However, as we sat at the table leveling up to 1st level, choosing a class for the surviving characters and rolling new hit dice, I asked myself the question, "Is the Dungeon Crawl Classics funnel system any different from what we do normally?" Or is it a knee jerk reaction to the level creep that has existed since Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was released? I mean who would want to play a mere Fighter when the superior 'sub-classes' Ranger and Paladin are on offer?
|Henchman = Meatshield|
My early days of D&D in the 80's often involved large groups of players to begin with. The first character I played was a hobbit, at primary school, with around twenty classmates. Later on, the library sessions at high school often had a dozen kids at the table. I recall the game where everyone died except Claris the Cleric. We were travelling down a dungeon corridor and opened a door to discover a solitary Orc. One by one our characters fell, slain by the Orc who held the doorway. Claris was at the tail end of the party with his trusty mace. Victory (and a costly lesson in tactics), was ours! Alex wrote down the experience points on his character sheet while the rest of us rolled up new characters.
|Normal Humans = DCC Zero Level Characters|
Those early games were run using the early D&D rules. Not Advanced Dungeons & Dragons but the Mentzer boxed sets that came out in the early eighties. Our DM had the earlier (Whitebox and Moldvay) sets and hallowed AD&D rules, which we would soon progress to anyway.
The Moldvay Basic Set (page 40) told us that any Normal Human gaining Experience Points via adventuring must choose a character class. Normal Humans were listed in the monster section of the rules and were non-player characters run by the Dungeon Master. The player action began at 1st level. Unless you were playing in that quirky AD&D module that began with a shipwreck: Treasure Hunt.
The only other time I played a zero level character before Dungeon Crawl Classics was as a Cavalier (AD&D). It needs to be said that despite the continued (and massive) level creep inherent in the Unearthed Arcana character classes, like the (incredibly overpowered) Barbarian and Cavalier, the later had some really cool ideas; like a percentile mechanic for increasing attributes each level.
The Cavalier also had not one but two 'zero' levels (Horseman and Lancer) before reaching 1st level (Gallant). Of course a zero level Cavalier is not a Normal Human! They begin with the trappings of wealth and privilege. A far cry from the pitiful yet lovable characters we played in the funnel adventure. A Cavalier in our party would have stood out like proverbial dog's balls. In the spirit of DCC, we would have jumped him (while he slept) and dolled out his equipment to our jeweler, cheesemaker, forester, gambler, trapper, herbalist, sage, merchant, locksmith, cobbler, farmer and jester!
|Sailors of the Starless Sea|
Lucky Brolt the Gambling Man - Thief 1st Lvl
Herbie Sweetleaf the Herbalist - Cleric 1st Lvl
Megan Fox the Elven Sage - Elf 1st Lvl
Honesty Jones the Merchant - Fighter 1st Lvl
Chuu Murcot the Cobbler - Fighter 1st Lvl
I am comparing DCC to D&D and not the other (numerous and varied) RPG's I have played because this is House Rules D&D with the roof set on fire. The zero level funnel is a gimmick and one that works. Why? It's in the spirit of the game. It really is no different to the attrition rate suffered in the first few levels of any D&D game. The first time I ran 3rd Edition D&D, the players lost half their characters in an ambush they set for a Troll. Their characters were tough and the traps they set were effective but they clearly underestimated the 3rd Edition Troll's new special abilities. Grievous the barbarian was torn in half!
In the immortal words of an INXS song, "Sometimes you kick, sometimes you get kicked," It's a learning experience.