Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Review: Crypts & Things Remastered

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

Crypts & Things Remastered is a sword & sorcery role-playing game built on the Swords & Wizardry Core rules and Akrasia's house rules. I do have the original edition from 2011, but I haven't read it in quite some time, so I will not be comparing the two.

The setting is called Zarth, although the book focuses on the Continent of Terror (notably most locations have similarly metal names: Bone Mill, Death Wind Steppe, Isle of Skulls, The Obsidian Throne, etc). The world is dying, eventually to be consumed by its sun, Nemesis. At the same time, there are multiple other worlds and dimensions to explore (separated by the Shroud, an in-between netherspace that surrounds Zarth and ultimately facilitates teleportation, invisibility, and some other magical phenomena), showing the influences of Moorcock that gives the game a distinct flavour compared to many other Conan-inspired S&S games.

System Summary:
  • 3d6 in order of the six familiar abilities. It uses B/X-type modifiers, except for low scores (those are grouped together and provide a 1 modifier).
  • There are nine classes altogether: Barbarian (ferocious warrior skilled at wilderness survival), Fighter (versatile combatant), Sorcerer (magic user), and Thief (criminal) representing classic archetypes of the genre, and Beast Hybrid (creation of the Serpent Men; weak human form, increasingly powerful beast form), Disciple (practitioner of martial arts; can tap into the land's energies, powers depending on the Path they take), Elementalist (battle mage controlling the four elements), Lizard Man (member of an ancient race with a collective pool of knowledge), and Serpent Noble (another ancient race, wielding black magic and using illusions to hide their true forms) as exotic additions relevant to the setting.
  • HD is D6 (plus 1 or 2 points for most classes). AC is given in both descending and ascending forms, as usual with S&W-based things. Encumbrance is given in pounds.
  • There is a Life Event system that generates a setting-appropriate background and grants minor bonuses.
  • Spells are divided into White, Gray, and Black magic (although Elementalists have their own spell list). Casting Black magic spells earns the caster Corruption points, which may eventually cause mutations and other nasty things.
  • Experience is awarded for defeating opponents, overcoming obstacles (such as traps and tricks), and completing missions. It is not awarded for treasure.
  • Luck replaces traditional saving throws (although only PCs can use it, which means certain spells are way more potent). It's rolled on a 2d6; a result equal or lower than the current Luck score means the character gets "lucky" and suffers no harm (or only reduced harm), but it also reduces Luck by 1. Unlucky results don't reduce the score (they are still "unlucky", though). Luck is restored through resting and between adventures.
  • There is a universal Skill value based on level that is used for general task resolution. It functions as a target number for a d20 roll to which relevant ability scores and class bonuses apply.
  • There is a Sanity score, too (equal to Wisdom at character creation). When facing unspeakable horrors, the characters must test their Luck; if unlucky, they lose 1d6 Sanity points. When reduced to zero, the character goes temporarily insane, and further mental damage is deducted from their Wisdom score permanently instead (at 0 Wisdom they become utterly insane and are reverted to NPC status). Sanity is restored through rest.
  • Retainers are called companions. Each PC can only have one, but they are completely loyal (in fact, they are under the respective player's control), and they advance in levels as the PC does.
  • Once hit points are lost, damage is subtracted from Constitution (for PCs, at least). Every time it happens there's a chance of falling unconscious (Luck test negates). CON damage heals much slower than hp damage (a point of CON per day vs. all lost hp in a single night).

Things I Liked:
  • the Life Event system (it is simple and amazing!)
  • note on allowing the attempt to use the skills of a different class (albeit without the general +3 bonus)
  • the Barbarian's traditional rage ability is tied to their courage; simply put, they go berserk instead of saving against fear (thus it isn't activated willingly but induced by spells, abilities, or magic items)
  • a five-part d10 table to make more colourful henchmen (specialty, personality, payment, revenge, and weapon)
  • the threefold division of spells and the idea of Corruption (although the results aren't diverse enough in my opinion)
  • there is a neat sidebar summing up the major differences of magic compared to S&W (although individual spells may also be tweaked; e.g. Magic Missile deals 1d8 damage!)
  • a similar sidebar sums up how damage and hit points work (i.e. when it represents exhaustion vs. bloody wounds)
  • mass combat is explicitly handled by the PCs undertaking special missions that decide the fate of the battle (as opposed to simulating mass combat using an extrapolation of the character-scale rules)
  • there's a player-facing summary of the setting along with a nice map
  • an incredibly useful introduction to the eight playable cultures in the form of a Q&A (Who are you? Who are we? What makes us great? Where do we live? What is important in my life? What makes someone great? Who are our enemies and what is evil? Who are my gods? What is magic? I have heard of other peoples, can you tell me the truth about them?)
  • each location has its own GM-only write-up, too, along with a few adventure ideas and separate encounter tables (!), taking up about 15 pages in total
  • rules for handling the Others (alien beings from a variety of other worlds and dimensions); gives off a very Moorcockian vibe
  • some of the Greater Others (along with their servants and related artefacts), the Serpent Men, and a handful of potential nemeses have their section
  • the magic items are very flavourful (e.g. gold pieces that summon an assassin and taint the summoner's hand with blood for years; a dagger that heals you when you sacrifice someone with it; a lamp whose sickly green light reveals invisible creatures and cracks in reality at the risk of attracting those lurking on the verges of worlds; gloves that charm people as the spell when touched but those who resist will hate you forever)
  • the bestiary seems to include all the usual critters (harpies, dragons, mummies, skeletons, etc.), while presenting a number of unique creatures as well (such as the maggot master, the head hand, or the face ripper); the section also has a list of creatures order by Challenge Level
  • there is an introductory dungeon (The Halls of Nizar-Thun) with 22 areas described over 4 pages, including a map and a summary (which is a really neat feature); a 9-page sample of what the wilderness might look like (called "weird lands" in C&T as the wild is actively hostile); as well as Port Black Mire, an ill-reputed sword-and-sorcery city (described on 6 pages)
  • bibliography, character sheet, list of tables, and an index at the end of the book

Things I Disliked:
  • the GM is called Crypt Keeper in this game - I'm getting tired of the novel terms for referee and GM...
  • despite four credited proofreaders, there are too many typos (e.g. the titular sorcerer in the introductory dungeon is called Nizar, Nizur, and even Nizun in the OGL)
  • no serial commas
  • the Lizard Man class is cool in concept but mechanically very uninspired
  • attack matrices (fortunately, the maths behind it is simple enough)
  • although I love how even White magic has its downside (there is a chance nearby evil creatures and undead sense its use), the rules are placed in a weird place
  • the list for Corruption effects is a little short (only 11 very generic entries, plus 1 that invites the participants to create their own); I'd probably plug in a list from elsewhere (most likely the The Metamorphica Revised)
  • that some spells interact with the Shroud (and also triggers a Sanity roll) isn't mentioned in the relevant spells' descriptions at all (only in the section discussing the Shroud)
  • there is a timeline included, but it's basically just a list of events separated by a thousand years or two
  • some monster stats are described twice in the book (once in the section detailing the Others, and once in the bestiary proper); the numbers are sometimes different, though

Crypts & Things is a neat little game using simple S&W rules with some interesting modifications (equal parts Akrasian and Fighting Fantasy-inspired). The game system will not replace AS&SH at my gaming table, but the Life Event tables will definitely be adapted in some fashion. The unique creatures and magic items would also port well into most fantasy games. I find the price of the PDF a little steep if you only mine the book for ideas, especially combined with the abundance of typos (mostly not harmful to understanding, but still a little annoying, considering it's a Remastered version) - however, the game does so many things well that if you do make use of the core system, it's still a worthwhile purchase by all means.

Crypts & Things was written by Newt Newport and published by D101 Games. You can get the PDF+POD combo over at DriveThruRPG or at the publisher's storefront (softcover or hardcover). There is even a conversion document to use the rules with The Midderlands setting.

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