Lankhmar (2019)

Lankhmar is what really brought me into the Dungeon Crawl Classics fold. The box set is A+ all the way down. It continues the idea, begun in Michael Curtis’ Chained Coffin, of creating different flavors of DCC. Where Chained Coffin did that through tone and setting, Lankhmar does it mechanically. You can play it just like regular DCC, but one whole booklet — Compendium of Secret Knowledge — lays out all the rule tweaks necessary to run a “literary” campaign modeled after Leiber’s stories (which, in fairness, while never reaching the wacky heights of standard DCC, tend to be a bit more gonzo than folks generally remember).

In practice, the Compendium dials DCC’s natural wildness down in a way similar to how TSR’s Lankhmar did, though DCC’s Lankhmar remains much weirder and more vibrant than its TSR cousin, just because DCC is a weirder game. The primary difference here is the lack of the funnel, which produces slightly more powerful characters. No clerics. Magic is dialed to low, but still can run wild in that DCC sort of way. Bespoke characters also start with a background bonus and a doom, to keep things interesting. Tweaks to healing rules and a supplemental luck mechanic further add to the more heroic vibe.

The rest of the box, with the exception of a slim adventure, is dedicated to fleshing out the city and the world. There are charts galore (lol: city air quality!) and piles of patrons (of course, since the patron concept comes directly from Leiber’s Sheelba and Ningauble). Much of this feels familiar — the city map, for instance, is a clear echo of the TSR Lankhmar — but also very different from previous conceptions of the city. The color palette is different, it seems new, stranger, lit with an odd light. Doug Kovacs’ art sells it for me, he kind of simultaneously embodies the old, more conservative Lankhmar and its weird new incarnation in turn, gritty but also bright, mundane but magical.  

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