(GenCon 2007 tournament module designed by Jason Little, to be published later by Pandahead Productions)
XCrawl is a d2o Fantasy (aka Dungeons & Dragons) variant that embraces the dungeon crawl, and pushes it beyond its natural limits. XCrawl is about dungeon crawling as modern mass media sports spectacle!
XCrawl has been a minor hit for Pandahead, and they are trying to raise its profile among hardcore D&D players, so a tournament at GenCon is a natural idea. The Phoenix Open is the dungeon it will be taking place in. There are also plans to publish Phoenix as a part of the XCrawl line later in the year.
Pandahead Productions is closely associated with Goodman Games, who are probably best known for the equally unrepentant Dungeon Crawl Classics series of modules. XCrawl Phoenix’s designer, Jason Little, has worked on several products for Goodman, so he was a natural person to tap for this year’s XCrawl tournament.
Jay and I have known each other, via Boardgamegeek and the online boardgaming community, for a couple of years now. A while back, I commented on a boardgame design that Jay is working on, and I guess he liked what I had to say. Since I also play Dungeons & Dragons, Jay approached me (among others) about giving his manuscript a look.
The big advantage of the XCrawl concept is that it allows a DM or module designer to give his imagination free rein when designing a ‘Crawl. XCrawl dungeons have been constructed using 20th century technology to produce a televised spectacle for mass consumption. They do not have to conform to anyone’s concept of what could happen “naturally.” This lets them be colourful, crafty, and distinct.
I can’t give any details away, of course, but Jay has taken advantage of this to make Phoenix a colourful experience as well as a true challenge. I went over it primarily with an eye for lapses in the internal consistency and (nominal😉 ) storyline of the dungeon. I also bring a Forge- and boardgame-influenced perspective to fun and design. In particular, the concept that dice should only be rolled when both success and failure are interesting has been a huge influence on how I look at such material, and I flagged a few places where there dice rolls may not have lived up to that standard, as well as a couple of unintentional deadends.
Jay liked what I had to say, anyway
While doing this, I was seduced somewhat by the XCrawl premise, and I’ve started mentally pushing around ideas for a design of my own. Who knows if anything concrete will result from this pondering, but XCrawl is liberating enough to make dungeon design more than just intriguing. The freedom to follow your muse (and mine is a strange lass) actually makes it enticing…