A couple of years ago I wanted to run a fantasy game where the players would fear for their characters' lives and spend their time measuring the risk versus rewards of ever action. I proposed the game as a political intrigue and espionage game going on in the background of a massive war between nations. Instead of using the 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons, or some variation of d20 rules, I decided to use a home brewed and modified version of 2nd edition World of Darkness. The idea was that since my players were not well versed with all of the resources that were at my disposal then their characters would similarly be ignorant of the powers that might be afforded them as I placed powers and spells within the campaign. I think in the big picture I failed.
Meanwhile the Old School Renaissance (OSR), or Original System Revival depending upon whose blog you read, was the little train that could, building steam and chugging along through conventions. I remained largely unaware of the growing movement OSR gaming and the increasing interpretations of systems. I would see them advertised occasionally and featured prominently on drivethrurpg, but I ignored the visibility because I believe some part of my brain just assumed they were more of the same endless variations of d20 rules. I had had enough of the min/maxing character creation processes and the balanced encounters matched to balanced leveling. I wanted something random, I wanted something deadly, I wanted something that reminded me of how excited I was the first time I saw that little red box.
These growing feelings might have been why I started running a Traveller game three years ago, and as I began looking at what I considered my failed World of Dark Fantasy experiment I started to consider returning to Traveller. I didn't want to use any of the rules I had been using however, no World of Darkness, no GURPS, but something that harkened to Classic Traveller. And that's when I discovered Stars Without Number.
Stars Without Number didn't mince words. The author assumed you understood what a role-playing game was, what the strange dice were used for, and that you had at lest a working knowledge of other game systems. The system is essentially a lovechild between 1st edition AD&D and Classic Traveller, and I consider it to be a grand work of art!
Now, I never would have heard of Stars Without Number if it hadn't been for a review written on Grognardia, a blog I had been following solely for his insightful reviews into works of fiction. The glowing review led me to inspect the game, and from that solitary work the OSR's siren call had it's hooks in me.
The Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is part of the Old School Renaissance. A game that doesn't model itself on a previous system of Dungeons & Dragons but uses the concepts of modern D&D and manages to cut away the fat of the last thirty years, then adds seasoning and spices that evoke the flavors of playing a 1st edition AD&D game with a GM who loved using Judges' Guild and other third party supplements wisely and judiciously. The DCC RPG assumes the reader has a working knowledge of RPGs and the conventions of modern D&D. As the author lays out the rules in each chapter he also includes explanations for why the rules are designed in such seemingly incongruous methods, which certainly helps a reader who might be confused about the subject matter, but the further you delve into the book the more you see that these methods are actually harmonious with the larger work.
During character creation a player randomly generates four 0-level characters along with a few meager items and copper pieces and it is assumed during the first adventure or two that you will gradually lose "extra" characters to death and misfortune. After reading the 0-level adventure included with the rulebook I can safely say it is a party killer, but if the characters are smart and wily they can overcome the minions and traps of this small dungeon and temper themselves into budding adventurers. Not heroes, the tagline on the back cover makes that clear. Moral ambiguity rides shotgun with the adventurers of this game.
The only other thing I will mention is the demons and devils. This game has them in spades. They are not only antagonists, but they are also included as potential allies for those characters willing to risk the corruption that comes along with making dark pacts to foul hellspawn. It's refreshing to see a slick, big budget game that doesn't try to soften or diminish the role that evil plays within a harsh, cruel world. In this way DCC RPG manages to remind me of Warhammer, and how alien and aloof the divine powers of that game could be.
The book itself is a lot of fun to read and the older stye of artwork can tickle nostalgia as much as it can reignite the imagination. I don't think this game will appeal to everyone. In my own gaming group the players are split down the middle with interest and disapproval, but I think anybody who gives it a chance will find this game to be a lot of wild and dark fun.