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The Gamer's Codex

The Gamer’s Codex

Castles & Crusades: Players Handbook
From: Troll Lord Games
Reviewedby: Ron McClung

Castles & Crusades: Players Handbook is a new RPG Core Players Handbook from Troll Lord Games

Since the inception of the d20 OGL, there have been a plethora of d20 games, supplements, variances and retooled rule-sets.  Few have survived since 4th edition D&D arrived on the scene and d20 evolved into the Pathfinder flavor.  Castle & Crusades (C&C) has been one of the few with staying power.

One of the more impressive aspects of this year’s Free RPG Day was the amount of free full size books it contained.  One of those books was the Castles & Crusades Players Handbook.  I assume the intent was that the store owner would give whatever GM ran the C&C adventure in his store the Players Handbook to get familiar with the game system. I am impressed with the Troll Lords support of the Free RPG Day.

From the back cover:
“With iron heel the world grinds away”


The C&C system is a stripped down version of the base d20 system, with a little old school sensibility thrown in.  Skills and feats are thrown out in favor of a much more simple attribute check system called SIEGE engine.  Classes have class abilities and there are also some minor racial bonuses from abilities, but everything pretty much boils down to an attribute check.

There are several familiar trappings from the core d20 SRD (System Reference Document).  The same six attributes exist and they are calculated via the familiar 3d6 roll.  Each attribute determines a modifier ranging from -4 to +4, much like base d20.  However, the game divides attributes into Primary and Secondary.  Each character has multiples of each.  Humans have 3 attributes that are considered primary while the other races have 2.  Class ties closely into this, as one familiar with d20 would expect.  The class defines the 2 or 3 primary attributes the character gets and then the others are chosen.

Classes are significantly different from d20 classes.  There are 13 classes ranging from your basic Fighter, Barbarian, Ranger, Rogue, Monk and Paladin to your magic-using Wizard, Druid, Cleric, and Bards.  It also has Assassin, Illusionist and Knight.  Classes are structured a lot more simply.  They have a much more simplified class table and class abilities.  All class abilities are obtained up front and some change as the character progresses.  Each class has a subtly different experience progression – where a fighter would progress to level 2 with 2001 experience, the rogue progresses to level 2 at 1251 experience points.

As mentioned before, class abilities are obtained upon entering the class and some change as the character levels in the class.  These are fairly similar to the class abilities in d20 and also some d20 feats.  This means abilities actually do not go into effect until a certain level (ex.  Smite for a paladin does not go into effect until 9th level). It’s an interesting approach to the familiar book-diving to find out what effects you can do with your abilities.  Not sure if that is much of a change or simplification, however.

At the heart of the game is the SIEGE engine mechanic.  It is a means of resolving most any kind of challenge presented in game play.  This replaces skills all together in d20.  The key aspects of the roll are the related attribute, the character class level, and the difficulty class (renamed Challenge Class or CC) of the task.  In an attempt to make all rolls like the classic d20 combat roll (base attack +d20 vs. armor class) and unify the system, the SEIGE engine was born.  Saving throws, skill or attribute checks, and combat are all handled very similarly.

The SEIGE engine dictates a simple way of calculating the challenge class, using two simple numbers – the Challenge Base (CB) and the Challenge Level (CL).  The CB is either 12 or 18, depending on whether the governing attribute is primary or not.  The CL is the variable factor that the GM determines to increase or decrease the difficulty of the challenge.  Add all those together and you get your CC.

This is quite an elegant and simple system.  I went into detail about it just to illustrate just how simple it is.  It has a little old school feel as well as a little new.  My biggest concern for any system that has either unlimited skill access or like this one that has no skills at all, is that there is very little difference between the characters.  But this game creates the difference makers in the primary/secondary attributes and the SEIIGE engine system in general.  I can see that being enough for most people.

At the heart of any fantasy game setting is magic.  For a fantasy role-player, one of the first questions about the game will be about magic and how it is handled.  In many ways, magic is handled very similarly to magic in d20 D&D.  The 4 major magic users have their own spells-per-day tables.  Druids and Clerics are paired up and use the same table, while Wizards and Illusionists share a different table. Clerics and Druids must prepare their spells before hand through prayer, while Wizards and Illusionists have a spell book.  In C&C there are no sorcerers.

The spells make up a good portion of the book but nothing like the D&DPlayer’s Handbook.  Each magic using class has their own spell lists to choose from and there quite a few familiar spells in these lists for those familiar with d20 D&D spells.  It is a minor thing but they include something I wish more d20-based games would when it comes to spell lists.  In the basic spell lists, they include the page where the full description of the spell can be found.  Spells are perhaps one of the major causes of book diving during game sessions and a quicker way to look them up is always handy.

Combat is considerably stripped down from d20 D&D. Some simplifications make sense while others I question, but in the end it is a smoother and much quicker combat system.  It still has the tactical elements of classic d20 while eliminating a lot of the clunky stuff people stumble over when playing d20.  For example, there is no attack of opportunity, per se.  There are maneuvers that might call for a free attack but there is no need to remember what provokes an attack of opportunity or not.  I have always hated attack of opportunity, personally.

The appendix includes optional rules for mutli-classing.  Surprisingly that is not part of the core rules.  It is a little more complex than standard d20 multi-classing and I suppose that is why they made it optional.

From the back cover:
“A game that is yours to command”


The C&C Players Handbook is a smaller full-color book than one would expect but it contains only the basics for a player.  Unlike the formidable 370+ page Player’s Handbook for 3.5 D&D, C&C is much more condensed.  The first three chapters contain the basics of character creation including Attributes, Classes, Equipment, Magic and Spells. What is missing are Skills and Feats, which is explained above.

However, despite calling the book the Player’s Handbook, it also includes a short chapter on game-mastering the game.  A game master of C&C is called the Castle Keeper or CK, and this section gives general advice and rules on how to run a game of C&C  Most importantly, it gives a more complete and in-depth explanation of the SEIGE engine system as well as combat rules.

The book itself is a very attractive full-color tomb with brilliant art and nice layout.  Its size is almost perfect, not too big and not too small.  It contains everything you would need to at least start playing.  The only things missing are a few sample monsters to throw at your characters, which is why it is best that the CK consider the monster manual, called the C&C Monsters & Treasures book, as well as the Keeper’s Guide.

In conclusion, I really liked my first exposure to Castles & Crusades and look forward to trying it out at a con or game event.  I think it would take some getting used to for people familiar with d20 D&D or Pathfinder,  but I think it would be worth it to get a new perspective on things.

For more details on Troll Lord Games and their new RPG Core Players Handbook  “Castles & Crusades: Players Handbook” check them out at their website, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 16

Product Summary

Castles & Crusades: Players Handbook
From: Troll Lord Games
Type of Game: RPG Core Players Handbook
Written by: Davis Chenault, Mac Golden
Cover Art by: Peter Bradley
Additional Art by: Steve Chenault, Mark Sandy, Todd Gray, James M. Ward
Number of Pages: 144
Game Components Included: Core Players Handbook
Game Components Not Included: Setting book/DM’s book
Retail Price: $29.99(US)

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Free RPG DayTroll Lord Games

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About the author

Ron McClung (Ron McClung)

Gaming Coordinator for all MACE events. Former writer for and Scrye Magazine.

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