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Obligatory DCC Post

Why I might shove a stick in my eye

Spoiler alert: this is a “blah, blah” post. It’s (almost) entirely filled with my opinion. It is possible that you will agree with some of it, but not likely that you will agree with all of it. Sometimes I am right. On other, more frequent occasions I am, in fact, an ass. I write this with only part of my tongue in all of my cheek.

If you would rather skip my opinion (which is entirely cool) and get to the useful part, scroll down to the end, where I willingly pay my Joesky Tax.

Wheel Reinvented. Again.

Holy effing crap! Goodman Games has revolutionised the god-damned RPG universe! And just in time, because I really wanted to play D&D, but none of the other 28 versions published since I was 12 really felt right.

By the time you read this, the beta release of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is old news. I was the 4,086th person to download the beta copy since its release on Monday. From a sheer numbers perspective, I have to give Goodman props—that level of fan loyalty and positive product anticipation doesn’t happen by accident, and those are numbers to make any indie publisher proud.

Stick in the eye

Sweet Relief

But…seriously? We are talking about yet another reskinning of D&D.

E-fucking-nough already.

It’s bad enough that the people who created D&D wrote at least twelve versions [1] on their own, then released an open invitation for people to blandly regurgitate that work in the form of the OGL, opening the doors for a morass of equally undifferentiated retro-clones. Like, how many versions of Swords & Wizardry alone are there?

Whitebox, Core, Complete…Please. Stop. How many versions of the same thing do we need? Apparently, not as many as we seem to want.

I’m bewildered, as I have been before. So I download a copy of DCC and start reading, just to see what astounding RPG miracle Goodman has cooked up that will make me so hungry for it that I’ll start eating my own dice.

Sadly, there is none. The Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is a scaled-down version of SRD mechanics with house rules thrown in to make it look old school. Except that it isn’t. All the stuff that you’d ostensibly simplify to give old-school cred (like spell-casting and combat) have been made more complex with extra table rolls and bookkeeping, while opportunities for meaningful innovation (like chargen and campaign-building) have been left un-innovated. Plus, you are reminded—several times in the text—that if you don’t maintain strict adherence to the rules precisely as they are written, the system won’t work.

Goodman: 34.99, Imagination: 0.

Which is beyond disappointing. It’s downright absurd. Oh, wait, I stand corrected. You get to roll d5s and d14s. That’s pure fucking innovation, right there.

This is a completely wasted opportunity. Goodman Games has the loyalty of a large and engaged fanbase.[2] Loyal. As in, “We’re behind you, so if, you know, you want to take a risk and try something new, we got your back because we’re interested in what you have to offer.”

Instead, Goodman took the All-Mouth-and-No-Trousers approach by jumping on the emperor’s new bandwagon. As in, “Hey, let’s sell a PDF of our D&D house rules, slap on an OGL at the end, and get our slice of the OSR pie.” Clearly uninspired. Certainly lazy. Possibly dumb.

Believe me, of all gamers, I completely get the desire to invent rules, tweak them the way you like, and share with other gamers. But if I’m going to take the trouble to codify my work and set it before other people, you can be damn sure that I’m going to  provide something new or different and worth the effort of reading or paying for it.

It’s like we, as a community of creative people, just can’t get off the dime. We keep supporting a litany of rewritten content that’s already proven to work and be popular and fun. But just because the OGL says we can doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Wouldn’t it be better create new and exciting stuff with that content? Wouldn’t Goodman Games do better by their loyal fanbase with a new and exciting fantasy campaign setting instead of yet another revision of a fantasy game?[3]

Just asking for some original thought here. Like the artwork, which is truly excellent. But these wonderful images could have appeared in any one of many supplements. Like, for example, The Dungeon Alphabet, [4] also from Goodman. Dungeon Alphabet is crazy-clever. Love the words, love the pictures. It is substantial, creative, and useful.

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG? About as substantial as 2d7 farts in the wind.

Joesky Tax

I may be a sarcastic jerk, but I pay the piper when he plays. In this case, the piper is Joesky, and my payment thus:

Permanent Injury Option
Characters can forgo proper healing by “pushing through” their wounds. However, this causes a permanent injury.

In game terms, your character automatically restores up to one hit die per level of hit points by accepting a permanent injury. Each injury manifests as a permanent 1-point reduction in a random Attribute:

Die Roll (1d12) Attribute Affected
1-3 Strength
4 Intelligence
5 Wisdom
6-8 Dexterity
9-11 Constitution
12 Charisma

You can accept a permanent injury at any time. The total number of permanent injuries sustained cannot exceed the character’s current level, and the number of hit points regained each time cannot exceed the character’s current maximum.

Example
Flurbis is a 3rd-level thief (hit die: d4). After getting battered through a series of encounters, he can restore 3d4 hit points by accepting a permanent injury. His 1d12 roll on the table comes up “9,” so his Constitution is reduced by one point. As a 3rd-level thief, he can have up to 3 permanent injuries.
_______________

  1. Original whitebox (LBBs); Holmes Basic; B/X; BECMI; Black box, Rules Cyclopedia, AD&D 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 3.5th, and 4th editions; and Essentials. What am I missing?
  2. Just shy of 7,000 downloads of the beta at the time of this writing.
  3. Unless, of course, the fanbase wanted DCC to be another flavour of D&D, in which case Goodman Games has done the right thing and I have no business railing against it.
  4. Affiliate link.

  1. deimos3428
    June 11th, 2011 at 01:33 | #1

    Pretty much spot on, there.

  2. June 11th, 2011 at 08:31 | #2

    I’ve barely had a chance to glace at it, but I have an inkling that my final opinion will mirror yours.

    Thanks for the honest review!

  3. June 11th, 2011 at 10:00 | #3

    I understood most of the post, except for that last part which completely threw me off.

  4. June 11th, 2011 at 10:12 | #5

    @David : I hesitate to put this forth as a review–it’s just my initial impression after a cursory read. Goodman has put out some really good products, but DCC just seems like a lazy twist on a played out theme. The paranoid side of me suspects the OGL was WotC’s secret bid to discourage 3rd-party innovation and make us all conform…

  5. June 11th, 2011 at 10:12 | #6

    @deimos3428 You mean the part where I admit I’m sometimes an ass?

  6. June 12th, 2011 at 04:55 | #7

    @Erin D. Smale : I doubt the legitimacy of that rule.. I mean, it’s written in all-caps, which we all know is not to be trusted in any other way than appearing awesome.

  7. Gregory MacKenzie
    June 13th, 2011 at 12:07 | #8

    Hi Erin,

    I find myself in agreement with your sentiment. I’m finding it difficult to make my peace with the SRD/OGL. I guess that makes me a voice in the wilderness. The OGL is going to be with us from now on whether we personally like it or not. So, there will be endless re-use of the SRD materials really, this sort of thing is inevitable. Nothing about it is truly innovative and that I think is the point. It is no accident that all SRD products inevitably have the same faults.

    With regard to Goodman Games, the whole thing is part of a well thought out marketing strategy I’m sure to drive sales of their own products, particularly so since this “beta” release teazer is a prelude to a game which will undoubtedly be for purchase.

    * If you have your own rules you no longer are at the mercy of 3rd parties.
    * If you do not have a “rules product” to sell someone else is going to get that revenue.
    * Making certain “dice” a requirement means you’ll sell those too.
    * Using the SRD means that some compatibility with other product is always there.

    Were I to use the SRD as a source, I would only really be interested in the idea of what a sleep spell is, not it’s mechanic. The problem with using the SRD is having to acknowledge the OGL, and if you aren’t careful, your IP goes with it.

    The consequence of using the SRD is that typically what it gives an author is exchanged for a well used mechanic. Strictly followed, getting outside of the box so to speak is more difficult without serious thought. Inevitably, most seem to find it is easier to go along with the OGL/SRD. I think this creeps into an authors intention in such a subtle manner that creativity is ultimately wrestled away. How many decisions are conscious? In the end a product such as this is targeted at the middle of the road. In that regard it is well done, like an overcooked roast, nice and dry. The artwork is certainly “fun” but a lot of it is busy and it’s all over the place and in your face. Some of the “new” art is the only major original contribution to the “rules”. Oops, a bit of sarcasm creeping in there.

    Well, I’m sure DCC will be a “successful” product, like mystery meat. It’s gray, you know it’s protein, but what was the source?

    Greg

  8. Greg MacKenzie
    June 13th, 2011 at 14:34 | #9

    By the way, 4,086th served, is not the same thing as actually playing the game, nor is it a measure of success. It might indicate a measure of interest, as people will download pretty much anything free from curiosity. I have a bunch of such free documents but I don’t play them.

    Do what inspires you and let the chips fall where they may.

  9. Greg MacKenzie
    June 14th, 2011 at 08:32 | #10

    Having thought about this overnight, I believe DCC doesn’t matter very much, not to me personally anyway, and it’s just another SRD based ruleset, ho hum…

  10. June 14th, 2011 at 23:28 | #11

    @Greg MacKenzie : First off, let me disclose that this is not a review (not that you thought it was, but just in the interest of full disclosure).

    Second, let me state that DCC will be fun for some people, and I wish them well in playing it. Gaming is about getting together with folks for the purpose of amusement. DCC seems just as capable of accomplishing this goal as any other flavour of any other game: D&D, LL, Rolemaster, Mechwarrior, Axis & Allies, whatever.

    Third, let me express that Goodman Games should succeed from their endeavour. At least, I hope they do. They have produced good products in the past and deserve to be compensated for their effort. I just wish that effort were devoid of an OGL, because, in my experience, the OGL is (by now) little more than a stamp of conformity.

    Which is a large portion of what I’m railing against. We occupy ourselves in one of the most potentially creative hobbies on the planet. I don’t understand the attraction and enthusiasm for yet another version of the same thing.

    Shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad…

  11. Brian
    June 16th, 2011 at 20:40 | #12

    “The paranoid side of me suspects the OGL was WotC’s secret bid to discourage 3rd-party innovation and make us all conform…”

    Secret? Wasn’t that a stated goal of the whole experiment?

  12. June 16th, 2011 at 21:31 | #13

    @Brian : When it came out, I thought OGL’s goal was to encourage 3rd-party support of D&D 3.x. I don’t think the intention was to proliferate reboots of older versions.

    But here we are, and though all the versions are different, they’re essentially compatible. Despite WotC’s refusal to support anything prior to 4E, D&D–in all its forms–remains dominant. Perhaps they’re smarter than I gave them credit for?

  13. Greg MacKenzie
    June 20th, 2011 at 15:13 | #14

    @Erin D. Smale
    Hi Erin,

    I took your observations as a lament. Perhaps I stepped across a line with regard to my previous post. I can be abrupt and no-little blinded perhaps by my own bias. I didn’t wish to imply that Goodman shouldn’t be successful in their endeavour.

    The appeal of such products is in their uniformity. It enables people to jump from group to group playing whatever variation of the game the DM is running. They already understand the “root concepts’ encoded in the rules. In that regard the group is pre-disposed to find variations acceptable and the dynamic involved in play is probably more important than the value of the “rules variation”. Since many people don’t want the bother of the GM’s work anyway but want to play, whatever rule system the GM chooses is usually fine. Albeit, the bias of some may lay with a streamlined/customized variation of the rules, there are a plethora to choose from. All the jet fighters are being built from the same set of plans.

    A philosophical question may be when did the OGL/SRD become synonymous with, and perhaps lay claim to, the core concepts of role playing. With the first SRD based rule-set? I’m starting to regard the SRD as almost an ISO 9000 standard. Subtle, yet definitive.

    Well, not to ruffle anyone’s feathers, I have my own ways about me and I don’t mean any offense. I’ve been provoking, and for that I apologize, but personally in the end it may be more practical to create open campaign materials and let people decide what rules they like. Otherwise I might find myself standing on a soap box in an empty field, rattling on…

    All the best,

    Greg

  14. June 20th, 2011 at 20:37 | #15

    @Greg MacKenzie : No feathers ruffled here (well, me, at least). I got bias all over the place, and I don’t disagree with you. Your point about portability is one of the advantages of system cloning, and yeah, it does have an ISO cast to it.

    Soap box in an empty field? Let’s just say that I keep my box out there and mow around it–it’s a pain to carry it back and forth… ;)

  15. Michael
    June 24th, 2011 at 01:59 | #16

    Lots of good points made here.

    The retro-cloning served its purpose a few years back, as a way of making older rulesets “our own,” but it seems that cloning rulesets (or I should say, cloning one ruleset) has become an end unto itself rather than the means to facilitate the creation of new supplements. How many restatements of exactly the same thing do we really need? Variations on a theme, sure. Idiosyncratic visions of a classic fantasy RPG? Okay. But still more retreads? Not so much.

    As far as DCCRPG itself goes, I like the ideas behind it, but I agree with you that sticking with the OGL/SRD was a mistake. It prevents it from truly coming into its own and at that point I lose interest. It touts that it is more rooted in the fiction referenced in Appendix N of the DMG, but can it really do this while cleaving close to the tropes present in the SRD? I may pick up the book, but only for the art (which is sweet).

  16. Greg MacKenzie
    June 28th, 2011 at 15:29 | #17

    Recently I came across an old WOC article which explains the thinking behind the OGL and the SRD, Network Externalities… Basically the concept here is that the number of people playing is a network which accepts the commonality of the rules. The larger the network the less likely it is that alternative rule systems will be adopted. It’s economic theory. Complicated economic theory. Since I”m no economist you’ll have to do some reading.

    As Network Externalities apply, or could be applied with regard to the OGL, there’s a very large network of people playing using it as a foundation. That’s why you see numerous variations of it. At least, that’s how I take it that this economic theory works because there is a penalty for developing something that doesn’t use the same “system” of rules; it won’t be adopted.

    It’s a damn cruel theory really, but it doesn’t account for boredom and evolution, which is exactly how D&D got started in the first place. The D&D game we knew evolved and developed from miniatures to role playing, from Chainmail to D&D, thanks to Dave Arneson. As you pointed out people do want something “different”.

    As for the OGL/SRD, I’m perfectly willing to scrape it off my boot when I’m done using it. ;) Just kidding! I’m trying to regain a sense of proportion. Actually, aspects of the SRD could be sourced into other games. Done properly, there are perfectly valid ideas in it which can be used, just don’t adopt the whole thing lock stock and barrel I say.

    Greg

  17. Greg MacKenzie
    June 29th, 2011 at 09:18 | #18

    In one of my more philosophical moments, prompted by my reading of Network Externalities, I began to re-evaluate my own bias vis-avis the OGL and SRD. Knowing what the intent of the release of the OGL was does help put things into perspective.

    The OGL Clones, can never be the old game. The real question is why did I hang onto the notion that I wanted the old game in the first place? The clones didn’t really take the idea to the next level. Instead, they seemed hung up on a nostalgic idea.

    The problem there, is the source is 3e. On closer inspection, the new rules can’t really match the old ones due to their SRD souce. The temptation of taking a kick at the can is all that remains, and filling in the missing blanks not in the SRD. Is that all the OGL Clones are? It was as if the pinnacle of automotive engineering was reached in 1985. Such were my thoughts and this engendered no little contempt. Perhaps WOC were partly responsible in setting off this avalanche by pulling the old publications from sale.

    My understanding is that the intent behind the OGL was to allow people to use and contribute open souce content for 3e. It was hinted at early on that it would be possible for people to author a “lite” version of 3e. Certainly, with the retro clones and variations on the theme, this has been more than realized.

    With regard to the theory of Network Externalities, the arrogance of the thinking that the OGL based rules would pressure alternative systems to disappear rankled. Propaganda?

    The theory behind Network Externalities is that the largest network of users, using a particular set of rules, discourages deviations. This benefits the market leader who holds the OGL license. The intent is to produce a “standard” or commonality of exchange. The theory is that those in the network won’t be inclined to adopt something different.

    I think though something happened that was unexpected. One of the reasons the OSR is so successfull, and that you see endless re-interpretations based on the SRD, is that they is offer the network something it didn’t find before while still making use of it’s common source. Enter the OSR. This sort of thing, in theory, still contributes to the stated goal of discouraging deviations. Is the OGL the new standard? Will even 4e languish and the OGL triumph?

    In actuallity, in terms of Network Externality, the hobby is really composed of many small networks. At its smallest, a network is composed of a Game Master and a number of Players. In my experience people move around playing more than one system and their loyalty to any one network might be described as tenuous at best.

    To my thinking the OGL is not a panacea for everyone’s role playing needs no matter how “big” or self important that network or any one company might believe itself to be. It may be that Network Externalities gives a comforting illusion of dominance and control over the OGL network. In practical terms for a business, what matters is what is rung in at the cash register. In that event Network Externalities is merely an attempt to understand and quantify a market.

    These ideas have been thought provoking to me even though I am a hobbiest rather than a publisher. I could never quite fathom why the OGL games continued to be popular but I can now see now some of the factors at work here.

    For those of us actively interested in alternatives there are games such as Chimera, Dominion Rules, Legendary Quest, etc. Note that the Dominion Rules preceded the OGL with it’s own DRL. Are any of these less valid as game systems? No I don’t believe so. I would argue that there are root concepts behind all role playing systems which are not the property of any one system. These ideas could even be separated into a “systemless” language to describe the way to invoke an interpretation by the reader. That is my thought now, writing in a way which can be interpreted for specific systems.

    Greg

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