Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/09/19/tabeltop-review-castles-crusades-players-handbook-fifth-edition/
I give a lot of love to Castles & Crusades. In the past year alone I’ve reviewed eight products from this line with the newest edition of the Player’s Handbook being the ninth. I love the system and have since I purchased the first edition hardcover Player’s Handbook back in 2004. I even picked up the Kindle version of Fourth Edition to support the line. However, when Troll Lords ran a Kickstarter for Fifth Edition, I decided to pass. I didn’t really need a third copy of the book and I knew I’d be getting a review copy of the PDF. I have to admit though, the Kickstarter offered some amazing deals and the 223 people who partook in it got more than their money’s worth.
The biggest change to the book is that it is now in full colour with some great new artwork by Peter Bradley and others. Other than that, the game is almost exactly the same as it has been since first edition. Even the layout and flow of the book is almost exactly the same. There are 146 pages in 5e compared to 128 in 1e, but most of the extra pages are in spell descriptions and then little bits and pieces added here and there like the new optional rules. Basically if you already have an earlier version of the book, you don’t need to get this unless you just want the new snazzy colour artwork.
If you’ve never played Castles & Crusades, it’s one of the oldest “Old School Renaissance” style Dungeons & Dragons clone. It’s a mix of first, second and third edition rules with some unique twists all its own. Still, if you’ve played a TSR version of D&D, you’ll probably be able to jump into C&C with nary a hiccup. Troll Lord calls it their “Siege Engine,” but really it’s the same Gygaxian product you’ve known and loved most of your life. It’s my personal favorite OSR game and honestly, I embraced it all the harder when Wizards released…ick, Fourth Edition D&D.
You have seven races (Human, Halfling, Half-Orc, Half-Elf, Dwarf, Gnome and Elf) and thirteen classes (Fighter, Barbarian, Paladin, Knight, Ranger, Wizard, Illusionist, Cleric, Druid, Thief, Assassin, Bard & Monk). All are your basic D&D classes except for Knight which similar to the Cavalier from Unearthed Arcana. I do tend to play the Knight or Assassin in C&C. They’re a lot of fun.
The biggest difference between C&C and OD&D is probably the concept of primary and secondary attributes. In D&D attributes picked what class you could be and whether you got bonus experience or not. In C&C primary attributes give you a modifier to any skill checks (straight out of third edition D&D) that you have to make. Humans get three primary attributes while all other races get two. It’s not a huge difference, but as many gamers will tell you, a 1 or even a 2 can make all the difference in an important roll.
The book is primarily about making characters as you would guess from the name.116 pages of the book are devoted to character creation, along with an explanation if stats, races, classes, spells and weapons. The rest of the book is primarily for the Castle Keeper or DM, although any C&C fan can (and should!) read it. There’s a lot of information about combat here. For those that are interested, C&C does use Third Edition D&D style combat rolls rather than the old school THACO. Honestly, C&C is very much a D&D clone, so if you’ve played first, second or third edition from that series, you should be able to pick up the mechanics of C&C without missing a beat.
Appendix A in this Fifth Edition has some new things that weren’t in the original game. These includes multi-classing (taking two different classes like say, Cleric and Paladin) or “Class and a Half.” Multi-classing rules aren’t new to D&D gamers, but it was something that wasn’t in the first few editions of C&C. Multi-classing actually does its own thing rather than following any previous D&D or AD&D rules. Here when a C&C character levels up he gains a level in both classes. However to gain a level, the character has to have all the experience needed from both classes plus a little extra. So things are slow going here if you want to multi-classing. There’s no 5th Level Fighter/2nd Level Wizard things going on here. As well, demi-humans can only take up to two classes and humans up to three. These are some interesting choices and I’m not sure how many people would choose to multi-class in this situation unless the ENTIRE PARTY is multiclassing. Otherwise you’ll be left behind big time.
Class and a Half is the really weird one though. A player picks a primary class and then a supporting class. Basically it is the same as multi-classing, but the secondary class only goes up every two levels. So a Fighter/Mage in this case would start off as a Level 1 Fighter. Then when he has enough experience, he would become a Level 2 Fighter/Level 1 Wizard. Then it would be a Level 3 Fighter/Level 1 Wizard and then a Level 4 Fighter/Level 2 Wizard, It’s not very complicated, but you do have to pay VERY close attention to your experience points to make this work. Again, I’d stick to a single class, especially since C&C is very hack and slash combat oriented.
Overall, this is the same exact Castles & Crusades its fans have always loved, albeit it with some minor tweaks here and there and so new gorgeous full color art. I’m a huge fan of the system and can definitely recommend it to any fantasy gaming fan (although not necessarily the published adventures). If you already own a previous version of the Player’s Handbook, it’s probably not worth getting this unless you just want the art. As well, $21 for the PDF is a bit pricey compared to other games, especially when you realize that you could get a physical copy of the book for only ten dollars more (or roughly the same price if you purchased the hardcover book via the Kickstarter campaign!) If you don’ have a Player’s Handbook though, this Fifth Edition is definitely the way to go. Castles & Crusades has never looked better (or more colourful!) and it’s hands down the best version so far. That said, you can find older versions for a lot less, but no matter what edition of the PH you pick up, you should definitely pick up SOME version of Castles and Crusades if you’re an old school D&D fan, or a fan of fantasy RPGs in general.