Tabletop Review: Codex Celtarum (Castles & Crusades)

Castles & Crusades: Codex Celtarum
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
Cost: $27.99 (Physical)/$19.59 (PDF)
Page Count: 170
Release Date: 04/26/2013
Get it Here:

I’m always happy to see new Castles & Crusades books come out, as it’s my favorite OSR system. I’ve also really been enjoying their Celt influenced line of products like The Goblins of Mount Shadow and The Crimson Pact, so I was really looking forward to the Codex Celtarum. especially after how successful the Kickstarter for this book was.

The Codex Celtarum contains a little bit of everything you could want for a Celtic-influenced campaign. I should point out that the Celtarum is not a source book for 100% accurate real world Celtic mythology, folklore and culture. It’s an adaptatiom of Celtic culture for the Castles & Crusades setting. There had to be some give and take which the author, who has a Masters in Arthurian Studies realized full well. The end result is one that should please fans of Celtic myth and role players used to generic high fantasy settings alike. The Codex Celtarum is something that every Castles & Crusades fan should be able to enjoy and appreciate, even if they don’t actually use it in their game.

There are eight sections in the book (Not counting the prologue). They are as follows:

1. Once Upon a Time – this covers the World creation and general overall mythology of the setting. The author has done his best to strip away the Christian influence of these beliefs and stories, which is not an easy task mind you, considering how intertwined they have been for the last two thousand years. He does a great job though and you get a more “pure” look at the Celtic world for a purely high fantasy setting that doesn’t have the same religious trappings as our own. You get a nice look at various races, historical events like the Darkwars and so on, along with the snap shot of how the world is in present day. By that I mean the game world’s present day, not our own.

2. In Lands Far Away – This is a general historical chapter. Here you see things like the Two Cauldrons (Night & Day), the Twelve Houses (families of Gods), information on Faerie portals and how time differs in their world, and locations that players will visit and/or travel to in their adventurers. This is the primary geographical explanation of the world and the races/people who inhabit the specific islands and regions talked about. It would have been nice to have a few maps (or even one!) in this chapter so that DMs could better visualize the locations, but since so much of it involved the Fae’s world, that is probably easier said than done.

3. There Lived a People – this chapter gives you stats for various Faerie races and monsters you will encounter while playing in this setting. It also gives some charts of Fae weaknesses, traits and typical punishments they hand out. I’ll admit I was a little disappointed that this chapter didn’t include rules for playing some of these unique creatures as a PC, but it is what it is. The chapter ends with a history of Welsh Giants and gives out their specific locations, which is kind of neat but perhaps a wee bit too specific for the average DM.

4. Great of Magic and Power – The world of Faerie is exceptionally magical, with everything from a blade of grass to a steel sword containing some measure of magic power. Now whether said items retains its magic outside of the land of Faerie is another story. This chapter explains the different between a Fae’s spell-like abilities ad actual spells themselves, along with the mechanics and rules for both. As Castles & Crusades is a rules-light system, you don’t have to worry about memorizing too much. You get lots of charts to help with making NPC Fae on the fly. You can choose from general charts, or ones geared towards a specific race. You also get lists of new Cleric, Druid and Illusionist spells. As you can probably surmise, the bulk of spells in this chapter are Druidic ones.

5. Strong of Feats and Deeds – This chapter gives you information about Celtic warfare and reasons for it. I love that the book has an entire section on magical tattoos and body paint, for example. This thing is so highly detailed, you can’t help but be impressed. There is a list of twenty Feats that characters can learn. But these aren’t exactly what you think of from 3E D&D or Pathfinder. These Feats are learned in-game, by role-playing rather than leveling up. It’s a very interesting way of implementing them, and although I really like the idea of earning something through role-playing, some gamers might be too used to gaining things through leveling up to enjoy this.

6. With Great Gods and Lords – This chapter is all about the deities of the Celtic world. You don’t get any stats here, which is a smart thing because otherwise you’d have some power gamers running around trying to kill gods. You are told the relationship between the Gods and both Clerics and Druids. There is a distinction, after all.

7. Who have Mighty Names and Feats – this is the closest the Codex Celtarum comes to being mechanics heavy. This chapter is primarily for the Castle Keeper (DM), but PCs should read it too as it has some good role-playing commentary. The chapter primarily frames character classes in a Celtic lens. It points out the hardship of making a Monk, Cleric or Paladin work in a Celtic/Fairie world, which is interesting. You also get some new Classes, which is what I was most interested in. There is the Woodwose clan, which are the “savage” men of the wilderness, who are also known as Wildmen. Wildmen are a bit of a Ranger/Rogue/Druid mashup with abilities like Know Poisons, Forestwise and Sylvan Leap. These are some powerful abilities and with d8 Hit Points, the ability to use any weapons or armor and very low XP thresholds to level up, the Woodwose is a bit overpowered in my opinion.

Another class is the Wolf Charmer, which is kind of a Bard/Ranger hybrid. A Wolf Charmer is a dual class only profession and only of a neutral or evil alignment. Basically they can summon and control wolves and then at 5th level, lycanthropes as well. Holy crap, now that’s overpowered. My only real complaint about the book is that the two new classes are unbalanced, and that some tweaking should have been done here. The rest of the chapter is about adventure seeds and Celtic sounding naes so your character will better fit with the setting.

8. Items, Enchanted and Divine – the last chapter in the Codex Celtarum is all about magical items, with special attention paid to the concept of Faerie metal. Forsome reason though, the chapter also includes the language and history of Druids as well as information of societies. I’m not sure why these bits got shoehorned here as they absolutely should have been in chapters two or three. Their inclusion at the end just really destroys the flow of the book. Last I checked, things like Holidays and Customs are not “Items, Enchanted and Divine,” you know?

Aside from a few minor quibbles, the Codex Celtarum is simply an amazing book. It’s not just one of the best Castles & Crusades sourcebooks ever, but it’s something that ANY fantasy game setting can pick up and use/adapt, especially if they are looking for a Celtic flair for their homebrew world and stories. There is so little in the way of mechanics, that you won’t ever have to do that much converting, especially if you already use an OSR system. As usual, the new Celtic content line for Castles & Crusades continues to impress.



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3 responses to “Tabletop Review: Codex Celtarum (Castles & Crusades)”

  1. […] have two highly successful Kickstarter projects but they released a ton of great content. In fact, Codex Celtarum won our “Best Old School Renaissance Release” and To Kill a King won our “Best […]

  2. […] 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 […]

  3. […] 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 […]

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