nasty beasties and were between a rock and a hard spot. So we decided to activate this item we had found. Now in order to activate it you had to have 3 successful arcane rolls. OK that's fine. BUT, we knew that the power of the item wasn't going to do exactly what we needed it to do in order to get us out of this situation. So, we decided we'd spell burn (spend physical attribute points on a one to one basis in order to increment your spell roll.) in order to change the parameters of the spell. (So in other words, the spell usually only effected one person, we needed it to effect ALL of us.)

Already the game had me. I mean how cool is that? You're able to change a spell on the fly in order to bend it to your will. You just have to pay for it.

So my elf dumped 12 points into his roll. Twelve. If you're counting, that's a lot. I was obviously betting the bank on this roll right? Well I rolled a '10'. Average, but it netted a 22, which was good enough. (It was actually the second 22, so we were cool there.)

But right before it was triggered I attempted to put the hurt on this prone opponent. Here's where things went south. And I actually said as I rolled the dice, "Why shouldn't I try and kill the bad guy on my way out?"... I rolled a '1' on the die, and said, "That's why." Ooops.

Bad things happened and we ended up in a bad place once the other item triggered. Magic is super fickle in this game.

We were lucky as all get out that our cleric was rolling like a champ. He didn't roll anything lower than a 15 on any of the heal rolls! Amazing.

Oh and speaking of rolls, our barbarian (a fighter w/ a barbarian background) missed one roll all night. Seriously? Glad he was on my side.

Another situation where things went sideways for us was near the end of play when our mage rolled a perfect 20 on a Prismatic Spray! The results ended up knocking out all the bad guys as well as the entire party, minus the mage. This might sound bad, but in all honesty it was a way out that didn't even exist right before he rolled that dice. So the game dramatically changed because of that roll. It was so cool. You can't script stuff like that.

Alright, so my impressions of the game. I liked it a lot. I'm an old school guy at heart. I play Swords and Wizardry Whitebox w/ my daughters here at home, and I love it. I play in a Pathfinder game every other Tuesday night, but I'm not in love w/ the rules. Way too much fiddly stuff for my tastes.

The DCC RPG ran incredibly quickly. Combats were fast. I mean really fast. Fewer spells to choose from might have given you less "flexibility" but it also makes you think creatively as well as speeds things up in terms of available choices. One attack per character made things go fast.

No minis really caused everyone at the table to be completely engaged in what the DM was saying. Therefore no one was doing their "own thing" while someone attacked, and relying upon the battle mat and minis to "tell the story" when they refocussed.

While I think the game would play just fine w/ minis, it plays VERY well w/out them. I don't use them in my games if I can help it.

Melee for warrior types is kind of neat. You get one of those wacky dice to roll w/ your d20 when you roll to hit. The number of sides goes up every "X" amount of levels. It reminded me of the wild dice in Savage Worlds a bit. Except w/ this system you actually added the two together.

Joseph had just come up w/ a new mechanic for the fighters as well. If you were descriptive enough in your attack, wanted some type of cool outcome (not on the scale of critical) and if you rolled above a certain number on your extra dice, the DM would come up w/ some mechanical advantage. (e.g. -4 on the monster's next dice roll due to blood in the eye, etc.) It worked out well I think. It may be a bit vague on the differences between a critical and this "cool" affect. I worry that it might not be clear cut enough for some groups who just don't trust their DM enough, or are too much the rules lawyer type.

Now obviously w/ Harley at the helm it wasn't an issue. We just rolled w/ it. Rule zero baby. Very old school.

The neat thing about this game was that it felt "loose" enough to add a ton of creative play w/out feeling like you were breaking some rule or another. Yet at the same time, it was well structured enough so that guys who had been playing 3.5, 4E, and Pathfinder felt as if they were in "good hands". Which is a pretty decent accomplishment if you think about it.

At times though I wondered how I might have felt if I were playing the straight up mage, while I was rolling so poorly. Here's the 4E trap: They attempted to give everyone something to "do" every round. In other words, no mage would ever "run out of spells". With the elf I had options, I could attack, I could fire my bow. I had things to do. The mage on the other hand was pretty much screwed if his spells didn't seem to be working right. (or in my case, my dice.)

But on the plus side, w/ the mechanic where you can burn attributes in order to regain spells available, you'd be pretty hard pressed to run out of stuff to do. Magic items are obviously rare in this game. We ran across one... And we were all third level. So you can't fall back on those.

I might like to see some kind of Gandalf rule though. Let the mages carry and fight w/ swords. Although, to be honest, I didn't see anything saying you couldn't as a mage. Hmmm.

It's getting late here so I'm going to wrap this up. I apologize if it's all over the place, but I'm tired, and I honestly wanted to get as much down as possible before I forgot. So there you are. I'll try and write more later as things sort of percolate and ideas bubble up.

Cheers and again, thanks Joseph and Harley for a tremendously fun game. I'm sold. I'll definitely be knocking on your door (figuratively of course) when that game is released.


Ogrepuppy said...

Thank you for writing this!

I've been trying to (pretty carefully) follow the playtests as they've been tossed out into the Web, and every playtest has solidified for me more and mor ethat I WANT TO OWN THIS GAME.


(Harley rocks.)

Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks for the write up, I'm really intrigued to see how this ruleset fares in play :)

Gamer Dude said...

So an interesting aside, that I wasn't aware of initially, it seems (I hope I'm not "blabbing" too much here, or getting anyone in trouble.) that they'll be releasing the Beta in a similar format to Paizo's Pathfinder game.

Which I find exciting.

And yes, the game is a lot of fun. My wife's observation this morning though was a little sobering: "It sounds like it's all about Harley's skill in running a game. Can you think of any of your friends that would be able to run it half so well?"

Which gave me a bit of pause.

But on the other hand, I really tried to pay attention to the rules while playing. And in all honesty, the rules seemed to help Harley move the game forward the way he did. Granted, Harley is pretty good at riffing off of any occurrence presented by the dice, but w/out that cool dynamic the game wouldn't have turned out half so well.

Which brings up an interesting point, I do think that this game will require a certain "type" of DM to run it. Someone who's quick of mind, fast on their feet and is an improv at heart. In this day and age I'm not sure I know a load of those type of people.

John Arendt said...

Nice report, I like the sound of how DCC RPG is playing at the table.

SgtPepper76 said...

I think you're right that the game will require a different "type" of DM but I also think there are more of those out there than we think, its just that with today's games, they're not exercising those particular improvy mental muscles.

For that matter I think the game requires a certain type of player base as well.

One thing (and I should mention this in the DCC forums) I hope that carries over from other games is the ease of creating encounters in 4E. In 3/3.5 you could spend hours prepping special bad guys and their minions. 4E almost made it too easy to set things up. I'm hoping there's a happy medium somewhere in there.

If you remove that particular headache, I think it allows the DM more resources to apply towards the mental acrobatics needed to run a fun game.

Gamer Dude said...

Hey Sarge...

Yeah, I'm not a 4E guy, but I have heard exactly that sentiment when listening to DMs talk about prepping a game.

I do also remember w/ distinct clarity the pain in setting up encounters in 3.X too though...Ouch. From what I've heard, it sounds as if DCC is more akin to earlier versions of D&D, in that there are no "templates" to apply. A monster is a monster is a monster, and therefore does not follow the same rules that bind the PC. Which I find refreshing.

I think also that DCC is less concerned about "balance" than 3.X and 4E. Meaning that there's no overriding drive (RaW) to force linearity in the game. i.e. It's not a computer / console game, and therefore the chances of running into something beyond your ability to deal w/ physically is a certainty. This in turn allows the DM to build towards story rather than worry about crafting some kind of perfectly "balanced" encounter that will drain 33.3% of the party's resources.

Not that I'm complaining about a well crafted encounter mind you, but rather I think that "balance" has taken too much of a front seat in games these days. What ever happened to running away, or brokering a deal? (Or nuking from orbit man!?!) ;-)

Out of curiosity, are you guys playing 4E currently?

SgtPepper76 said...

In encounter generation I think 4E took a step back towards previous editions to make monsters monsters (though there are some templates). And honestly all they really did was create multiple levels of the same monster (ex. there might be 5 types of lizard men now, spread across various level bands so there's usually always something "within balance range". It works, sometimes even extremely well.

I have to laught at your mention of a perfectly "balanced" encounter that will drain 33.3% of the party's resources.. Years ago now we ran a very long 3.5 campaign set in the Forgotten Realms where we went from 1st to 15th or so. Anyway, while approaching the final bad guy we had to cross a bridge on this floating citadel and lo and behold there is a Glabrezu demon waiting for us on the other side (a monster our DM had always wanted to use).

As both sides faced off for what was supposed to be a resource draining battle so we'd go into the last fight at half strength or so, our rogue reached into his quiver and drew forth an Arrow of Demon Slaying that we had bought on a lark months and months ago (even better, the DM had randomly rolled to determine that the Arrow was even an item on the For Purchase list). Well a natural 19 attack roll later and one failed saving throw on the demon's part (missed by one) we stormed into the final encounter at 100%, while the DM had to take a break so he could recover from the shock of having his encounter (that he'd spent hours prepping) melt right before his eyes. One of our shining moments..(though the final battle was still near impossible) But I digress...

On the 4E question, we're actually just starting back up into it. Our group tends to take the "holiday" season off and we've been slow getting back into the swing. GenghisCon was the first time I've rolled the dice this year. That said we're trying to get back into our monthly gaming routine. We tend to alternate between RPGA LFR adventures or a homebrew game based in the latest generic D&D realm that I've expanded on. I'm also tempted to pick up the Death Dealer module that Mr. Stroh himself wrote to run a one off adventure in the 7-9 level range.