I like diceless games. I don’t like dice deciding my fate. I’ve said that many times. I’ve written about it on this blog. And while I do – in honest fact – love diceless play, I think I’m a liar when I say that I don’t like dice deciding my fate.
Because I love the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. And not only does it use a serious profusion of other weird dice beyond the standard D&D set (really, why in the world do you need a D5?) it also uses charts and rolling for practically everything. Holy Rot Grubs it uses a lot of randomness. And my intense reaction of joy at the DCC RPG (after reading the PDF I went out a bought a copy of the collector’s edition from my FLGS) really surprised me. What is it about DCC that amazes me so?
Well, first of all, as I’ve written many times before, I like my games dangerous. Maybe DCC is a little more dangerous than even I am used to, but I really like my games dangerous. I like Warhammer Fantasy 2E, I like Shadowrun, I like Battletech where nearly every hit has a 1-in-36 chance of taking out the head and ending your ‘Mech.
I also like dangerous magic. I really appreciate a game where magic is not a “super-power” but a terrifying force you just might be in control of, if you’re lucky enough and tough enough and willing enough. Maybe. That just really works for me. I can’t really explain it, all I can say is that it just triggers something in my brain that makes sense. Heck, the whole time I was reading DCC I just kept thinking about Thieves’ World and the wildness of magic in that setting. (And seriously, if you like playing games where magic is more like super-powers, more power to you, nothing at all wrong with that.)
I think DCC says it well early on, the tone of the book really encapsulated something for me in an early part of the reading… from DCC page 20:
Some role playing games codify “game balance” in an abundance of character options. The DCC RPG takes an anachronistic approach to this concept by pursuing an even playing field through randomization rather than complexity.
And the thing is, this randomness doesn’t necessarily produce evenness but it does produce unique results and it balances the game in a very strange way… that instead of being able to cherry-pick abilities to suit mechanical advantage, players are forced (in a manner of speaking) to differentiate themselves from each other in other ways.
While I’m speaking of the language of the book, it also bears mentioning that I love the tone and language of the writing. This is a game that challenges the reader — not by being complex or hard to learn (it’s darn easy and it uses examples and sample ideas really well) — but in other ways. The discussion of unique monsters is one great example, the way divine magic works is another. I’ll freely admit that I struggle with reading a lot of modern games, not because they are hard to read (or even poorly written) but simply because I find myself bored.
And there is one other thing… and maybe I’ll get myself in trouble here but I’ll take a shot. I got into a heated moment with a friend the other night (we apologized and made up, no worries) because he was ragging on my last Pathfinder game because I played a little more hardcore. There was some talk that “if he ran a campaign” there would be save points and do-overs, and potions flowing like rivers… Well, to be honest, we fought because I’m a jerk sometimes, but not most of the time (can you tell I feel badly about it?)… back to the potion rivers, right…
Anyway, the point is, that I realized how much I don’t like a game that uses dice but honestly, they’re basically a formality. In 3.5 and 4E it was quite possible to cherry-pick, min-max, OP, or whatever nice word you want to use for it, in such a way that you and your party were unstoppable. And in games built around encounter budgets and challenge ratings, it sets up an expectation in the minds of (some) players that it’s actually meant to be that way. And again, I’m a jerk. I get it, there’s no such thing as BadWrongFun, but that style of play just actually does not make sense to me. Why would I want a flat challenge curve, little uncertainty about encounters, and the distinct feeling that if I screw it up there are no lasting consequences? The answer is, I don’t know. I don’t want those things.
Luckily for me, DCC RPG is the perfect remedy. I highly recommend DCC, I highly recommend it just for its read-value even if you never play it. It’s a great book.