Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Disney Crawl Classics - When You Wish Upon a Starless Sea - Part One

“It’s like Kingdom Hearts… with corruption”

I love mash-ups. 

Give me two completely unrelated systems, genres, or stories and it won’t take me very long to find a way to throw them together...

… Ravenloft and Planescape…

… Disney and Numenera…

… Disney and The Last Parsec…

… Sherlock Holmes and Dark Sun and Star Wars (oh my!)

My games are often giant melting pots of off-the-wall ideas.  A common denominator in my mashed settings is often Disney, which should come as no surprise given the amount of gaming I do with my family.  If I tell my three children that they are playing a group of space-faring heroes they may smile.   But if I tell them that their quest involves Buzz Lightyear, Wall-E, and Stitch they start jumping up and down with glee! 

Imagine how excited my sweet little children will be after experiencing a Harley Stroh adventure with Mickey and friends.   It’ll be swell!

The truth is that I’ve been bitten by the Dungeon Crawl Classics bug pretty hard these last few weeks, and quite frankly I’m looking for every opportunity to play.  After a very successful Viking Crawl Classics session last week, I tore open my calendar to schedule the next session.   Sadly I have to wait another two weeks before returning to the Isle of the Abbey.  To spice up the DCCRPG “downtime”, and thanks to a recommendation on Google+, I’ll be running Carl Bussler ’s “The Well of Souls” this Friday at our monthly Norwin Game Knights event

… but as the great mermaid Ariel sang, “I want more!” 

My recent DCCRPG obsession is partially fueled by my experiences in Red Hook Studios’ new game Darkest Dungeon.  As I’ve stated in the past, I use computer games as a source of inspiration for my tabletop RPG hobby.  There really is no better match up of computer game and tabletop game than DCCRPG and Darkest Dungeon.  With Darkest Dungeon's randomly generated characters and high lethality, each “delve” feels like a DCCRPG 0-level funnel.  So after a full week hacking, slashing, and going completely insane (in game of course), the seeds for Disney Crawl Classics started working their way into my twisted mind.

Whenever I play strategy CRPG’s that let me choose character names I always pick a “theme” to help establish some empathy with the characters.  Back in the late 1990’s, while playing a lot of X-Com Apocalypse, I would choose famous musicians of the day.  Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 was a terrific heavy weapons specialist, and Lars Ulrich rocked out with a pair of futuristic tommy-guns!   Years later, in X-Com: Enemy Unknown, I used fictional character names for my squad, like Amy Pond from Doctor Who or Ivan Drago from Rocky IV.   The day I started Darkest Dungeon our family was binge-watching episodes of Phineas and Ferb

… because that cartoon is AWESOME!

I named my save file “Phineas’ Lament”, and went with a Disney character theme for all of my recruits. Phineas Jr. the Crusader, Merida the Arbalest, and Jafar the Occultist filled my rosters, among other poor souls of course.  I could’ve spent all of last weekend playing Darkest Dungeon, but the rest of my family has a talent for guilt-tripping me when I meld into the computer.  That’s when I had my “eureka” moment:

I could be playing this kind of game with the kids rather than sitting on the computer by myself! 

And so Disney Crawl Classics was born!

Building a Mini-Campaign

My wife and kids aren’t exactly “newbs” when it comes to Dungeon Crawl Classics.  Both daughters played in my very first session of Portal Under the Stars), and my wife Jennifer plays in our Viking Crawl Classics game.  So the concept of a 0-level funnel is well known in our house, to the point that my eldest daughter Carrie had a slight look of apprehension when I pitched the idea to her Monday night.  I could see in her eyes both the excitement of playing some of her favorite Disney characters, coupled with the realization that most would not be making it to the end of the adventure. 

My description of the three part mini-campaign was honest and to the point. “It’s like Kingdom Hearts… with corruption,” I told them as we sat down to choose characters. 

I made it a point to let everyone know that this family event wouldn’t just be another meat grinder (sort of a lie, but they bought it), and that it was my hope to have some of the characters survive the first adventure and continue through two more.  Several months ago I purchased The People of the Pit and The Emerald Enchanter, and have been looking for an excuse to run these, following another trip through Sailors on a Starless Sea. This would be the perfect opportunity, but all three adventures would need a little reskinning. 

So I give you my proposed Disney Crawl Classics Trilogy:

  1. When You Wish Upon a Starless Sea
  2. The Toys of the Vault
  3. The Earmarked Enchanter

Don't they sound like perfect bedtime stories?


The Great Character Draft

Not only am I opting for simple reskins with the adventure, I’m doing the same thing with the character selection.  Although creating Disney-themed characters entirely through custom generation (via Purple Sorcerer Games’ 0-level Party Generator) would be difficult, I was able to get the adventurers about 90% to the mark. The process was relatively simple:
  1. First I used Purple Sorcerer Games to cobble together twenty-four 0-level characters
  2. Then I looked at each set of stats and tried to mix and match at least twenty. For instance Mickey should be one with higher Intelligence while Flynn Rider should boast a higher Agility. I did this twenty times and was left with four 0-levels that didn’t really match any Disney character.
  3. Once I was able to get the attributes to match, I selected the Occupations for each character. 

I came up a list of Disney-fied DCCRPG cutpurses, thugs, and peasants and the kids held a "draft" to pick their 0-level characters.

I had a request on Google+ for the character builds, so if you scroll to the very end of this blog post you can find all of the nuts and bolts!

When You Wish Upon a Starless Sea, Part One

The northeastern region of the Frankish Empire had long been a place of fear and terror. During the early years of the Dark Ages, not long after the fall of Rome, there was a terrible war pitting righteousness against chaos, just east of the town of Verden.   Although centuries have passed since a battle, the surrounding region has long been cursed with pestilence and disease.  The people of Verden lived out their lives fearful of the darkest corners of their lands, but with the promised safety of their small militia and sturdy town walls. Recent events proved, however, that Verden’s veil of solace no longer remains. Couriers brought word to Emperor Charlemagne that foul minions of chaos were in control of a cursed fortress only a half-day’s ride from Verden. These terrible creatures preyed on the town, abducting citizens and performing awful magicks on the land itself. 

(Viking Crawl Classics was taking place “up north”, I decided to stick with a historical fantasy theme and use the companion to TSR’s Vikings Campaign Sourcebook for Disney Crawl Classics: Charlemagne’s Paladins. This helped me explain what some of the characters were doing in the world without using too much plane-hopping mumbo-jumbo.) 

Unable, to send any of his soldiers to investigate the fortress, Emperor Charlemagne called on his court sorcerer: the legendary Yen Sid.  Yen Sid was to arrange for a scouting party of capable magicians to dispel any curses and purge Verden’s blight. Unfortunately Yen Sid was all out of capable magicians, having just leant them to a Britannian king two weeks earlier. But he did have his apprentice: a chipper anthropomorphic mouse named Mickey, who seemed willing and eager to take on this mission in order to prove himself as a capable student once and for all. Yen Sid mistakenly created Mickey several years earlier, after doodling on parchment with enchanted ink. The elder wizard never cared for his apprentice, which is why he never completed Mickey’s arcane training. 

Before leaving the wizard’s tower in Aachen, the wizard’s apprentice assembled everyone, and anyone who didn’t seem to mind marching off to certain doom. His party consisted of the following: 
  • Oswald, a fellow anthropomorphic creature with halfling qualities, also created by Yen Sid.
  • Alice, an elven wayfarer who had explored wonderful lands.
  • Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, an overly cheerful couple on the lookout for adventure.
  • Merida, a Scottish princess and skilled archer who ran away from home.
  • Snow White, an eccentric animal trainer, and her dwarven associate Doc. 
  • Pinocchio, a vivacious Italian halfling, who arrived riding atop a timid hunchback named Quasimodo.  
  • Jasmine, an Arabian noblewoman and accomplished duelist, accompanied by her street-rat of a boyfriend, Aladdin
  • Four time travelers from a futuristic place called the Tri-State Area: Phineas, Ferb, Bufort, and Doofenshmirtz.  
(When you see the complete picture of the “draft board" at the end of this post you’ll see that Anna and Elsa, two very popular Disney characters, were not chosen. Even though my daughters are fanatical Frozen fans, they are experienced gamers and didn’t want to choose any characters with only one hit point.)  

It took several days for the adventurers to reach the fallen fortress of chaos just outside of Verden. When they arrived they figured that there were two obvious entrances into the structure: they could go through the front entrance, or loop around the side where the wall had collapsed. Hoping that the second option would offer an opportunity for stealth, Mickey slowly led his troupe to the crumbling western wall. Just one glance at the toppled stone blocks revealed that the climb could be treacherous, so the team looked to each other to select a volunteer to go first.   Quietly, the mighty Quasimodo emerged from the rabble, and set out to scale the heap of stones.   About halfway up the hunchback grabbed a loose stone that immediately gave way. Quasimodo violently tumbled backwards, followed by a dozen heavy blocks. By the time his body reached the base of the wall it was barely recognizable. 

The party still believed that going through the front gate would be incredibly dangerous, and so the young, brave Phineas made an attempt at scaling the rubble. Much to the boy’s delight, the rockslide caused by Quasimodo’s ascent stabilized the remaining stones, allowing the time traveler to make his way into a courtyard. Soon the rest of the party followed.  

The large and open courtyard was host to several remarkable features. In the center of the courtyard there was a well. The rotting fortification itself had several buildings still intact, including a tall fortification to the southeast. On the eastern portion of the wall was a burned out building, barred from the outside. The northern portion of the courtyard was infested with weeds, vines, and brambles. Perhaps the scariest sight was to the northeast, where a large gaping maw tore the very land apart. From the giant hole there was a sound of drums and moaning, and strange vapors ascended into the skies.  

Phineas lead the party towards the well, where the sound of soft cries could be heard. For some reason Alice seemed more interested in the giant gaping pit in the ground to the northeast, so she left the party for a bit. Interested in the crying, Bufort tried to look over the edge of the well, but his mind immediately became disoriented. The schoolyard bully toppled head first into the well, only to have his ankle caught by Snow White. Doofenshmirtz’s interest piqued, so he requested the chance to be lowered into the well. About a minute into his descent the crazy inventor started to scream. When he was pulled back up he no longer had human eyes, but two crazy fish-eyes!  Oswald the Lucky Rabbit thought that perhaps his lantern would help, so he shined the light down the well…  

… and ended up getting mesmerized just like Bufort. Unfortunately for Oswald, no one was able to catch him as he fell, so he plummeted to his demise.  

(Evie, my eight year old, was Oswald’s player and she was a bit upset by this event. She didn’t cry, and didn’t whine since she’s too experienced of a player for that, but she wanted to keep the Oswald character sheet. I was about to let her when my wife made the comment “You can’t keep a corpse.”  Who said DCC wasn’t wholesome family fun?)  

When Alice returned, all the blood had left her face.  She explained how she ran to the edge of the pit and almost fell in, only catching herself at the last minute.  The rest of the group shrugged and carried on.  

(At some point my kids will learn that you never split the party.  Perhaps we spent too much time with Savage Worlds where each player is a veritable “one-man-army”.)  

The brambles and weeds to the north seemed interesting, and the party tried clearing them out. A large stone monument was revealed, adorned with strange sigils. Mickey the Wizard’s Apprentice tried reading the runes but was unable.  Still, the party believed (rightly so!) that something of value lay beneath.  After several attempts to push the monument to the side failed, the team moved on.  

The ruined building to the east seemed like a decent place to investigate. The burned out structure was barred from the outside with the word “repent” painted across the doorframe. Once at the door, Jasmine coaxed Doofenshmirtz to remove the bar, revealing a terrible scene of human suffering. There were burned bodies, pews, and other religious artifacts. On the far side of the room a small fountain full of inky black liquid remained intact. A single statue of a frog, adorned in semi-precious gemstones, rested in the center of the fountain. 
(I felt bad for my son, nearly five years old, during this scene. My daughter Evie, didn’t want to risk any characters so she talked Cooper into having Doofenshmirtz risk his own neck. There weren’t any traps, at least.)  

Once the party was inside, Pinocchio started checking the corpses.  As an accomplished chicken butcher, the sight of dead flesh didn’t bother the “real boy.”  The halfling salvaged a coffer, three suits of chainmail armor, three maces, and a flail, all of which were dispersed amongst the team.   Using a crowbar Pinocchio broke open the coffer revealing some strange incense cones.  

Most of the party wanted to leave the cursed room, but Doc’s greedy eyes were drawn to the gemstones in the frog statue.  The dwarven herder borrowed the crowbar from Pinnochio and approached the fountain.  But once he was there, he was in for an extremely unpleasant experience.  A terrible tar ooze rose up from the fountain, lashing out at Doc with a burning tentacle.  The slimy appendage bore through the dwarf’s eye, killing him instantly.  
(Poor Jen… I rolled a critical!) 

Despite wanting the crowbar back, Pinnochio warned the rest of the party to stand back.  

(It was at this point that Carrie declared “I don’t want to fight the ooze, I’m scared of it.” So I flipped over my copy of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG rulebook and read the entire back cover aloud to my family. I told the kids that this was old school gaming, and that they should never be afraid to “hack and slash!”)


Aladdin believed that the frog was the key to destroying the ooze, so he pulled out his club and charged the statue, completely obliterating it in one hit! Unfortunately this had no effect on the monster. After an arrow from Alice and another from Merida, “Team Tri-State Area” showed up! Bufort charged with his spear, tearing off a giant piece of the ooze, while Ferb battered the rest with his flail.
The ooze was de-ooze-ified!  

(Big win for my son Cooper here! The kiddo managed two consecutive natural 20’s!)


After leaving the temple short one dwarf the party approached the standing tower to the southeast. The rusted gate was heavy, but Snow White was strong enough to lift the portal. The party slowly entered a chamber full of death and despair.   Human skeletons covered the floors and staircases. Broken barrels, boxes, and crates showed that something was using this place as a base of operations, and most likely the corpses were the kidnapped townsfolk of Verden. Before any more investigation could occur, however, the party was charged by six beastmen and a vicious, horned beastman champion!  

The first few seconds of the combat were fierce and deadly. The beastman champion found himself impaled (and very much dead) on Buefort’s spear, but the rest of the charging beastmen skewered Aladdin, Doofenshmirtz, and Alice. Three adventurers down, Merida tried to turn the tide with her bow, only to accidentally break it on a nearby beam.  Since her teammate Alice was now deceased, at least there was a spare bow in the party. After several moments, and another few close calls, the remaining beastmen were defeated. There was no way to bring back the three fallen heroes.  

(I was surprised that this scene didn't cause any tears.  I think the game was playing out so quickly that no one had time to think about which characters were gone.  This late in the game the players were just trying to work through the battle.)

Immediately following combat the party looted the room. During the investigation, however, Bufort came across a decaying body.  When he flipped the body over, hoping to find gold, a rot grub tore out of the flesh. The rot grub quickly climbed up Bufort’s arm, and started burrowing into the bully’s chest. Rapunzel tried using her healing skills to remove the rot grub, but failed. Snow White brought Doc’s prized sow over, hoping that the pig could somehow remove the rot grub, but that didn’t work.  

Bufort’s face turned white as the rot grub made its way to the soldier’s heart, devouring it completely.  

That’s when Phineas and Ferb remembered that Bufort had a spare heart, so the two kids from the Tri-State Area quickly popped out the old unit and swapped it for the backup.  

… to be continued… 

(Okay, I feel that a little explanation is necessary for that last scene. So Cooper did have Bufort dig around, and I rolled and the rot grub popped out.  Evie and Jen both failed in their attempts to dig out the grub, so that meant Bufort was a goner.   Of course Cooper, being the cute little boy that he is, just looked at me and said softly:

“… but… but… Daddy I brought an extra heart.” 

Talk about a broken heart, I felt so bad for the little kid. Here’s this “hero” that had been so useful for half of the game, felling both the tar ooze and the beastman champion, and now a grub caused his death. In any other DCCRPG game Bufort would’ve been toast. But I just couldn’t say “no” to my little boy.)

Character Builds

Mickey the Wizard's Apprentice (Jen)

  • Str 10, Agi 10, Sta 13, Per 9, Int 18, Luc 7
  • AC 10, HP 5
  • Lucky Sign: Hawkeye
Snow White the Animal Trainer (Jen)
  • Str 9, Agi 14, Sta 10, Per 11, Int 11, Luc 14
  • AC 11, HP 2
  • Lucky Sign: Harsh Winter
Flynn Rider the Outlaw (Jen)
  • Str 14, Agi 14, Sta 6, Per 9, Int 6, Luc 15
  • AC 13, HP 3
  • Lucky Sign: Conceived on Horseback
Doc the Dwarven Herder (Jen)
  • Str 17, Agi 15, Sta 11, Per 14, Int 11, Luc 13
  • AC 11, HP 3
  • Lucky Sign: Fox's Cunning
Phineas the Indentured Servant (Cooper)
  • Str 8, Agi 13, Sta 10, Per 13, Int 12, Luc 12
  • AC 11, HP 3
  • Lucky Sign: Lived Through Famine
Ferb the Orphan (Cooper)
  • Str 11, Agi 13, Sta 8, Per 12, Int 13, Luc 14
  • AC 11, HP 3
  • Lucky Sign: Guardian Angel
Bufort the Soldier (Cooper)
  • Str 14, Agi 9, Sta 13, Per 10, Int 13, Luc 10
  • AC 10, HP 4
  • Lucky Sign: The Raging Storm
Doofenshmirtz the Trapper (Cooper)
  • Str 8, Agi 11, Sta 10, Per 11, Int 10, Luc 7
  • AC 10, HP 4
  • Lucky Sign: The Bull
Oswald the Halfling Vagrant (Evie)
  • Str 8, Agi 13, Sta 9, Per 9, Int 15, Luc 16
  • AC 11, HP 3
  • Lucky Sign: Four Leafed Clover
Jasmine the Noble (Evie)
  • Str 13, Agi 9, Sta 13, Per 16, Int 13, Luc 8
  • AC 10, HP 4
  • Lucky Sign: Survived a Spider Bite
Rapunzel the Healer (Evie)
  • Str 10, Agi 13, Sta 10, Per 14, Int 12, Luc 13
  • AC 11, HP 3
  • Lucky Sign: Wild Child
Aladdin the Urchin (Evie)
  • Str 9, Agi 12, Sta 8, Per 15, Int 11, Luc 4
  • AC 8, HP 2
  • Lucky Sign: Charmed House
Alice the Elven Navigator (Carrie)
  • Str 8, Agi 16, Sta 10, Per 12, Int 13, Luc 10
  • AC 12, HP 2
  • Lucky Sign: The Bull
Merida the Hunter (Carrie)
  • Str 11, Agi 14, Sta 12, Per 5, Int 9, Luc 9
  • AC 11, HP 4
  • Lucky Sign: Fortunate Date
Pinocchio the Halfling Chicken Butcher (Carrie)
  • Str 9, Agi 12, Sta 10, Per 10, Int 17, Luc 13
  • AC 10, HP 3
  • Lucky Sign: Resisted Temptation
Quasimodo the Grave Digger (Carrie)
  • Str 15, Agi 10, Sta 12, Per 5, Int 6, Luc 10
  • AC 10, HP 4
  • Lucky Sign: Righteous Heart


  • Quasimodo, rubble collapse
  • Oswald, falling down a well
  • Doc, flaming ooze to the eye
  • Aladdin, beastman spear
  • Doofenshmirtz, beastman spear
  • Alice, beastman spear


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