Inside Pulse 12

Tabletop Review: Castles & Crusades: Player’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands

Castles & Crusades: Player’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
Cost: $12.03 (PDF)
Page Count: 114
Release Date: 02/06/2014
Get it Here:DriveThruRPG.com

This book, along with the Castle Keeper’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands were both funded through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign. Although originally planned to be a 76 book, the stretch goals ballooned the content out another forty pages. I’m generally pretty enthused about Castles & Crusades releases, especially products like the Codex Celtarum or The Book of Familars, but I’ve never really been a big fan of “Haunted Highlands” themed products. Case in point, The Free City of Eskadia was one of the driest and dullest RPG books I’ve ever read and it had a lot of errors in the PDF version that I hope didn’t make it through to the physical one. The bad news is that the book isn’t as good as a lot of recent Castles & Crusades products, but then the system has really been on a roll lately, so it’s no surprise that the quality had to dip had some point. The good news is that the Player’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands is a lot better than The Free City of Eskadia and it contains nearly everything you need to play a game of Castles & Crusades – all for a few bucks less than the normal Player’s Handbook. That’s a pretty nice deal when you think about it.

Unfortunately what is missing from the Player’s Guide that is in the Player’s Handbook are the core character classes. This is odd because the book gives all the other rules for character creation including a lengthy explanation of the rules, generating attributes, how to play out combat, race descriptions and more. In fact a good portion of the book of superfluous if you already own the Player’s Handbook and because the character creation rules are only partially in the Player’s Guide to the Haunted Highland, you still need the Handbook to make a character. This just seems like a really strange decision layout, editing and content wise. In fact if you added up all the pages that rehash what is already in the Player’s Handbook, you get those forty or so extra pages that were unlocked by stretch goals. It’s a shame those pages weren’t devoted to the campaign setting instead as that would have made the book more useful and less repetitive. Did we really need to go over what classes are best to dual class with or how the SEIGE Engine system works? If you buy The Player’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands,, you probably already no these things and also already own the core rulebooks. Wasted pages and wasted trees all around here.

The actual content on the Haunted Highlands itself is both weak and sparse. Only the first two chapters, roughly thirty-five pages are actually about the campaign setting itself. Even then only about fifteen pages (8-23) actually talk about the Highlands themselves. That’s less than half the first two chapters and a tenth of the entire book itself! The rest are devoted to twelve pages of gods and fiends, a table of contents, the OGL page, a page of Kickstarter backers, legal mumbo jumbo and a lot of introduction padding. This was a real disappointment to see locations only got a single paragraph of description. There is so little detail and content about the actual Haunted Highlands themselves, I don’t see why we needed two books on the campaign setting. The Player’s Guide is just exceptionally weak if you’re looking for flavor and an in-depth discussion on the region, its people and important locations within it. As mentioned earlier the book devoted a full chapter to rehashes character creation and combat rules for the Player’s Handbook, which is space that both could have and SHOULD HAVE been used to really flesh the actual campaign setting out more. Again, this was such a disappointment and I’m left thinking how much better (and cheaper) for the player things could have been if this was stripped of the actual relevant material and put together with the Castle Keeper’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands and just made into a single book.

Now that isn’t to say that The Player’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands is a complete letdown. There are some worthwhile bits of information and ideas within this book. While the chapter on Races is pretty uninspired and cookie-cutter, it was nice to see stats for playing a goblin, hobgoblin, full blooded orc, Underdark rip-off races and more. Hey, at some point someone is going to want to play one of those. It’s nice to have C&C stats for playing one, including racial advantages and attribute modifiers. I also really like the complete remaking of the Assassin class. While both the original and the Haunted Highlands version of the Assassin have their benefits, I think people will find this new version which is not based on the old AD&D 1e one to really bring something new to the character class and it is perhaps the highlight of the book. Another new class is the Conjurer which is a bit too Final Fantasy Red Mage for my liking. They cast both Cleric and Mage spells and use Charisma in the same way a 3e Sorcerer does. It’s a bit cheesy, but some people will enjoy the option.

Besides full character classes, the book also offers class kits ala the old AD&D Second Edition “Complete Handbooks.” You have a Necromancer template, a Witch template, two monk variants, more than half a dozen Paladin kits and so on. While these are all neat ideas, they really don’t flesh out the Haunted Highlands as a location. There are some very interesting ideas here, but instead of laid out like 2e kits, these should have been done in the style of Advantages, which were introduced in The Book of Familiars. We’re getting way too many different optional ways of customizing a character without any actual uniformity and that’s going to bog down Castles & Crusades far more than it helps it.

The rest of the Player’s Guide is all about magic. You get almost thirty pages of magic based content, ranging from new rules for sacrificial magic to well over 100 new spells for your Castles & Crusades campaign. Granted some of these spells were published long ago, but those books are out of print and have been for some time, so these spells are more than likely new to you unless you are a veteran C&C player with a large collection of books. The spells areorganized not in alphabetical order or by spellcasting level, nor even spell class. Instead they are grouped by the mage who invented the spells or by the god who grants access to them. This is a very odd way of doing things and it makes looking up a spell harder than it should be, but at least there’s a ton of new content here – even if none of it is truly specific to a Haunted Highlands campaign.

So overall, I’m disappointed with both the quality and the content of the Player’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands. There’s very little content that actual pertains to the locations and/or campaign setting. Character creation variants and spells are nice, but I just can’t see why this was divided into two books, or why the spells and character classes weren’t just put into a supplement with all the repeat content from the Player’s Handbook excised out. While the book has a nice price point of only thirteen dollars and some fun ideas, it seems to be one of those books that serves no real purpose nor fills any specific need C&C gamers were clamoring for. My advice is to stay away from this one. If you’re curious about the Haunted Highlands campaign setting, just get the Castle Keeper’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands if anything. So far, between this and The Free City of Eskadia, the Haunted Highlands has been one of the lowlights for C&C rather than one of the highlights – at least for me.

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