Wednesday, May 22, 2013

White Dwarf Wednesday #65

What was the RPG scene like 28 years ago? Tales of the RPG market in decline! Rules vs. Role-playing! New Star Trek! New stuff from Tolkien and Herbert!  Hmm.  Doesn't sound too different from today to be honest.  Let's get the details in this edition of White Dwarf Wednesday with issue number 65.

#65 has a place of honor in my collection. Honor that is if you consider it one of the issues where I decided that WD just wasn't as good as it used to be.  I know such things are highly subjective, especially considering the source of this was my 15 year old self.  I remember this cover though, another Chris Achilleos.  This is one of his more famous ones to be sure.

Ian Livingstone talks about the rise of FRPGs worldwide even if the market is cooling in America.  This tracks with what we know of the world wide sales of D&D falling after the heyday of early 80s.  May 1985 was nothing but the start of a downhill slide.  Makes the whole nostalgia thing a little sour I guess...

Phil Masters is up first with NPCs in Superhero games.  Still a pretty good read, well.  Minus the terrible red art over 80% of the page.

Open Box has some classics. Marcus Rowland covers Paranoia. He enjoyed it but not sure he would run it as a long term game.  He gives it 7/10.  There are some Traveller Alien books next. Aslan, K'Kree and Vargr they get 9, 7 and 9/10 respectively from Bob McWilliams.  I remember reading these all a couple years later in my university's book store.  New reviewer R. Jarnor covers three new Trek books, The Romulans, The Orion Ruse and Margin of Profit.  I had always wanted that Romulan one.  I thought they were an under appreciated race. He gives them 9, 9, and 8/10 respectively.  All of these books I did not see till college a couple years later.  I played Paranoia and concur with Rowland; fun for a few hours and then that is it.

Critical Mass covers the new Dune book, Chapter House Dune, and the reissue of the older Dunes.

WD tries out fiction again with a tale from Dave Langford.

Graham Miller has a Traveller adventure for us.  At some point they became "adventures" and no longer "sceanrios".  Not sure when that happened.

Mike Lewis has the meaty article of "Rules and Role-Playing Don't Mix" in "Balancing Act".  The basic gist here is that long involved rules impede real role-playing.  I am not sure i buy into that really. That constantly pausing to look up rules is a determent to the flow of the game; which has some merits but it is not as dire as I think he makes it out here.

The Shuagin's Heel is next, an AD&D adventure for 6-8 characters of 2nd to 4th level.   It is a pretty good sized with 6 islands and a dungeon level. Good little side adventure for some seasoned characters.

Starbase has some more organizations for Traveller, in this case something for civilians.
RuneRites covers forecasting and divinations.
Fiend Factory has some very interesting monsters this time around.  The Noegyth Nibin or  "Petty Dwarfs" from Tolkein's Silmarillion.  The art makes them look like a cross between gnome, dwarf and goblin.  Instead though of presenting them as a race we get NPC stats for 9 different personalities.

Treasure Chest has more weapons for AD&D.  Some of which I recall seeing in Dragon and/or Unearthed Arcarna.

Tabletop Heroes covers painting horses.

Newsboard tells us of a rumor of the Buck Rogers rights being sold to TSR.  Not the TV series, but the old original Buck. They also mention some "board room shuffles" at TSR.

We end with adds.

Again, not a great issue, but there are some moments.  The AD&D adventure is nice.
A lot of new names on articles so maybe there are some changes on the way.

We will see.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

You Can't Be Wrong

So a while back I mentioned I was going to something big and fun near the end of May?

Well looks like it is coming faster than I thought.

Gotta get ready!

Reveiw: Castles & Crusades Monsters

I love monsters. I love monster books. My first introduction to AD&D was via the 1st ed Monster Manual and I was instantly hooked.  So these tomes always have a special place in my heart.

Castles & Crusades actually has a number of monster books.  Each has a slightly different focus.
The Castles & Crusades Monster stat block is a nice combination of Basic's simplicity, 1st AD&D's comprehensiveness, and some 3.x style rules.  Saves are simple (Physical, Mental or both), AC is ascending and there is a "Challenge Rating" stat and XP all factored in.  Honestly it really is a synthesis of the best of D&D. Grabbing a monster from another source and converting on the fly really could not be easier.

Castles & Crusades Monsters & Treasure
This is the main monster and treasure book for C&C.  Here you will find what I call the "classic" monsters from the great Monster Manual.  If you are familiar with 3.x then these are all the monsters from the SRD in C&C's format.  There is plenty of new text here though to make this more than just another SRD-derived book.  Like all the C&C books the art and layout is great.  I have the physical book, the pdf and a printout of the PDF and all read great.

This book though is more than just a monster book, all the treasure and magic items (normally found in a Game Master's book) are here.  This is a nice feature really.  One place to have your encounter information.

This really is a must have book for any C&C fan. 128 pages and full of everything you need.

Castles & Crusades Of Gods & Monsters

A collection of gods and monsters from various myths and legends. It immediately reminds you of the of Deities and Demigods, but it is closer in format to the earlier Gods, Demigods and Heroes.

The myths are well represented, though there are a few oddities. The Greek and Roman myths are separate and the demi-human myths could have been left out, but that being said, the book is top notch.  There is also a section the gods and monsters of the C&C Campaign world of Aihrde.  I am particularily happy about the inclusion of the Celtic myths since that is what I am most likely to use.

I did like all the new spells for clerics of the various gods. That was a good touch. Of course there are also plenty of new magic items.
144 pages.

Castles & Crusades Classic Monsters The Manual
A fantastic collection of monsters from the original Fiend Folio, Monster Manual 2 and various publications. All revised to be used in in Castles & Crusades. Not a "must have" book, but certainly a "you will really, really want it and kick yourself if you don't get it" book.

It is a fantastic edition to my C&C collection and I am very glad I bought it.
Actually the more I have it, the more I find myself turning to it.

The nicest feature of this book is the inclusion of a DMG style index of the monster stats from here and from Monsters & Treasure. So now hundreds of monsters are at your finger tips.
If there is ever a "Second Edition" of C&C, I'd like to see this book and Monsters & Treasure combined into one volume.
144 pages.

Castles & Crusades Monsters & Treasure of Aihrde
At first I was not going to get this book.  I had all three of the other monster books and this one seemed a bit redundant.  But this one had something the others didn't; Demons and Devils.  I don't want to say that this is the only reason I got it, but they were conspicuously absent from all the other books.
Of course this book has more, a lot more, than just that.

I did enjoy all the new dragons and like it's "parent" book, this book has a bunch of new treasure.
Some of the monsters are world specific, but nothing that can't be worked around. In truth most of these monsters are all brand new to me and that is worth the price of the book alone.  Even most of the demons, devils and dragons are new.  Likewise for the treasure.
176 pages.

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!

Castles & Crusades Week

So just about a year ago I asked for some advice on Castles & Crusades.
The response was overwhelming and overwhelmingly positive. I went out and picked up everything I thought I needed for the game, then picked up some extra copies for my kids.

Since then I have gotten the chance to play some more and some really awesome books like Amazing Adventures and Codex Celtarum have been released. I have picked up more books including some adventures.  So I figured that there was a need for me to spend some quality time with these books.

I am going to posting some reviews and my thoughts from the last year of playing, reading and generally loving this game.

Stay tuned for more!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Bloghop Giveaway

To further help promote the Bloghop Against Homophobia and Transphobia I am going to give away a copy of The Witch.

The rules are pretty simple.
Share the url to this post or my blog far and wide to promote the bloghop.  Enter your name in Rafflecopter widget below and on the 27th when the hop has ended I'll pick a winner!

Make sure you leave a way for me to contact you.

Good luck!!
I am still giving money to charity, so that hasn't changed.  This is on top of that.

Edited to add: The Rafflecopter thingy wasn't working. So just post below. Thanks!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Codex Celtarium / Troll Lord Swag

I got my box of Troll Lord goodness today including the Codex Celtarum.

The timing is perfect since I have a bunch of things I want to do with C&C.  So look forward to some reviews this week.