Tabletop Review: Castles & Crusades: The Book of Familiars

Castles & Crusades: The Book of Familiars
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
Cost: $20.99 (PDF)/ $29.99 (Print)
Page Count: 210
Release Date: 01/20/2014
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

I really love how creative Troll Lord Games is with their Castles & Crusades line. A lot of retro-clone publishers put out content that sticks heavily to OD&D or First Edition AD&D with very little original thought or creativity. It’s just a giant mega dungeon or a generic hack and slash adventure. If you’ve been reading my Castles & Crusades reviews since I started doing them, then you know this certainly isn’t the case with this system. Perhaps no book highlights how outside the box Castles and Crusades is willing to go than The Book of Familiars. It takes a rarely utilized concept that 95% of all Wizard players tend to forget even exists after they take it, blows up the concept to where it fills an entire sourcebook and makes it apply to all character classes! This is an amazing idea, and it can really be a game changer. Even if it’s something you would never use in your own personal tabletop game, the concept is intriguing enough to read about, as you’ll walk away with a very different outlook on familiars and role-playing in general.

To be clear, The Book of Familars is not just about familiars. It also includes a good deal of information about animal companions and how the two differ. I know I see a lot of gamers run their animal companion like a familiar and vice versa, even though they are two very different concepts and the creatures in question have extremely different thought processes and intelligence ratings. Thankfully, The Book of Familars goes out of its way to compare and contrast these two different ideas and still give lots of ways each class can use either a familiar or animal companion. I loved this. Instead of getting one core, but rarely thought of, concept fleshed out, we actually get two for the price of one. How is that not awesome?

In addition to extensive familiar coverage, The Book of Familars also introduces a new concept in Advantages. These are similar to feats from D&D 3e/Pathfinder in that you get them every few levels. However, when you get them depends on the level of power and/or challenge the Castle Keeper has in their campaign. There is a suggested guide to when characters get Advantages, but it isn’t set in stone. Advantages differ from Feats in that they are more of a class ability rather than something you roll dice for. Almost all of them are passive bonuses that permanently affect your character. As well, Advantages can be purchased with experience points, and in some rare occasions, gold. Due to the nature of The Book of Familars, most of the Advantages contained therein revolve around enhancing your familiar or giving classes outside the Wizard a chance to have one of their own. Not all are familiar or animal companion based, but nearly all are. Whether or not Advantages are fleshed out in further books is something we will have to wait and see, although honestly, the idea in and of itself probably deserves its own sourcebook instead of being found piecemeal throughout multiple books ala prestige classes and feats in D&D 3.0 style systems.

Once the Advantages chapter is done, you have twelve chapters on familiars – one for each character class in Castles & Crusades. Each chapter talks about how its class can get a familiar and/or an animal companion and why they would do so. An Assassin might channel a reaper spirit, a cleric might be given their familiar as a gift from their deity, a fighter might get one as a reward for completing a special quest and so on. The type of familiars and their special abilities will differ based on character class as well. Some classes might not even have an animal based familiar. A Paladin could end up with a holy spirit, a Bard with a muse or a Druid could get an elemental as their familiar. Each chapter really takes the generic idea of a familiar and fleshes it out so that it becomes tailored to a specific class. Fighters can even get an intelligent weapon as their familiar! This is a really great read, and I think anyone who runs a fantasy RPG, even if it is not C&C compatible, should pick up this book just to take in the excellent ideas presented here. Kind of like how I feel even non Shadowrun fans should pick up a Shadowrun Missions adventure to see the excellent layout and flow of those pieces.

After you get through the specific chapters on class based familiars and animal companions, you still have a full fourth of the book left. What’s in it? Four different appendices – one for familiars, one for new monsters, one for new spells and one for new magic items/artifacts. For those of you who love stats and mechanics, you’ll have a blast looking through all four of these sections. Now remember, all the bits in these appendices are familiar oriented. This is The Book of Familiars after all.

So as you can tell, I really loved The Book of Familiars. It’s such a great idea. Innovative and outside the box yet such an obvious choice for a sourcebook that I can’t believe it hasn’t been done before now. I loved see all the options, from a Koala familiar to over a dozen homunculi. Surprisingly though, there wasn’t an option for a rabbit or a hare. That would be only tiny minor complaint about the book. I mean giraffes and walrus familiars but no bunnies? Still, everything in this book is fantastic from cover to cover and I just really love seeing fresh new ideas like this come to life. Whether you want an in-depth look at what exactly a Paladin’s Mount is, or just a ton of fun new abilities and tables for your standard familiar, The Book of Familiars has it all. Again, even if you never plan on letting Rogues or Barbarians have familiars, the concepts and ideas presented in this book are well worth reading and taking note of, because they’re so well done. This is definitely one of those sourcebooks that is as fun to read as it is to implement. Between this and the upcoming Haunted Highlands and Codex Nordica books, 2014 is shaping up to be an awesome year for any Castles & Crusades fan.

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