DCC: Actual Play Impressions

After some scheduling hiccups my gaming group had its first game using Dungeon Crawl Classics. I'll probably be doing an actual-play writeup later this week but for now I'm focusing on my impressions of the game.

This was our first time using Google+ Hangouts as a virtual tabletop solution. Originally we all hung out at my house but with the real world intruding not everyone is able to make it (and not everyone is even in the country any more). For our group's Call of Cthulhu we used the Fantasy Grounds tabletop application. It's a program that worked very well for us but it is rather difficult to tweak for games it doesn't explicitly support.

For our Google+ Hangout we used the free Tabletop Forge application, an application that adapts Google+ Hangouts to serve as a Virtual Tabletop. It worked pretty well with some hiccups that my group will be working on going forward. Off the top of my head, the biggest issue seemed to be one of latency - for some players the Hangout suffered from extreme latency. My brother, who is in the group, usually shows up in person (as my house is on his way home from work it works rather nicely). He was sitting next to me on the same network and yet for part of the game he suffered latencies of up to ten seconds when typing. I'm suspecting this was an issue with Google as it cleared up later for no apparent reason. We did have some echo issues - for next game we're going to try everyone having headsets. As Judge I did run into an issue with a map I was sharing showing up for everyone - but me...  I don't want to be overly negative about the app - especially given both the Hangout and Tabletop Forge are both free and constantly being refined. Overall they were tools that serves us well - and as all of us are in the software industry we pretty much assumed we'd have some hiccups to deal with.

As far as the game itself goes... I wrote up my own adventure dealing with our potential adventurers encountering some un-dead skeletons in their town and tracking them down to a supposedly sealed off shrine to the god Pluto. We didn't have a full-house - it was me and three players, each with four 0-level characters. The fatality rate was rather high. In the first round of combat a scribe (who hadn't even been named) lost his head to a skeleton. Overall, of the 12 characters 7 survived the evening. And there is still the Shrine of Pluto to explore.

As far as the rules went the players adapted to them rather easily, despite not all of them having had time to go through the rules. Mechanically it is a very simplified version of the D&D 3.x rules, a game that everyone in my group has a lot of experience with. What was notable though was the tone the game encouraged.

First of all there is the fatality rate. Though I started gaming in the 80s I was strongly influenced by White Wolf's Storytelling games of the 90s. As a result I have a habit of concealing dice rolls and been willing to fudge things to help the story along. The DCC Game advocates pubic dice rolling and purely random character generation. While I don't view one style of play as "the one true way" I decided to give DCC a try as written. I generated, using Purple Sorcerer Games zero-level character generator, 15 groups of 4 zero-level PCs and allowed each player to pick one grouping. For combat I made all the rolls publicly. This very quickly established the tone - this is not a friendly world where the fates seek to keep you alive for some great destiny. If a barbarian hiding in a ruined building near the Shrine hurls a javelin at a fisherman, chances are good that the fisherman will die.

However, even though it made death more likely it also made death simply part of the game - I'm not sure how to describe it - but there seemed to be little fear of character death despite its likelihood. Almost an attitude of "seize the day for tomorrow (or today) we may die".

Even though no one has reached 1st level yet the first session also really drove home how notable any leveled character is. These are people who ventured, willingly, into a scenario where death wasn't even possible but was likely. They watched others like them die deaths that no bard will sing songs of. Brave? Most certainly. A little bit crazy? I would imagine so.

That's got me thinking about other "important people" of the setting. I'd felt this way before but this first session drove it home - being important is not sufficient reason to be above 0-level. This is a world full of 0-level mayors, dukes, kings, priests, bishops, and the like. There may be some veteran soldiers who have fought in many battles, but even with that I suspect most of them aren't 1st level warriors. They might have extra hit dice and bonuses in combat, but it seems to me this is a world where leveling up to a class also involves a choice - a choice to truly risk one's life in pursuit of adventure.

Our next game will involve actually delving into the dungeon itself. I'm thinking I might have to supply the players with a few more 0-level characters to make a total party kill less than a certainty.

Note - if you've expressed interest in joining the game and weren't able to - or if this sounds interesting, give me a holler - we'd love to have you. And our poor adventurers need more potential targets in the funnel. We game every other Monday from 7 to around 9:30 PM Eastern US Time.

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