Alas, despite gallons of electronic ink spent attempting to explain OSR gaming, it seems we can’t quite define what we are. But I think it’s fairly clear what we love: gameplay that places no limits on the scope of our imaginations: gameplay capable of triggering jolts of wonder when we encounter something truly unexpected, mysterious, and cool. I began gaming in the late 70’s, so the ‘restatement’ of that milieu by Swords & Wizardry from Frog God Games takes me back to a very familiar place. I remember well that blank canvas, when everything was new, and ‘balance’ was only considered important when dashing across a mile-long chain suspended over the heart of a fiery volcano!
So we seek to rediscover that fabled land. (Or at least to follow the maps of others who have gone before and who tease us with tales of its wonder!) The Swords & Wizardry rulebook, combined with a healthy imagination, contains everything you need to achieve this goal. Scores of gamers can attest to the soundness of its design. So when Erik from Tenkar’s Tavern began discussing Swords & Wizardry appreciation day, it occurred to me that it would be interesting to discuss how introducing elements from the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Rulebook to your S&W campaign can help you build on and maintain that sense of wonder we’re all seeking.
Dungeon Crawl Classics
For those new to the system, the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is a kind-of old school RPG from the fine folks at Goodman Games. It’s kind-of old school, because while the DCCRPG attempts to recreate the feel of old school games, unlike S&W (which strives to ‘restate’ the classic rules with a touch of modern smoothness) DCC introduces many new gameplay elements that are ‘outside the cannon’ as it were. These include the character funnel, extensive critical and fumble charts, tables for every spell result, a predilection for ‘unique’ monsters, and much more.
At Purple Sorcerer Games we create adventures for DCC, as well as utilities like the 0-Level Party Generator and Crawler’s Companion that help tame aspects of the bookkeeping. So of course we love it and encourage everyone to give it a shot. But even if you never plan on running a single DCCRPG adventure, the rulebook should still be part of your old-school gaming arsenal. Because when you gather together all the unique elements of DCC, you’ll find you have a bubbling cauldron of random goodness that can bring uniqueness to YOUR campaign without changing any core S&W mechanics!
First off, before I even get to the gameplay elements, I would recommend the DCCRPG rulebook on the merits of its art alone. It’s a work of old-school art. There are simply hordes of images in the massive tome by many of the greats of classic gaming illustration. If your imagination isn’t fired up thumbing through the (488!) pages, you just might be in the wrong hobby. 😉
The Character Funnel
I believe others will be discussing this in more detail on S&W Appreciate Day, but the funnel in DCC only uses a small subset of the rules, and it is simplicity itself to promote funnel survivors to 1st level S&W characters. 0-level characters begin with the barest of essential details: A name, an occupation, a spread of usually lousy stats, a handful of hitpoints, and virtually no possessions. In fact, you usually run 4 to begin with as the mortality rate is so high! (You can spit out a full sheet using the 0-level Party Generator in moments. And all the basic charts for 0-level play can be found here.)
But something magical happens as your plucky serfs run the gauntlet: players become attached to their desperate charges, and an amazing amount of character development and shaping occurs almost effortlessly. And as mentioned, once the survivors have been winnowed down, just modify the simple 0-level stats to something appropriate for your S&W campaign as you ‘elevate’ the characters to first level. I think the funnel is a fantastic way to get the ball rolling in any campaign, and to encourage folks to give it a shot, I’ve provided Tenkar’s Tavern with 10 free Purple Sorcerer 0-level adventure PDFs (5 copies of Perils of the Sunken City and 5 of The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk) to reward bloggers participating in S&W appreciation day!
(And even if you skip the funnel, the handy occupation and birth sign charts in the rulebook are a great way to add flavor to your beginning characters.)
Corruption acts to balance spell casting in DCC. A mage must think twice before casting spells willy-nilly: many spell can go terribly wrong and the tables of bad outcomes are filled with horrors that range from humorous annoyances to devastating maladies.
But if we disconnect all these juicy corruption tables from spell casting, you’ll discover you actually have some wonderfully detailed matrices of eldritch calamity that you can use for ANYTHING. Imree the thief stumbles into the caustic ooze surrounding the alter of Zigritz and fails her save? Roll on the minor corruption table. The dreaded Ogrilich Sharzican manages to lay his decaying claw on Bob the Cleric? Roll on the major corruption table.
With little or no modification most of the corruption results can be seamlessly utilized in all sorts of situations to add instant personality to your S&W game, and for special circumstances the results are much more interesting than another mundane 1d10 in damage.
Critical and Fumble Charts
S&W discourages piling on extra damage with a natural 20, but the charts can still be useful. Add some zip to a marquee foe by using the crit charts as part of their attack. Again, as an alternative to an extra 1d6 damage, a random roll on one of the critical chart (with a variety of charts available to match the power of the foe) can be a fun alternative for special enemies.
The fumble table is quite generic, and can be used as is to add some spice to those pesky natural ones rolled during combat.
Swords and Wizardry doesn’t emphasize the question of alignment and piety, but the DCC Deity Disapproval charts add a dynamic way to address common issues that arise for Clerics and Paladins in almost every campaign. As they say, with great power comes great responsibility, and if your holy (or unholy) party member is straying from the faith, remind them of their duty with a roll on the charts. Or perhaps the effects could be part of geas or quest laid down by some mighty power to influence a character’s actions.
The Spell Charts
Oh yes, the glory that is the DCCRPG spell charts! 175 pages of individual spell casting table goodness, each with its own listing of results, misfires, corruptions and manifestations! As I was integrating the spell charts into the Crawler’s Companion, I nearly gave the whole thing up 1/3rd of the way in, because it involved so much work converting the data over. And then it struck me that Joseph Goodman and minions had actually had to CREATE all of those tables! Amazing.
And the wonder of the tables is that everything I said about the Corruption tables can be applied to the spell tables times ten. Need some unique damage for a fire trap? Roll on the Burning Hands table. Need a really nasty fire trap? Use Fireball. The players do something truly appalling while attempting to contact the fabled Ghost King of Blarg’s Nob? Roll a corruption result for the Consult Spirit spell. The possibilities are endless.
And the tables also make wonderful ‘magic item filler’. If you want a unique, unpredictable magic wand, just use one of the spell tables as the source of its power once per day. The very fact that it isn’t anything like a normal S&W spell makes it unique and memorable, and if you add in the possibility of triggering corruption results on a natural 1, it’s self-balancing! Browsing through the huge list of spells will likely result in ideas for all sorts of distinctive artifacts you could sprinkle throughout your campaign.
There’s lots more in the rulebook I’m not covering, like tables for creating unique demons, dragons, magical swords, familiars, names and titles, but let it suffice that each in its own way can add to your ‘pool of possibilities’.
As a long-time GM I’ve slowly built up a library of cool content/charts/scraps of wisdom that I can draw from to help me quickly put together memorable adventures for my players. The DCCRPG rulebook is a wonderful addition to my toolbox, and I believe it can be for you as well.
Thanks for listening, and happy S&W’ing!
Purple Sorcerer Games