This year at GenCon we had the pleasure to meet with Tim of Troll Lord Games to talk about “Castle and Crusades”. I had heard about this game in passing so we took the time to talk with Tim and get the skinny on the game. We will be posting that interview soon, so check back in the coming week.
"Castles and Crusades" is a fantasy role-playing game (The name is an homage to the original "Castles and Crusades" society, established in Wisconsin in 1969, out of which the games Chainmail and eventually Dungeons and Dragons emerged.) The Players Handbook is a 128 page hardback that includes all the 'core rules' for the game, though not all the rules you need to play, as there are no monsters included.
Anyone familiar with any edition of Dungeons and Dragons will find many familiar aspects in the Castles and Crusades game. The players make 'player characters' (PCs). This involves rolling up six ability scores (strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma), choosing a race (from 7 options) and a class (from 13 options). The campaign is managed by a game master called a 'Castle Keeper' ('CK' for short).
One thing it is important to know about Castles and Crusades, though, is that it is aimed at a specific audience. It will appeal only to players who want a 'rules light' system (e.g. no feats, skills, attacks of opportunity, and so forth -- although, as I will explain later, some of these features can be added to one's C&C game as options) and/or a game with an 'old school' feel (i.e. clear and definite class 'archetypes', an emphasis on diverse character types working together in order to survive and succeed, and so forth.). C&C is not meant to be a 'rules light' version of d20. Nonetheless, it is a 'rules light' game, and I think that it can appeal to many people out there that are looking for an alternative to 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons or someone that wants something similar to, and compatible with, d20 material.
So if you like detailed, tactical combat, lots of feats, skills and prestige classes with which to 'customize' your PC, easy multiclassing and characters who can be competent at any task (with appropriate multiclassing, feat and skill choices, etc.), and so forth, then C&C simply will not be your cup of tea. If, on the other hand, you want a fast paced FRPG that facilitates house-rules and makes playing with a minimal amount of prep work possible, then C&C might be just what you are looking for. In short, C&C is a fantasy role-playing game for those who want something lighter, faster, and more 'classical' in feel than 3E D&D.
The Core Mechanics
The game draws on all versions of Dungeons and Dragons, and with some adjustment, it can easily be used with materials from all editions. It uses the "d20" mechanic to resolve all tasks (combat, etc.), and like 3E D&D, "high is always good" (e.g. C&C armor class numbers and 3E armor class numbers are equivalent).
As it is a 'rules light' system, at least relative to the various editions of D&D, but aspires to be as flexible as possible given its 'rules light' nature. In these respects, it succeeds to an admirable degree. I would say that C&C is, roughly, 90-95 percent compatible with pre-3e material (you can 'convert on the fly' by simply changing the ACs); and 75 percent compatible with 3e material (you can usually 'convert on the fly', but certain multiclass combinations or feat abilities may require some thought, and higher level adventures and monsters will need to be 'toned down' somewhat).
In terms of mechanics, here are some of the essential points:
(1.) The game plays is as quick and easy as D&D. In fact, it is faster, as everything is based on the same d20 + Attribute Modifier + whatever bonus, rule.
(2.) It is not a tactical game. There is no need for battlemats and figures. The combat rules are fast and dramatic. Hence there is no need to worry about 'Attacks of Opportunity', and similar things. (However, you can add more complex rules for combat -- if you want to. I discuss the modularity of C&C more below.)
(3.) Although it is as simple and fast as D&D, it presents you with the same options in terms of race and class as 3E D&D. Whether a dwarf can be a wizard is entirely up to the GM, and the nature of her campaign world. Similarly, as in 3E D&D, there are no level limits.
(4.) Each Attribute has its own value for saving throws. This is one of two areas in which C&C is arguably 'more complex' than 3E D&D. However, the advantage of this approach is that each attribute is important -- there are no obvious "dump stats" in C&C, regardless of the PC's class.
(5.) Primes. A given character has a couple of Primary Attributes, and the rest are Secondary.
Since it is so essential to the system, it may be worth saying a few things about the "Prime" system. Roughly speaking, a "prime" is an ability score (e.g. strength) with respect to which your character is especially trained or skilled. For example, two characters with 18 intelligence are both geniuses, but the character who chooses intelligence as her prime is also well educated and capable of using her "genius" ability with precision, whereas the character with 18 intelligence who does not choose intelligence as her prime is an "untrained" genius. It may be convenient to think of primes as "skill bundles" – characters that choose dexterity as their prime are trained in "dexterity-related" tasks. At least this is how I came to understand the system of "primes".
One prime is determined by the character's class. A second prime is chosen by the character (to represent, on my view, the "preadventuring" interests and training of the character in question). Humans get to choose a third prime -- this is the mechanism to balance humans with the various special abilities of nonhuman characters in C&C.
The base target number for any Attribute check or Save involving a Primary is 12. The base target number for any Attribute check or Save involving a Secondary is 18.
Those are the numbers you must beat to succeed, so you roll: d20 + Attribute Modifier + Class Level - any penalty assigned by the CK due to task difficulty. Beat the number required by your Attribute's status, and you succeed. The Class Level is added only to tasks involving a class-related ability. So a rogue would add her class level to her attempt to climb, whereas a fighter would not (and in fact, a fighter could probably not even try to climb an especially sheer wall, at the CK's discretion).
Alternatively, you can understand the Prime as giving the PC a +6 bonus to any tasks involving that attribute. Indeed, this is probably a more intuitive way to understand the system, at least for those people familiar with 3E D&D.
Attribute checks are also used for saving throws, as follows:
Strength: Paralysis & constriction
Dexterity: Breath Weapon & Traps
Constitution: Disease, energy drain, poison, or breath weapon
Wisdom: Confusion, gaze attack, petrification, polymorph
Charisma: Charm, fear and death attack
So that is the core mechanic for C&C -- the "SIEGE engine", as the folks at Troll Lord Games call it.
The game gives players a great degree of latitude in determining precisely how to employ the SIEGE system in their games. For example, while attribute checks are used for all saving throws, the extent to which they will be used as a de facto skill system, or used to determine the success/failure of various tasks in general, is really up to the group in question. So C&C can accommodate, for instance, both groups who feel that social interactions should be resolved by ‘skill rolls’ (e.g. one should roll to see if the PC can convince the bartender to serve the party another round of ale), and groups who feel that social interactions should be resolved by roleplaying (e.g. the CK should decide, based on the player's attempt to convince her through roleplaying, whether or not the character succeeds at the attempt).
Races and Classes
The races in the C&C PHB should be familiar to anyone who has played any edition of D&D. We have humans, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, elves, half-elves, and half-orcs. There are no surprises here, though a few aspects of the C&C interpretation of these canonical races warrants mention.
As presented in the C&C PHB, halflings are definitely hobbits! Halflings are chubby, like to live in holes, and smoke pipeweed. More innovative is the C&C take on half-elves. Every half-elf PC must decide which parent race is 'dominant': the elf or human parent. Based on that decision, the PC gets different abilities. (There is perhaps a small Tolkien influence here. According to Tolkien, half-elves could decide to be 'of Men' or 'of Elves'. Elros, the first king of Numenor, chose to be 'of Men', and thus lived a mortal life, albeit one that lasted 500 years, whereas his brother Elrond chose to be 'of Elves', and eventually became the Lord of Rivendell that we all know and love. Of course, the C&C half-elf is somewhat different from those found in Middle-earth, but there is a certain similarity here that I find charming.) Finally, gnomes are woodland creatures skilled with illusions.
Many of the classes will be readily familiar to players of various editions of D&D. However there are some interesting -- and in my view generally positive -- twists here. For example, the ranger, paladin, and bard classes do not cast spells. Rather, the ranger is presented as the ultimate 'outdoorsman'. The class has many special abilities and skills that reflect this archetype, and thus there is no need for the him to have spellcasting abilities. Similarly, the bard resembles a Nordic skald more than the minstrel/pseudo-spellcaster found in other versions of D&D. More specifically, the C&C bard is quite skilled at combat (the character gets a d10 HD for example, and the second best combat progression rate), and uses their songs and chants to inspire greatness in her compatriots, demoralize or fascinate opponents, and so forth. It is also worth mentioning that the monk is a real 'warrior' in C&C -- he gets a d12 HD, and a decent combat progression. Similar 'interesting twists' can be found in the other classes as well.
The spells of some of the classes definitely invoke elements of the earlier editions of D&D. For example, there are no first level healing spells for druids aside from 'goodberry' (as 'cure light wounds' is once again a second level spell for druids). Similarly, a number of the spells on the wizard's list are once again quite risky in nature. The subject of a haste spell will age one year and might suffer permanent health damage! And only the truly desperate will use the teleportation spell without very careful preparation. These features of the spells in C&C all help to capture the 'old school' feel of the game, and also go a long way in keeping magic interesting and unpredictable. But like so many other aspects of C&C, this feature of the game is eminently tweakable: a group who prefers 'safer' magic could substitute the SRD spell descriptions for some spells without harming the system as a whole.
Positive Features of C&C
A. Faster Prep Time
Because it is a 'rules light' system, it does not take a considerable amount of time to write up stat blocks for monsters and NPCs in C&C. Moreover, the CK will less often have to look up rules to cover unusual situations in his or her games, as the rules that cover all situations are more general in nature. And if unexpected situations emerge during play, it is easy for the CK to draw on C&C's streamlined mechanics in order to improvise a needed NPC, or resolve a particular task or challenge. In short, the mechanics of C&C facilitate 'structured' CK improvisation during play.
B. Faster Play
The game plays much more quickly than 3E D&D -- especially combat. I have run two 3E D&D campaigns (each lasting almost a year), and have tried C&C three times. There really is no comparison here -- it is possible to get through, on average, at least twice as much ‘adventuring’ in a C&C game than it is in a 3E D&D game. It you have a busy schedule and can only squeeze in the occasional session of gaming, or just like a brisk and dramatic pace to your games, then this feature of C&C should appeal to you.
C. Rules 'fade into the background'
Because the core mechanics are so streamlined, the game flows very quickly, and rules questions do not emerge as often during play as they can in other, more complex FRPGs. As a result, everyone at the table can focus on the adventure that is being played, rather than figuring out whether 'doing x will provoke an attack of opportunity', or whether 'spell effect y stacks or does not stack with modifier z'. Of course, this means that the system for resolving tasks and conflicts is more abstract in C&C than it is in, say, 3E D&D. Whether this trade-off is worth it will depend on what you want in your gaming sessions.
D. No Need for Miniatures
It is very easy to run C&C combat without the use of miniatures and battlemats (but of course you can use them, if you want!).
The C&C system gives players a very clear rules structure onto which they can add new rules as they like without 'breaking' or 'unbalancing' the system.
F. Compatibility With All Editions of D&D.
As noted earlier in this review, the simple mechanics of C&C render the game broadly compatible with all editions of D&D. It is easy to convert pre-3E modules 'on the fly' (simply change the ACs by subtracting the original AC from 20, and determine whether the monster's 'good saves' are 'physical', 'mental', both, or neither). Converting 3E modules will sometimes require a bit more work. It should be easy to ignore most skills and feats, though some might have to be reworked as 'special abilities', and because the 'power scale' is lower in C&C, you will probably have to tone down some of the tougher monsters (HD 10+) and higher-level NPCs. Overall though, if you are reasonably familiar with both systems, using 3E modules with C&C should not be difficult at all. And as for campaign settings, the 'rules light' and 'old school' nature of C&C make it an especially appropriate system, in my view, for settings like Blackmoor and the Wilderlands. The fact that the C&C rules facilitate a brisk -- what I would call 'cinematic' -- pace suggest that the system might also be suitable for settings like Eberron or Hyboria. Finally, if you have copies of some old 'Old World' or 'Mystara' products lying around, like the classics 'The Grand Duchy of Karameikos' or 'Dawn of the Emperors', break them out! You can use them 'as is' with C&C.
Castles and Crusades may NOT be the game for everyone. It will not appeal to gamers who like intricate and detailed combat systems, or who demand a lot of 'crunch' in order to customize their characters. Rather, C&C is targeted at those people looking for a 'rules light' FRPG and/or a FRPG with a definite 'old school' or 'classical' flavor. Moreover, the system has been designed to be modular in nature, so it encourages the use of house rules and variants. Hence it should appeal to people who like to tweak the rules in order to suit their own campaign settings or views concerning a particular class or race. If you fall into any of these categories then C&C is definitely worth checking out!
The wonderful thing about role-playing games are that there are so many different kinds out there. There are some games out there with almost no rules, where everything in the game is about telling a story. There are some that are played with cards, and some that played with tokens or poker chips. There are even some out there with a several rules that don’t use any dice.
The most obvious example of this kind of game is Dungeons & Dragons. The Forgotten Realms setting is one of the best settings out there that is full of life and rich vibrant cultures. However when 4th edition was released the fun of roleplaying seemed to have been removed from the game.
Fantasy Craft is very similar to D&D 3E and Pathfinder, to the point that you can actually use your old modules and monster manuals with the Fantasy Craft game. There's a little bit of conversion to do, but frankly, if you're committed enough to make a character for this game, you've probably got the free time to translate your kobolds.
Whereas Pathfinder sought to ‘patch’ D&D 3.5, Fantasy Craft takes the core of the OGL 3.5 and uses it to build a game that could best be described as first a cousin rather than a sibling. Frankly, I like it more than trying to salvage the most cumbersome aspects of 3.5, but even for those with an affinity for the old stuff it’s close enough to warm the cockles of any nostalgic 3.5 gamer. There are plenty of classes, many of which are tooled for things OTHER than combat (I know right?). The upshot is that Fantasy Craft spends ample time supporting things other than combat, so that these classes are viable.
Spell casting is done entirely with a skill based system and encounter-based skill points. Tons of feats help customize your spellcaster’s abilities within this system so that no two spellcasting PCs should come out the same. “Divine” magic works in a sort of modified 3.5 domain style system, which are called Alignments. Alignments provide a satisfying set of rules and flavors to separate the divine casters from arcane casters (to use 4th edition parlance). If there’s one place that the system is different than 4th edition is that different character types FEEL very different. For some, this is a great draw, for others this smacks too much of the unbalanced older days of D&D. For me, it’s a neutral aspect, I miss the variety of old D&D, but I’m glad that I can finally play a rogue and not be completely worthless.
Fantasy Craft’s treatment of social stats, adventuring downtime, holdings, and more are one place I would say it’s definitively better than any other rivals out there. It’s quite possible to cannibalize these aspects to fit into any d20 type game. However it’s not a perfect fit into all games, but the rules on Reputation, Prizes, Favors, Holdings, and Down Time are well thought out, balanced, and a satisfying numeric solutions to the rather difficult task of fairly adjudicating these sorts of actions in most fantasy RPGs. For anyone that has thought about taking their campaign away from the adventuring-only archetype this provides tons of great ideas and guidance to make that process simple, satisfying, and ultimately rewarding for both DMs and Players.
Combat includes a system where there is no more hit points. You've got vitality, and you've got wounds. Wounds are pretty much set from the beginning of the game, but vitality can go up every level. Wounds represent the actual punishment your body can take, and vitality represents how good you are at dodging damage. So initial damage will have to get through your vitality first, and your vitality also heals between battles. This is good news, because it means you don't have to stop after three rooms of a dungeon and barricade the doors so everyone can get some sleep to heal before carrying on with the adventure.
There is actually a bunch more examples of cool modular rules, if I were to keep going. Fantasy Craft is a very robust set of tools meant to allow you to play exactly the kind of fantasy game you like, whether you prefer gritty games with gruesome weapons or high adventure with magical blunderbusses. If you take the time to weed through and pick the rules you want, and dump the ones you don't, you'll have a campaign and a game that is your own personal creation.
This game is a very well-designed game that will provide for an incredible amount of flexibility and fun!!
Publisher: Rather Dashing Games
Designed by: Michael Richie
Art By: Grant Wilson
Publisher's site: Rather Dashing Games
While at GenCon this year We got to sit down once again with the wonderful people over at Rather Dashing Games to play their hit, "Dwarven Miner".
"Dwarven Miner" is, as the Grant Wilson and Mike Richie put it, an "intuitive two-tiered fantasy themed crafting table-top" game. The game is an fun and interesting amalgamation of mining, crafting, and fulfilling orders.
That accurately describes the three phases of play. I am fond of the simplicity of the rules, that they allow for variation, and are not hard to understand. I am a firm believer in games that offer ease of play for a wide audience, and in that respect, "Dwarven Miner" delivers.
Inside the box, you have the following items:
The game board
The Rule Manual
A Deck of 80 Item Cards
A Deck of 60 Resource Cards
A Deck of 42 Patron Cards
4 Backpack Cards
8 Vault Cards
4 Colored Player pieces
6 Plain White Dice
1 Sheet of stickers.
The hardest part of this game actually involves those last two items. Before you play your first game, you have to put stickers on the blank dice, based on a set of patterns that are indicated on the back of the rules manual. This allows for some slight variations on things, if someone sets up the dice wrong. But, it also opens up the options for some interesting variations! What if one were to buy 6 more blank dice, and create variations of the pattern? The mutability of this structure just leaves my mind pondering all kinds of new possibilities.
Each player receives one backpack card, and is dealt three patron cards. Each patron card has a list of items they are looking for, an effect that is activated when their order is fulfilled, and a number of victory points. The victory points associated with a patron is relatively proportional to the difficulty of obtaining the items that they are looking for. Before play begins, players can trade in their initial patrons, for other patrons.
Play is separated into 3 phases; mining, crafting, and fulfillment. During the mining phase, you are given six dice to roll. Each one of these dice has a series of images corresponding to one of the resource cards. Each one may also have an Orc, and a Burglar. You can roll the die until you get the resources you need, unless the Orc appears. When the Orc is showing on one of the die, that die is set aside and can not be rerolled. The Burglar, on the other hand allows you to steal from other players. The more burglars that you roll, the more you can steal!
Once you are happy with your roll, you move on to the crafting phase. Using the resources obtained in the mining phase, you may wish to start crafting items. Each item has a "recipe" for what is needed to create it. Using the example from the rules manual, a "Tome of Wisdom" requires 2 "Arcane Crystals" 1 "Alchemist Powder" and 1 "Mithril". If you can not use any of the resources that you obtained, you can place them in your backpack or vault for later. Each backpack however, can only hold 4 resources, and 2 crafted items. When you are finished crafting, move on to the Fulfillment phase!
The fulfillment phase, is where you finally fill the patron's orders. "IF" you can not fill a patron's order, your turn ends. Place your items and resources in your backpack, and discard anything that can not fit. If you can fulfill a patron's order, turn in the crafted items, and place the patron face up in front of you. You immediately gain victory points as indicated on the card, and the ability described on the card takes effect. After that you draw two new patron cards, and discard cards out of your hand down to three patron cards.
And that is the basics of the game in a nutshell! Quick, easy and straightforward. Game play theoretically moves pretty quickly, and an entire game can be played in as little as about 20 minutes. The game is fun, fast, and palatable to a wide audience.
This game is a game that is playable for a wide range of ages and backgrounds, and speaks to the geek in all of us. If you're looking for a sort of intermediate level game to take the next step in introducing your non-gaming friends to the wide world of gaming, this could easily fill that role.
This is a simple game, with plenty of replay value. The art lends itself well to the subject matter, and helps to establish the feel of the game. The stickered dice are a nice idea, but I wonder how they will hold up over the course of time. Having the second set of stickers should however be enough to hold up until the inevitable expansion! (and sources tell me, it is coming)
While at GenCon we were introduced to the game Square Shooters. Square Shooters are 9 nine dice that are printed with a full deck of 52 cards plus 2 jokers. Their patent-pending design places the playing card faces on the dice in such a way that popular card hands from poker to rummy can be rolled. For instance, every straight and royal flush card for every suit is on a different die; and every rank card is on a different die! You literally can use them to play almost any playing card game!
The dice are specially designed so you can roll hands for rummy, poker, 21, etc. It’s great when playing with little ones who understand the games but can’t hold 7 cards in their hands. I love that the directions not only come for playing a Square Shooters game, but they list directions for a ton of other games. It is a self contained game, and that can easily throw it into a purse, backpack, or bag and be taken everywhere!
Square Shooters can be literally hours of fun for you and your family, because there are just soooo many games you can use this to play with. I highly recommend this for everybody!
Not only that the wonderful people that created Square Shooters is hosting a Q4 2013 contest which invites creative gamers to submit game designs to their Square Shooters Game Design Forum (Forum.SquareShooters.com). Submissions will be judged and a grand prize awarded for the best overall game design, along with prizes for “best in category.” For registration go to www.thats-how-i-roll.com
So check out this game out and if you are a game design maybe you should try your luck!