Jan 7, 2018

Posted in Featured, Podcast | 4 Comments

Episode 62: Invoke Steve Bean!

What IS Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG?  Is it just a beautifully made OSR game with superior standards of art and more prodigious production of random tables?  Or is it MORE than a retroclone, and if so, how does it differ from the games that hue closer to the traditional elements of the world’s most popular roleplaying game (older edition)?  When we talk about OSR Games or retroclones, WHAT’S fundamentally new and different about DCC?  How is it that DCC is perhaps one of the most different RPGs of the OSR, and yet is constantly said to rekindle the original spirit and nostalgia of so many oldschoolers?

We’re going to go deep into RPG theory and DCC with Steve Bean– all this and more on this week’s episode of Spellburn!


Adventures mentioned in this episode:

World-Quest of the Winter Calendar
Null Singularity
Intrigue at the Court of Chaos (2nd printing)
Blades Against Death
Shadow Under Devil’s Reef
The One Who Watches from Below

Links mentioned in this episode:

Steve Bean profile on Goodman Games site
Steve Bean Games
DCC Lankhmar!
Hollow Point RPG
Gongfarmer’s Almanac 2016


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  1. Here’s my problem with Appendix N or any other kind of emulation in RPGs, be it thematic or otherwise:

    First of all, the act and experience of reading is significantly different from that of writing.

    Correspondingly, the act of GMing is significantly different from that of writing.

    You experience a narrative you love when you read a certain kind of book. You wish to further this experience. You write. You take the elements of it you love and expand and expound upon them, adding your own twists. If you aren’t a super-talented writer, you begin to realize that, wow, I am no Michael Moorcock, no Fritz Leiber, etc., and that the enjoyment and act of writing is significantly different than the enjoyment and act of reading. Emulation can be fun and successful to varying degrees, but I have found that writing is about some things other than just emulation of what you love to read.

    Lets say, though, that you are somewhat successful here. You are able to create a narrative, a framework of an adventure that carries forth the theme and experience of your beloved authors/texts.

    Now you interact with your players…

    And you find yourself on the express train to turdville. Your beautiful narrative is screwed.

    Players *always* take things in unexpected directions. In order to have a thematically consistent and coherent game, every player must be on the same page. Not every player is likely to be on the same page, not by a long shot. And even if the majority of your players are in the same ballpark, they are going to focus on and want different things from the very same authors and texts, because a person’s relationship to a text is intensely intimate and personal.

    You have a serious, dismal, dangerous, and mysterious atmosphere that you take great pains to build with your presentation… you say all the right words with the right cadence, tone, and timbre… your gestures and facial expressions carry gravitas… and for a moment, you have your players hypnotized, captured by the mood you’re conveying…

    And then it comes time for a player to do something.

    And a player says his character does something. And that something totally breaks the mood. He’s not trying to be a dick. Something you said just struck him as kinda funny, and it’s in character… but his chosen character action totally breaks the mood. This happens over and over and over. This is a typical RPG session.

    Maintaining a consistent mood is railroading. A GM does not and probably should not have the kind of control to carry out anything resembling a genuine Lankhmaresque, for instance, adventure.

    You can provide for your players any kind of Appendix N setting, and you can do it with impeccability… but that in no way guarantees that the adventure will be anything resembling an Appendix N narrative.

    This is a big problem. A lot of people claim that DCC and DCC adventures create the Appendix N experience, but I don’t think it does. I don’t think anything, reliably, can. In order for that to happen, everyone must be in agreement on the mood and all player choices must be consistent with that mood. I think many players would find that too restrictive, and players generally don’t go to games to co-create an Appendix N experience. They do it for other reasons.

    A lot of DCC adventures may *read* like an Appendix N narrative outline, but the actual experience of running a game with those adventures… well… it’s more like a madhouse… even with a group that isn’t comprised of murder-hobos filled with a lust for game breaking.

    • I’m not clear on how you’re relating your concept of “emulation” to the GNS framework discussed in the podcast but I think it’s an interesting concept and would like to know more about why you think DCC is trying to emulate Appendix N. My take is that DCC products sometimes try to recreate one or more elements of Appendix N – across what’s a VERY broad collection of literature – in various ways, ususally narratively, mechanically or a combination of the two. The importance difference there for me is that I don’t think the products ever claim to “make people feel the way they feel reading Appendix N.” Instead, the attempt to capture elements is pretty specific and limited, for example in the narrative and game mechanics devices of Patrons or spellburn. The limited scope of the attempts to create these elements means, IMO, that DCC is neither attempting to emulate or simulate Appendix N. It’s akin to the elements of the original D&D game that were Tolkienesque, but D&D did not try to emulate or simulate Tolkien – it borrowed liberally from other sources like Leiber, English faerie lore and traditional myths. Likewise DCC products incorporate elements from and is influenced by non-Appendix N material.

    • Julian Bernick says:

      Stephen, I’ve been thinking about similar stuff during my current Ravenloft campaign which I’ve geared toward “horror-adventure” and it’s going OK, but it’s not necessarily the Hammer-creeptastic thing I wanted in every session. But, you kind of nailed it in your last post: “but the actual experience of running a game with those adventures… well… it’s more like a madhouse…”

      Yes– if we expect our players to play their parts via script, then we playwrights and directors will always be disappointed! Rather, the players are given roles, a stage, and NO script! So if we come at it expecting a play or a novel, we will always be disappointed.

      It’s more like a modern-ish 20th century poem, which presents a lot of things to readers and lets them do whatever they want with it. (See John Ashberry, I guess.) OR perhaps more like an improv session, where the director only moves the scenes along, but the actors are still providing most of the content.

      This is why I’m fascinated by Tegel Manor and Carcosa which provide very little context for the GM to work with– the GM has to improv almost as much as the players. And why not? Maybe this is a clearer way of setting expectations and generating mayhem. There are no elaborate plots to up-end.

  2. Big Troy Tucker says:

    Love this show! Keep up the interesting topics!