Friday, June 7, 2013

DCC RPG: Why the Character Funnel's been bugging me...


I AM YOUR NIGHTMARE AND FONDEST DESIRE!

Okay, so, I've been reading the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, and thinking about it, and probably dreaming about it, and something seemed off to me. I couldn't figure out what. Then, it hit me: The game is so literally and obviously lovingly culled from the Appendix N source literature---I mean, those spell descriptions alone are enough to bring tears of sorcerous joy to your eyes, right?
 
BUT, the WHOLE IDEA OF THE CHARACTER FUNNEL, while enjoyable from an old-schoolish develop-your-character-as-you-go perspecitve, COMPLETELY VIOLATES THE SPIRIT OF APPENDIX N. None of that source literature, NONE, starts off with the protagonists as, you know, sheepherders or whatever. They all start splat in the middle of their careers (and then jump all over the place, but that's not important here.)
 
I guess as close as I can suss it, maybe a justification would be that the character funnel, in connection to Appendix N, is, tongue-in-cheek, attempting to show just where all those protags came from. I SUPPOSE it's possible that Conan worked as a blacksmith with his father before storming the walls of Valerium. Maybe.
 
I mean, I can't imagine how playing through the character funnel can be anything but slapstick (I'm willing to be corrected), which Appendix N, even though displaying humor at times, is NEVER slapstick; it's anti-genre.
 
I wouldn't necessarily jettison it from the game, but even its declared purpose is to help get you in the mind-set of developing a serial-style character background, where it grows organically from the needs of the moment, but in our group we already do that. So.
 
At most I'd rule one run as zero-level characters (which is a stated option in the rules). Whoever survives moves on to 1st level.
 
DO I LOOK LIKE I EVER HERDED SHEEP??
 

10 comments:

  1. It didn't feel like slapstick when I tried it, but it did feel a bit disjointed, mostly because of the ratio of characters to players (it was hard to remember all the characters involved in encounters). I also felt that it tended (slightly) toward roll four, pick best.

    Personally, I prefer my OD&D house rule, which is to greatly encourage the use of retainers (by making first level PCs all come with zero level retainers "for free" to begin with, and also simple training rules so that the retaines can gain levels). The retainers are available to be promoted to PCs upon PC death (and since the retainer likely has some XP, it also helps soften the "starting over" aspect without actually giving anything away by fiat).

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    1. Yeah, that's part of it, too---I guess I don't even so much mind "0-level" characters, but sooooo many of them...

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    2. I played and then, to another group, refereed Sailors on the Starless Sea (it includes some nice ideas but is waaaay too verbose for me); it all came down to me, both times, as playing OD&D 1st level characters, only more of them. What I'm trying to say is that it added absolutely nothing to the game.

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  2. Both The Hobbit and LoTR belong to the Appendix N but all the midgets were just country folks.

    Anyway I agree that starting with 20 commoners altogether is pretty weird.

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    1. That's definetly true, though I've since read that they were added more as an afterthought, and that Gary really wasn't a fan.

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  3. I've been reading the book since you posted this. I've played through the character funnel, and it's pure old school goodness. But it doesn't seem to lead to the heroic Conan-style adventures of Appendix N (as you say).

    The game seems to be coming from two different directions: There's the low level, character funnel, you're gonna die mood of the initial stuff (along with the notes on how rare higher level characters are going to be, etc.) Add to this the notes on how most people have never gone more than 5 miles from their homes, etc.

    Now look at the other end of things. You have Powers, who are sometimes willing to act as Patrons for the characters. They grant abilities but exact terrible prices. Undoubtedly they fight terrible internecine battles among themselves, albeit by proxy (again, characters).

    To me, it looks like an hourglass. At the top, an immeasurably broad canvas for universe building, powers and planes and demons, oh my. At the bottom, you have the broad dull herd of humanity, which the player characters hope to rise above. Fewer and fewer do as you rise up.

    Where the these meet is the pinch point, that only allows a bit of sand (or a few characters) to go through. This part is the game. This part IS Appendix N.

    But the question is, how long will it take to get there?


    Anyway, that's my two coppers on it.

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    1. Whoa. That's a pretty awesome analysis! "This part is the game. This part IS Appendix N." Absolutely agreed.

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    2. AND, I haven't yet stumbled across any play reports focused on anything BUT the character funnel experience. I mean, they may be out there, but I haven't seen them...

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  4. I agree with you that DCC feels disjointed. Like they were halfway through development and just printed what they had. Another example is how they talk about making all monsters unique and then just list page after page of generic D&D monsters (that they just told you not to use!) including joke monsters.

    I like the funnel though, just ran one last weekend. I don't particularly care about Appendix N. It's just a list of books Gary liked.

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    1. Also good points, though to me if feels not so much "unfinished" as suffering from a confusion of focus.

      The Appendix N connection is a draw for me--I've read a lot of that literature over the years, and I do believe it's at the core of D&D's inspiration. I also think, and this is rare, that the art direction is dead-on. The only other game I can think of off the top of my head where the art is so perfectly integrated is Amazing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. The art creates the atmosphere they seem (mostly) to be aiming for, both in the rulebook itself and in the adventures.

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