This article was written by freelance contributor Ballto Kenney
Almost everyone who has played table-top RPGs has a favourite setting that they like to play in. As with most games that we play, we love to immerse ourselves in the world. Not only be a player in it but someone who makes great impacts on it as well. Some game systems like Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder are interchangeable, where you can replace the standard world that those games and their mechanics work in with something different and more suited to our tastes.
Maybe you want something a little more dark and sinister so you’re interested in Forgotten Realms, which deals with the Underdark, a world beneath our feet that is as large and complex as the surface world Full of dark, deranged, and sadistic creatures. Or maybe you’re more into steampunk, and the world of Iron Kingdoms, full of pistols, gears, and steam-powered mechs are more your flavour? For me though, while these settings can be fun, the number one setting for me will always be X-Crawl, a modern setting with the fantasy races that is a glorious cross between Dungeons and Dragons and American Gladiators, set in our world today.
But what is X-Crawl? What’s so different about it? How does it take place in OUR world? And why is Ronald Regan the Emperor of North America? Well, the world of X-Crawl takes place in our world but with two significant differences. Fantasy races such as orcs and elves have always existed, and the Roman empire never fell, thus the entire world, while still being unique to its own locations, has a Roman influence felt throughout it.
Nowhere has it shown its influence more than in the NAE (North American Empire) where the eternal Emperor Ronald Regan 1st has brought back the guts and glory of the old Roman coliseum. Now, in a televised blood sport that has become the most popular sport in the world, you play as ‘Crawlers’ hoping to win fame and celebrity by putting your life on the line for the entertainment of others. In this rendition of the gladiatorial games, things are sometimes a little more tongue in cheek as the tagline for the setting goes “Fame, Fortune, and a year’s supply of car wax can all be yours IF you survive!” But what it is you have to survive is perhaps where X-Crawl shines brightest.
Even as an experienced player, I myself at times, feel like I’ve done it all. Having played these kinds of games for 20 years now, there are times where I find fighting dragons or ogres in caves to save the local village to be dull, no matter what sort of unique character I bring to the table. This however has never been an issue in X-Crawl as some of the most unique encounters you could conceive happen every day. Your standard fantasy setting would have a typical battle of you versus 16 orcs, invading their camp to kill their leader. X-Crawl instead has you face off against those 16 orcs trying to keep you from launching their orc friend from a catapult into a spiked target so that everyone in the audience can get free bottles of Friki-Chew Cola. That’s right, not only is there an audience watching all of this, but the twist on some popular brands (such as Coca-Cola) who sponsor these gory events adds yet another layer of humour to the mix.
My personal favourite of these is where your party designates a dancer, who must then go up onto an elevated platform to play a game of Dance Dance Revolution against a kobald, meanwhile, the rest of the party is forced to battle raptors on a disco floor, music blaring in the background. The added twist? (as if that wasn’t enough) if the dancer fails to beat the kobald’s score every round a section of the floor opens up, and underneath is a hungry T-Rex, ready to devour anything that falls into his pit!
I promise you, you’ve never faced encounters like you would in X-Crawl, but there is another dynamic to keep in mind. Every one of your party members is there to become rich and more importantly famous, and there is only room for one MVP to get their face on the box of Wheaties. Thus, while everyone is working together to succeed and in fact survive X-Crawl, everyone is also working to outshine everyone else.
The ludicrous setting, combined with the truly unique, one of a kind encounters is why X-Crawl quickly became my favourite setting to play in, and why the T.R.A.P.S club (the university’s Table-top Roleplaying club) has hosted annual tournaments with X-Crawl, including prizes and medals to be won! Though while we’ve had to cancel the tournament this year I still invite you to check out the club’s discord server and keep track of when they will host it next.