Wednesday, November 9, 2016

An RPG review: Crypts and Things Remastered

It's been a while since I've posted anything here; that's mainly because I'm still working on some new content (the DCC adventure I mentioned in an earlier post, as well as a completely novel DCC class...more on this another time).  I've also absorbed even more tabletop RPG content.  It's really getting out of hand.

Anyway, I've been running out of DCC materials that catch my attention, and I promised Stan that I wouldn't look too closely at Purple Sorcerer Games - this because he's thinking of running one of their DCC adventures!  But there's still plenty of other stuff, and I can't really help myself.  

Just the other day I was re-reading the excellent The Black Hack.  I am intrigued by an OSR game that requires players to make all the dice rolls.  Attacking?  Roll to hit.  Being attacked?  Roll to avoid.  TBH also introduces a unique mechanic to simplify and abstract bookkeeping for supplies: resource dice.  Quantities of identical items are roughly measured by a die of a certain size (d20 for "a lot," d12 for "a bunch," and so-on until d4).  When a character uses one of these items, roll the resource die - on a 1-2, drop the die size by one (e.g. a d12 becomes a d10).  If the resource die was a d4, rolling 1-2 means that it's depleted.

Anyway, something I picked up recently was the very intriguing Crypts and Things Remastered. Written by Newt Newport and published by d101 Games, available on DriveThruRPG in hardcover, softcover and PDF forms.  Like TBH, it's a (relatively) simple OSR game with a number of unique mechanics.  The rules are tightly bound to the setting, which is a very specific swords-and-sorcery world that draws heavily from Appendix N literature.

See, I'm getting better at this!

So let's get into some specifics.  What's to love about C&T?

There are a whole bunch of interesting mechanics here, more than a nod to DCC's gonzo style, but keeping things much simpler, on the whole.  There are a bunch of nasty tables for critical injuries and the corrupting effects of black magic (although the latter only takes place when increasing in level).  These are the things that remind a recent gamer of DCC.  There's even a Luck ability!  However, when you peel things back a bit, you realize that these mechanics are actually callbacks to older systems; more on this below.

On the other hand, I really like simplified mechanics for "doing stuff" outside combat and magic: testing skill and testing luck.  Replacing many saving throws and skill ratings is a single statistic called skill.  This is a d20 roll-over value based entirely on a character's level, but it is always subject to modifiers based on abilities and class, not to mention situational factors.  It's a baseline for a massive amount of latitude accorded to GM judgement.  This is clearly meant to be played in a true old-school fashion, where rulings supplant rules.

Like DCC, characters have a Luck ability, rolled as 1d6+6.  Whenever characters are presented with random hazards and opportunities, they may test their luck by trying to roll-under on 2d6.  If successful, they are lucky, and their Luck temporarily goes down by one.  If they fail they roll, they are unlucky, and it doesn't decrease.  Luck points lost in this manner recover pretty quickly, at the rate of one per hour of rest.

This is used in a lot of situations.  It can be used to give characters a "second chance" at failed activities, improved success in the case of critical hits, and generally avoiding random mishaps or taking advantage of rare opportunities.

In addition, in C&T, you don't just "resist" magic.  Most people don't get a chance to avoid the effects of a spell.  PCs and important NPCs have "protagonist armor" against magic in the form of testing their Luck.  By default, most victims of things like magic or poison suffer the full effects!  

This makes a ton of sense to me!  In literature, when a wizard casts a sleep spell, you don't have a situation where half his targets fall down and the other half "resist."  And in the real world, the effects of things like poison are usually pretty predictable.  C&T explains PC resistance as blatant plot armor, which is fine for me, because they provide a nice mechanic for handling it.  

What does this simplification of mechanics down to "skill" and "luck" remind one of, more than anything else?  If you're a long-time fantasy geek, putting those two words together probably jogs your memory, if the earlier description of "testing your luck" didn't.  That's right, I'm talking about Fighting Fantasy!  C&T is basically a graceful marriage of D&D and FF, if that can be imagined.

Since magic tends to be more effective in C&T (after all, your Luck is going to go down each time you successfully avoid a spell), this is counterbalanced by the mechanics for corruption.  Every time a sorcerer casts a black magic (i.e. offensive) spell, he increases the chance of suffering some form of magical mutation upon gaining a level.  This means wizards will want to find more subtle ways of dealing with threats before unleashing their fireballs and charm spells.

Conversely, C&T replaces traditional fantasy clerics with "white magic."  These are beneficial spells, and they can be cast by any sorcerer.  However, there are also limits put upon healing magic.  For one, resurrection and other spells that would raise a character from the dead have been removed from the game.  More insidiously, however, is the fact that casting white magic runs the risk of attracting attention from evil beings called "Others," which are C&T's answer to demons + Cthulhu.  Hey, everyone's doing it.

So with access to healing magic limited, what's a PC to do?  First of all, hit point damage for PCs is considered to be very ephemeral damage, even things like stamina and focus.  Once that's depleted, PCs take damage directly to their Constitution scores.  This damage is considered far more serious, and each such hit can result in unconsciousness, and optionally, more lasting critical effects (like brain damage!).  Hit points are healed relatively quickly (by a long rest, for instance, or even a stiff drink!), but Constitution damage recovers much more slowly.  Of course, death occurs at zero Constitution.

These mechanics remind me of the old Warhammer FRPG, where you'd be fine until you ran out of Wound points, at which point everything called for rolling a critical hit.  So we're seeing a game here that borrows heavily from classic British RPGs.  I can definitely think of worse influences; I have previously declared my love for Dragon Warriors...but again, more for another time.

Other rules are fairly traditional for OD&D, with some slight variations (like different hit dice for each class, that sort of thing).  Nothing too fancy.  There are a few specialized subclasses, some of which (like the Serpent Man Noble) are very setting-specific.  But these are easily discarded, as you might not want to let players run them even in Zarth (the setting of C&T).

The setting, as I've mentioned, is lightly tied to the rules.  Certainly, the mechanics for sorcery reflect the cosmology of Zarth.  Truth be told, you could take these rules to another setting without too much trouble.  But the question is, why would you want to?  Zarth is lovely pulp fantasy setting - I resist calling it "gonzo," because it refrains from any obvious incursions from science fiction.

Otherwise, though, it pretty much throws in the kitchen sink with regard to fantasy tropes.  Sure, the name of the planet is Zarth, but you've got to get a load of the name of the landmass: The Continent of Terror!  The map of this wonderful place looks like it was created by the world's most creative sixth-grader, studded with locations like "The Isle of Skulls," "Death Wind Steppe," and "The Plateau of Pain."

Check it here to see an old blog entry by the author, written very early in the project, where he specifically mentions the Fighting Fantasy roots!

This is brutal stuff.  There's a lot of human sacrifice by sorcerers, a lot of slavery and other nastiness.  In Zarth, the demon gods have come to wait out the end of the world, and the gods of goodness fled a long time ago. Things are actually worse than in the Warhammer Fantasy setting, where impending doom is merely heavily-implied. C&T's setting is very bloody and potentially quite dark, while being enthusiastically pulpy.  It's utterly uncompromising.

Is there anything that I don't like?  I'm wracking my brains here, but no, not really.  The only thing here that breaks with OSR tradition is that it takes a bit longer to roll up a new character, and PCs aren't supposed to be quite as disposable as they are in something like DCC.  This is a bit strange for such a dark setting, but after all, PCs are explicitly protected by plot armor in this game.

Of course, I haven't played it yet, but it's not too soon to say that this is an excellent game.  There's a lot of game here, and it provides a GM with very a distinctive set of rules and setting that are familiar enough to fit into the OSR tradition.  Crypts and Things Remastered is a standout work, and I hope it gets the attention that it rightly deserves.


  1. Thanks for the review, it gave me a very good feel for what's in the book.

  2. Thanks for the kind review :)

    Its been mentioned time and again about the sheer brutality of the Continent of Terror. I originally wrote it when I wasn't in a very nice headspace while reading a lot Clark Ashton Smith (who really really doesn't like people). In fact I'd sum up C&T as players get to Elric, Conan, Grey Mouser and Fafhrd in a world written by Clark Ashton Smith ;) In 2nd Edition I had lighted up considerable, and the philosophic theme behind it is that yes the world is bleak but the characters have ability and opportunity to steep up to the parasitic dark forces and save the world.

    1. That's very interesting...I never read the first edition, and this now makes me want to. The direction you took with this edition makes sense in light of giving PCs Luck and the more involved character creation. I personally love all the dark themes, although I know that its not everyone's cup of tea. Thanks for stopping in and good luck with the new edition.