TL;DR: Compact, dangerous, and exciting adventure (minimal spoilers ahead). DCC continues to amaze and inspire.
Cover art for Purple Sorcerer Game’s “Nebin Pendlebrook’s Perilous Pantry”
To make sure expectations were clear I read the following:
We will be playing a Dungeon Crawl Classics character funnel. Each of you will have 4 fragile characters to start. The goal is to make it through the dungeon with at least one of them alive. In campaign play, the survivor(s) would be your character(s) in further adventures. It won’t be easy, and you should think of your characters as pawns. Don’t risk them all at once.
There were 5 players at the table. Each player rolled up 4 characters
- Four of the five players each had an elven sage
- There was a goat, a pony, a herding dog, a duck, and a hen
- A handful of spears and swords ensured some nice combat power
- One unlucky player had 8s or lower for his characters’ luck (Ouch!)
I took the advice of other DCC judges; Instead of using a combat grid, I went with theater of the mind.
Each player arranged their characters in a mini-marching order. They formed a plus sign: the lead character, two in the middle, and one in the rear.
In combat, if an attack came from the front, I attacked the front character who had the lowest luck. Likewise for rear attacks. The adventure module provided further guidance to beat on the unlucky.
As characters died, they were piled in front of the Judge’s screen; The above photo was taken before we started into the pantry.
The duck, hen, and their owners were the first casualties; The sickening feeding frenzy set the dangerous tone.
The four elven sages each tried to read a magic scroll, and failed. One of the elven sages rolled a 1…so I had him roll and he got major corruption. Alas he died before his head turned into a goat. The lowly potato farmer took a chance and rolled a natural 20. His eyes glowed with power and he gained some minor wizarding power.
- Creatures in the dark surprised a lone explorer (failed Luck check). With a quick strike, the creatures murdered and dragged the dwarf into the darkness; the rope fell to the ground with a thump.
- A clever use of rope, crowbar, and a burned luck point helped retrieve a bit of treasure and circumvent what they thought to be a trap.
- An oh so glorious critical hit by the squire for 14 points of damage; Hooyah!
- Clever teamwork created a hasty firebomb from an oil soaked suit. They lit the suit and flung with a shovel. That earned a luck point.
- A halfling reunited with his great grandfather that had disappeared a century ago…alas the reunion was rather short.
- Some of the characters fled to an unexplored room; I’d call that a bad idea (but it worked out).
Player Interaction not Skills
At one point one of the players asked “Can I make a spellcraft check?” This was a great moment, as I responded “What are you wanting to know?” He said “Well I want to know if there’s magic. But I guess the glowing runes…” The player had enough information and we moved on.
What I liked about this moment was that it unlearned a bit of the skill proficiency mindset of later D&D editions. Players and characters both engage with the system. Through a dialogue the player and Judge can establish what the character knows or the Judge can call for a check.
The whole session was 6:30pm to 10pm. In that time we made characters and had 10 “scenes” - 6 combat encounters and 4 puzzle/role-playing encounters.
- People were rightly cautious; we weren’t five minutes in when 2 characters died.
- Combats were fast and furious; I don’t believe anything went more than two rounds.
- By necessity, characters become rather morbid and mercenary. The characters speaking to an incarcerated person: “Slide us your possessions and we’ll help” as an emaciated hand passes a rag doll and a candle
- Characters were stewarding their luck; they knew I was targeting the unlucky. Yet they spent a luck point or two to get what they wanted.
- If you want characters to die; give them multiple opponents. Even a hoard of 0-level chumps can end a single big-bad monster.
- With minimal characters features (eg. skills, feats, etc.) the players engaged the fiction of the story.
Adventure Specific Structure
Purple Sorcerer Game’s modules contains great advice and flavor/read-aloud text. In some cases the prose for a given encounter was rather lengthy and hard to scan.
One of the rooms had too many possibilities; 3 doors, a column of water, and 2 fountains. I felt this room was going to grind on in indecision. I worked actively to move the players through this room.
At points in the adventure that called for a Luck check. If you failed your Luck check you then needed to make a saving throw. For experienced players, that’s not a big deal, but this confused the group. We muddled through it. It also felt a little like double jeopardy. In the future, I recommend skipping the Luck check and call for each player to make the saving throw for their character with the lowest Luck score.