November 27, 2013
A Look At The Crunch Of Castles & Crusades
If you are looking for an old-school tabletop role-playing game, then you cannot get much more old school than Castles & Crusades. Created by Troll Lord Games and released at Gencon 2004, Castles & Crusades is based on older versions of Dungeons & Dragons. Like Pathfinder, it was made using the OGL – the Open Game License – created by Wizards of the Coast to allow other publishers to print material for, at the time, third edition D&D. Troll Lord Games took this and used it to create a game that went back to the simpler roots of role-playing games.
In Castles & Crusades you select your race from the classic list of human, elf, dwarf, halfling, gnome, half-elf, and half-orc, then you pick your class. The class list is rather extensive, including fighter, ranger, rogue, assassin, barbarian, monk, wizard, illusionist, cleric, druid, knight, paladin, and bard. You then pick your alignment and your six primary attributes, which are the good, old fashion Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Then, once these are all generated, you select your Primary Attributes. Most characters have two primary attributes. One is based on your class and the other is freely chosen. Human characters have the advantage of gaining a third, as this is to make up for the lack of racial features given to a human, since they cannot see in low light like an elf, no light like a dwarf, or the various other abilities granted by the other races. This game has no skills, so everything is derived from an attribute check, with the difficulty being based on if it is a primary or secondary attribute with primary attributes are easier to succeed on than secondaries.
There is not a lot of customization to a character in the crunch of the game. After your initial character design choices described above, you select your weapon, your armor, your spells, etc. That is it. All characterization comes from fluff, and therein lies the largest problem I have seen with the game. It is simple, yes, but simple is not always good. Many characters feel bland and unoriginal. I have even heard it described as “default fantasy gaming” before, but despite all of that, I still hold it up as a good game. What it lacks in complexity, it makes up for in player creativity. It has taken all of the things that some players have come to rely on for defining their characters and given it over to them almost entirely to do through role-playing. What your character is good at is defined, mechanically, only by your choice in primary attributes. While I can understand why some players are not all that fond of this style of game, I do enjoy it.
Unfortunately, as is almost expected from older-styled games, my one real experience running this game did not end well for the party. After fighting their way through a massive dungeon, battling hoards of undead, orc, and goblins, the party came across a cavern filled with piles and piles of treasure. Of course, as could be expected, this trove of golden goodies belonged to a dragon. A rather cruel spirited green dragon that took it upon itself to choke the entire party to death with its vile toxic breath. Unfortunately, this unexpected and cringe worthy party-wipe has left a bad taste in my group’s mouth when it comes to Castles & Crusades. The game makes for a good one-shot, though, so I am hopeful that I can get them to give the game another chance sometime this holiday season.
Image Credit: Troll Lord Games