Dungeon Crawl Classics for noobs

Dungeon Crawl Classics is like D&D’s weird cousin with monkey skulls in his closet. Tomorrow I’m going to run it for some people who’ve never played a tabletop RPG before, having run nothing but a few sessions of Call of Cthulhu myself.

The book explicitly forbids this.

The rules assume a wise DM and jaded players. There’s a stack of rules for making magic and monsters interesting for veterans, but only a brief explanation of the basics. Several rules come with a caveat: “We know a lot of people will hate this rule, so just substitute another rule from one of the million other games you’ve played.”

Well, my players don’t know what a kobold is, and I had to look up “Saving Throw”. Bad combination, right? But looking deeper at the actual rules, I think the game could be perfect for introducing noobs – as long as the dungeon master is up to it.

First, DCC’s character creation takes place in a Darwinian “Character Funnel”. Every player gets a bunch of terrible peasants with completely random attributes, then runs them straight through a meat-grinder dungeon. Anyone who survives this natural selection gets to choose a class.

This actually works as a built-in tutorial. Classic DnD starts by asking you to make a character; if you don’t know the game, you’re clueless here. DCC starts with: “You can do everything a normal human can. You’re in this situation. What do you do?” Because you don’t have any special abilities, all the rules can be explained when they come up.

The hilarious death-toll of the character funnel works as the perfect tutorial. Because you have a bunch of level 0 characters pre-made, you don’t even lose any time when they die. So, the funnel teaches you how dangerous the game is without any actual risk.  You only make a decision about your character once you’ve learnt how the game works in this risk-free environment.

I’m going to be giving my players pre-made character sheets from this website, by the way. This way they can come in and start playing as soon as they sit down. I also think I’ll treat their extra 0-level characters as extra lives, rather than letting them control all 3 guys at once.

Secondly, it seems like the game is much more complex than D&D, but it takes that complexity away from the players and gives it to the dungeon master. Spells, for instance, each have a big table of possible outcomes, misfire effects, possible horrible corruptions the caster could suffer if they go wrong, and unique flavour effects.

That’s crazy complex, but the only thing the player actually has to remember for a given spell is a line like: “The caster hurls a magical missile that automatically hits an enemy.”

Everything else is totally variable. It could do one point of damage, it could let fly multiple screaming eagles, it could turn their hands green. It makes magic strange to the players, with the side-effect that the player doesn’t have to keep any rules on their character sheet; just the basic thematic idea of “A Magical Missile”. A new player can engage with spells on a purely thematic level, without thinking about numbers.

The third secret is: It’s ok to be a terrible player, because you’re going to die anyway. Dungeon Crawl Classics is a lot like Call of Cthulhu. As you progress you get more and more corrupted, demons start vying for your soul, your god gets angry, your luck starts to run out, and your inevitable doom stalks a little closer. But it’s ok! Losing Is Fun.The character funnel is the perfect way to introduce that idea to new players, and once they’re on board the game becomes a hilarious roller-coaster ride into death.

So, with this reasoning, I’m going to run Death Frost Doom for my noobs. It’ll either scar them forever or make them into heroes. I’ll tell you how it goes.

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About Jack McNamee

In the third year of a game design course in Queensland, Australia. Thinking a whole lot about games. Scrabbling desperately against the oncoming future.
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9 Responses to Dungeon Crawl Classics for noobs

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