As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I've joined a regular Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game group on Thursday nights, playing via Google+ with Jason Sholtis and Will Douglas as my (regular) fellow adventurers and Shawn Sanford as our Judge. Shawn started us off with the recently-released 0-level module, Sailors of the Starless Sea, so we all generated four new characters. I elected to use the awesome online character generator over at the Purple Sorcerer Games website. This resulted in my playing a healer named Dalmas (with 8 Stamina), a merchant named Fortin (with 16 Intelligence), a hunter named Marin (with 6 Personality), and a smuggler named Talon (with 16 Luck and a +2 bonus to missile fire damage rolls). My compatriots were a similarly motley collection of misfits, the two most memorable being a disbarred elven barrister and a ditch digger named Joe.
Like the Zocchi dice, I've heard a lot of complaints about the fact that DCC RPG expects a new campaign to begin with a ridiculously large group of 0-level characters (four per player), all of whose attributes -- from ability scores to occupations to starting equipment -- are determined randomly and whose chances of surviving the "funnel" are slim. DCC RPG assumes that player characters are not born but made in the fiery crucible of their first adventure. It is expected that each player will lose one or more of their initial four characters and that it is one of the survivors (if any) who will then become the player's character thereafter.
It's an admittedly unusual approach and one in sharp contrast to the ever-increasing resilience of characters in Dungeons & Dragons over the years, but I have to say it works for me. Over the course of our sessions thus far, watching these 0-level nobodies try to win using the stacked deck placed before them has been remarkably enjoyable. Our first combat began as a decidedly Keystone Kops affair and I fully expected our little band to be slaughtered. But that's not what happened. Instead, a string of lucky rolls made several characters, including my hunter and smuggler, start to look competent and we survived without a single fatality. This emboldened us to venture further into the abandoned keep whose tower was reputed to hold forgotten wealth and whose walls might hide the answer to the riddle of why so many inhabitants of the village below were disappearing.
Our second combat didn't go as well for us; one of our number died, cloven in twain by a beastman's axe. Thanks to some well thrown flasks of oil, the rest of us managed to survive, though, simultaneously fearful of the dangers within the keep and all the more curious to take them on. As fragile as we knew we were, we made use of stealth, guile, and cowardice to proceed without endangering ourselves any more than we had to -- and it was fun. 0-level PCs have no classes. They have little money and thus little gear. We had no magic or healing at our disposal. All we had were our wits and luck to rely upon, resulting in a session that was both tense and lighthearted at the same time. Subsequent sessions have proven just as delightfully tense, including our most recent one where we lost several characters to a tentacled beast in an underground lake that initially seemed impervious to our attacks.
I'm really enjoying DCC RPG. I look forward to playing each Thursday night, which probably says as much about the Judge and my fellow players as it does about the game. But I am finding the game a great deal of fun and that's no accident. I think DCC RPG works so well for me because it's very clear about what it is and what a player can expect from it. For example, by making each player roll up four characters to start, it highlights in big red letters that this is a game where characters die. A lot. Consequently, players quickly come not only to expect random, senseless death but even enjoy it, much in the same way that I've noticed veteran Call of Cthulhu players come to expect and enjoy the inevitable insanity and/or grisly deaths of their characters.
That said, DCC RPG isn't for everyone and I can easily imagine that not every gamer will find it as enjoyable as I have come to. It's a very specific kind of game with a very specific style. If you're not into that style, you won't have any fun with the game. That's not a fault of the game nor is it a fault of the gamer and I think that it's important to realize that. Not every RPG is written for every player. As niche entertainments, I personally think RPGs would be better off if they weren't designed with the frankly implausible goal of attracting a huge audience. That's just not going to happen in 99% of the cases, so it's foolish to assume otherwise. Make the game you want to make and let it find its own audience; that's the mantra I'd prefer RPG designers followed. It won't result in many (or any) games that everyone will enjoy, but it will result in many more games that some people will enjoy, which is far preferable in my opinion.