Although I was not directly involved with the development of this product, I am
a Castles & Crusades playtester and C&C Society member.
Part I: The Package
A. The Box: The packaging is impressive, as are the set's production values in general. The box is nearly identical in size and shape to the original D&D box; it also uses the same predominantly white color scheme. In keeping with Castles & Crusades' theme, green, gold, gray and black are the other colors.
The cover art appears to have been washed, which provides a vintage look. The fine detail, however, is retained beautifully, especially because the box is printed on a standard glossy veneer. (One regrettable weakness of the original D&D box is its matte finish, which makes it terribly susceptible to humidity and the like.)
The veneer is glued to the inside edges of the box and seems sturdy enough, though the glue job is a bit iffy in small spots here and there. With careful handling, it shouldn't be an issue barring prolonged humidity's making the glue release.
B. Dice & Crayon: These are safely packed in a small resealable bag to prevent too much rattling as well as crayon marks. The crayon is a navy blue bit of old-school goodness. The dice--d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20--are sharp edged and appear to be high impact, though they come in old-school colors. Mine are dark gray, light gray, a yellowish brown (like a ripened banana), a washed-out (read: grayish) green, cream white, and neon green(!). (The d4, by the way, has flattened points to make it easier to roll without its running amok.)
C. Game Booklets: There are three center-stapled booklets: Players Handbook (36 pages), Monsters & Treasure (36 pages), A0: The Rising Knight (20 pages). The booklets have cardstock covers and are printed on (what seems to be) 25-lb. paper. They feel quite, quite sturdy when handled. Each cover has its own gray-tone image. The art is wonderful as always, though the details don't stand out as well in gray on cardstock (as in color on the box veneer).
The standard font seems to be Times New Roman 9, which is small but not terribly so, especially because line-spacing, margins and layouts are not cramped or compromised by intrusive inserts/artwork. That's not to say there aren't a number of images, tables, and the like. They simply don't get in the way of the text or force bad layout decisions. The topmost line of text on each page is a bit close to the header line, but it's not likely to cause any reading problems.
I address the booklets' contents, organization and such in part two. For now, let me say that the set does include, as advertised, everything needed to play. The critters are varied enough, the rules complete enough, and the adventure detailed enough to ensure beginners (and those who want a pick-up game) to have a fun time. The flavor of Castles & Crusades (hereafter "C&C") is admirably retained without pushing too many rules or details in people's way.
D. Color Insert: This one-sided cotton-bond insert includes information about C&C and advertises the forthcoming Players Handbook and Monsters & Treasure hardcovers. A small but pleasant surprise waiting at the bottom of the box.
Part II: The Booklets
A. Prefatory Note: Where appropriate, I compare the boxed set's contents with the latest C&C System Reference Document (SRD), version 4.18. (No material still covered by TLG's playtester NDA is disclosed.) The boxed set has an entirely different purpose, of course, but such comparisons are sometimes instructive, especially regarding the Trolls' design choices.
B. Players Handbook. By Davis Chenault & Mac Golden. All art by Peter Bradley. With Steve Chenault, Mark Sandy, and Todd Gray. Contributions by Mike Stewart, Casey Canfield, Colin Chapman and Josh Chewning and the entire Castles and Crusades Society.
Accessibility and organization are key to any introductory rules set. If the rules are difficult to find, understand or use, likely converts--especially beginners--may give up in exasperation. The PH booklet passes the test of use admirably without sacrificing the spirit of C&C in its more robust form.
Classes run only to 10th Level--short of the twelve or so in the SRD--but ten should be more than enough for beginners and those playing in pick-up games. The later levels' effects are easily extrapolated except for unnamed class abilities that might come at later levels. Likewise, classes are limited to the core--Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard--but again, these are more than sufficient for the set's purposes. Never mind that these four are the key archetypes that the game has always drawn its strength from. Races are covered after classes--the reverse of the 4.18 SRD--which seems an odd choice and likely to confuse some beginners.
Nearly every concept or aspect thereof (Attributes, Primes, and the like) is explained in one or two paragraphs. Anyone familiar with roleplaying will be just fine, and even beginners should have only minor difficulties. Each of the core classes are given one to two pages depending on their class abilities' space requirements. Races are given roughly one page each--and, therefore, are less detailed than in the SRD. The equipment list is 5/6 weapons and armor--far different from the SRD version--but that's understandable given the limitations of the boxed set's goals and audience.
Much like the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement, spells are given single-line descriptions, including only the basic mechanics/stats required. Any holes or discrepancies will have to be adjudicated by the Castle Keeper (hereafter "CK"). (Spells included in the SRD have roughly the same details, but it's difficult to judge what is/n't lacking otherwise.) Game activities--including Attribute Checks, Saving Throws, and combat--are covered in reasonable detail, again with key concepts receiving a fair going-over. Combat, of course, gets the lengthiest treatment, roughly nine pages, but everything is detailed step by step, piece by piece, and should be accessible to even the freshest of beginners.
C. Monsters & Treasure. By Robert Doyel, Todd Gray, Davis Chenault with contributions by Mac Golden, Stephen Chenault & Casey Canfield.
This booklet is organized--self-consciously, I suspect--according to the same pattern as its original D&D forebear. Monster stats are presented in table form; the individual critters are then detailed in a paragraph or two. Likewise with treasure, first come tables then descriptions. It's a sensible arrangement, homage aside, and one that suits the needs of anyone who might wish to use the rules for play.
Monster entries and descriptions are necessarily curtailed. There's much room for CK adjudication, which is a pleasing return to old-school gaming, though it may frustrate some beginners until they become accustomed to C&C's emphasis on players' self-reliance (as opposed to rules reliance). The number and variety of critters is admirable. 83 monsters appear in the initial table, and 17 pages are devoted to monster descriptions. Among others, the chromatic and metallic dragons (ten types) as well as the Black Pudding, Gibbering Mouther, Purple Worm, Treant and Worg make appearances. There are no wandering monster/encounter tables, so those who would (like to) use such things will have a bit of work to do.
Treasure takes up nearly half the booklet, beginning with tables for each type (organized according to creature HD) and for various kinds (gems/jewelry, weapons, and the like). Magical treasure is detailed surprisingly thoroughly in some cases, and what's included should provide reasonable options for any beginning or pick-up game. In addition to many traditional items, notable inclusions are the Dragon Slayer (sword), Trident of Fish Command, Ring of Three Wishes, and Robe of Useful Items. Miscellaneous magic is relatively sparse, which could encourage the use of other more powerful items by CKs handing out goodies, but generally, things seem well balanced for an introductory set.
Experience Points are detailed on the final page of the booklet. Awards are briefly discussed in terms of five in-game aspects: Monsters, Money, Magic Items, Story, Roleplaying. "Story" in this case seems to refer to the adventure proper, as in If you've survived this adventure, you probably deserve X number of experience points. Minimal tables indexed for monster HD (and special abilities) and for magic items are also included.
While art is far from ubiquitous in any of the booklets, it's especially missed in this one. How many gamers have been inspired to use a particular monster by the picture included in a game book? It seems space constraints made that proposition impossible, but it's disappointing nonetheless. Also, a few table headers are truncated because they do not fit within the allocated space. They are, however, readable despite the odd cuts made--"Generation" > "Generati," for example.
D. A0: The Rising Knight. By Davis Chenault.
Introductory adventures should ease CKs and players into a system--both the mechanics and the flavor--while also providing a sense of the variety of things possible within the game. As an adventure for 1st- and 2nd-level characters, TRK accomplishes these two goals well. It's difficult to do everything in twenty pages, of course, especially in the context of an introductory set, but Davis has provided five general areas (including a two-level dungeon) that come fairly close.
The booklet opens with a page devoted to background and character involvement. One-half page regarding wandering monsters (including a small table) follows. The first area (a settlement) covers five-plus pages, including information about important persons and places as well as a rumors table. The NPCs are each sketched, complete with stats, in individual paragraphs. In combination with the other material in this section, CKs should have no problem giving PCs enough to do in town and/or reason enough to get "into" the adventure proper.
The next three areas are wilderness based. The first two include encounter tables; the third, an events table tied to the PCs' proximity to the area. The information provided in these sections is much broader, less detailed, though given the wilderness setting, it's less likely that CKs will need specific guidance as to what will or won't be found, done, possible. Indeed, each of these areas is secondary to the final encounter area, places that are passed through and/or able to be visited by PCs. No railroading here, just opportunities for whatever adventure the CK and players might choose to have along the way.
The final area is a set of ruins complete with two levels below ground. In addition to a short history, CKs are given background on the dungeon complex. Each of the two levels is then detailed room by room, covering roughly three pages per level. (A small computer-generated map of both levels appears on the final page of the adventure booklet.) The encounters are reasonably varied, with everything from cursed chambers to abandoned rooms to fixed encounters coming into play. The power levels for encounters (fixed and wandering) as well as effects are well scaled for low-level PCs, though they could easily be modified at the CK's discretion. The "final" encounter is sufficiently challenging and should provide a nice sense of closure for those who wish to end things there. (It's not necessarily in the last room PCs will visit, however, so plenty of post-encounter exploration might still be available.)
The dungeon levels, especially Level One, might be seen as more linear than some folks prefer, but there are sufficient possibilities for using secret doors (and experiencing unexpected events) to keep things from being a straight-line rush to the end. Moreover, the final section of the adventure, "Ending the Adventure," is focused on five questions (out of seven sentences total). A provocative and useful way to leave things open without preempting anything PCs might have done in the adventure as written. In a short space, Chenault is able to accomplish more than many designers do in ten pages of gobbledygook, the sort that forces referees to rewrite the adventure proper and/or railroad players into doing X or Y.
E. Final Note: All three booklets include on their back cover a complete list of C&C products. (For some reason dice are included twice with two different stock numbers.)
8000 C&C Boxed Set (Collectors Edition)
8010 C&C Players Handbook
8011 C&C Monsters & Treasure
8012 C&C CK Screens
8014 C&C Nostalgic Dice
8051 Part I: Yggsburgh
8052 Part II: Dark Chateau
8053 Part III: Upper Works
8054 Part IV: Beneath the Ground
8055 Part V: The Laboratories
8056 Part VI: The Deeps
8057 Part VII: The Caverns
8058 Part VIII: Zagyg's Way
8020 Attack on Blacktooth Ridge
8021 The Fell Axe
8202 Shadows of the Halfling Hall
8203 The Fingers of the Forsaken Hand
8204 For the Streets of Bergaine
8550 C&C Nostalgic Dice