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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG - Castle Greyhawk and Sniper Rifles

This article is about two sessions of DCC RPG: One was pretty bad, and one was really good.

I had an odd couple of weeks when it came to Dungeon Crawl Classics. As I've mentioned in other posts, right now I am very into Shadowrun and less into fantasy RPGs.

It is funny how this works. Often you may find that by the time you get something you are passionate about up and running that your interests have shifted to something else.

A few years ago, I was hellbent on running a D&D Castle Greyhawk campaign. Castle Greyhawk is what Gary Gygax ran when playtesting Dungeons and Dragons in the 70's. It has never been published in its' "true" original form.

There's been a slew of related products though, like the parody Castle Greyhawk, the attached demi-plane adventures (Land Beyond the Magic Mirror, Isle of the Ape, and Robert Kuntz's Bottle City to name a few), TSR and Wizards made stuff like Ruins of Greyhawk and Expedition to Castle Greyhawk. Gygax himself started working on publishing the "real" castle with the serial numbers filed off, called Castle Zagyg.

I decided to try and create a Castle Greyhawk using the best stuff from all of this material. I dug up every article and message board post I could find by Gygax and his old players that had details of the original dungeon to help me craft an authentic and exciting version of the dungeon.

There was already a version of Castle Greyhawk published that tried to be as close to Gary's vision as humanly possible. It was called Castle of the Mad Archmage. I used that as the basis for my version.

But the more I looked through that dungeon, the more I realized that while I would like to play in it, none of my players would. They're not big on heading in and out of dungeons. They really don't like empty rooms, which Castle Greyhawk had many of. We didn't do much mapping, which was a big part of the Castle Greyhawk experience.

While I enjoyed reading about the adventures of Lord Robilar and Tenser, and discovering Gary's short story about a sub-level called "The Black Reservoir", I realized that for my players, Castle Greyhawk would be... boring.

So I set out to make a dungeon inspired by Castle Greyhawk that would entertain them. I dug up elaborate trap rooms from any source I could find, all epic, creative and deadly. I made two dungeon levels full of traps, with little in relation to the actual Castle itself. Slowly, my enthusiasm waned. I lost the spark of inspiration, and realized that not only was I working on something that was barely Castle Greyhawk, but I had also burned out on it before I'd even ever run it.

It is with all those words that I try to tell you that right now, Shadowrun rules my brain, and DCC RPG was suffering because of it. Last week's session was the low point. I ran Doom of the Savage Kings, a 1st-level adventure.
I re-purposed the dungeon, placing it in the dimension of the Court of Chaos. Our heroes had decided to go get the balance blade from the Court, who were planning to use it to sway the balance between Law and Chaos.

I never used Doom of the Savage Kings because I just didn't like it much. It's not terrible. The premise is interesting - a hideous monster is attacking a town called Hirot, and the heroes need to go get an item to help them defeat it. I didn't like the town, Hirot. I didn't like the monster. And I didn't like the kind of nordic theme of the dungeon.

So I was running a session in which I was not at all enthusiastic about. It was just kind of there. And when you are a DM running an adventure you're not excited about, it really affects the game. It was a dull, short session that ended really early. There was no life to it at all. By the end of the night, I was wondering if the campaign was dying.

I had set up the ending to that session so that our heroes would finally get to go the New York City circa 1986. Ever since I read the basic D&D adventure "The Immortal Storm" last year and its' ultra-cheesy depiction of the real world, I wanted to run an 80's movie version of New York City with cheesy accents, lame 80's gang types with bad dialogue, and people in the street holding boom boxes while riding roller skates.

As this session approached, I turned over concepts in my head. I had a basic idea of how the session would work. But I didn't put pen to paper. I was too busy with Shadowrun.

The night before this DCC RPG game, I ran Shadowrun until 3 AM. My players made me laugh so hard that I almost choked as they made fun of my badly-drawn street map (my yellow street lines were more than a little crooked). The runners hung out with their favorite gang and carefully planned a massive attack on another gang's compound (an old drive-in theatre, converted to a biker gang enclave). Then, they came up with a crazy plan involving the theft of 20 trucks, which involved "star" NPC Lacey Heels seducing and tasing a security guard.
It was such a fun session that the next day when I was supposed to be working on DCC, instead I was listening to a recording of the session laughing my face off!

I waited until the last possible minute to prepare DCC RPG. And I am talking, a half-hour before I had to leave for the game store. I quickly jotted down the ideas, cooked up some NPC names and one stat block, and I grabbed a couple issues of Crawl Zine that had some stuff I could use. Then I headed to the store.

There's some big things going on in Magic: The Gathering. Something about changing the structure of how sets are released. The store was jam-packed with Magic players. These are pretty much without exception very nice people. They get a little loud, but it could be worse.

So we jumped into this adventure that I had half-concocted... and it was awesome. By the end, one player was raving about how much fun it was, and another was asking me much time it took me to write such a detailed and involved adventure. This was one of the most well-received adventures I have run for this DCC group. Why? There are a few lessons I keep having to re-learn:

1. Do not overprepare! I always do this. When you overprepare, you create tons of details that the players might not even run into. You also burn yourself out on your own work, and because you have spent so much time on it, you end up not wanting to let your players abandon it.

2. Find out which adventure structure works with your groups the best. Some groups like to be "Railroaded". Some like the illusion of freedom. Some like dungeon crawls while others like political intrigue.
For this group, I have only run published dungeon crawls. Their choices were limited to "this door or that door?". A lot of times, they'd end up checking both doors before moving on. For this session, I modeled the structure after a Shadowrun adventure.

Well, really, it's a structure people use for all types of games. Instead of creating a chain of probable events, I just jotted down locations, enemies, friends and their motivations. I had some ideas for scenarios if the PCs went here or there, but for the most part the PCs had the freedom to go and do whatever they wanted. I created two things to steer them on course if they "got lost" in the scenario: A mysterious man reading a newspaper (an agent of law who lurked in New York City) and when the bad guys' evil ritual kicked off, there would be a swirling vortex above a skyscraper roof (like in Ghostbusters) that would be visible anywhere in the city.

We proceeded to have an adventure where Old School fantasy heroes showed up in an extremely-cheesy version of 1986 New York, complete with a hobo with a one-liner, an evil gang of karate guys (snatched out of the karate kid and re-branded to the Chaos Karate Dojo) and the weird sorcerer from Big Trouble in Little China.

The player of the party cleric loves playing snipers in first person shooters. So his cleric ended up with a sniper rifle, where he sniped everyone he could find.

The bottom line is that the players hope to go back to New York City again, and their faith in the game has been re-invigorated. Now we will begin running the 4th level published adventures. Maybe a change of pace once in a while can help keep the players (and me) interested in a long-term campaign.

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