Showing posts with label CnC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CnC. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Islands, Hyperborea, and Party Like it's 1979

Sort of an overview, sort of me doing more mental gymnastics. 

Note: This one got away from the original thesis, so I cut chunks out for another post later. 

Some light reading material

I have been thinking about a few things this week, namely my 1979 Campaign and my Isles of Avalon one. I flirted briefly with combining them and then realized quickly that by doing so I would lose everything that made the 1979 Campaign special. So I might have ideas that work for that, but I think I need to keep it as it is for now.  One day I'll play it. 

Isles of Avalon is less of a campaign and more of a campaign location. I have a lot of ideas for it. Too many to be honest. But two things in it are prominent. 1.) It has to include an Island nation of Necromancers. 2.) It has* to be run under AD&D 1st Edition.

How are those connected and what does it have to do with today?  Well, I was going over the materials for the IoA idea and began merging the two projects. I quickly realized that I would lose what made the 1979 Campaign idea special to me (moving from a hybrid Holmes Basic/AD&D to pure AD&D) and I also thought maybe I am not wed to the idea of IoA as a pure AD&D 1st edition setting.

I love AD&D 1st Edition. Really I do warts and all. I do want to do a lot more with it in my personal gaming even if it is never seen by you, my reader. After all I never really talked much about the AD&D 2nd Edition games I was playing in here.

But these last two weeks (and most of October) have given me some moments to pause and think. The question remains "What is it I want out of this really?"

The AD&D First Edition Experience

This one is key. I want something like AD&D 1st ed. Which will prompt many to say "then play AD&D 1st Ed, dumbass!" Which is very, very valid. But I also have all these other games that I want to try and I played AD&D 1st ed, for over a decade. I love it, but it sometimes feels like moving back in with your parents or hooking up with your ex-girlfriend.  So. What are my options?

Old-School Essentials: Advanced Fantasy

This one is great, but it isn't really AD&D is it. Plus this is the system I am using for War of the Witch Queens and it is really great for that.

Hyperborea

I have been reminded this week of how much fun Hyperborea is. It is much closer to AD&D. The game is tied very closely to the world and it is a world I enjoy, but some pieces of it don't fit with my idea of what I want to do for my various campaigns. One thing is certain, the ethos of Hyperborea will inform what I do with my Isle of Avalon.

Castles & Crusades

I do love Castles & Crusades and it does provide the AD&D 1st experience I want. Plus I LOVE all the Codex books on world religions and myths. It doesn't quite have the same feeling to it as Hyperborea though.  On the continuum of gritty to light it goes Hyperborea, then OSE-Adv, then C&C. With the endpoints as DCC on the gritty and Hero's Journey First Edition on the light. Still, though I do love this game a lot and I really want to do a lot more with it. 

Special Note: The 1979 Campaign

This one is a special case. The purpose here is to recreate a certain style of play that I would have done in the Fall or early Winter of 1979.  I will only use materials that would have been available then or is closely related.  Rules are a mix of Holmes Basic (not B/X) and AD&D, in particular the AD&D Monster Manual.

--

Why all these mental gymnastics? I am aware that my kids are getting older and moving on. My oldest is a professional pastry chef now. My youngest is in college and spends all their time writing code. They don't have time for dad and his elf-game anymore. Well...they do still play D&D, just with their own groups of friends. My time to get some games on with them is limited and I want to maximize what I can.

So. Let's see what I can cook up here. I know...get to the point already.

Vampire Queen
Isles of Avalon

While I love this name, people who have seen it online and not bothered to read the posts (if you are reading this then that is obviously not you!) were confused with the Arthurian Isle of Avalon and felt they were informing on something. Thanks, but I wrote tons about that in Ghosts of Albion. Still, though, I might tweak the name to be Isles of Avalon Hill to honor its origins. 

So before I put together a campaign (and this would be a sandbox or hex crawl) and try to figure out what rules to use, I think I need to work out some details.

1. This archipelago of islands is old. Really, really old. An empire rose here, grew to greatness, fell into decadence, finally to infighting and decay, and then to dust and forgotten legends.  

2. There is an island of Necromancer kings. This was one of the key notions. Of all the islands, this one is the one that still yearns for the "old times." I think I am coming around to the idea that there is someone called "The Necromancer." Feels ominous. 

3. There is a small island that is home to the Vampire Queen. The Vampire Queen is a reoccurring character in my games. One of her influences is the classic Palace of the Vampire Queen from Wee Warriors, then Pacesetter, now Precis Intermedia.  Wee Warriors and Precis Intermedia also have the Misty Isles, which is another model for my own Isles.  The Vampire Queen lives on a remote island here. 

4. There is the "Big Island" that still has active wizards. The Empire is gone, but there are still wizards that come here for the same reasons there was an empire here. The connection to magical energies here is the strongest. Whether it is a confluence of ley lines, built on the remains of a long-dead but highly magical creature, a magical meteorite hit here, or some combination of all the above.  The only remaining edifice of those times is a place called the Citadel of Conjurers (or at least my original notions of what that place was when I read it in Dragon #91).

Not looking for grand plots. Not looking for world-changing apocalypses. Just a place to do some hex crawling.

Either Castles & Crusades or Hyperborea would fit this fine.

I am leaning more towards Hyperborea for this, but I really, really want to play some Castles & Crusades.

Anyway, random thoughts on a cold Chicago day.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Monstrous Monday: Neh-thalggu (Brain Collector)

Neh-thalggu (Brain Collector)
One of my favorite adventures is X2 Castle Amber. It covers so much of what I love in an adventure. Plus it is full of great Clark Ashton Smith homages and nods.

Among these homages is the Neh-thalggu or the Brain Collector.  It is such a creepy ass monster and I really love them. 

If the amount of OGC on them is any indication, then others like them too. You can find them for d20 3.x style, Pathfinder, and 5e.  This is in addition to official D&D stats for Basic and AD&D 2nd Ed.

Neh-thalggu (Brain Collector)

NO. ENCOUNTERED: 1
SIZE: Large
HD: 14 (d10) (77 hp)
MOVE: 60 ft.
AC: 16 (natural armor)
ATTACKS: Bite (1d10) + Poison (Save vs. Con or Paralyze), Claws (1d6) 
SPECIAL: Brain collection, Incorporeal, Spell Casting
SAVES: M
INT: Genius to Supra-genius (20-22)
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic Neutral
TYPE: Aberration
TREASURE: 8
XP: 6,000

The neh-thalggu, also known as the Brain Collector, is a creature from the Outer Darkness.

Neh-thalggus hail from distant worlds, traveling the gulfs of space on immense living ships that swiftly decay when they land upon a new world, leaving behind a deadly cargo of hungry monsters. Neh-thalggus are crablike nightmares with lamprey-like mouths, twitching eyes on their legs, and several blisters along their back that hold human brains. Some speculate that neh-thalggus encountered in this reality may merely be juveniles of their kind, perhaps exiled from their home worlds by greater kin until they can prove their worth on other worlds.

Combat: Neh-thalggu attack with their mouths they attempt to latch on with their mouths and claws to extract the brain from their victims.  They attack primarily with their mouths (bite) and then try to latch on with their claws.  On a successful bite and claw attack the victim must make a Constitution save or become paralyzed. Once paralyzed the creature will remove the victim's brain. 

Brain Collectors. Neh-thalggus are carnivores, but they do not digest humanoid brains they eat, rather, these brains lodge in one of several bulbous blisters on the creature's back and help to increase its intellect. Their brain collections may be a morbid form of currency in their home realm, or the thoughts in these brains may merely be fuel for a dark apotheosis into an even more sinister mature form.

Incorporeal: A neh-thalggu is not wholly in our reality but always remains partially extradimensional. Thus it can be harmed only by other incorporeal creatures, +1 or better weapons, magic, or psionics, with a 50% chance to ignore any damage from a corporeal source. It can pass through solid objects at will, and its own attacks pass through armor (except for its bite attack, which is treated as if a corporeal attack). It always moves silently unless it chooses otherwise.

Mind Masters. Neh-thalggu masters lord it over their lesser kin by applying the drained brainpower of their victims toward mastering psychic magic and mesmerism. They may inhabit elaborate mindscapes as their lairs or may subtly influence the thoughts and senses of creatures they lure into their lair in furtherance of convoluted plots to manipulate the societies around them while they dwell in secret. Some dwell alone or with mind-controlled slaves, while others organize clusters of their own kind to spread their sinister schemes and feed their insatiable alien hunger.

Spell Casting. Neh-thalggu can cast spells as 1st level wizard. For every brain, they collect they add one more level of spell casting for a maximum of 12 brains to 13th level wizard.  For this reason Neh-thalggu will target wizards and other magic-using characters.

--

Might need some tweaks, but yeah this is one nasty beastie. 

The plot hook is obvious. A bunch of never before seen monsters are attacking the countryside the day after a shooting star was seen. Worst of all are reports of a "ghost monster" that feeds on brains. 

Don't forget the Indiegogo campaign for Amazing Adventures going on right now!  Grab the books and you can use this guy.

Amazing Adventures


Thursday, November 10, 2022

Larina Nichols for Amazing Adventures

I have some projects going on right now that I am trying to get organized for my big Christmas break this year.  I am planning on burying myself in writing. So I am finding bits of text here, and some ideas there, and I have not even gone through my bookmarks* yet.

(*I scribble ideas on bookmarks while I read. Habit from my undergrad days.)

A couple came to me more or less at the same time.  The first was more details on what I am doing with the various incarnations of my iconic witch Larina. The other was some notes about an Amazing Adventures street-level supers game I keep batting around in my notes.  Since the new printing of Amazing Adventures (well, new printing and reorganized material) is now up on Indiegogo I thought, let's clean up one stack of notes with a post. 

The Game: Amazing Adventures

I have always been rather fond of Amazing Adventures. It is a modern version of Castles & Crusades and with the 2nd printing, the rules cleave much closer to the C&C SIEGE Engine rules. My understanding is that this new printing (a bit like a 2.5) is even closer. So close that the three books of Castles & Crusades are called "The Three Sisters" and the new three books for Amazing Adventures are called "The Three Brothers." Three brothers and three sisters? That sounds like my family. 

If you like modern games then this is a great time to get into Amazing Adventures. Especially if you are a fan of Castles & Crusades.

The Character: Larina Nichols

Larina Nichols, witch

One thing that I do with my Larina is to have different versions of her in different games. These are truly different versions of the same character in the multiverse but connected a bit like the Eternal Champion.  These are my worlds, I get to do these things. The GREAT thing about Amazing Adventures is that it IS so much like Castles & Crusades I can make moving between a modern world and a fantasy world much easier. If I can do that with her, you can do it with any character.

Also for me, there is this notion of adventures connected by places or people and displaced in time. This would be my trilogy of adventures "All Souls Night," "Blight," and "The Dark Druid" dealing with D&D-like fantasy, Victorian-age Gothic horror, and modern supernatural respectively. Larina, or someone like her, would be there in all three, reincarnated each time to deal with the threat of the Dark Druid.

But before I can do that right, I have to make sure I can move characters, or their other incarnations, to each time.  Here is my Drosophila melanogaster for these experiments.

Larina photo
Larina Nichols

19th Level Witch (Arcanist)
Race: Human

Strength: 10 (0)
Dexterity: 11 (0)
Constitution: 13 (+1) P
Intelligence: 17 (+2) 
Wisdom: 17 (+2) P
Charisma: 18 (+3) P

Hit Points: 79
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
AC: 10 
BtH: +4
MEP: 226
Primary Spellcasting Attribute: Charisma

Sanity (SAN): 90 (Max), 75 (Current)

Fate Points: 6
Fate Die: 1d12

Languages: English, Latin, Gaelic, Greek, Russian (native language is English)
Background: Scholar (Librarian)
Skills: Mythology (Celtic, Norse)
Traits: Spellgifted (Enchantments/Charms)

Powers
Familiar: Cotton Ball
Spellcasting

Spells
Cantrips: (9) Arcane Mark, Dancing Lights, Detect Illusion, Detect Magic, Light, Magical Aura, Mage Hand, Prestidigitation, Stun
First: (5+1) Color Spray, Command, Darkness, Identity, Shield, Sleep
Second: (5+1) Alter Self, Blur, Burning Hands, Hold Person, Pyrotechnics, Scare
Third: (4+1) Aid, Blink, Nondetection, Remove Curse, Tongues
Fourth: (4) Dispel Magic, Emotion, Phantasmal Killer, Seeming
Fifth: (4) Feeblemind, Mass Suggestion, Projection, True Seeing
Sixth: (3) Mislead, Veil, Wind Walk
Seventh: (3) Prismatic Spray, Teleport without Error, Word of Recall
Eighth: (3)  Antipathy, Prismatic Wall
Ninth: (2) Astral Projection

That went pretty fast really. Like creating an AD&D 1st Character.  In fact, that should really be the main reason to check this game out; how close it is to AD&D. 

In truth, that was a LOT of fun to do. Makes me realize how much I miss playing C&C and AD&D too.

So everyone get in on that Indiegogo campaign so others can see just how much fun this game really is. 

Amazing Adventures


Thursday, June 30, 2022

One Man's God: Castles & Crusades Gods & Legends

Castles & Crusades Gods & Legends
A couple weeks back I posted a One Man's God using the AD&D 2nd Edition Legends & Lore.  I mentioned at the time that this falls outside of the scope of the original concept of my OMG posts; that is can I take creatures from the Deities & Demigods and re-classify them as AD&D 1st Edition demons. Not historical demons, not mythological demons, but 1st Edition demons.

Since I have spent this week discussing Castles & Crusades I have often talked about how this game is the spiritual successor to AD&D.  Do their books on gods also follow?  Or to be more precise, can I do a One Man's God post on the C&C god books?

When it comes to discussing gods, demigods, and heroes Castles & Crusades is really second to none here. There Codex series, written by Brian Young, is some of the best-researched material for an RPG ever produced.   

Gods and Demons in Castles & Crusades

You are not going to find stats for gods in C&C.  They are not meant to be fought. There are however plenty of gods to encounter. I covered many of these in the various Codex books by Brian Young.

There is also the Gods & Legends book which I'll cover here and use as my basis for this One Man's God.  

Demons are well covered in the Tome of the Unclean from Troll Lords.  Tome of the Unclean follows pretty close to the AD&D standard demon with what I often refer to as "the Usual Suspects," so all the "Type" demons and succubi.  So while I could more properly compare the C&C gods to the proper C&C demons, I think everything is close enough that I can continue with my original purpose of comparing these gods to the AD&D demons.  If there are any differences they are so minor as not to be an issue.  Besides. These are gods and demons we are talking about, there will always be exceptions to the rules.

Gods & Legends

For the purposes of this review, I am considering the PDF from DriveThruRPG. 

PDF. 144 pages. Color covers, black & white interior art. Bookmarked and hyperlinked.  Written by Davis Chenault with contributions by Steven Chenault, Brian Young, Jason Vey, and Todd Gray.

This book largely replaces the Of Gods & Monsters book from a few years back, though it is smaller in size, 144 pages vs 162. I say replaces, but this is a new set of work. The original Of Gods and Monsters was written by James Ward of Deities & Demigods fame.  There are similar gods in both books but this new version is a rewrite of the older work with new entires to work better with the Codex series.

This book is divided into three(ish) large sections.

The Anvil of the Gods

This section covers how gods work in a Castles & Crusades game, how the Castle Keeper can play them, and how the characters can relate to them. This section also gives advice on designing a pantheon. Unlike the original Deities & Demigods that seemed to want to shy away from religion, this book acknowledges it and all the myriad combinations (within the space of this book) religions can take.  The focus here though is not a religious academic text (and Troll Lords has at least two people, Young and Vey, on staff with graduate degrees in religious studies, literature, and history) but more on how these manifest and work in an RPG, and in Castles & Crusades in particular. To this end there is advice on how to run and play gods and how they should interact with the PCs. 

Common deific abilities are defined with Greater, Lesser, and Demi-god statuses. Details are given to how the gods relate to the clerics and paladin classes, alignments, and other archetypes.  Holy symbols and characters with divine traits are also covered. Divine traits include the healing touch.

Of the Gods

This is the largest section of the book, detail-wise. This covers what could properly be called the Gods of Aihrde, the Castles & Crusades campaign world.  A brief overview of the basic deity characteristics is first. Up first are the human gods of Aihrde. This is the section that is most like the older Of Gods and Monsters book.

Gods of Aihrde

Some sections are the same as in the older book, many do look to be rewritten.  The art is used from the older text but I do not see an issue with that. Many gods here get more text as well.  Many of the Aihrde gods take cues and ideas from Earth gods. This is also not a big deal and in fact no different than the gods of the Forgotten Realms. In fact I am going to go out on a limb here and say the process to create these gods (from the Chenault home games no doubt) was very similar to what Ed himself did when he created the Forgotten Realms Gods.  Maybe one day I need to go through this pantheon and the Forgotten Realms ones and see what gods they have in common.  The obvious "Earth" gods are the All Father (Odin), The moon sisters (Diana, Artemis), Frafnog (Fáfnir, Midgard Serpent), Tefnut, Toth, Unklar (Chernbog), and Wenafar (Titania).  Again, I like seeing this stuff. It immediately gives me a hook.  If Frafnog is the god of dragons and there is a Fáfnir connection beyond the surface then there is a great reason why dwarves hate dragons more than just the Hobbit connection (which is of course drawn from the story of Fáfnir and The Ring of the Nibelung). There is deep religious animosity here. Is this what the Chenaults do in their home game? No idea, but this is what is happening in mine.

Following humans, we get the gods of the Dwarves, Elves, Halflings (LOVE the art of the halfling gods!), Gnomes, and then the humanoids (bugbears, gnolls, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, lizardmen, giants, ogres, and trolls) there are even dragon deities, fey deities, and gods of mermen and sahuagin.  It is a wide variety and shows some original ideas beyond what we typically think of in the Deities and Demigods, but not quite the level of detail as found in the very focused Forgotten Realms Demihuman Deities book.

All the Other Gods

This "section" is actually many sections, but they are mostly the same format. They cover the various gods and pantheons found in our world and are covered in detail by the Codex series.  Where the Codecies give us a lot of details on the myths and stories of those pantheons, this section just covers game based stats. No stats as in hp and AC, but alignments, worshipers, granted attributes, preferred weapons and the like.  No details on the gods themselves, for that you will need the Codies.

Covered are the gods of the Celts, Greeks, Egyptians, Germans, Norse, and Slavs.

Who should buy this book?  Anyone playing Castles & Crusades and wants to go deep into the mythologies of Aihrde.  Also, anyone that owns the Codies and wants more game content. 

I also say this is a good book for the AD&D (first or second eds.) player/game master that wants a bit more detail on the gods in their Deities & Demigods/Legends & Lore books. Or who just want a different set of or more gods than they currently have.  Indeed the title of the book, Gods & Legends, seems to state that it is a book with the AD&D books in mind.

One Man's God - The Demons of Aihrde

As I mentioned the Demons of Aihrde are already the Demons of AD&D.  But what about the monsters and gods here in Gods & Legends?  Let's see what we have here.

The obvious choices will be the Lesser Gods and the Demigods in terms of the power level near that of the Demon Princes. But I am not going to ignore the odd Greater God if they fit.

For the Aihrde human gods, Frafnog might fit the bill, though he is really powerful. Onduhl is the god of evil beings and has a strong Lucifer or Loki vibe to him.  Unklar looks like a demon and has the Chernobog connection I mentioned above, but he seems more devil-like than demon-like. 

The gods of the Dwarves, Halflings, and Gnomes do not have anyone.  The Elves have Talahnatilia but that is something other than a demon or devil really. 

It is not really to we get to the gods of the humanoids that we find good candidates.

Jarga the Bloodless is worshiped by many humanoid types (gnolls, kobolds, orcs). He is a lesser god and chaotic evil. He is a god of blood and battle. He might or might not be a demon, but he will certainly has their hatred of life. His plane is listed as The Wretched Plains, one of only three gods to claim this plane. 

Bugbear gods here are Chaotic Evil. Hobgoblin gods are mostly Lawful Evil.  This detail tracks with my own personal use of them. Bugbears are goblins with demonic ancestry and Hobgoblins are goblins with diabolic ancestry. So. If I am searching for demons I am going to look towards the Bugbears first. The bugbear gods are both greater gods and don't really fit the AD&D notion of demons. Same is true for the hobgoblins.

Gnolls have been long associated with demons in AD&D through Yeenoghu. Most of these gods are either too powerful (Greater) and/or Lawful Evil.  Here is one of the issues of trying to apply the "rules" of one game on to another. They don't have to follow the same logic or premises. 

Among the Goblins, Beerkzurd could be a demon, a powerful on to be sure. He is Lawful Evil, but he feels more Chaotic Evil really.  He is also one of those gods people pray to not so much to get boons from him, but in order for him to leave you alone.

The Orc gods are quite war-like and many are Lawful Evil. They mostly seem like larger, more powerful versions of orcs. Which I guess can be said about most gods. They are just larger more powerful versions of the people that worship them.

Vasser of Lizardmen is another good choice. Lesser God, chaotic evil, looks like a demon. The same is all true for Grudznar of the Kobolds and Barg of the Trolls. In fact, all three do feel very demon-like. The lack of proper stats are really the only thing keeping me from deciding a definitive yes or no.  Barg though is such an interesting being in a demented sort of way. I wish I had knew of him during my Troll Week a while back.

I am not considering the Dragon gods. They are really their own thing and many listed here do not fit the idea of a demon well. Yeah...I know I have both Tiâmat and Leviathan as eodemons. Plus I mentioned Frafnog above as a potential demon.

Same with the Fey. They are really their own thing. Though in my personal campaign the Fey do war against the demons. So it could be possible a "fallen fey" is a demon (fits what history did to them in our world).  Not an evil fey. A "good" faerie still has more in common with an evil faerie than they do a demon.

Flathin of the Sahuagin also is a good choice as a demon. If we take the myths of Flathin and his sister Trimon it could be that Flathin was "cast down" as the patron of mermen and now is the patron of their evil counterparts, the Sahuagin. He is a chaotic evil lesser god and looks like a giant octopus with 10 tentacles (a decapus?). He grants little to his followers, save for what they get at their religious/war ceremonies.  

Again. I might be extending my One Man's God to the point of breaking.  Let this be a lesson in how scope creep or extending your theories beyond your testable hypotheses is a bad thing.

Other gods from Earth mythologies have been covered in previous postings of One Man's God.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Class Struggles: Castles & Crusades - Core and Player Archive

It has been a while since my last Class Struggles post.  Since I featuring D&D this month and focusing on Castles & Crusades, in particular, this week I thought a look into the Castles & Crusades classes was in order. I am going to focus my attention on the Castles & Crusades Player Archive, but I will talk about more than just that.

Castles & Crusades, Players Handbook

One can't really talk about classes and not first look to the core, the Players Handbook.  This book serves the same purposes as the D&D Players Handbooks; it introduces the rules and the classes.  In this case, the comparison to AD&D 1st edition is most appropriate. 

Players Handbooks

I have repeatedly made the claim that Castles & Crusades is the spiritual successor to AD&D 1st Ed. No slight against 5e or other versions of D&D, but if you want modern rules and a 1st ed feel, your game is Castles & Crusades.  Obviously, the publisher, Troll Lords, feels the same way given the new cover art for the 8th Printing of the C&C PH.  

The classes in the C&C PH are: Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Illusionist, Knight, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Wizard, and the Assassin (a special class).  Compare this to the ones from the AD&D 1st Ed Players Handook: Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Thief, Assassin, Magic-user, Illusionist, Monk, and a special class for the Bard.  Add in the Unearthed Arcana we get the Barbarian and Cavalier along with the Thief-Acrobat.  So all in all a very, very similar list of options.

In Castles & Crusades, each class has a Prime Attribute which really helps define the class. This is a bit more "hard coded" into the class than say it is in AD&D.

The classes, even with the same name, do have some differences. For starters, all the spell casters can cast spells up to 9th level in C&C.   

A few details.  Bards do not get spellcasting ability here but a number of spell-like powers. Clerics are limited to wielding the weapon their deity favors. So a cleric of Thor naturally gets a hammer, but one of Odin might take the spear. Druids get a lot of abilities and spells. Fighters actually get a few abilities as well, especially involving weapon specialization. As mentioned Illusionists get spells to the 9th level.  The Knight fills the roles of the Cavalier.  Monks are fairly similar to their AD&D counterparts.  Both Paladins and Rangers are similar enough to their AD&D counterparts.  They both have a number of special powers but neither has actually spell casting powers.  At first, I did not like this particular change, but I did not miss it as much as I thought I might with the paladin.  I did in the Ranger, but I tended not to spend a lot of time on spells for my AD&D rangers to even begin with, save for spells that helped their normal ranger powers/skills.  Rogues are very close to their Thief ancestors.  Wizards get a nice boost at the 13th level when they start to get some new powers/abilities. It reminds me, rules-wise, of the BECMI magic users from the D&D Companion set.   The Assassin is a special class that is designed to be added to another class with the C&C Dual- or Multi-Classing and Class-and-half rules. 

Just looking at the classes, C&C can provide an interesting twist on the AD&D experience while retaining the essential feel of these archetypes.

Castles & Crusades Player Archive
Castles & Crusades Player Archive

The logical extension of the Castles & Crusades class discussion is to go through the Castles & Crusades Player Archive.  

I will give a brief review of this book so people will know what I am talking about.  For this review, I am only considering the PDF from DriveThruRPG. I thought I had the hardcover version of this as well, but I guess I don't.  Will need to remedy this.

PDF, 128 pages. Hyperlinked and bookmarked. Color cover art and black & white interior art.

This book collects most of the classes published in various Castles & Crusades books including the core and the Adventure's Backpack.  What is not here are some of the classes from the various Brian Young Codex books. There are some here, but I would have to go through all the books to know how many are here and how many are not.  I do not see this a miss. Many of the Codex classes are very specific to their time and place and to remove them from that context they would loose something special.

This book covers the basic (levels 1 to 12/13) and advanced (expanded) information (levels 13 to 24) for all the classes.  The classes are:

Arcane Thief, Archer, Assassin, Barbarian, Bard, Chromatic Mage, Cleric, Divine Knight, Druid, Duelist, Dwarf (Heisen Fodt), Elf, High (Oraalau), Ethereal Knight, Fighter, Foresworn, Gnome (Hugrin Dun), Goblin, Eldritch (Ieragon), Halfling (Felon Noch), Illusionist, Knight, Luminary, Magic-User, Monk, Oathsworn, Pacer, Paladin, Pirate, Primal Druid, Ranger, Rogue, Rune Mark, Seeker, Skald, Thief, Warrior Priest, and Wizard.

There is a split between the classes "Basic" entry which covers levels 1 to 12 or 13, and the Expanded entry later in the book for levels up to 24.  This has some immediate consequences. While I am not a fan of my class information getting split up like this, many games only go to about levels 12-14 anyway.  So this would cover the majority of all games played.  It does give us a nice split today port these classes over to any OSR game based on B/X D&D (max level 14) or something Hyborea (max level 12). Then you can pull in the expanded information as it is needed if it is ever needed.

The Core/Players Handbook classes are here as are some classes that only appeared in limited-run products. It is really nice to have them all in one place. Great for anyone playing a C&C game, you just need to make sure that your Castle Keeper agrees on them.

Old School Games based on D&D usually do not handle multi- and dual-classes as well as say more modern versions of D&D. Castles & Crusades makes some vast improvements here with rules on this.  They also add options of "Class Plus" or add some features from another class, Dual classing and Reclassing.  What is missing here is the Class and Half from the Core Players Handbook. While anyone with this book will have the Players Handbook, it might have been nice to see here.

I mentioned in my coverage of the Adventurers Spellbook that the spells can be ported over to other D&D and D&D-like RPGs. In particular, I mentioned the Chromatic Mage being used in the OSR clone Chromatic Dungeons. The class is presented here in the Player's Archive. Yes, this class can be moved over rather easily, maybe even easier than moving it over to AD&D.  Likewise nearly any class here can be used in AD&D or OSR clone.  Want to play a Primal Druid in Old-School Essentials? No problem, they can be added with ease.

Note: Speaking of which the layout here aims to give each class a two- or four-page spread to keep referencing the classes easy to read and view at the table.  The PDF then allows for ease printing of these classes.  Playing a Warrior Priest and don't want to cart your hardcover around? Print pages 90 and 91 back to back and staple them to your character sheet.  Everything you need. This does mean there is some unused white space after each class, but for me, this is well worth it.

With this book and the option within I could spend an entire month creating and posting characters and no two would even be remotely the same.  A must-have for any Castles & Crusades fan.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Plays Well With Others: Castles & Crusades Adventurers Spellbook

Castles & Crusades Adventurers Spellbook
Yesterday I talked about how well, or more to the point, how easy it is to use the Castles & Crusades Mystical Companions with old-school D&D and in particular AD&D 1st Edition.  I want to do something similar today but a little more focused on bridging that gap.

Today I want to look at Castles & Crusades Adventurers Spellbook as my example, but in truth, this would apply to any C&C spell collection.

I'll do a quick review and then get into my Plays Well With Others.

Castles & Crusades Adventurers Spellbook

For the purposes of this review, I am considering both the PDF from DriveThruRPG and the hardcover I purchased from Troll Lords.

256 pages. Color cover, black & white interior art.

This book covers (mostly) the spells of the four major spell-casting classes in C&C; Cleric, Wizard, Druid, and Illusionist.   There are also two new types of spell-casters in this book, Runic Magic and Chromatic Magic.

The vast bulk of this book is given over to the spells of four classes (170+ pages). The spells are listed by class and then the alphabetic description follows.  Many of these are going to be familiar since they are pulled from various C&C books and the Player's Handbook in particular. This is not a bug, but a feature. I wanted a book that had all of these spells in one place and this is what they advertise it as.

There are minor typos here and there and the art is recycled, but none of that matters to me. I am here for the spells.  Honestly, I have no idea how many spells are here but it has to be upwards of 1,000. For example, there are 379 Cleric spells (0 to 9th level), 366 Druid spells, 437 Wizard spells, 305 Illusionist spells, and over 200 rune magic spells.  That's a lot of magic. 

I mentioned Runic Magic a couple of times. Rune Magic. Anyone can use runic magic, but the character has to master the runes first via an attribute check, this also assumes they have the necessary codices needed in order to learn the runes.  

The spells of the Chromatic Mage is also presented here.  This class is detailed more in the Castles & Crusades Player Archive, which I will cover more tomorrow.

If you are a fan of magic, spells or just have a desire to have a complete set then I would say pick this up.

Plays Well With Others

It has often been said that Castles & Crusades is one of the first professionally published OSR games out there.  It takes the 3rd Edition base, reforms it forms it for a 1st Edition experience and even gave us rules and mechanics that would later be seen in 5th Edition.  Castles & Crusades is essentially what AD&D could have become in the new millennium.

So it is no surprise then that C&C can Play Well with other forms of D&D rather easily. 

1st and 2nd Edition D&D

1st and 2nd Edition AD&D

This one is such a no-brainer it barely needs to be mentioned, but there are some things to consider. C&C uses the same spell casting classes as 1st Edition AD&D, so that conversion is easy. Though it should be pointed out that all classes have cantrips and have spells that go to 9th level.

1st and 2nd Edition AD&D Cure Light Wounds

Converting the spells is so trivial it is hardly an effort. 

C&C spells casting times are in Rounds and saves are based on abilities. Largely you can save vs. Spells in AD&D unless some other sort of save (death, paralysis) makes more sense.

3rd Edition D&D

C&C might be modeled after 1st Edition, but its roots are in 3rd Edition D&D.  Spellcasters get cantrips and 9th level spells in both cases. 

D&D 3e

Saves convert roughly like this Reflex = Dexterity (or rarely Intelligence), Fortitude = Constitution or Strength, Will = Wisdom or Charisma.

Likewise both games have focus components that can be used. 

5th Edition D&D

C&C and D&D 5 have so much in common that you can just drop these spells right in. 

D&D 5e

Levels are the same. Cantrips are the same. Saves are the same. There is no warlock or sorcerer in C&C nor is there a dedicated Illusionist for D&D5, just the wizard archetype.  But the spells can be spread out well enough.  The Chromatic Mage though would make a good D&D5 style sorcerer to be honest with a little tweaking.

OSR Games

No point in going through all of these. If any of the above work then so do these.  A couple of caveats. 

Basic-Based Advanced Games

Basic Advanced Games

Basic D&D does not have the detail of spell descriptions that Advanced D&D does. So a lot of the stat blocks of the spells can be ignored or used as guidelines.  Saves are always vs. Spell.

Chromatic Dungeons

In the special case of Chromatic Dungeons, all the above applies, but I also think it would work out well if the Chromatic Mage was ported over (even via the OGL) to Chromatic Dungeons.  IT would work well as another, but a different classification of Magic-User.  I would use Wizard level advancement in CD and the spell progression in the Adventurers Spellbook.

I'll discuss this more tomorrow when I do my Class Struggles post.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Monstrous Mondays: Mystical Companions (Castles & Crusades)

All month long I have been talking about D&D and mostly near-D&D FRPGs.  While last week was all Pathfinder, the one-time heir-apparent to D&D, this week I want to talk about a game that really does capture that feel of early, 1st Ed AD&D, with a more modern point of view.  

Of course, that game is Castles & Crusades.

I have never hidden my love of Castles & Crusades and I would play a lot more of it if I could. It really does capture the feel of older D&D, maybe something of a Basic-era mixed with Advanced, through the lens of 3rd Edition.  One really could consider it the evolution of AD&D2 into the new millennia. 

This week I want to do more with Castles & Crusades, but I am going to do it from the point of view of some of my regular blog features.  Today is Monday and that means Monstrous Mondays. So I am going to review and discuss the Castles & Crusades Mystical Companions book. 


I can't believe that it has been three years (almost to the day) since I reviewed the 5th Edition version of this book.  I had meant to do much sooner than this.

The Troll Lord's Mystical Companions is the update to their fantastic Book of Familiars.   It comes in two flavors, A Castles & Crusades version, and a D&D 5th Edition version.   I have both in digital and PDF formats, today I am going to focus solely on the Castles & Crusades version.  Yes, they are in fact different enough that two separate reviews are really needed.

I was always going to use this book in my Magic School games, whether that game used an Old-School ruleset (like Castles & Crusades or OSE) or (now) D&D 5th Edition.  I think that highly of it.  Now it is something I am using as part of my War of the Witch Queens campaign where every character has an animal companion, pet, or familiar.  My oldest kid has taken my 5th edition version and made it his own.

Mystical Companions for Castles & Crusades
Mystical Companions for Castles & Crusades

For this review, I am considering both the PDF version from DriveThruRPG and the hardcover version I purchased from Troll Lord Games. 

Hardcover book and PDF. 192 pages, full-color art by Jason Walton and Peter Bradley.  PDF is bookmarked.  This book is divided up into 12 chapters and 5 appendcies. Largely focusing on the various Castles & Crusades classes and their respective animal companions.

Chapter 1: Familiars and Companions

This gives us our basic overview of the book and the concepts of an animal companion in the Castles & Crusades game.  Pro-tip. Even a casual read of the chapter titles should clue you in that if you wanted to use this with AD&D 1st ed you very easily could. There is also the notion that Animal Companions and Familiars, while similar and can perform similar roles and tasks are very different from each other. 

On Animal Companion vs. Familiar.  While rules in the book cover book and treat them somewhat interchangeably an Animal Companion is more like a loyal pet or friend.  A Familiar is a creature summoned to work with the PC.  Animal Companions are free-willed, familiars are not.

For ease, I am going to use"animal companion" for all cases unless a distinction needs to be made. 

There is the concept here of Advantages, this allows the character to summon an animal companion. In truth, I think this works better in 5e than it does here, but I will explore this a bit more.  Additionally, there are various Powers and Tricks animal companions can have or impart to their player characters.

Animal companions are all treated as other creatures from the beginning. They have HD, hp, AC and more scores. 

Advantages are a new mechanic for C&C to allow them to take on various "powers" or "features."  It was introduced in the Castle Keepers Guide as an optional rule, here it is required.  It is, very simply put, a "Feat" system for C&C.  That does not really describe it well enough, but it is close.

Different classes get new Advantages at different levels.  Various abilities and powers of the animal companions are detailed here. Including what sort of special powers you can get by taking another animal companion/familar at higher levels. 

If you are playing AD&D 1st Ed and really want to do familiars correctly then I highly recommend this book. 

The following chapters each deal with the various C&C classes (and their AD&D counterparts in my readings) and their respective animal companions.

Chapter 2: Barbarian Familiars & Special Mounts

I don't recall Conan having a pet, but Cú Chulainn is known to have had some pet dogs. Since Barbarians feel closer to nature they have totem animals; an animal or creatures revered by their culture. This chapter covered these, and all the expected animals are here, but there are also totems for mammoths, displacer beasts, dire creatures of all sorts, and even small dragons. 

Chapter 3: The Bard’s Familiar

Bards typically have familiars that aid in their singing or musical magics. Providing a number of powers to aid their abilities. 

Chapter 4: The Cleric’s Familiar

These are not so much as animals and more attendant spirits. The least of the messengers of the cleric's god(s).  Often they are here to provide the cleric guidance or omens. These creatures can, and often do, take on animal shapes. What that shape is depends largely on the cleric's domain. 

Chapter 5:The Druid’s Familiar

Similar to both the Barbarian's and the Cleric's familiar.  Here the deciding factor is the terrain/environment the druid is native to.  There is a large sidebar/section on Druid Familiars vs Druid Animal Companions.

Chapter 6: The Fighter’s Familiar

This one seems a bit odd, but they do make a case for it. A good historical example might be the Mongolian fighters and their horses, or the hunting dogs of Celtic cultures. 

Chapter 7: Monk Familiars

Again not one you normally think about. These seem to follow the same logic of the barbarian, but in stead of totem spirits they are manifestations of ancestor spirits. Think Mu-Shu from the animated Mulan.

Chapter 8: Paladin Special Mounts & Familiars

Paladins already get mounts. This extends that logic a bit more. 

Chapter 9: The Ranger’s Familiar

Honestly, all Rangers should have an animal companion of some sort. This codifies it. 

Ranger Familiars

Every ranger needs a red panda familiar.

Chapter 10: The Rogue’s Familiar

Like the fighter, one does not normally associate Rogues/Thieves with animals, but honestly, it would be good. Think of Laurence Fishburne's character "The Bowery King" and his pigeons or D&D's own history of associating thieves with cats (the Grey Mouser from Lankhmar or Gord the Rogue).

Chapter 11: The Illusionist’s Familiar and Chapter 12: The Wizard’s Familiar

Putting these two together since they follow similar ideas.  This is as close as we can get to the classic idea of a familiar.  The natures of their familiars are different, which is great, it provides more distance between these two classes. 

Appendix A: Animals

"Monster stats" for various (51) mundane animals.

Appendix B: New Monsters

Likewise, these are new monsters (36). Many are either familiars or creatures that feed on familiars. 

Appendix C: New Spells

A bunch of new familiar summoning and related spells for all spell casting classes.

Appendix D: New Magic Items and Artifacts

Magic items to summon, control, or aid familiars and animal companions. 

Appendix E: Dragon Riders

This last section covers a new class/path, the Dragon Riders, and how these rules are used for that class. While many of the same rules are used here as for familiars this takes them to a new place and should be considered optional. 

This is the Appendix/Chapter that my son grabbed this book from me for, BUT he opted not use their Dragon Riders but kept the book anyway for everything else.

Dragon Rider

A Dragon Rider is a Path that can be added to any class, but some have more use for it than others.  If the idea of PC Dragon Riders concerns you, then keep in mind it is being sold as "optional".  And also Dragon Riders of some form or another have been around since the dawn of the game.  If it is something you want, then there is plenty here for you to use.

If I ever ran a Magic School game with this then Dragon Riders would be included.

Index 

We end with a robust index and the OGL section.

Final Thoughts

A note about art. There is not as much in this book as other Troll Lord books, but what is here is from the fabulous Peter Bradley and Jason Walton, who also gives us the cover art.

Your results may vary, but this book has quickly gone from a neat oddity to one of our must-have books for my Old-school games. My son uses it in the 5e games he has run so much that I have not seen my 5e version of this book in months since it is now in with all of his books.

Do you need this book?  I say yes, but only if you are adding animals of any sort to your game, be they pets, familiars, mounts, companions, or all the way up to Dragon Riders.

Use in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

I am going to limit my thoughts here to AD&D 1st Ed. The only reason I am not considering 2nd Ed is that 2nd Edition has a skill system that should be incorporated with these rules a little more explicitly.  For 1st Ed, I can see a craft DM using this book more or less as-is. 

I know Troll Lords does not sell this book as an AD&D book. But anyone who is a fan of C&C is likely a fan of AD&D.  (Although I should point out I talked to a couple of real hardcore C&C fans at Gary Con who had never played AD&D First Edition.) But in any case, this is a fantastic reference for the 1st edition all the same. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Review: Tome of the Unclean (Castles & Crusades)

Tome of the Unclean
Last week I spent a lot of time with the Castles & Codex series and it was great fun.  But there is another book that also works well with my universe building and it is not about the gods.  Rather quite the opposite.

Tome of the Unclean

Back in October of 2017 Troll Lords launched their Tome of the Unclean Kickstarter. With the idea to bring demons, devils, and other fiends to the Castles & Crusades game.  It would also work with Amazing Adventures (which is what I would end up doing later).  I was immediately hooked and knew I needed this book.

Fast forward to 2019 I got my book in the mail and I had been picking up the PDFs (they released as they were completed starting in Jan 2018) all throughout. 

I have just been really slow at getting my review up.

For this review, I am considering both the hardcover print version from the Kickstarter and the now final PDF from DriveThruRPG.

144 pages. Color covers, black & white interior art.

The book follows a format that is now common to many books about fiends.  A part that deals with Demons and Lords of the Abyss.  Another that covers Devils and the Legions of Hell. And a third, which often differs from book to book, covers other fiends of Gehenna and the Undead.  Adding in the undead is a nice touch in my mind and a value add for the book.

Demons & Devils

This covers the basic differences and how these creatures fit into the World of Aihrde, the game world of Castles & Crusades.  It also covers the basics of the monster stat block.

Lords of the Abyss

This is our section about Demons and the Abyss.  It cleaves pretty close to the AD&D standard with what I often refer to as "the Usual Suspects," so all the "Type" demons and succubi. The new material here includes Abyssal Oases which are areas that are habitable by mortal-kind that seem to come up at random.

Covered here are also traits about the Abyss and powers and traits common to all demons. 

The monsters are all alphabetical, so common demons are not separated from the lords.  There are a few lords present. Demogorgon and Orcus return.  But also Oozemandius (as a Juiblex stand-in) and Buer. Graz'zt is mentioned a few times, but no stats are given.  There are 32 total demons with four as lords.

Legions of Hell

This section follows a pattern similar to the Demons one.  The Hells are described, including the nine layers.  They have some new names and some differences, but if you are wed to the Ed Greenwood Dragon articles about Hell then there is not a lot to convert here.  

There are 53 devils, with 16 of these listed as unique Arch-Devils. There are more new devils here than there are new demons.  

Gehenna

This is our "Neutral Evil" plane in the Great Wheel cosmology of the world of Aihrde, taking the place of Hades or the Grey Wastes from AD&D.  This is home to the daemons.  Like the previous chapters, this covers the features of the land and it's inhabitants.  Reading through it is feels like equal parts of the Greek Hades and the Underworld of Kur in the Babylonian myths where Ereshkigal rules.  

Only four deamons are detailed here, with one, Charon the Boatman, as the only unique member.

Undead

The name of the book is the Tome of the Unclean. While demons and devils take up the vast majority of the book there is still some space for the Undead.

18 undead creatures are detailed here, most of favorites (but creatures Vampires are missing) and some new ones. 

Denizens. Fauna, & Flora

Covers various types of evil, non-fiendish, non-undead, monsters that can also be found.

We end with Aihrde specific information and our OGL page.

Tome of the Damned is a fantastic resource for anyone wanting more information on demons, devils, and their ilk for anyone playing Castles & Crusades.  In fact, if you are playing C&C and want demons then this is a must-have book.

The advantage of Castles & Crusades is that it can be adapted to AD&D or any OSR game easily.  So if you want more than what the Monster Manuals I & II can give you, then this book is also a good choice.   I f you are playing AD&D 2nd ed then this book will fill in many of the gaps left by that game.

Now, I have an entire library of books dedicated to demons, devils, and all sorts of evil monsters.  There were only a few things here actually new to me.  But I still rather enjoyed this book quite a lot.  It is a good addition to my Castles & Crusades library.

Castles & Crusades


Friday, March 18, 2022

Review: Castles & Crusades Codex Egyptium

Castles & Crusades Codex Egyptium
Today I present the last (so far) of the Castles & Crusades mythological Codices.   This one takes away from Europe and back further in time to antiquity.   It was also one I was really, really looking forward to and I am not disappointed.  

Castles & Crusades Codex Egyptium

Nothing gets people excited quite like Egypt.  A kingdom that began at least in 3,100 BC to the time of the Romans, it has missing time where "nothing really happened" (according to one Prof. used to joke) that lasts longer than the entire history of the United States. It is an impressively long amount of time and even one that seems incalculable. There is the old saying. "Man fears time, but Time fears the Pyramids." 

This codex takes on the "newer" Codex format.  This is one makes the new format a little clearer. The "Chapters" covers history and mythology with some game material while the "Appendicies" are game material proper. 

For this review I am considering the PDF from DriveThruRPG and the hardcover edition.  Again our author and designer is Brian Young.  Color covers, and black and white interior art. 

Chapter 1 The Black Land Arose (Geography and Worlds)

This chapter begins with a basic map of the lands around the Nile and even up to the Mediterranean Sea and out East to the Fertile Crescent.  This chapter covers the geography of these lands and a bit on the people. To call it brief is a massive understatement.  We are talking about nearly 3,500 years of history and people and change.  While the Egyptians were notoriously resistant to change and very xenophobic, there is still a glossing over of history here.  Of course, this is again a gamebook and not a history text.  No problem then, there is more to come. 

Chapter 2 From Early Darkness (History and Mythic Background)

This covers the history, real and mythical, of the lands. This covers the stone age (Paleolithic) to all the Dynasties up to the Fall of Rome in terms of real-world history.  The remaining covers the mythical history of Egyptian creation and gods. 

Chapter 3 Presided over by the Divine (Gods, Goddesses and Supernatural Figures)

This chapter opens up with some spiritual concepts like priests, mummification, souls, and the afterlife.  For the Egyptians, the afterlife WAS life. Everything they worked for the afterlife.  The gods and their place in the afterlife is also discussed.

Chapter 4 Rife with Charms and Spells ( Magic in Egypt)

As with many ancient societies, magic was not "Supernatural" but a part of nature and that has never been more true than with Egypt. Various words of power are discussed and listed. Descriptions of the Egyptian "wizards." 

Chapter 5 Neter and Netert - The Divine

Egypt is the land of Gods.  Lots and lots of Gods. Here only some of the Gods are detailed. Since Egyptian history is so long that even the gods changed.  There are 40 pages of gods here.  Some are listed more than once as their roles changed over the centuries. Young has a Sisyphean task here, trying to catalog all the gods that Egpyt has had.  Even if it not complete it is the most complete one I have seen in a game.

Chapter 6 Using Egyptian Mythology In Airhde

For the first time the Codex covers the Troll Lords' homeworld of Aihrde.  Parallels are drawn between the gods of Aihrde and the gods of Egyptian.   The advantage here, beyond the page, gives a nice mixing pot (Aihrde) that all the other Codices can be mixed. 

Appendix A Names This covers names for all sorts of people, PCs, NPCs, Gods and more.

Appendix B Social Classes The various classes in ancient Egypt.  Note that social class was ironclad; you didn't move around between them. 

Appendix C Defended by Fierce Warriors (The Military and Soldiers) Covers the different sort of warriors.  None are different from the Fighter game-wise, but there are a lot roleplaying ideas here.

Appendix D Chariots The high tech of the ancient world. It could not be understated that this was the implementate of war for the time. 

Appendix E The Sphynx A little bit of background on the creature.

Appendix F Where Monsters And Demons Dwell The creatures of ancient Egypt. 25+ creatures here and each one is more interesting than the last to be honest.  I am hesitant to say this is the best chapter, but it is really fun.

At the end is a really nice bonus map.  The map is included with the PDF.

Map of of the Universe

While there is a lot of information in this book, it still makes me want more.  I have a feeling that to do this topic justice we would need a 500+ page book. I can't even begin to imagine what Young had to do to pare it down this much. 

Eygpt is just so damn interesting.  There is so much here to play with that my cup runneth over with ideas. I honestly don't even know where to even start to be honest.

With all of these Codecies, one would be tempted to combine them all.  Build something akin to Lands of Adventure or Man, Myth, & Magic.  While I could see this working somehow in Aihrde or a homebrew campaign, I would avoid it for a purely mythic Earth where I feel this would work best. 

For my money and time, play these various codices in their own times and their own places.  For me, that would be the best way to really get the feel for them. Nicely they are written in such a way to allow pretty much anything. 

I understand that Dr. Young is working more of these.  I am really looking forward to them! 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Review: Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum, 2nd Printing

Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum, 2nd Printing
If there was any doubt where Dr. Brian Young's true love lies in this series, the new second printing of the Codex Celtarum should dissolve those.   This new book brings the original Codex in line with the other codies in terms of style and feel.  This new book is also expanded to 256 pages, up from the previous 178 pages.  It is without a doubt also my favorite of the codies. 

Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum, 2nd Printing

For this review, I am considering both he PDF and hardcover copies.  256 pages with color covers and black & white interior art. 

The Codex Celtarum is written by Brian Young.  He is a gamer and an academic in Celtic history and languages and an all-around nice guy.  Honestly, he is the kind of person I want writing this sort of thing.  You talk to him and get the feeling that he could immediately tell you a story from the Mabinogion and it would roll off his tongue like the bards of old.  This is the guy you want working on your Celtic game.

Introduction

The first thing I noticed in his introduction was his acknowledgement of the differences in legend and in history and where he was putting his cards.  For me, as someone that has had to have the same tug of war, the value of this book went up several degrees.   

Before moving on to the book itself I spent a lot of time with Castles & Crusades again, this time from the point of view of a Celtic-themed game.  Like the others in this series, it could be used with any D&D-like game.  Now at this point it should be noted that the design of this book is to play in a Faery realm, so it is something you can drop into any game world.  There are some game-based assumptions made, but nothing to keep you from making this your own.

This section also talks a bit about the changes from the 1st to 2nd printing.

Chapter 1: In Lands Far Away

This covers the lands of the Celts and how the Castles & Crusades player can drop their game into this world.  The advantage here is this 2nd Edition does talk about how you can use the Codex Germanica along with this.  This covers not just the expected British Isles, but all (mostly all) Celtic Europe. 

Chapter 2: Mythical Locations

This brief chapter discusses mythical locations like Hyberborea and the Hercynian Forest.  These lands were assumed to be real just "over there."

Chapter 3: Once Upon A Time 

This chapter covers the history of the Celtic real-world universe including the various wars that happened at the dawn of time and various involved countries/lands in Europe.  

Chapter 4: Otherworldly History

This is the "myth" part of the mytho-historical background of the Celts.  It overlays the stories of the gods and other powerful beings on top of the history of the Celts.  This chapter is rich in storytelling and follows a tale very familiar to me, but there are always new things to read and learn.

Splitting Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 into two separate and distinct chapters is good since for most books on the topic they are intertwined so much that it is hard to tease out the "myth" and the "history" from the mytho-historic events. Certainly one has had a profound effect on the other and I think Young demonstrates this well.  

Also while I am 100% behind his enthusiasm here (and I share it) we have yet to see anything game-related and we are 75 pages in.

Chapter 5: The Otherworld of Faery

This chapter covers the various "otherworlds" (yes plural) of the lands of Faery. Usually tied to a physical location in the real world.  It reads like an unreal Gazeteer of Europe to be honest, a mist-shrouded tour into a land that is similar but still very different. The faery lands don't have the same rules of nature as the mortal realms. So there are some tables about the odd passage of time or the nature of the land.  

Chapter 6: There Lived a People 

ALmost everything you want to know about the Faery races.  This includes traits faeries can have and their weaknesses.  This also includes a list of the giants of Wales.

Chapter 7: Great of Magic and Power 

This details, what else, magic.  If human wizards study magic and human priests pray for it then the Fae ARE magic. The distinction is not a subtle one.  The magical powers here are listed as spells. So they can be used by the fae as if they were spells, but that robs them of what makes them so interesting. Instead, go with the suggestion in the book that each member of the fae gets a number of special powers based on their intelligence.  And there are plenty of powers here!  If you are anything like me and love magic, spells, or powers for characters then this chapter alone is worth the price of the book.  

It is one of the largest chapters so far and has the most "game" material.

Chapter 8: With Great Gods and Lords 

This covers the gods, demigods, and named faeries of the lands. There are no stats for these gods or heroes.  Why? That is easy. They are not meant to be killed or even interacted with.  They are the legends of this land. If you have any familiarity with the gods of Celtic myth and legend you can find them here. 

Appendix A: The Druidic Order This covers the druid classes for Castles & Crusades within the Celtic world. There is the Druid (Wisdom), the Celtic Bard (Charisma), and the Druidic Seer (Wisdom).

Appendix B: The Secrets of the Druids This appendix covers the Ogham writing and runes.

Appendix C: Druidic Spells What is says, the spells the various druid classes can use. 

At this point, I wonder if all three could not have been combined into one Appendix. 

Appendix D: The Enchanted of Faerie Here we get a nice discussion on Faery Metals and how they can be used.  There is a list of divine items (artifacts in other games) listed by the owner; that's right the Gáe Bulga is not just lying around waiting for you to find it. No this +8 spear (!) is well in the hands of Cú Chulainn.

Appendix E: The Severed Head discusses the importance of taking the head of your enemy.

Appendix F: The Feast Hall details the Celtic hero's feast.

Appendix G: The Celtic Chariot. what it says on the tin.

Appendix H: The Celtic Warrior Society. Gives us a very brief overview of the importance of warriors and how they were organized.  I wish this one had been much longer. 

Appendix I: Accoutrements of War. Deals with the arms and armor of the celtic warrior. 

Appendix J: Strong Feats and Deeds. Covers the tales of the heroes of the Celtic myths and legends. 

Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum
Honestly, Appendices E to J should be combined into a chapter on Celtic Warriors. This is what the other Codices have done. 

Appendix K: Holidays & their Customs.

Appendix L Celtic Themed Adventures.

Appendix M: Monsters

Also, this should have been a chapter. There are 30 pages of monsters here. Many are very familiar to me, but again are closer to their "roots."

Ok. So what can say here?

The book is fantastic and I loved every bit of it.  BUT, I find the new organization of the 2nd Printing to be inferior to that of the 1st Printing.  I felt some of the material could have been organized and combined a bit better. I still find it a delight to read, but is that due to this book or the subject matter?

Again, there is no doubt that Brian Young is not only an expert in this field, he also loves it.  That enthusiasm shows and I am sure he could have written a book twice this size.  I do love the expanded history and the raised importance of the continental Celts over the typically well-trodden lands of the Irish and British Celts.  Looking over my review of the First Printing this is exactly one of the things I thought was missing from that version. Though some of the material from the first edition (some classes) are missing from this edition.  I guess I should keep both on hand.


Still, if you are a fan of Celtic myth, Faery lore, or Castles & Crusades then I highly recommend this book.  Even if you don't play C&C, I would get this book.