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Dungeon Crawl Classics for Christmas

Bradley family around the game table

Here’s my game report for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG game I ran as a gift to my family at Christmas 2019.

What: My extended family was all gathering for Christmas. I have 2 teen nieces and 1 teen nephew and none of my family except 1 niece has ever played an RPG before, I decided my gift to them would be to run a Dungeon Crawl Classics funnel. After a lot of back-and-forth, I finally settled on Portal Under the Stars.

Why: The home we rented is high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, where there’s no phone service or internet. So the teens would be unwired for the first time in their lives, and we knew they would need some entertainment.

When: It ended up taking 3 separate sessions on 3 different days, due to short attention spans, newness to RPGs, and breaks for other Christmas and family activities.

How: I took the PDF of the map from the adventure in the rule book and had Staples print it on 36″ by 48″ paper. It was huge and took up the whole table, but was a good way to help people who had no experience with Theater of the Mind. The map cost about $72.

Who: Two nieces (17, 14), one nephew (15), my brother (43), my sister-in-law (43), and my mother (71). My girlfriend opted out in order to “keep some mystery in our relationship”. One younger niece is too young to sit still for that long, and my father refuses to wear his hearing aids so there’s no way he could keep up with the action. The oldest niece plays D&D 5 with her friends in high school, so knew sort of what to expect, but later commented about how much more difficult this game was.

The recap

I handed out a page of 4 zeroes at random to each player. After walking them through how to read a character sheet and answering some basic questions, I told them to name each character and choose one to be the leader of their group of 4. Then, with only a very basic intro into dice mechanics, we dove right in. Out of 6 players, 3 of them went through all their zeros before the end, leaving only 3 with survivors. Like I said, it took us 3 sessions to finish.

Some amusing things I learned

I told the players to be creative about how they use their possessions, hoping they’d get the idea of send the mule, duck, and pony ahead into rooms before them to trigger the traps. But instead they did things like “OK, what happens if I put my chalk in the empty chest? OK, what happens if I stand on the chest now?”

I encouraged them to use their Luck, which they mostly did. And that’s the only way they were able to defeat the warlord at the end, as is probably typical.

Some were disappointed that they didn’t get to use all the Lucky Sign stuff, like the note that said you get a bonus on healing checks – “well doesn’t that imply I can heal people after they die?” And the older niece wanted to be a spell caster since she gets to do that in her D&D game. The idea of playing an average farmer in a dungeon was pretty strange for her.

They split the party into 3 groups, and even when I said the key to “winning” the game is to not split up, they kept splitting up. Experienced gamers never do that, at least not usually. It made it really hard to keep the story going, but was also a practicality given that there were 24 characters at the start. I think if I could do it all over, I’d just give them each a single 1st level character instead of 4 zeros.

There was clapping at the end, but the players immediately scattered, tired out from thinking and sitting, I think. However, one by one they came to me later and asked, “What’s the right way to get through this adventure without dying?” So they were still thinking about it a day later! I ended up giving away a few clues after the fact – spoilers I won’t repeat here.

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