Designer’s Diary: Dinosaur Crawl Classics

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Chapter 1: From Dallas to Dinosaurs

By Marc Bruner

One of my favorite aspects of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is its adaptability. From the flourishing zine community that has produced annals of supplemental content, to the fantastic innovation on display annually at Doug Kon, it thrives in the hands of the players and judges who take the system and overlay their imaginations onto it.

For myself, North Texas RPG Con has become somewhat of a laboratory for exploring my own whimsical ideas for the system, such as running a 10th-level funnel or using advent calendar character sheets, each of which were born or playtested there. NTRPG is a small convention focused on “old-school Dungeons & Dragons gaming,” attended by a mixture of Falstaffian grognards and wide-eyed younglings getting exposed to the hobby by their veteran parents. If you have never been, it deserves checking out, and DCC RPG is always well-represented.

The first time I attended was a revelation. The atmosphere was fun, friendly, and a contrast to the overwhelming size of Gen Con, my only other previous convention experience. I met amazing folks from the community and played in games of everything from OD&D with Tim Kask to Metamorphosis Alpha with Michael Curtis. That year Michael was also running something he called Dallas … IN SPACE!!! – a title too intriguing to miss. Based on an obscure role-playing game of the titular TV show published by SPI in 1980, he had transformed it into a Blade Runner/Alien/Star Trek mashup up set in outer space. It was brilliant. Coming out of that game I understood how compelling a well-executed conversion could be.

16 - 1Fast-forward to early 2016 when I came across a curio in the RPG section of my local Half Price Books: an early Goodman Games publication entitled Dinosaur Planet: Broncosaurus Rex, its cover depicting an anachronistically-clad cavalry soldier mounted on a T-rex carrying a glowing sabre. In the spirit of so many excellent judges before me, I immediately thought it would make a great one-off to run at NTRPG. So, I scheduled an event and then let the idea simmer for a time.

I imagined running Broncosaurus Rex would be a light counterpoint to playtesting my first writing assignment for Goodman Games, the 2016 holiday module Twilight of the Solstice. Almost from the start, though, my ideas began to outpace the implementation. First, I decided to run a DCC RPG conversion of the setting, requiring conversions of everything from core character classes to the NPCs and monsters. Exploring the system further I also discovered several supplements were available such as a Cretasus Adventure Sourcebook and the Complete Guide to T-Rex, greatly expanding the potential amount of material to draw from. I began playing around with half a dozen adventure ideas, but between the work finishing the holiday module and the sleepless nights with a new addition to our family (did I mention we just had a new baby that spring?), Broncosaurus Rex quickly became a lower priority even as the convention rapidly approached.

Just days before NTRPG, still searching for what I was going to run, it hit me: the game had to be about dinosaur characters. The original Broncosaurus Rex is told primarily from the point of view of the human colonists invading the planet Cretasus. While the resulting conflict between the Industrial-minded Federal Union of Planets and the more agrarian Confederate States of America is compelling, I thought the reverse narrative of the natives would make for a great twist. I quickly statted up the three dinosaur classes included in The Complete Guide to Velociraptors: a warrior, a tactician, and shaman. I already had the wild one class from my earlier preliminary work converting the core Broncosaurus Rex classes, and included it as a human class option. On the drive to Dallas I worked out the basic outline of a hex crawl adventure, and arriving with an hour to spare, quickly made pre-gens, put on my cowboy hat, and got ready to run.

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Chapter 2: How Not to Write an Adventure

Playtesting the system was a blast. The players responded to the idea of dinosaur characters with all the joy I could imagine. It helped that I had an amazing group of players at NTRPG who extended me quite a bit of charity for the half-finished system. In the end, the raptors triumphed and the human colonists were driven out.

The transition from experiencing something to making it to the page is one that I find personally challenging, though, and I found myself struggling with early into the conversion project. Blustering your way through a one-off concept at a convention is one thing, writing it down is another matter entirely. I knew what the adventure was supposed to be. We had played it. The real work was making it enjoyable independent of any special circumstances – what worked at the playtest table, bolstered by players that are eager to help the judge succeed, needed to work consistently when release into the wild.

I began with re-building the adventure’s anchors, the start and the ending, to make the player’s motivations clearer. I also knew the culmination had to have an epic DCC quality and an open-endedness to allow for judges to continue the adventures on Cretasus. Further, it had to be easy to integrate with existing classes and campaigns. I was not writing just for Dinosaur Crawl Classics, but something that was meant to be completely compatible with the core rules. That latter point was a major factor in deciding to also include conversion information for the upcoming Mutant Crawl Classics RPG and using its rules for artifact checks and technology levels. That way you can bring dinosaurs into your MCC RPG world or vice versa!

Later in the development process I had the chance to playtest the updated adventure with my kids. Seeing the wonder of 6 and 7-year olds when told they can play a dinosaur was just fantastic, and as they proceeded to roar and claw their way through the morning and even after the session had ended, I knew that I had created something special.

Chapter 3: Giving the Conversion Character

When Joseph Goodman contacted me about creating a conversion of Broncosaurus Rex for the Gen Con 50 Program Guide, I was thrilled, but also knew I had been entrusted with a special responsibility. Dinosaur Planet was no longer in active development, but it was Goodman Games’ first foray into roleplaying games, with a fan base that had contributed significantly to its evolution. I wanted to both ensure that devotees of Broncosaurus Rex would still recognize the setting and that DCC RPG judges would be able to easily incorporate it into their own campaigns.

BroncosaurusRexTRexBroncosaurus Rex is a 3.5e system, so most of the conversion work was about getting the right feel for DCC RPG, and to me that means making it unique. The appropriate analogy might be that it is not just a T-rex slaughtering the entire party, but the T-rex. The biggest challenge were the character classes. While there have been several excellent 3rd party classes written up by the DCC RPG community, at the time there was only one ‘official’ supplemental class: the Kith. Like Harley Stroh did with the Purple Planet, I wanted to make the classes in Dinosaur Crawl Classics distinct from the core book, but balanced, and overall fun to play. During playtests, I distributed the different classes around the table to see what worked and what didn’t, and used that information to drive some of the design decisions. The tactician, for example, was clearly a ‘weak’ class from the standpoint of value to the party, something I attempted to address in subsequent revisions.

Going back through my notes, I found that I had done more work ahead of getting the project assignment than I had realized. In addition to the velociraptor classes, I had converted each of the main human Broncosaurus Rex classes, including the bronco rider, machinist, soldier, spy, two-fister, and wild one. Most of those would not make it into the final manuscript, but they were good exercises to iterate on. After refining what I had cobbled together for NTRPG, I wrote a first draft of the classes and sent them in to Joseph for feedback. There was some back and forth, especially how to present a race-as-class concept for velociraptors that differed from what was in the core book. The idea to have a set of inherent characteristics while varying the skills of each class seemed like the right balance between race-as-class while having enough variety in the new classes to make the conversion work. Other ideas such as Ways as patrons for velociraptor shamans and the velociraptor tactician spending Intelligence like a thief expends Luck also came out of this detailed iterative process.

Interestingly the class I had the most trouble with was the wild ones. As the only human class in the setting, it really wasn’t clicking in those early drafts, which was echoed in Joseph’s feedback. Then I remembered a reference from the core book to druids in the wizard spell charm person. I thought the idea to make wild ones have druid-like abilities fit the class concept perfectly. In the final version, wild ones can both charm animals as well as summon animals per the level 1 wizard spells, along with having a naturalistic healing akin to the cleric’s lay on hands ability. That coupled with their unique animal affinity and misanthropic nature hopefully makes them as fun to play as a red-clawed raptor warrior!

Be sure to check out Dinosaur Crawl Classics in the 2017 Gen Con Program Guide!

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Author: pandabrett

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