You’ll Get No DCC RPG First Impressions From Me

"In today's adventure, we will confront the Grants and Contracts office as we attempt to solve the mystery of why its computer system won't interface with the one that does the financial conflict of interest forms."

In my day job, I spend a fair amount of time getting research investigators to fill out conflict of interest forms. This requires an annual statement of all the things you have any kind of financial stake in, then each time we apply for money from a new funding source everyone involved has to state whether the proposed work does or doesn’t affect these interests.

I like to think that my own financial conflict of interest statements bring a smile to the face – or milk shooting out the nose – of some guy in Compliance. He’d have to be a nerd like me to get the joke: here we sit, who dreamed of becoming puissant magic-users or legendary thieves, now trying to survive our institutional mega-dungeon as Papers & Paychecks characters instead. Last year I reported income from Wizards of the Coast, Goodman Games, and my son’s elementary school’s Board of Regents (for the afterschool class), plus ownership of Adventuring Parties LLC which I formed to take over the latter. This year I may or may not get paid by WotC for invoices on stuff I never fully completed and they never released as planned; I’ll have equity in two new gaming startups, which will get their own here-are-my-biases posts as they get announced; and I sure hope to cash a few checks from Goodman Games for writing some of the adventures Mr. Goodman and I have been kicking around, like Moonlight on Elf Hill or Robbing You Makes Me Rich, Slavedriver, and Gutting You Makes Me Glad.

All that said, it’s not a clash of financial self-interest that keeps me from talking about the DCC RPG beta the way everyone else in our echo chamber is doing. First, any actual paid work is still in the fantasy realm of when-I-have-more-time. Second, I’d get paid by the word, so that once it’s published neither helping the project succeed nor trying to make it fail would affect my bottom line. And third, getting paid to do something for Goodman, like Zolobachai’s Wagon in the Book of Rituals, hasn’t stopped me from talking about it before.

The problem for me in talking about the DCC RPG beta is that I’m too close to it. And the reason that’s a problem is not a conflict of interests, it’s that it makes it hard for me to perceive what’s actually on the page. I formed my first impressions of the game over a year ago, at a pickup playtest Joe put together at Gary Con II. Immediately afterward, I started bugging him to become a playtester, shamelessly exploiting our previous working relationship to get a look at the rules-in-progress. Since then, I’ve:

  • run Joe’s adventure Citadel of the Emerald Sorceror at Fal-Con, and played it with my nine-year-old son in preparation
  • converted Castle Zagyg and Castle of the Mad Archmage on the fly to the DCC RPG for Anonycon (which I wrote about in the Glorious Swinginess post)
  • converted the Paizo 3.5 adventure “War of the Wielded” on the fly to the DCC RPG (which I wrote about in the Uncomplicated Fun post), and playtested the Moonlight on Elf Hill adventure I’d drafted specifically for the system, for the New York Red Box crew
  • taken all of the feedback my players and I generated from these experiences and passed it on via email and in-person conversations to Joe Goodman, Harley Stroh, Doug Kovacs, Dieter Zimmerman, Michael Curtis, along with my suggestions about how the problems we encountered could be addressed and the things we like carried further, which we then all kicked back and forth until there was a collective “yes that’s it”
  • participated in discussions with some/all of the above plus artists like Stefan Poag, Peter Mullen, Brad McDevitt, and Erol Otus on visual inspirations – what was special about the look of the pulp covers that the original D&D creators grew up on, what does it mean to be “retro” nowadays, how does that relate to the backward-looking mystique of the original game where most of the Appendix N entries were already oldies and the art looked like medieval woodcuts and grimoire illustrations even when it also referenced contemporary underground comix?
  • tossed in a lot of unsolicited stuff of my own like “here’s how XP for both finding and spending GP has made the White Sandbox campaign more fun” and “this is my personal theory on why wandering monsters are essential” and “a good idea from the OSR hive mind handles this problem thusly” and “yeah that Margaret St. Clair book is totally wack, wouldn’t it be awesome to play in a game that pays as much attention to that inspiration as to the Big Three?”

At some point I apparently did enough of this kind of stuff to earn an Additional Design credit, even though I didn’t write a word of the rules. The important thing here isn’t that my name appears on the book, although this is indeed a game I’m very proud to have been part of. Nor is it that Joe is the kind of standup guy who would give me that credit, unasked for and indeed unmentioned until I saw the beta release. The thing that matters to you, the thing that is amazing and unprecedented in my experience, is that Goodman Games listened closely to its playtesters and made ongoing, substantive changes to essential design features of the DCC RPG system based on volunteer feedback.

When I look at the beta, I don’t see what’s on the page. I see the realization of a vision of what D&D would have been like if it had grown out of all the same pulp fantasy and early-70s inspirations Arneson and Gygax and their playgroups loved, except with the 3E System Reference Document swapped out for Chainmail as the “Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures” that were near to hand when they reached the limit of the number of rulings they could make on the fly and still keep track of in their heads, and thus decided to add a little more systemization. Like a D&D game or a shared hallucination, this vision is both personal and collective, and it’s responded to my input continually and organically. At this point it would be both hard and not-fun for me to go through the document and discern what’s there for outside readers to see vs. what’s just the way I dreamed it.

There are many good reasons you might not care about the DCC RPG. But if you are interested in its vision even a little, and/or in the scale on which that vision will be able to reach the wider population of gamers, I encourage you to go play a session or two. You might start out by assuming it’s always right, in order to see how the rules play out and what their unspoken implications might be, but the text frequently encourages you to house-rule, interpret, and make the DCC RPG your own game. When you do – when you achieve the mix of old-school and new, of pulp inspiration and gameable mechanics, that hits your group’s sweet spot – go to the Goodman Games forums and post about it. The shared vision hasn’t yet died and left a fossil; on the contrary it’s unusually vital, growing and changing to better adapt to its environment. Once it’s published you can always change it to make it the way you want – but now is the time when your input can result in changes to the system that’ll help others discover that the way you want it is awesome and they never would have thought to do it that way without your input. Seize this opportunity!


9 Responses to “You’ll Get No DCC RPG First Impressions From Me”

  1. June 11, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Hey, congratulations! Which one was “Moonlight on Elf Hill” ? (It’s a great title.)

  2. June 11, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    We played it at Greengoat’s place. Underground dome, spherical helmets decorated with phases of the moon, a godlet called Gristholm.

  3. 3 David Wellington
    June 11, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    It was a terrific adventure that pointed up all of Tavis’s talents–not only was it fun, it was weird, it gave us a ton of opportunities to be badasses, and it managed to be a total sandbox while still feeling like there were mysteries to be solved and incredible dangers to be escaped.

    Moreover, it was perfect for the system. DCC is much more of a “party game” in my opinion than something you’d use for campaigning, especially with the character funnel (we used 1st level characters, but everybody got three of them. I was very sad to see my favorite was the first to die, despite what the funnel is supposed to accomplish!). The chaotic feel of magic in DCC (which can turn a floating disc spell into a TPK if you roll badly enough) fit ideally with the strangeness of the place. The feats of valor and out-of-nowhere heroics rules were exactly what we needed when we realized we were in way over our heads. And the way we ended the module (yeah, we pretty much summoned Cthulhu and wrecked the entire dome) just felt so epicly metal.

    I actually came away from the playtest much more excited about DCC than I would have been if I just downloaded the rules. Goodman et. al. were forced to focus on more vanilla fantasy stuff, because they were creating a source document, not a setting book. Tavis’s adventure had nothing whatsoever to do with the art or sample monsters in the beta–there were no goblins, nor any skeletons with gemstone eyes. It was pure high weirdness, and endlessly fun. But it slotted into DCC so neatly that it actually made the system come alive in a way I don’t think Labyrinth Lord or even LotFP ever does. It showed, without a doubt, that this is a system a GM can use to create any adventure he/she can imagine.

    Tl;dr: It was really fun and I got to see Tavis at his best, and he made the system look awesome.

  4. June 11, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    Huh, I thought that adventure was kind of an interesting failure, I didn’t realize it hadn’t seemed that way to y’all! Lots of elements did come from the DCCRPG rules as written – the emphasis on humans as the primary adversaries, on monsters being unknown, on the role of creepy, petty gods and patrons.

    James, the name was also thanks to the DCCRPG – Joe started some long conversations about pulp names and how to break out of the mold of modern adventure names that could be the output of random generators, which (plus my own Appendix N scholarship) was the inspiration there.

  5. 5 L0N
    June 12, 2011 at 3:32 am

    Any chance I could get an unaltered scan of the Payroll & Paychecks cartoon?

  6. 6 Greengoat
    June 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    The aforementioned adventure “Moonlight on Elf Hill” did show a lot of the characteristics that I associate with Travis’ style of adventure flavor, and I think the DCC set would be better for the influence.

    At least it seems to be in the same vein as his reference material like Caverns of Thracia and some of the other neat gems he pulls out to cobble together. **Spoiler** ** Kinda** The crux of the adventure is raiding into a giant Buckminster Fuller dome from the top to bottom and it is full of ancient isolated humans, lost culture, and ornately funny hats. Yum, tastes like awesome.

    I also associate the OSR with a big movement away from the tolkienesque heroism and order that has glutted out fantasy “culture” from the last two decades. The DCC rules seem to emphasis this lack of heroic order by the pervasive chaos of the rules when implemented. I will have to read through more closely.

  7. June 12, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    I agree with your “the game is always right” comment. I’m going to try out DCC with an open mind, to see if the mechanics facilitate a traditional S&S feel.

  8. 8 kiltedyaksman
    June 14, 2011 at 1:27 am

    Interesting module titles, they sound like D&D meets 007 lol

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Past Adventures of the Mule

June 2011

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