Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Dungeon Crawl Classics: The Setting Search

I like the Hubris setting, even though this is more of a non-setting book. This is more like an idea book than a setting, a bunch of grimdark science fantasy, retro-cool, twisted evil, carnival of the grotesque setting than something resembling a traditional setting book. The map doesn't even have a scale (or one I can find). This is more like an homage to heavy-metal fantasy worlds, with many gonzo-crazy descriptions and crazy locations.

DCC has this incredible range of genres, from 1970s neon-felt poster fantasy art you buy from a van in a parking lot to Manowar/Megadeath/Iron Maiden album cover epic-rock fantasy to traditional AD&D-style fantasy. This setting falls in the middle of that scale, which is fantastic.

Nothing in this world is ordinary, run-of-the-mill, pseudo-modern Renaissance, Ren-Faire fantasy. Nor is it the generic, inoffensive D&D fantasy-pop style. In today's over-sensitive age, we have come full circle, and 5E has fallen back to AD&D 2nd edition censorship. I expect demons, devils, and the concept of Hell to be removed from the game because it too closely adheres to a Christian worldview and triggers people offended by religious concepts.

5E already pulled the succubus and incubus out of the demon section of the monster manual, so what are they, well-dressed, flirty tieflings? Sounds like the average bard character to me.

6E demons and devils will likely be replaced by those generic 'meat face' evil magic aliens we see all the time in Hollywood movies and be renamed strange names like they were in 2nd edition: Baatezu, Tanar'ri, Yugoloths, and Gehreleths.

And my spell checker will hate them all. Back in the 1990s, those at TSR figured nobody would get offended if Christian parent groups could not spell the new names for demons. To be fair, DCC does not lean too heavily into the adult or demonic tropes, so they are BYO on those topics - which I suspect many groups do since the door is open.

So, the DCC setting?

Why I feel a little nebulous about picking a setting for DCC is I have a specific tone I want to capture. There is a ton of this classic-adventure art in the DCC book, where average, gritty, and sometimes goofy fantasy adventurer party art is in peril from everything and anything in random dungeon environments. I like that classic AD&D-style vibe.

And what got me thinking is the above book, which translates the standard B/X monsters into DCC. Many of these monsters feel different than B/X monsters, too, and are way more powerful and deadly in a DCC environment. Fire beetles are very deadly here, and that sounds like incredible fun.

The DCC book contradicts the entire concept of this bestiary by emphasizing we should seek out the unknown, unseen, and new things. Our adventures should be full of monsters and treasures we have never encountered before to bring back that 'for the first time' feeling back in the original AD&D days.

But these monsters are crazy, gonzo, and deadly versions of the B/X standards. Some of these make B/X monsters look boring and plain. I haven't seen monsters like this for DCC; they opened my eyes to many possibilities. Part of the charm of DCC is 'the fantasy world going sideways' like the pictures in the art of every day fantasy adventurers getting into all sorts of silly, tongue-in-cheek dungeon fun.

I could play Keep on the Borderlands with this set of monsters using DCC and start the adventure with the orcs showing up, banging on the front door of the keep, surrendering, and telling the town they are afraid of what the bugbears summoned at the Caves of Chaos and they need protection.


Classic modules are completely hosed and going sideways.

DCC, the magic, and the entire 1970s vibe of that world are taking over. Magic does not work like it should. The times are changing. Even the monsters know it. Every one of them is allowed to change alignment. An evil gold dragon who wants all the gold in the world? Why not? The intelligent fire beetles who speak an alien insectoid sonic buzz and barter for fungus? Do it.

Everyone in the world knows the world is changing.

Even the monsters and the traditional evil forces.

No one knows what to do, and the old ways are dying.

The old way of life, alliances, and allegiances are dead.

The demi-lich in the Tomb of Horrors becomes a patron and asks for help expanding his looted and completely solved dungeon? Is the spaceship in the S3 Barrier Peaks module becoming a kingdom of robots? Playing the Isle of Dread, helping the natives fight off greedy adventurers, riding dinosaurs, and saving the island? Why not? The drow elves destroy the spider goddess and turn to the light? Are giants being hunted by alien spaceships, harvested for meat, and asking for help? A kingdom with a benevolent aboleth as king?

The world can slowly morph into that gonzo, grimdark, strange, almost alien setting - but the possibilities for screwing up the classic modules and showing 'how this madness started' almost seems like too much fun for me. The DCC book also plays on this 'twisted fairy tale' trope in its silly art, so there is precedent.

It also seems like a tearing up of the D&D mythos and a way for me to finally put it to bed in my mind and move on. The old D&D mythos and monster tropes hold us back and prevent our imaginations from taking flight. In that way, Goodman Games is right, saying the old ways limit our experiences and hold us back.

But for some of us, it is therapeutic to rip it all up to start again. Part of art involves willingly destroying something, from a blank canvas to breaking a crayon in half as a broader brush. Recasting the old monsters in new roles and tearing the myth of D&D's cosmology and tired monster ecosystem feels terrific. Yes, create new things. But let me tear down the past first.

And it does make me question OSR games endlessly replicating the past. I can almost recite the standardized B/X monster progression in my sleep like this was some 8-bit RPG I played on the Nintendo. Giant rats, goblins, orcs, gnolls, bugbears, etc., etc., dragons, demons, planar creatures...

It is 2023, and it is tired.

It may be time to destroy it all and start something new.

No comments:

Post a Comment