Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Review of Crypts and Things by D101 Games

I've pre-ordered Crypts & Things by D101 Games and this week I got the brand-new soft-cover print edition by mail. After reading it cover to cover, I must say that I'm impressed with it and that I do not regret the money I've spent on its pre-order. So here I will review this book in detail.

What is Crypts & Things?
Crypts and Things (C&T) is an adaptation of the Sword & Wizardry: Core (S&W) RPG rules to the Sword & Sorcery genre. In other words, it takes many of the mechanics and most of the concepts of old-school D&D and changes them to fit the basic assumptions of Conan, Elric, Fahfrd and the Grey Mouser. This means you get one sleek, rules-light pack of rules to play Sword & Sorcery role-playing games with, all built to the right flavour.

It also means that, at its very core, it's still old-school D&D, close in its lineage to the original 1974 edition (plus the 1975 Supplement I). But Crypts & Things takes that D&D DNA and evolves it to fit the genre and some modern sensibilities.

The physical book is very satisfying to look at. The cover is full-colour and looks great, while the interior illustrations are all black-and-white but very atmospheric. Writing style is good and genre-appropriate and the amounts of errata is, as far as I can tell, small and very tolerable. There is also an index at the back of the book, which is something that each and every RPG publication should have.

Things I like in C&T
Crypts and Things uses the base S&W combat mechanics and single saving throws, but adds a new dimension of skills without adding too much complication. Generally speaking, if the Referee has decided that you need to roll the dice to do something which is neither combat nor spoellcasting, you just make a saving throw (with some bonuses based on class, circumstances and so on) to see if you succeed. Sleek and simple. This handles anything from barbarian tracking to thief skills.

Yes, I said Barbarians and Thieves; C&T has both classes (in addition to Fighters and Magicians), and both are well-designed: the Thief is more martial and thus useful even in generic combat; everyone may backstab or sneak; and the Barbarian, who is a nature/wilderness-oriented warrior, fights a bit less effectively than the Fighter, but has several interesting abilities and may wear armour. All in all, I like these implementations better than most old-school and d20 interpretations of these class concepts.

The M-U and the Cleric have been merged into the Magician class. Magicians cast spells like M-Us, and have three "colours" of spells - White (healing/divination/protection; easy to cast), Grey (illusion/transmutation; fatiguing to cast) and Black (damaging spells, summoning, charms; casting it can cause madness). This fits the genre - as most S&S "priests" are actually sorcerers - and also the OD&D Catholic-style cleric doesn't fir the genre too well. Oh, and Magicians may wear leather armour and use any weapon, though they face a -1 penalty to damage with most weapons.

Fighters have also been improved, adding Fighting Styles which make Fighter A different from Fighter B without using too many mechanics (as D20 does).

I mentioned above Madness; indeed, C&T has a sanity system, which is quite simple and straightforward, using saving throws to resist madness (cased by casting Black Magic or by witnessing sanity-wrecking stuff in the game-world) and using a temporary (and regenerating) Sanity score equal to your Wisdom; particularly bad things can damage your Wisdom permanently, and when you reach Wisdom 0 you become a mad NPC.

Hit Points have been tweaked. For most monsters and non-important NPCs, hit points work as in S&W as a measure of physical health. For heroes and villains (i.e. PCs and major NPCs), however, hit points represent fatigue and thus can fully heal overnight. However, once you run out of hit points, you start losing your REAL life-force - represented by your Constitution, and then you can easily pass out or even die. Some effects (like preparing Black Magic spells without a sacrifice) may also directly damages your Constitution score. Constitution heals slowly, and all healing spells only affect Constitution and not hit points.

The C&T Encumbrance system is very simple: you carry weight in pounds, but most sundry equipment (i.e. most stuff other than your weapon and armour) in abstracted into 10 pounds, so you really only have to track your arms and armour. I prefer the LotFP encumbrance system better, though.

The monsters have been chosen with care to fit the genre, and demons - called "Others" in this book - dominate the list. Which is a good thing, as the Summon Monster spells actually summon demons in-game rather than a random Orc. The monster illustrations, while scarce, are EXCELLENT and highly atmospheric and so is the monster flavour text.

Things I dislike in C&T
Strangely enough, while C&T is based on Swords & Sorcery literature, the Law vs. Chaos conflict common in a lot of these stories (and especially in the Elric ones) is only implied; there are no alignments and no Protection from Chaos; instead the term "Evil" is used, though there is no such universal alignment. I'd prefer to fight (and summon!) Chaos beasts like Elric does!

While the idea of the Life Even Table is wonderful, having each character roll 3 out of merely 20 options is very limited and puts a sharp limit on variety. Something more varied would be desirable.

Also, the spell descriptions themselves (unlike the spell lists) do not list which "colour" is each spell, forcing you to go back to the spell lists to reference.

Personally speaking, I don't like the implied Zarth setting very much, though I don't have it as well; I just prefer to set up my own setting.

I also dislike the fact that most monsters lack illustrations.

Oh, and the typical OD&D problem: each coin weights 0.1 pounds, which is A LOT. Realistically speaking, it should probably be closer to 0.01 pounds.

The Verdict
All in all, this seems like a VERY enjoyable game to play, especially since I'm now in a Sword & Sorcery mood after reading a lot of Elric stuff as of late. Any D&D fan who is also a fan of the Sword & Sorcery genre should give it a try.

I rate it at 4.5/5 points!