Here at Critical Hits, we’ve been following the advice of Bill Cavalier, Adventure Coach AKA “The Dungeon Bastard” for some time now. At first it was because we mistook him for someone else entirely, but we grew to value his advice on WINNING Dungeons & Dragons after years of treating it as a collaborative activity (whatever that means). We also consider his word on Edition Wars to be the definitive attitude.
The Dungeon Bastard recently launched a Kickstarter for The World’s Worst Dungeon Crawl for which there’s only 4 days left. It’s already funded but is working towards unlocking all kinds of extra magical stretch goals.
We sent a small handful of questions flying his way, and he chose not to use his Deflect Questions feat on them
Thank you for answering our questions, Mr. Cavalier. I know you have a busy schedule and players to train.
I don’t TRAIN players, I TARGET them. My wisdom is like a FIREBALL. I point my gavel, speak some arcane phrases and you make a saving throw vs AWESOME. If you’re lucky, you only take half damage.
How did you get your start in gaming? Does it have anything to do with your last name of Cavalier?
I have an embarrasing confession to make here: Cavalier is NOT my given name. Once upon a time, I was a frail nerdy kid who read too much sci-fi and fantasy just like most of your readers here at Critical Hits. Then I discovered Star Frontiers and my life was literally changed. Something about flying monkey people with gyrojet rifles just spoke to me. But on a fateful summer night I accidentally read the complete Deities & Demigods book out loud, backwards (including the Lovecraft and Melnibonean mythos). From then on I became BILL CAVALIER, ADVENTURE COACH. I bought a complete set of polyhedral dice, painted up three boxes of Grenadier dwarves and changed my name. I’ve been telling other people how to play ever since.
Besides, William Yazirian just didn’t have a good ring to it.
What inspired you to make the World’s Worst Dungeon Crawl?
First, I’ve been COACHING people on how to play the DUNGEON BASTARD WAY for years. But coaching has its limits, at some point you need to PRACTICE. That’s why I’m not only releasing this adventure as a product you can PLAY, but I’m also filming it LIVE in front of a crowd of the world’s most HARDCORE gamers at GEN CON Indy. You want to SEE how The Bastard does it? This is your chance.
Second — and this is a true story — I received an email as part of my regular ASK THE BASTARD column from a gamer lady named Anne in Washington state. Turns out she met her future husband over a game of D&D, but now – years later – he doesn’t DM as much as he used to. “How can I get my husband to DM again?” she wrote.
My answer: put him through an adventure so painfully cliche and predictable that any DM worth his iron rations would say “Man, I can come up with something better than THIS.” Thus the World’s WORST Dungeon Crawl was born. So it’s not just an adventure, it’s a cure for DM burnout.
Maybe this is missing the point of it being a bad adventure, but is it actually playable in an existing system, or is it kind of its own thing?
I’ve intentionally designed this to be 100% PLAYABLE. After all, we have to play it at GEN CON — you can’t just have seven people sitting around a table reading the module and snickering out loud. (Although that WOULD cut down on production costs.) So one of my key goals is to create a product you can take from MY game table and use at your OWN.
That being said, it can’t be the World’s WORST Dungeon Crawl if I didn’t use a bunch of homebrew rules. Every bad DM I know can’t resist the urge to take a perfectly good system and tweak it with a bunch of convoluted garbage he finds “interesting” or “dramatic.”
But despite this homebrew approach, I use elements common to every fantasy RPG. Do you have halflings and goblins in your game? Then you should have NO PROBLEM adapting this for home play. (Unless you’re running RuneQuest. I can’t help anyone who thinks a 00 is a critical fumble. That’s just incompatible with my worldview. You roll a 00, you get psionics. END OF STORY.)
On a scale of Synnibar to FATAL, how bad is the World’s Worst Dungeon Crawl?
You know, every time you mention those two games you have a 10% chance of attracting the interest of a major demon. (Probably one of the sucky ones, like Fraz-Urb’luu.)
Here’s the difference: If you TRY to play those games (and Moradin help you if you do) you actually become a WORSE player. However, if you play the World’s WORST Dungeon Crawl, not only do you become a BETTER player, you become a BADASS one.
Really, what more could you ask for?
Can you give us an excerpt of the terribleness? Maybe something involving grappling?
I’m going to treat this question like a halfling thief and flip it on its head. Here’s an example of what makes the World’s WORST Dungeon Crawl great: The BADASS TRACK.
Look, there’s nothing LESS fun than getting knocked unconscious. You’re not alive, you haven’t died gloriously and are now ascending into Valhalla on the wings of some steely-eyed warrior-women — you’re stuck in this lame, choiceless Limbo of Boring. (The LEAST interesting question in any FRPG: “Am I awake yet?”)
So in my homebrew rules, I’ve introduced a mechanic called the BADASS TRACK. It’s like a Wound Track: every time you get knocked out, you tick off a box on the BADASS TRACK. But instead of being debilitated, the various levels give you a specific BOOST to your abilities.
So say you’re a dwarven paladin, and you get walloped to -5. Instead of being knocked unconscious into a draining series of dice rolls to see if you’re dead, you INSTANTLY regain 6d6 hit points and get a +1 to all damage rolls until the end of the combat. As you work your way up the BADASS TRACK you may not get as many hit points back, but your badass bonuses increase until you reach MAXIMUM AWESOME. When you run out of boxes on the BADASS TRACK you’re dead. BUT: you died while MAXIMUM AWESOME. Gamers, there’s no better way to go.
It doesn’t work exactly this way for all the characters, but that’s just a taste of what makes the World’s WORST Dungeon Crawl KICK ASS.
Some of the backer levels include things like our own sweatbands patterned after your famous ones. What abilities do they grant you?
+5 to Charisma, resist cold 1, and the ability to Intimidate creatures not normally affected by mind-influencing effects.
Your mileage may vary.
What legendary DM (past or present) would you most like to match your skills against?
That’s a long and storied list, but most recently I’ve come to despise John Wick. This guy does not believe in GAME BALANCE (i.e. MY ability to exploit rules loopholes and thereby BREAK it). Instead HE believes you let the players make really interesting unbalanced characters with a deep backstory and then you use those goals and motivations to kill them.
My answer: create the most boring, uninteresting character possible. That goes against the Dungeon Bastard ethos, but HEY, just TRY finding a hook to kill my amnesiac orphan character with 4 levels of NPC Warrior and a predilection for buttered toast.
What’s the biggest TPK you’ve ever been involved with?
Many years ago at Gen Con, I was playing in this head-to-head game called The Dungeon Duel of Alba-Ker. Eight of us slogging our way through some twisted demon’s nightmare prison. At one point we find a cursed scroll that drops a 6d6 fireball ON ITSELF whenever someone says the word “boom.” Nearly takes out half the party.
Later, we discover that our dark elven thief is actually a TRAITOR working against us. (What can I say, I was young, naive, and hopped up on Mountain Dew.) The idiots running the show decide to bind her up and leave her in the corner instead of doing the RIGHT thing and performing a summary execution. A few rooms later, a magical effect in this 10′ x 10 room reduces everyone to FIRST LEVEL.
JUST THEN, the dark elf shows up. “What do you do?” says the DM.
Along those lines, what’s the best way to remove blood from wizard robes? How about wizards?
I’ve found it notoriously difficult to remove blood from wizard robes HOWEVER you CAN mask it by cleaving a gnome in half. (If you consider illusionists “wizards” you can often get a 2-for-1 here.)
If you want to remove blood from a wizard, have the cleric cast silence and open them up with your greataxe. If you can strap a dozen stirges to the blade, all the better.
Your character finds a Ring of Wishing. What do you Wish for?
Ah, this old chestnut. This is just another opportunity for the DM to SCREW THE PLAYERS. I WISH we’d NEVER FOUND the Ring of Wishes! I’m Bill Cavalier! I’m already MAXIMUM BADASS!
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.
People say “time is money.” In my game, MONEY still grants you XP. Thanks for all the XP.