Preview of RPGNet CK Screen Review

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Jason Vey
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Preview of RPGNet CK Screen Review

Post by Jason Vey »

Hi, all...I just submitted a review of the CK screens over at RPGNet, and I thought I'd give you all a preview. Enjoy.

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Greetings, Lords and Ladies! Once again, it is I, the mighty Grey Elf, with a review to rock your world and revolutionize your view of the gaming industry.

Okay, maybe not. But it's a review, nonetheless.

As many are aware, Castles and Crusades is one of the fastest-growing fantasy games on the market today, providing a quick, rules-light, streamlined version of classic D&D-style fantasy for those seeking either a throwback to the old days of gaming, or a quick and easy game that can be run without a lot of prep work. The core products for C&C have been oft-reviewed here on RPGNet, with nigh-universal high ratings (when searching for these reviews, be sure to search both "Castles and Crusades" and "Castles & Crusades!").

The most recent outing by the Trolls (as their fans so affectionately refer to the gentlement behind Troll Lord Games) are the "official" Castle Keeper's Screens for C&C. As with all GM screens, this 4-panel screen is designed to put all the vital information for running C&C right at the fingertips of the CK, to minimize book referencing when running a game. I picked these screens up yesterday and used them for the first time. Without further ado, here is the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (or pretty, as the case may be) about the C&C Castle Keeper's Screens (CKS from here on out).
The Good

Up till now, I had been using an excellent set of free screen inserts that can be found online (cobbled together with card stock, tape, and Internet-culled artwork), and was pleased to note that the official screens included everything on the free ones, and more. The CK screens from the Trolls include everything from the core system to class ability breakdowns for each class, to equipment lists, to the tables for calculating monster experience and treasure. Almost everything you need is here, though a few notable omissions downgraded the Substance Rating from 5 to 4. I'll get to that in a moment, but first, here's what you get for your money.
Panel 1: Class Ability Breakdowns for every class in the game, by level.
Panels 2 and 3: The rules. This includes the core mechanic (including definitions of CB, CL, and CC), Turning Undead, cover/concealment, conditional combat modifiers, armed, ranged, special (such as overbearing, bull-rushing, etc) and unarmed combat, the Prime rules, attribute bonuses and checks, grenade-like weapons such as acid...and the long-omitted holy water vs. undead rules at last! Almost everything you could need to avoid having to open the book is here.
Panel 4: Weapons, Armor, Treasure, and XP. This includes a reprint of the weapons and armor charts from the PHB, and the random treasure type chart and monster XP table from Monsters and Treasure. More handy than you might think.

All-in-all, one of the most useful screens I've come across.
The Bad

A couple times in "The Good," I mentioned that the screen has almost everything you could need. It does, however, suffer for three notable omissions which lowered its substance rating from 5 to 4. First, in addition to the class abilities, a list of racial abilities might have been nice. There came up situations in game where we needed to double-check both of these (to be sure we weren't confusing C&C with standard d20), and while the class abilities were right at my fingertips, the racial abilities we had to look up.

Second, while the screens do (unless memory fails) have the rules for turning undead, they do not contain rules for determining saving throws for spells. Certainly, this is something that can be memorized (and the CK and player should be familiar with them) but for a complete screen, it would have been very nice and handy for spell saving throw rules to be included.

Last but not least, the screens don't contain the poison table. From discussions I've had with several of the TLG playtesters, the general consensus is that not a lot of people use poison for characters or NPC's in their games. This is fine, but what about monsters like giant spiders, giant wasps, giant scorpions, snakes, etc.? These do tend to show up every so often in game, and it would've been handy to have a quick reference chart for these occasions.

Some space for these rules could've been generated by, rather than having rules for bonus spells reprinted under every spellcasting class ability list, including a single chart with "Bonus Spells by Prime Attribute."

These three omissions are the only three issues I encountered upon playtest, and in the end, they are quibbles. While they keep the screens from a perfect score, they certainly don't diminish its usefulness all that much.
The Ugly

Or in this case, the gorgeous. The layout of the CKS are phenomenal. They use the fonts and headers from the second printing of the PHB and from Monsters and Treasure. These have been hailed as a great improvement over the first printing of the PHB, which suffered layout and readability problems. The organization inside the screen is neat, organized, and quite intuitive; even upon first use I didn't find myself having to hunt for the information I needed, as like items are grouped together for quick reference.

The screens are laminated front and back, which means they could be used with wet erase markers, should the CK feel the need to jot a note in the margins here or there; and which add an additional level of sturdiness to the screens, which I expect will hold up quite well over a long period of heavy use. In short, they appear quite able to take a beating.

The artwork on the player side, as always for the Trolls, is top-notch and evocative. The trolls have been kind enough to post a full preview of this art at http://www.trolllord.com/newsite/cnc/images/8012_huge.jpg

All in all, I have absolutely no issues with the layout or design of these screens. There's nothing I can see that the Trolls should've done better.
Bonus Material

The CKS come with a bundled adventure, The Golden Familiar, a stock-standard site-based scenario for 2nd or 3rd level characters, in which the PC's must assault a ruined fortress overrun by orcs who are led by a "god-touched" (my term, not theirs) being who once was an orc and poses a threat to the entire region. The goal is to obtain a mystical artifact being guarded by the semi-divine-orc, and use the artifact to kill him and end the threat. While site-based, the adventure is refreshing due to it not being a dungeon crawl. The map is an area map of the ruined keep, not a box-by-box floor plan of the keep's underground labyrinths. I found this a refreshing change from the majority of pre-written adventure scenarios on the market today (not just for C&C; for fantasy RPG's in general).

The production value of the module could certainly be far better, and doesn't live up to the production standards of other Troll mods (this one has no cardstock cover; it's all just saddle-stiched normal paper, and honestly looks like it was run off on a laser printer) but since it is advertised as a bonus inclusion, I won't downgrade the overall product for it. I find it bad form to complain about extras and freebies.

The adventure reads fairly straightforward and seems like it would be fun to play, but I have not yet had a chance to run it, so I can't give a full playtest review of the scenario itself. In the end, it's a pretty good bonus (though I commented to my players that one thing I'd like to see packaged as a bonus in GM screens are wet-erase initiative tracking charts--laminated cardstock would do the trick).
Conclusion

In summary, I gave the Castle Keeper's Screens a 5 in Style, and a 4 in Substance, downgraded from a 5 due to the lack of class abilities, magic saving throw rules, and poison table. A worthwhile purchase for anyone who is serious about running a C&C game.

Telhawk
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Post by Telhawk »

Well executed review, which I agree with almost entirely.

My two caveats about the Screen: First, maybe I'm missing something, but I could not for the life of me find the Thief's class abilities on any of the fold-outs. Am I just going blind or what?

Second, the four-panel screen, with the lamination, made this a bit harder to stand up and spread out - and keep spread out - than the standard three-panel card stock. Not a major problem, but one that did present a bit of difficulty for the game a week or so ago. Perhaps this is something that will ease out as the screen sees repeated use.

Re "The Golden Familiar"; yes, I certainly agree with your assessment about the apparent production values, but I will take something like this a thousand times over yet another piece of similar work from the company that shall remain unnamed here. TLG is to be commended for making the inclusion.

That's it for now - will be crossing fingers and dedicating blood and souls to my lord Arioch for the rest of the stuff to arrive in from Little Rock ASAP. Back to you, GE...

Inkpot
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Post by Inkpot »

Nice review! As I've stated elsewhere, my only real nitpick with the screen was how it was initially folded "Z" style. This led to the screen being difficult to stand up properly. The screen can be forced into the proper position by bending the middle spine outwards, but the screen cannot be folded and stored like this - it would damage the other two panels.

Beyond that, I'm ecstatic over the great job the Trolls did on this screen. I'm diggin' the bonus adventure, too. I'm going to use it in my next slew of C&C demos. =)

Ink
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gideon_thorne
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Post by gideon_thorne »

Telhawk wrote:
Well executed review, which I agree with almost entirely.

My two caveats about the Screen: First, maybe I'm missing something, but I could not for the life of me find the Thief's class abilities on any of the fold-outs. Am I just going blind or what?

*chuckles* It is there, just look under ther Ranger. Rogue is blending in with the ranger abilties because the thicker line underscoring the title of the class is absent.

Its why the Ranger appears to have a very loooong list of abilities.
Erratta #1 I guess?
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Jason Vey
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Post by Jason Vey »

DAMMIT

No matter how many times I proofread a review, I *always* find something screwed up in the final version.

Under the conclusion, "lack of class abilities," should read, "Lack of racial abilities."

sigh.

sieg
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Post by sieg »

On the whole I agree and a fine review GE!

My only gripe is that while Peter's art is wonderful, IMO it could've been kept to the center two inside panels and have the outside art-bracketing panels given over to GP costs for equipment and xp tables for the classes (for player use) a la the 1E DM screens.

But that's a minor quibble. All in all, very good work!
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Post by Maliki »

Nice review, I'll be picking mine up later today, I hope>
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