This weekend at Anonycon I will be playtesting the forthcoming Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game as part of an interesting experiment in which Eric G. and I will put the Forge axiom “system does matter” to the test. (That’s Eric the White Sandbox player of Bartholomew Honeydew, not any of the other Erics that New York Red Box has been fortunate enough to accumulate in numbers large enough to be confusing; let’s not be thrown off the scent by Mr. Honeydew’s many in-character aliases.)
The plan is that Eric and I will both do runs of Gary Gygax and Jeff Talanian’s Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works, leading into Joe Bloch’s Castle of the Mad Archmage. We’ll do the same things that were so much fun when Joethelawyer and I ran it at Fal-Con:
- a convention-long competition to see who can reach the deepest level and escape with the most treasure
- a persistent world in which each session’s adventure changes things for the next party, and players can return to play the same character in a later run
- player-created magic items whose effects are unpredictable and descriptive instead of mechanical
- the likelihood of horrible PC deaths as parties bite off more of the castle and dungeon’s enormous environs than they can chew
- and, if we have enough players, dividing players into two separate parties which are exploring the ruins at the same time and may clash with one another, as so memorably happened at the end of the first Fal-Con run.
The thing we’ll be doing differently this time is that Eric will be running Zagyg using his own AD&D house rules, while my runs will be using the playtest rules for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. The differences between one edition of D&D and another are endlessly rehashed, and the DCC RPG has a number of unique twists that I’m quite excited about. But what effect do these rules variations really have on play? I think it’ll be fascinating to get some data on this question by trying two different systems in the same mega-dungeon environment over the course of a single convention weekend.
The big uncontrolled variable, of course, is that Eric and I are different DMs each with our own styles, and we’ll have different groups of players each of whom has their own approach. I’m pretty sure that these differences in what each person brings to the the table always has a bigger effect on the experience of playing a roleplaying game than differences in the system they’re using; in fact I think a lot of what seem like important differences between this RPG and that one are actually second-order effects, caused mainly by the fact that different groups of players are attracted by aspects of each RPG (which might include rules and mechanics but are equally likely to include the game’s artwork, its image among gamers, the ways it’s marketed, the environment in which it’s usually played, etc.)
However, I think that the tournament format may funnel everyone into a common set of goals and approaches; certainly Eric and I have spent some time talking about standardizing our procedures & playing in one another’s games, and at Fal-Con the goal of getting deeper and finding treasure did prove effective in focusing the kind of play that arose out of the enormous Zagyg/Archmage sandbox.
Since much of this post is promising stuff that’ll happen this weekend – and appearing too late for most of y’all to decide “hey I want to go to Stamford this weekend and play games” (although you totally should, since Anonycon = awesome), I’ll end with some places you can read more about the DCC RPG:
Cyclopeatron with a playtest report & interview at a Dead Gamers’ Society meetup
Beyond the Black Gate with a playtest report of a session run by Rob Conley
Bat in the Attic with a three-part report of that session from Rob’s perspective
One thing that’s worth noting about all of the above is that they’re discussing adventures written specifically for the DCC RPG, which in my experience so far have tended to be more or less linearly structured tournament-style adventures that have been fun because of their atmosphere and hideous death toll, in the mold of Tomb of Horrors/Tower of Gygax. I will be very interested to see how the system handles a mega-dungeon sandbox experience that’s more in line with the way my regular group plays; I expect that it’s going to be awesome, and think some of the unique things about the DCC RPG rules will stand out better against a more plain basic-D&D background. Cue discussion of where the adventures published for a system fall into the “system does matter” equation!