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Critter Cache 3: Animals & Beasts
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/30/2012 23:53:15

D&D heroes routinely face down monstrous foes, but mundane beasts can give them significant and interesting challenges as well. In this vein, Critter Cache 3 offers eleven basic types of beasts, each with several variations, giving you a total of twenty-seven distinct creatures. The lore and stat blocks do a good job, as far as I can tell (I’m no zoologist), of translating these real-world creatures and their fantasy kin into D&D 4e stats. However, since publication of this bestiary predated Monster Manual 3, you may find it prudent to adjust the hit points and damage expressions to bring them in line with current standards.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Critter Cache 3: Animals & Beasts
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #70: Jewels of the Carnifex
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/29/2012 23:28:12

Jewels of the Carnifex is a level 3 adventure for 6-10 characters or fewer 4th to 5th level characters. Judges who have been following the Dungeon Crawl Classic adventures should know that the mysterious monsters and other obstacles can easily be modified upwards to make sessions more challenging. Spoilers ahead.

Much like the previous adventures, Jewels combines strong theme, mystery, logical consistency ("method to one's madness"), an occasional backdoor solution (secret door), fighting, and traps players have to defeat, not skill rolls. The plot of Jewels is the Lawful Azazel and his followers have destroyed the Cult of Carnifex has been destroyed and sealed away its patron deity. Azazel, however, has called for the primal light for aid. This light infuses him, and, ironically, has corrupted the undertemple far more than Carnifex could ever do. The PCs enter the undertemple to investigate, and either aid Azazel to finally destroy Carnifex, or free her from her prison.

DCC adventures implement well the "method to one's madness". Azazel and followers have settled into the undertemple (and are corrupting everything), so the enemies are either his followers, or corrupted overgrown versions of underground vermin. Likewise, many rooms reflect either the atrocities of Azazel, or the original temple of Carnifex.

Probably the only nitpick I have is that there's not much of a conflict in choosing Carnifex over Azazel. Azazel's a fanatic whose first impression towards to the PCs is to kill them. Carnifex is babe of a goddess who gives stat bonuses. No contest, really.

Otherwise, another fine job by Dungeon Crawl Classics!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #70: Jewels of the Carnifex
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #70: Jewels of the Carnifex
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/29/2012 11:01:23

If only other RPGs had this much support shortly after release. Actually, let me rephrase that slightly, if only other RPGs had this much quality support shortly after release. Everything I've seen release for the DCC RPG has been very good or better. Jewels of the Carnifex is no exception - it's damn good.

The background material for the Jewels of the Carnifex is awesome. There are seeds here to use in designing your own adventures if you are so inclined. Harley Stroh has done another fine job.

Something that struck me (but I'm sure I've seen it before in previous DCC RPG adventures from Goodman) is the rumors table. The roll is by player, not by PC - so there is an assumption here that players may be bringing more that one PC into the group. I know we often played with 2 PCs per player in my early AD&D days, as it was hard to fill a full group. I'm not sure if that is the intention here, but for the most part I've preferred 1 PC per player (plus henchmen). As a DM it's easier to follow who is doing what, and as a player it allows one to put a bit more focus on the roleplaying side of things. It's a minor thing, but something that struck me.

Jewels of the Carnifex is an adventure of twists and turns, and no greater one than in the last encounter. PCs can do very well for themselves, but as always, not everything is as it seems. Harley really has done a great job with this adventure. I can't praise him enough.

Even the wrap up after the adventure isn't neatly tied up with a bow as it often is in other adventures. There is much more here than meets the eye.

Crap - I'm sounding very cryptic, but this adventure is not as straight forward as it seems on the surface. As such, it should be a blast to run (and play in)

The maps are, as always, excellent. I'm going to sound like a broken record - "Joseph, start offering prints of these maps damnit!"



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
DCC RPG Free RPG Day 2012
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/27/2012 06:27:12

Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/07/27/tabletop-review-dungeon-crawl-classics-free-rpg-day-2012/

I love the concept of Free RPG Day. It sprang from Free Comic Book Day and gives newcomers or those on a limited budget a chance to taste what tabletop gaming has to offer. Unlike Free Comic Book Day however, I’ve never personally picked anything up on Free RPG Day, mainly because I get so many free review copies sent to me that it feels a bit dirty taking more stuff for free. Instead I’d rather see those copies go to a younger gamer just getting into the hobby or someone who loves a system but can’t afford to buy a lot. The one thing I really wanted from this year was the Dungeon Crawl Classics offering, as it was two full adventures! Goodman Games always tends to be up there with Wizards of the Coast and Paizo in terms of the most impressive freebies, which is all the more notable as Goodman Games is a fraction of the size of either big company.

I will admit I was pleased to see a free review copy head my way a month after Free RPG Day, as I love the Dungeon Crawl Classics system. However, I was a bit shocked and dismayed to see Goodman Games is charging five bucks for what was originally free. That’s kind of a disservice to gamers who didn’t get out to Free RPG Day or worse, didn’t have a retailer anywhere near them that was participating. EVERYTHING else for Free RPG Day that is now available as a PDF online is still free, from Catalyst Game Labs’ Shadowrun Quick Start Rules to Eden Studios Conspiracy X Introductory Kit. Why Goodman Games is SELLING this is not only beyond me, but it also comes off more than a little slimy. I took Chaosium to task for doing the same thing with their Call of Cthulhu Quick Start Rules back in April (which also came with a full length adventure BTW), and Chaosium came right out, admitted they were wrong, apologized over at DriveThruRPG.com and made it free to everyone. Goodman Games really should follow suit and unfortunately until the price tag on this changes, I have to strongly recommend that NO ONE buy this because of the message that sends.

The good news is however, that in terms of actual quality, the two adventures in this Free RPG Day release are top notch and in fact the first one in the offering is my favorite adventure for the system so far! “The Undulating Corruption” is an adventure for four Level 5 characters. This is one of the higher level adventurers out there and if you’re a DCC fan, you know that reaching Level 5 is a pretty impressive feat. It’s great to see an adventure already made for characters that manage to survive long enough to hit this point. What makes the adventure even better is that it revolves around the ability to remove corruption from your characters! Corruption is a DCC aspect of magic where PCs will slowly be mentally and/or physically altered by their use of arcane forces. For those that haven’t played Dungeon Crawl Classics think of it as akin to a failed Ravenloft Powers Check or a large failed sanity roll in Call of Cthulhu. The fact that characters can be completely cleansed of their Corruption by going through this adventure makes it one that nearly all DCC players will want to experience once they are high enough to play this. That the adventure is exceptionally well done and a lot of fun to play makes it all the sweeter.

The crux of “The Undulating Corruption” is that an extra-planar creature known as the Night Worm has broken free from its ancient prison. This monstrosity, which feeds on the taint of corruption is not a benevolent creature on the side of good. Rather it is a purely chaotic creature that just happens to have a positive side effect…if you let it swallow you whole and defecate you out. PCs will have to track down the Night Worm and stop its trail of slime, devastation and horrible mutations as its very blood and ichor spawn horrible Corruption Beasts. Can the heroes slay the Night Worm, or is the possibility of magic free corruption too great a temptation that they will try to capture or subdue this ancient horror? There are many ways that this adventure can go, although the text does push the DM to try and have PCs kill the Night Worm. It’s a fairly straight forward linear adventure and one that features little to no dungeon crawling at all. It’s a nice change of pace from the average DCC adventure which tend to be, “Here’s a dungeon. Now go stab things.” Those are always fun for what they are, but a cross country-race against time to stop a rampaging abomination really stands out all the more against the bulk of DCC releases.

“The Jeweler That Dealt in Stardust” is the name of other adventure in this collection. It’s for Level 3 characters, but the amount of PCs needed is not listed. The adventure does suggest that at least one (with a preference towards ALL) of the PCs is a thief. The adventure is a heist, pure and simple, and this is another great idea that really stands out from the pack of hack and slash adventures out there. Pure heist adventures are so rare for a fantasy game, left more to systems like Shadowrun. Of course, like any good heist story, this one goes off the rails pretty quickly, leaving PCs to deal with one unexpected twist after another. In the case of this adventure, Boss Ogo, a premier fencer has not been seen in a month and people are assuming the worst has finally befallen him. As a fence, Ogo was privy to a lot of expensive and/or rare items and there’s no doubt that his home is not only full of these valuables, but is also ripe for the picking…once you get past a litany of deathtraps, that is. Can the PCs get in and out without any real issues, thus making a name for themselves amongst the thieves of the world? There’s a potential fortune to be had after all…

The truth of the adventure is that Boss Ogo is still alive and continues to dwell within his manor. It’s just that he has become the servant to a creature from beyond the stars known as the Spider-Mother, Ygiiz, and plans to open an inter-dimensional portal for Ygiiz and her children to come through and ravage our world. So maybe being dead would have been better for everyone else. To top it off, Ogo’s old crew has reorganized without him and are watching over the manor, making sure no one defiles it. So players will have to sneak past this guild of thieves, enter the manor, dealt with what awaits inside and stop Ogo and Ygiiz’s machinations. That’s a little bit more than a simple grab and go treasure hunt, eh?

“The Jeweler That Dealt In Stardust” is a fun little adventure that combines the usual hack and slash with an Ocean’s Eleven style twist. There’s not a lot of combat but when there is, it’s fairly intense. Like a good horror movie, this adventure throws one last combat situation at the PCs after the think everything is done and over with…which will most likely to lead several players saying adieu to their character as they are butchered horribly. It sounds mean, but Dungeon Crawl Classics is anything but kind to PCs.

Overall, this really was the best offering from Free RPG Day 2012 and it shows just why Dungeon Crawl Classics is as popular as it is in just its first full year of existence. Still, it feels more than a little slimy to charge five dollars for an electronic version of something that was given away for free, especially when all the other Free RPG 2012 offerings are out there, costing gamers nothing. If Goodman Games corrects this, then this is a must have for ANY gamer as it will surely suck you into the Dungeon Crawl Classics system. At five dollars though, you’re still getting two of the best adventures I’ve seen for the systems so far, but it’s hard to recommend something of even this quality knowing that it shouldn’t have a price tag at all.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
DCC RPG Free RPG Day 2012
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #69: The Emerald Enchanter
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/25/2012 08:00:55

Those wizards! Give them half a chance and they will conduct bizarre experiments without a thought for their neighbours... and this adventure, designed for 8-10 2nd-level characters, is all about stopping one such wizard in his tracks. He lives on a clifftop near a village, and the rascal has even been using some of the locals in his experiments. Maybe some of the locals were friends or relatives of the characters, or maybe these budding heroes have been asked to help out.

As well as giving a bit more background about the Emerald Enchanter and what he's up to, the introduction points out that whilst there are a good few dangerous opponents to be faced, there are 'backdoors' that crafty characters can exploit to their advantage, and that cautious groups who think about what they are doing, and rest and regroup at intervals ought to survive with at least most of their number intact.

The hilltop complex is described in detail, making it easy for the GM to set the scene for the players, and to run the action as they explore. Each monster or other threat has a clear 'trigger' upon which it will act as well as notes on how it behaves in combat. And there are some truly novel and ingenious encounters, about which I shall not say more so as not to spoil the surprise. Everything hangs together well, bizarre as it all may seem it all actually 'works' within the alternate reality of the game.

Ending with a cinematic and climactic final battle, this adventure provides everything one could ask for. There is a real feeling of having walked into something bizarre and strange yet within the context of fantasy quite credible. It's an excellent adventure and I cannot wait to round up some players to run through it!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #69: The Emerald Enchanter
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DCC RPG Free RPG Day Adventure Starter
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/24/2012 07:16:34

In 2011, Goodman Games were busy working on their Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, and had already released a set of beta-test rules, so they took the opportunity of Free RPG Day to provide a couple of adventures to play with them. (Now, of course, you can run them with the final publication version of the ruleset!)

Starting with what is now becoming iconic art for this game and a page describing what the DCC RPG is and is not, the core game mechanic is then presented in sufficient detail that you could probably play a game without other information (especially if you are an experienced role-player) although having the beta-test rules - or now the full core book - is recommended. If nothing else, it is only there that you will be introduced to the concept of the 'character funnel' where each player starts off with several 0-level characters generated in a truly random manner, developing those that survive the first few adventures.

The first adventure, The Portal Under the Stars by Joseph Goodman, is a Level 0-1 adventure designed to exploit this character funnel, to winnow out the unlucky and the feeble and to set the survivors on the path to become heroes: a process core to this game's philosophy. While focussing on tricks and traps rather than combat there are opportunities for a good mass brawl as well, as the characters venture through a portal that only appears every half-century or so to raid a long-dead wizard's tomb.

With a brief introduction to get the characters to the threshold of this portal, and a little background for the GM, they step through to find out what perils and riches lay beyond. Descriptions are evocative, with encounters laid out clearly accompanied by a map that lays the tomb out well for the GM. However the adventure has no real conclusion, although if a certain act is performed the characters will be pointed towards further opportunities, indeed the potential for a whole campaign, if the GM so chooses (and is prepared to develop it for himself!).

So, on to the second adventure, a 5th-level one from Harley Stroh called The Infernal Crucible of Sezrekan the Mad. Remember that in DCC RPG 5th-level is regarded as quite high level, thus this adventure provides a nice contrast with the one proceeding it. Here we have yet another long-dead powerful figure who has left plenty of stuff behind that the daring may attempt to steal. Naturally, those venturing here will have to fight and figure things out... and there's a delightful sting in the tail here, potentially requiring an awful decision to be made.

It is left up to you to determine how the characters find out about Sezrekan and what he has left behind, the adventure beginning with them having cleared the entrace to what is, in effect, an inverted wizard's tower extending down into the ground rather than up into the sky. It's well mapped and described for the GM, with everything laid out for ease of running. Again it is a simple and short exploration with no clear ending - except, perhaps, the sheer challenge of getting back out again!

Overall, these two adventures give a fair flavour of what you will get with the full Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, and after reading or playing them you should be able to decide if this is a game for you. It might have been improved - particularly when after Free RPG Day, you have to pay for even the PDF version - with adventures that did not seem to end without much of a conclusion, but they do give a good impression of what the game is like and so achieve the purpose of this product.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
DCC RPG Free RPG Day Adventure Starter
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #69: The Emerald Enchanter
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/24/2012 06:58:59

Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/07/24/tabletop-review-dungeon-crawl-classics-69-the-emerald-enchanter/

I’ve always enjoyed the Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures. They tend to be quirky and have a little more substance to them than the average dungeon crawl hack and slash. I’m an even bigger fan of Dungeon Crawl Classics since the series stopped the Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition/Pathfinder/OGL bit and started using its own gaming system, also under the DCC name. The Emerald Enchanter is the third Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure by Goodman Games to actually use the DCC rules system, but it’s the first I’ve picked up since the switch was made. I was a huge fan of Goodman Games Age of Cthulhu: A Dream of Japan that was released earlier this year, so I was optimistic that The Emerald Enchanter would be just as impressive. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. While The Emerald Enchanter boasted some great artwork and wonderfully designed maps, the adventure itself was a little too dull and two-dimensional for my liking. I’m sure people who prefer roll-playing to role-playing will get a kick out of it, but this just felt like going from room to room and stabbing soft things with sharp things for my liking.

There isn’t much of a story here. Villagers have been disappearing and it appears that they have been taken into the fortress of the Emerald Enchanter. The Enchanter seems to be a strange mix of scientist and sorcerer as he is known to engage in strange experiments. As some of your friends are amongst the recent abductees, you and your party venture forth to free them, take down the Enchanter…and loot his palace. It’s not the most substantive of stories and while playing this, and there were a lot of unresolved points and unanswered questions in this adventure which disappointed those of us that went through this. Why is the Emerald Enchanter green? Why is he doing these experiments? If he can build emerald constructs out of non-living materials, why do it out of living as well. Even if the players don’t get a back story for the antagonist, the Keeper/DM/GM/Storyteller/Judge really should have something to go off of, otherwise you have a two-dimensional and uninspiring villain. After all the best bad guys are those that think they are in the right, no matter how deluded they are. Sure, a good GM can just flesh out the Emerald Enchanter to make the adventure more interesting story-wise, but then what’s the point of purchasing a pre-made adventure if you have to do a lot of the work?

Another odd thing about the adventure is that it is for eight to ten Level 2 characters. That is a lot of PCs running around a little magical citadel. I’m not sure why the decision was made to go with that many characters, especially as the maps show that this would make everything an exceptionally tight fit, especially when you have a horde of enemy cannon fodder in a room with you as well. With this many characters you’d have to march in one very long line to get through many passageways and some rooms wouldn’t be able to accommodate that many PCs, much less the monsters that are supposed to be in there. For example, the last battle would have roughly two dozen characters in a 120′ by 100′ foot room (The biggest room in the entire adventure BTW)…and that doesn’t include that at least a fourth of the room is taken up by machinery and various apparatuses. An adventure that has this many monsters and PCs needs to reflect that reality in the maps.

So what was good about the adventure? Well there were several interesting battles like the Tile Golem and the final battle which has a time limit of sorts attached to it. The artwork and the maps are quite stunning and are by far the highlight of the adventure. It’s times like this I wish I love showing the interior art of an adventure to players – not only to give them a visual idea of what is going on, but because it’s so awesome you can’t help but want to share it. The location is quite interesting on its own and I loved that the adventure actually put in things like a kitchen. Too many fortress/dungeon crawls forget that the big bad needs to eat, sleep and defecate (unless they are undead), and I was really happy to see this particular adventure remembered what so many forgot. The emphasis is definitely on the dungeon crawl rather than any story or antagonist motivation and in this respect the adventure does its job wonderfully.

So even though there isn’t a lot of substance to The Emerald Enchanter and it’s a literal room by room hack and slash without any real impetus for players, the location itself, the monsters within and the level of detail given to the room that most adventures skimp on makes this a decent experience, if not a great one. Again, some gamers are going to want nothing more than a dice rolling hack and slash instead of character building moments of an engrossing plot. There’s nothing wrong with that. Gamers who are looking for something more akin to Goodman Games’ Age of Cthulhu line will probably be disappointed by what’s here, but then Call of Cthulhu and OSR fantasy RPGs are so vastly different from each other, that gamers should know what they are getting into here. The Emerald Enchanter is almost pure combat and that alone should let you know if this is an adventure that you want to pick up or not. If you’re looking for a Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure with a little more meat to the plot, you’ll have to look elsewhere, but worry not, as so many small publishers are starting to churn out adventures for this system, that you’re guaranteed to find an adventure that has exactly the right balance between talking heads and swordplay for you and your gaming troupe.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #69: The Emerald Enchanter
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #68: People of the Pit
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/23/2012 09:12:37

This adventure is intended for a big bunch (about 8-10) of 1st-level characters, and its recommended that a good spread of classes/races participate. It is likely that not all of them will survive - unless they are both skillful and lucky! So, what horrors do they have to face? Well, I'm not telling! Suffice to say that an ancient evil has arisen... and that tentacles are involved.

Legends tell of how a vast monster that lives in a massive canyon awakens once a generation, and how in centuries past a cleric deduced that sacrificing a few local virgins would assauge its hunger, allowing it to return to its slumbers without ravaging the whole countryside. Naturally, the characters happen along just as it begins to stir and worse... some strange grey-robed figures have been seen associated with the tentacles, worshippers of the beast, perhaps even able to control it. This is all public knowledge, but it is left to the GM to decide how to reveal it and get the characters to take action.

After a run-down on the nature and organisation of the cult for the GM's eyes, we move on to the action, which begins with the characters standing high above the canyon on the mournful spot where sacrificial virgins were chained in years gone by. They will have to find a way down into the mist-filled pit wherein the monster dwells, doing battle with its cultists and eventually the creature itself. Keen observation and caution is advised... and of course there are other monsters to combat on the way.

This adventure is quite cinematic, and redolent of the sort of escapade Conan the Barbarian might have. Characters will need to think as well as wield sword and spell to good effect if they are to accomplish their goal. The GM is supplied with copious notes on what the characters will see, as well as how all those they encounter will react, enabling him to concentrate on running the adventure and building the atmosphere rather than checking the rules or making up descriptions. The final scene is climatic and dramatic and has the potential to inspire many a bard! Well up to the standard being set for this game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #68: People of the Pit
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DCC RPG Free RPG Day 2012
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/21/2012 11:48:33

Unlike many offerings for Free RPG Day, this isn't a 'starter pack' in the conventional sense of introducing a ruleset in sufficient detail to play a short adventure with the characters provided. Instead, herein are a couple of adventures at different levels - a level 3 heist and a level 5 expedition - but it is assumed that you have access to the rules and have some characters already.

First is the level 5 expedition The Undulating Corruption by Michael Curtis. It's based around the premise that ALL wizards, be they good or evil, acquire the taint of Corruption by the mere fact that they use magic, and that should a mechanism be found to remove said Corruption without harming the wizard, it would certainly be worth seeking out... however it might actually work. Both the party and a bunch of tomb-raiders have got wind of this, and so the race is on to discover and harness such a potent resource for anyone who uses magic seriously.

Brief notes are given on how to get the party involved and where to put the adventure site, but it's loose enough to fit pretty much wherever in your campaign world you want to put it. Needless to say, just getting there involves a few challenges, all mapped out and with sufficient detail for them to be run with ease... although it's clear something is going on and characters will likely not wish to linger overmuch. Some innovative monsters bar their way, however, and the chance to gain a few clues about their goal, and then the chase is on!

Eventually, the characters will have a chance to deal with any Corruption that they have, but the price is high... and given the circumstances, it's a one-off deal. Overall, this is a splendid romp that captures the essence of what Dungeon Crawl Classics is attempting to achieve on your tabletop, an adventure well worth tucking away until your characters reach the dizzying heights of 5th Level.

Inserted between this adventure and the second one is a map-based competition: you have until October 2012 to come up with an adventure built around this map with the winner getting to write Goodman Games's contribution to Free RPG Day 2013! I feel some ideas coming on already...

Next, from the pen of Harley Stroh comes a 3-rd level adventure The Jeweller Who Dealt in Stardust. Set in Punjar, a city well-known to DCC affectionadoes and notorious for its ethically-challenged inhabitants, it's basically a heist. A leading fence has gone missing, so someone's got to break into his place and find out what's happened to him... Whilst thief skills are essential, it is likely that swords and spells will also come in handy.

This is a fine adventure redolent of some of the burglarious escapades Conan gets up to in the novels, with plenty of scope for sneaking around, dealing with unspeakable horrors and perhaps even pocketing some loot. Right now I wish I hadn't read it because I would have loved to play a character in it! Guess I'll have to run it, instead, at least I shall have an excellent map and some quite innovative surprises to throw at my players!

This work is an exemplar of the sort of adventures to run with this ruleset, truly catching the flavour of the game and promising a couple of sessions of epic fun for players and game master alike!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
DCC RPG Free RPG Day 2012
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Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG
by James C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/20/2012 12:23:34

This is one of the better Original Edition Inspired RPGs I have seen hit the market in awhile. While I have a great love of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Castles and Crusades, and Swords & Wizardry DCC has a vibe all its own. Some people might say the game is crunchy, but that is where the fun begins. No one session is alike, the play is very random and keeps the players and referee on his/her toes. The game is class and level based and really takes the classic Appendix N to heart. Herein you will find true classic Swords and Sorcery handed over on a unique and well crafted plate. Also the third party support on this game is amazing!

If you do not own DCC and you are a fan of classic D&D or Swords & Sorcery, you need to pick this up now!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG
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Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/19/2012 13:11:04

Back in the mists of time, I wandered into a meeting of the university's then wargames club and over the sound of jawbones hitting the floor at the sight of a woman, a lanky fellow asked "Would you like to play D&D?"

Opening this work takes me back to the sheer wonders and excitement that followed. The whole style, the artwork, the words, are redolent of those early books that soon found their way onto my bookshelves alongside the botany textbooks... and yet, this isn't merely another retro-clone, it is a coherent game in its own right, bringing its own freshness and elegance to the core of fantasy role-playing: the small band of adventurers battling enormous odds and terrifying monsters in search of awesome magics and heaps of treasure.

The opening pages include myriad armies of humanoids bearing the credits aloft on banners, passing a list of playtesters and even some photos of early games on their way to the introduction... or at least an admonitory page that lists what you are expected to bring to a reading of this tome, along with a large fire-breathing dragon to deal with those who come unprepared!

Then on to the Introduction, where the core mechanic of a single d20 roll is explained with sections detailing the differences and similarities depending on which rules systems you already know. That one page pretty much sets you up, the remaining hundreds supply the fine detail, the meat for the bones.

So, on to Chapter 1: Characters. Herein is the first novel concept, the 'Character Creation Funnel' where instead of labouring over a finely-honed character long before you get to adventuring, you create a handful of completely random Level 0 characters for each player, and run the whole lot through an adventure or two, unprepared as they are. Those that survive are rewarded with a proper character class and all the other stuff that most of us reckon belongs on a character sheet and, armed already with tales of the overwhelming odds that they have overcome, they'll be ready for the real adventures to begin. It's different, it sets the style of a game in which it is less important what awesome stats or cool gear you have than it matters what you do with it, an acknowledgement of the staple of fantasy fiction where some gawky unprepared farmboy or alley rat finds himself thrust into epic adventures and makes good.

These basic characters are described by their ability scores that represent their Strength, Agility, Stamina, Personality, Intelligence and Luck; all rolled in that order with 3d6. Game balance? Character concept? Pah! Roll your bones and live with what you get. Or not, this Level 0 fellow may not have a long life... but maybe he'll be a legendary sword-swinger or spell-caster before you are done with him. This new-spawned character is supplied with a random occupation (the trade he plied before some whim sent him adventuring) complete with appropriate trade goods and a weapon that he's learned to use, at least well enough to be more of a menace to monsters than to his friends. The 'occupation' table includes demi-human races, and in this game those who survive long enough to get a character class will find that their class is Dwarf or Elf or Halfling, rather than Wizard, Warrior, Cleric or Thief... each has its own section explaining what they can do, the abilities and resources on which they can draw as their career progresses.

Next comes Chapter 2: Skills. As well as being able to fight, and maybe cast spells or thieve, characters have skills pertaining to whatever occupation they had before they started on the road to fame, fortune or an early grave as an adventurer. If a skill is appropriate to what you are trying to do, and you can argue the case for someone of your trade knowing that skill, you can roll a d20 to attempt it, else you roll a d10 to represent 'untrained' use of that particular skill. Yet these skill checks are best kept for when abstraction seems appropriate - if players can describe clearly what they are doing in the given situation, the results may well be obvious to the referee and the dice won't be needed. So this is a short chapter, and we move on to Chapter 3: Equipment.

Starting characters of Level 0 are regarded as peasants who have probably never seen, let alone possessed, a gold piece in their lives (apparently the offspring of nobility or even wealthy professionals never go adventuring!) and are gifted a basic weapon from their former occupation, so will not be buying much. However, those who survive long enough to amass some loot are likely to want to spend it on gear so weapons, armour and some basic items of equipment are to be found here with prices and other details. For those wishing to start at higher levels, there are suggested 'starting gold' figures as well.

Next is Chapter 4: Combat. This covers the basics of the combat resolution system, with the assumption that the referee already has a fair idea of what he is doing from other similar games. One refreshing point is that the use of miniatures and battlemaps is, if not actively discouraged, regarded as optional. Combat is turn-based, with group initiative at low levels (moving to character-based initiative once the surviving few are all that remain of the original mob). Most characters can undertake but one action - fight, cast a spell or the like - as well as move when it is their turn. Normal attack rolls, along with criticals and fumbles (ranging from making yourself the laughing stock of the party to stabbing yourself and falling flat on your back!) are covered in sufficient detail to empower the orderly running of a combat encounter. Whilst the main focus is on melee, ranged and mounted combat are also detailed. Characters who fancy having songs written about them have a chance at performing a Mighty Deed of Arms - provided that they say so before rolling their dice, and roll well when they do so. Characters are encouraged to devise a 'Signature Deed' that they specialise in, although this is as much for colour than it is for mechanical effect!

All this skill at arms has the inevitable result of dealing damage and even causing death, so this is the next topic to be discussed. When a Level 0 character runs out of hit points that's it, he's dead; but as characters rise in level they get a bit tougher and there's a window of opportunity to save them before they bleed out entirely... although it is likely that they will suffer permanent damage and have a fine scar to show the grandchildren! Healing and other combat-related matters are dealt with here as well, from fighting two-handed to turning undead by use of a holy symbol and even spell duels!

Appropriately, then, next comes Chapter 5: Magic. This starts with an awful warning: magic is not something to be meddled with lightly. It's dangerous, hard to control and can levy a heavy price on those who dare to wield it. Hence, there are no casual, off-the-cuff small magics, the sort to make life convenient, just the big spectacular spells. The source of magical power depends on what sort of spell-caster you are. Clerics, naturally, draw on their deities. Wizards may practise white magic (or enchantments), elemental magic or consort with demons to learn black magic. In game mechanical terms, however, they work if you make a spell check, a d20 roll with appropriate modifiers, which you have to roll every time you want to cast a spell. Wizards desperate to succeed can engage in 'spellburn' which is a process to enhance capabilities by sacrifice (i.e. gain some extra positive modifiers!). Spellcasting takes a lot out of you, which is why wizards can only cast a limited number of spells a day. Moreover, no two wizards are the same and they don't cast identical spells - each time you learn a new one you roll on a table to determine how that spell works in your hands... an interesting and novel way to ensure that magic users are not clones, but individuals with signature abilities. But beware: while low-level wizards pack quite a punch, as they rise in level and power so do they run greater risks as insiduous corruptions beset them (especially whenever a spell check is fumbled!). Clerics, on the other hand, have to beware of gaining the disapproval of their deity. In classic style, there are numerous tables on which the GM can roll to determine precise effects. In time, it may be hard to distinguish between spell-user and monster!

So, on to the spells themselves, a full 716 of them for wizards alone, plus an assortment for clerics. Wizards, apparently, are a bit like trainspotters, almost in competition to find as many of those 716 spells - first described by a list-obsessed wizard who woke a somnolent elder deity to ask! - as they can! Each is described in detail, with tables to roll upon to determine the results of casting them successfully... or what will happen when you botch your casting. GMs will have hours of fun telling the party what happens each and every time magic is performed.

After delighting my way through that lot (and I shall be hoping to get a wizard character if I get a chance to play rather than GM!), Chapter 6: Quests and Journeys looks at the sort of things our intrepid characters might get up to in the course of their adventures. It carries with it an exhortation: to lift the game away from pure mechanics and die-rolling, and to turn to a quest format whenever someone wants to gain something or achieve a goal. Quite a few examples are given, and could provide scope for epic adventures in place of mere mechanics: if you wish mastery of a certain weapon, say, seek out a master and study under him, rather than select it at your next level-up! Then comes a discussion of the conceptual differences between the real modern world and the cod-mediaeval fantasy one the characters inhabit, and how to use it to good effect to make adventure out of a mere trip to the next town to seek out a swordsmith or a new mount. Travel is an adventure in its own right - even when you remain on the surface of your game world... and then there's underground or even other planes of existence to explore!

Next, Chapter 7: Judge's Rules opens by suggesting that rules should bend to the GM's whim, not the other way around! Other suggestions follow thick and fast, including maintaining openness and real risk, no die-fudging to keep characters alive: dungeon-crawling classic style is a dangerous occupation. There's a lot more about the underpinning logic to magic, how to design new spells, where wizards will find spells to learn (and how to make them work at learning, not just scribble down spell names as they come across them or level up). Details of wizard's familiars and how to make them intersting and unique in their own right... even some patrons and the benefits and drawbacks of associating with them. Magic in this game has the potential to be far more potent and powerful and story-driving than in many games. Clerics and theurgy gets the same kind of treatment, before the discussion moves on to heroes, experience points and luck.

This is followed by Chapter 8: Magic Items. Don't expect to get them out of a catalogue, each is unique and brings its own flavour to the game... and there are tables to roll upon and advice to help you come up with your own items that will feature large in the legends of your world. Swords, scrolls, potions, wands... the usual items, but with a certain spin to them that makes them truly remarkable, as they ought to be. You are encouraged to create backgrounds, provenance, personality, for each and every magic item you place.

And where would we be without Chapter 9: Monsters? Monsters are not the catalogue of adversaries you might expect. They are mysterious, and knowledge about them can be as valuable as slaying them outright. Referees are urged to describe them as they appear, not baldly name them as an orc or ogre. And they are not alike. The orcs hereabouts may be quite different from the ones two valleys over - and as likely to fight each other as to lay in to the characters. Oh, and they do things their way, have powers or skills that characters do not. Then a real shocker for many modern gamers: no encounter balance. In this game, it is not only all right to run away, that may be the best option if you want to stay alive. Plenty more tables to roll on here to help you make this all come about. Example monsters are provided, along with notes on what treasure they might have. The worst monsters - the ones who ostensibly are 'people' just like the characters - are also included. And now, we are ready to begin. Rolls your bones and face the funnel...

This does indeed do what it says on the tin: the full heady flavour of early fantasy gaming coupled with elegant thoughtful rules that show considered understanding of a good thirty years of game development. And it comes redolent with images of the kind that take you right back to those early days.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #26: The Scaly God
by James G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/13/2012 23:30:37

A great module! This is the kind of module I grew up playing in the early '80s. Our players said, It was like a low level "Tomb of Horrors." Indeed, there are lots of traps to keep your PCs on their toes at all times. Many of the monsters are very challenging. Especially the last one. (As it should be!) I DMed for a group of five 4th level characters. Heading into the final encounter, I leveled them up to 5th level. It was only through sheer luck that they survived the final battle. We finished the module in about 14 hours of playing time. The party skipped many of the possible rooms they could have explored because of time. We could have had another 2 to 3 hours of playing time, if we would have tried to get through every encounter. 5 Stars!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #26: The Scaly God
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #69: The Emerald Enchanter
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/13/2012 01:24:11

Semi-spoilers ahead!

Villagers have been disappearing—and some of them are your friends! A number of clues, various old superstitions, and a handful of vague omens point to the brooding citadel of the emerald enchanter. This silent monolith has sat undisturbed atop a windy ridge for centuries. Legends say that a green-skinned sorcerer dwells there, where he conducts strange experiments and builds enigmatic machinery. His emerald constructs patrol the grounds of his citadel, and he is seen only rarely when he ventures out on nefarious errands that end in horrid screams and strange lights coming from his citadel. Now you believe he is holding your friends captive. To rescue them—and potentially acquire some loot along the way—you set off to invade his inner sanctum. -- Player Beginning

Well, if that doesn't describe the adventure, I don't know what does. The Emerald Enchanter is a second-level adventure, by Joseph Goodman, creator of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. Like his previous adventures, EE gives the judge the same quality of dungeon: bizarre encounters to challenge the party, "a method behind the madness" to give consistency, a few captives to replace fallen members, and a "backdoor" to reward risk-takers. The adventure is fourteen pages long, shorter than his People of the Pit, but long enough for party TPK. The art is wonderfully evocative, definitely useful for the judge to tell the players how much trouble they're in. It's a well-designed wizard lair, which the judge (or players!) can use as a template for his own ideas.

My only quibble with this adventure is why the heck would you let strangers wander about your house? Won't they scratch the silver and damage the furniture? The encounter where the party initially meets the enchanter lets them cleverly "short circuit" the adventure, but warns the enchanter of these invaders. Why doesn't he send his emerald guards in their direction? (Or, since this is a dungeon crawl, who cares?) You could eliminate this encounter entirely. Or you could give a good reason for his non-interference, such as the party inadvertently releasing an NPC who kills him off, but doesn't adhere to the idea that "the enemy of my enemy is a friend".

Overall, I enjoyed this adventure very much. It has nothing to do with, but leads fine to the Free RPG Day 2012 adventure, The Jeweler that Dealt in Stardust. I mean, who else are you going to use to fence all those emeralds into gold?



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #69: The Emerald Enchanter
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #68: People of the Pit
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/12/2012 00:43:53

Remember first level? You went into a dungeon, stabbed a few kobolds, went into another area, killed a few goblins, went somewhere else, slew some orcs, went to another place, attacked some skeletons, got their treasure, and finally did something (like slay hobgoblins) at second.

DCC isn't that.

"Now a decade has passed since the last sacrifice, and the rumbles of the pit-beast can once more be heard deep in the pit. This time, though, there is another factor. People have emerged from the pit, herding great slithering tentacles before them. These people of the pit wear gray robes and have no faces. The local peasants have chased the robed men away on numerous occasions, and now the humble folk around the ravine fear for their safety. It was enough to fear the beast of the pit, now must they fear the people of the pit as well? You have set out to explore the great ravine in search of mystery, adventure, riches, and fame—and perhaps to aid your neighbors along the way." -- from the Player Beginning

Spoilers ahead.

If the core book's "Portal Under the Stars" was a trap-encrusted killfest, "People of the Pit" is a refugee from Queen of the Demonweb Pits and Shrine of Kuo-Toa (and better organized, too). While Pit may not be campaign-sized large, your poor players certainly didn't take them on at first level!

And, like, Portal, Pit is sufficiently deadly. If your figher insists on running down the slick stairs, he could fall to the pit floor before meeting anyone. And when you do enter combat, those grey-robed cultists have the audacity to have these tentacled things burst out of them when they die. Oh, and if they're in an area where tentacles are nearby they can summon them to do their bidding (like grab characters and toss them screaming into the pit). And that's just the first encounter.

The adventure sticks to theme yet provides an assortment of enemies, magical traps, mundane ones, and a few Things to Run Away From. The adventure has method behind its madness. Smarter characters will proceed cautiously and use the shortcuts to their objective. Others will find themselves shocked, teleported, cursed, turned to stone, sliced open, and screaming a hentailike death. Thoughtfully, the adventure has plenty of 0-level captives who can replace fallen members, and more 0-level captives to replace the previous ones. And, yes, the trope-ic Indiana Jones finale has a beautiful babe about to be sacrificed to the pit.

If there's any criticism of the adventure, it's that it's not just for 1st level characters! DCC is about not knowing what you're up against, and the stats (and shortcuts) can certainly be adjusted for higher level parties. And you may want to make the Control Tentacle spell easier to access by the spellcasters, if only to roll on the corruption table!

I'm pleasantly please with the People from the Pit. Just makes you wonder what will happen at second level.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #68: People of the Pit
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #69: The Emerald Enchanter
by Matthew T. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/11/2012 10:35:52

I’ve come to expect mysterious, bloody, full-on awesomeness from Goodman Games, and Dungeon Crawl Classics #69: The Emerald Enchanter does not disappoint. This adventure module for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game is crammed with combat, traps, weird creatures and magics, and that special new Old School charm that DCC invokes so well. This adventure is designed for 8-10 2nd level characters of all classes: thieves are needed to open doors, find traps and ferret out secrets, warriors will be tested with lots of combat, and spell-casters will find many strange magics to content with. There is lots of fighting, plenty of mysteries and surprises, and even some good opportunities for role playing if your interested.

I must say that the folks at Goodman Games apparently role play with much larger groups than I. 8-10 characters? I’m lucky if I get 4 players at a session! This circle is easily squared however by increasing the level of the PCs, by nerfing the adventure, or, as we did in my playtest, having the players run multiple characters (this option is quickly becoming the norm in my DCC games).

Ah, yes, my playtest. I was hoping to write a playtest review, but the game was a bloodbath, another DCC RPG TPK (don’t you just love this hobby’s acronyms?). As such, I only got to play about a fifth of the adventure, but what I ran was very exciting and what I was not able to run looks great.

If you’re a DCC player, all I can say is that this adventure will exciting and challenging. Tread carefully, think clearly, fight well, or meet your doom!

If you’re a GM, read on:

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. GMs ONLY

The Emerald Enchanter can be easily dropped into almost any campaign, though the introductory text assumes the enchanter is plaguing the PCs’ hometown. Most of the information needed is presented, though the GM should give some thought to the vulnerabilities, immunities, and special properties of living statues, golems, and such constructs (i.e. are golems susceptible to charm spells or paralyzation, etc.). There are also several mysterious entities as well as a dozen or so NPCs within the adventure that the GM may find herself role playing (including 3-4 potential 0-level replacements for fallen PCs).

There is a straight, brute force path through the adventure that heedless, lucky, and tough PCs may survive. But there are also a few shortcuts, mysteries, and hidden resources that a careful, clever, or daring party may use to increase their odds of success. If your players fail, there’s probably something they missed. And if you’re of the mind, you can play this several times before your players find everything.

A few bits of advice: special attention should be paid to the tactics of the enchanter since he will mostly likely be aware of the PCs early in the adventure; creatures suddenly turned from statues into flesh and blood should, in my opinion, be disorientated for a round or two; and the final confrontation may require map and miniature (or at least a few place markers and a doodle), as it is a tad involved. Also, as I reviewed the PDF version of this adventure I can say that if you’re planning on printing the module, you might want to print only pages 3 – 14 and skip the players’ handout and the maps. Nice as they are, they have loads of black space and will suck your printer dry faster than stirge cheating on its diet.

Oh, and one last thing I did learn from my playtest: the emerald enchanter has no adequate fire control in his citadel. If your players, say, climb onto the roof of the citadel, slip down a chimney, and accidently set fire to the kitchen, things will go badly.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #69: The Emerald Enchanter
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