Tabletop RPG Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar

DCC Lankhmar Boxed Set cover

Lankhmar is one of the definitive cities of the Fantasy genre.  Created as a backdrop to match leading characters Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser, Fritz Leiber gave us a marvelous playground for the imagination.  Like Leiber’s stories, the city has inspired many in the tabletop RPG hobby over the years. From the City State of the Invincible Overlord to Waterdeep and beyond, it is the proto-urban setting for Fantasy games, and it’s been made and remade by various companies over the years.  The latest is Goodman Games, who’ve produced an impressive set of resources to help guide characters into the world of Nehwon and the city of Lankhmar.

The boxed set includes the following books:

Judge’s Guide to Nehwon is a general setting book.  In it you’ll find an overview of the world, its cosmology, its inhabitants, its various lands, and more.  There are some specific rules modifications to the standard Dungeon Crawl Classics.  This includes some variations on magic and a different way of handling gods.  There’s also a bunch of advice on running an urban-set game. At least within the context of DCC, urban games will take on a very different aspect from the usual ‘point & shoot’ dungeon crawls.  It’s likely to be more ‘open world’ or ‘sandboxy,’ with players pushing the action more than the Game Master (GM, DM, Judge, Storyguide, or whatever).

Lankhmar: City of the Black Toga gets into the meat and potatoes of running a game in Lankhmar.  From reading suggestions to recommendations of how or if you should use Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser as NPCs in your game.  There’s advice on creating atmosphere, designing neighborhoods, making the city feel vibrant and alive outside of the PCs’ adventures, creating threads for PCs to follow, etc.  Each section of the city has a brief explanation and a random chart of possible adventure seeds. There’s also a short section on notable NPCs for your PCs to encounter. The last section, which is all about creating a neighborhood for your PCs to use as a base of operations, itself filled with potential boons and threats.  I’m more than a little tempted to sit down with my players and create their home neighborhood as a group, using the random charts, but also taking input from everyone in the group. This book particularly could serve as a useful tool for running an urban set Fantasy game, though obviously, you’d have to scratch off the Lankhmar serial numbers to adapt it to whatever other setting you might have.

Compendium of Secret Knowledge is a collection of the Lankhmar specific rules for Dungeon Crawl Classics.  These are the various ways the designers have altered the usual game mechanics to more faithfully recreate the style of Fritz Leiber’s stories.  As with a lot in this book, they mention that much of it can be used or ignored, but their recommendation is to work with what they’re giving you.  There are two big changes that definitely set it apart from standard DCC.  First is the elimination of the Level Zero Funnel, where players create several nobodies, run them through a gauntlet, and if anyone survives, move them to level one and make them into a real character.  Second is limiting classes to Thief, Warrior, and Wizard. That’s it. No Elves, Dwarfs, or Halflings, because those really don’t appear in Leiber’s stories. And no Clerics because the gods of Nehwon don’t give a crap about their worshipers, and they’re not about to start granting magic to some needy human.  There are also some variations on magic for the Wizard class. Essentially corruption is handled differently, and because there’s less ‘free-flowing’ magic, the wildness and randomness of effects is toned down. I also like the Fleeting Luck rules, which remind me a lot of when I used to play Deadlands and poker chips would be flying around the table as everyone would be earning and blowing extra bits of luck to do crazy-cool acts of stupid heroics.

No Small Crimes in Lankhmar is a short adventure for first level characters.  The set-up is simple and I don’t think it will take a group very long to go through, but there’s a lot of potential pit-falls and it seems like the kind of thing that could lead to a total party kill (TPK) if folks aren’t careful.  I like that this short little adventure gives a Judge plenty of ways to weave more stories. Want to explore the world of Lankhmar Below and get into the weird dealings of the Rats of Lankhmar? Here you go. Want to get into some political dealings and underhanded elements?  No problem. This could also serve as a way to get the party a more permanent base of operations, as I could see the PCs taking over Lord Sutter’s house, if they play their cards right and don’t ruffle any feathers. If they end up having access to the magical potions left behind by Sutter, there’s all sorts of craziness they could get up to.

The boxed set also contains a map of Lankhmar, which I’d like to get laminated and a GM’s screen that has some useful charts, but that I’m honestly not a huge fan of (I don’t like when screens have a lot of GM/Judge material on the side facing the players, instead of art or whatever, and it’s not super sturdy).  There are a few other odds and ends that are generally about Goodman Games (though the newspaper does have some Lankhmar specific stuff in it).

Overall, I’m very impressed with this boxed set and I really want to get a game going.  When I first started out, I ran a game set in the City State of the Invincible Warlord…sort of.  I had the map and I’d just make up what was in all the various buildings. An urban-set game has a lot of challenges, but I think it also has a lot of potential for cool stories and a generally different vibe from the usual dungeon crawls and epic quests.

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11 thoughts on “Tabletop RPG Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar

    1. I’ve recently been running a very loose, very low-key DCC (not Lankhmar, sadly) for some friends using Skype or Google Hang. It’s weird, especially for an old technophobe like myself.
      It’s making me want to try Lankhmar even more, though.


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