Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/09/26/tabletop-review-castles-
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!