Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: Castles & Crusades Core

Three books make up the Castles & Crusades core.  The main one is the Castles & Crusades Players Handbook it focuses on character creation and leveling, plus many of the rules around equipment and combat.  The Castles & Crusades Castle Keepers Guide is a massive tome about running all sorts of C&C games. Finally, no old-school FRPG is complete without monsters or treasure so the Castles & Crusades Monsters & Treasure book had you covered.

Today I want to talk about the first two.

It is often said that Castles & Crusades is the Rosetta Stone of Old School Gaming.  It certainly is that, but there is a lot more going on here than just that.  Castles & Crusades is very much a stripped down version of the basic 3.x SRD.  As such there are lot of concepts that are modern including a one-roll mechanic for all sorts of situations.  Though if that were all then there would be nothing separating this from say True20 or other "lite" d20 iterations.  Castles & Crusades plays like good old fashioned D&D.  The aesthetic here is 1st Ed. AD&D, with the simplicity of Basic era D&D.  The concept is noble and one we see in many of the retro-clones.  But where the clones attempt to use the OGL to make an older version of the rules, Castles & Crusades makes it's own rules and instead goes for the feel or nature of the game.   So while you will see Thieve's abilities represented by percentage rolls in Basic Fantasy or OSRIC and as a skill in 3.x in C&C it will be a Dexterity check.  Simple, elegant and easy.  The Ability check, whether your abilities are Prime or Secondary, are a key element of C&C.

The Players Handbook

The Players Handbook is the first book you need for Castles & Crusades. At 140+ pages it is all about getting your character up and going.  The abilities here are the same six you have always used and they are even generated by rolling 3d6 and assigning.  If you have a different method that you liked back in the day OR if you have adopted some point by system from a new version I see no reason why it would not work here.  I am a fan of 4d6, drop the lowest myself.  The ability score modifications are a bit different than new OGL games, but are in fact much closer to older games.  Bottom line is just pay attention to how many pluses that 18 gives you if you are used to playing newer games.

Next you will choose a class based on your abilities.  Each class has a prime ability; one that is most associated with it.  So fighters have strength, clerics wisdom, wizards intelligence and so on.  Speaking of classes, all the "classics" are here and some new ones.  So you have Assassins, Barbarians, Bards, Clerics, Druids, Fighters, Illusionists, Knights, Monks, Paladins, Rangers, Rogues and Wizards.  There are some minor tweaks that make them different from other versions of the same class in another game, but nothing that made me scream "That's not right!" in fact in most cases I was more inclined to agree with what they did.  For example I like the Barbarian for the first time ever.  Each class has some special abilities and skills.
In C&C it is assumed that if a character wants to do something that instead of a skill roll an ability check is made.  There is Target Number, 12 for Primes (something you are good at) or an 18 for Secondary.  You add your mods, any class or race based modifications and there you go.  Simple.  Skills are no longer of a list of things you can or can't do, but now potential to do or at least try anything.  This is something we did back in the old days, but the newer twist here is that this is just the same as any d20 based roll. Be it skills or attack.  So Rangers and Barbarians are good at tracking, wizards at arcane lore and so on.  makes things pretty easy.  So improvement over 3.x games, no tracking skill points.
I have to add, that there is such a cool old-school vibe here that it is just like reading a book from the early 80s.  Only with far better layout and art.  As another aside, the art is fantastic.  I love my old school games and wizards in pointy hats and all, but the wizard in C&C looks AWESOME.  I would not mess with that guy, I don't care if he looks like a farmer or not.

Races are up next and all the usual suspects are here.
Races and Classes are built in such away that customization is REALLY easy.  If I wanted to play a Goblin here I bet I could rather easy.  Every race gets two Prime stats.  Typically you want one of these to correspond with your class.  Humans get three allowing for their flexibility.  All other races also get modifiers to abilities and/or special traits.  While the modularity of 3.x is obvious, the feel is still more 1st ed.
We end character creation on completing the character with persona, gods and alignment.
Up next are some lists of equipment and rules on encumbrance.  The rules are some of the easiest encumbrance rules I have seen.  So far so good? Well we have by this point gotten through roughly a third of the book.  Not too bad for 50 pages.

Magic and Spells take up the remaining bulk (65 pages) of the book.  Not a surprise given four spell casting classes.  Spells are listed alphabetically and range from 0-level cantrips to 9th level spells for each of the four classes. That is a major break from their old-school roots when only wizards had access to 9th level spells.
The spell format itself is also closer to that of 3.x, though no XP penalties that I could see.
The nest 20 or so pages deal with the Castle Keep (GM) of the game.  This includes all sorts of advice on how to handle conflict, award XP and even how to set up an adventuring party.  Good advice all around to be honest and enough to keep most groups going for a long time.
There is also an appendix on multi-classing as an optional rule.  I have not tried it yet, but it looks solid. Not as elegant as what you see in 3.x, but better than what we had in 1st or 2nd ed.

The Players Handbook is all most players will ever need and even some Castle Keepers.
I have the 4th ed version with the black and white interior art and the newer 5th ed with the full color art.  Rule wise they are the same, but the full color version is really, really nice and the art is just fantastic.
The book ends with a character sheet that is just goldenrod paper shy of being an awesome old-school sheet.

Castle Keepers Guide
The Castle Keepers Guide is the guide for Castles & Crusades Game Masters. It is a massive book at 291 pages. There are some obvious parallels between this book and the immortal Dungeon Master's Guide, but I am going to focus on this text.
Part 1, The Character largely parallels the Players Handbook with advanced discussions on abilities, classes and races in Chapter 1.  Magic is covered in detail in Chapter 2. Equipment is expanded on in Chapter 3 and non-player characters are discussed in Chapter 4.
Chapter 1 does give the CK more options than just what is detailed in the Players book.  For example the 4d6 method is discussed among others. If you prefer the newer attribute modifiers; ie the ones from the SRD, 3.x where 18 grants a +4, then those are also discussed and how they might affect the game.  Along with that abilities of 20 or greater (godlike abilities) are discussed.
For characters, more options are given and experience levels beyond what is listed in the Players Handbook, typically to 24th level.
Chapter 2 on Magic is a must read for anyone like me that loves magic using classes. In particular there lots of good bits on spell components and the prices of various items needed to research spells or make scrolls.  The effects of holy ground on clerics is very nice to see.
Chapter 3 details a number of mundane and exotic items not found in the Players book.
Chapter 4 covers NPCs as allies, adversaries or as hired help.
Part 2 covers Worlds of Adventure, or how to build your own fantasy game world. Everything from how many moons, to average tempertures by month and zones is covered.  Details you might not ever need, but here for your use when you do need them.   I rather liked the large portion devoted to urban settings; something I feel gets shorted in fantasy games.  Of course dungeons and other underground environments are covered. As well as air and sea adventures.
Other sections detail equipment usage, land as treasure (and running this land once you have it) and going to war.
Some discussion is had on Monster ecology as well. Trying to make sense of what monsters live in your world and why.  The standard monsters from Monsters and Treasure are discussed with an eye to what they are doing in the world; what is their purpose and ecological niche.
Chapter 13: Expanding the Genre is actually the first chapter that attracted me to buying this book.  On the outset it covers merging different times with your fantasy world. Say adding guns, Gothic Horror or Pulp Adventures.
Chapters 14 and 15 details some of the underlying assumptions of the SIEGE Engine rules powering Castles & Crusades.  This chapter makes a lot more sense in retrospective of reading Amazing Adventures.
Chapter 16 talks a little more about treasure. Chapter 17 about combat.
Chapter 18 adds some secondary Skills to the game.  Not needed to play, but certainly will add some more flavor.  A Rogue that only steals magical items for example might have a need for Ars Magica.
Finally we end with Character Deaths and Fates.

Castles & Crusades is constructed in such a way that most of the information a Castle Keeper needs is in the Player's book.  But if they plan on doing anything other than just dungeon crawls then Castle Keepers guide is a must have.  Like the Players Handbook the layout and art is fantastic.  I also could not help but notice some really nice pieces from Larry Elmore and Peter Bradley.  Always a bonus in my book.

If you are a Game Master of any FRPG based on or around the d20 SRD then I would highly recommend this book.  The advice is solid and the mechanics are so easy to translate that it hardly matters what game you are running, it will work with this.

EDITED TO ADD: Want more C&C insight? Check out Gaming Ronin today as well!


Tim Knight said...

A great intro there, Tim, thanks. When I ran C&C before - and when I run it next - the main change I make (which I subsequently found was an option in the CKG) is simply setting the TN for saves at 18 and giving a +6 bonus if it uses one of your Prime stats. I feel it saves on some of the number juggling.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I use a +5 myself, just better mental math for me.

Unknown said...

Great intro! C&C is our main Fantasy RPG since 2 or 3 years - after we played RuneQuest, GURPS, D&D3.5, Rolemaster Fantasy, WFRP 1 and some others. You are right, the color version of the book looks much better than the b/w, but on a not so illuminated playing table, the b/w version is by far better to read. All in all I do not share your opinion about the layout of the books - the font is very unreadably, especially in the CKG, and the seperation into the different chapters is not clear at all. This - of course - does not in any way change the fact that it is an excellent, very fast learnable und extremely playable game.

We use (+8/+2) for primary/secondary attributes, so our target number is always a 20.

Pun Isaac said...

As usual Tim, your review makes me want to run out and buy the game. Seriously though, I've considered picking up C&C for a while now and I know the earlier releases of the Player's Handbook are pretty cheap on Amazon so I think I might take the plunge and buy another game that will possibly just sit on my shelf. I have a couple of random release already (which I mentioned in the my Monster comment).

Antonio said...

Long time C&C GM (since 2005). You might find a nasty surprise when you get to mid-high levels, due to how saves work. It might not be immediate, but it turns out that a 10th level fighter vs. a 10th level wizard has the same chances than a 1st level fighter vs. a 1st level wizard. That's exactly NOT how any version of (A)D&D works. The corollary is that spellcaster become too powerful, that some monsters are simply impossible to face (like dragons) and that the DM has very limited flexibility in using opposition which is even two or three levels higher than the player characters.
Most of all, if you expect the dynamics of a (A)D&D game, you will be sorely disappointed (especially if you convert (A)D&D material.)