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Crypts and Things $12.00
Average Rating:4.2 / 5
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Crypts and Things
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Crypts and Things
Publisher: D101 Games
by Dylan H. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/08/2013 20:33:59
Crypts & Things Review from Digitalorc.blogspot.com

The Good: Coherent rules and complete material for a Howard-inspired world.
The Bad: Poor grammar and occasionally poor artwork.
The Bottom Line: If you like old school Dungeons & Dragons and Conan, buy it.

Introduction
Crypts & Things is a stand-alone roleplaying game with a Robert Howard-like flair. The system is a highly modified Swords and Wizardry variant based on the Open Gaming License. I suppose some would call this a retro clone variant and others would call it a Heartbreaker. Crypts & Things is written by Newt Newport and published through D101 games. I bought the PDF from RPGNow for $10.99 and printed out a hard copy for annotations for the purpose of this review. However, a softcover via Lulu is $23.50 and the hardcover will run you $40. Crypts & Things is copyright 2011. It is 151 pages in length and features interior illustrations by Steve Austin, Eric Lofgen, Scott Neil, John Ossoway, and Scott Purdy. This review focuses on the following elements: layout, grammar, completeness, artwork, character creation, combat mechanics, non-combat mechanics, monsters, and spells.

Crypts & Things is an excellent game with everything you need to start roleplaying a game of Conan after a single reading. For those of you already familiar with Swords & Wizardry or early editions of Dungeons and Dragons, you will certainly recognize terms and rules, but will also want to read Crypts & Things in its entirety. Readers of Dragon magazine and OSR blogs (such as Digital Orc) will find many familiar rule changes and ideas. The value of Crypts & Things is not that the ideas and rules are particularly original or the writing elegant and precise (because it is not), but in how the entire package is effectively aligned towards a specific genre. If you like old school Dungeons and Dragons and Conan, you will like this game.

Layout
The layout is typical of a retroclone such as Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord. The entire text is bifurcated into a players section called “Scrolls of Wonderous [sic] Revelation” (yes, I’ll address the grammar in another paragraph) and the Game Master’s (called the Crypt Keeper) half called “The Book of Doom.” The text begins with a brief introduction to roleplaying, then quickly marches a reader through the twenty-some pages of character creation. Next are twenty pages of spells and fifty-some pages for monsters. The Crypt Keeper’s section includes general advice, rule clarification, tables, and a sample adventure.

There are a few walls of text, but most pages are pleasantly broken up with artwork and clear tables. Frequent quotes in large fonts add character, develop mood, and also break the pages nicely. Examples are italicized and a variety of shape outlines (rectangular, ovid, etc) help differentiate content. Pagination is consistent, and the table of contents and index make quick location of content in print versions relatively simple.

Grammar
The Grammar in Crypts & Things is atrocious. At times it is confusing and others nonsensical. For a product in which nearly all aspects show a degree of polish, the grammar sticks out like a turd in a punchbowl. British spellings and rampant misspellings aside, the syntax itself is often so poor as to confuse rather than clarify. Hyphen are missing, spaces are added, and profuse commas abound where no two clauses exist.

For example, “This is the Countess, would be bride of the Nizur-Thun slain in her sleep before her wedding night day the attack and returned from the grave as a Ghoul.” (p.129) The stat blocks (see combat mechanics paragraph) are also strangely inconsistent. Movement, Specials, and Saving Throw includes a colon, but not Armor Class, Hit Dice, or Experience Points; it splits based on abbreviations. In some cases entire lines are either missing or indentation is misused (e.g., Appendix B, p.134).

The writing oscillates from the typically informal to the formal with frequent and unnecessary passivity. Terms are needlessly repeated; “... which are gained as the character gains…” (p.9). Even the text formatting fluctuates. The fighter stronghold paragraph, for example, has inconsistent line spacing (p.12).

Completeness
Crypts & Things is wonderfully complete. It includes everything a Crypt Keeper needs to run years of campaigns. Set in a specific world called Zarth, the text contains plenty of unique locations, magical equipment, monsters, NPCs, spell, and campaign ideas to keep gameplay exciting.

Artwork
Conan has a long and intertwined history with comics. Many famous artists such as Frazetta frequently used Conan as source material. Therefore, anyone going into an RPG emulating Robert Howard’s world of the Hyborian Age likely expects spectacular art. Crypts & Things at times offers effective illustrations, but fails to deliver high quality art that channels Howard and supports reading and gameplay. Some of the pieces are appropriately dark and macabre with thick lines and lots of black space. These pieces certainly align with the themes of the text and develop a sombre mood. However, other art is composed of light sketches and falls flat. Some of the illustrations are also reused through the text.

Character Creation
Character creation in Crypts & Things is fantastic because players have the opportunity to delve deeper into a smaller selection of classes. The system has eliminated all demi-humans and clerics and added one class. This provides a total choice of four classes: hardy barbarians, strong fighters, smart magicians, and dextrous thieves. Crypts & Things also removes alignment (and thus alignment languages) and collapses the traditional numerous saving throw values into one. All characters can backstab and the traditional thief’s skills of climbing, moving silently, etc are distributed amongst the player classes.

Character creation also includes a “Generate Life Events” table which not only fleshes out a character’s backstory, but also involves mechanical applications (p.19). Rolling a five, for example, results in “”I was a slave at a royal court.” +2 CHA.” Not only do beginning characters roll on this table, but developing characters continue to roll on this table every three levels or at the Crypt Keeper’s discretion.

Despite these simplifications, Crypts & Things players have more choices with their characters rather than less. The character creation pool is less wide, but far deeper. There are fighting styles, spell types (more on that later), and an expanded modifier table. Characters have class skills to tweak and sanity to protect. Even though the first step choices are narrowed compared to comparable retroclones, the overall character creation process is enriched. Such an alignment-free human-centric world not only aligns with those of Conan and Red Sonja, but with the way many people already play Dungeons & Dragons.

Combat Mechanics
Combat is very similar to Swords & Wizardry: determine surprise, declare spells, determine initiative, take turns acting, repeat. There are, however, a smattering of differences. The rules permit “holding” an action until the end of a round, for example (p.27). Holding two weapons also provides a +1 to hit, but the off-hand weapon must be a dagger and the damage is the average of the two weapons. Also, character classes, themselves, include several modifiers to hit and damage that players must take into account.

In many places categories of combat rules are entirely sidestepped by an ambiguous deference to the Crypt Keeper. Critical hits and fumbles, for examples, begins “There is no official system for handling critical hits…” (p.30). The rules for retreating are confined to two sentences: “It is up to the Crypt Keeper to decide if there will be any special rules for retreating away from a melee combat. Most Crypt Keepers allow the enemy a free attack if the character or monsters) moves away by more than its “combat” movement of base movement rate in feet.” (p.30)

Monster stat blocks are concise. Skeletons, for example, are included in the provided four page adventure, “The Halls of Nizar-Thun.”
"Skeleton: AC 7 [11] HD 1 HP 4 Attacks: Short Sword (1d6) Saving Throw: 17 Special: None Move: 12 XP 15" (p.129)
The Crypt Keeper is frequently reminded that combat and, indeed, all rules are malleable or even optional. The author employs such an approach both in keeping with the old school spirit of house-ruling and to prevent the setting from changing the rules significantly. “Remember none of this is written in stone.” (p.131) “I don’t want to get in your way by making the rules heavily setting-dependant [sic].” (p.132) The Crypt Keeper is also admonished to “Not overdo the rules” (p.135).

In Crypts & Things Hit Points “represent only ‘superficial” damage.” (p.32) This includes exhaustion, bruises, minor damage, etc. They are easily and quickly recovered. However, once a character’s Hit Points are reduced to zero, they take damage directly from their constitution. This state requires checks to remain conscious and is far more difficult from which to recover.

Non Combat Mechanics
Characters have a collection of non combat skills determined by class and life events. These skills include abilities such as climbing, opening locks, perception, tracking, sense danger, and others. Any character can attempt any skill; they simply do not receive a class or event-induced bonus to their roll.

Speaking of rolls, all characters have a solitary numerical saving throw. It is the basis for a universal task resolution system. Characters attempting any non combat task simply rolls a 1d20, applies modifiers, and compares the result to their saving throw. If the total results is equal to or greater than the saving throw, the task is completed successfully. Not only is this system wonderfully simple, it encourages players to increasingly interact with their world. It also provides a generalized and consistent framework for the Crypt Keeper.

The sanity rules also employ the simple task resolution system. A character’s Wisdom attribute determines their sanity. Any time a character encounters black magic or witnesses “unspeakable supernatural horrors”, they must roll against their saving throw or lose 1d6 Wisdom (p.26). Once, or if, a character reaches zero, they are irreparably insane and unplayable. The remaining rule framework is Swords & Wizardry. Gaining experiences, passage of time, encumberence and hiring henchmen basically follow the same mechanics.

Monsters
Many of the monsters of Zarth are ported directly from Swords & Wizardry. The fire beetles and cockitrice, for example, are near-identical transfers. Many, however, are both unique and effectively channel the feel of Conan. Serpent Men, for example, are a dangerous species of lizard-men. Nemon are an interesting amphibious humanoid variant. Overall, there are over one hundred monsters.

Spells
Spells are somewhat different in Crypts & Things compared to Swords & Wizardry. While some of the terms and effects are similar, the way in which they are organized and cast is significantly different. Spells are organized into three basic categories; white, grey, and black. White magic heals and protects, gray is illusionistic, and black is harmful. Grey magic can physically injure (or even kill) the caster and dark magic can drive them insane (at which point their character is unplayable and handed over to the Crypt Keeper). Casting is Vancian and organized into both tables and pages of clarifying text. There are a total of 142 spells; forty-four while, forty-four grey, and fifty-four black.

Conclusion
Crypts & Things is awesome; I love it. It still makes me want to run players in the dark world of Zarth, even though it needs another edit job and better artwork. While the rules are not particularly original or groundbreaking, they align very well with the world of Conan. At first glance, Crypts & Things may appear to over simplify Swords & Wizardry. However, it actually offers greater complexity in a human-centric world where magic is dangerous, enchantments are rare, and every encounter could be your last moment of sanity. Won’t join me in a visit?

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Crypts and Things
Publisher: D101 Games
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2013 12:55:10
Crypts & Things is one of those games that has been sitting in my "to be read" pile forever. It is an Old School game built off of Swords & Wizardry. Some of the material is familiar to anyone that has played S&W or any of the various D&D/Retro-clone games. Where C&T differs is in scope (what the characters can eventually do vs what the creatures can already do) and tone. C&T is very much "Conan vs. The Horrors". It tries to go after the same ethos as say Dungeon Crawl Classics or Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I think though it succeeds where those two games fail with me because it still assumes that the characters, rough cut as they are, are still something of a hero.

The game begins with the same basic info on Abilities found in all old-school games. We get to classes. Here there are some changes. The Barbarian is a core class for example. The Magic-User and Cleric are now rolled into a Magician, which is not a bad change really. They are stronger than their OSR counterparts (d6 HD vs the more common d4). The Magician also can channel White, Grey or black magic; so effectively 3 classes. The other classes are Fighter and Thief. If you don't like Clerics (as a seperate class), well this is your game.

Hit points are also handled differently in C&T. It is less health and more a measure of health, will, and determination to live. Honestly it is the same as a house rule I used to use back in the day.

There is a completely old-school Random Life Events table (which, like most everything in this book, can be used with other games).There are a few pages on equipment, on styles of play and about 20 pages of spells.
Additionally there is a minimalist Sanity mechanic that I thinks works rather well. I am a huge critic of sanity mechanics in RPGs and I feel that most never get it right, especially in a heroics-based rpg. While there is a lot of room for interpretation in these rules, the gist of the rules are good. I can certainly say I don't hate this mechanic.

The rest of the book (about 3/5 ths) is devoted to the game master or Crypt Keeper. This includes a little bit about the assumed game world, a pastiche of Howard, Lovecraft, Smith, Moorcock and other Appendix N luminaries. Normally I scoff at this, but here it works rather well. More to point it can also be ignored or added as needed since it doesn't take up a lot of space.
Next we have Treasure. Like many games of this sort there is not a lot of magic items. Indeed there are only 20 total; designed to be rare and special.
After that is the monster listings. This is what really sets this game above and beyond it's peers. There are plenty of monsters here both new and old. There is also a monster creation section.
We end the main book with a sample adventure.
13 Appendices follow that would work for any game and finally a great looking character sheet.

What is Crypts & Things good for?
It is a great addition to any S&W game for starters. Get it for the monsters alone, or the revised Magician or Barbarian. There is something here new for you.
It is a great addition to any OSR game for a grittier, "us against the darkness" sort of game.
In terms of horror, it is the subtle creeping horror. It is somewhere between Ravenloft (minus the camp and cliches) and Call of Cthulhu. Though unlike those games which has the implication of "looking for trouble" in C&T trouble comes for you.

Honestly almost everything you need to know about C&T is on that cover. A magician and barbarian fighting snake-like lizard men.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Crypts and Things
Publisher: D101 Games
by Bill D. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/01/2012 05:36:39
In five words or less: I LOVE IT!

C&T captures the flavor it intends to – the feel of weird fantasy sword and sandal pulp stories. A S&W variant, it’s more Howard, Leiber, Moorcock and Lovecraft than Tolkien, but you knew that already.

So the flavor of the game is fun and well executed, and it affects the rules in a few significant ways. There are four classes, the Barbarian, Fighter, Magician, and thief. Every PC! Yes, since “everyone is a rogue” in these stories, all the PCs can backstab if they get the drop on a target. I like this, and it doesn’t take away from the thief class.

This thief is more Gray Mouser than Bilbo Baggins, maybe a slightly better fighter than the original thief, but other than that is basically the thief we know and love.

The fighter has some neat options to customize their abilities and make sure they’re not all cookie cutter fighters. This design strikes a nice balance between feats and kits or fighter subclasses. They can be monk-like brawlers or pursue weapon mastery, for example, but can’t do it all. I find this to be an elegant way to add options without too many rules and power bloat.

The barbarian is well designed to honor the tropes of Barbarian while being distinct from the fighter class. Again, since everyone can backstab this feels very Conan to me (admittedly, I haven’t read all of Howard’s Conan stories and only a few Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, but C&T gives me this impression).

The Magician can learn magic that in regular S&W (or any OSR or D&D game) would be Wizard and Cleric magic; now it’s just Magic: organized into White, Grey, and Black magic. Naturally white magic is good and kind and helpful, Black is evil and harmful, and Grey is the other spells that transform, hypnotize, charm, or create. Here the rules changes get interesting.

The most significant rule change IMO is that hit points are not representing one’s physical health and well being; hit points represent their endurance, willpower and stamina; their Grit if you will. So PCs are not killed at 0 hp, they start taking Constitution damage. Naturally your character is killed at 0 CON.

I really like this change! Because of it,healing is different; healing spells only heal CON damage, not HP. Also, your HP refresh every night of full rest (since they’re more about mental and physical stamina than physical healing) and you can even ‘heal’ some HP with a good stiff drink. This too, totally works for me: The heroes gird their loins, take a swing of bravery, and leap once more into the fray. Perfect. I’d argue a good rousing speech would heal some HP following this paradigm. There are magical healing potions as well, but they’re far less common than normal S&W.

This really gets interesting with magic, as White magic can be cast as often as you can memorize it (the familiar Vancian system) with no negative effects (except one 6th level White spell that pisses off the evil entities). Casting Gray Magic costs your Magician Hit Points. It’s the classic trope of suffering physical strain to use magic forces that Man Was Not Meant To Tamper With. It SO WORKS! Black magic is even better: You have to kill a sentient being to or risk Sanity Loss to cast Black magic spells. LOVE IT. And Wisdom equals Sanity Points in C&T, similar to Call of Chuthulu, but simpler.

There are most of the spells you’d expect, a few that are new (to my knowledge) and most are tweaked to better fit the setting. The "skill system" if there is one is to use the character's Saving Throw (modified by attribute bonus or penalty) to resolve any roll not covered by class abilities or defined some other way. I first encountered this method in X-plorers, and find it to be elegant - simple yet effective, and it keeps the game fast-paced.

The setting included in the book, the world of Zarth, reinforces the entire milieu perfectly. I’ll leave it at that, because it’s a good read, but I'm excited about the Shroud, which surrounds and permeates the world of Zarth and is a source of power for Magicians daring to use it. The Shroud, sort of like the Mists of Ravenloft, is the thin veil that encases and separates the world from the Outer Chaos (or whatever it’s called). Some Black Magic spells function because the caster interacts directly with the Shroud. For example, slipping into it other-worldly ethereal non-space to disappear from one location and reappear in another (teleport). Another example is to use the Shroud to become invisible, just like when Frodo puts on the One Ring and enters the Nazgul phantom zone (so there’s your Tolkien, if you must have it, LOL). Naturally, travelling in the Shroud is a sanity-bending experience for the uninitiated and it attracts all sorts of attention from the Others (C&T’s name for Outsiders/Demons/Elder Chaos beings, etc). Good stuff!

The magic items and creatures all follow this sort of design and enhance the flavor of the setting and game swimmingly, and I think the whole of C&T totally rocks, if that wasn’t clear already. The book itself is well illustrated and laid out well. I bought the pdf to save money, but even printed on three hole punched paper and put in a binder it looks great. I also like the art; it is it effective, evocative and kinetic. Just take a gander at that great cover!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Crypts and Things
Publisher: D101 Games
by Idle R. H. P. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/07/2012 23:29:09
While not entirely to my tastes, Crypts & Things is definitely still one of the better Old School Renaissance games that I've read through recently. It's a darker toned game, drawing inspiration from the works of Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, and even a little H.P. Lovecraft. As a result, it's closer to the Weird Fantasy Swords & Sorcery genre rather than the "classic" fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkein and the more recent fantasy role-playing games.

I'll get the few little things I dislike about the system out of the way first and then move on. At the top of this list is the "to hit" tables. Yes, back in the day lots of role-playing game systems used tables to determine the results of certain actions, especially combat. Currently though, tables are seen as being rather clunky and outdated as they tend to take time to read and can slow down the flow of the game. I get the feeling that the author included the "to hit" tables to make the game feel a bit more "old school" but I could have done without them. Thankfully the author included a formula for determining hits without using the tables, but it's tucked away at the end of the Combat section and easy to miss.

The other little nit-picky thing I dislike about the system is the two Armor Class systems presented. One is the classic descending system (with AC9 being unarmored and AC3 being platemail) and the other the more recent ascending system (with AC10 being unarmored and AC16 being platemail). Both systems work well and effects that modify Armor Class (such as stat bonuses, armor, and spell effects) have rules for both systems. But Just like the "to hit" tables vs. the "to hit" formula, I wish that there was just a single mechanic rather than two options for the players and GM to choose from. This is really just personal choice though, and other people may love the fact that two combat systems are included in the book.

On to things I like about the system and setting. The "saving throw as skill resolution" rubbed my the wrong way at first, but now I actually like it. It's a nice simple way to resolve skill checks without having to keep track of skill points or remembering what skills the PCs are trained in. As a character's saving throw increases as they advance in levels, players will feel as if their characters are getting better without having to spend resources to improve a specific skill. The Crypt Keeper (DM/GM) also has the freedom to apply subjective bonuses/penalties based on the situation, instead of having to pour through a list of specific modifiers for specific skills in specific situations.

Magic seemed rather unbalanced when I first read the Magician class entry. Magic is divided into three schools; White, Grey, and Black. Mechanically, White magicians are at a big advantage over Grey and Black magicians. White magicians have no penalty when casting spells, while Grey magicians suffer exhaustion, and Black magicians risk sanity point loss and permanent mental damage. I thought it was odd to have one type of magic so clearly superior to other types, yet list all three as options for players to choose for their characters. Only after reading the Appendix did I discover why this is. As mentioned in the introduction, Crypts & Things takes it's cues from the darker, Weird Fantasy Sword & Sorcery genre. Magic is intended to be dark and mysterious, used primarily by corrupt and insane wizards for nefarious and unspeakable purposes. It's not really meant to be heavily used by the player characters, as in the more "standard" fantasy games. Magicians are clearly the "bad guys" and the mechanics of magic use reflect this. The hefty penalties imposed on Grey and Black magicians are there to be reminders of that fact. Characters who follow these paths are meddling with the forces that man was not meant to know, and are walking the razor's edge with a dangerous drop into insanity on either side. Once you accept this fact, the magic rules make sense.

The Appendix is also quite useful, even if you don't plan on running a Crypts & Things game. There is a nice section on the role of the Crypt Keeper and the do's and don'ts of running the game that can be applied when GMing just about any system. There's a few sections that allow you to generate random objects, areas, elements, and even the Big Bad that can be used when the players head off in an unexpected direction or to jump start the Crypt Keeper's creativity when planning a session. Crypts & Things is worth the price tag, whether you plan on running an "old school" game or are just looking for ideas on a darker Swords & Sorcery variant.

You can find other reviews on the Idle Red Hands homepage at http://www.idleredhands.com/

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Crypts and Things
Publisher: D101 Games
by Dominique C. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/19/2012 04:18:03
I bought this game out of curiosity. Basically, Crypt & Things is a variant of Swords & Wizardry that aims at running adventures in grim and gritty sword and sorcery settings. In fact, it provides such a setting, but I personally find it a little simplistic and bare-bone.

The main differences of rules C&T provides compared to S&W, is to get rid of clerics, and replace the usual generic magic-user by a mage that must either opt for White, Black, or Gray magic. The hindrance for playing a Gray mage seems ludicrous (it costs 2 hit-points per spell level to cast a spell, where White mages cast without hp cost), but it can be easily discarded. Same remark for black mages. C&T also provide a thief and a barbarian class, and the fighter can be customized.

Apart from this, I also appreciate the magical items that have some dark and detrimental aspects. The art and layout on the over hand, are often mediocre (though there is a couple of nice illustrations).

Overall this is a decent game. I give it three stars, as I find it neither bad nor great.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
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