Thursday, September 25, 2014

DCC Donnerstag: "I Refute It Thus," Fear of the Funnel Edition

I'd really like to just jump in and refute the objection that people raise to the funnel: "But why should I have to play a 0-level? I want to play a real character!" The problem is that the answer to this objection is actually tied to another: "Why's it gotta be so lethal? I don't want to have to make another character so soon!" Unfortunately, we have to deal with these objections in reverse order.

Lethality vs. Character Generation

I really feel sorry for the folks who grew up playing 3.xe. Never did they know the green pastures of "roll 3d6 in order." Forever, their conceptions of RPGs have been clogged and clotted with feats, backgrounds, "themes" and other unnecessary nonsense. Their entire gaming career, staring with 3.xe, on into 4e and probably Mathfinder as well, has had as its horrid preamble a lengthy, deliberative session of so-called "character generation" which resembles nothing less than "character life path planning." It's a sad, sad state of affairs.

Nonetheless, I can't blame these new school players for getting invested in their PCs. I can't blame them for not wanting them to die, not wanting to start all over again because, brother, that's some serious work. They spent so much time coming up with their own special snowflake and they really don't want anyone to come and melt it. I get it. I understand. I just think it's a damn shame and a missed opportunity.

First, allow me to ask the following: Has anyone's game been seriously more enriched by a lengthy, drawn-out character creation process than it would be from, say, the threat of character death? The introduction of powers, feats, etc., may allow for precise character customization, but that customization comes at the price of never wanting to have to fucking customize a PC in the same way again. Lethality, however, adds an element of suspense. Success is not a foregone conclusion when survival is in question, and when success is not a foregone conclusion, are we all not more invested in making it happen? What point is there in having a character that took hours to create if he does not do things that are interesting, in which you the player are invested and when, ultimately, the things he accomplishes are devoid of meaning because, put simply, he could not have not accomplished them?

DCC RPG player characters are generated quickly and easily. 3d6 in order, down the row. Roll percentiles for occupation, roll d30 for Birth Augur, roll d4 for hit points then do a little math. Done. 5 minutes tops. Do that four times, you've got 20 minutes at most (there's an economy of scale here, too) and you're ready for your first funnel. Or, go to Purple Sorcerer and hit "generate" (do yourself a favor and make sure you're using "option awesome" while you're at it). Done. Kind of hard to be mad about the time you spent when one of those dudes bites it, isn't it?

Training Wheels & the Badass Bicycle 

So, you've spent a small amount of time making these characters, now it's time to send them into danger. In many ways, lethality and the funnel are training wheels for new school players to learn how to ride the super-bitchin', banana-seated bicycle of doom that is old school-style gaming. The lives of PCs who took only moments to create really aren't worth that much. What's more, you've got several of them. It's only a matter of moments -- an encounter or two, perhaps -- before at least one of them meets his maker. Celebrate this death; to the player, it probably means very little. To the group, it might mean a lot. He might have demonstrated where a trap lay, saved another PC from death at the hands of a fiend or in some other way died that others may live. But wait, dear player, it gets better! Not only did your death have meaning and make an impact, but you've got another character or three right over there ready to be played! You don't have to sit out the rest of the night while you roll up your next character!

And so the funnel progresses. These throw-away level zero characters that our first objector thought were beneath his notice (see way back at the top where I call out the first of the two objections this post is confronting) die because, of course, as that player rightly predicted, level zero characters are nobodies. But what happens when most of your nobodies are dead? When there's less and less of a cushion insulating the player from the very real possibility of failure and the dreaded TPK?

It's simple: things start to matter more.

Each attack roll. Each saving throw. Each description in minute detail of the process of checking for traps (Metal Gods & Hyperbarbaria players know what I'm talking about here). Soon, your players are left with one or two zeroes and have to figure out how best to risk them... or not. Caution, care, cleverness, these things come to the forefront and begin to win the day for the players as the ranks thin. This is the badass bicycle and once you learn how to ride, you'll never forget.

Final Word

Let's recap: "Why's it gotta be so lethal? I don't want to have to make another character so soon!" When you've got four characters to start with, you won't have to make another character when one dies unless you kill off all four. Giving you three or four zeroes to kill off gives you a taste of character death without the necessity of choosing the bazillion options of the "later editions." Next: "But why should I have to play a 0-level? I want to play a real character!" The thing is, disposability and replaceability aside, DCC zeroes are very much real characters. Sure, you don't get the super-cool benefits that first-level DCC characters get (spells, Lay on Hands, Mighty Deeds, Luck benefits, etc.). In most regards, they're pretty much the same as first level characters in other systems. Playing a clutch of zeroes really gives you the opportunity to get used to, and even enjoy, the higher degree of lethality in DCC while still giving you the numbers necessary for one or two to survive. When learning a new system (because really, if you're not already playing DCC, it is a new system), how often do you actually remember to use all the options you have for your character anyway? In DCC,
your zeroes don't have anything you won't use, and by the time you've learned to use what you've got, you'll need to use what you've learned to make sure (at least) one of your zeroes survives the funnel.

I feel like I rambled more, here, than I have in previous refutations. Hopefully, between my ramblings, there's something here to help more of those "discussions" with DCC nay-sayers.