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.