Monday, November 18, 2013

Delving Into Dungeons


If you've been reading this blog over the last year or so, you've been along with me on the ride towards focusing my attentions on mastering a small set of systems. Since deciding that single-system mastery was not for me, I've been working towards assembling a triad of systems, each one meant to scratch a different itch of (very loosely defined) simulationism, gamism, and narrativism.

My simulationist system of choice is Basic Roleplaying; my gamist system of choice is Savage Worlds. I've been running most of my games since 2012 in either of those two systems and each time I do, I feel increasingly sure that I made the right choices in those regards, and feel less and less inclined to run new or unfamiliar systems. I've had a tough time picking the right system to fill that third slot, though.

For a while, I was pretty sure that system was going to be FATE, but that's seeming less and less likely now. Count me as one of those people who just aren't terribly engaged by the system - there's nothing there that really reaches out and grabs me and slaps me across the face until I run a game with it.

Furthermore, there's been a sort of competing agenda for that third system slot outside the GNS triad. Instead, there's been the idea of choosing a dedicated fantasy RPG system as a sort of "my D&D." To that end, I took Pathfinder for an extended test drive, and I've seriously considered B/X D&D. I'll probably buy the Fifth Edition D&D core books when they come out next year, let's be honest. But, again, none of those systems were really capturing my imagination or long-term interest. I've definitely been feeling the itch to get more D&D-style gaming back into my life, though.

A few months back, I picked up a copy of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG with some spare trade credit I had with Noble Knight. I gave the system a pass back when it came out in 2010. At that point, I was coming to the end of my initial arc of interest in all things OSR, the DCC RPG just seemed like another in an endless line of retro-clones, and I was feeling completely disinterested in yet another D&D knockoff.

It's a pity, really, that I rushed to judgment, because the DCC RPG was one of the first of that second generation of clones, the ones that weren't merely retreads but spoke with a distinctive voice of their own. Reading through the rulebook now, I was immediately taken in by the game's charms and resolved to run something as soon as I could.

Using the excellent "Anomalous Subsurface Environment" sandbox/megadungeon, I did just that, also integrating the LotFP "Tower of the Stargazer" adventure for the infamous character funnel portion of the campaign. The DCC RPG did not disappoint: it dripped with pulpy flavor, and its mechanics were simple enough that integrating material written for other clones, often on the fly, was a snap. (I also adapted some monsters from Raphael Chandler's Teratic Tome.) Check out this list of character deaths amassed over just four sessions of play(!):

Mindus (13 XP; 1st-level Dwarf) – Killed by a Farrago
Cutter Timberbone (12 XP; 1st-level Warrior) – Killed by a Farrago
Kevin Costermonger (9 XP; Costermonger) – Killed by Canus, Lord of the Hounds
Iminix (Gnome Vagrant) – Killed by chess ghost.
Chongrilar (Dwarven Herder) – Blown up.
Manotaur (Con Artist) – Blown up.
Anuk (Caravan Guard) – Blown up.
Kromlek (Gnome Sailor) – Knocked down stairs by gout of blood.
Marquanos (Wizard Apprentice) – Blown up.
Aram (Weaver)- Killed by chess ghost.
Glendale (Healer) – Blown up.
Argosa (Jeweler) – Strangled by animated corpse intestines.
Chemnis (Elven Forester) – Sucked through telescope, transported to far-distant world, consumed by mossmen.
Mo’care (Corn Farmer) – Brained by a Halfling supremacist.
Morghani (Locksmith) – Throat slashed by a Dober-Man.

Good times.

In the end, though, I let the campaign come to an end and decided to set the DCC RPG back on my shelf, because I've finally found my third system of choice. It quite nicely scratches both my indie-narrativist itch and my "FRPG" itch. Followers of my actual-play blog will probably already have an inkling that that system is Dungeon World, as I posted a recording of a one-shot I ran a few weeks ago.

DW's another case of a system I've been more or less ignoring in spite of the hype, and much like DCC RPG I'm glad I finally decided to give it a look. It works perfectly for that distilled D&D experience I've been looking for. It's also highly mod-able, and my mind is already aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention, which is to say I'm looking forward to getting a more thorough grounding in the basic game so that I can then start hacking it apart and rebuilding it.

But what's even more exciting to me is that DW is built on the so-called "Apocalypse World Engine" - the same system has fueled its eponymous post-apocalyptic adventures, teen angst, monster hunting, and more. It's not quite as much of a "generic" system as BRP or Savage Worlds, but it's close enough for my purposes.

So there we go: three more-or-less generic systems, each scratching a different gaming-experience itch, and one of which is also a "my D&D"-style system. Perfect!

Hopefully the interest and inspiration will hold and I can continue on my path towards system mastery. Considering where I was when I started out on this journey, I've come a long way and feel like it's really helped me focus on and highlight what I enjoy about gaming and what I want out of my gaming experiences.
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