Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Case For Castles & Crusades

(Zack comes clean about his new game of choice).

I'm a vagabond, a wanderer of tabletop gaming. From my early forays in Palladium Fantasy and hideously houseruled 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons games to my appreciation of Risus, Two-Fisted Tales, Epic Roleplaying, Rolemaster, Traveller, Rifts, and everything in-between, I have played and ran a tremendously large number of roleplaying games.

I've tried Troll Lord Games' Castles & Crusades before, had my Castle Keeper Screen signed by Gary Gygax himself in 2007. And though the sessions and demos I ran were fun, there was always something else to try. And being an ENnies judge for 2008 also ensured my free time to dedicate to any single game was severely lacking.

But in now coming back to it, and in loving both the exciting modern products out there and the original and homages to an earlier time in gaming, I have found Castles & Crusades to be so much of what I've been looking for. Very few times (I can count them on one hand) has a game purely "clicked" for me. As in I got it--I got the feel, the system, the direction. And that's what happened when I took my C&C Players Handbook in hand (and screen) once more. What did it? I don't know--a desired refinement of how I run my games, an re-examination for what I want out of my hobby, whatever. But I did want to share just a little of why I am so absolutely, genuinely, enthusiastically pleased with Castles & Crusades:

Bridging A Gap: I have friends who were weaned on the older editions of D&D, and those who have played nothing but 3rd Edition. Castles & Crusades allows me to sell elements of both those experiences, giving us a common meeting ground and a larger player base from which to draw. Its familiar to veterans, and easily picked up by novices.

Time: Plain and simple. Look, I have a wife, 2 kids and 1 on the way, and a lot more responsibility than Young Zack ever did. C&C's system, the SIEGE Engine, is so simple that it usually takes all of 3-5 minutes for gamers to get the gist of it. I want to be able to use all the resources I've built up over the years, run a game that encourages active, fast, inspiring GM (CK) rulings, not pace-killing rules lookup. I want low prep time, employing notes and material I already have. I'm ready to get back to the basics, and get down to gaming in a faster and leaner fashion.

A Place To Build Upon: Castles & Crusades is a framework. It isn't a toolbox so much as a sturdy workbench. This is seriously one of the most easily-houseruled games I have ever seen. You want skills, feats, some new magic system? Want to use THAC0? Have some insane d20 rule you plug into every game you play? Castles & Crusades not only allows you to plug those items in, its modularity will make it easy to do so. We are talking compatibility not only with the various prior editions and the d20 crowd, but efforts like Basic Fantasy, Labyrinth Lord, Mazes & Minotaurs, Fight On!, True 20, Paizo's and Adventure Games Publishing's docket of releases, and more. Hey, I have something from Iron Gauntlets I might throw in there. Or I can do nothing, and be just fine that way. There's just too much goodness out there that I may wish to look to for inspiration, and Castles & Crusades promises the integration of that goodness, easy-like. It's a baseline for it all.

A Style I Want: I don't want hours spent on hair-splitting character builds. I don't want reams of special powers for each player. I don't want skills and rigid, mutiple modifiers to get in the way of player initiative and creativity. I want me as a GM (CK) and my players to remember when we made rulings, not remained bogged down in rules. This ties into time constraints, but I want a fast-play, unified mechanic. I want the standard tropes and hallmarks of our shared hobby heritage there, unwarped. I want strong character archetypes. I want player backgrounds to matter in the course of play. I want so much of what has made the Old School Renaissance of gaming so inspiring to me and others. Of course, many of these lie at the feet of each Game Master/Castle Keeper, and can happen in any game. But its still good to have an RPG that's on your side about it.

A Company I Can Support: Troll Lord Games has never been anything but fantastic in our business dealings. The books are affordable. Their fan support online has been helpful and inspiring. When I was still in the military, Troll Lord contributed to a care package that was sent to a buddy of mine, and he was absolutely thrilled. It meant a lot to him, and by extension, to me. Their support of my friends and I in a tough, sometimes unpopular, unfashionable conflict will not be easily forgotten.

There is also the fact that Troll Lord Games was the last company Gary Gygax himself chose to be involved with. People can knock me for being overly sentimental and say that shouldn't matter for what game I'm playing, but that does carry some water with me. More importantly, I feel like Troll Lord is run by people who understand the innate and unique appeal of Gygaxian fantasy. They have the enthusiasm and heart I look for in a gaming company.

I've never been a one-game, one-system guy. There are too many great games out there I want to run--Epic, Rifts, Traveller, we aren't through yet. One day, I will again get to run In Harm's Way. And Castles & Crusades is ok with that. I know its there, willing to undertake any sort of tweaks or mods I might find in my travels. But I do know what game I'm coming home to. Castles & Crusades is my choice going forward to take advantage of the Old School Renaissance (heck, its my staging area for it), to keep that link going to a wider pool of players, and to maximize the time I have for quality, generation-spanning fun. That's why I'm on board with Castles & Crusades as my fantasy D&D cousin of choice. And together I see us, my friends, and eventually perhaps our kids having great adventures...


Rich said...

Excellent post! A great case for C&C. I really do need to get around to picking this up...

Anonymous said...

Well said. You hit most of the reasons I enjoy C&C. I'm a little worried about Castle Zagyg, but I'll be sticking with the Trolls.

Great place you've got here!

Restless said...

I understand bridging the gap, as well as prep time concerns. Why do you choose C&C over Basic Fantasy, though? It offers the same things, albeit in an B/X or AD&D-lite package.

Zachary The First said...

A fantastic question! And I admire the hell out of Basic Fantasy. If I have any quibbles with it at all, its that C&C seems a little more d20-compatible and ready--more of a baseline, really, and important in bridging that gap between my 3.5 chums and my grognard buddies. I also find it a little more straightforward in parts, and easier to work with. I can readily understand how someone could make a statement like mine based on their own preferences in regards to BF or Labyrinth Lord.

Basic Fantasy is a hell of a resource, though, and sits right on my desktop (along with the solid resources they've put out).

rich said...

One of the reasons I respect, but don't play more of Basic Fantasy RPG is a) I got tired of the never-finished product, and b) I don't like how the author tried to put his mark on a few of the "fixes" for the previous editions.

BBEG said...

Very insightful and persuasive post Zachary. You've convinced me to give this a try myself. I'm off to the FLGS!

Restless said...

Understandable. I'm not necessarily approaching this from an old-school/3e split, so that's why I keep rolling BFRPG around in my head. However, Swords & Wizardry is tempting me now, and the publication license is far more liberal than the one for BFRPG.

However, this has inspired me to check out the C&C PHB and M&T again. I have them, I just haven't read them in total depth.

One thing in my situation, I hope to run a more "open" campaign that has regular as well as more casual players that don't play every session, or maybe just drop in from time to time. The ability to legally make a digest-sized copy the rules for players (and not just quick start rules) is a major consideration.

@Rich: I feel the same way about C&C being unfinished, though. I know the CKG isn't required to play, but to me it's one of the "trinity" of books. I'd like the options to be there. If I start a campaign with certain options and suddenly the "official" options are different, I'll feel pressure from players to go that way.

Tenkar said...

Very nice write up. I like the "feel" of C&C... it has the feel that my games had back in the late 80's and early 90's. Heh, and I can houserule the crap out of it if I want to... it bends but hasn't broken yet.

Restless, thanks for the S&W link... downloading as I type this ;)

David Whittaker said...

Followed this from discussion on ENWorld. I downloaded the Quick Start yesterday...the Player's Handbook late last night...and am going to my local gaming store this morning to see if theyy have it. I really enjoy the fact they seem to appreciate that..."something" in simplicity of game design, while recognizing the nice bits and commonality d20 affords. The writing really brought me in.

The Rusty Battle Axe said...

We just started a C&C group made up of a few RPG newbies (my wife and teen daughter), a few teen 3.5E players, and their father (a grizzled RPG vet). I am the, uh, Castle Keeper (I still default to DM). We kicked off our collective adventuring career with a rousing four hour session and never had to peek at the anything but the character sheets (plus me consulting my, uh, CK notes). In that time, the characters interviewed a local farmer, discovered a recently excavated dungeon entrance, met the excavators, exterminated most of them, found out the shocking consequences of touching a copper statue placed in a pool of water, came into the possession of two magic keys (use unknown to them), and the intrepid little band managed to create their first enemy. In the afterglow, we all looked at each other and asked with voices filled with hope, "Wow, when can we do this again?" It played much more like AD&D than 3.X IMHO--quick and furious with lots of role-playing and very little rule-playing. Yes, many of the negative comments about the C&C Players Handbook are justified; as a publication, it has some issues (it has some real virtues as well). But the real value of the game is at the gaming table. We are strapping on the swords again this Saturday.