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Castles & Crusades Monsters & Treasure
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/13/2014 15:39:48
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/09/26/tabletop-review-castles-
-crusades-monsters-treasure/

Back in June, 685 gamers contributed to the Castles & Crusades Kickstarter, allowing Troll Lord Games to put out a Sixth printing of the Player’s Handbook, along with new printings of Monsters & Treasure and the Castle Keeper’s Guide. For the first time, all three core C&C rulebooks would be released in full colour with glossy pages. For a long time Castles & Crusades gamer who has been there since the beginning, this was a pretty sweet deal and I happily jumped on board.

Now I should point out that this version of Monsters & Treasure is more than a mere reprint with color pages. The previous printing was under 130 pages, while the newest printing is 178. Some of this is because the new printing has a larger, easier to read font size. Some of this is the new artwork made especially for this book, and some of it is slightly altered/edited content. This is NOT a new edition of Monsters & Treasure a la the Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual that also comes out this month, but simply a reprinting. This means that if you own a previous printing of Monsters & Treasure, you don’t really need this one. You already pretty much own this book. Now if you WANT to buy a new printing for the new layout, color artwork, glossy pages and/or to support Troll Lord Games for making such an awesome product, then by all means – do so. However, your old version will work just as well. Again – this is NOT a new edition. You can always check out my review of the Player’s Handbook from this printing to see how the first printing, fifth printing and sixth printing all are pretty similar themselves. All that said, if you have to get a copy of Monsters & Treasure, you might as well start with this latest full color printing once it is available to the general public.

Now at 178 pages, Monsters & Treasure is pretty slim compared to some other bestiaries. The 5e Monster Manual is twice the page count at 352 pages, and it’s JUST monsters. Numenera‘s Ninth World Bestiary is about the same size and that game has only been out for a year, so you would think after all these years and printings, that Troll Lord Games would beef up poor old Monsters & Treasure by now. Alas, it is not to be. Of course, Monsters & Treasure is a fraction of the cost of the 5e Monster Manual so the reduced price of the C&C bestiary matches the reduced page count. That said, if you find that Monsters & Treasure doesn’t have all the cannon fodder and antagonists you need it to, you might want to invest in Tome of the Unclean or Classic Monsters. Both are fairly cheap and contain a good deal of monsters to supplement the core Monsters & Treasure book. Monsters & Treasure does have all the big name creatures like dragons, vampires, werewolves, elementals, golems, orcs and more, so you probably should start with this one.

Aesthetically, Monsters & Treasure has never looked better. Sure a lot of the art is reused and is simply in color now, but after years of black and white only books from Troll Lord Games, I can’t express how fantastic this thing is in colour. The inking and colouring jobs make the piece look like they always were in color. It’s gorgeous. I really enjoy a lot of the new art too, especially the cover where that Ranger is about to shoot an arrow down the gullet of a red dragon. Simply beautiful. Of course, as great as the art is, Monsters & Treasure is not a coffee table book to gaze at, but a collection of stat blocks for you to fit into your Castles & Crusades oriented adventures. Of course, mechanics is where Castles & Crusades is terrific and because 99% of the stat blocks are the same as in previous printings (typos and errata have been fixed), you should be able to make use of any of these monsters in any of your OSR/retro-clone games without any trouble. Each monster entry is primary stats and mechanics with only a paragraph of descriptive text for each creature/race. If there is more text, it is generally about specific powers said creature has or an explanation on how the Castle Keeper can use them in combat. So if you are looking for a lot of fluff and prose about the creatures in question, Monsters & Treasure is probably not the book for you. If you are a veteran gamer and don’t need to be told what an orc is or how a vampire comes to be, then you can just absorb the stats, mechanics and strategies each entry contains.

Of course, the book is Monsters and Treasure, so I should probably talk about the loot side of the book as well. Usually magic items and treasure are found in a games Dungeon Master’s Guide equivalent. Not so with Castles & Crusades. I’m not sure why Troll Lord games does it this way, but I have no complaints. Part of the reason PCs kill monster is for their treasure after all, so it makes sense to have them both in a single, easy to reference, tome. The treasure section is only about fifty-five pages of the book, so while it’s not the majority of the content, it is nice to see a significant amount of content on the topic.

In the treasure section of Monsters & Treasure, you are primarily given information on magic items, including how to make them. That’s always helpful. There’s even a handy-dandy chart for the gold cost of items other than scrolls and potions. For those on the other side of things, there’s also a section on how to DESTROY magic items. Several pages are also devoted to sentient items and special abilities they might possess. Something you might not expect to find in the Treasure section is the “Lands and Titles” piece. Here you’ll learn about how each character class gathers followers and what they do with land. It’s an interesting piece for when your characters get mid to high level.

Other than that, the magic item section is pretty standard for the genre. You have lots of tables that are broken down into types of items followed by a list of what the items of that type are. After all the charts are detailed descriptions about each item be it a magical sword or boots of the north. For those that are curious, yes you will see classic D&D items like the Deck of Many Things, Rings of Protection and the Robe of the Archimagi. Remember, Castles & Crusades is an OSR game and uses the OGL.

All in all, Monsters & Treasure is pretty much the same as it has always been, but in a new fantastic all-color package. If you’re brand new to Castles & Crusades, I can’t recommend this game highly enough. If you are a veteran of C&C like myself and already have a Monsters & Treasure book in your possession, you don’t NEED to get this version as it is almost exactly the same as previous printings. Still, if you like the larger font, full color art and the like, you can always pick this up as a spare or even give your older printing to a friend to help get them into the hobby. Again, if you’re looking for a high quality retro-clone fantasy game, Castles & Crusades is one of the best. There’s no better time to jump on the bandwagon then now!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Monsters & Treasure
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Castles & Crusades I3 Dogs of War: Felsentheim
by Shaun A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/13/2014 07:33:07
I’m really not too sure what to make of this one. Overall I think the three “I” series adventures went progressively downhill with each installment. The main problem here is that this isn’t even really an adventure module in the usual sense, it’s a mass battle scenario. Perhaps it was a ploy to encourage players to take notice of the mass battle rules “Fields of Battle”, although you don’t need these to use this scenario, a simple rule system is included. That however, is part of the problem. In a 24 page PDF, only about half of it is really the “adventure” itself, the rest being advice on running it and the rules and stats for it. The real “meat” of the material is a little thin on the ground.

I’m not sure that the goblin leaders motivation for starting a full scale war against the local region (ie: the PCs attack on the small stronghold in I2) are entirely convincing, but such things are probably best decided by the CK on the basis of what best fits your campaign setting anyway.

Despite liking the previous two in the series, I have to say unfortunately, that I probably wouldn’t have bought this one if I’d read it first. Whether you’ll feel the same way depends entirely on whether you want to include a mass battle against some goblins, etc, in your campaign at 2nd-3rd level.

Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades I3 Dogs of War: Felsentheim
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Castles & Crusades I2 Under Dark & Mistry Ground: Dzeebagd
by Shaun A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/13/2014 07:31:28
My overall impression of the published C&C adventures I’ve read so far (including the two I’ve used in a game) are they although I liked them enough to buy more, I don’t feel they’re up to the same standards as the C&C rulebooks.

I bought I2 because I liked the first in the “I” series, and although I also liked this one, the negative points about the first one go double for this second installment. Firstly, I didn’t feel that it was really playable “out of the box” and that a certain amount of work is required to make it usable. As with the first, a pretty thorough reading of it is required to make sense of what’s supposed to be going on, since there are various sub-plots and the different NPCs motives and plans can get a bit convoluted. Since a major reason for buying ready made adventures is lack of time for preparation, these points do count against it.

There are also elements of this adventure which don’t entirely make sense and suggest either bad editing or just being poorly thought out. The most glaring one of these is the placement of the “dungeon” part of the adventure at the end, which makes no sense at all in the context of the story. By the time the PCs get access to the entrance to this complex, they will not only have defeated the main opponents and achieved the main objective, therefore having no good reason to enter it, but it it seems difficult to integrate the party spending a day or two poking around in a dungeon bearing in mind what’s about to kick off in the third module in the series.

That said, there are some good points too – the setting is different to the run of the mill, and quite atmospheric, and has more of a “swords & sorcery” feel than high fantasy, being mainly concerned with fighting humanoids, bandits, etc, than magical elements (although these do appear in a minor way). Personally, I like this kind of setting, but if you want lots of magic and fantastical elements, you may not.

Overall, it’s not bad, but could have been so much better with a bit more editing and overall thought put into it. There’s nothing to stop you as CK doing this yourself of course, and as it happens I found a lot of interesting ideas spun off from the process of doing exactly that, so I felt it was a worthwhile purchase.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades I2 Under Dark & Mistry Ground: Dzeebagd
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Castles & Crusades Castle Keepers Guide
by Shaun A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/13/2014 07:29:28
I should probably lay my cards on the table and say that I’m a huge fan of C&C, which to me captures the feel and flow of play of the original game without the clunky, sometimes confused mechanics, so it was perhaps inevitable that I was going to like this.

The presentation here is not as lavish as the latest (6th) printing of the Players Handbook, but it’s decent enough, and the same goes for the artwork.

Since one of the appealing things about C&C is that all you need to play is the Players Handbook rather than a small library of rulebooks, you may be asking yourself; why would I want this book?

Well, what you get here is not exactly an expansion of the rules, but a sourcebook full of ideas and suggestions that you might want to pick some ideas from to customise your game or setting.

There’s far too much in this book to cover in a review, a huge range of ideas are presented, covering things like additional character abilities, stats for height, weight, age, languages, literacy, guidelines for adding new races such as monsters as player races, variants on the standard character races, different approaches to spells, spellbooks, material components and holy symbols, mana points, vehicles, lodgings, and hirelings. There’s a chapter on world design, including discussion of such elements as climate, geography, weather, calendars, government, alternatives to the usual high medieval cultural setting such as Greco-Roman, Iron Age, Renaissance, or even Meso-American or Stone Age (and a later section even discusses futuristic and horror settings). You get discussions of fortresses, cities and smaller settlements including types of buildings, occupations of citizens, etc. There’s a chapter on dungeons and underground adventures including different types of caves, different sorts of rooms you might expect in an inhabited complex, lighting, visibility, different kinds of traps, etc. There are sections on air and water adventures, a chapter on mass battles (a recurring theme in C&C, perhaps a homage to the genres roots in tabletop wargaming), an extensive section on monster ecology, plenty of advice on designing and running adventures and campaigns, incorporating things like luck/fate points, skills, racial advantages, etc, etc…..

All of this consists of detailed, high quality, well thought out ideas, that will work well with the rule system, and how much of it you will want to make use of is going to be very subjective. I don’t think the idea of the authors is that anybody should just graft all of these rules onto their game, it’s more of a sourcebook that you can pick anything from that appeals to you and suits your setting, or just use as inspiration for developing your own custom rules. In fact, the whole book is rather like a compendium of the “Best of” house rules for C&C.

My only real complaint is that there is no indexing of the PDF, and the file is not editable so you can’t add your own bookmarks. This makes navigating it much more difficult than it should be, and is a pretty major oversight that affects the usability of the book, especially for reference purposes during a game.

Overall though, it’s a great addition to the C&C rules which anybody running a game with this system is likely to find useful, and is very much of the same standard as the Players Handbook in terms of the amount of thought and work that’s clearly gone into it.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Castle Keepers Guide
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Castles & Crusades Bluffside City on the Edge
by Sylvain B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/25/2014 10:10:22
I was very disappointed in getting a map-less PDF when I purchased this product months ago. I patiently waited before posting this review, hoping for a swift(er) update as the product's description clearly states that "eight city districts and maps" should be included in the book. The said three pages of maps are also sold separately for a whopping $11 and its own product description also states that "these are in the book". Whether the missing maps is the result of an oversight (I might be one of the few purchaser to have reported it) or a cheap ploy to get 56% more off the book remains to be seen.

In the meantime, this makes for an overpriced product of limited use. To be fair, I am still giving it two stars as it might contain some useful material but I was too turned off to actually read it.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Bluffside City on the Edge
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Castles & Crusades F5 A Shattered Night
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/22/2014 08:11:53
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/22/tabletop-review-castles-
-crusades-a-shattered-night/

A Shattered Night is the latest adventure in the “F” series for Castles & Crusades. These adventures take place in a fantasy version of Post-Roman Britain. This includes adventures like The Goblins of Mount Shadow, The Crimson Pact and of course, To Kill a King, the winner of last years “Best Adventure (Solo)” award.

A Shattered Night is a pretty open ended affair where the PCs attempt to save a kidnapped princesses from an unsavory Saxon prince. The adventure is designed for two to players whose characters range between levels 4-6. I think a Rogue, Druid, Ranger and Assassin would all be quite helpful in this piece as the adventure is one that is as much stealth as it is combat, and much of the adventure takes place in the woods or outside. The adventure is divided into three parts: getting to the princess, storming the location where the princess is held, and then saving the princess. The first part is mostly left up to the CK. Random encounters and some specific events are provided in the adventure, but the Castle Keeper will really need to flesh things out as well as have a plan in place for how they want this first act to flow. In this first act you might encounter everything from a friendly giant to an ally who just seems to make a mess of all the PCs well-laid plans. You might even encounter a certain Nordic All-Father. There is definitely a lot of good stuff here, but you’ll want a more experienced Keeper to connect the dots between all these pieces.

Act 2 is essentially a very straight-forward dungeon crawl. Of course, the dungeon is actually a well-stocked and heavily guarded castle complete with 100 well trained soldiers and a powerful witch, so this is again where stealth is just as important as NPC slaughter for A Shattered Night. There are a lot of magic items to be found here, but there are also a lot of monsters or enemy soldiers looks to disembowel you, so risk vs reward is a huge part of this section of the adventure. The third act is saving the princess and escaping enemy territory. There is a bit of a plot twist here, but nothing super shocking or “Vince Russo-Esque.” If players can abscond back to the country that hired them, riches, fame and reward await them. If they can’t…well, they will probably die horribly.

The adventure feels a bit short and is not something you want to give to a new or inexperienced C&C Keeper, but it is a very fun one. There are many ways to tackle this adventure. We’ve already covered stealth and straight forward combat, but you’d be surprised how good the gift of gab can come in with this adventure. A highly charismatic PC with some lucky rolls could actually make it so the adventures have to do little if any of the messier side of A Shattered Night. Players will also walk away from this adventure with some potential new allies and/or various enemies who will be seeking revenge on them soon. With several dangling plot threads in this piece, an enterprising Keeper can definitely spin this off in several different ways.

Besides the adventure in its own right, A Shattered Night also gives us a slight preview of the upcoming Codex Germania, which should delight fans of Codex Celtarum and Codex Nordica. There are also six new monsters provided in the back of this adventure ranging from a shape-shifting cat demon that can shoot vampiric butterflies out of its mouth to a two headed hell hound. All of these monsters are fine additions to the Castles & Crusades rogue’s gallery.

In all A Shattered Night is fine adventure. You don’t have to be familiar with any of the previous F series adventures to understand or enjoy this one. It works just fine as a standalone or as part of a continuing campaign utilizing the full series. About the only real complaint I have about the piece is the territorial map on page seven is exceptionally blurry and you can’t really make out the words on it. This is a very minor issue though. Other than that this adventure is a short affair that should keep you and your friends busy for a session or two. It’s not the most memorable Castles & Crusades adventure, but it is an entertaining one, that you will definitely get your money’s worth out of.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades F5 A Shattered Night
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Storyteller's Thesaurus
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/09/2014 23:19:16
This book is not exactly a "thesaurus," although it resembles one since it presents lists of related words. In a typical thesaurus, you look up a word and get a list of its synonyms. For example, if I look up "musical" in the thesaurus installed on my computer, I get "tuneful, melodic, melodious, harmonious," and other things like that. Not so for the Storyteller's Thesaurus, which instead offers lists of words that belong together in a meaningful category. Look up "Musical" in the Storyteller's Thesaurus, and you'll find it under "Occupations" in the "Character Building" chapter. The list includes "bassist," "cellist," "flutist," "organist," and so forth, which obviously are not synonyms but are all examples of specific musical occupations.

Understanding the difference between the Storyteller's Thesaurus and an ordinary thesaurus is critical for using the book responsibly. The authors explain in the introduction that the book is intended to help writers avoid clichés, overcome writer's block, and defeat other such impediments to writing. The Storyteller's Thesaurus helps to spark your imagination when you're coming up empty. Reading the introductory chapter and taking its advice—especially its advice on research—is absolutely crucial, lest you end up thinking that a hippocampus is the same thing as a hypothalamus. Make sure you have, at the very least, a good dictionary handy as a companion volume.

The book is huge. It has 141 pages of content plus a alphabetical index that runs for 401 pages. No, really—the index is 401 pages long. But it’s an amazingly useful resource for those times when you can't remember whether "Cape Cod" is an architectural style or a component of Aquaman's uniform.

Production values could have stood greater attention. The occasional formatting inconsistencies usually don't affect the book's usefulness, but they can be a little confusing. For example, in the list of phobias, the first six phobia names are set in a serif tytpeface, and the rest in a sans serif face. Also, that two-column list spans three pages—with the first column running all the way down to the third page, then wrapping back to the first page to start the second column, which is a bizarre way to format columnar text over multiple pages.

The PDF is thoroughly and helpfully bookmarked, but the capitalization is inconsistent in the bookmarks, which is both ugly to the eye and confusing as one tries to sort out whether that's just a mistake or whether there's semantic value to the (lack of) capitalization. Some of the bookmarks point to the header text, while other bookmarks are duplicated various places in the outline—that is, the same text but leading to different pages. The bookmarks almost seem to have been auto-generated by software rather than by a human being.

There are some errors or oddities in the book, too. For example, the city of Ur is listed under "Sites Lost or Unproven to Exist," which would surprise Sir Leonard Woolley, who famously excavated the city. In the same list, "Ghenna" appears to be a misspelling for "Gehenna" (which is also a known place, the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, although it has been mythicized in popular imagination). The "Books of the Bible" list fails to distinguish between Jewish Bibles and Christian Bibles, and between Protestant Bibles and Roman Catholic Bibles. All of this underscores the importance of following the introduction's advice about research.

Appendix A's list of commonly confused words is well-intentioned and very welcome, but too short, and its selectivity might leave one scratching one's head. For example, the list includes "your/you're," "their/there/they're," and "to/too/two," but not "its/it's." Appendix B's list of proverbs is fun to browse, but again is formatted in two parallel columns that don’t wrap until the fifth page.

I recommend taking a good look at the "full preview" before buying this volume. That will help you make a good decision about whether the book is for you. If you follow the advice in the introduction about how to use the book, you should find that the Storyteller's Thesaurus sparks many useful ideas. If you ignore that advice and use the book ham-fistedly, you'll end up embarrassing yourself.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Storyteller's Thesaurus
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Castles & Crusades Castle Keepers Guide
by David H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/24/2014 17:07:07
I am a huge fan of this book, it does a great job of kindling the creative fires and leaving room for a Castle Keeper to build his own campaign with the tools it provides. With each iteration the layout of the book improves and makes it easier to use at the table.
It reminds me of the olden days when my friends and I would sit around the kitchen table and spin yarns off the top of our heads using randomly generated maps. This book captures the feel of the older editions of the first fantasy rpg, but addresses some of the faults in its design.

Thanks Troll Lords keep the good work coming.

David Henley

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Castle Keepers Guide
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Castles & Crusades Players Guide to the Haunted Highlands
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/18/2014 08:08:39
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/02/18/tabletop-review-castles-
-crusades-players-guide-to-the-haunted-highlands/

This book, along with the Castle Keeper’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands were both funded through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign. Although originally planned to be a 76 book, the stretch goals ballooned the content out another forty pages. I’m generally pretty enthused about Castles & Crusades releases, especially products like the Codex Celtarum or The Book of Familars, but I’ve never really been a big fan of “Haunted Highlands” themed products. Case in point, The Free City of Eskadia was one of the driest and dullest RPG books I’ve ever read and it had a lot of errors in the PDF version that I hope didn’t make it through to the physical one. The bad news is that the book isn’t as good as a lot of recent Castles & Crusades products, but then the system has really been on a roll lately, so it’s no surprise that the quality had to dip had some point. The good news is that the Player’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands is a lot better than The Free City of Eskadia and it contains nearly everything you need to play a game of Castles & Crusades – all for a few bucks less than the normal Player’s Handbook. That’s a pretty nice deal when you think about it.

Unfortunately what is missing from the Player’s Guide that is in the Player’s Handbook are the core character classes. This is odd because the book gives all the other rules for character creation including a lengthy explanation of the rules, generating attributes, how to play out combat, race descriptions and more. In fact a good portion of the book of superfluous if you already own the Player’s Handbook and because the character creation rules are only partially in the Player’s Guide to the Haunted Highland, you still need the Handbook to make a character. This just seems like a really strange decision layout, editing and content wise. In fact if you added up all the pages that rehash what is already in the Player’s Handbook, you get those forty or so extra pages that were unlocked by stretch goals. It’s a shame those pages weren’t devoted to the campaign setting instead as that would have made the book more useful and less repetitive. Did we really need to go over what classes are best to dual class with or how the SEIGE Engine system works? If you buy The Player’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands,, you probably already no these things and also already own the core rulebooks. Wasted pages and wasted trees all around here.

The actual content on the Haunted Highlands itself is both weak and sparse. Only the first two chapters, roughly thirty-five pages are actually about the campaign setting itself. Even then only about fifteen pages (8-23) actually talk about the Highlands themselves. That’s less than half the first two chapters and a tenth of the entire book itself! The rest are devoted to twelve pages of gods and fiends, a table of contents, the OGL page, a page of Kickstarter backers, legal mumbo jumbo and a lot of introduction padding. This was a real disappointment to see locations only got a single paragraph of description. There is so little detail and content about the actual Haunted Highlands themselves, I don’t see why we needed two books on the campaign setting. The Player’s Guide is just exceptionally weak if you’re looking for flavor and an in-depth discussion on the region, its people and important locations within it. As mentioned earlier the book devoted a full chapter to rehashes character creation and combat rules for the Player’s Handbook, which is space that both could have and SHOULD HAVE been used to really flesh the actual campaign setting out more. Again, this was such a disappointment and I’m left thinking how much better (and cheaper) for the player things could have been if this was stripped of the actual relevant material and put together with the Castle Keeper’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands and just made into a single book.

Now that isn’t to say that The Player’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands is a complete letdown. There are some worthwhile bits of information and ideas within this book. While the chapter on Races is pretty uninspired and cookie-cutter, it was nice to see stats for playing a goblin, hobgoblin, full blooded orc, Underdark rip-off races and more. Hey, at some point someone is going to want to play one of those. It’s nice to have C&C stats for playing one, including racial advantages and attribute modifiers. I also really like the complete remaking of the Assassin class. While both the original and the Haunted Highlands version of the Assassin have their benefits, I think people will find this new version which is not based on the old AD&D 1e one to really bring something new to the character class and it is perhaps the highlight of the book. Another new class is the Conjurer which is a bit too Final Fantasy Red Mage for my liking. They cast both Cleric and Mage spells and use Charisma in the same way a 3e Sorcerer does. It’s a bit cheesy, but some people will enjoy the option.

Besides full character classes, the book also offers class kits ala the old AD&D Second Edition “Complete Handbooks.” You have a Necromancer template, a Witch template, two monk variants, more than half a dozen Paladin kits and so on. While these are all neat ideas, they really don’t flesh out the Haunted Highlands as a location. There are some very interesting ideas here, but instead of laid out like 2e kits, these should have been done in the style of Advantages, which were introduced in The Book of Familiars. We’re getting way too many different optional ways of customizing a character without any actual uniformity and that’s going to bog down Castles & Crusades far more than it helps it.

The rest of the Player’s Guide is all about magic. You get almost thirty pages of magic based content, ranging from new rules for sacrificial magic to well over 100 new spells for your Castles & Crusades campaign. Granted some of these spells were published long ago, but those books are out of print and have been for some time, so these spells are more than likely new to you unless you are a veteran C&C player with a large collection of books. The spells areorganized not in alphabetical order or by spellcasting level, nor even spell class. Instead they are grouped by the mage who invented the spells or by the god who grants access to them. This is a very odd way of doing things and it makes looking up a spell harder than it should be, but at least there’s a ton of new content here – even if none of it is truly specific to a Haunted Highlands campaign.

So overall, I’m disappointed with both the quality and the content of the Player’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands. There’s very little content that actual pertains to the locations and/or campaign setting. Character creation variants and spells are nice, but I just can’t see why this was divided into two books, or why the spells and character classes weren’t just put into a supplement with all the repeat content from the Player’s Handbook excised out. While the book has a nice price point of only thirteen dollars and some fun ideas, it seems to be one of those books that serves no real purpose nor fills any specific need C&C gamers were clamoring for. My advice is to stay away from this one. If you’re curious about the Haunted Highlands campaign setting, just get the Castle Keeper’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands if anything. So far, between this and The Free City of Eskadia, the Haunted Highlands has been one of the lowlights for C&C rather than one of the highlights - at least for me.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Players Guide to the Haunted Highlands
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Castles & Crusades Book Of Familiars
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/28/2014 06:25:15
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/28/tabletop-review-castles-
-crusades-the-book-of-familiars/

I really love how creative Troll Lord Games is with their Castles & Crusades line. A lot of retro-clone publishers put out content that sticks heavily to OD&D or First Edition AD&D with very little original thought or creativity. It’s just a giant mega dungeon or a generic hack and slash adventure. If you’ve been reading my Castles & Crusades reviews since I started doing them, then you know this certainly isn’t the case with this system. Perhaps no book highlights how outside the box Castles and Crusades is willing to go than The Book of Familiars. It takes a rarely utilized concept that 95% of all Wizard players tend to forget even exists after they take it, blows up the concept to where it fills an entire sourcebook and makes it apply to all character classes! This is an amazing idea, and it can really be a game changer. Even if it’s something you would never use in your own personal tabletop game, the concept is intriguing enough to read about, as you’ll walk away with a very different outlook on familiars and role-playing in general.

To be clear, The Book of Familars is not just about familiars. It also includes a good deal of information about animal companions and how the two differ. I know I see a lot of gamers run their animal companion like a familiar and vice versa, even though they are two very different concepts and the creatures in question have extremely different thought processes and intelligence ratings. Thankfully, The Book of Familars goes out of its way to compare and contrast these two different ideas and still give lots of ways each class can use either a familiar or animal companion. I loved this. Instead of getting one core, but rarely thought of, concept fleshed out, we actually get two for the price of one. How is that not awesome?

In addition to extensive familiar coverage, The Book of Familars also introduces a new concept in Advantages. These are similar to feats from D&D 3e/Pathfinder in that you get them every few levels. However, when you get them depends on the level of power and/or challenge the Castle Keeper has in their campaign. There is a suggested guide to when characters get Advantages, but it isn’t set in stone. Advantages differ from Feats in that they are more of a class ability rather than something you roll dice for. Almost all of them are passive bonuses that permanently affect your character. As well, Advantages can be purchased with experience points, and in some rare occasions, gold. Due to the nature of The Book of Familars, most of the Advantages contained therein revolve around enhancing your familiar or giving classes outside the Wizard a chance to have one of their own. Not all are familiar or animal companion based, but nearly all are. Whether or not Advantages are fleshed out in further books is something we will have to wait and see, although honestly, the idea in and of itself probably deserves its own sourcebook instead of being found piecemeal throughout multiple books ala prestige classes and feats in D&D 3.0 style systems.

Once the Advantages chapter is done, you have twelve chapters on familiars – one for each character class in Castles & Crusades. Each chapter talks about how its class can get a familiar and/or an animal companion and why they would do so. An Assassin might channel a reaper spirit, a cleric might be given their familiar as a gift from their deity, a fighter might get one as a reward for completing a special quest and so on. The type of familiars and their special abilities will differ based on character class as well. Some classes might not even have an animal based familiar. A Paladin could end up with a holy spirit, a Bard with a muse or a Druid could get an elemental as their familiar. Each chapter really takes the generic idea of a familiar and fleshes it out so that it becomes tailored to a specific class. Fighters can even get an intelligent weapon as their familiar! This is a really great read, and I think anyone who runs a fantasy RPG, even if it is not C&C compatible, should pick up this book just to take in the excellent ideas presented here. Kind of like how I feel even non Shadowrun fans should pick up a Shadowrun Missions adventure to see the excellent layout and flow of those pieces.

After you get through the specific chapters on class based familiars and animal companions, you still have a full fourth of the book left. What’s in it? Four different appendices – one for familiars, one for new monsters, one for new spells and one for new magic items/artifacts. For those of you who love stats and mechanics, you’ll have a blast looking through all four of these sections. Now remember, all the bits in these appendices are familiar oriented. This is The Book of Familiars after all.

So as you can tell, I really loved The Book of Familiars. It’s such a great idea. Innovative and outside the box yet such an obvious choice for a sourcebook that I can’t believe it hasn’t been done before now. I loved see all the options, from a Koala familiar to over a dozen homunculi. Surprisingly though, there wasn’t an option for a rabbit or a hare. That would be only tiny minor complaint about the book. I mean giraffes and walrus familiars but no bunnies? Still, everything in this book is fantastic from cover to cover and I just really love seeing fresh new ideas like this come to life. Whether you want an in-depth look at what exactly a Paladin’s Mount is, or just a ton of fun new abilities and tables for your standard familiar, The Book of Familiars has it all. Again, even if you never plan on letting Rogues or Barbarians have familiars, the concepts and ideas presented in this book are well worth reading and taking note of, because they’re so well done. This is definitely one of those sourcebooks that is as fun to read as it is to implement. Between this and the upcoming Haunted Highlands and Codex Nordica books, 2014 is shaping up to be an awesome year for any Castles & Crusades fan.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Book Of Familiars
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Castles & Crusades Tome of the Unclean
by Andrew G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/08/2013 17:51:54
The folks at Troll Lord have done a fine job of converting the classic AD&D devils and demons to the Castles & Crusades system so far. It's an odd release since you are buying it as a subscription as they turn out the entries (generally in groups of three to four monsters at a pop). They claim they are doing updates every 2 weeks but that is a rather optimistic estimate.

Generally speaking, you will see additional entries every 3-4 weeks but if you don't need every demon and/or devil RIGHT now, this is a worthwhile purchase.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Tome of the Unclean
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Storyteller's Thesaurus
by VP401533 K. H. L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/11/2013 00:38:21
This is good resource and supplement for anyone who wishes to write a story or an adventure. It contains very good descriptive words for various objects, people, events, terrains, etc.

The idea is good (and I am going to borrow it to increase my repository of words) but the content is thread-thin. Index starts from page 150 to 551.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Storyteller's Thesaurus
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Castles & Crusades Tome of the Unclean
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/17/2013 10:53:17
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/17/tabletop-review-tome-of-
-the-unclean-castles-crusades/

Tome of the Unclean is the latest release from Troll Lord Games for its Castles & Crusades system. This is the oddest release yet as it’s being made available even though the book is nowhere near finished. Instead, Troll Lord is trying out an installment plan option, something I’ve never seen a RPG publisher try before. It’s similar to episodic content for video games, in that you pay a lump sum up front and then will be given regular updates with new content. In this case the PDF will be automatically updated over at Drivethrurpg.com or RPGNow.com whenever new content is added. Updates should be every two to three weeks and there should be two to three monsters with each update. If you prefer to wait for the finished version, you can, but the PDF will cost five dollars more and the physical version of the book will be twice what you pay for the installment version of the PDF. I decided to go the installment route since it’s such an odd but intriguing concept and I wanted to see how things would go down. I have no idea what the eventual final page count (It is expected to be roughly 100 pages) will be or how the book will turn out quality-wise, but at least it will be an interesting journey, right?

Tome of the Unclean will be focusing on demons and devils. Yes there is a difference in most fantasy games. This first installment looks at three creatures: two demons and a devil and it clocks in at nine pages. Of course, two of those pages are the front and back cover and another two pages are devoted to the Open Game License and cover page. That means you get five pages of content for your ten dollars. Sounds crazy expensive, right? Well it is right now, but with each installment, you’ll more than likely start to get your money’s worth.

Tome of the Unclean currently provides a half page definition for devils and demons for Castles and Crusades. As a retro-clone, it is very similar to the old Dungeons & Dragons hierarchy for both. In this first installment you’ll get the classic Balor and a Glabrezu for the demons and Beelzebub for the devils. All three denizens of the Hells are written up nicely and are accompanied by an excellent illustration. This is a very nice start to what looks to be an incredible book and I’m really hoping that the remaining updates will be as great as the first impression. Speaking of art, though, the cover for Tome of the Unclean is just amazing. It’s one of the better fantasy pieces I’ve seen this year and Jason Walton deserves a special shout out for his work here (He also did the interior illustrations for this installment).

I definitely think that if you are a Castles & Crusades fan, you should go for the installment version of Tome of the Unclean. Not only will you get the book for far cheaper than you would otherwise, you’ll be privy to the editorial and writing process by seeing changes occur and new content being added with each update. Tome of the Unclean certainly is going to prove to be an entertaining and unique experience for tabletop gaming fans, even if the book doesn’t manage to stay as impressive as this first update. I know I’m excited to see this blend of classic D&D denizens of darkness with a new way of releasing a manual. Here’s hoping Troll Lord Games can keep the regular updates coming.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Tome of the Unclean
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Castles & Crusades Beneath the Dome
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/10/2013 11:01:25
This is a fascinating 'semi-campaign' of a dungeon crawl accomplished in four stages. There is an underlying backstory about what is actually going on, and at intervals the trouble flares up and the local leadership hire adventurers to deal with it. In between times, the party had better go off and do something else to pile on the levels, for they will surely need them as the adventures progresses!

The first section can be handled by smart and capable adventures of low level (1st-5th). The moon has gone a funny shade of green and the better part of a whole village's inhabitants were dragged off screaming in the middle of the night. Something must be done - and the characters are hired to do it. The trail leads to a cave at the foot of a mountain...

There's a neat trick here. The 'Bad Guys' do not just sit and wait for adventurers to come by, they are getting on with their own thing. So as the adventure requires the characters to return to the same dungeon over and over again, it will not be the same - for a start the damage they did the last time may have been repaired, and other developments will have taken place. To accommodate this, descriptions are coded so that the Castle Keeper can amend his account of what the characters find where depending on which stage they are in the overall adventure.

Phase 2 of the adventure is aimed at characters of 4th-7th level, and it is best if some time elapses after the first part of the adventure before you spring this on them. This time the moon has gone a reddish colour and the local ruler's castle is attacked by creatures coming through a magic portal. The adventures are tasked with finding out where they came from by braving the portal...

Assuming they survive this and get to about 10th level, they will be ready for the third part. The characters are sent to explore that complex under the mountain thoroughly and make sure nothing nasty remains. This time it is the mountain itself which has gone a funny colour, purple this time...

The final part is a tough combat-oriented 'crawl for characters over 10th level. That mountain is now a volcano, and the world is that a massive attack is to be mounting on the ruler's castle at the full moon. Given that they've barely survived the last couple of attacks it is up to the party to stop this invasion in its tracks.

Throughout, the dungeon is jam-packed with things to see, things to discover, things to fight... and things to take. It's an epic sequence that will leave those who survive feeling that they have accomplished something - and they will rightly be hailed as heroes!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Beneath the Dome
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Giant's Rapture
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/29/2013 12:19:48
A classic adventure in three parts - which can be run stand-alone or as a sequence - this involves a journey, danger, thrills and high emotions. And a princess. Gotta have a one of them!

The background is deep and intense, supplying not just a backdrop to this adventure but - should you so wish - a situation that you can mine for more adventure ideas if not whole campaigns. Advice is given on how to weave this into the start of the adventure, and how to have characters that are suitable for the mission as no pre-generated ones are provided (this was originally written as a convention adventure and probably had them).

Much of the adventure involves overland travel, and you can make as much or as little of it as you want, depending on player interest and the time available. Each portion of travel is well-resourced for those who want to make the actual journey itself an integral part of their adventure, and it is supported by some rather nice maps. One point to be emphasised is the 'ordinary' drovers who accompany the party on their journey - no adventurers these, but ordinary men and women who enjoy a song around the campfire and get scared when monsters attack! As well as contributing to the adventure itself, this highlights just how special the player-characters are within the world - a nice touch.

The challenges to be faced include keeping the mission secret from prying eyes, a fine set of puzzile-challenges to be completed, bandits, coping with accidents along the way and the weather as well as whatever wandering monsters you choose to include.. and rather a lot of giants! It's left pretty flexible as to how much of the journey apart from set-piece encounters you want to actually play out.

The whole sequence is full of neat twists and turns and builds into a coherent adventure: it's the sort of story you could well imagine as a movie. Those who complete it successfully will get a real feeling of achievement (as well as some more tangible rewards) and will likely have songs written about them. A classic adventure, well written and presented.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Giant's Rapture
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