Dungeon Crawl Cowards

One of the most fascinating things about the DCC game I’m in is that I’ve never been part of either a larger or more craven group of adventurers in all my time at the table.  My AD&D group hovers on the lines of mid-sized to large depending on who shows up (4-7), but we’ve fought our way, tooth and nail to low-middle level, tough, brazen and cocksure; “surrender or die!” is much more often “surrender and die!”  The DCC group, however, has over a dozen characters, with 1-3 per player over around 8 or 9 players (not everyone shows up all the time, but we have had HUGE groups now and then); it must be an astonishing sight to see a veritable platoon of would-be heroes cling to one another like Shaggy & Scooby and cower their way through the haunted towering ruins of west Strigostat.

I joke that we ended up with an “evil” party after our first session because of the simple luck of who survived (and we’d rolled our alignments and genders randomly), but as we’ve added more players and many more characters to those three who made it out of the meat grinder, things have gotten worse instead of better.  It’s not that these new characters are evil or bad (chaotic), it’s that the desire for self-preservation when everyone is so very weak leads to the sort of situation where everyone is struggling to hide themselves behind someone else so they’re not the one to take golem fist to the face or giant wasp stinger to the torso, resulting in a very mercenary and uncharitable character to this group of misfits with no common bond other than a criminal past and a desire for riches to be found in the abandoned quarters of the city.

If heroism is not stepping forward, but rather standing still when others step back, my 1st level thief Elyse is perhaps the most heroic of the party.  Because no one else can decide who will take point and scout ahead, it’s usually left to her.  Nevermind she has -1s to strength and con and no positive bonuses.  I probably play her smarter than her stats allow, but to make up for it, I make her have more of a weird animal cunning from living in the gutters, sewers and on the streets.  She’s selfish, but (unlike our mage, who used a level 0 character to power a spell* and left him a husk) not cruelly so and is mostly just trying to stay alive.  This could end up being a problem surrounded by thirteen or so greedy PCs who’d probably just as soon tear her apart for her scant equipment** as work with her while respecting her boundaries to solve puzzles.

Our party finally solved the puzzle of the Stone Golem, though Elyse decided to sequence-break when she became increasingly afraid for her safety; as long as she had the library card, the golems wouldn’t hurt her, but her own party was beginning to terrify her.  Rather than have the card violently taken from her, Elyse just ran up the stairs past the golems, hid in shadows (mostly from her companions) and found the books everyone was looking for.  The rest of the party eventually figured out that the golems were slow enough that they could be kited and while one person kited them, the rest of the party could make its way up to the top of the library.  By the time they made it past the golems, Elyse had already found all but one of the books and was hanging out with a creepy mage lady on the 5th floor.

So now Elyse doesn’t trust or feel safe around her fellow party members, and there are probably a few that she will murder if and when she gets the chance.  In the meantime, she will hope and pray that she will live to level 2.  She will probably also start worshipping the godling Vespia whose domain is the wasps that have overrun much of the abandoned city.  She figures that maybe if she can get on the good side of the swarms of giant wasps, she’ll be safer in the abandoned side of the city than the inhabited side where the town watch has a penchant for turning misdemeanor criminals over to snake cultists in the sewers.  She already knows she’s safer in the company of stone golems than in her own party.

I don’t know what it is about DCC that encourages everyone to behave as though they’re in some sort of survival horror.  What is more interesting was this phenomenon was not emergent in the exact same setting when we were using Lamentations of the Flame Princess; there, we would throw ourselves into the frenzy, die in a blaze of glory and have a new character rolled up in time to meet the party just around the corner.  And keep in mind I’m not saying that any of what happened was a bad thing.  It was actually rather intriguing, because I’ve never seen the levels of paranoia, backbiting and cowardice in a dungeon crawl that I’ve seen with DCC.  It could very well be the low power levels or it could just be my friend’s setting (which is creepy as hell) but everyone is perpetually terrified, and it’s abundantly clear that there’s NOT safety in numbers, only a better probability that you won’t be the one killed this time.

Tomorrow, I announce the Lineup of Cirsova Issue 1!

*:Because of DCC weirdness, spiderclimb does 1d4 damage to either the caster or a (tricked but) willing vessel.

**:When a level 0 PC died last session, a few other players descended like ants, immediately stripping him of his “valuables” consisting of maybe a dozen copper, his belt and a hammer.

3 responses to “Dungeon Crawl Cowards

  1. Hm. Makes me think of my weekly group. We don’t have uh, “planners” in any sense of the term. I tend to think of things from multiple angles, but our players tend to settle into predictable patterns of behavior and “let things happen.”

    When I’m not on the player’s side of the screen, I don’t know how to keep things moving. I think “torpid” is the word I’d use to describe the behavior. There’s no unified voice or movement, everyone goes in every direction at once.

    Those are both interesting group mentalities — gung ho! and craven. I’d like to see more variation in our group but I don’t know if that’ll happen without some stronger voices in the group, or some changes in the player lineup.


    • I think in the end it comes down to whether or not people are having fun. Player agency has a lot to do with that. Sometimes I think we may frustrate our DCC DM by taking full advantage of the sandbox he’s created (I mean, we KNOW where we’re supposed to go, but there’s so much stuff to rifle through!), but when we reach set pieces, i think we make up for it by not burning through his content quicker than he can create it. But, yeah, player agency… Our actions (or inactions) impact the pace of the game to where we know that we can advance the story at our leisure. What’s frustrating is when you as a player are either hurried forward by the DM or when you as a player aren’t able to move the story forward until the DM is good and ready.

      It also might just be that I’m a crazy planner when it comes to certain characters/classes, but I’m always looking to the future and how my actions now can shape my character’s development (even if I never get to that point). It’s how Elyse was able to ‘sequence break’, because I thought to steal a library card. She’s also planning for the day in the distant future which she may learn how to use magic (level 9? It’s so far away!). The sign of a good DM is one that is able to accommodate that sort of planning (even if it’s just on the fly), because it definitely keeps the player invested in the character, setting and the game/group.

      As for whether we’ll go from craven to gung-ho, I think that once we’re all down to one character per player, the tone might shift. As much as I love DCC’s funnel process, I think that it works best to be done once and only once in the game and new players should be given level 1 characters instead of multiple level 0 characters (even if they start at an XP deficit to make it ‘fair’). On the other hand, having level 1 characters surrounded by cannon-fodder has made for an interesting dynamic. I just don’t know if it will be a healthy dynamic for more than a couple of sessions.

  2. Pingback: Blog Watch: The Power of War Games, Cheating GM’s, Radioactive Ruins, and Ascending Celebrity | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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