Monday, April 3, 2017
Castles & Crusades: A $15 Players Handbook
I need more time to actually relax and enjoy myself. Castles & Crusades has been my go to FRPG for years now and I realize that it's been a over a decade since I've picked up my first Players Handbook for C&C. The book has gone through multiple printings and is gearing for a 7th print run right now on Kickstarter. In some ways, the book has changed a lot over the printings ... but not so much in terms of the actual content. You can gather a group of players each with different printing and still be on the same page as far as rules are concerned. It's a rules light game that is a good balance of what I was looking for.I love this game a lot.
I'll write more about the how the game feels mechanically in a couple of days. For now, I want to talk about the evolution of the Player's Handbook.
It started off as a booklet in a white boxed set. Before Swords & Wizardry had their white box and before other various OSR clones did their own white box tribute, Troll Lord Games did it first with their white, collectors edition box. Three booklets in a box containing all the basics you needed to play! It was a proof of concept as no one at that time had used the SRD and the OGL to recreate d20 version of the D&D game that was a nod to the classic versions of D&D that many people grew up with. Sure... it was rooted with a slightly more modern system design with ascending armor class and a unified d20 mechanic to resolve a variety of challenges, but it was so elegant when unhindered by the mountain of skills and feats and a requirement of miniatures that Third Edition forced you to contend with.
From there, the first printing of the Player's Handbook was made possible and... well... never had I seen a more abysmal display of layout and editing in a 'professionally' released gaming product. Had I come across Castles & Crusades in that guise, I would have closed the book and walked away. It was a more complete game and on par to contain some of the things one became accustomed to seeing in first edition AD&D. Unlike the booklet that had the four core classes... the PHB had 13 classes in all... from Assassin to Wizard! A much greater and detailed selection of spells as well as an array of demihumans to choose from.
I was one of the lucky ones though as I came upon C&C with the 2nd printing of the PHB. The text was basically the same but it was finally laid out correctly and pleasant to flip through. Both 1st and 2nd printings where black and white and printed on white paper. A good stock that took pencil (and ink) well which made some people happy. The game was new so there were errors and mistakes littered throughout the book. I have met more than one person that marked up their books accordingly. I was not one of those people.
The cover artwork began to change slightly with the third printing but the biggest change was the paper. It went to a higher quality but thinner stock of paper while retaining the black and white look. There were LITTLE variations to the text and the most significant change was to the poison tables. The thinner stock also meant the books were slightly thinner as well. Many loves this new printing but others didn't care for it as much.
Up to this point, the books have also remained at a bargain selling at $19.95 a book. You could get the Players Handbook and the Monsters & Treasure book for the same price (if not cheaper) than the current 3rd Edition PHB!
The next printing was a big thing for Troll Lord Games though and they were making a concentrated push to expand the game. All books in their main line were getting reprinted and all sported the same dark olive green trade dress. The 4th printing of the PHB also represented the most changes in any of the printings. New material was added and a couple of classes got revamped. Notably, the Barbarian class moves away from being a berserker to a regular barbarian befitting a variety of cultures. The Monk on the other hand moved away from an oriental themed influence to a slightly more western one. There were new spell and multiclass options also presented in the volume. The book also saw a $5 price increase.
The 5th printing was another big step even if it was a bit of a misstep. It was the first printing of the PHB which would see color and the art and pages all got colorized. Have you ever seen a black and white movie that got colored after the fact? It doesn't always work out does it. The same thing happened here. Some pages and pieces of art looked good while others looked worse. It was significant nonetheless and, aside from errata, no content changes happened here.
The last printing is probably the finest printing we have to date. It is also full color but TLG went back and made sure the color was done perfectly. It got an expanded page count but not so much because content, but because they chose to make the font slightly bigger and more legible. The font had always been on the smaller side for these books but the new look is bigger and crisper and suits the book very well. Some of the text was clarified a bit and a lot of errata was corrected. The book has a $39.95 price tag if I'm not mistaken but, given the quality of paper, color, and increased page count, no one should be surprised. In my case, I treated myself and made sure my copy was a leather copy.
I've owned easily a couple dozen players handbooks for C&C books over the years and often gift copies or even sell some of them second hand. I've kept my third printing, fourth printing, and definitely will be keeping my sixth printing. I like to see the book getting arguably better with each printing but I honestly figured that the 6th printing would be my last printing.
The current kickstarter is for the 7th printing and they got me by offering a collector's cloth edition with my name embossed on the cover. That sounds nice and I'm of course happy to support them.
Why should you support them? How does $15 for a full color hardcover sound? That's right, they are planning a deep print run and, at the same time, want to thank current fans and supporters that might already have the books to allow for an inexpensive upgrade. They also think that $15 is a great incentive to buy the game to see if they like it. In other words not a lot of risk.
And there are stretch goals and add-ons to consider.
If it sounds like you might be tempted, I invite you to check out the current Kickstarter campaign HERE.