Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thursday of the Castle Keeper: Highs and Lows of C&C revisited

Last year when I first wrote the article about hits and misses of Castles and Crusades, I had yet to actually play the game.  At the time Dr. Rotwang over at  Crossbows of Navarrone left a comment in response to my griping which sagely pointed out that, like other versions of the-game-we-all-love-to-obsess-about, you just take what you like and ignore the rest.  Since then, I have actually run a brief C&C campaign and found, of course, that Rotwang was right; virtually everything on that list was easily swept under the rug--polearms, Prime Attributes, Illusionists, what have you.

But two things I couldn't ignore and they, more than anything else, turned me from the game: the illustrations and the odiferous flavor text.  You may say "Hey Caveman, just take the rules and play; who cares about the wall paper?"   But the art and language of the rule books help to create a mental  image of what the C&C universe looks and feels like.  And thanks to Peter Bradley and the Chenault brothers (or whoever penned that mound of dross) I view C&C as a game that caters to  preening, pantywaist heroes who consider the art of bombast to be the utmost  achievement of mortal kind. 

Bradley's strike-a-pose heroes and look-at-my-ass-when-you're-talking-to-me heroines, combined with the ornate-yet-vacuous verbiage that dominates the core books (and the one module I own) lead one to believe that the Castle-verse is occupied solely by narcissists more concerned about whether their armor makes them look fat than they are with taking out the bad guys and/or stealing their treasure.  Heroes of this land rely not on tales of derring-do to impress nubile barmaids/men but rather they boast of hours logged on the elliptical trainer or loudly quote inflated SAT scores. 

As an example, here's a fairly typical sentence; this one from the character class description for barbarians:
"From windy steppes to mountain tops, from deep jungles to arid plains, barbarians live in freedom--a part of their environment rather than a slave to it."  
Sounds like it might have been written by Queen Latifah's character on 30 Rock; the congresswoman from Rhode Island who--mesmerized by the power of her own voice--unwittingly derails her  speeches onto rousing yet entirely meaningless tangents. 

Or check out the "Narrative of Combat" section of the C&C PHB (p. 119) where the author(s) actually encourage the proliferation of their cumbrous verbal stylings by urging potential Castle Keepers (DMs) to use unwieldy language when depicting combats for the players. Instead of this serviceable if stilted sentence:
"Three goblins who have swords and shields are sitting around a table drinking"  
They advise aiming for something like this: 
"Three humanoids are ranged around a table drinking from large wooden tankards; they're a foul-looking lot, with mottled skin, spindly limbs, toes, and fingers, with wide eyes and maws emitting a putrid breath; the creatures are armed for war with wickedly curved blades and iron rimmed shields."

Who gives a barf-scented air freshener if their shields are rimmed in iron?  Indeed, avoiding run-on sentences such as that one is exactly why the word "goblin" was invented.

Mind you, there's a time and place for descriptive extravagance; I just can't imagine a situation where an encounter with 3 goblins would call for this sort of verbosity.  If you burn through the whole thesaurus on the run-of-the-mill what are you gonna' have left in the tank when the party runs into that squad of Amazon C'thulhu Stormtroopers down on the 8th level?

And from the next paragraph, the authors advise you to replace:
"The goblin swings at you.  He hits for 3 points of damage"
"The goblin twists about, bringing his sword across your shin.  There you have no armor, and the notched blade cuts the cloth of your leggings effortlessly to score through ash and blood, biting to the bone for 3 hit points of damage."
Aside from revealing that the Castle Keeper owns stock in a Greave Manufacturing concern, should it really take 40 words to tell a player that they've suffered a minor leg wound?  While I agree that a protracted melee can sound like a tedious game of Battleship if you don't make an effort to spice it up somehow, inventing new, ever more florid ways of saying "You take x points of damage" will not only bring mockery from your players but it will really sloooooooow the gaaaaaaaaaaame dowwwwwwwwnnnnnnnnnnnn.

Aaaaaaaand once again I have set out to praise this game that I actually mostly kind of like--in theory--but instead ripped into it like a hungry gamer into a bag of Doritos.  Sheesh.  Next week I will convey one of the positive aspects of this game; I promise.


blake said...

I agree, Gygax they ain't but they are trying to explain how to potentially make an abstract combat exciting to a crowd used to mechanics to the description for them.

Word code: Blesive= the adverb for the manner in which a goblin misses your ashen leg.

Timrod said...

And yet as they were Gygax's publisher of choice a the time, it's my suspicion that their loquaciousness was an attempt to impress Gygax.

I am thankful for small blesives.