Some Thoughts on Castles and Crusades
So my first year as a PhD student is finally winding down and I’ve just been hired for a new job… changes and excitement have kept me away from writing this week — hopefully next week will be back to normal. I had a chance to try out Castles and Crusades (C&C) last weekend and I’ve been wanting to write about the experience.
This was a small exercise, just me running a short adventure (and old school D&D adventure) one-shot type of thing. We made characters and did the whole process from scratch. I learned a few things about C&C along the way (though I know there is much more to learn). This is not really a review, just some impressions from my first foray into the system.
I like C&C. It is light enough to keep me happy and it really does feel like “a lot of the good things about old D&D.” That’s my quotable moment for this piece — the takeaway. So here’s the rest, maybe in no particular order, just the notes I wrote myself as we went along…
1. character creation is interesting. Maybe it’s the hand-holding of modern games or maybe I just did something wrong but I had a note from a player that character creation was “unclear” and that a more explicit example of character creation or even just a step-by-step (there is sort of a step by step in the chapter but it’s more conceptually than procedural). I didn’t even notice this but I’ve been making D&D characters since the Moldvay box set so I’m not the right person to ask. A newer player had a moment with this. They were able to do it, making a ranger, but it was noteworthy to them.
2. The actual character classes. A real read-through of the character classes in C&C will show you that they feel familiar — very familiar — to anyone who plays almost any edition of D&D (maybe not 4th) but they are also distinct. C&C has a much more martial slant, with the classes that are normally partial casters such as bards and rangers remaining firmly martial. The Bard still has interesting abilities (and could easily be tweaked into a Marshall or Warlord) and the Paladin is still full of supernatural(ish) abilities. I’m a big fan of this. I’ve mentioned before but I love the C&C bard and I’m fond of the ranger…
The classes also read differently in subtle ways. It’s nothing that I can really put a finger on yet but I just felt like they were written to give a slightly different impression in some cases (again this is a feeling I had when reading the paladin first). I’m also a big fan of how the illusionist is presented in C&C.
3. Something I’m not so fond of… The equipment lists. First, I’ll establish my bias… I’m a minimalist when it comes to equipment lists. As much as I enjoyed pouring over the lists in the old PHB when I was a kid, now I have a much greater appreciation for “of course you have clothes, grab your sword and torch, let’s do this!” With C&C this problem seems to be even odder though. First, armor is weird. You have a table for helmets and helmet AC with a footnote that says this only matters for head hits but then there is nothing in the combat chapter about head hits and the game uses the traditional abstract hit points and has nothing about hit locations. Don’t get me wrong, I like hit points and abstracted combat mechanics — the point is, we skipped the helmet chart and just moved on. Second, armor isn’t really distinct from other armors in meaningful ways other than price and sometimes encumbrance and even then not always in advantageous ways. I’m a big fan of simple so I’d probably just port over the armor chart from the Rules Cyclopedia or 3.5 D&D (depending on my group) for C&C. This is made more explicit by the use of “real world” armors on the armor chart. Seeing “Greek Ensemble” and such on the armor chart is jarring for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine if you are interested in that sort of thing, I just found these sorts of inclusions odd.
Weapons suffer a similar fate. I’m not sure why (thinking like a min-maxer) a player wouldn’t want to a “nine-ring sword” because it does more damage at the same EV as a longsword with no downside… even though a longsword is listed as 4 lbs. and the nine-ring is 10 lbs. That may seem like a very specific quibble but it’s the kind of quirkiness I noted about equipment throughout C&C. Again, my bias runs toward the simple so… take it as you will but I’d probably just use the Rules Cyclopedia weapon list if I was running C&C and be done with it. I found equipment to be — by far — the quirkiest part of the rules but it’s an easy fix so I’m done complaining.
Two quick final notes… I was first exposed to using attributes for saving throws back when I played Arcanum from Bard Games and I’m a big fan of that and proficiencies in AD&D used attribute checks. I like how C&C has expanded this idea into class abilities and turned everything into simple attribute checks — that really works for me. I do wish saving throws had been a little more clear. Maybe it’s just me but I noticed that Constitution is always presented as giving a save vs. energy drain. But it seems that only means the spell — since that is not called out in any of the monster descriptions who have energy drain but in most monster entries the saves are explicitly spelled out. Since I hate energy drain I was hopeful that it would apply (and in any game I ran, it probably would) but some additional clarity might be nice.
I also noticed that Turn Undead seems really, really powerful. In play several encounters were just “non-encounters” because the undead were just cowering and then casually slaughtered by the characters. Maybe the cleric was just lucky and rolled well (and maybe it was always like this in older editions and I’ve just forgotten) but turning felt super-effective.
Don’t get me wrong — I realize this post nit-picks a lot of little quirks of the system — but after playing once I can say I’m a big fan of C&C and some very cool stuff can be done with this game. I may want to tinker with some of the bits a little, but it’s a great game and I look forward to a chance to play again.