What do you get when you combine reality television,
professional wrestling, D&D, and that episode of Star Trek in
which they find an alternate Earth with 20th Century Romans?
Xcrawl is a campaign setting for d20/D&D. It's perhaps unlike
any other campaign setting I've seen, in that Dungeon Crawling is
a televised professional sport, and the PCs are professional
athletes instead of adventurers. It's set in an alternate Earth,
where there is D&D style magic and fantasy races and
monsters. It's for regular d20/D&D, not d20 Modern. There is
technology though, about on level with the year 2000 or so,
though it's lower in some areas.
It's a hardcover book, around 240 pages, priced at $34.95 (I got
it for the surprisingly low price of $15 including S&H on
ebay). The paper is quite heavy, too, making the book quite
sturdy. It's a bit shorter than most RPG books, by about an half
an inch. (If you've seen a hardcover from Sovereign Press, this
looks like they used the same printer). The art is pretty good,
but there's not much (and it's somewhat minimalistic). The cover
depicts 3 members of the "Dunguun Gangstaas" Xcrawling
team: Oni, The Messenger, and Geronimo Nick.
Chapter One (about 25 pages) goes into the
detail of the world. As mentioned, it's set on an alternate
Earth. It's a bit weird, almost unbelievable, but it's fairly
well detailed. It seems that at the dawn of history, there was a
big war between Humans and these Alf-like creatures called the
Zeetha (Alf the little puppet guy from the phone commercials.).
That ended poorly, and civilization was wiped out for a while.
Somehow, something exactly like the old Roman empire was started
(not just like it, but the name, same place). From there, it's
somewhat like real world history - dark ages, rennaisance,
industrial age, only Christianity never catches on. And instead
of forming the US after the American Revolution, there's the
North American Empire (based on the lines of the old Roman
Many historical figures are the same. For instance, instead of
becoming president, George Washinton became George Augustus.
Shakespeare wrote Trokio & Juliet (about an elf and human)
instead of Romeo & Juliet. Etc, etc, etc. Even a World War
Two style war with Adolph Hitler.
Chapter Two is pretty lengthy, about 50 pages,
and details the world as it is today. The current leader of the
NAE is Ronald Reagan, who was appointed emperor after the old
one, James III (Jimmy Carter?) was killed by a rabbit (er, his
cousin). It goes fairly in depth into the culture and everyday
life of the NAE, how various races fit in, etc. The rest of the
world is also covered, though not in as much depth - usually just
a paragraph or two for each country. There's also an 'underdark'
- that is, a huge cave network where people live. While Dark
Elves live under there, they are not called "Drow", but
"Alfar" (This would have been a better name for the Alf
like people, IMHO.).
In an interesting twist on real life, most countries of the world
are monarchies or dictatorships, except Zimbabwe, which is a
Chapter Three explains just what Xcrawl the
sport is, and how it got started.
Xcrawl is essentially just a televised dungeon crawl. Part sport,
part reality TV. The goals are also quite simple, pretty much the
same fare as you find in First Person Shooters (the computer game
genre, like Doom or Half-Life) - rescue so many people
("Princesses"), find some keys, etc.
How it got started is a longer story. Basically, an ancient
intelligent sword was found in some ruins. He became a media
star, and told stories about the good old days when his former
owner would go exploring ancient ruins and such. This spawned a
tabletop game with that idea. Then one day, an enterprising fan
of that game decided a real life version (think that Tom Hanks
movie). However, one day one of his games went amok when the game
players ran into some Ghouls. They ended up fighting with them,
and told the story to the media, which spawned the real live
versions (that idea was actually from Emperor Ronald, supposedly
to distract the public.).
This bit is perhaps a bit contrived. I mean, I can see Xcrawl as
an actual sport/TV show, and I would not be surprised in real
life if something like Xcrawl appeared on TV, but I don't think
it would be nearly as popular as football (note, while it was
hardly a deathsport, in the very early days of college football,
there was actually a very high body count. Which is part of the
reason padding was developed). Or even baseball. Sure baseball is
boring, but it attracts a certain sort of people who love arguing
about it, and analyzing to death using statistics. (In countries
without baseball, that sort of people is reduced to
Chapter Four is on new rules and is about 50
pages. For a d20 product, this is actually quite rules light.
The concept of "Mojo" is introduced. Essentially, it's
a pool of points that can be used during an Xcrawl that can help
a skill test. The trick is, it can only be used to help another
player, and that player cannot request the use of it. This is
pretty clever, I thought. It encourages teamwork.
There's also rules for Fame. It's essentially a 1 to 100 scale.
While I like the idea of this, I think it probably would have
made more sense to treat it as a normal d20 stat. Along with
fame, there are guidelines for sponsorships and such, which is
where the real money is made. (Tied into fame is how a signature
move works. Basically, it's a 1-2 punch that a character uses,
sort of like how wrestlers have special moves)
The book describes how each d20 core class fits into the world of
Xcrawl. Some of them are modified slightly when it comes to class
skills and proficiencies (to accommadate the new skills
introduced for guns and driving). There's only 1 new skill
(Driving) and only a few new feats.
There's also a new core class introduced, The Athlete. This seems
pretty balanced, it's got the average combat skill, d10 for hit
points, 4 skill points per level, and average saves in all the
categories (not quite the standard average saving throw, which
ends up at 9 at 20th level, this only goes up to 8).
There are also a few new prestige classes which also fit the
setting. Celebrity, Dungeon Judge, Monster Trapper. Probably
mostly useful for NPCs.
There's a smattering of new gear. Basically, some firearms, stats
for sports equipment like aluminum baseball bats, bowling balls,
baseballs, plus a chainsaw!. There's also some new armor. The
column headings for Max Dex Bonus and Armor bonus seem to be
reversed on the chart. (this is about the only editing mistake I
noticed, though in some places the justification of the columns
Chapter Five is on running Xcrawl games. Mostly
advice, though there is also an alternate scoring system for
Xcrawl matches (ordinarily, the quickest through a dungeon wins).
Chapter Six is mostly a sample Xcrawl. It's
"MemphisCrawl XVI". It's weird! Almost reminds me of
the rather silly Castle Greyhawk module from TSR. Besides that
(which is fairly long), there's a few new monsters. Lastly,
there's an interview with an Xcrawl team (the one which is used
for most of the fiction in the book), and has character sheets
There is an index!
They got Section 15 of the Open Gaming License wrong. They
included the notation for the OGL itself, and Xcrawl, but forgot
the d20 SRD.
This is an interesting product. The idea behind it is pretty
good. It's fairly original, although it's somewhat similar to the
Dream Park novel (which had a game from R. Talsorian), and now
that I think about it, is somewhat similar to the old show,
American Gladiators (that didn't have a lethal dungeon, but the
last part did have an obstacle course, and they did fight people,
albeit with padded sticks).
On the other hand, because it's so narrowly focused, simply on
Dungeon Crawling, it could get boring after a while. The Xcrawl
Dungeons don't even seem to be that big. So, it might be more
suited to a one shot or occasional games than a long, ongoing
campaign. While people do really seem to like dungeon crawls,
they like more than just that. Especially since the dungeon
crawls here are a bit shallow and humorous.
I would have liked to have seen more on adventuring opportunities
outside of Xcrawl. Most of the book describes the world of
Xcrawl, but I'm not sure what Xcrawlers could do as part of a
game outside Xcrawl itself. It goes into the money making
opportunities, like sponsorships, but that's about it.
Ultimately, while I think the game is focused a bit too narrowly,
they did do an excellent job with it. The book is well written,
and the new rules are limited (a good thing, in my view) but
generally very helpful. So I have to give this book an A-.
Still, if you're looking for a book from which to borrow a lot of
d20 rules or crunchy bits, this isn't it. If you're looking for a
setting that offers a lot of serious roleplaying opportunity,
this also probably isn't it.
The book itself is great for reading. Hillarious in places. So
you won't waste your money if you buy this, even if you never run
Personally, I'm probably going to use it as part of my Dragonstar