Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Short Review: Castle Keepers Guide

I seriously did not feel like typing up yet another character class today, so instead I'll focus on a short review for a book I just got last week: the Castle Keeper's Guide for Castles and Crusades. Abbreviated CKG and C&C from now on because I don't feel like typing those words out anymore.

Some background...I bought C&C when it was first released due to some threads I read on Dragonsfoot. At the time, I was mostly playing AD&D after a long stint with D&D 3rd edition, and C&C sounded like a good mix of those two games. Unified gaming mechanic with essentially AD&D character classes and "feel". I thought C&C was a fine game, but didn't care for the layout much. Consequently, I bought the 2nd printing which fixed a lot of the presentation issues. I also purchased Monsters and Treasure (M&T), thought it was a nice addition to the game. Before that, though, I even bought one of the Limited Edition (tm) boxed sets. I think mine is number 252. I truly tried to support the game. But then, I waited. For literally five years. For. The. Castle. Keepers. Guide. Kept waiting and waiting. It would be announced, and then put on hiatus. I had such high hopes, but after a while I sort of lost interest in the game, mostly because I didn't feel like it was being supported properly. Yes, the PHB and M&T was enough to play C&C, especially since I read the 1st edition DMG about fifty times. There was literally nothing the CKG could give me I needed to actually play, but psychologically, C&C felt incomplete without it. Reading the message boards and rpg.net (*shudder*), I began to see that a lot of people felt the same way as I did. While not quite on the same level as Duke Nukem Forever, the CKG was becoming vaporware of the same variety. Continually promised, never released. Lo! Release date of December 2010! I looked, digest version. Well, screw that. Then the whole insanely priced PDF fiasco...I figured I'd just wait another year and possibly pick it up in the bargain bin at Half-Priced Books.

Then, I got an email...from Troll Lord Games. I get emails from them all the time. This one, however, promised a massive sale. I could get the newest printings of the PHB and M&T for $20, both hardcover. Not a bad deal, so I decided to spend a couple bucks. I also noticed the CKG, hardcover, full-sized, was available for sale. After 5 years, I was skeptical of receiving an actual book; I figured it'd be one of those eBay scams and I'd just get a picture of the book with a note saying, "Sucker!" F it, I said to myself, and added it to the order.

The box came last week, and it felt far too heavy to only be two books. I opened it. PHB, that's good. M&T, alright. CKG. I had the CKG in my hands, the questing beast had finally been captured. I spent that night reading almost the whole thing, which was no small feat given its size. However, I thought that perhaps my views would be overshadowed by FINALLY getting the damn thing, so I re-read most of it over the weekend so I could approach it more objectively. Here's what I think...

First of all, it's an extremely nice book. The construction is pretty good, and I like the layout. There's a strange quirk where examples early in the book are simply part of the text flow, but later examples are surrounded by a thick, black box. I have no idea if this was intentional or not, but it can be a little disruptive. I prefer non-boxed examples, personally. Even better, just remain consistent. There are some obvious typos and grammatical errors, which are expected in any book. Definitely better than previous TLG releases, that's for sure. Overall, the presentation is very nice.

As far as content goes, the CKG resembles the DMG is many respects, but I feel it's an homage as opposed to a duplication. There is a large section on fully fleshing out characters (attribute generation, height/weight charts, age charts, how to treat monster characters...doesn't this sound familiar?), all of which is useful. This is followed by a large section (Chapter 4) on hirelings and henchmen (familiar yet??), easily my favorite part of the book; I'd say it might even surpass the DMG for usefulness for dealing with henchmen, which is no small feat.

The second major section of the book deals almost entirely with "the world" wherein the game takes place. There's a lengthy exposition on developing the world itself, cities, dungeons, monster ecology and giving land as reward. Rules for large-scale war are covered as well. I really liked the monster ecology stuff as it's interesting and insightful. What I didn't like here was all the advice that kept talking about "stories" and how to advance the "story" and why the CK needed to be concerned with a "story" he was telling in collaboration with the players. I've covered my feelings on this "story" idea crap already on this blog, but let's just say that is not Old School, and it's definitely not part of any game I'm interested in. It's nice that the CK has a plot laid out and he wants to tell his "story", but some of the advice reeks of the entitlement a lot some gamers have for their characters. If you fuck up, you should die, as far as I'm concerned. Decide to attack an ancient red dragon at 1st level? Good bye! The CKG gives ideas for creating "balanced" challenges or some nonsense...well, considering it is D&D3 backported, this makes some sense. Still, I absolutely HATE that kind of crap. I'm reminded of an AD&D game I was running not that long ago. The characters entered a tomb, lots of undead. They found a ring of x-ray vision (certainly a pretty badass treasure for 1st and 2nd level characters), placed there by me to keep them alive. One of them looks through a coffin and sees a body, that isn't decayed and in fact looks to be rather well preserved. So what do these geniuses do? Why, open the coffin, of course! They didn't have a cleric, and one of the characters was consequently drained, killing him. My how they bitched about that. Did *I* err on the side of harshness by having a wight there, sleeping in a coffin? Nope. Even if they didn't have the ring, the players shouldn't expect that knocking over coffins in the basement of a f'd up necromancer will be without peril. I'll never buy into the idea that D&D should be like a video game, with harder encounters as the characters gain in power. As a DM, I give the players the option of avoiding death, but if they choose poorly, well, adios suckers. So, yeah, that part of the CKG was annoying, basically.

The last part of the book deals mostly with the Siege Engine, mechanics, treasure and how to extend character abilities. There are a lot of good examples of how to make judgments, assign difficulty levels, etc. Overall, useful and interesting.

In closing, 75% of the book was, for me, pretty good. I didn't care for some of the stuff, but considering the size of the CKG, I got my money's worth for sure. Overall I'd recommend this book to anyone who plays C&C, and even Old School gamers will find some interesting, useful things. The whole section on world building might actually be worth the price if you're interested in creating logical environments for your players.

1 comment:

  1. There are some obvious typos and grammatical errors, which are expected in any book.

    No, no, NO!! We should never put up with typos in a supposedly professional publication of any kind. One reason I don't buy Mongoose products is the inordinate amount of editing mistakes. If they want me to part with my beer money for their product, they better make damn sure it's professionally edited.