Title - Castles & Crusades: Players Handbook
Publisher - Troll Lord Games
Format - Hardback Book
Pages - 128
System - Castles & Crusades (OGL variant d20 system)
MSRP - $19.95
Rating - 3 Stars
Reviewer - Glenn Vincent Dammerung aka GVDammerung
There has been and is quite a buzz surrounding Castles & Crusades (C&C). Along with the True20 system (from Green Ronin Publishing), C&C has perhaps the largest cult following among players of variant systems derived from Wotc’s 3rd Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. The claim that has been often made for C&C’s appeal is that it takes the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules and simplifies or streamlines them with an eye to the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules with a resultant game that preps faster, runs more smoothly or simply and feels more like the games of old. The kicker has been the claim that C&C allows you to use all the bells and whistles of the 3rd Edition rules for Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) in a C&C game without the headaches of slow prep time, slow combats and general rules bloat. However, having attempted to get beyond all these claims made about C&C and to specifics about how exactly C&C accomplishes all that is claimed for it, I have been uniformly unsuccessful. So, I decided to just buy C&C and see what the real deal is in actuality.
Before continuing, I should note that most of the claims for C&C’s appeal have been advanced by those who play and enjoy the game. Troll Lord Games has not attempted to compare C&C, heads up, with D&D and claim any advantage. Rather, they have sold C&C predominantly on its own merits as a stand alone game, which it is.
I should also note the Greyhawk connection here. Many of the advocates for C&C have, IME, been Greyhawkers. At the same time, Troll Lord Games, who publish C&C, also publish EGG's Castle Zagyg. Castle Zagyg and its support products are presented in C&C terms. It follows, that knowledge of C&C is of some use to Greyhawkers interested in EGG's Castle Zagyg work. It is for me anyway.
C&C in a Nutshell:
In a nutshell, C&C is 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons reimagined using the 3rd Edition D&D rules via the OGL. So, for example, experience points to level are not uniform and vary between classes. This is straight out of 1st Edition D&D. At the same time, armor class in C&C improves as it goes up, not down. This is straight out of 3rd Edition D&D. Throughout, C&C you can find mechanics that look to how things were done in 1st Edition while also finding mechanics that derive entirely from the 3rd Edition D&D rules. So, does this mean C&C is the best of both editions? Absolutely not. It is an intermingling of concepts from both 1st and 3rd Edition D&D but it is ultimately unique from both. C&C is C&C and whether one cares for the result will, of course, be a matter of taste.
Before looking at how the C&C Players Handbook goes about its business, a word is necessary about how the material is presented. Inside C&C’s full color, hard covers, there is very, very little art. The text simply rolls on and on in two columns, virtually unbroken. The text itself is mostly distinguished by paragraph breaks and bolding. It is not well broken up or organized into sections or parts. The text just rolls on for the most part. The tables that are included are very basic. The individual class tables, for example, do not describe the abilities of the classes. They merely provide Level, Hit Dice, Bonus to Hit and Experience Point Progression. In short, C&C is presented simply but dully and is a chore to read.
Attributes, Attribute Checks, Class Abilities and Saving Throws:
Attributes and particularly attribute checks are of vital importance in C&C.
Attributes in C&C follow the classic 6 scores of 3-18 model. To each attribute is assigned an attribute modifier. An attribute check is d20 + character level + attribute modifier for whichever of the character’s attributes applies. See p. 107. Necessarily this means there are six varieties of attribute checks - one each for Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. The resultant number is compared to a the challenge level of whatever is being attempted - 1to 5 easy, 6 to 10 difficult, 11 to 15 very difficult, 15 to 20 heroic. See p. 108. The challenge level is informed by whether the particular attribute has been designated by the player as primary or secondary (humans have 3 primary attributes, demi-humans have 2). Primary attributes begin with a “challenge base” of 12, while secondary attributes begin with a “challenge base” of 18. See p. 8. The “challenge base” is modified by the difficulty of the challenge to arrive at a final challenge level which the attribute check result much meet or exceed. See pp. 108-110.
There are 13 classes in C&C. There are no prestige classes and thus no base classes with which to contrast them. Each of the 13 C&C classes - Fighter, Ranger, Rogue, Assassin, Barbarian, Monk, Wizard, Illusionist, Cleric, Druid, Knight, Paladin, Bard - has various abilities that are gained beginning at particular levels. Many of these abilities require an attribute check to be used successfully. So, for example, a rogue gains the ability to open locks immediately but must make a Dexterity attribute check to do so successfully. See p. 14.
Saving throws in C&C are attribute checks. See p. 111. They break down into 6 sorts, 1 per attribute, that are then further divided into 18 subcategories as follows -
Strength Save - Paralysis, Constriction
Dexterity Save - Breath Weapon, Traps
Constitution Save - Disease, Energy Drain, Poison
Intelligence Save - Arcane Magic, Illusion
Wisdom Save - Divine Magic, Confusion, Gaze Attack, Polymorph, Petrification
Charisma Save - Death Attach, Charm, Fear
Spell Save - Varies
As can be seen from the above, attribute checks will be frequently encountered in C&C and will be vital to a character’s success.
Class Abilities, Skills and Feats:
C&C has no skill system. There are no feats in C&C. Each class in C&C gains various abilities either immediately or at particular levels. As noted, some of these abilities are simply class dependent attribute checks - e.g., the Bard’s Legend Lore ability is a Charisma attribute check. See p. 29. Other abilities take effect automatically unless a save is made - e.g., at 4th level the Bard can Fascinate a single creature unless the target resists the Fascination with a Charisma saving throw. See id. Still other abilities simply occur at the player’s discretion - e.g., at 9th level a Paladin can Smite Evil, adding pluses to attack and damage. See p. 28. Many class abilities do not precisely mimic class abilities for similarly named classes in 3rd Edition D&D.
C&C does not have multiple, iterative attacks such as those in 3rd Edition D&D. Multiple attacks are possible for a few classes but are sharply limited. The basic attack is d20 + basic to hit bonus + either Strength modifier (melee) or Dexterity modifier (ranged) which must exceed the target’s Armor Class, which goes up, not down.
Spell casting is handled on the classic Vancian model. The selection of spells mimics that of 1st Edition D&D. The exact, mechanical specifics of each spell are abbreviated at the end of each spell description. This is an unfortunate choice as it is not intuitive and not immediately reader friendly as the abbreviations and values appear to run together.
Equipment is fairly standard with the exception of weapons. Unlike 3rd Edition D&D, there are not various critical hit multipliers.
Monsters and Magic Items:
Monsters and magic items are not presented in the C&C Players Handbook.
As first observed, the claim that has been often made for C&C’s appeal is that it takes the 3rd Edition D&D rules and simplifies or streamlines them with an eye to the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules with a resultant game that preps faster, runs more smoothly or simply and feels more like the games of old. Is this true? It is.
C&C is not merely a simplified 3rd Edition D&D rules set, even as it uses some 3rd Edition conventions. Rather, C&C is a unique system unto itself, albeit founded on 3rd Edition D&D. By almost every measure, however, (but for saving throws which C&C complicates) C&C is a simpler game to play and run that 3rd Edition D&D.
C&C also obviously and intentionally invokes 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. It is not, however, 1st Edition translated to 3rd Edition D&D. Again, C&C is its own unique game, albeit looking for substantial inspiration to 1st Edition.
Again, as first observed, the claim has also been advanced that C&C allows you to use all the bells and whistles of the 3rd Edition rules for Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) in a C&C game without the headaches of slow prep time, slow combats and general rules bloat. Is this true. It is not.
C&C has enough features that are distinct from 3rd Edition D&D, as highlighted above, that one cannot simply add without modification accessories or mechanics designed for 3rd Edition to a C&C game. Of course, with modification, which will not be insurmountably difficult, one could add to C&C additional “base classes,” prestige classes, feats, skills etc. The question then becomes, however, will C&C still retain its virtues in ease of prep time and play. The answer is absolutely not.
If you add additional “bases classes,” prestige classes, feats, skills etc. from 3rd Edition D&D to C&C, you have increased the complexity of C&C to a point where it begins to approach that of 3rd Edition D&D. In other words, if you thought to play C&C for a simpler gaming experience, by adding features from the more complicated 3rd Edition D&D, you have gone a good way to creating the very thing you wanted to get away from.
Any claim that C&C allows the easy use of material from 3rd Edition D&D while still providing a simpler C&C experience is, charitably, looking entirely on the sunny side of the matter. Less charitably, when you get down to the details, its just not true.
What this means is that you play C&C to play C&C - on its own terms - not as a simplified 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons.
On its own terms, C&C succeeds. It is a solid, if simple, game that uses many d20 features, while invoking as much of the feel of 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons as possible. Unfortunately, the presentation of C&C really hurts the game by making it an unpleasant reading experience. C&C also suffers, IMO, from trying too hard to be 1st Edition. Ultimately, if one wants to play 1st Edition, it is easy to find 1st Edition materials for cheap in used book stores or online. I don’t find that the 1st Edition feel is really that much enhanced by use of d20 conventions. Part of the 1st Edition feel, IMO, is in the quirks of the 1st Edition rules. By replacing much of this quirkiness with d20 smoothness, C&C just makes me want to go play 1st Edition. As noted, the retort that C&C enables the use of the wealth of 3rd Edition materials is a chimera. C&C thus appears as a solid game but one that is neither fully fish nor fowl. _________________ GVD
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