Character Tumbler

The Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG (at least the preview PDF I’ve read) never quite gelled for me, somehow. Full props to Goodman for trying to take the OSR in new directions, but many of the directions they chose—odd dice, fiddly spellcasting mechanics, and so on—feel too much like being different for different’s sake. Meanwhile they kept some of the most annoying bits of OSR games, like race as class. Your mileage may vary.

But one bit of DCCRPG really captured my imagination: The character funnel, which turns four sad-sack level-0 characters into one level 1 PC by the power of dice and almost-certain death.

The character funnel brings a very OSR approach to a very OSR problem. The problem is that most retro-styled games have very swingy character creation. The beloved Iron Man stat generation system (roll 3d6 in order for each ability) is particularly bad in this regard.

Out of (say) four characters, Iron Man will generally turn up one rock-solid character, two mediocrities, and one you just feel sorry for. This is fine for players 1, 2, and 3; but it can really blow chunks for poor player 4.

There’re two classic solutions to the problem: One is to make character generation more merciful (Fine enough for most GMs; but those of us who like a little arbitrary brutality find this unsatisfactory), the other is to tell players to suck it up (Also fine enough, until you get the player who rolls five 10s and a 7. What do you tell that poor bastard?).

Most of the OSR GMs I’ve read suggest that this swinginess is just fine: The characters who survive were the ones who deserved to survive. Players will eventually learn to love their sucky characters for their unique histories, rather than their raw numbers. This does little for more modern players who don’t want to slog through their first few sessions with a suboptimal 10-10-10-10-10-7er like the one mentioned above. Indeed, in my experience, many players will have given up on the entire OSR system well before they can enjoy this compensation.

DCC’s OSR solution is very nifty: It accelerates the building of that character history. Let’s outline it briefly: Each player creates four level-0 PCs. Each of these receives a tiny fragment of personality and backstory: A race, profession, and a few meager possessions. You then send these sadsacks through the meat-grinder of a typical D&D dungeon. The few who manage to claw their way from -100 XP to 1 XP attain level one, and get a class and a proper place in the campaign.

The idea, then, is that players learn to love the idiots who survived simply because they’re the ones who managed to beat the odds. Who cares that your survivor (a farmer, with nothing to his name but a goat and a smile) has 7 Strength and 4 Charisma? Somehow his 13 Intelligence allowed him to pull through, and he’s now ready for a profitable career as a wizard.

It’s a damned great idea. But I wanted to use it with my system of choice, rather than DCC, and I wanted a free version of the idea so even non-DCC players could enjoy it. So I wrote up a Basic Fantasy version (.pdf; .odt also available).1 This should work just fine with most other OSR games, as well, though you’ll need to adjust saves and AC.

The funnel turns up all sorts of evocative characters: An Elven Ragpicker with 16 Charisma, unencumbered by any possessions except a sack of broken glass. A Dwarven Beekeeper, apparently not hampered in her chosen profession by her 4 Dexterity. Human Nobles with pet monkeys; Halfling Vintners with three jugs of wine; even Dwarven Wizard’s Apprentices.2

The Funnel has one other use: It’s very good for creating NPC parties, and indeed just common NPCs in general. Three rolls on pages two and three will get you 90% of a basic NPC, and ten minutes or so of effort will produce a crew of four suitable for dropping into any dungeon.

Not only that, but I flatter myself that the list of possessions will create amusing corpses for PCs to loot. If you do use the Funnel to create NPCs, I’d suggest just doing two or three rolls on the Equipment Generator, rather than buying loot for each one individuallly.


Basic Fantasy Character Tumbler, .pdf

Basic Fantasy Character Tumbler, .odt

Basic Fantasy Character Tumbler Sheet, .doc

All files licensed under the Open Game License, for full terms see the file downloads.

  1. The character cards attached to this post are output from the Funnel, and are 100% unaltered. If you want to fill out sheets on the computer, download the character sheet template.

  2. Impossible, I know. I would advise players with surviving wannabe-dwarf-wizards to persuade your GM that this Dwarf can evade the class restriction. Failing that, you have a great backstory about the poor Dwarf who wasted a half-century in misguided pursuit of arcane power.