Tabletop Review: Night of the Spirits (Castles & Crusades)

Castles & Crusades: Night of the Spirits
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
Cost: $7.99 (Currently on holiday sale for only $.99!)
Page Count: 26
Release Date: 10/27/2014
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

Night of the Spirits is a Halloween inspired adventure for Castles & Crusades, one of my favorite OSR style games. Of course, this Halloween is not your usual dressing up in costumes and getting treats or even a survival horror adventure heavily influenced by some Hollywood hack and slash flick. No, this adventure is based on the Celtic version of the holiday Samonios (or Samhain for the Celts amongst you). It lasted three nights and was a time when the worlds of mortals and monsters drew nigh and one could easily cross between them. This particular adventure will pit a team of PCs (Back cover says 4-8 between levels 4-6 but the inside cover says for 3-5 characters between Levels 4-6. There’s a typo somewhere!) against a Dark Druid who seeks to control the Wild Hunt into destroying his enemies. If successful, the Dark Druid will take control of the druidic order in the isles and turn it into something horrible. The players have the three nights of Samonios to uncover the conspiracy and save the village of Henlwyn.

Night of the Spirits can be run as a direct sequel of To Kill a King which won our “Best Adventure” award in the 2014 Tabletop Gaming Awards. It can also be played as a one shot or shoved into Castles & Crusades campaigns. It’s that versatile. That said, it does have heavy Celtic roots and leanings, so you might want to be familiar with Celtic mythology or own/have read the Codex Celtarum sourcebook for Castles & Crusades. Night of the Spirits is also a VERY linear adventure, but it was purposely designed that way. After all, the adventure takes the characters through three nights of escalating horror and combat. There’s no way this piece could be made in an open world or sandbox style of adventure. Your characters can still totally investigate false leads and go in totally opposite directions as the adventure intends. That will always be true of any adventure. However since each night of the adventure is so fully planned out, the PCs and their players will have very little chance or opportunity to go off rails.

The first night of the adventure is pretty simple. It’s mostly setup, exploring a forest and there is only a single planned encounter with some bandits. The second night escalates things to include random encounters, exploring other villages, searching for missing people, a costume party of sorts, more bandits and some actual monsters. The final night is where things get big as hopefully you will have put together enough clues to figure out who is behind things and initiate the boss battle. Of course it is quite possible for the Dark Druid to succeed if the players aren’t clever enough to solve the mystery and if that occurs, your campaign will be radically altered. It’s a great piece that balances hack and slash combat with really testing the mental mettle of both the players and their characters. Most OSR adventures do revolve around dungeon crawling or straight combat, and that’s probably why I love Castles & Crusades so much – they never fail to create some highly original outside the box adventures for high fantasy.

Night of the Spirits is a pretty straightforward linear adventure that can be played in only one or two sessions. It has a fun thematic story, and it’s the perfect time of year to play or run this adventure. Best of all, it’s currently only ninety-nine cents, which means any gamer, even one that has never played Castles & Crusades should strongly consider picking this up. It’s highly compatible with any other OSR system, including Dungeons & Dragons itself. This means even if you own something like Swords & Wizardry you can convert Night of the Spirits to your preferred high fantasy game with little to no effort. Heck, you could even make this work with something like Dungeon World or Pathfinder. With Night of the Spirits costing less than a dollar, I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t pick this up unless you just hate tabletop RPG…and if that is the case, why are you reading this review? This is a great way to get an adventure for extremely cheap AND see why I’m such a big proponent of Castles & Crusades in the first place. It’s a well-balanced piece that exudes a fine Halloween atmosphere without being overly cheesy or hamfisting the theme into an adventure. No, Samhain is pivotal to the adventure and Night of the Spirits makes for an excellent adventure to play or run on Halloween. It’s not especially horrifying or Ravenloft-esque, but it is a fun fantasy affair that showcases what makes Castles & Crusades such a great system.

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