I had a chance to play the new Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG last week. I had fun playing it - but with that particular group of people, I'd have fun playing anything.* The question now: Is the DCCRPG a good game?
To answer, let's start with something that the excellent old-school blogger Jeff Rients wrote. When trying to explain D&D to someone, he said he describes it as "You play Conan, I play Gandalf. We team up to fight Dracula." That sounds like fun. No - it sounds like crazy-mad awesome fun. High-octane over-the-top extra-hyphenated fun, and I'd absolutely play that game. If you go read the marketing text for the DCCRPG itself, that Conan vibe is all over it.
The actual play experience is more like "You play Wentworth the Squashy, I play Buglug the Easily Bruised. We team up and get killed by a pit trap after about 20 minutes."
Some people will enjoy that. The relatively low power level and the high mortality rate are very important to the old-school experience, and you gotta assume that a game with "dungeon crawl" in its name is a deliberate throwback to the distant RPG past. Trouble is, we've had more than 30 years of game-design evolution since then. The DCCRPG takes some of that evolution into account - character generation is a hoot, the different character classes have sharply defined Neat Things they can each do.** However, it fails to account for the biggest change over that time. A lot of people like their characters now, and want to play them without constantly cringing about the many possible ways to die because you weren't thinking like the game designer was.
I hate that cringing thing.
Still, not everyone does. And there are several good things about the DCCRPG as a system. Again, character generation itself was great - very fast, but with several touches that customized each individual. The game itself is low on magic items, which I like, relying instead on player/character skill. Magic spells are light-years ahead of how most fantasy games treat them - probably my favorite thing about the whole game. The overall mechanics are very swingy, which can be good; I'd like that more if not for the lethality. And our admittedly higher-level PCs definitely had abilities that put us outside the ken of mere mortals. I'd consider buying this for the character generation and spell tables alone.
I'd be saddled with a bunch of stuff I didn't want, though. The game's fundamental assumptions are waaay too far from mine - too casually lethal, too stereotypical an idea of "adventure." That's something you could work around, of course. Those assumptions aren't hard-coded into the mechanics, and an average GM could easily adjust lethality or take adventures into the wilderness or have adventures that actually involve talking to other sentient creatures... but I'd still be stuck with a game that thinks everyone should have one immutable character class, and that "dwarf" is a character class, and that uses all kinds of weird specialty dice like d7s, and that's really designed to do this One. Very. Specific. Thing.
Again, the game does say "dungeon crawl" right in the name. Nobody's hiding that. It played pretty much the way I had anticipated, and I really enjoyed some parts of it. With a different design focus, this could be a great next-gen system, one that provides a shot in the arm to fantasy RPGs and that competes well against D&D and Pathfinder. It's just too bad that the game's wearing blinders. For everyone who looks back with nostalgia at the playstyle of the 1970s, there are 1d6+6 who don't. That's why so few games look like old D&D nowadays. The DCCRPG is a good game that, of its own volition, is stopping itself from being great. It's too bad - I wish I liked this game more. I'd love to play Conan, but this is a game that forces you to act like Buglug the Easily Bruised.
*Except for whatever horrible game you're about to suggest in the comments. YOU WIN, CLEVER INTERNET PERSON.
**Really? Character classes, in the year 2011? As you'll read in a few days, I think classes are bad design. These were pretty fun, but I'd still prefer a game with modular rules for making your own kind of dude. Cugel or the Grey Mouser, for example, would be impossible to create in this game from what I've seen.