Posted on November 2, 2018
Review: The Adventurer’s Backpack
As discussed in my response to the OSR questionnaire, Castles & Crusades was my pathway to the OSR. There’s a variety of reasons for this. The system is more familiar to 3rd edition/Pathfinder players than 1e AD&D, but the game has that 1e feel in play, but this familiarity is overstated, in my view. Probably the biggest reason is that C&C looks the most like a “modern” game as a result of its full-colour, hard-cover rulebooks, and as such, is the easiest sell. Even though I am not currently playing C&C, I like the game a lot and I have continued to back its Kickstarters and buy the odd book when they’ve been on sale, because I think I probably will run C&C again one day.
I am embarrassed to say that I backed The Adventurer’s Backpack and then forgot about it until just recently. Since The Adventurer’s Backpack was launched on Kickstarter and funded, Troll Lords Games have launched other Kickstarters and fulfilled them. The production quality is always high, and the Trolls do a good job of staying in touch with backers without completely spamming them with updates (despite the opinion of some publishers, there is in fact a balance). The Kickstarter was nevertheless late by over a year, which isn’t great, but I’ve come to expect this from Kickstarter generally and probably didn’t miss the book because my C&C campaign fizzled out a while ago. The book was worth the wait, nevertheless!
The book is 144 pages long, full-colour, with a hard-cover, like TLG’s other handbooks. The main feature of the book is a set of pre-designed “backpacks”. In addition to this, the book includes 14 new character classes, new spells, expanded rules for spell-casting and magic, and rules for mounts and unarmed combat.
I am going to talk about the book’s titular feature first: the backpacks. Effectively, these are “quickstart” equipment packs. At the end of character creation, you roll your starting gold as usual, but rather than go equipment shopping, you go backpack shopping. I still say shopping because there is a huge range of backpacks to choose from – enough that you may even question whether this is any faster than simply buying all the equipment item by item. There are four broad types of backpack:
- Common Backpacks (in dungeon, overland, and city varieties – both “basic” and “expert” levels which basically come down to cost)
- Terrain-specific Backpacks (for cold weather, deserts, mountains, and sea-faring)
- Speciality Backpacks (in effect these are for different “professions” rather than character classes and I suspect they’re intended for use by NPCs)
- Class-specific Backpacks
The last three types are also generally labelled “shoulder packs” implying you can carry one of them in addition to a common backpack. Thus, despite there being 32 backpacks (and assorted related things like spell component packs and pack animals), the division into these different types of backpacks simplifies use. Most players can simply buy the one backpack intended for the broad sort of adventure they’re expecting (common backpack), then add shoulder packs for the type of terrain and their character class. Then the player can buy their weapons and armour as usual. In all likelihood, they will not be able to afford one of the shoulder packs, depending on their starting gold.
The packs contain an interesting mix of old favourites and flavourful “this might be handy” style equipment, the latter being more common in the “shoulder packs”. Although the prices are calculated with the C&C equipment list, these backpacks are fairly translatable to most OSR games, and substantially speed up the part of character creation which I find most tedious. As such, the core of the book is a really useful aid in play.
This core has also been translated into equipment cards, which you can buy separately if you prefer that format. I don’t have the cards so I can’t say much else about them. While I didn’t see the point of these when I backed the Kickstarter, I can see the point now, and I’m contemplating buying them.
The new character classes in The Adventurer’s Backpack are an interesting collection. My first comment is that the classes are not what you might expect looking at the name. For example, there is a class called “Magic User”, which I can assure you is nothing like the venerable Magic User of Basic D&D, but rather a class which uses magic to manipulate the outcome of rolls rather than to cast spells. There are a few other such examples – “Arcane Thief” is not just a wizard/thief, for example. In some ways I am reminded of the Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide, only the classes in The Adventurer’s Backpack are unique and creative and not just a way to multiclass without having to use the multiclass rules. As someone who is generally ambivalent about the prospect of new character classes, I actually found myself pleasantly surprised by the character classes and think that these may help hold the interest of players from a 3rd Edition/Pathfinder background who are used to more character options than are typically provided by Castles & Crusades a
One comment on the presentation. I note that many OSR products, although generally printed in black and white, feature outstanding layout which not only looks great but is very thoughtful and deliberate. The layout of many OSR books enhances their “game-ability” at the table dramatically. The Adventurer’s Backpack has a fairly stock standard two column format. It’s not terrible, but it’s not up there with work like Jez Gordon’s layouts for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. The art throughout is in full-colour, which adds to the presentation since, as mentioned earlier, the full-colour, hard-cover presentation of C&C books helps them hold up against Paizo and WotC books in the eyes of “new school” players considering whether to give C&C a
I think The Adventurer’s Backpack has a lot of great gaming material for Castles & Crusades players. It’s nice to see a product for that system come out which caters to players rather than Castle Keepers. I am not worried at the possibility of overwhelming “rules bloat” either – Castles & Crusades has been around since 2004 and even if you have every book of optional rules, the game is still sleek and smooth. Even though it is new content, the core of The Adventurer’s Backpack mostly exists to streamline play by adding “speedy shopping” options which still preserve the realism of equipment management. As such, this is one “expansion” which won’t bog down your campaign.
If you would like to support this blog and purchase a copy of The Adventurer’s Backpack all at the same time, you can buy the book as a PDF from DriveThruRPG through my affiliate link below. The cards are also available, although I haven’t really reviewed them (I’m intrigued though!).