Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Castles & Crusades is Incomplete?

When I first ran into this thread over at the Troll Lord's forum about Castles & Crusades being incomplete, I thought the original poster was a bit off his rocker. But I began to think about the subject a bit.

I went back and looked at the 4th printing of the players handbook (I own 3 copies of various printings) and noticed something. I've been a fan of C&C for a while now but, other classic fantasy games, Swords & Wizardry in particular, have tugged at my sleeve.

Was it because they seemed simpler? I don't think so.

Because they were newer than Castles & Crusades? No, though that might explain why I checked them out in the first place - continued discovery.

Was it because they seemed to better encapsulate the old school D&D experience? Yes.

Wait a minute. Castles & Crusades covers all of the bases of my early gaming experience; all of the classes, experience points, combat and hit points, and saving throws. So how can this be?

One of my other favorite retro-games is Swords & Wizardry. What makes it different from Castles & Crusades? After looking at the two games side by side, while ignoring historical targets, I found Swords & Wizardry's presentation design to be more explicit.

As part of their presentations, both games urge GMs and players alike to make the game their own; house rules, rulings, imagination, and all that. Those are things right up my alley.

As far as character creation goes, both S&W and C&C are pretty great. Both provide excellent class selection options.

But Ah!  Here's where we get a little peek at the mentioned explicitness. Swords & Wizardry presents us with a 'Weight and Movement' chart for indoor, underground, city, and cross country movement. It's short and sweet and right to the point.

Castles & Crusades uses a couple of abstract terms (encumbrance value and encumbrance rating) to manage weight carried. If you don't use those bits of abstract indirection it's easy to miss pages 47 and 48 - Encumbrance. Even if you didn't toss them out and read every page related to encumbrance you still have to digest a couple of pages of text in order to fish out meanings and the impact on movement. Even after that you're left to extrapolate the other movement contexts. Oh, wait. You can find where they are explained on page 136 in the Castle Keeper section - in text.

Even if we ignore the parts of  Complete that can be found in the Castle Keeper's Guide, it still feels like Swords & Wizardry is more encompassing.

I really don't want to go on leading a reader into thinking that I think that Castles & Crusades stinks when that is not the case at all. In fact, after combing through C&C to make this comparison I was struck by how complete the game really is. Some of that has got to be on me. Holy moly, I've been playing it off and on since 2007!

I think combat in Castles & Crusades is made more interesting with its concise list of general combat maneuvers outside of the class specific options.

Did you know that in Castles & Crusades, in the first round of combat, longer weapons/larger creatures get to act first even if they didn't win initiative?

How unarmed combat in particular is handled is downright excellent.

Class and a Half multi-classing is flat-out elegant.

The Siege Engine is nifty. Don't like the numbers? Tweak it to your liking. Or do something like I did, add a FATE inspired option to add a little oomph. Don't worry, the wheels won't fall off.

It isn't a copout when I say to get both Castles & Crusades and your other favorite retro-game. They both have a lot to offer. I also don't think I'm wrong in saying that the C&C players handbook could use a scrub and tightening up.

The Trolls were early movers in the retro scene and, when you're first, that can become more evident over time. Things have changed and I want to see the Troll Lords prosper. They're doing things right with their string of successful Kickstarter projects so it seems silly to point out weakness isn a core product, especially considering how the guys have been able to control costs. But from my experience with new gamers, when left on their own, they found it easier to get up to speed with Swords & Wizardry versus Castles & Crusades. I didn't see that coming. Was it because my earlier experience with D&D blinded me to it?

In retrospect, I shouldn't be all that surprised. I feel like I got a better handle on the nuances of Castles & Crusades itself by reading Amazing Adventures.


  1. I think the players handbook could use a tightening up, and new artwork, Bradley is a good artist but his vision is too high medieval for my tastes. Give me some Erol Otis, Jeff Dee and Willingham!

  2. The main problem I have with C&C is the SIEGE engine, and saving throws in particular. The fact that character level appears on both sides (d20 roll and challenge class) means that a 10th level fighter against a 10th level wizard will not fare better than a 1st level fighter vs. a 1st level wizard. This is exactly NOT how D&D plays. Saving throws being a huge part of D&D dynamics, it's easy to see how C&C doesn't play like D&D (any version) at all. Generally decreasing saving throws in (A)D&D were needed since the higher level spells and monster abilities where much more powerful than lower level ones. In C&C instead, if you meet an high level spellcaster (actually, she being your level is enough) you are essentially toast if you don't have a prime attribute for the save.

  3. I hear you, Antonio.

    As far as the SIEGE Engine itself goes, I'm a fan. Amazing Adventures is the best presentation of it, IMO.

    However, I'm not a big fan of C&C's saving throw system. More than once, I've plugged in Swords & Wizardry's. Though I've used it as written a good many times if it fit the campaign - little/low magic.

  4. The descriptions of how the SIEGE system works are also thoroughly inconsistent both between the PHB and CKG, and within each, with examples which contradict each other. Have you checked the CKG? Apparently, you add +6 even to the CB if the opposition has a primary attribute. This effectively removes also the advantage of a prime the rolling party might have, making saves practically a 1/20 occurrence. That's simply unacceptable and denotes very sloppy design. At least AD&D had different subsystems which were all internally consistent. SIEGE attempts consistency but it simply doesn't work. I think we are either going to revert to AD&D, or even a simplified 3.0 (which is what C&C should have been.)

    1. Besides, I have the 2nd printing PHB, my players recently bought the 5th printing, and not one iota has been done between the printings to solve the issue. That's simply inexcusable in a commercial product. There are free game which do a better job.