I ran my first game of XCrawl today, and here’s the play report. Our normal gaming fell through since so many people were out of town, but I had a pick-up crew of three people come over and they were jonesing for some roleplaying, so I thought, “Well, what can I throw together real fast?” I had just bought a bunch of XCrawl supplements in the Paizo Black Friday sale and then coincidentally found the corebook at Half Price Books right after, so it was all in my recent-acquisition pile. I grabbed it and ran the first level adventure, Dungeonbattle: Brooklyn.
XCrawl, for the uninitiated, is standard D&D 3.5e rules set in a variant modern day setting, where magic is real and the Roman Empire never really fell, basically resulting in a “world much like our own, but more entertaining.” The North American Empire is still top of the world, ruled by Emperor Ronald I – so it’s like if the 1980s and the Romans had a love child. The hot new televised bloodsport is called XCrawl, a live action dungeon crawl equal parts American Gladiators, The Running Man, and Rollerball. It mixes dungeon crawling, professional wrestling, and sports franchise management to good effect; besides the actual fighting you have to worry about grandstanding, sponsors, etc.
Our new aspiring team was dubbed the Terrible Triad (“Really? Which one of you hunts Blaculas?”), consisting of three new first level XCrawlers trying to graduate from the Division IV “boffer leagues” to the big leagues. The twist is that this year, the DivIV finals are Full Lethal, just like Division III and up! A dungeon design contest was held, and new DJ (Dungeon Judge) Seymour Blood designed the day’s festivities, held in an athletic center in Brooklyn. Our aspiring athletes were (we used Pathfinder for the characters, since 3e/3.5e/PFRPG are pretty much run-off-the-cuff compatible):
- Kanaan “The Krusher,” a barbarian from Siberia (Kevin)
- Shamus, elven Irish rogue (Patrick)
- Bal Shem Tove, cleric of Apollo from Texas (Sam)
Sadly, they didn’t make it too far. After their pre-game interview, they bested the first major room, a Ninja Warrior style obstacle course with some goblins shooting a tennis ball cannon at them, easily. But then the second room was a surprise attack on five orcs – the orcs were watching the door, but the players come in through a trap door in the floor and have a chance to ambush them. They all snuck in, and the rogue even found the passage out in one of the four cages in the room (the other three held cheerleader “captives”). But sadly our dungeon crawlers hadn’t quite brought their A game – they futzed about a little about what to do and then just attacked en masse, with surprise but no real clever tactics. Then the rogue and cleric rolled natural 1′s during the surprise round. The barbarian managed to kill one of the orcs but the other four were unscathed and commenced a baseball-bat beatdown on the Triad. Krusher killed another with his greatsword but he and the rogue were forced to spend a round drinking healing potions and during that the priest went down, and then the orcs just pummeled the other two PCs unconscious.
Post-game analysis: The priest’s player was used to 3.5e and not Pathfinder, so he didn’t channel heals, and the loss of a full round to potion drinking really hurt the Triad’s action economy. Also, it was bad luck with all the natural ones. I could have removed one or two of the orcs since it was only a three character party, but we’ve all seen three first level PCs trounce five orcs (especially with surprise and free attacks on their side). They didn’t use the room to their advantage – the priest could have locked himself in one of the cages and spammed heals, or they could have otherwise used the surprise round to try to make it so the orcs couldn’t attack effectively. And when the priest went down, they didn’t try to get a healing potion in him, and instead just kept swinging. So the game was called and the paramedics carted the players off to Brooklyn Memorial twenty rounds in. Alas.
I enjoyed it. I used a referee’s whistle from my daughter’s soccer team as a prop, whenever a ref told them they were go for a new room I let loose on it. They didn’t use grandstanding or mugging for the camera (XCrawl rules additions), but to be fair they didn’t have much chance to. And their Mojo pool (teamwork bonuses) started out small and didn’t get a chance to build before they got iced. We didn’t use minis or mats, though in retrospect using a whiteboard with X’s and O’s football style would have been awesome.
It was nice not having to worry in the back of my mind about repercussions of the PCs losing. It’s a competitive sport, and someone’s gotta lose! They did get some lovely parting gifts. And the “contrived” nature of the event means that you can put goofy Gygaxian crap into dungeon rooms and not have your sense of realism cringe – Tomb of Horrors would be a great Division 1 Finals event! In general it seems to me that it would be pretty easy to convert a lot of lame dungeons over to fun XCrawl sessions with minimal reskinning.
And it would be tremendous for convention/Organized Play kinds of things – when I helped run the FORGE we did a lot of “Adventurer Olympics” type of events using straight D&D; when you’re not sure how many players will show up to a large event and want to spur some competitiveness among strangers, it’s a good format.
I’ll probably try to get people to play a bit more XCrawl, and it would be great to see it adapted for Pathfinder! Or even Fourth Edition… It’s a gonzo setting so it’s possible that a lot of the things I hate about 4e might be virtues for XCrawl… Maybe. Hmm, well, with the super long combats maybe not… Anyway, I really enjoyed XCrawl, give it a shot if you come across it!