Review: Castles & Crusades

I have a theory that if you take the worst elements from both the 2nd and 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons games and mash it together, that you'd end up with Castles & Crusades. I already blasted original D&D something fierce, and its a safe bet that I could just recycle all the points about terrible game design there and copy them here, but that would be too easy and there's a remote possibility that they didn't rehash all the bad parts.

Then again, maybe not.

A brief overview of C&C is that it is probably best for people that have trouble dealing with even simplistic rules. Like OD&D, there aren't a lot of rules here, and many elements and mechanics just seem like they were randomly thrown in there without any rhyme or reason. For example, wizards cannot disarm an opponent, and some spells take 2+ rounds to cast even though they don't do anything appreciable. Its like the writers took all the fun out of 3E, and then liberally applied 2E and older mechanics to fill in the gaps.

The end result isn't very pretty or manageable, relying largely on the DM to just make shit up, which lends to my theory that maybe I'm just reading a kind of Beta release? Considering how many typos its laden with, it wouldn't take much effort to convince me.

C&C uses the exact same ability scores as D&D, except that the "average" range for a stat is 9-12 instead of 10-11, making it more likely that you will not receive a bonus at all considering that you roll 3d6 for ability score generation. Yes you heard correct, they make you roll your stats, and with a statistical average of only 10.5 its a safe bet that you'll probably get to play a character that falls (at best) somewhere close to what you actually wanted to play.

Rolling your stats only serves to detract from the fun factor of the game, arbitrarily screwing players who did nothing wrong except...roll poorly? Is that even a crime?

Seriously, the only way that this could be worse is if they made you assign your stats in the order you rolled them, which would all but ensure that what you wanted is nowhere near what you will get, and you can be sure that if two players are looking for the same thing that one of them is going to get hosed from inferior stats (potentially not even by the same class).

As if rolling for stats wasn't bad enough, you also roll for hit points, and unlike in 3rd Edition its not even kind enough to throw you a hail Mary and max them out at 1st-level. This is the kind of swingy bullshit that we were growing out of almost a decade ago, and achieves no purpose except for crippling unlucky players. I have no idea why you would take a good thing and just roll it back, but then C&C is all about that shit.

Classes rely on the very much old school mechanic that stronger classes require more XP to level up, so its okay if this one does better than that one. There is a reason that that method was discarded a long, long time ago in an edition far, far away. Its a terrible mechanic to front-load one class with abilities and features under the misconception that you are balancing it all out by enforcing a slightly longer time to level up. This does nothing for games where the players start at a higher level, or for one-shot games where the XP doesn't even fucking matter.

Like OD&D, there is not much in the way of customization. You basically pick a class and get whatever the hell they want you to have, and what you get is not much. For example, fighters get three class features over the entire course of their career, while rogues get the same skills that everyone else would get in 3rd and 4th Edition D&D. Frankly, rogues get the same shit that almost everyone gets in any other somewhat current RPG on the market (Shadowrun, anything by White Wolf, Rifts, etc).

Speaking of skills, wasn't it annoying enough that 2E only allowed rogues to, you know, climb and try not to get seen? Yeeep, makes perfect sense. Also, rogues have one of the shittiest attack bonuses in the game and have no ability to deal any kind of meaningful damage output since back attack and sneak attack are again relegated to being useless, so if you missed the jack-shit rogues you can feel elated that they are back with a vengeance. Only not.

Races come into play after the classes get listed, which while not necessarily a good format is not nearly as bad as the fact that races only get +1/-1 to ability scores. Statistically these can mean absolutely nothing in terms of character building, which was why they changed it in 3rd Edition. I cannot believe that people got paid to design this game, and that other people pay for it. This is shit I learned from browsing the Wizards forums years ago; it is not exactly rocket science.

The section on armor is, to put it in a word, fucked. Cloth and padded armor both provide the same AC bonus (+1), except that cloth is less than half the price. I cannot find any reason to actually take padded armor, and there is not a description of cloth to let you know what it entails. I mean, there is not any incentive to take any of the more expensive armors: you get the same benefit by taking the cheaper ones, so you can save a few bucks and walk away with the same rating. What is the point?

There are a few odd abbreviations stuck in here and there that remind me of Rifts: EPP and BH come to mind. Apparently EP or XP for Experience Points isnt enough, they have to extend the term to Experience Point Progression, just in case you forgot what they were for.

The really annoying bit is that they go out of their way to maintain almost identical terms, with only slight variations to remind you that you are playing a stripped down, poorly designed variant of what could be a more fulfilling D&D game: Castle Keeper instead of Dungeon Master and challenge class instead of difficulty class are immediate offenders.

Saving throws are legion and do not make sense, with each ability score resisting it's own type of attack. For example, Dexterity is used against breath weapons, which is all well and good for stuff like fire and lightning, but what about breath weapons that are also poisonous? C&C has cribbed so much from D&D that I'm assuming its going to include gas-breathing dragons, but maybe not?

It uses save-or-die effects. Again with the fucking SoDs. The evidence against SoDs is overwhelming, so I suspect that these were maintained on a dare.

Spells can get disrupted, though no mention on how this actually happens unless some effect somehow acts in the middle of your round, and there is no way to stop this from happening when it does.

Resolving ability checks is very arbitrary and vague. You start with a value of 12 or 18 depending on whether its something relevant to your character, and the DM scales it up from there by using whatever he pulls out of his ass. Very little advice is provided.

You can get an XP bonus or penalty depending on how well you "roleplay", though since no definition is given as to what C&C considers to be roleplaying, I'm going to assume that its the elitist style where its all about talking in character. If players are not very good at talking in character, they're fucked, while the players that are naturally good at it get additional rewards.

For me the term "old school" is starting to become synonymous with "bad design". Games and their design has come a long way since the '70s, and it seems that any game labeled as old school is just an excuse to exhume ancient, long-since discarded mechanics and revive them much to our horror. I've heard that C&C is intended to be a game where the DM can and should houserule it at their leisure. This doesnt excuse how poorly designed and laid out it is, nevermind the fact that DMs will houserule plenty of shit in any game. We do not need permission, and if the game itself heavily implies that you should be doing this, that to me is a major red flag that something is wrong.

Sure, I could give characters maximum hit points at 1st-level. I could invent a skill system so that classes besides the rogue and climb. I could invent a rule so that wizards can resist losing a spell if they get interrupted. I could do a lot of things to make the tenuous rules function properly, but then I can just as easily play a version of D&D that already has rules built into it. Less work for me, and I get a better output of fun.

If you want to have as little character flexibility and customization is possible, you could technically do worse by playing OD&D, but not by much. Essentially, you pick a class, a race, and thats it. Sure, there is a bit of equipment but the only difference between your rogue and the other rogue is what you happened to randomly roll for ability scores and hit points. You are otherwise identical across the sheet in every way.
This is the kind of game to play if you want to have a slightly greater amount of social interaction than, say, Warhammer Fantasy (the wargame, not the RPG). If you like swingy, arbitrary mechanics that punish you at random (sometimes before the game even starts), or if you prefer to make uninformed decisions with unpredictable results, this is an excellent game.

However, if you prefer to play the exact same style of games with roughly the same amount of rules complexity, while maintaining a greater measure of creativity, flexibility, and the ability to act and react to decisions in a logical manner, I'd stick with a more complete and cohesive edition of D&D.


  1. Man you safe me some money.

  2. After reading your review, all I can say is "Oh this was done by one of THEM."
    meaning a rules whiny rules lawyer at best and a whiny mamma's boy at worst.

    Your "the player always comes first" attitude is what RUINED a good system with 3 edition changes in under 6 years.

    Players should learn to play what they roll to the best that can be done instead of gimme gimme gimme what I want or Ima gonna go home and play with myself in mommy's basement.

    Lists of skill that go on for 3 plus pages just listing their names is absolutely pointless, unless you are a min-maxer. Then you whine when a DM does not create an encounter every session where you get to use "UBER SKILL 161". Try being creative with the base skills instead of wanting a skill for every specific instance. Do you list on a real life resume a separate skill that you know how to tun on a Desktop PC AND a Laptop?
    Same thing with lists of feats that take up 2/3s of a rule book.
    Never mind that the submitter rules for Wizards/Hasbro tell you flat out to NOT take into account any already published works except for the core books, so you wind up with supplements that are re-hashes of crap that has already been done and feats that stack with feats that stack with feats so Min-maxers can have orgasmic joy when they come up with the "uberest" pos for a character.

    Let us not forget the 3.0/3.5 biggest POS character that was copied to infinity - a Drow ranger. That alone should be enough to have all 3.0 and 3.5 fan boys put to death by paper cuts until no such fan boy exists.

    The main problem that you have is NO TRUST in your DM to make the game an enjoyable experience by balancing out the crap parts of the rules in ANY SYSTEM with ones of common sense. You want player control where there should be NONE.

    All your review shows is that you are the kind of gamer that NO-ONE wants at their table.
    You most likely cheat with your dice rolls since you can't seem to understand how come no one would ever want to roll for their stats.
    You are most likely a rules lawyer who whines when a DM makes a decision that you do not like, since you insist that the more skills and feats the better.
    Amazing that how from 1974 to 2000 the rules for rogue backstabbing was enough for all the folks that played it but from 2000 to 2013 the rules were changed no less then 3 times and more people complain about them now then in the 26 years prior.
    So is it the rules systems fault or is it the fact that you yourself are a whiny min-maxer power gamer who feels like they are THE most important ting to gaming because your mommy says you are her "special LITTLE guy"?

  3. I almost just marked this as spam, but it is so hilariously, magnificently, excessively, rabidly trollish that I HAD to post it.

    And, of course, respond.

    This review is rapidly approaching five years old. Five. YEARS. Do you often trawl the internet looking for reviews written by people who in all likelihood have long since forgotten about it? Does my opinion really matter that much to you? There are genuine crimes with a much shorter statute of limitations.

    I have long since been playing (and writing third-party products for) Dungeon World and Numenera, which I think are both as light if not lighter on the rules than Castle & Crusades (I cannot really remember, because it was so long ago you see). You would know this if you bothered to read anything that I have posted within the past few months, as opposed to focusing on content from nearly half a decade ago.

    Spelling and punctuation errors aside I find it amusing that you claim my attitude (and presumably anyone with the same "attitude" as me) "ruined" a good system. Players being able to pick a class is all it takes? Virtually every game that is not for some reason trying to be like the oldest editions of D&D lets you make that choice.

    Why just prevent players from choosing the class they want? Why not force you to roll EVERYTHING else about your character, too? After all you do not get to choose your race, place of birth, gender, or other features in real life.

    I also find it amusing how you believe that players "like me" WILL go home and play with ourselves in our "mommy's basement" if we do not get our way. Of course we will, because there is absolutely no middle ground there, not at all. It is not like I could, I dunno, just play game that not only still feels just like D&D, it just has the added benefit of allowing me to make decisions.

    How does a preference for A skill system automatically correlate to me obviously being a min-maxer? You mention something about base skills and creativity, but I cannot even remember which skills are in C&C because, again, five years ago. I will give you a bit of credit for coming up with the term UBER SKILL 161, because like all your other grossly exaggerated personal attacks wanting some skills MUST mean that I want HUNDREDS of skills.

    I would write more but you are more interested in slinging random insults than anything approaching a discussion, and I have to apparently go force my way into games, cheat on my dice rolls, and argue rules with people.

    1. The difference between Castles & Crusades (older forms of D&D) and new forms of D&D were summed up well by someone (can't remember his name) when defending the older games and playing styles:

      "We explore dungeons, not characters."

      This is pretty much the dividing line between everything up to, and including, 2nd edition and everything after. There's no "good" or "bad" between the two, just a big difference in what each player wants in a game. You don't need a well-defined character, with tons of detail, skills, feats, etc. to explore a dungeon if that's what players want to focus on. You do need a character like this if you want to get the satisfaction of developing the character over time, fine tuning abilities, coming up with interesting combinations of classes and so on.

      I think your review is funny, but I disagree with you. I think C&C is a good game.

    2. Which is totally fine: a lot of people seem to enjoy it (and older editions) well enough.


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