Five friends and I recently went through Twilight of the Solstice, a Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) holiday adventure from Goodman Games. We were not new to DCC, nor to fantasy role-playing in general. Even the “tournament style” of play (a one-day slog) was familiar to us. I was intrigued from the start, and I liked the DM a lot, and so my girlfriend and I signed up. Massive Spoilers from this point on. It turned out to be the second worse rpg experience of my life.
The real intriguing part was the scratch-off character sheets; as our characters had lost their memories, all of their attributes, levels, abilities, and even starting equipment was hidden from us. It was usually only under character stress moments, like combat (or running away from combat) that these scratch-offs could be scratched off — revealing one aspect at a time.
That’s all fine and good, really hard but interesting, except that at the end of the night, we found that the characters sucked. My 3rd level Dwarf was proficient in club and leather armor. My girlfriend’s 4th level Halfling had, I think, 13 Hit Points. Understand that we remained interested in the game only because of the possibility that something hidden on our character sheets would help us in the seemingly impossible adventure. I don’t blame the DM here as he didn’t know about the horrid characters either.
But before I move on to our adventure details, I must continue to complain about the characters. Quoting the website, “…this module comes bundled with six random scratch-off character sheets.” That was true, I guess. That would explain why both pre-generated Dwarves in our party were exactly the same, exactly. So were the two Halflings, exactly the same. I thought it strange that the character sheets had different serial numbers but were still the same for both of these pairs. Never fear, there was also another fighter that actually had metal armor, and perhaps the weakest Druid wanna-be I’ve ever seen. The fact that the information was hidden from us, in the end, became meaningless and only the greatest practical joke. Ha-ha! Goodman Games apparently doesn’t care that this stuff poisons me against their products.
So now that we have our cool-looking, scratch-off characters, we start the game. We faced off against a pack of weird wolves, unarmed, and as we hadn’t necessarily uncovered our possessions, unarmored. We found bric-a-brac in the snow to fight with. I found a pewter mug to hit wolves with, and attacked like a 0-level. We almost lost several characters to the wolves as we couldn’t hit or harm dick. The DM actually said that he “didn’t want any of us to die at the beginning” so he had the wolves run away. We did manage to kill two of them but we were outnumbered. I was worried after getting this DM help. I detest the philosophy that says the DM should EVER help the players, this way or by fudging dice. I would have been better off leaving my friends high and dry and going out to dinner with my sweetheart. But I’m a nice guy. Note that this would be the first of a nearly constant helping of DM interference to give “us” any chance at all. I put “us” in quotes because if it is the DM that solves the problems then what are we doing there?
So next was a straight-forward path with a handful of caves on one side. We had caves to explore so we didn’t bother looking for the secret door, which would have made the next seven hours of game play slightly more bearable. Had we found the secret path, we would have had more equipment and answers to some of what was going on. So, bad on us for not looking right?
I detest adventures where the only good way forward is to ask NPCs for literal help. It was like before, the DM solving our problems. There is no mystery, risk or fun if the DM’s awesome NPC characters are providing us what we need to succeed. So the scene with the helpful Dwarves is only an example of poor writing. But we didn’t get this help anyway, so… more fun for us.
We spent a few hours real-time looking through a network of meaningless caves, where the neatest thing we did was find means to build a fire so we wouldn’t freeze to death. Eventually we faced off with another foe, you know Orcs and Goblins. HA! No, they were Frost-type Giants armed with ballistae. I thought long and hard… No I didn’t. I didn’t even consider what use my beer stein would be against a giant. We all ran. Fun stuff there. Oh, and it turned out that some of the giants were, like, super tricked-out giants, not just normal giants.
I am not the type of player that gets hard thinking about the amazingly awesome monsters that are killing me.
It didn’t seem the first cave was leading anywhere that didn’t have giants in it so we went to the next cave. It was filled with giant piles of guano, so, we avoided what we assumed would be giant killer bats, and we were right.
Next was a room that was essentially a trap. It killed time, hours of in-game time, which was bad because the game was on the clock. We had to finish in a certain number of game days or we would lose. We considered using aspects of the trap, weaponizing it to use against the giants, but as we didn’t know our attribute bonuses or classes, we only ended up getting trapped ourselves, over and over. I guess we weren’t smart enough to play in this adventure. The fun never stops.
I think I may have passed out from all of the fun we were having, because I don’t remember which cave we were exploring when we met the snake-lizard monster. The room had a pond in it, with passages on the far side. We had to find a way across the water to get to those passages. It was that or face the giants so… In the water was a giant snake-lizard thing which was just beyond all coolness for a real party to fight. It swallowed I think three members of our party, and only through the genius, unwarranted help from the DM did we all escape—even those who were swallowed.
We went back to the first cave because there were still passages that, perhaps, didn’t lead to giants. We couldn’t map the passages because our characters didn’t have pen and paper. We marked the walls and that worked well. Still I wonder if the DM just gave up and let us find the room we were apparently supposed to find hours earlier. This room was a puzzle-room with twelve different rooms randomly leading out from it via passages. It was random because each of the twelve target rooms changed every time you chose even the same passage. Why there were twelve doorways instead of one, I don’t know.
We avoided fighting a lot of giants there, got chatty with another, picked up a lot of tools that we feebly tried to wield as weapons, and finally found the final room. This room had a contraption in it, one that I figured we could figure out to lead us to victory. Obviously we were not supposed to do any fighting this game, so we must needed to use our minds. Nope. Just another sucker punch. Just another place to get frustrated, learn nothing, and waste time.
In the end we used up all of our luck, literally used it all up, to get to the final scene. I had ideas, but the three massive giants working there had others. As we had been playing for the better part of ten straight hours, we went with the full frontal “Please kill us now” assault. Our DM, seeking to have an ounce of fun himself, relished the critical hits the giants leveled against us.
There’s nothing like it, after a full day of frustration, when the DM tells you what you “should” have done, emphasizing again that we just were not smart enough to play through this adventure. We couldn’t figure out the keys to unlock the easy paths, paths designed by the writer of the adventure. Did you see what I did there? I’m expressing further frustration that the adventure was written with very specific “paths to success” a chronic problem with a lot of published adventures.
I said this was the second worst rpg experience of my life. The first was a similar 10-hour slog, that because we went right instead of left at the very beginning of the adventure made it so that we could never win. Yet, we played anyway.
Bruner, M. (2016). Twilight of the Solstice: Order Now! Retrieved January 09, 2017, from http://goodman-games.com/blog/2016/12/19/twilight-of-the-solstice-order-now/ Dungeon Crawl Classics.