It was a dark world. It’s always a “dark” world.
Garun Helrockyr gazed through his mostly empty mug of “lukewarm goat piss;” a paper thin, hoppy “ale” — brewed downstairs in the community tub, no doubt. The dwarf cursed under his breath. An aleslinger behind the sticky bar grinned, elbowing a serving boy playfully while pointing at Garun with one hand and touching her codpiece with the other.
“Up to your standards, little knight?” she howled, — her grin quickly breaking into a barking giggle. The serving boy’s eyes flashed like white fire under his thick, dark hair, begging the dwarf restrain himself….. Garun sighed.
I’m told the pen is mightier than the sword — unless you bring a pen to a sword fight. New players to the dungeon crawling biz’ might want to bring both — just in case — because low-level DCC can be a meatgrinder. That’s part of the fun.
When I first started playing Dungeons & Dragons, way back in 1979, it was common to lose a character or three to combat, exploration, and roleplay. Characters died often, for good and bad reasons, and most of them stayed that way. I don’t know if it was because we liked rolling new characters all the time or if reincarnation just wasn’t as sexy is it is today. It was probably a little of both.
Do you remember your first grope/kiss behind the fence, at the park or in the backseat of a car? DCC is nothing like that, but it has a similar feel. All the rules are in one giant book, the interior pictures are all black and white and the text keeps referencing dice you’ve never heard of before.
It’s scary and irresistible — at the same time. Roll a d30 to see if you catch anything.
(The authors well-thumbed and tabbed copy of the DCC RPG rules featuring an amazing full page art piece by artist extraordinaire –Doug Kovacs )
DCC uses all the standard polyhedral RPG dice, including the d20 an entire generation was named for. It also makes use of “Zocchi dice” in d3, d5, d7, d14, d16, d24 and d30 configurations. These oddball’s fill-in between (and above) the standard D&D dice and allow for a novel modifier system of improved or reduced dice called the dice chain.
You might find a set of Zocchi’s at your local FLGS. If anything else, they are a terrific novelty. If not — you can typically find them for sale on the publisher’s website, or at Amazon. You can also use an IOS/ Android app called ‘The Crawler’ (Purple Sorcerer Games — FREE) and it even includes the read-out-loud table-text for crits, fumbles, and spells used by judge (the DCC equivalent to ‘dungeon master’) and player, alike.
Critical Hits and Fumbles
Natural 1’s are always fumbles and the heavier your armor, the harder it is to recover from one. Natural 20’s are always critical hits. There are separate crit tables for 0-levels and wizards; thieves and elves; clerics and halflings; low-level warriors and dwarves; medium level warriors and dwarves; and high-level warriors and dwarves. When crit happens, the judge compares the result of a modified roll to the corresponding table for a class/ level and reads the result out loud.
A warrior adds the result of a ‘deed die’ — an additional d3, rolled once each round, to their attack roll(s) (and damage!) in combat. The deed die grows as the fighter levels, becoming a d4 at level two, a d5 at level three and so on. A fighter will generally hit more often and hit harder, regardless of weapon. It’s a big part of what they do.
Every class in DCC gets their own unique set of powers/skills. Thieves get a bonus to their attack roll (only) that increases, according to a table, starting at level two. Thieves and halflings are born lucky and can use DCC’s luck mechanic more often than anyone else, because they regain luck nightly, after a rest.
Any class can burn luck to improve an important roll, but halflings get twice the benefit (+2 for every point of luck burnt) while a thief rolls an additional luck die — similar to the warriors ‘deed die’ — each time they burn a point of luck.
(Detail of the crit table for Thieves and Elves, because, obviously.)
The Elf and Thief both get a shot at an instakill if they roll a 23+, but thieves do it more often — and with style — because they can burn luck to improve clutch rolls on a regular basis.
Mighty Deeds are a combat mechanic reserved for warriors and dwarves. Mighty deeds are designed to replicate the heroic action-combat style of legendary warriors and martial archetypes by encouraging creative attacks and other special effects. Mighty deeds are the warrior/ dwarves moment in the spotlight. They don’t always succeed, but when they do, it’s something unique to the player and the fight. An attack designed to scatter or push back a group of enemies or disarm a single foe is a mighty deed, as are actions designed to trip or throw an enemy off balance or rally hirelings to recover from a failed morale check.
(Mostly Dead. Billy Crystal, Princess Bride)
Dead and Mostly Dead
An attacker or monster “dies” when they reach 0 hit points. 0-level characters are dead forever when they have no hit points remaining. 1st-level characters might recover if they are healed on the round they fall to 0 hp’s or the round immediately after. This window increases by one round per character level. Those rescued from death’s door in this way are generally out of the fight for a bit and suffer permanent loss of 1 stamina and a terrible scar.
Additionally, if a party survives an encounter where an ally “died,” a friend can “turn the body over” and make a luck check. If she succeeds, the dead ally was not dead at all but knocked out or incapacitated in some way. These characters also suffer permanent random ability loss and are groggy for the next hour or so.
0-level characters don’t have to worry about any of that stuff. Drawn from the ranks of local laborers, tradespeople, farmers, and halfwits – zero level characters in DCC are ‘gong-farmers;’ — disposable wannabe’s with no wealth, power, or magic. They don’t choose a class (with the exception of non-humans, who have yet to come into most of their racial ability) and none have access to durable weapons or armor.
They enter the funnel — a short DCC game designed for zeroes — en masse, like the peasants in an old ‘Frankenstein’ movie. They enter the old castle with farming implements and sputtering torches by the dozen, and most don’t survive the trip.
Don’t get too attached to your gong-farmers. Treat them as pawns. Try not to burn them all up on one trap or encounter. If you’re lucky, 30% of the cannon fodder entering the funnel will walk out the far side, ready to level-up to 1.
It’s as good a target as any.
In a sharp departure from video games and modern Dungeons & Dragons, clerics do not learn a spell that allows them to raise the dead in DCC, regardless of level. This lends death a more immediate sense of finality, obviously — but it doesn’t always have to be “final.” We’ll explore the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ of that, soon enough, but first….
Part Three: Non-Vancian Magic, Divine Favor, Invoke Patron, Spell Duels and the ‘Spellburn’ Mechanic.