Review of Castles‭ & ‬Crusades

Posted: 12 January 2011 in Reviews
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Castles‭ & ‬Crusades,‭ ‬by Troll Lord Games,‭ ‬is one of the more successful OGL product lines‭; ‬it’s almost a retroclone,‭ ‬using the d20‭ ‬system from Dungeons‭ & ‬Dragons‭ ‬3rd Edition to re-imagine AD&D.‭ ‬This review focuses on‭ ‬the‭ ‬4th printing of the player’s handbook and monster/treasure manual‭; ‬you can download a free trial version of the rules here.

As explained by the designer in the foreword,‭ ‬the objective is to create and capture a mood of excitement by providing a rules-light,‭ ‬adaptable rules set for fantasy role-playing that can be explained in under‭ ‬15‭ ‬minutes.

IN A NUTSHELL

Fast-playing,‭ ‬rules-light fantasy RPG‭; ‬has the feel of old-school Dungeons‭ & ‬Dragons with more elegant rules.

PLAYER’S HANDBOOK

Both the players and the Game Master‭ (‬sorry,‭ ‬Castle Keeper‭) ‬need this one.‭ ‬The player’s handbook explains how to create a character,‭ ‬and how to run the game.‭ ‬It has a standard structure‭; ‬an introduction‭ (‬2‭ ‬pages‭)‬,‭ ‬followed by sections on creating and equipping a character‭ (‬42‭ ‬pages‭)‬,‭ ‬magic‭ (‬68‭ ‬pages‭)‬,‭ ‬playing the game‭ (‬24‭ ‬pages‭)‬,‭ ‬and an appendix‭ (‬in this case,‭ ‬on optional rules for multi-classing‭ ‬-‭ ‬3‭ ‬pages‭)‬.‭ ‬There’s also the obligatory character sheet.

Attribute Checks

These are the core mechanic,‭ ‬and it’s‭ ‬better to understand them to begin with,‭ ‬so I’ll tackle them out of sequence here.‭ ‬Attribute checks are used for almost everything in the game except rolling to hit in combat‭; ‬they work like this…

The Castle Keeper determines which attribute is relevant‭ ‬and assigns a challenge class‭ (‬effectively,‭ ‬a target number‭)‬.‭ ‬This starts at‭ ‬12‭ ‬if the attribute is primary for the character,‭ ‬or‭ ‬18‭ ‬if it is not.‭ ‬This is one of the few things I don’t like about the system‭; ‬why not have the base number always be‭ ‬12,‭ ‬and‭ ‬grant characters a‭ ‬+6‭ ‬modifier for a primary attribute‭?

The CK decides how hard the task is and adjusts the target number accordingly‭; ‬this sounds vague but actually it’s almost always the encounter level‭ ‬-‭ ‬the enemy character’s level,‭ ‬the monster’s hit dice,‭ ‬etc.

The player rolls‭ ‬1d20‭ ‬and adds appropriate modifiers‭; ‬usually this will be a modifier for his attribute,‭ ‬and perhaps his level‭ ‬-‭ ‬you can only add your level if this is something your character class is supposed to do,‭ ‬for example a fighter wouldn’t add his level while trying to pick a lock,‭ ‬even if the CK allowed him to try‭; ‬but a thief would.

If the player’s final score equals or exceeds the target number,‭ ‬he succeeds.

Example:‭ ‬Two first-level human characters,‭ ‬Draziw the Wizard and Retif the Fighter‭ (‬he can’t spell‭)‬,‭ ‬try to hold a pair of doors closed against a pair of orcs.‭ ‬The Castle Keeper decides this is a check against Strength,‭ ‬which is a primary attribute for Retif‭ (‬Str‭ ‬13‭) ‬but not for Draziw‭ (‬Str‭ ‬10‭)‬.The orcs are‭ ‬1‭ ‬hit die monsters.

Retif’s target number is‭ ‬12‭ (‬primary attribute‭) ‬+‭ ‬1‭ (‬foe’s hit dice‭) = ‬13.‭ ‬Draziw’s is‭ ‬18‭ ‬+‭ ‬1‭ = ‬19.‭ ‬Both characters roll an‭ ‬11‭; ‬Retif adds‭ ‬+1‭ ‬for his Strength and‭ ‬+1‭ ‬for his level,‭ ‬scoring‭ ‬13‭ (‬exactly the target‭)‬,‭ ‬so holds his side of the door closed.‭ ‬Draziw adds‭ ‬+0‭ ‬for his Strength and‭ ‬+1‭ ‬for his level,‭ ‬total‭ ‬12,‭ ‬and misses what he needs by‭ ‬7‭; ‬his orc barges through,‭ ‬pushing him aside.

Characters

Characters have the usual six attributes:‭ ‬Strength,‭ ‬Dexterity,‭ ‬Constitution,‭ ‬Intelligence,‭ ‬Wisdom and Charisma.‭ ‬You roll‭ ‬3d6‭ ‬for each one,‭ ‬then reallocate the scores to match your character concept.

Next comes selecting a class from the classic D&D stereotypes:‭ ‬Fighter,‭ ‬Ranger,‭ ‬Rogue,‭ ‬Assassin,‭ ‬Barbarian,‭ ‬Monk,‭ ‬Wizard,‭ ‬Illusionist,‭ ‬Cleric,‭ ‬Paladin,‭ ‬Bard,‭ ‬and a new one‭ ‬-‭ ‬Knight.‭ (‬The knight is a fighter whose abilities grant combat buffs to other party members,‭ ‬similar in concept to the warlord in D&D‭ ‬4th Edition.‭) ‬In a break with tradition, there are no prerequisite ability scores for character classes – if you want to play a Charisma 3 paladin, go right ahead. Class determines what weapons and armour the character can use,‭ ‬how many hit points he gets per level,‭ ‬his bonus to hit in combat,‭ ‬how much money he starts with,‭ ‬and how many experience points he needs to level up.‭ ‬Each class also has a list of abilities such as Weapon Specialisation or Move Silently‭ ‬-‭ ‬if you’re familiar with D&D‭ ‬3rd or‭ ‬4th Editions,‭ ‬you can imagine this as the game pre-selecting your feats and skills for you.‭ ‬Non-combat abilities rely on attribute checks.‭ ‬As you level up,‭ ‬you unlock extra abilities for your character from the list of those available to his class.

Characters also select a race‭; ‬options are humans,‭ ‬dwarves,‭ ‬elves,‭ ‬gnomes,‭ ‬half-orcs,‭ ‬half-elves,‭ ‬and halflings.‭ ‬Non-human races have additional abilities,‭ ‬often requiring an ability check to use.

Alignment is the familiar law-chaos,‭ ‬good-evil two axis model.‭ ‬Equipment lists look a lot like AD&D,‭ ‬complete with many different strangely-named polearms.‭ ‬At some point during the process you specify two or three‭ (‬depending on race‭) ‬attributes as primary.

Magic

Magic uses the Vancian approach common in D&D up to and including‭ ‬3rd Edition‭; ‬a spell-caster prepares his spells from a book or through meditation,‭ ‬and once he has cast them,‭ ‬they are gone until he rests and re-memorises them.‭ ‬Levelling up increases both the power and number of spells the character can memorise.

Casting a spell automatically succeeds,‭ ‬but the target may get a saving throw‭ ‬-‭ ‬this is an attribute check against the appropriate attribute,‭ ‬e.g.‭ ‬Constitution for a poison effect or Intelligence for an illusion.

Playing the Game

This explains the care and feeding of ability checks,‭ ‬and combat.‭ ‬In each combat round,‭ ‬characters and monsters act in descending order of initiative‭ (‬determined by each rolling‭ ‬1d10,‭ ‬no modifiers‭)‬.‭ ‬A character’s action may be to attack,‭ ‬to cast a spell,‭ ‬to move,‭ ‬to use an ability,‭ ‬or to use an item‭ (‬perhaps a magic wand‭)‬.‭ One can move up to half normal distance and still attack, or charge (gaining penalties to armour class, but a bonus on damage).

Attacks are similar to attribute checks‭; ‬the target number is the foe’s armour class,‭ ‬and rather than using the character’s level as a bonus,‭ ‬one uses a bonus to hit depending on class and level,‭ ‬but otherwise they are the same.‭ ‬Successful attacks inflict damage based on the damage dice for the weapon,‭ ‬claw or what have you‭; ‬damage reduces the target’s hit points,‭ ‬and when it runs out,‭ ‬it is incapacitated‭ ‬-‭ ‬simple.‭ ‬If it goes to‭ ‬-10‭ ‬hit points,‭ ‬it dies.‭ ‬Combat is abstract‭; ‬no figures,‭ ‬no battlemats,‭ ‬if the CK says you’re in range,‭ ‬you are,‭ ‬enough said.

Turning Undead is an action for clerics or paladins only,‭ ‬requiring a Wisdom check.‭ ‬Saving throws are attribute checks‭ ‬-‭ ‬and you might need any attribute,‭ ‬so there is no obvious dump stat.

There are also rules for languages,‭ ‬vision,‭ ‬time,‭ ‬etc‭; ‬advice on how to create a balanced party‭; ‬and an extensive example of play.

MONSTERS‭ & ‬TREASURE

This book‭ ‬is for the Castle Keeper only.‭ ‬As you might expect,‭ ‬it’s a big book full of monsters for the characters to slay,‭ ‬and treasures both mundane and magical they might find in the lairs.‭ ‬It also explains how to award experience,‭ ‬and how to create new monsters‭ ‬or treasure.‭ ‬Monsters include the standard list from the OGL d20‭ ‬rules‭ (‬i.e.,‭ ‬no beholders or mind flayers‭)‬,‭ ‬and a number of new beasties such as the fleshcrawler and prysmal eye.‭ ‬Treasure,‭ ‬likewise,‭ ‬is largely familiar to the D&D grognard,‭ ‬but the game also adds lands,‭ ‬titles and the services of powerful NPCs or monsters as kinds of treasure.‭ ‬Experience is mostly awarded for killing things and taking their stuff,‭ ‬but there are guidelines for story awards and roleplaying too.‭

SUMMARY

If you’ve played any version of D&D other than‭ ‬4th Edition,‭ ‬you’ll be up and running with this in no time.‭ ‬It has the high adventure,‭ ‬fast and flexible feel of Original D&D,‭ ‬but with more consistent and elegant rules.

While as a rule I prefer skill-based rules rather than class and level systems, I think the latter are a better fit to dungeon crawling. I must try using C&C together with Dungeon Bash…

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