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Zine roundup: Crawling Under a Broken Moon, issues 1-12

Crawling Under a Broken Moon (also available on DriveThruRPG) is a DCC RPG zine absolutely packed with gonzo post-apocalyptic goodness. Designed, published, and frequently written and illustrated by Reid San Filippo (with other collaborators, depending on the issue), it wears its love of Thundarr the Barbarian (and other iconic ’80s media) on its sleeve, and it’s rawlished and marvelous.

(Update: There’s now a full setting sourcebook for Umerica, The Umerican Survival Guide.)

I’ve never seen Thundarr[1], but it’s clear Reid loves it — and, based on CUaBM, it’s one hell of a good fit for DCC. Here’s a snippet from the intro to issue 1, which describes CUaBM’s setting, Umerica:

Welcome to the twisted hills and boiling plains of Umerica, a post apocalyptic version of the Americas centuries after a cosmic event changed the very rules of reality. Now the land is full of powerful sorcery, alien super science, and strange mutants.

I’d initially heard that CUaBM was “post-apocalyptic DCC” and decided not to pick it up because that didn’t sound like something I needed, but I kept circling back to it — and I’m glad I did. “Post-apocalyptic fantasy” puts the dial in a fun place, and CUaBM is great. I spotted lots of stuff in these issues that I could drop right into my non-post apocalyptic DCC campaign, too.

So many great covers

CUaBM’s appeal starts with the covers. Here are my two favorites, no. 8’s piece by Nate Marcel, and no. 12’s cover by Claytonian JP and Matt Hildebrand:

If “cannibal Ronald McDonald” sounds like something you’d love to sic on your DCC players, then CUaBM will be right up your Happy Meal.

The highlight of each issue

So what’s inside? Here’s my favorite thing from each of the first 12 issues:

  • Issue 1: I love the Technologist class, which is kind of like a “science thief.” Its class abilities all involve tinkering with and reprogramming found tech, from robots to vehicles — with lots of tables. The d16 failure tables are a hoot, but the best stuff is on the table for alien devices. For example, on a 1-3, “An alien intelligence gets downloaded into the Technologist’s mind. When they sleep, the intelligence takes over the body and goes about its unfathomable business.” I’d play one just for the chance that might happen!
  • Issue 2: “Interesting Places to Die” is a dungeon (SPOILERS), the Floating Tower of the Cyberhive. Situated in a crater, it hovers over a lake of boiling mud, and inside are zombie monks, a dangerous power chamber with golden spikes to steal, and a lab where robo-liches are made. Plus, the whole place is an AI-controlled extradimensional space.
  • Issue 3: This is the issue where it becomes clear that CUaBM is building the setting of Umerica one zine at a time, because this one has character creation rules for 0-level Umericans, plus a funnel: “The Mall Maul.” The cleverest thing about this funnel is that its completion is resource-based: To level, the scrubs have to recover X amount of stuff. And if they do, they may not have gotten all of the available stuff, a nice open-ended challenge if they want to venture back into the mall.
  • Issue 4: I like all three of the patrons in this issue, but I have to single out Theszolokomodra, a multidimensional hydra with a thousand heads. It can grant visions of the future, force the GM to answer a question about the current adventure, cause the spellcaster to grow extra heads, or give her multiple personalities.
  • Issue 5:Twisted Menagerie” is CUaBM’s regular bestiary feature, and this issue’s entry is a standout. I like creatures with random abilities or traits because they offer a lot of interesting variety, so this issue’s serpentoids, whose consumption of mutagenic herbs warps their bodies, and un men, whose high-tech cyborg bodies feature random (and deadly) gear, are right up my apple cart.
  • Issue 6: There’s plenty of good stuff in the vehicle issue, but I particularly enjoy “Popping the Hood,” which hacks DCC’s “recovering the body” rules to apply to vehicles. If a vehicle is damaged, rather than totaled, this issue’s Petrol Head class is just the ticket to get it working again.
  • Issue 7: CUaBM’s issue themes are tightly executed, and this one is a great example. Built around railroads, aircraft, and power suits, it offers up a suite of related content. My favorite bit is “The Rail Wastes,” an encounter table for the cleared land that borders every railway line. And it’s a 3d3 table to boot, for maximum DCC-ness.
  • Issue 8: Issues 8 and 9 are the alphabet issues, with A-M in this one and N-Z in the next, along the lines of The Monster Alphabet. I’m a fan of “F is for Factions,” a d12 table containing random factions. Here’s #7: “The Tattered Kings are a vicious bloodthirsty biker gang. Grtanted sorcerous powers by their patron, known only as the “Unspoken”, they ride through the wasteland on hellish supernatural vehicles looking for human sacrifices.” That’s exactly the amount of detail I need to drop these hell-bikers rights into play.
  • Issue 9: I’m a sucker for good random weather mechanics, and “W is for Weather of the Wastelands” is the best subsystem for weather I’ve ever seen. It uses a d3-d3 roll and a grid, with each square containing a weather condition. The GM plots points on the grid based on the coordinates of the roll to determine weather every d14 hours. That alone is cool. But it also communicates a lot about Umerica’s wastelands as a setting through those weather conditions: This is a place where burning mud storms and freak storms which drop sugar-dye rain, spiders, or imps shooting hellfire blasts aren’t uncommon occurrences.
  • Issue 10: By the time I hit the monster issue, I knew what it treat it would be. And it fucking delivers. I want to share them all, but I only get one — and it has to be the jack-o-rang-utans. Anyone trying to tame the wilds risks the wrath of these pumpkin-headed apes, who throw burning shit and unleash a fear-inducing cacophony on interlopers.
  • Issue 11: I could go with my favorite god (lots of options), or the Umerican halfling re-skin (think Feral Kid from Road Warrior), but my pick has to be another class: the Hologram. The Hologram is a Tron frisbee with a program attached, which has escaped from the cyberspace of yore and roams Umerica. Like issue 1’s Technologist, this is a class that makes me want to bug one of my players to start an Umerica DCC game so I can play it.
  • Issue 12: And yet again, I have to highlight a class! This time it’s the Clownight. “These disciples of Buddy O’Burger – god of feasting, customer service, and cannibalism – appear as humans wearing clown makeup except all of the garish coloration, bulbous nose, and outlandish hair are their actual body and facial features.” Clownights can unhinge their fang-filled jaws, bite their victims, and use the flesh they consume to enter a FoodRage.

Groovy artwork

You know what else I dig? The artwork! Here are four of my favorite pieces across the whole run.

(uncredited)[2]

(Claytonian JP)

(uncredited)

(Frank Turfler Jr.)

I’m not sure what it is about the DCC community that makes its zine game so fucking strong, but there’s no denying it. CUaBM is the fourth DCC zine I’ve written about here (I’ve also done roundups of Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad, Crawl!, and The Gongfarmer’s Almanac), and not only are all four of them excellent, but they all coexist beautifully — complementing one another, with not an ounce of redundancy.

I can’t wait for issue 13 of Crawling Under a Broken Moon. Bring it on!

Or better still, bring on Umerica: The Sourcebook, which collects and lightly expands the contents of CUaBM in book form. Instant buy/Kickstarter back for me.

[1] I know, I know. Someday! It does sound right up my alley.

[2] There are art credits in the front of the issue, but nothing connecting unsigned pieces to their respective artists.

Categories
D&D DCC RPG Tabletop RPGs

Debauchery & Dragons: Carousing for XP, 1977 to 2015

It’s 1977. D&D is wild and wonderful and everyone’s doing their own thing.

So much so, in fact, that in that same year two people published alternate versions of one of the core mechanics of old-school D&D: earning XP for treasure.

In 1977, Dave Arneson, co-creator of D&D, and Jon Pickens, who later became an editor at TSR, each published alternate systems for earning XP.

While the baseline was 1 XP for every 1 GP of treasure recovered and brought back to civilization[1], Arneson did things differently in his Blackmoor campaign, and Pickens proposed much the same alternative in Dragon Magazine #10.

I love this stuff, so I want to talk about it here — and about its modern descendants.

Special Interests

Here’s Dave Arneson in The First Fantasy Campaign (which — a crying shame! — isn’t legally available in PDF, and tends to command high prices in print), under the heading “Special Interests”:

Instead of awarding points for money and Jewels acquired in the depths of the Dungeon or hoarding items against the indefinite future, the players will receive NO points until they acquire the items listed below unless it happens to already fall within the area of their interest.

The “items listed below” are:

  • Wine
  • Women
  • Song
  • Wealth
  • Fame
  • Religion or Spiritualism
  • Hobby

The wine rules are entertaining, awarding XP only until the PC is drunk. After recovering, she can drink more to earn more XP. “Song” is basically a big-ass party, with rules for how damaging the tavern impacts XP earned. Wealth covers hoarding gold, which would be a bit of a cop-out (doing that in vanilla D&D earns you XP, too) except that here, if it’s stolen you lose that amount of XP.

Fame is based on dueling and gladiatorial combat — basically picking fights for glory, but you have to go to a big party afterwards. Religion covers donations to churches, as well as quests, and “Hobby” is just that: Pick Your Thing, do Your Thing, and earn XP for it. (One suggestion is “the devising of better Torture machines,” a peculiar hobby indeed.)

“Women” is problematic. Sleeping around for XP, sure — that sounds like fun, and it’s true to the source literature (more on this in a moment), but it assumes the PCs are male and straight, and that all prostitutes are women.

Appendix N is rich with examples of carousing in action, notably in the Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales and Robert E. Howard’s Conan yarns. Lankhmar’s duo and the fearsome Cimmerian are frequently broke, and rarely shy away from wine, companionship, or song. But just that simple shift, substituting “companionship” for female prostitutes, costs nothing and admits all comers[2].

And then there’s this bit:

Slaves of the appropriate type (left to player) may also be purchased with the funds and utilized to fulfill this classification. These slaves may then be sold at reduced value, the difference being credited to the players account.

That crosses a line for me, and it’s something I’d strike before using Dave’s carousing system in my game.

Apart from those sour notes, though, this is a neat system. “XP for GP blown in Conan-like excesses” is a fantastic concept, and despite sharing a publication year with Pickens’ article in Dragon #10, I think it’s fair to credit Arneson as the first, as he’d been running Blackmoor for years prior to 1977.

Orgies, Inc.

Pickens’ article in Dragon #10, “Orgies, Inc.,” proposes basically the same thing:

Instead of receiving experience for gaining treasure, players would receive experience only as the treasure is spent.

He lists five options for accomplishing this expenditure of wealth:

  • Sacrifices
  • Philanthropy
  • Research
  • Clan Hoards
  • Orgies

Salacious title aside, Pickens leaves “Orgies” at “Lusty indulgence in wine, women, and song.” You can orgy for a number of days equal to your Con score, with a cost per day (earned as XP, and then you have to rest for a like amount of days. Set aside the “women” assumption, and I like this version better than Arneson’s.

Philanthropy is about the same as in Blackmoor, and “Research” and “Sacrifices” likewise map pretty well to Hobby and Spiritualism, respectively.

Clan Hoards is a much cooler idea than plain ol’ hoards, and it’s very Tolkien: Dwarves are called out specifically, and they must return home and consign the treasure to the clan’s vault (no withdrawals!). That’s awesome.

The artwork for the article is great, too (though uncredited[3]), depicting an interspecies Bacchanalian revel. I’ve trimmed out a safe-for-work portion, but it’s worth seeking out the whole picture.

Ale & Wenches

Fast forward to the 2008, and we get the best-known OSR system for carousing, published by Jeff Rients: Party like it’s 999. Here’s an excerpt:

At the beginning of a session if a PC is hanging around Ye Olde Village Inne with nothing better to do, they can roll 1d6 and spend 100gp times the roll on liquor and/or lechery. The character gains experience equal to the gold spent. The d6 x 100 standard applies to villages only. A PC could travel to a town or city and debauch much more efficiently.

Where Arneson and Pickens assign categories and break things down in more detail, Jeff simplifies everything down to carousing/debauchery and adds a glorious d20 table. If you fail a save vs. poison while blowing your gold, you roll on the table.

A 10 is “Beaten and robbed. Lose all your personal effects and reduced to half hit points.” A 14 gets you “One of us! One of us! You’re not sure how it happened, but you’ve been initiated into some sort of secret society or weird cult. Did you really make out with an emu of was that just the drugs? Roll Int check to remember the signs and passes.

It’s a light, easy-to-implement system, and it looks like it’d be a hoot in play. Again, I’d substitute “Companionship” for “Wenches.”

Carousing, orgies, and their alternatives

Claytonian JP mashed up “Orgies, Inc.” and Jeff’s carousing system and designed a DCC RPG version tied to Luck. His table is also fantastic. My favorite carousing result is 20, “An evil magic user has some of your hair and flesh… you wake up with a gash and covered in strange runes.

He also spun off systems for martial training, research, and sacrifices, each with its own fabulous, quirky table of delights/horrors. (They’re collected in a free Google Doc.)

  • A 4 on the martial table is “You lose a hand, but now have a wicked hook and intimidation rolls are easier for you.
  • Roll an 8 for sacrifices, and you get “Thou must feed my sheeple. 3 Idiots join you. They fight as henchmen, but they are bumbling fools and will constantly give away your position. Killing or turning them away is bad luck.
  • The table for research is pretty brutal. An 11 is “You attract ghosts like the dickens. Whenever you are in a haunted locale, wandering ghost are twice as likely to show up and primarily target you.

Unlike its predecessors, this system also assigns no gender specifics and makes no assumptions about the PCs — anyone can feel welcome to carouse.

Claytonian’s take is my overall favorite. It’d be easy to port into your own campaign (or out of DCC, or both), and it encompasses a variety of activities without adding much in the way of rules overhead. It’s slick.

Carousing in Marlinko

I wrote a bit about carousing in Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, but I want to expand on it here.

What Chris Kutalik and company have done in Marlinko is really neat: Carousing is based on which city quarter you do it in, and unless I’ve missed something it’s an optional addition to the normal XP-for-GP arrangement.

The different quarters of Marlinko are quite different from one another, which gives this system a lot of flavor. In one quarter, the PCs can hit the bathhouse, booze it up, and visit lotus powder dens. In another, a variety of pleasures — from savory to unsavory — can be indulged.

Spend the gold, earn the XP . . . unless you Lose Your Shit, which happens if the carousing roll exceeds your level. Out come the tables, also divided by quarter, and they’re awesome (spoilers):

  • Lost your shit in the Golden Swine quarter? You just joined the Church of the Blood Jesus, and are being held by nun-maenads in their private dungeon.
  • After a bender in the Domesman quarter, you took a purgative and shat your room at the inn so badly that it’s going to cost you some cash.
  • You thought Mercator would be better? You wake up while being serenaded by “horrifically disfigured serial murderer Taurus the Clown.”
  • In the Apiarian quarter, you spilled beer on the wrong woman’s dress, and she’s going to make you pay — hard.

Like Claytonian’s system, the one in Marlinko makes no assumptions about the PCs. As Humza Kazmi, one of the book’s editors, said on G+, “We tried to make sure that the carousing table in FDM was gender- and sexuality-neutral, to avoid the idea that all PCs are straight dudes.

It’d take new tables to adapt Marlinko’s carousing to another city, but the bones are all there.

2016 and onwards?

These are the five published carousing systems I’m aware of, but I bet there are others (and I’d love to hear about them in the comments!). Almost 40 years on, this idea is still going strong and being used in play, so I’d also bet there will be other takes on it in the future.

I’ve never run or played in a game that used carousing-for-XP, but it’s on my list of takes on D&D that I’d like to try.

[1] Plus XP for defeating monsters, of course.

[2] Pun intended.

[3] According to commenter Tony Rowe on G+, the artist is Dave Trampier.