Dungeon Crawl Classics is a brutal, meticulous, whip-smart, cross-grained, purposefully derivative and sublimely innovative achievement in fantasy rpgs. It is the Dwarf Fortress of fantasy tabletop game: it makes Losing Fun. I don't think it's the only fantasy rpg I'll ever need, but it is now, and may it forever be, the Heart of every rpg I ever Judge again.
Fear no rule. I know you will homebrew this game...such is as it should be...
Make your world mysterious by making it small...when a five mile journey becomes an adventure, you'll have succeeded in bringing life to your world...
If a magic item can be sold or bought for 5,000 gold pieces, where does the seller dispose of that kind of coinage? What local government is even minting such vast amounts of currency?..
[DCC] is not an attempt to model an experience related to D&D but rather an attempt to model an experience that predated D&D... step back one era further... beyond the confines of genre assumptions... [emphasis mine]
Always describe a monster using physical characteristics. Let players learn the capabilities and characteristics of monsters through experience... they should name them, not you.
A key element of player experience in [DCC] is a sense of wonderment... that was so easy to achieve when we were children who did not know all the rules...
Then there's the Weird Dice you just ordered, sitting on your kitchen table. Lumpy, futuristic d5 and d7, novelty-size d30, etc. You don't quite know what they're for. They're anachronistic; or they would be if you'd ever seen them before... just like the first time you ever played D&D. When you were a child and did not know all the rules.
DCC's stated aim (and it succeeds) is to replicate your very first experience of a fantasy roleplaying game. Then your second. Then your first campaign. Think about that for a second. Think about how much fun that was.
Remember learning to bring a thief next time? Remember learning what 'parley' meant? Remember learning to pit two hostile factions against one another? Remember learning these things by dying many, many times? DCC's got you covered, son! Holy crap will you die. Your characters will be written on index cards so as not to waste paper, scattered all around the table, dead PCs or raw recruits mustered to the wholesale slaughter of your evening's adventure. You will die and die, until you (re)learn to actually value your player's life, (or at least the one with OK stats) until you (re)learn the one thing this system respects: Creativity. This is as it should be.
The mechanics of the game and it's signature insistence on random tables for damn near everything are thoroughly covered in other reviews, so I'll skip describing them here, save to say they play fast and they ensure the sense of surprise and unpredictability that is baked into every part of this system. Ditto the generous amount of artwork that graces the book's pages.
The low-volume sexism I could do without. Describing difficulty check 10 as "a Man's Work", drawings of women entering combat in swimsuits is something that I'd prefer not to have to hide from women in my group so I don't have to watch their enthusiasm for this game wilt. I don't want to have to watch anyone I play with realize this game wasn't meant for them, it's too good a game, it should be inclusive on principle. Carrying the spirit of 1974 fantasy adventuring forward doesn't necessitate carrying the exclusivity of 1974 fantasy adventuring forward, and I prefer re-experiencing my first RPG than re-experiencing my first stirrings of puberty upon seeing a Frank Frazetta cover on a Conan story collection. Nothing wrong with cheesecake, but that's not why I'm here, and neither's my group, and jumping into medieval combat in a bikini is dumb and unworthy of a game that finds excessive medieval coinage unrealistic.
The two DCC modules I own (both written by DCC rockstar Harley Stroh) are fantastic: scary, mean, and full of surprises. They're so good at what they do that I have little to no inclination to come up with my own adventures. Smart move on Goodman's part. Another delightful thing about these modules is that they encourage player handouts, as do the excessive tables from the core book that spellcasters and clerics are obliged to use. Black and white handouts just ooze that graph paper and constantly snapping mechanical pencil feel. They help
I just want to add a little bit to the comment I made about using DCC RPG as the Heart of my fantasy gaming from here on out. I have added D&D style Wisdom ability scores to split DCC's Personality ability in two parts I find best separated. I'm using D&D's peerless 5e Monster Manual. I used the free Dungeon World supplement Funnel World (available on this website) to add player bonds, consensus about the area, and local color before shoving 15 PCs into Stroh's 0-level adventure Sailors on the Starless Sea (the guard tower in particular is memorably horrifying).
So other systems I know do things better, but nothing I know of gets the spirit of fantasy RPGing righter than DCC RPG, or can make it feel fresher or more alive. For me, it's a kick in the pants, gasoline on the fire, and a call to arms to carry forward the spirit of all that is best about the practice of tabletop fantasy gaming.
In the time it took you to read this, you could've bought it already and be googling 'Zocchi Dice'.
[4 of 5 Stars!]