Dungeon Crawl Classic Campaigns

DCC RPG Limited Edition CoverI have seen various comments and questions about campaign play in Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. DCC takes its inspiration from Appendix N books and stories. And really, a lot of the Appendix N stories originate from short stories written for fantasy periodicals of the era. Short stories lend themselves to minimal periods of travel and whisking the reader from point of adventure to point of adventure. And sometimes there are unknown gaps of time between stories that are not connected in any one way.

Appendix N Foundation

For example, Conan stories cover very little travel. Conan is just in the country or situation the story merits. The action moves quickly and he is quickly embroiled in the core elements of the story with just enough setup to get the reader up to speed. In addition, going from one story to the next the reader is left not knowing what events have transpired between each story. This works very well for stories that used to appear in magazines over the course of several months.

Another component I have noted with Appendix N literature is that even when the book is a novel, things move quickly. In one 200 page book one can be taken from arriving at a new city, journeying off across the sea, getting stranded on an island with a gigantic creature, to getting rescued to learning more about the first city, to a daring raid on that city. All in 200 pages. Appendix N stories move fast, very fast. More major events can happen in one book than happen in some trilogies.

DCC Adventures

Back in the land of Dungeon Crawl Classics. A lot of the adventures that have been released are also self-contained (for the most part) adventures that setup the plot, and get the characters into it quickly. Compared to the favoring of Adventure Paths that are popular today, that seems a bit unusual to players and judges who have not formed their roots on joining disparate adventures or their own crafted adventures together to for longer running campaigns.

The nature of many of the DCC adventures seems to lead a lot of people to being curious about how DCC works for a longer based campaign. We’ve all heard the roaring success of DCC in a one-shot – either at cons or perhaps as a break for established gaming groups. But just how does a campaign work in DCC?

My Experience

I have been running a DCC RPG campaign online for well over a year now. Same core group of players and a continuing campaign. I have run almost exclusively published adventures. We have a mix of levels in the campaign now, 5th level being the highest and we had some hirelings level up to 1st level (I think one of the characters is amassing an army for an as of yet undisclosed reason).

I started with Purple Sorcerer’s The Perils of the Sunken City to kick the campaign off. It gave me a city to work with if the campaign stuck and a unique way to include a variety of adventures that might not otherwise fit together (for those unaware, the Sunken City has an interesting mechanism to facilitate quick and sometimes random travel).

Since then we’ve explored more portions of the Sunken City, the Great City proper, mountains off to the east and northeast and into the sea waters west of the city. I have not really had a specific path in mind, I’ve been letting the characters sort of take me where they want to go. Then I try to work in a lead-in to certain modules or look for modules that sort of fit what the group is up to at the moment. It seems to have worked out pretty well for us so far.

From my time judging I think the key thing to keep in mind going into it is – expect the unexpected. Trying to plot out a lengthy campaign arc all ahead of time is quite difficult in DCC. There is just so much randomness built into the system that trying to predict what your game will look like in three months is an exercise in futility. Embrace that and you are ready to run a DCC RPG campaign.

Spell corruptions, vengeful patrons, curses, and other afflictions all start influencing the characters from day one of the campaign. Even players that thought they knew how they wanted to see their character progress are thrown loops from the randomness of these events.

Bend your game to fit these random events and you will find yourself able to piece together a successful DCC campaign. Just don’t expect to go into it with the Adventure Path mentality (not meant in the negative, I’ve run and played in  my share of adventure paths!) and think you have the next 12 months of gaming figured out. You don’t.

By trying to remain flexible, saying yes to the character’s ideas, and molding the hooks for published adventures to the current state of the game it does not take much to weave a campaign together. Just some duct tape and baling wire!

12 thoughts on “Dungeon Crawl Classic Campaigns

  1. I’ve never felt railroaded into one of your adventures. We seem to start many new adventures after downtime in the Great City. Reminds me a lot of Fafrd and the Gray Mouse, with many tales starting out how they’ve wasted all their loot in Lankhmar and set off on some new foolish adventure.

    We totally chickened out on the Sea Queen rescue and you got us right into something else with us feeling like we chose our destiny!

    My Dungeonslayers campaign runs in a similar vein. The characters can walk anywhere in Caera that they wish, and I try to keep about 5 adventures in the chute, should they take one of my baits. They’ve sometimes gone a COMPLETELY different way than I personally want them to, but it works out. Although virtual gaming on the fly can be more difficult, especially if you like nice battlemaps!.

    • I am particularly glad to hear you say that! I always wonder if the group feels like they have options or if I am steering folks too heavily in one direction or the other.

      I like to keep options open for the group. But prepping for five like you do seems overwhelming, not sure I am quite up to that level yet!

      Yeah – I tend to have a couple of maps loaded in Roll20, but easier to do with just a few options than a full 5 of them! Sometimes use the drawing tool to do a rough map if it is mid-session and the party zigs when I thought they were going to zag.

      • Prepping for DS is much different than DCC! Also, unless I’m really inspired, I prep about a third in detail and the rest is bullet points, since our sessions are 2 hours. When the bait gets taken, that’s when I flesh it all out.

        • Bullet points are good.

          Last night’s session spent a good 45 minutes of it playing through something I sketched out on 2 index cards shortly before the game and it seemed to go pretty well!

  2. I think the most difficult thing for me to wrap my head around with regards to DCC campaign play and Appendix N is DCC’s propensity for character death. I think the threat of death is a great motivator in RPGs, especially those with an “exploration of the unknown” feel like DCC. However, it flies in the face of Appendix N – we never REALLY worry that Grey Mouser is going to die. What I’ve seen playing in our campaign is that many players remain detached from their characters because they believe they’re likely to die. DCC provides a good set of mechanics to deal with this in patrons and the “beyond the gates of death” concept. In the next DCC campaign I GM, I’m going to make liberal use of these structures to “reward” successful and well-developed characters with not dying. The players won’t know this of course, because I’ll hide it in the narrative. And, they might wish they had rather than undertake the quests bestowed upon them by the gods who intervene in their fate!

    • Once my characters made it past 1st level the character resiliency really seemed to improve. Between the bleeding out rules and recovering the body we see fewer character deaths than we used to.

      At 3rd level a prominent character was killed (by a rat of all things!). The player was pretty attached. Ended up running an adventure that allowed the dead character from the realm of death. So we were able to work the rescue into the campaign.

      We still have close calls and it is still pretty gritty (we’re sitting around 4th and 5th level at the moment), but the game isn’t quite the death fest it used to be in those earlier levels.

  3. Thanks, Jeffrey. I emailed the Spellburn podcast with pretty much this exact same question. Now you can just point listeners here!

  4. Thanks for the blog post… This has been my experience too. I’ve been running a weekly game for the last 3 months on google hangouts and I’ve had to let go of a number of preconceived campaign ideas. While I personally prefer an strong narrative story arc, I think the game shines when presented as a set of loosely connected story vignettes. In any case, I’m taking your advice “expect the unexpected…bend your game to fit these random events”.


    • In many ways I think the unexpected has done as much to keep me entertained as anything!

      When I ran an adventure path I felt like it was a lot of work to keep folks somewhere near the main storyline and I always sort of knew where the story was going to go. With my DCC campaign the players surprise me more often and we end up on interesting tangents that feel more organic over the course of the campaign.

  5. Pingback: Episode 14: Mailbag of Holding | Spellburn

  6. Just bought the DCC rule book. I really like what I have read so far, which is most of the rules. I’m in GM section now. Also listening to the actual play podcast here to see how things go. Going to tune into Spellburn as well.

    Glad I came across this. Good to know info.

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