TTRPG systems – Castles and Crusades

Following on from my post on Beyond OGL, I’m going to explore some of the alternative systems out there, with a view to finding one or more potential alternative systems for my gaming and development.

This post looks at Castles and Crusades, from Troll Lord Games. This is currently published under OGL 1.0a, but they are part of ORC.

As I said in the previous post, I am just looking at systems suitable for fantasy role-playing. I know there are other sorts of story out there, but my passion came from the original D&D Mentzer boxed sets in the 80s, and the associated Mystara gazetteers which developed that world. That’s the world I like to tell my stories in, that’s the world I “get” intuitively, and so that’s the world I want to continue to play in, and that means fantasy.

Disclaimer: I haven’t had the chance to play in this system yet, and I don’t know how much opportunity I will get to actually try it out in anger. So this review is based on a read-through.

Overview

  • Style: Gritty fantasy
  • Attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma
  • Classes: Assassin, Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Illusionist, Knight, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Wizard
  • Ancestries (“Races”): Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Half-elf, Halfling, Half-orc, Human
  • Ability checks: d20 + modifiers, 2-3 primary abilities
  • Combat: d20 + modifiers against AC
  • Price of entry: Free: Players Handbook and Monsters and Treasure currently free and appear sufficient, Castle Keeper’s Guide $19.99.
  • Licence: OGL 1.0a
  • Third-party market: 406 items on DriveThruRPG (as of 21-Jan-2023)
  • Third-party licence: Custom and free – see their web site

Getting started

Troll Lord Games made an older PDF version of The Players Handbook available for free at the start of Covid-19 lockdown, and it’s still available (the only changes are apparently cosmetic). It advertises itself as follows:

With Iron Heel the World Grinds Away

Plunge into worlds of fantastic adventure where dragons lie and the undead stalk the shades of your mind’s imaginings, where creatures of legend plunder wealth through the horror of their passage. Monsters grim and foul taunt with the ecstasy of gold and glory. Upon the heels of these foes stalk heroes of great might; those who take up sword and shield, who harness eldritch might, those who traverse the narrow corridors in search of sport and those who serve a purpose greater than all the others: Heroes, Freebooters, Mercenaries, and Adventurers.

A Game That is Yours to Command

Castles & Crusades is a fantasy role playing game with countless possibilities. The Players Handbook allows you take up the sword and shield, the staff or bow; to arm yourself as you desire and wander upon planes of your own imagination to reap the harvest of adventure.

Designed for use with multiple players, Castles & Crusades puts you in charge of the adventure path. Included within are all the rules of play, how to get started in your very own role playing game, how to run the game and play in it.

It’s easy to learn attribute-based rules system allows players to choose among 13 archetypal character classes and 7 races to with which create their characters. Spells, equipment, fast-paced combat rules, and all essential information needed to play a game of Castles & Crusades are in this book.

Troll Lord Games web site, retrieved 21-Jan-2023

Similarly an older version of The Monsters and Treasure GM’s manual is also available for free. This advertises itself as follows:

Beyond The Walls

Beyond the walls of your safekeeping lie untold stories, tales of heroes, tales of glory. There, just beyond the battlements and the safety of stone walls, they lurk. Beneath the darkened folds of night’s cold grasp, where the wind sweeps, and the sun shines, there lie the iron of your renown: monsters. Creatures of terrible wrath, or beasts of legend, these are all the minstrels fare. Dragons, giants, orcs, foul minded fey, the dreaded hydra, all lurk on the far side of safety’s walls.

Beyond the walls lie monsters and the terror of them promises wreck and ruin, or, for a lucky few, riches in treasure, magic hard won and a glory that echoes for an eternity in song and poem.

What Lies Herein

Contained within this book is a wealth of information for the Castle Keeper: 205 monsters, advice on role playing monsters, handling combat with monsters, creating monsters, 200 unique treasures, rules for awarding treasures and creating magic items.

Troll Lord Games web site, retrieved 21-Jan-2023

So, what is Castles and Crusades, and how does it compare to 5e?

First impression is that it is in a similar mould to classic Dungeons and Dragons. At time of writing it is published under the OGL 1.0a, although I think they are looking at migrating to a different licence. They say they welcome third-party publishers, and have their own free licence for publishing for C&C.

It’s a classic-style fantasy role-playing game which uses the full standard gamut of dice. The Games Master is called the Castle Keeper, and will need Castles and Crusades: Monsters and Treasure as well as the basic Players Handbook, and it recommends the Castles & Crusades: Castle Keeper’s Guide as well, though note there doesn’t seem to be a free version of this available.

Castles and Crusades Players Handbook image (c) Troll Lord Games
www.trolllord.com Used with permission

Character options

Attributes

Castles and Crusades uses the classic six ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma.

It uses the same bell curve modifier scale as BECMI:

  • 1 => -4
  • 2-3 => -3
  • 4-5 => -2
  • 6-8 => -1
  • 9-12 => 0
  • 13-15 => +1
  • 16-17 => +2
  • 18-19 => +3

There don’t seem to be any specific skills; rather, characters have primary and secondary attributes. One of these is determined by the class, and the other one or (for humans) two are a player’s choice.

Attribute checks are the standard d20 roll against a challenge class. The challenge class is based on 12 for primary attributes or 18 for secondary attributes, and the CK adds (or subtracts) a level modifier to (from) that.

Alignment is the classic 3×3 system of Lawful-Neutral-Chaotic and Good-Neutral-Evil.

They very much encourage you to choose a deity (or deities) for your character. It has very much been a part of society for millennia – think of the Greek pantheon of gods, or the Roman one. Think of the pagan deities and nature spirits. Obviously this is particularly important to religious characters like clerics, druids and paladins, but anyone can be inspired by a deity – think of Odin’s spear and Thor’s hammer for fighters. This is an interesting take which can be applied in any rule system.

Equipment – wow! There are 4 pages, with two columns per page, of different kinds of equipment, with separate tables for Helms,  Armaments and Shields. There are 72 separate melee weapons and 15 ranged weapons (not counting arrows, crossbow bolts or rocks). There’s transport and tack, three quarters of a column of clothing, and more than a whole page of miscellaneous other equipment – 112 items, including an awl, a set of bagpipes, a bag of dust, panpipes and soap. There’s also a surprisingly small (by comparison) but still useful selection of provisions and lodging, which includes price for lodging at poor, common and good inns, tavern meals – common and good, tea leaves, tobacco, ale, beer, wine, mead and liquor (by the cask or single shot).

But of course, it has to be carried. They do start with

The easiest manner to determine how much a character can carry is simply to imagine what is being carried and decide whether or not it makes sense to have that much equipment and how that potentially affects the character’s movement and ability to perform certain actions. Having a player describe where the many items being hauled are located on the character’s body and then have them imagine it should suffice to maintain control over the amount of material being carried and players eventually begin setting their own limits.

But if you want to get into detail, every item has a listed “encumbrance value” which encapsulates both the weight and awkwardness (some smaller items don’t count on their own, but start to count with an appreciable number, gaining one EV per ten items). Coins weight 1oz and have no appreciable EV in small amounts, but in larger numbers, they have 1 EV per ten pounds (160 coins).

A character’s Encumbrance Rating is based on their strength, with +3 (for each) if either or both of strength and constitution are prime attributes.

  • A character is unburdened up to their Encumbrance Rating
  • A character is burdened between 1 and 3 times their ER; this slows them down and impacts any Dexterity-based checks
  • A character is overburdened above 3 times their ER; they can only move a maximum of 5’ per round, automatically fail any Dexterity-based checks and lose any Dexterity bonuses to AC

Character classes

Castles and Crusades has 13 character classes, described as follows in the Players Handbook:

  • ASSASSINS are stealthy and cunning, expert killers who rarely have any motives beyond the collection of payment for a job well rendered. Although not always evil, they are typically utterly indifferent to any suffering and pain they may cause.
  • BARBARIANS live outside the civilized world. Neither ignorant nor savage, they are, rather, a people who relish freedom, actively despising the urbane for allowing the beliefs of society to codify their behaviour.
  • BARDS are found in all cultures and societies. Through song, oration and action they inspire, pass on knowledge of history and tradition and influence the beliefs and behavior of others.
  • CLERICS are spiritually bound to a deity. They are usually members of religious orders, though some choose to live as wandering hermits. They wield the magic of the divine and, fortified with the armaments of war, become powerful emissaries for their causes.
  • DRUIDS are called to a primeval spirituality. They turn to the world shaped by nature, and not men, for their guidance and wisdom. Often unconcerned with the needs of man, they simply follow the principles of the natural order.
  • FIGHTERS are brave warriors who take up arms to meet their foes in the crucible of battle. Fearless, they don themselves in the accoutrements of battle, relying upon their superior martial skills to overcome obstacles.
  • ILLUSIONISTS study the arcane and the nature of man and beast, using powers of oration and sorcery to twist the minds of  those around them. They conjure manifestations and dreams, making the unreal real to all but the canniest of observers.
  • KNIGHTS are members of warrior-castes. As born leaders, they use their social standing, charisma, gallant actions and honorable codes to set the tone of behavior for those around them. Through their actions, they often inspire people to great deeds.
  • MONKS are warriors who primarily rely upon the strength of their bodies and will power for survival. They are deadly combatants, having honed their bodies into lethal weapons.
  • PALADINS are the holiest of warriors, living lives of purity and good while serving the religious precepts of their deity. They are dreaded by their foes for they serve as the martial arm of religious justice.
  • RANGERS are a lonely breed, expert at surviving in the untrammeled places of the world and devoting themselves to protecting civilization from the depredations and incursions of creatures of evil intent.
  • ROGUES rapscallions and the like make their living through nefarious and occasionally dastardly deeds. Living on the ethical edge and spending much of their lives avoiding harsh justice, these fearless villains are found in all walks of life.
  • WIZARDS delve into the mysterious worlds of the arcane and wield magic like a weapon. They are often possessed of an overwhelming thirst for knowledge and, as often as not, power.

Classes specify the die used for rolling hit points, the prime attribute, suggested alignments, weapons and armour that the character can use, and special abilities, which may become available at different levels. Hit dice are rolled up to 10th level, and thereafter each level just brings a specific increment. Classes gain improved bonuses to hit at specific levels, which varies from class to class, and the amount of experience needed for the next level also varies from class to class. For example:

  • Assassins have a prime attribute of Dexterity, use a d6 for hit points up to level 10, followed by +2 per level, can be any non-good alignment, can use any weapon, and can use leather armour, leather coat or padded armour. They have special abilities of Case target, climb, death attack, disguise, hide, listen, move silently, poisons, sneak attack and traps. All of these are immediately available, although they cannot use both Hide and Move Silently together until level 3. They gain a bonus to hit at levels 2, 5, 8 and 11, and need 1751XP for level 2 and 150,000XP for every level above 12.
  • Barbarians have a prime attribute of Constitution, use a d12 for hit points up to level 10, followed by +5 per level, can be any alignment, and can use any weapon and any armour. They have special abilities of Combat sense, deerstalker (foraging off the land, nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes…), intimidate, primaeval instincts, whirlwind attack, primaeval will and ancestral calling. Intimidate scales at particular levels, whirlwind attack becomes available at level 4, Primaeval Will at level 6 and Ancestral Calling at level 10. They gain a bonus to hit every level from 2 to 12, and need 2101XP for level 2 and 200,000XP for every level above 12.

Ancestries

It has the following ancestries, which they call by the old term of Races: human, dwarf, elf, gnome, half-elf, halfling, and half-orc.

Races in C&C include quite a lot of racial determinism, even to the point where (for example) dwarves have Animosity to Elves, which results in a -2 penalty to Charisma checks with elves to whom they are not closely associated, and Enmity to Goblins and Orcs which gives a +1 bonus to hit them, and a -4 penalty to Charisma checks with half-orcs, goblins and orcs.

Races suggest typical classes, can specify modifiers to particular attributes, have particular speeds per round, and can affect particular class skills. Races also bring a particular set of languages and certain attributes.

For example:

  • Dwarves are small (3’6”-4’5”), have a base movement of 20’/round, are typically Fighters, Rogues, Barbarians, Clerics or Bards, gain a +1 to Constitution but suffer a -1 to Dexterity, and if a Rogue or Assassin, gain a +2 to Find Traps in structures. They have Animosity to Elves, Deepvision to 120’, can Determine Depth and Direction, have Enmity to Goblins and Orcs, have Defensive Expertise again Giants and Ogres, are Resistant to Arcane Magic, Fear and Poisons, have Stonecraft, and know Common, Dwarven, Gnome, Goblinoid, Halfling, Elven, Ogrish, Giant and Troll.
  • Half-orcs are medium (4’5”-6’9”), have a base movement of 30’/round, are typically Fighters, Rangers, Rogues, Assassins, Barbarians, Monks, Clerics or Knights, gain a +1 to both Constitution and Strength but suffer a -2 to Charisma, and if a Ranger, gain a +2 bonus to track. They have Darkvision to 60’ (not sure why it’s called Darkvision for a half-orc but Deepvision for a Dwarf – apart from the range it seems mechanically identical), Enhanced Smell, Martial Prowess and Resistance to Disease, and know Common, Goblin and Orc.

Magic

Magic follows the older style used in the boxed sets. Spell slots are where you store the spells you learn, so if you want to be able to cast a particular spell twice, you have to choose to learn it twice. This is less flexible than the 5e spell slots system where the spell slot is only used during casting, not during learning.

A character must have had 8 hours uninterrupted rest before being able to learn/prepare spells – each interruption adds an hour to the amount of rest required, and they must have been resting for the hour before they learn. It takes 15 minutes per spell to learn/prepare, which adds up very fast! For wizards and illusionists, there must be enough light for them to read their spellbook. For clerics and druids, there must be enough peace for meditation, and deities may limit the times when they can pray for and receive spells.

There are five types of spell component: the usual verbal, somatic and material, along with a focus or a divine focus. A focus is a material component that is not consumed. A divine focus is an item of spiritual significance.

To use a spell scroll, the caster must first cast “Read Magic” – they are not automatically legible in the way they are in 5e.

There are 0-level spells, but these are still limited in the number which the character can cast in a day – for example, a 1st level illusionist can only cast four 0-level spells per day. This differs from the 5e cantrips.

Combat


Castles and Crusades Monsters and Treasure image
(c) Troll Lord Games www.trolllord.com Used with permission

Combat rounds are deemed to last 10 seconds, so there are six rounds per minute.

Initiative is a simple d10 roll – there is no modifier on this roll from character attributes, although Dexterity is used to break tied rolls. The only exception is with creatures using weapons with more than 10’ reach against creatures with less than 6’ reach, or large creatures against medium or smaller creatures; in both these cases the greater size/reach gets to go first in the first round regardless of the initiative roll.

Movement is considered an action; you can only combine moving a maximum of half your movement with an attack. You can use full movement when charging, which increases the damage by 2 but gives you a -4 penalty on your armour class.

Attacks are based on a d20 plus the character or creature’s to-hit bonus, plus strength modifier (for melee) or dexterity modifier (for ranged). For a character, this depends on the class and level; for a creature this matches the number of their hit dice. The strength modifier is added to the damage of melee weapons and thrown ranged weapons, but not propelled weapons.

Ranged weapons also have a -2 penalty to hit between their range and twice their range, and a -6 penalty to hit between twice and three times their range. A ranged weapon that misses might hit someone standing behind the target – it continues to attack with an additional -1 penalty for every 10’ beyond the target.

C&C explicitly counts “subdual” damage (as in “damage inflicted with the aim of subduing the opponent”). For every five points of subdual damage, the creature takes one point of normal damage; otherwise subdual damage heals at a rate of 1hp/ten minutes.

Shields give a +1 bonus to AC but have a limit to the number of opponents they can affect. Helms protect against hits against the head (up to the Castle Keeper to determine whether this is the case); otherwise the head has a base AC of 10+DEX. Unless the armour includes a helm, the armour does not otherwise apply.

As well as basic attacks, they include suggestions for rules for a number of specific manoeuvres:

  • Charge: jog or run at least their full movement distance before the attack; gains +2 damage but suffers -4AC.
  • Dodge: +2 AC against up to 3 attacks in the direction they are facing from an attacker they can see – must announce before the round begins.
  • Evade: +4 AC against one opponent they are facing – must announce before the round begins, and cannot do anything else (even move).
  • Disengage: hasty disengagement is just fleeing at up to running speed, inflicts -2AC and gives any opponent a free attack. Fighting disengagement only moves up to half distance, but suffers no AC penalty and doesn’t give a free attack.
  • Disarm: an attack against AC+level/HD+Dex bonus. Only available to fighters, rangers, knights, rogues, assassins, clerics and paladins.
  • Grapple/Overbear: trying to pin the opponent and (in the case of overbear) knock them prone. Ignores armour bonuses – AC is treated as 18 for a defender with strength as primary, 12 otherwise, then modified with Strength, Dexterity and +2 for every size the defender is larger (-2 for every size smaller). The defender also adds their to-hit bonus to AC against an overbearing attack. Grappling prevents the opponent taking action. Overbearing knocks the opponent prone and does 1-2 points of subdual damage, and inflicts a -2 penalty to the attacker’s AC for the rest of the round.
  • Flank attack: an attack from side rear; gives +1 to the attack roll.
  • Rear attack: ann attack from the rear; gives +2 to the attack roll.
  • Touch attack: with a touch attack (for example a spell which requires touch) a standard base AC of 10 is used, before applying modifiers from dexterity and magic items or spells.

There is reference to a “called shot” in the Castle Keeper’s Guide, which suggests there are more options described there, but there isn’t a free version of that, so I’m not yet ready to shell out $20 for the PDF version.

Healing from normal damage occurs at 1hp/day for the first week, add the constitution bonus (if any) per day for the second week, doubles after 14 days and triples after 30 days.

When  0hp, the character or monster passes out. They recover consciousness in 1d6 hours, but move half speed and can’t do any strenuous or demanding action until they heal. If they are reduced below 0hp, they need 24 hours bed rest before they can even start healing, and magical healing only takes them to 0hp. Between -7 and -9 hp, they are bleeding out, and lose one hp per round unless aided (which takes one full round). At -10hp, they are dead.

Falling damage scales much faster than in D&D. The number of dice of damage increases by one for each 10’ fallen, and this is cumulative, e.g. for a 30’ fall, the number of dice rolled for the damage is 1d6+2d6+3d6 = 6d6. On the other hand, a successful Dexterity check avoids any damage for falling between 6’ and 10’.

Turning undead requires a wisdom check with a challenge level of the undead creature’s hit dice. It can only be applied to one type of undead per round, so if there is a mixed group of skeletons and zombies, the cleric must turn them individually. On a success, it affects 1d12 ordinary undead, 1d6 extraordinary undead (such as a wraith or ghost) or 1 unique undead (such as a vampire or lich). A cleric or paladin 5 or more levels higher than the undead being turned destroys them instead, and if 10 or more levels higher, automatically destroys the maximum.

Level progression

Experience is awarded for monsters defeated, magic items used (awarded to the character who possesses and uses the item, story (successfully completing the adventure) and potentially for good role playing. Awarding XP for non-magical treasure is optional, and is at the usual rate of 1XP/gp. Looking at the XP progression tables, it looks like they assume treasure is included; if you don’t you will need to ensure plenty of goal-based or story-based XP awards.

Once the character has earned enough XP for the next level, training takes a number of weeks equal to the new level – so for a 6th-level character to gain the benefits of level 7 takes 7 weeks of training.

Multiclassing is an optional rule, and can either be true multi-classing or “class and a half”. In both cases, it appears to be a base character decision from the start.

For true multiclassing, they gain a combination of the class abilities, their hit dice size is a cross-reference which roughly averages out, and their XP per level is the XP for the individual classes added together plus an additional per-level multiclassing XP requirement. For example, a barbarian needs 2100XP for level 2 and a bard needs 1500XP. A multiclass barbarian/bard would need 2100+1500+200 = 3800XP for level 2, at which point they would acquire the benefits of both level 2 barbarian and level 2 bard.

For class-and-a-half, level 1 of the supporting class is gained at level 2, and it gains a level only every second character level. There are various other rules and restrictions on how the secondary class abilities can be gained. XP needed is the principal class plus half the supporting class – so in the previous example of barbarian + bard, the character would require 2100 + 1500/2 = 2100+750 = 2850 XP for level 2, at which point they would gain the abilities of a level 2 barbarian and a level 1 bard.

Third-party creators

Troll Lord Games offer a free licence to creators wishing to publish for Castles and Creators.

The creator must sign the licence agreement and must include the C&C logo on their work, along with text saying it requires the C&C rules to be able to be used. The licence also requires that the work complies with all applicable laws and regulations, and preserves the “high standard and goodwill of the Licensed Articles”. The creator must provide 12 copies of anything published in order that TLG can review to ensure this.

The licence explicitly includes a cross-publicity clause, along with recognition that the two are independent.

The “preserve the high standards” clause could potentially be misused, since what would breach this is not defined, but is also the way TLG protects themselves against charges of being associated with pornography, discrimination and so on. In general this licence looks completely reasonable to me (though I am not a lawyer).

Currently (as of 21-Jan-2023) there are 406 items on DriveThruRPG for Castles and Crusades, including the core rulebooks, adventures, settings, and lists (such as 100 Bridges to find in a Dungeon).

Summary

This is an old-school style classic fantasy ruleset. Mechanics are pretty familiar, though there are plenty of tweaks which add to the realism – such as armour not affecting grappling or touch, shields only being able to affect a limited number of attackers, and falling damage dice being cumulative – but also add to the complexity.

It is definitely more gritty than 5e, with recovery of resources taking a lot more than a single night’s rest – only healing one hit point per day, spells taking 15 minutes per spell to regain – which would significantly impact adventures which span multiple days without obvious downtime. Magical healing becomes MUCH more important.

Another significant difference is having to choose in advance how many of each spell to learn, and each instance counting against the total learned, rather than the 5e spell slot system where learning just provides the selection, and it is the spell slots which are expended.

Progression is also old-school – different classes progress at different speeds, and treasure is one way of earning XP – and training costs a week per level, which adds up fast at higher levels. I’m in favour of training taking some time, because that then makes the party choose between levelling up and other options in town (my party have currently deferred going to level 3 because they have an important appointment with a potentially useful noble), but half a day training per level (a day and a half in this case) is sufficient to trigger a decision, where weeks would require the campaign to be put on hold to allow training. At which point it becomes just a handwave “three weeks pass” and there’s no meaningful dilemma I could put to my party without coming across as just obstructive – which is no fun for anyone.

I personally find 5e’s resource recovery and the way almost everyone has access to magic over the top, but I think I would find this swinging too far the other way. I do like the separation of learning from spell slots, and I have a slightly more gritty healing but not this far. At the moment, long-rest healing is (HD+CON)/2, e.g. a 4th-level cleric with CON 13 (+1) would roll 4d8, add 4 (for CON), then divide by two to find out how much they heal. So if they roll 3, 8, 5 and 6 (22), they would heal 26/2 = 13hp.

If you play Castles and Crusades, let me know what you think.

Troll Lord Games is a trade mark of Chenault Games LLC. Castles and Crusades and the Castles and Crusades logo are registered trade marks of Chenault & Gray LLC. Dungeons and Dragons is a registered trade mark of Wizards of the Coast.

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