I may have mentioned before that I’m slowly but surely trying to coax my current 4E group to give Castles & Crusades a try. We’re currently very happy with 4E but we all agree it’s a good idea to intersperse other experiences just to make sure neither the game, nor the group starts to feel stale. For my money, C&C is the perfect option. The rules-lite system and streamlined game mechanics line up nicely with the goal of getting a good experience in just a single night of gaming or over the course of a short “vacation” campaign. Since there’s not a lot of rules overhead and because what rules ARE there are based on previous editions of the game, familiarity should come pretty easily. I’m confident that a good session could be had right out of the gate.
To this end, I’ve started some pre-prep for when that happens. I’ve started boning up on my C&C rules and resolution. I’ve been familiarizing myself with the old-school stat blocks and spell mechanics. It’s been a real blast. Recently my preprep has included the search for some published material to run. Since this won’t likely be a long term campaign, I’ve decided not to customize too much, or put a large amount of design time into the game. The first adventure I’ve had the opportunity to take a look at is Shadows of The Halfling Hall by Mike Stewart. I chose this adventure for two reasons. First is that I’ve seen it in many places, including Amazon, Ebay and the Troll Lords site. It seems to be a successful module for entry level play. Second is that I listen to a podcast called SaveOrDie and Mike Stewart is one of the hosts whom I very much enjoy listening to. The podcast is dedicated to Old School D&D boxed sets, specifically, the Holmes set, Moldvay and Mentzer. Mike appears to be a guy who knows his stuff. Keep reading for my review of this very old-school C&C adventure.
Vital Statistics: Shadows of The Halfling Hall is an adventure written for the Castles & Crusades RPG by Mike Stewart for characters of Level 1-3 with a challenge level of 0-1. This last part means it’s right in line with what Level 1-3 characters should be able to do. Not too hard but not too easy. I downloaded it from RPGNOW.com as part of a larger C&C module bundle. You can buy it on it’s own for $3.99 here. A free preview is also available at that same link. It is 24 pages long, includes 5 keyed maps (although based on my reading, one may be missing from the PDF that I think may have been present on the inside cover) and 3 very interesting new monster types. The adventure is well written in clear and concise narrative format. While simple, it’s still an enjoyable read. Modules written in this voice are always nice to prep for because you don’t have to jump around so much for it to make sense. There are a few typos, but not as many as most TLG products. There is also one possible mathematical error where a lockbox is said to have a lock set by a 3rd level rogue, which it decrees as CL18 when I think it should be CL3, meaning there is an additional 3 added to the Challenge Base of either 12 or 18 for a total of Challenge Class 15 or 21. Other than those, the adventure reads nice and smooth.
If you’ve ever read any of the first edition AD&D modules or even the early basic D&D modules, you’ll be immediately familiar with how the adventure is laid out. It starts with a basic plot outline and then goes into nice detail on the NPCs. Their motivations and concerns are given as well as how they may react to certain actions by the PCs. It is all written with the assumption that they will be involved in significant roleplay scenes. There are actually quite a few NPCs. Lots of people for the group to talk to and ask questions. The storyline is a bit of a mystery (see below for a spoiler free explanation) and so I would expect much of this adventure to be investigation. If your group isn’t into investigation, this module will still work nicely but you’ll lose a fair bit of the content that it includes, which for the price, is still a good value.
The keyed maps I mentioned are not strictly the graph paper style of old but would work fine drawn on a grid or not. They are not designed for minis but rather as a point of reference for description via both exploration or combat. They are simple enough that hand drawing them in a larger format will be quite easily accomplished. One of the beauties of C&C combat is that it doesn’t require minis or a battle mat, but will work fine with both if that’s what you choose.
Spoiler Free Story summary:
In Shadows of The Halfling Hall, the party finds themselves in the halfling canton of New Briar. One of the more prominent residents of the town, Willic Brambletoe, recently threw a party to celebrate the completion of his new home (a hobbit hole of course). However, after the party, no one was seen again. Now, it is up to the group of adventurers to find out what happened to the revelers. This will involve investigation with townspeople, family members, and even friends (and enemies) of the missing halflings. There’s a lot to learn in this little town and every inhabitant has some small piece of the story. Quite pleasingly, the author does a great job of naming the halflings according to Tolkeinian norms. Some names include Merin Fireheel, Josephus Longbottom, Gwynnd Knucklefoot, and most interestingly, Kyann Scarytoe. (Note to DM: If you don’t do something interesting with Kyann Scarytoe, you’re simply not doing this module justice)
Eventually, the party will work their way to the newly finished home of Willic Brambletoe. What they find there and what they’ve learned in their investigation will lead to some pretty interesting adventures as they start to put all the pieces together.
Start of slight spoiler….
As they investigate the scene of the “event” they’ll learn lots of interesting things about people in the village as well as how the new home was constructed. It will end in a relatively short dungeon crawl as they get to the bottom of things (pun intended). The final showdown is pretty interesting and should have low level players on the edge of their seats. Death is a risk in this adventure as it is in most old-school games.
End of slight spoiler…
Ultimately, I’d qualify this short adventure as a success on multiple levels. I think it does a good job of introducing new gamers to how the C&C ruleset treats the world, including the interactions between the residents of the world and the PCs. Secondly, I think it does a good job of offering an interesting story that is of an appropriate scale for new players and dungeon masters. One thing that I like about more classic systems and adventures is the scale. Everything feels more personal. Perhaps you’re not saving the world, or an entire nation, but instead you’re saving a village, or a friend, or someones loved one. The scale is smaller and more palpable. Shadows of The Halfling Hall does a great job of capturing this spirit. If you have a group ready to play C&C, this would be as good a place to start as any. With a small amount of work, it could also be a very good Halloween adventure. By adding a bit more strangeness and suspicion to the NPCs and a little more spider webs and fog toward the end of the adventure, it could really work great as a Halloween special.