What’s this? A post from out of the blue? It may have been the eclipse, because the astral bodies have aligned to inspire me to write something.
At Gen Con 50 last weekend I picked up a shopping list of games, most of which I already had in PDF form such as Blades in the Dark, Apocalypse World 2e, Cthuhlhu Confidential, Mistborn and a bunch of other books for systems/styles that I am intimately familiar with. For years I’ve been pretty entrenched in the indie-game renaissance and the games born from it. This focus on new, narrative-centric games created in me a blind spot that I only just discovered after a spur-of-the-moment purchase from Goodman Games.
As you can obviously tell from the title of this post, that game was Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC).
Of all the purchases I made this year, DCC is the only one that stunned and perplexed me. As always, the brilliant design found in games like Apocalypse World and Blades is a blast to read, but at this point in my gaming career it’s par-for-the-course: I know that I’ll love those games because they already fit into the modern oeuvre I’m most attached to. But DCC was something different; a complete 180˚ from what I’m used to reading.
I’ve never been particularly interested in the Old School Renaissance (OSR) or retroclones, usually waving off those games as the purview of crusty old grognards. But I’ve got to say: I get it now. It’s been years since I felt an actually intense feeling of discovery in roleplaying games, as in my gaming career (the last 15 years) I’ve been able to draw a straight line connecting the ideas in nearly every game that’s come out. I can see the gears that connect D&D 3.x to 5E, and I can see the crossroads where Fate and PbtA meet.
What I never understood is what came before.
In my mind, D&D began in the year 2000. I’ve never known a version of D&D that wasn’t, at least partially, focused on the idea of “builds” and “balance.” I can think of a time when every single resource I could need wasn’t more than a few clicks away. Sure, I have the old AD&D DMG, I know of the works from Appendix N, and I’ve read the history of RPGs in Shannon Applecline’s brilliant Designers & Dragons series. But even so, it all just seemed like arcane history to me, like looking at cave drawings and appreciating that they existed but never understanding why they were necessary.
DCC has changed that for me. At first, I was drawn to the Goodman Games booth by this gorgeous faux-leather cover. Then I saw the wall of art by Doug Kovacs, the shelves of modules and I got an odd feeling: nostalgia. I have no right to be nostalgic about something I’ve never experienced. As a 23-year-old gamer, I’ve never known a time when games were printed on cheap brown digests, I’ve never had to scour shelves for unread modules or check the back of the book for a catalogue of upcoming adventures. If anything, the feeling I got standing at Goodman Games’ counter was second-hand wistfulness at best, but it sparked something.
I bought that badass black book, got to have it signed by Joseph Goodman and several of the artists who worked on the game, and went to check out the modules. Over the last few days I’ve read that rulebook cover-to-cover, scoured the internet for where to pick up the Crawl! fanzines, and looked for the homebrew rulings (not rules) that other people have mused about. It’s strange reading a book with intentional blank spaces, a game that purposely left rules out of the game so that the Judge (DM) would need to improvise.
Whatever DCC and the OSR have in store, I’m excited to find out.