Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thursday of the Castle Keeper: C&C--The Stealth-Game

In the four years or so that I've owned the Castles &Crusades rule books I've come to the slow realization that there is a direct correlation between how favorably I view the game and the amount of time passed since I last opened the books.  If it's been a while, the game seems to obtain a reassuringly pleasant glow of warmth, like the steady light from your +2 sword when you're last torch has just sputtered out.  Sadly, whenever I sit down to write a post on C&C I crack open them books to do a little research and, even when the intent was to compose a hagiography of some element of this august game created by the Lords of the Troll, all that kindly warmth turns bilious in my craw and spews out on the screen in the form of yet another excoriating assault on the authors (and illustrator).  So in order to make good my promise of last week to refrain from denigrating the Troll Lord's and their fine RPG, I'm leaving the books on the shelf today.  

Which is convenient, cuz that's kinda' the point of today's post.  When I play "D&D" nowadays, it's a bastardized form of my AD&D and C&C with some vestiges of the Swords & Wizardry game that my friend Bob and I started 2 years ago.  But to watch us, you'd wonder where the hell the C&C comes in.  I don't really use the SIEGE engine -- I've never gotten the hang of ability checks of any sort -- we use the descending AC format (though I secretly convert them to ascending in my head in order to determine to hit rolls, shhhh) and though some of the character classes I use are stripped down versions of their AD&D predecessors that more resemble C&C, the match is definitely not exact.  Indeed, the desert fatigue-colored rulebooks are nowhere to be seen at our gaming table.  So where the hell is C&C in all this mess?

The beauty of C&C, in my humble opinion, is that it aims to be an invisible game, by which I mean a game you can play without ever bothering to reference the rule books.  Sure, by 1983 most people I played with were so familiar with the AD&D rules that we only cracked the Books on the odd occasion to select the type of prostitute we'd encountered or to find the duration of some esoteric druid spells.  But that was after countless hours of poring over every page, digesting every nugget of knowledge, internalizing every table and list, and then countless more hours playing the game and implementing the rules we'd read--and incessantly arguing about them with our friends.  C&C is best when you approach it in a very different manner.  The rules, by comparison to AD&D, are pretty flimsy in that you can take a brief gander at them and decide if it's something worth building on or demolishing.  If it's the latter, you strip it out and do something else.  But if it's the former, then you take it to the shop and thrown it on the lathe for a while or slap a coat of paint it and some designer hinges until it fits your image of a cool game.  It might not really look like C&C when you're done, but the inspiration is still there.

As a for instance, I hate looking at tables, so when my campaign switched over to AD&D for our run through Village of Hommlet, I really wanted a combat system that did not require me to turn to page 74 of the DMG.  I vastly prefer doing simple math in my head to looking stuff up, so I sat down and figured out the mathematical formulas for all of the AD&D combat matrices by class.  Anyone whose tried this knows that, other than fighters, they're fairly arbitrary, especially the monsters.  I never realized before that a gnoll (2 HD) is as good a fighter as a freakin' 5th level paladin!  So I turned to C&C for a simpler solution.  But rather than cop their combat system, I went for the SIEGE Engine instead.  Using 0-level humans versus AC 10 as the baseline, 11 became the target number to score a hit--replacing the "12/18 principal" of C&C.  To this you add a challenge level--in this case more popularly know as "AC".  Because I'm a crusty old bastard and we're playing AD&D, this means I actually have to subtract 10 from the Target AC to determine the "challenge level" but, like I said, I don't mind doing simple math in my head; I figure it probably helps stave off dementia. Anyway, in the end, I'm not really using a C&C rule anymore, but I can still feel its presence in the room when I'm playing.

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