Xcrawl Capsule Review by Mark E. O'Mealey on 04/12/02
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
Xcrawl takes the venerable dugeon crawl and updates it for modern times. With a healthy dose of WCW/WWE attitude, and a nod to the movie The Running Man, Xcrawl offers an entirely new and unique setting for D&D games.
Author: Brendan J. LaSalle
Company/Publisher: Pandahead Productions
Line: D&D 3e
Page count: 240
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Mark E. O'Mealey on 04/12/02
Genre tags: Fantasy Modern day
Adventures in the Xtreme Dungeon Crawl League
A capsule review by Mark O'Mealey
WARNING!!! Your next adventure will be televised! And if you die….You Die!!!
Welcome to the exciting world of Xcrawl. This ain't your daddy's dungeon crawl. What Xcrawl does is take that venerable staple of D&D gaming and drops it into the modern "real" world. Yes, it's modern-day Earth, except all of the races and monsters typically found in a D&D fantasy setting not only existed in the dim, dark past of the Heroic Age, they still do. Add equal measures of WCW & WWF/WWE, commercial endorsements of both teams and individuals, and the fame and fortune associated with being major sports stars, with a dash of that Swartzenegger classic The Running Man and you should be getting an idea of what Xcrawl is all about. Laaaaadies and Gentlemen, llleeettt's get ready to meleeeeeeee!!!
Xcrawl is a beefy 240-page hardback. The front cover is in color and depicts three Xcrawl participants in front of an ad for the upcoming MephisCrawl, with cameras and microphones around the edge of the cover. The back cover sports a second ad, defaced by graffiti, some copy text, UPC, d20 logo, and Pandahead Productions logo. The characters on the front are members of the Dunguun Ganstaas, and graffiti is their handiwork. The interior pages are all black-and-white on matte paper. The font is a serif font a la Times Roman and is pleasingly sized, a fact that my tired, 42-year old eyes appreciate. It's plain text on a white background, with no texture or pattern interfering with legibility. Minor headings are in a slightly larger font; major headings are a bit larger still and in all caps. All in all, the headings don't take up excessive page space in my opinion. Most pages are presented as two-column of text, with the occasional call-out box or piece of artwork to break up the page. Call-out boxes are black text on a gray shaded background. Again, nothing fancy, but more importantly, highly legible. The outer page borders are approx. an inch wide and look like a roman column. The bottom of the page has an ink splotch banner with the Xcrawl logo overlaying the column at the page edges. Left pages have the chapter number and page number; right pages have the chapter title and page number. Inner and outer column margins are reasonable and the overall width of the text in each column is 2 ¾ inches. The book has its share of typos, bad grammar, and missing punctuation, but it is not excessive.
A few words on the artwork. Each chapter has a full-page picture opposite the chapter title and some IC text presented in a single column. These full-page pieces use gray scales to provide a bit of shading. All other artwork varies in size from a quarter-page or less to nearly three-quarters of a page; all of which is strictly black-and-white line art without any shading. I generally dislike to rate artwork since what constitutes "good" and "bad" are highly subjective and my opinion may not match your own. Therefore, I can only offer my impressions of the quality of the works included. The artwork reminded me of the amateurish style found in the 1st edition AD&D books or most GURPS books. I would say it looks more like fan art than professional work, except I've seen much better fan art. On the plus side, the art doesn't take up a disproportionate amount of page space overall and I didn't get the feeling that it was merely filler used to pad the page count of the book.
Note that Xcrawl is a D&D3e setting, such as Forgotten Realms, not a stand-alone d20 game. It requires the D&D3e Player's Manual to play. Although some may be tempted to try to use d20 modern, the setting was intended for use with D&D.
The book starts off with a title page, a credits page, then a one-page table of contents. The TOC lists the introduction, six chapters and the index.
Unlike the chapters, this features no full-page art. Instead a one-third page black-and-white sketch of two newscasters accompanies the IC flavor text that otherwise fills both pages. The IC text does a pretty good job of setting the tone for Xcrawl. A couple of lines made me laugh out loud. The Introduction proper follows in which the author uses one and a half column of text to briefly set the stage for what Xcrawl is. This is followed by a glossary of terms that takes up two and one half columns. All together, the Introduction only takes up four pages. Each of the following chapters is much longer.
Chapter One - History of the World
This chapter sets the stage for the setting. It begins with an overview of the Historic Age, when elves were already an ancient race while humans were still huddled in caves. Once Prometheus granted mankind with fire, their rapid climb to civilization began. Several historic wars are covered along with call-outs on Halflings and a couple of locations of note. This age ends with the cataclysm or Great Flood, which was caused by a war between the titans and the younger gods.
Next up are the Middle Ages. Here the rise of Rome is recounted, including a war between the subterranean dark elves and the surface races. The Messianics, or the One God cult, are introduced in the next section. They were prolific explorers (often because they were escaping persecution), and are credited with introducing technology to the world, but Christ isn't mentioned and Christianity doesn't exist. Therefore, polytheism is still practiced by the majority of the world's population. The Fall of Rome, the Renaissance and beyond are covered, all with the twist that the world is inhabited by Dwarves, Elves, Orcs, Dragons, et al. This impacts the way in which history progressed.
Next up is The New Empire, which recounts the more recent history of the North American Empire, the location of most Xcrawl games. Again, there are enough similarities with our own understanding of American history to make the setting familiar, yet at the same time wildly different. For instance, George Washington is credited with abolishing slavery, thus an American Civil War never happened. However, there was a war of subterranean aggression.
The Industrial Age is next, including coverage of The Great War (a somewhat combined WWI & WWII). Hitler kicks things off and Japan's Emperor managed to alienate the Asian dragon population, preventing them from becoming a major world power. The Aftermath of the War closes out the chapter with the ascension of Ronald I to the NAE throne in 4678. And that takes us through page 33. All in all, this was highly entertaining to read. I don't want to spoil things by giving too much away, but I felt the chapter did a pretty good job of making a modern-day D&D fantasy America believable. The current year is 4699 and there is never an attempt to reconcile the Xcrawl dates with the "real" world calendar. Although a few dates are sprinkled throughout the history, there is no timeline presented, which would have come in handy.
Chapter Two - The World Today
This chapter starts off with an overview of the NAE, which encompasses all of North America. A map and legend showing the 26 districts take up the facing page. Each district is ruled by a Governor and has its own laws, but all are answerable to the Emperor. The social structure breaks down the hierarchy of American society into the following levels: The Emperor; Nobility; Celebrities; High level clergy; Guild Magi; Elves; Guildmasters; Clergy; Merchants, Teachers, artisans, dwarves, & gnomes; Laborers & most commoners; and finally Halflings, criminals, & the indigent. The nobility and commoners get their own detailed sections with additional info provided.
Religion is next. The Roman pantheon is the state-sanctioned religion. Although the entire pantheon is revered, most NAE citizens choose a patron deity appropriate to their station. Major holidays are covered, as is the fact that the majority of commoners are superstitious, a fact which the government does nothing to discourage.
Media is second only to religion in keeping the commoners pacified. All TV originates from the government Media Offices, which puts the appropriate slant on what is shown to the masses. Military actions are "just and right crusades," accused criminals at large are "desperate and calculating agents of evil," etc. Most programming is comedy or light drama, but sports entertainment takes up a huge slice of airtime. Conventional sports such as baseball, football, and soccer are popular, but Xcrawl is by far the most popular sporting event on television. Newspapers, radio, and magazines all exist, but none approaches television's popularity. The Internet doesn't exist, but we'll get to that in a moment.
Culture is divided between the nobility and commoners and the two usually don't mix. Nobility tend to favor classical music and wine tasting. Commoners are into rock, soul, hip-hop, or country, but everyone loves the blues. Commoners who like classical are seen as snooty. Aristocrats into rock are labeled uncouth degenerates. A section on the Military, including a call-out on rank structure is next.
Now we get to Technology and Magic. As previously stated, the Messianics are credited with introducing technology to the world, largely because they discouraged belief in magic. Technology allows people to be less reliant on magic. However, magic does exist and the One God cult is outlawed in the NAE. The differences between our world and the world of Xcrawl are largely due to this. Automobiles exist, as do trains. Planes capable of transcontinental flight exist, but there is no space program and no plane has even approached the sound barrier. Farmers still use windmills for power and there is no nuclear power. Computers exist, but most commoners have never touched one. Palm pilots, cell phones, pagers, and the other trappings we already take for granted do not exist. Due to magical healing, there have been very few advances in medical technology and even poor commoner families have a healing potion or two stashed away for emergencies. Meanwhile, you must be licensed by the Guild of Magi to practice magic.
The economy and crime get coverage followed by another section on the Messianics in modern times before we get to the large section on non-humans. Each race is given a separate sub-section. These go into detail about the race's history in the NAE, where they live, and how likely (or unlikely) a member of the race is to participate in Xcrawl. For example, Dwarven Xcrawlers are outcasts of Dwarven society while Halflings make up the second largest batch of Xcrawlers (next to humans). Half-orcs are not allowed citizenship in the NAE and require special visas to be allowed to compete in Xcrawl events. Each of these sections begins with a quote from some personality. Some of these are quite funny, for instance this one attributed to Erusia Holstead, a Half-Elf, "I really don't much care what people call me. Half-elf, human, or elf, it's all just labels. Anyway you look at it, the chicks dig me."
Next, we're off on a whirlwind tour of the rest of the world. Each continent gets an entry further broken down into major nations or geographical areas. Each of these sections provides a quick look at these areas of the world as they exist today including whether or not Xcrawl is popular there or not. A section on the races of the Underground and monster ecology takes us to page 85 and closes out the chapter. I've really only scratched the surface of the content of this chapter. Again, it was an enjoyable read and kept me immersed in the setting.
Chapter Three - Xcrawl Origins
This chapter starts off with a brief history of the games. There was no recorded history of the Heroic Age and most of the pre-Cataclysm world remained a mystery until an artifact of the Heroic Age was uncovered. Warsong, a talking short sword, recounted numerous tales of the various "adventures" it had gone on in the hands of one of its many possessors. The dungeon delving exploits quickly became the subject of books, movies, and TV shows; and in America, an immensely popular strategy game called Dungeonbattle. The game was huge on college campuses and soon spawned an entire industry. There were even conventions where fans of the game would come together and play one another in tournaments for prizes. One fanatic decided to start LARPing and to make a long story short, routed a bunch of ghouls in the parking garage where they were playing. The news captured popular imagination and Fleeman and his group were invited to Washington DC by Emperor Ronald I himself. This lead to the creation of the first Xcrawl tournament and Fleeman became the first DJ (dungeon judge). There are now 25 sanctioned events in the NAE Xcrawl season and many more worldwide. Non-lethal boffer events are run for those that can't stomach the death sport aspect.
The Modern League season runs from September through March, with 26 scheduled crawls, but there are twelve big events similar to the majors in golf, that attract the most attention. The schedule is not always the same from year to year. Some crawls are only ever held once, to commemorate a particular event, others are held regularly. The Xcrawl Divisions are as follows: Division 4 is for character levels 1 - 3, Division 3 is for character levels 4 - 6, Division 2 is for character levels 7 - 10, Division 1 is for character levels 11 - 15, and there is an Unlimited Division for character levels 16 & up.
What makes Xcrawl different is that the dungeons are all artificial created by the DJs and the events are intended for the television audience. Most Xcrawl events feature a daily highlights show. The seriously hardcore fans pony up for the PPV feed, which allows them to watch every moment of the crawl if they want to, similar to the way CBS made Big Brother available via Webcams. A few months after a crawl, the home DVD release comes out with the "best of" scenes, complete with multi-angle viewing, making of featurette, DJ commentary, etc.
Players may participate in a crawl by invitation only. Most crawls use elimination rounds. Dungeons are normally three levels, with players getting a break between levels and only the best teams advancing. Crawls are as diverse as the DJs who design them. Some go for the "traditional" look trying to recreate scenes right out of the Heroic Age. Others utilize lights, music, and pyrotechnics similar to a rock concert to put on a show. Some DJs will place entire "hidden" levels that will challenge players who are used to getting a break between levels. Most crawls use video screens through the dungeon. These allow the DJ to talk to the PCs, or utilize them as distractions. When not in active mode, these screens often display some advertiser's logo, while others blend in with the surrounding faux stonework. DJs will often compose highlights of the PCs' worst moments and play them back to torment them. Although there are cameras everywhere, live audiences usually are on hand for one or two especially deadly rooms on each level. There is also the concept of sideshows, which keep the audience entertained while PCs sleep.
Certain types of equipment like power tools are banned from sanctioned events. Henchmen are allowed, but are outfitted with special noncom badges. They cannot attack, but can be attacked by monsters. After the first hit, they are teleported out of the dungeon. Referees normally don't follow players through the dungeon, but can be called for whenever a ruling is needed. Refs wear noncom badges as well and carry sidearms in the event that they can't otherwise avoid an encounter. In addition, DJs will often stick other non-combatants in a dungeon, such as captives who must be freed. These folks wear noncom badges as well.
Dungeons normally have breakrooms on each level. These are fully off-limits to monsters and the players can rest here without fear of interruption. In addition to food and drink, breakrooms have full bathrooms with working showers and a medic is normally on hand to provide healing if requested. Sometimes nobility are allowed access to the breakrooms, sort of like a backstage pass, so that they may meet the players in person. Most breakrooms are sponsored and feature a paid advertiser's logos, if not fare. Players may remain in a breakroom as long as they like, but the game clock continues running. Since most crawls are timed events, with the teams with the best times for completing a level being the ones who advance, players shouldn't stay here any longer than necessary.
Unlike traditional dungeons, Xcrawl settngs are entirely artificial and have NoGo safety doors at strategic points throughout. Players may escape the dungeon via a NoGo door, but it's a one-way trip since players who use them are disqualified (DQ'ed). Using a NoGo door is an option of last resort since players that start to make a habit of using them are considered cowards and find themselves without an invitation to future events. Monsters can surrender and players must honor the surrender or face DQ. Refs can be called to lead a surrendered monster away. Players can also receive a DQ for "inappropriate behavior." You might wonder what that might be in a death sport, but the book gives a great example. Cussing a blue streak after losing a hand in combat is excusable, but a team mooning the DJ on live TV is not.
Next up is a section on DJs, the most coveted position in all of Xcrawl. Three celebrity DJs are profiled in this section. Next comes a section on The Adventurer's Guild. All players are required to be members. A sub-section on the Dungeon population comes next. Trappers, the guys that scour the earth for creatures to sell to Xcrawl, are discuss as are the various types of monsters typical. Although every DJ tries to have a few unique creatures, undead are a staple. The Necromancer's Guild considers themselves artists. Although every year there are protests from various families who are shocked to see their loved ones rise on prime-time TV, the practice continues. Intelligent monsters may earn trustee status after a season or two with a DJ. These superstar monsters often have their own fan clubs and DJs tend to instruct them to surrender rather than risk losing the more popular monsters. This section ends with a discussion of prizes. Monsters never have treasure. Instead, the DJ will often make a show of awarding the players with prizes after they complete each room. Some of these are performed in person, while others may be done via a previously undetected secret door opening to reveal what the players have won. Cash is always good, and each level normally has a grand prize like an SUV for each player, but hokey prizes, such as a year's supply of car wax, are also common.
A section on the Leagues is next, beginning with the Minors. A call-out mentions that most GMs will want to bypass the boffer leagues and just have players start in Division Three. Once players make it to Division One, they've hit the big time and only the toughest and smartest teams are invited to Texarcana to participate in The Emperor's Cup. Players surviving Division One events are the most popular celebrities and are invited to high society events regularly. Players don't become rich from Xcrawl prizes however as all winning are supposed to be used to outfit them for future events. Furthermore, only the money earned at events may be used to do so. However, teams and individuals may get corporate sponsors or endorsement deals.
The International Leagues are covered next and a couple of notable crawls from around the world are featured. Next up is a section on illegal crawls. Although non-sanctioned events are run from time to time in the NAE, the problem is more rampant in other parts of the world such as South America and China. A section on old age and retirement closes out the chapter.
Whew! We're up to page 113 now. Still a little more than half the book to go.
Chapter Four - Da Breakdown
Up until now the entire book has been setting. Now we get to the crunchy bits. The first bit mentions that characters should start at third level with 3,000 GP to spend on equipment, unless the GM wants to run some Division Four events first. This seems to be yet another editing mistake since Division Four includes level 3 characters and Division Three starts at level 4.
Now we get to the new rules. First up is The Mojo pool. Before a game, each player rolls a d6 plus any bonus or penalty from the included table. The total is the team's Mojo pool. The total can never be higher than twelve or lower than one. Only official Xcrawl teams can utilize the Mojo. That is a group of 3 - 8 players, not counting substitutes, that regularly practice together. When one player faces a particularly difficult challenge, the other players can encourage him to greater heights. In game terms this is accomplished by a player offering one or more points from the Mojo pool to another player as a bonus on any standard d20 roll. The catch is that players may never request Mojo points prior to a roll, they must be freely offered without prompting by another player. For example, if the party really needs the rogue to pick that lock on the first try, another player may offer 3 Mojo points before the roll. Although the mechanic is out of game, players can roleplay the action out as well.
When the player rolls a natural 20 on a roll in which Mojo has been invested, it is considered destiny. The Mojo points are not subtracted from the pool and an extra point is added. If the player rolls a natural one on a Mojo roll, two additional points are lost when the player chokes. Remember that the Mojo pool must remain between 0 and 12, so extra points earned cannot put the total over 12, nor can penalties drop the total below zero. There is a call-out with examples of Mojo in play, although the GM in it erroneously awards the players 2 bonus points for a destiny roll. This is not the only time an example contradicts the rules. You'll have to decide for yourself whether the rule text or the example is correct in each case.
The rules note that well-trained groups of monsters often have a Mojo pool as well and GMs should run them intelligently.
Next up is Fame. Xcrawl players adopt one of two attitudes. Either they try to win over the crowds, in which case they are a Face, or they play the villian, which makes them a Heel. Players can earn fame points by actions that display their nature in a dungeon. Similarly, they can lose points when they act contrary to their on-screen persona. Fame translates into bonuses that can be used both inside a dungeon and in the world at large. In game, they can add fame to a grandstanding or mugging check. Grandstanding is playing to a live crowd, while mugging is playing to the cameras. These actions are covered under the Performance skill in the next section. Outside of Xcrawl, players can add Fame bonuses to Charisma rolls when dealing with fans. A player's fame rating is also his percentage chance of being recognized in public.
The next section discusses Signature Moves, what they are and how to get them. It costs 1,000 GP to develop a signature move due to the time and training involved. A signature move has three parts: the call and two actions. The call can be spoken, a gesture, dance step, even a prestidigitation spell. The point is that it lets the audience know that the player is preparing to perform the signature move. The call is a full round action and may or may not provoke an attack of opportunity at the GM's discretion. The two following moves much take a full combat round each and may be attacks; attacks modified by feats, spells, or skills, performance checks; spells; etc. The same action cannot be repeated twice, each of the two actions must be different. A signature move can even be two spells as long as they are two different spells. Players should work with the GM to design signature moves appropriate for their character and they must be given an identifiable name.
A player gets a 2 bonus on any attacks or skill checks performed as part of a signature move. Mugging and grandstanding checks cannot be a part of a signature move, but grandstanding or mugging checks performed the round following a signature move get a 6 bonus. The signature move is not considered successful unless all its parts are successful, so an attack that causes no damage for instance will cause a signature move to fail. Characters earn a Fame point for successfully completing a signature move, but lose a point of Fame if they fail.
Brief sections on Sponsorships & Endorsements, Teams, and Disqualification finish up the new rules section, then we dive into Character Creation.
Just as in the overview of the races earlier in the book, this section starts off with the standard D&D classes and discusses each class' attitude towards Xcrawl. Just as humans and halflings are more commonly found in Xcrawl than Dwarves and Half-orcs, so too some classes are more likely, while other classes have little use for Xcrawl. It should be noted that no races or classes are outlawed, but a player wishing to play a half-orc barbarian is going to have to work harder creating his character's background than the player of a human cleric or halfling rogue. And an entire team of Dwarves would be a once in a lifetime occurrence. Also, most characters are assumed to be from the NAE, but players may freely make characters hailing from any part of the world, so Russian Elves, Scottish Dwarves, and Australian Halflings are all possible. There is no benefit or penalty associated with playing a character from another country, it just provides players with the opportunity to roleplay accents. Any benefits in terms of feats and skills the class gets are covered in this section. Again, each of the classes starts off with a quote such as this one attributed to a barbarian learning the finer points of contract negotiation, "You dare insult me with such an offer? By the blood of my ancestors, Agar the Reaver will not stoop to shill for a lite beer!"
After the existing classes are covered, we get a new character class, the Athlete. I was not overly impressed by it. Basically, it allows players to create modern sports stars, especially those that play multiple sports. They gain a favored sport at first, fifth, tenth, fifteenth, and twentieth level. They get a 2 bonus on concentration, balance, climb, jump, perform, swim, or tumble checks while performing their favored sport. This bonus goes up by one every time they gain a new favored sport. The example that follows confuses things by claiming that a 20th level Athlete would have a 5 on his original favored sport, a 4 on the next, and so on, up to 1 on his 5th and newest favored sport. But the previous text said he got 2, so the bonus for a 20th level Athlete on their original sport should be 6.
Another aspect of the Athlete class is the expectation of Constant Training. Three hours per day, six days a week is the schedule the character must adhere to. After they have done this for six weeks, they can ad a 2 to Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution, but the bonus is not permanent and is contingent on them maintaining the continuous training schedule. If they ever divert from these rigid requirements for more than three days, the bonus is lost and another full six weeks of training is necessary to get it back. Characters can alter their training regimen at any time to switch from one bonus to another, but the first bonus is lost immediately and the second takes a full six weeks to come into effect. While it may be easy to assume that the character maintains such a regimen during down time, active adventuring sessions may actually interfere with their ability to train. It should be noted that Xcrawl is a valid sport for purposes of choosing a favorite, and competing in events would certainly substitute for training.
While Athlete is the only new basic class, three Prestige Classes, Master Celebrity, Trapper, and Guild DJ are included. I'm not going to spend any time on these. In my opinion, they are there partly because any new d20 book has to have some Prestige classes. Most GMs aren't going to be running games centered around PC DJs or Trappers, so I don't see where a player has much incentive to take them. However, they are suited to helping the GM design featured NPCs, although this point is not noted in the book.
Next, the book deals with new uses for old skills and adds the Xcrawl twist to those such as Knowledge. The only new skill is Drive (Dex) and very simplistic rules for driving are given. A call-out explains that players won't be doing any driving in Xcrawl events, but GMs are free to introduce more complex rules if their campaign spends a great deal of time on the highways. Grandstanding and mugging are just Performance checks. Players can earn fame points if successful five consecutive times. New Feats include Crowd Favorite, Curve Ball, Double Shot, Extra Signature Move, Pistol Proficiency, The Profile, Rifle Proficiency, Rally, Serpentine, and Two-fisted Healing. Gunpowder weapons are banned from sanctioned events, but characters may find themselves facing monsters in the wild if the GMs campaign spends much time out of the events themselves. Some of the feats, such as double shot, would be useful in any D&D game, while others such as The Profile (you kill with style, gives a bonus to grandstanding checks), are clearly of use only in the Xcrawl setting. Each feat lists the prerequisites, if any along with the benefits gained.
Magic in 2499 gets the treatment next with listings of both divine and arcane spells that are regulated/banned. The book introduces the concept of the copyrighted spell next. Basically, new unique spells that are designed can be taken before the Mage's Guild Council, the appropriate fees are paid, and if the Board approves the spell, the wizard gets a copyright and a new source of income. In practice, one of the material components is a GP note of some denomination. When cast, the note isn't consumed, but disappears and reappears in a special device the wizard who creates the spell uses to collect the income generated by the spell's use. It gives a whole new application to spell research for enterprising players who like designing new spells.
A selection of new spells follows, many of which are copyrighted naturally. My favorite is Marco Polo, which like the children's game it is named after causes everyone within a 25' radius centered on the caster to reply "Polo!" whenever the caster shouts "Marco!" This will of course disrupt enemy spell casting, help players find hidden or invisible opponents, hinder performance checks (like grandstanding), etc.
Equipment is covered next and introduces a small selection of modern-day weapons not found in the Player's Handbook like brass knuckles, ice picks, aluminum baseball bats, golf clubs, and a selection of firearms of various caliber. Armor additions are next, followed by adventuring gear, class tools and skill kits, clothing, and finally food and lodging. Note that 1 GP is roughly $3 US, so anything not listed can be quickly calculated (like the value of the SUV grand prize), but dividing the "real" price by 3.
Chapter Five - Gamemaster's Section
After the obligatory IC text on page 167, the section starts off with a section on running the world. GMs are advised that "It's your world" and that any part of Xcrawl that doesn't fit can be changed and/or discarded entirely. That's pretty much a given as far as I'm concerned. It mentions that Xcrawl can be played for laughs or as a dead serious setting, it's all up to you. It tells you that you can run games set outside North America and the players don't even have to be Xcrawlers. For example, you may want to run Special Forces troops fighting threats to the NAE in foreign lands, spies for other countries, revolutionaries trying to overthrow the current government system etc. While you can certainly do all those things and more, there isn't much help in this book to run such games. Of course you are always free to do whatever you want with gaming material that you buy and some people might just like to use the Xcrawl games as a backdrop. Whatever.
Regardless, most people will want to run Xcrawl events for Xcrawl PCs. Something that occurred to me early on while I was reading the book is explicitly stated here. You can make any published or homemade dungeon adventure an Xcrawl event. The book goes so far as to suggest that you can rerun a previously used adventure and watch the horror on the players' faces when they start to realize that this is the very same dungeon some other PCs they played a year ago completed. Of course it takes a group of disciplined players to keep player knowledge and character knowledge separate, so this tactic may not be suitable for some groups.
Advice follows that the GM should emulate the television as much as possible. Remember that Xcrawl events are televised, so the action should be described as if you were watching along with the home audience. The standard bit of advice to keep the PCs at the center of the story is dealt with. GMs are advised not to allow players to create alter-egos for themselves and not to create DJs as their in-game selves either. The DJ can be designed to be ruthless, but the GM still has to run a fun game. I can see the potential for some GMs to abuse the NPC DJ concept and use it to actively try to kill PCs at every turn. When the player's start whining, the GM can say, "Hey, it's not me guys! It's that mean ol' DJ killing your characters." There is a section that covers rewarding personality, but also one on the fact that even when a player is roleplaying in character, if they are disruptive, sometimes you have to whack 'em.
While most Xcrawls are timed events, the Lord Stableford System (LSS) is presented as an alternate scoring method. It consists of a list of things that earn the team bonuses or penalties and the team with the highest total wins. It's an interesting concept, but one that might be too difficult to bother with in practice. Some things like 8 for finishing a room or -15 if an NPC is killed wouldn't be too hard to track, but it would be easy to forget to write down the 2 for a critical hit or -2 for critical miss one or more times during the course of an adventure. The thing about using the LSS is that the players will inevitably want to know their score and the scores of the other teams. Furthermore, some smart alec player may keep his own running total and dispute your scoring. It's much easier as the GM to assume the PCs' team had the fastest time through a level, assuming they don't totally blow it.
Experience is dealt with next. Since Xcrawl players get breaks, medical assistance, etc. while completing a crawl, normal experience should be calculated as if the party were two levels higher than normal. If the GM has designed a particularly difficult dungeon that for example doesn't allow breaks between levels; the team's average level should be counted as one higher for calculating XPs. The exception to this is haywire encounters, which earn full XPs. These are situations designed by the GM that go beyond what the DJ intended, such as monsters getting loose from the dungeon. This practice of reducing XP awards has the benefit of keeping PCs from advancing too quickly. Without this concession, the author states that PCs would potentially earn enough XPs from a single crawl to advance to the next Division, repeat this process, and so on, ultimately being eligible to retire in a single season. This isn't realistic as teams normally play several crawls over a season or two before advancing to the next Division. Keeping the experience rewards lower than normal will help prevent the PCs from advancing too quickly. Although this isn't mentioned, GMs should cover this aspect with players before the campaign begins, so that they aren't surprised by the reduced rewards.
No discussion of what experience to award outside of Xcrawl events is listed. I assume that standard awards would be used since the PCs are risking life and limb without the benefits of breakrooms, medics, and NoGo escape hatches when encountering monsters in the wild. GMs that want to take their players out of the games from time to time should factor this into their plans, as the end result would be the same; the players advance too quickly and need to compete in a higher Division before they would realistically receive such an invite.
Sections on treasure, magic items, and prizes close out this chapter. As already mentioned GP notes are common treasure items, but clunkers like a year's supply of dog chow are also used. In general, Xcrawl dungeons contain 1/3 useful prizes, 1/3 glamorous or prestigious prizes, and 1/3 groaners. Magic armor and weapons will normally be of the 1 to 3 variety and all have a unique name. Large prizes are collected on completion of the event. Players aren't expected to drag food processors or karaoke machines around with them. A brief discussion of liquidating prizes appearing on page 181 is the final section in this chapter.
Chapter Six - The Appendix
First of all, why the appendix was given a chapter number is beyond me, but it's only a minor irritant. A sample crawl, Memphiscrawl XVI, the kick-off crawl of the Division 3 season starts things off. The adventure is fairly long and takes up the bulk of the chapter. This review is quite long enough already, so I'm not going to spend any time going over the adventure itself. It's a standard 3-level timed crawl, with 6 teams (including the PCs' team) competing. Only the fastest two teams will advance to level 2 and the team with the best time on level two advances to level three. This crawl is one of the more flashy variety rather than a traditional dungeon and highlights the setting fairly well. There are princesses to rescue, prizes to be won, and star monsters to defeat. It should play out like a cross between the WWE and Survivor.
Following the adventure is a short Beastiary section, with six new monsters, most of which the PCs will encounter if the GM runs the sample adventure. Following this is a section called Character Archetypes, which is an IC magazine interview with the Dunguun Gangstaas, one of the rival teams competing in Memphiscrawl XVI. This if followed by completed character sheets for each of the Dunguun Gangstaas. There are seven characters all together including two rogues, one human and one halfling; a human cleric; a human wizard; a human athlete; a dwarf fighter; and a half-orc barbarian (because every party needs one player playing a highly rare race/class combo). All of them are level four characters and they provide a ready-made selection of PCs for GMs who want to run the included adventure as a one off or as a means to introduce the setting to players before allowing them to create their own characters.
A blank Character Sheet and Team Sheet are next. The blank character sheet is the same layout as the included sample characters, just not filled in. It is suitable for photocopying and permission is granted for personal use. It is fairly well laid out and includes all the traditional info a player needs such as stats, weapons, attacks, etc. along with spaces for the Xcrawl specific data such as Fame, endorsement contracts, and signature moves. The team record sheet includes a section for the team roster as well as sections for a designated substitute; other personnel such as Agent, Coach, and Sponsor; Theme Song; Team Logo; and a box to keep track of the Mojo Pool. A two-page index is followed by the obligatory OGL license on page 240, closing out the book.
Impressions and Evaluation
Before I launch into my ratings, I'd like to provide some demographic info so you'll be able to place my evaluation in context. While I have run and played OD&D, as well as AD&D 1st and 2nd editions, I have not run or played 3e yet. I do own all of the core books, most of the Kingdoms of Kalamar line, & several other supplements from various publishers. I don't have anything against 3e; I've just been busy with three other campaigns and haven't been sufficiently motivated to make time for 3e gaming as of yet. Secondly, I don't consider myself a fan of the classic dungeon crawl style of gaming where the only object of the game is to beat the monsters, take their stuff gaining enough XPs in the process to level up, so you can take on tougher monsters that are worth more XPs and have more treasure, level up again, ad nauseam.
Having stated that, I absolutely love Xcrawl! So much so that I am tempted to put my other campaigns on hiatus and take the half dozen or so other ideas off the back burner, removing them from the stove entirely, to make time to create and run an Xcrawl campaign. When a setting makes you want to drop everything else and run it, it's more than done its job.
I picked this up for myself while Christmas shopping on the advice of the FGLS staffer. He told me a little bit about it and even though I had no plans to run D&D any time soon and already have more than enough material should I decide to do so, I was intrigued enough to want to find out more. I literally could not put this book down. I read the first half straight through in one sitting on the day I bought it. That is word for word, every page with no skimming or jumping ahead. It was that entertaining. Only tiredness forced me to put the book down for the night and resume reading the next day. Reality conspired to prevent me from being able to finish the book in a single sitting the following day, but I digested the rest of it in bits over the next few days and then immediately sat down to write this while everything was still fresh in my mind.
I hate rating Style. Side by side with a WotC book, Xcrawl is going to suffer by comparison. I like hardbacks though, so that boosts the score for me. The art isn't terrible, but doesn't really enhance the book either. I'd still have to rate it below average on my personal opinion scale. There were enough editing mistakes to be annoying. Typos, missing punctuation, and the odd grammatical error I might be willing to forgive, but examples that contradict the rules as presented simply should have been caught. Hopefully, these will appear as errata on the company's website and better still, corrected in subsequent printings. On the other hand, the writing style gets high marks for being entertaining to read. I laughed out loud quite often. The alternate earth history was compelling. The flavor text sections and IC quotes help add to the immersion factor. Many rulebooks often read like textbooks and are a chore to wade through, but those that try to come off as novels often have a hard time conveying the rules. Xcrawl manages to find the middle ground and nails it perfectly. The layout is serviceable, fonts are a pleasing size, and there is very little wasted space in all 240 pages. All in all, I feel the good outweighs the bad and the book is probably above average compared to most of what is on the shelves these days, so I'm giving it a 4 for Style.
As for content, the book is jam-packed. Half the book is setting, which is appropriate, but even though most people may only run NAE Xcrawl events, they don't skimp on information about the rest of the world. You don't just get to run modern-day televised dungeon crawls, you get to run them in a rich, detailed world setting. There is enough info here for enterprising GMs to run just about any other type of adventure they want, if the dungeon crawl gets stale. New crunchy bits are not overwhelming and are appropriate to the setting. Although I wasn't impressed with the Athlete, it is certainly a viable character class. The Prestige classes will be useful to the GM in designing NPCs, which is how I feel they should be used, rather than by players. The included adventure isn't spectacular, but does a good job of illustrating how a Xcrawl event is different from most typical dungeon crawls. The table of contents and index are on the skimpy side, but I've seen worse.
The GM advice is a bit of a mixed bag. I think the author assumed that the GM will be experienced at running D&D and would be using Xcrawl to offer the players a new and different experience. If that's the case, the bit about you being allowed to add/change/delete anything in the setting for your game should not have been necessary. The parts that discuss how to convey the setting to the players are pretty good. On the other hand, I found myself wanting more. It would have been nice if they had addressed how to handle experience outside of events for example. Also, there was no advice on what to do with a player whose character has been killed. Experienced GMs have probably already had to deal with this in the past, so no help is offered. Still, a tip to let a player take control of a monster or NPC so they can stay involved in the game would've been nice. However, the book covers the subjects the author felt he needed to and I'm just being greedy. I can't give the book anything less than a 5 for Substance.
So, is Xcrawl for you? If you and your group like good old-fashioned dungeon crawls and WWE Smackdown, you'll love Xcrawl. If you're like me and don't particularly care for that style of play, Xcrawl could change your mind. It did for me and that's high praise for any book. If you ever wanted to run D&D set in the modern-day real world (that's D&D, not d20 BTW) here you go. If you are the type that just likes to pick out new Prestige Classes, Feats, Skills, and Spells for adapting to your own campaign, you're money is going to be better spent elsewhere. Everyone else should rush out and buy Xcrawl. Forget Forgotten Realms, keep Kalamar, Xcrawl is it!