Thursday, September 29, 2016

Review: The Haunted Highlands for Castles & Crusades

There is a chill in the air, leaves are turning colors and my thoughts turn to a land that is older and colder.  Thankfully for me, Troll Lords has just the thing for me.  Continuing my dive into Castles & Crusades I want to spend some time with The Haunted Highlands campaign setting.

 The Haunted Highlands goes way back in Castles & Crusades publication lore. It is a "mini" campaign setting really since it now sits inside the larger World of Aihrde.  This is not a weakness as far as I am concerned since I already have a nicely established world and I can drop this in my world (or any world) with no issues really.

The Haunted Highlands consist of two main products; The Players Guide to the Haunted Highlands and Castle Keepers Guide to the Haunted Highlands.

Review disclaimer: I paid for these on my own and was not asked to do a review.  Links are affiliate links to allow me to buy more games for more reviews.

The Players Guide to the Haunted Highlands
This book is everything the player needs to play in the HH. It is 114 pages and includes some very basic C&C rules, but you are going to want to have the full C&C Players book to really play.
The book begins with a bit of an introduction to the HH; both real world and in-world.   The in-world material is compelling and well thought out.  I certainly feel that this is a world with some history (again real world and in-world).  In the overview a number of locales and some groups are covered, all from the point of view of what the characters would know.  This covers the first couple dozen pages or so.  This flows right into the gods, demi-gods and fiends of the lands; about 10 pages.
Chapter 1 covers Character creation. This is largely a condensed version of the C&C rules.
Chapter 2 covers the Races of Karbosk. This chapter discusses the variations from the fantasy norm for the various races.   Your C&C "Value Add" here are rules to play Orcs, Goblins, and Hobgoblins.  New races, the Zvarguth (Dark Dwarves) and Meshkuri (pale humans), are also covered.
Chapter 3 details Character Classes. The traditional classes are mentioned and detailed.  More value adds are new and revised classes.  The assassin gets a remake as a cult to the goddess Shambere.  The Conjurer is a new spell casting class that has access to both cleric and wizard spells, but at a cost.  The Necromancer with spells from the Black Libram of Naratus.  There is also a witch that is very much of the "old hag" archetype and followers of the Hag Queen.  There is a monk class known as the Pammakoni, which is an interesting addition.
Chapter 4 continues the class idea with Dual Classing.   Some of this is detailed elsewhere in other C&C books. Also covered here is magic and new spells.  Witches gain the new arcane spells and select divine spells.
I will say this book is worth it for the classes and spells alone, but obviously it shines more with the Castle Keeper's Guide.

Castle Keepers Guide to the Haunted Highlands
Now this is a huge book. 400 pages and priced accordingly.
Like the Players Guide, we get an overview, real-world and in-world, of the Haunted Highlands.  This section contains a number of additions above and beyond the Players Guide.  This includes a calendar of months and days.  Along with that are some details on various astronomical features.  Now the big issue that *might* cause some concerns for adding to other worlds are this calendar and the two moons.  This can be adapted easy enough.  For my games I have three moons in my world, so one of the moons is just not detailed here.  A recap on the gods from the PG and we have the first two dozen or so pages covered.
For the next 90 or so pages we get a reprint of the modules DB1: Haunted Highland, DB2: Crater of Umeshti, and DB3: Deeper Darkness.  Now if you don't have these modules this is a nice value add, but I have them is dead-tree (and for DB1, PDF).  I didn't notice too many changes but I did not compare them side by side.  Having them in one place is nice, but I didn't really need them.  Though there is good reason for them to be there.  There are new modules/source guides, DB4: Dro Mandras, DB5: The Conquered East, DB6: Dwellers in the Darkness, DB7: The Duchy of Karbosk, DB8: Mists of Mantua, and DB9: Fanderburg.  The adventures are not "leveled" so the CK can adjust them to fit their players.
At this point, we are now 330 pages deep into this book.
This takes us to the Monsters sections.  There is a lot culled from the first three modules, but there are a lot more new ones.  40+ pages to be exact, so enough to keep me happy for a while. This is followed by 25 some odd pages of new fiends, demons and devils.
The last three or so pages are dedicated to new magic items.
This is a campaign world in the very sense of the term.  It is much more akin to Greyhawk than it is to the Forgotten Realms.  You are given some locales and locals, some gods and demons, some monsters, some factions and some background.  You are told how they all interact and then what you make of it all is what YOU make of it.  No NPC is going to overshadow the players here unless of course the CK allows that.  Which they won't.
The books are of course gorgeous in the way that all C&C books are. They really feel like something from the 1980s, only better.

In truth what would be better is a nice boxed set with both the Players book and Castle Keeper's book in softcover. Put the modules in there, all nine. Include a big fold out map and some green dice with bronze/gold color lettering.

Troll Lords is running a bundle sale on these now. Get both books for a reduced price.

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