In late March Goodman Games launched their Kickstarter to bring the legendary Lankhmar setting to their OSR game, Dungeon Crawl Classics. I asked Goodman Games' Michael Curtis a few questions about fantasy's past and DCC’s future.
Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions!
My pleasure, Philip!
1) Lankhmar has been around for a long time and has had many different iterations. How do you strike a balance between handling the legacy of the city and creating something new?
It’s certainly a challenge. The Fafhrd & Gray Mouser stories have been around for almost 80 years, and RPG companies have been interpreting those tales since 1976. Suffice to say, a lot of people have their own personal notions of Lankhmar and Nehwon. I don’t think it’s possible to appease everyone, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t try with DCC Lankhmar.
I began by rereading the stories, first in the order they were published and then in the chronological order they were later arranged in, all the while taking copious notes. I nearly filled up two composition notebook with all my jottings, notations, and references! I then cross-referenced and highlighted this information to create a firm “canonical guide” to Lankhmar, Nehwon, and the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
This became the bedrock we needed to build upon, the facts that we had to take into account as we adapted Lankhmar to DCC RPG. Whenever possible, we strove to never overwrite or contradict these essential truths—which is something that even Leiber himself did from time to time! Instead, we looked for the holes in the narrative, the little details that Leiber might have mentioned but never fleshed out and used those as springboard to create new material.
Maintaining the tone of Lankhmar was extremely important to us as during the design phase. If we could find a way to tweak an existing DCC rule to make it feel like something that replicated life in a Lankhmar story, we did so. If we had to create a new NPC or monster, we looked back at who or what had already shown in the stories and used them as guidelines. Keeping that balance between the literary canon and the new RPG-related material for DCC Lankhmar was tough at times, but I believe we’ve done the best job of adapting Leiber’s stories to tabletop role-playing to date. DCC RPG was designed from the ground up to replicate the sword & sorcery pulp tales of authors like Howard, Lovecraft, Leiber, etc., so Lankhmar is in the game’s very DNA. We didn’t have to tweak the rules much to make them fit Leiber’s stories!
2) Speaking of the new, what can DCC fans expect from the new setting?
DCC Lankhmar introduces some exciting new rules like how to handle healing in a DCC RPG game without clerical magic, a new mechanism called the patron die that allows non-spellcasters to appeal for aid from supernatural entities, and, the one I’m most excited about, the Fleeting Luck mechanic.
DCC RPG players know how important the Luck ability is in the game. It can be spent to influence rolls and plays a part in determining if you die when knocked to zero hit points. With DCC Lankhmar, we have a new system that pumps up the Luck economy of the game. Players will find it easier to earn Luck for their characters by rolling well, creative role-playing, or just engaging in actions and activities that feel properly “Nehwonian.” This increased amount of Luck allows them to pull off more daring (or foolhardy) activities, better replicating the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. But there’s a catch.
As the name implies, Fleeting Luck can disappear at almost any moment, so the PCs are encouraged to spend it quickly. This leads to bigger risks, which results in more Luck, and so the cycle perpetuates itself. It’s a terrific new system and I expect it to quickly make the jump over to more traditional DCC RPG games.
DCC Lankhmar also has loads of new monsters, spells, patrons, and other goodies to challenge and reward adventurers in Nehwon or to be borrowed for games set on other worlds. Whether you intend to base your campaign in Lankhmar or anywhere else, you’ll find the DCC Lankhmar a valuable addition to your gaming collection and judge’s tool box.
3) Lankhmar and Nehwon have been hugely influential on gaming and fantasy. How did they influence DCC?
Leiber’s stories are about what I call “blue collar heroes.” Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser aren’t high fantasy protagonists engaging in derring-do because of lofty ideals, self-sacrifice, or strict codes of honor. They are out to preserve their own skins and fatten their purses—things any DCC RPG character is likely to identify with. The mantra of DCC RPG is “You’re no hero,” and that reflects a lot of the grittiness of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories.
To a lesser extent, I think the characters of Ningauble of the Seven Eyes and Sheelba of the Eyeless Face helped influence the concept of magical corruption in DCC RPG. The origins of the Twain’s mentors are never fully explained in the stories, but one of the possible causes of their odd physical traits is hinted as being the magic they practice. Physical mutation and malformation because of sorcery isn’t solely something from Leiber’s work, but I believe it’s one of the more visible examples of that phenomenon in sword & sorcery fiction.
4) DCC is known for being particularly brutal to player characters. How much worse is Lankhmar going to treat them?
That depends a lot on the judge! Going back to my earlier answer about the difficulty of pleasing everyone’s personal interpretations of Lankhmar, we provide a lot of rules options in the boxed set that allow judges and players to customize their gaming experience on Nehwon. Non-magical healing has a few different rule options judges can employ to make their games gritty and grim (in playtesting, some PCs became decrepit with injuries by the time they reached 3rd level) or more forgiving without mollycoddling the characters. PCs in a bleak, street-hardened DCC Lankhmar game are going to end up battered and bruised if not outright dead. It’s up to the individual gaming groups to decide how tough they want life on the streets of Lankhmar to be!
5) The Kickstarter is the first in a line of products set in Lankhmar. What’s next for the setting and Goodman Games?
We’ve got a great bunch of stretch goals we’re still working on as part of the Kickstarter. No less than six adventures have been plotted out and we’ve got a cadre of great designers like Steven Bean, Daniel J. Bishop, Bob Brinkman, Tim Callahan, Terry Olson, Harley Stroh, and myself set to tackle them. There’s also a cloth map of Lankhmar in the works, a supplement for developing Random NPCs for the players to encounter, and a book detailing a dozen location in Lankhmar the characters might visit during their adventures.
If all goes extremely well, I’m going to visit the Fritz Leiber Papers collection down in Texas and spend a week going through his original manuscripts, story notes, correspondence, and more, looking for inspiration to write a seventh adventure. That’s the closest we can come to co-creating a DCC Lankhmar module with Leiber, himself, now that he’s no longer with us.
Beyond those planned releases, Joseph Goodman and I have hashed out a multi-year schedule of DCC Lankhmar supplements designed to span the face of Nehwon and bring it and its inhabitants to DCC RPG tables everywhere. I’d love to do a Quarmall supplement covering the subterranean city and the political rivalries there, detail the intriguing city of Ool Hrusp, scale Stardock and explore the Cold Waste, set sail on the Inner and Outer Seas and fight Mingol pirates, and visit Rime Isle. There’s no shortage of material to build upon in Leiber’s stories.
I’d be remiss not to mention that DCC Lankhmar is just the first licensed property being adapted to DCC RPG. Goodman Games is also developing a supplemental line based on the Dying Earth stories of Jack Vance. Designer Jobe Bittman has been working on that for the past year, and I understand it’s coming together nicely. There may also be some other intriguing things in the works regarding the famed Appendix N that inspired DCC RPG, but you’ll have to wait for a formal announcement on those!
Check out the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Kickstarter ending the last week of April.
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.