Thursday, July 3, 2014

X-crawl and the modern gamer

I’ve been playing role-play games for as long as I can remember. Like many I started with D&D, all the way back to the box set that came with the cheap plastic dice and the wax crayon to fill in the numbers so you could see them. I remember sitting in my back yard with a couple of friends and my brother trying to figure my way through the rules and describe what they were doing. Then we argued about it. In fact in the early days half of role-playing was the game and half was arguing about how the rules worked.

Over the years my tastes evolved and the arguments faded away. I tried a lot of different systems over the years: Palladium, Shadowrun, Paranoia, Legend of the Five Rings, and so many others. I’ve discovered over the years the ones I like the most are the games that make me think different. For example in Legend of the Five Rings you have to look at how an action will affect you and your family, and sometimes you have to ignore the sensible thing in order to save face. Like accepting the hospitality of the Scorpion clan knowing full good and well they will be spying on you and digging through your stuff when you’re not in your room.

When I started going to conventions these were the games I looked for. I loved playing anything that made me work my mind and try and think in new ways. If the game had a fantastic narrative so much the better.  I loved playing anything that caught my imagination and introduced me to amazingly colorful characters. I find that my best interactions in a game are when I get to enjoy a character moment. I have had some fantastic ones over the years; my cleric of the God of trickery passed himself off as a priest of four different religions over the course of an adventure to convince various crowds in certain ways.

At one of these conventions I had some free time and I ran into a rather energetic gentleman named Brendan who was running a game he described as a cross between Dungeons & Dragons, professional wrestling, and the Running Man. Since I had some free time and I enjoyed a good quick dungeon crawl as much as the next guy I sat down.

For those of you who don’t know, a dungeon crawl is where you enter a room, kill all the monsters inside, take all the treasure, and repeat. There are different levels of difficulty and some dungeon crawls are more famous than others (Tomb of Horrors). Typically there’s some sort of big bad at the end of the dungeon with a big pile of loot to take and that’s the goal. Get the most treasure, kill the biggest monsters, and live to find another dungeon. On the surface that’s exactly what X-crawl is, in practice X-crawl is nothing like that.

I sat down with Brendan that first time in Columbus for the 1st annual Buckeye Crawl. The games started with a camera crew and an interview for the folks at home. We were informed the entire crawl was being broadcast on Empire 1’s pay-per-view to every family in the North American Empire. We then got to enter the dungeon proper, which involved going into the room 1 at a time down a zip line into a room with orcs in it. I was hooked. I bought the core rule book that weekend from Panda Head games. When I went to Gencon that year I actively sought out X-crawl.

Part of the reason I enjoy X-crawl is that over the top, oh my gods mentality. There’s something kind of awesome about jousting in go-carts, fighting a giant gummi-bear, or watching your teams barbarian “save” the princess by attacking her with an axe. That last one happened at a convention, and in a regular game of D&D or anything else, I’d have been ticked. In X-crawl it’s one more thing that happens. That’s the magic of X-crawl; people think differently when they play X-crawl. One of my go to examples of this is in one room in one X-crawl module there is a water elemental large enough to engulf people and it’s swimming with demonic piranha. In a traditional role-play game if I was to introduce this monstrosity people would not take it well. In X-crawl my players were excited this thing existed.

There’s a difference in the way people tell stories about X-Crawl. I’ve had those fun conversations where everyone starts talking about their 15th level so and so and how he figured out how he got the Holy Sword of such-n-such. I’m not saying these stories are bad; I have a few of them myself. It’s that they’re a bit dry and numbers based. Talking about X-crawl is like listening to guys talk about the last minute come from behind touchdown in the Superbowl.

I’ll give you an example. The Sons of Bacchus are in a timed room where a woman’s life hangs in the balance. There are a series of challenges to complete and in order to finish on time the team does the unthinkable; they split up. Working in two groups they start kicking in door and completing challenges. One half of the team kicks in a door to a challenge sponsored by a beer company. Fanfare erupts, confetti, lights, and the whole nine yards. The room contains a table and a frosted mug of beer for each party member; remember only half the team is there. All they have to do is each person present must grab a mug and chug it in one breath. The guys step up, grab their mugs, and complete the challenge with flying colors. They’ve succeeded the contest, won prize, and may continue on with their search. On their next turn they all grab the other half of the beers and down them as well, because while the seconds are ticking by and a woman’s life is on the line, “by the Gods, we will not leave a beer behind!” And that’s X-crawl.

While there is absolutely a level of silly to X-crawl, it’s tempered with a level of danger and challenge that makes people do things with their characters that are counter intuitive to traditional fantasy gaming. It’s oddly freeing in its way. There’s a certain joy with coming up with your characters personality because his background is pretty much the same as anyone who plays for the NBA, NASCAR, or the MLB. You’re not on an eight year quest to reclaim your families honor, you’re on a continuing quest to get as much fame and cash as possible so you can retire before you’re devoured by a Hell Poodle in the Paris Crawl run by DJ Fifi. The person running the dungeon isn’t an evil sociopath bent on killing you for the fun of it (actually they very well may be but that’s beside the point) they’re a game show host who you’ll be hanging out with at the after party.

This is X-crawl a game I thrilled is coming back, a game I’m excited to play again. A game I want to be around for years to come. If you like what you’ve read and think you might want to give it a try there’s a kickstarter campaign going on until July 21st. It’s already funded and worth a look. So until next time, “In the name of Apollo, I declare these games open. May the gods protect and guide you. But should they deem it always remember, if you die…YOU DIE!!!!!! The dungeon is yours.”

Check out the X-crawl Kickstarter here.
Check out there site over at Goodman Games here.
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