Monday, April 12, 2010

Just what I've been looking for (finally)? Castles & Crusades

I started playing D&D when I was about twelve. The current printing of the game was AD&D 2nd Edition, and for ten years, that's all I knew. When 3e came out, I ran/played it with multiple gaming groups, and DMed a campaign that lasted a handful of years, ending around levels 10-11.

At some point in that span, the d20 system got to be a bear. I found myself spending hours upon hours prepping high-level encounters, and running a campaign just started seeming like more work than fun. That's when I began turning back to "old school" D&D editions, where the rules were simple and imagination and creativity always took center stage. I've been writing about my latest AD&D endeavor (this time using OSRIC) on this site. It's going fine, but there are still a few things that bother me about the old school mechanics: hit roll tables are a nuisance, players not knowing what dice to roll, or whether they want to roll low or high bogs things down, and ability scores are often meaningless without being at least 15 or higher. These are generally minor quips, but the fact that I've played the later D&D editions that resolve these issues make them a little harder to suffer.

I'd heard of Castles & Crusades before, paged through it briefly, but when a good friend told me of his recent C&C experiences with his gaming group, I started reading in more detail. Castles and Crusades is old school in feel, but makes the rules tweaks needed for the game to run more smoothly, adds a simple (yet effective) level-based core mechanic, and empowers players with a handful of additional (yet classic) character options. I went ahead and ordered the books, and plan to give the rules a trial run in my next AD&D/OSRIC session.

For the current PCs, there's nothing really to convert, so this should be a pretty risk-free exercise: armor class goes positive, base to-hit bonuses replace THAC0, casters (just one) gain 0-level spells, and the "SIEGE" mechanic (d20 + level + ability mod) replaces most arbitrary and ability-based checks. I actually wrote up a tentative cheat sheet of various "need to know" rules (things that normally get looked up mid-session, like how to turn undead) using C&C mechanics and based on the classes present in the current party - it's one page, 16-point font, double-spaced.

My expectation is for the game to feel no different but run more smoothly, and with the players feeling a bit more empowered with their characters, having a better sense for their odds of accomplishing their various heroics. Long term, there are a lot more options for creating new characters, and the game should prove even easier for me to adjudicate, both in and out of combat (the monster stat blocks in the Monsters & Treasure volume are classic, simple, and clean: a combination I hadn't previously thought possible).

By the way, the artwork's sweet too.

Anyway, I'm trying not to get into too many C&C specifics in my post - the game isn't new and it's not my intention to write a full review (I haven't even run a session with it yet). But before I go, I just want to paraphrase a conversation that my friend had with one of his players toward the end of one of their games, retold to me over the phone:

[DM] Do you want to level up your character real quick before we move on?
[Player] I don't know, it's getting late. Maybe we should stop for the night...
[DM] Actually, it's really easy... [checks book] Roll your d6 for hit points. OK, good. Base to-hit doesn't change, [checks a couple more things...] OK, I think that's all we need to do.
[Player] OK, so I guess I didn't really gain anything new?
[DM] Yeah... but remember that you add your level to all your checks. You basically just got +1 better at everything you do.
[Player] Oh? ...Ohhhh!


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