My love of Castles & Crusades(R)1 (C&C) is a quite recent phenomenon. The game itself was only created in 2004. Yet, one of the reasons I love it so much is that it feels much older - It reminds me of when I first discovered role-playing games.
First though, I want to set out expectations for this article. This article is not the definitive guide to C&C. I will mention certain aspects that are what I really love about the game - but C&C is so much more. My goal in writing this article is to expose people to the game. Hopefully, if any of this resonates with you, you’ll check the game out. I believe you won’t be disappointed.
Gradually, my group (I really like this post - and it says a lot about my group, so I leave it here) moved on to AD&D and AD&D second edition. Over the years, I have played every edition of D&D. They have all been great in their own way, but nothing really grabbed me like that first basic D&D adventure. That is… nothing until I stumbled upon Castles & Crusades. All of a sudden, the mystery and excitement of a new world once again opened up for me. I credit much of it to the design and artwork. It hearkens back to the old style that I grew up with. The layout of the books, even the descriptions and the way the words sit on the pages seem to call to me from my childhood.
Of course layout and artwork are all fine, but to truly love a game the system must be solid. C&C is a system I am familiar with and love. They took the D20 system under the Open Game License and simplified it. Right in the preface to the introduction, the designers laid out what they were looking to do - “Castles & Crusades is neither a realistic game nor a simulation but a fantasy game where imagination rules.”2
That is where C&C really grabbed my attention. All of a sudden, this game comes out that has the feel of the classic D&D and AD&D of my past, but with the modern improvements tested over the past ten to fifteen years. Only when you go back and try to play AD&D first edition do you start to appreciate some of the aspects of the D20 system. Yet, for me at least, D&D third edition (while fun as heck) didn’t seem to have the same feel as the older editions. C&C fills that sweet spot.
The Players Handbook provides all the basic rules one needs to play the game. C&C has been said to be the “rosetta stone”3 of D&D allowing Castle Keepers (as they are known in the game) to easily convert just about any D&D based product for use with the system. Third edition D&D And fifth edition D&D convert over almost seamlessly. This is highly useful if you already have a ton of older D&D products - backwards compatibility is a plus in my book. But, why even bother using C&C?
The answer, in my opinion, lies with the simplification of the D20 systems. One of the rules changes that is my favorite is the ability of any class to try different skills. It opens up the class system to allow for a lot of different character types. The rules provide guidelines, but don’t constrain the players. Another, the replacement of the skills and feats system, known as the SIEGE Engine system, works to greatly simplify game play. Every check is based on an attribute, with primary attributes and secondary attributes per class. Primary attribute checks have a much higher chance of success than secondary attribute checks. This simplified system allows a Castle Keeper to adjudicate actions quickly and efficiently without having to check what a person’s particular skill is or various additional bonuses. Even in my fifth edition D&D game, often times I will switch to more of an ability based system for ease of calculating successes. C&C provides a nice easy mechanic for resolving actions and keeping the pace of the game. C&C makes a number of these types of tweaks to the rules providing a simplified system that I know improving the flow of the action.
However, another aspect of the game I love are the additional rules and options it provides. The source books including German mythology and Celtic mythology, Codex Nordica and Codex Celtarum respectively, are fantastic additions to any campaign. One thing I read on the C&C Google Plus page, and totally agree with, is that elements from C&C can be used in any fantasy game you play. This is especially true of the source books. I fully intend to introduce the Book of Familiars rules into my D&D fifth edition campaign as well as using it for C&C play.
Modularity and optionality are a big part of the game. I am a tinkerer at heart. I have always house-ruled my games. C&C starts from the premise that the Castle Keeper and the players are going to introduce their own rules. It allows you to mix and match - and in encourages it. The emphasis is on the creativity of the participants - not strict adherence to rules. While I wouldn’t use it for competitive tournament play, for at home regular play - that is the type of system I want to use. Also special mention should be made of the 0-level character optional rules. Like many things in C&C, they are very simple (about two paragraphs actually) - but the fact that they include them, in my mind, clinches the old school feel of the game. I fondly remember running peasant PCs and looking for the wizard’s magical chickens. In my mind, it shows the developers are on the same page as I am with respect to gaming.
The last thing I will mention is the Aihrde setting for C&C. I love this setting. Just reading the amount of detail and backstory on the gods makes me fondly reminisce on the Silmarillion - although with a lot less names of the same entity to remember. It is a detailed world, and another great example of what is coming out under the C&C banner. I am very much looking forward to my copy of Ernest Gary Gygax Jr. and Luke Gygax’s Lost City of Gaxmor for the setting as well. While I usually run campaigns in my own setting, I find reading good campaign material to really stimulate my creativity.
C&C is a solid adaptation of a classic role-playing game. However, the amount of creativity that has gone into the add-ons solidly puts it as one of my favorite games. I hope, if nothing else, this article has wetted your appetite and encouraged you to check it out.4
This has been a part of the Dyvers Project X. Check out the other great "game love letters" below:
My favorite Game System. (MEGS) Part of the My favorite game project.
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Not Loving Friend Computer is Treason – A Paranoia Love Story
Re: Why I Love Apocalypse World
For the love of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia
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Why I Love RPGS: C. J. Carella’s WitchCraft RPG
Why I Love RPGS: Moldvay Basic
Why I love Elthos RPG
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In Loving Memory: Everway
Remembered with Honour: Lace and Steel
1 Castles & Crusades is a registered trademark of Troll Lord Games. The trademark is used solely for purposes of critiquing the game and in no way implies endorsement of this article or sentiments herein by Troll Lord Games or the authors of the game.
2 Chenault, Stephen, Castles & Crusades Players Handbook, p 10 (2014). The Players Handbook was written by Davis Chenault and Mac Golden.
3 Timothy B. RPGNow.com review. Available at http://www.rpgnow.com/product_reviews_info.php?&reviews_id=91636&products_id=105322
4 Do people read footnotes? I love footnotes. I think I shall go have some tea and biscuits now. Also, I intentionally left out the period from the footnote above. Thank you for noticing.