Sunday, February 26, 2017
Weekend R&R: Crypts & Things (Remastered)
While I tend to stick to Castles & Crusades for my 'D&D' experience, I have enjoyed Swords & Wizardry and view it a great reference and 'baseline' for me. As a publisher, I have supported both C&C and S&W in the past and will continue to do so this year. I also like much of the fine products produced by Lamentations of the Flame Princess for both the 'dark' and 'weird' content containing a very specific aesthetic. The one thing that C&C and S&W don't immediately give me right out of the gate is a 'stock' sword and sorcery feel. Don't get me wrong -- it's not hard to run a game with those elements in either system. But I have also come to find that that same 'D&D' experience has come to be its own genre.
Consider D&D for what it is for a moment. There's a lot of magic which employs a fire and forget system of magic which has multiple types of spell casting classes. When you look at the spell casters, you generally have two broad categories -- arcane and divine. Divine spell casters are primarily dominated by the Cleric class which are warrior priests of the gods casting spells but pretty handy to have in a fight and quick to cast healing spells so that the battle can continue. If you based this on they way that a lot of people play clerics, they are walking medics that can fight when they aren't healing companions and sometimes use their magic to help allies and hinder their enemies. There are other examples but this one serves to illustrate my point quite nicely and was the first that came to mind.
As someone who appreciates the fantasy written by the likes of Howard or Leiber, there are things presented in D&D (and the games derived and inspired from it) that don't immediately fit a swords and sorcery style. Crypts & Things, on the other hand, does and the newest version, even more so.
As a S&W variant, the changes employed are really nothing major if you consider them individually. Some of these things may be similar to house rules we all have seen or toyed with since the advent of D&D back in 1974. In this case, Crypts & Things incorporates a number of house rules which appeared on the Akratic Wizardry blog (HERE). But with all of these elements brought together in a rulebook, along with a complementary setting, readers are presented with an attractive package that should satisfy fans of the genre.
The system itself presents four core classes much like you would expect from a D&D derived system but with an appropriate setting 'shift'. You have the Barbarian, Fighter, Sorcerer, and Thief classes but you also have the inclusion of more 'exotic' classes which fit some sword and sorcery examples and were designed with the setting for Crypts & Things in mind. These include the Beast Hybrid, the Disciple, the Elementalist, the Lizard Man, and the Serpent Noble. Being sword and sorcery, there are no elves, dwarves, gnomes, or the like and the closest to non-human would be if you played (were permitted to play) a Beast Hybrid, a result of ancient experiments involving sorcery, or one of the Lizard People or Serpent Nobles. These exotic classes are not intended for PCs and should be considered very uncommon.
When creating the character, outside selecting the character class, everything else will be familiar to most gamers. The ability scores are ones most will recognize and are comprised of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. These are generated by rolling 3d6 for each. In addition to these are Luck and Skill scores. In fact these are another notable departure from 'standard D&D' as these replace the concept of Saving throws.
Luck is described in the book as "a measure of the Character's innate quality to avoid trouble, stumble across useful items, and have just the right thing happen at the right time. It is tested over the course of the adventure and decreases as the Character gets fatigues or injured. Eventually even the most Lucky Character will run out of Luck." In short, I *love* this approach. It is similar to a concept I toyed with some time ago (but never implemented) and reminds me a bit of Luck in my current Call of Cthulhu game. In this game, Luck is determined upon character creation and acts as a pool you use and roll against. The roll is made using 2d6 and you need to get equal to or lower than your current luck score in order to succeed. Every successful attempt lowers the pool by one (making it harder and harder when you try and push your luck). Luck points are regained by rest and fully restored at the end of the adventure. Each time a character advances in level, the total luck pool increased by a point.
The Skill score however works more like the Saving Throw system does in Swords & Wizardry. It's is a roll against a static number which starts at 15 at first level and decreases as the character advances in level. A roll on a d20 that is equal to or higher than this number indicates success. In general, the Skill roll is to attempt a task not related to combat or magic that the character may attempt and be capable of trying or be knowledgeable in. These apply to both class skills as well as general skill attempts modified by bonuses and penalties as the situation requires.
To help flesh out the character, there is a step in character creation that maps out Life Events for the character distinguishing a character from the Free Territories to one from the Ice Coast. There are 8 regions and all with each giving a variety of events and benefits to differentiate the character. All those are focused on character origins. There is a second phase that involves the characters formative years and profession prior to becoming an adventurer.
The differences in Crypts & Things Remastered don't end with character creation either. While the game system is still rooted with the sort of magic system we have all come to know from D&D, magic is classified in one of three types -- White, Grey, and Black. Any sorcerer can cast any type of magic and there is no distinction between clerical or divine magic or arcane magic. Casting black magic causes corruption and, in time, will present certain negative effects upon the caster. White magic on the other hand is a powerful beacon attracting evil and unwanted attention. Grey is pretty much safe. When a spell is cast, the spell is lost (much like D&D) but the caster can test their luck to try and retain the spell. Additionally, a sorcerer will have to use blood magic (bloods sacrifice) to regain Black Magic spells but, aside from corruption, it may also come at a cost of Sanity. Other little differences... there are not 'detect magic' or 'read magic' spells as this is something sorcerers are attuned to or trained to read. There are also no spells higher than 6th level but anything more powerful could be created by the GM in order to simulate a higher level spell in the form of a 'costly' ritual.
Sanity and Health. Playing around with black sorcery or encounters with diabolic and horrific entities is a sure way to drive the bravest and sanest adventure, stark raving mad. Since the genre often deals with darker and grim things, Sanity comes into play in Crypts & Things much like one would expect to see it in a game like Call of Cthulhu. In this case, the Sanity score is equal to the Wisdom score of the character and, reducing this to zero can be considered a bad thing. Sufficient rest will be required to 'heal' this mental damage though should a sanity score drop to below zero, will result in permanent loss of Wisdom.
Despite the potential mental fragility the game introduces, the heroes the players end up playing do end up more resilient. Hit Points in the game are superficial and when this is dropped to zero in combat, any further damage is applied to Constitution. This represents serious injury and each time they receive this sort of damage, they need to pass a Luck test or fall unconscious. Death occurs if the character's constitution score drops to zero. Only time or magic will heal Constitution damage and only when the character's Constitution is full restored can hit points be regained. At that point, hit points can be fully restored with a full night's worth of rest and even drinking a strong drink can restore 1d4 hit points. Cure Wounds spell do NOT heal back hit points... only lost Constitution.
With all that in mind, and with the subtle little things the classes provide compared to their regular D&D counterparts, the rest of the Crypts & Things Remastered book gives you some sword and sorcery appropriate critters... a setting... and some adventures. The book is full of inspirational material to allow an enterprising group of players and game master to really dig in and make this a great game to play without straying away to what some may feel familiar and comfortable. All in all, it's almost 250 pages of material with some decent artwork and well written text.
It's a good book and a solid system -- a physical copy can be ordered through Drivethru's (RPGNow's) POD services in both softcover and hardcover formats as well as digital. It is entirely a black and white text but the price for the PDF is hard to beat at $13.00 USD, where-as a softback will run you $26.00 USD, and the hardback at $40.00 USD (all available HERE). The prices are decent for physical copies though preference of softcover vs hardcover is very subjective. I've never had a print issue with their POD service but went with hardcover myself to match my S&W books on the shelf. Another nice thing is that there are options that price the PDF with the physical copies with no extra charge.