Game: Crusades of Valour
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 8th, April 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 10
Average Score: 5.00
I can’t really compare Crusades of Valour to AEG’s War because it would be like trying to compare a dragon to a frog. I hated War, I really liked this book. In fact, even as Crusades of Valour was being printed out some of us wondered whether its biggest rival would be a fellow Mongoose Publishing product. The extremely popular Quintessential Fighter which in addition to its wealth of Fighter Character Class information also held the Open Mass Combat System. Would Crusades of Valour, a d20 supplement on Holy Wars, rely in the OMCS, present a rival system or leave one out entirely? Any of those three options would have thrown the Mongoose Product range into a degree of misalignment. As it happens, author Paul Cockburn, found a forth option. In this book you’ll find the rules for the Cinematic Battle System; a set of rules which allow you to reflect the ebb and flow of units surging and retreating in the same epic proportions that you might imagine a Hollywood director would aim for. The system is extremely light, using only one real statistic but I think it works extremely well since it adapts very well to reflect the success of the player characters – who should always be the focus of the game, even in a giant battle – on the field. It can even cope with divine intervention; after all, this is a book about when gods collide.
There’s more in the book than just the battle system though. It starts off well, the “Getting Started” section covers how to introduce a crusade to your campaign. This is far more important than how the crusade actually starts. A campaign set against (or in) a crusade runs the risk of failing horribly, becoming a game in which the players become nothing more than spectators to events beyond their control. A campaign set against a crusade also has the possibility to become something so much better than your run of the mill cheese-fantasy genre with dungeons scattered around the place for some apparent reason. Crusades of Valour is very aware of this risk and is laden with advice for DMs. The product is far more honest than I found AEG’s War to be. Each book runs through the core character classes and examines their roles in war (or the holy war, in the case of Crusades of Valour) and why they might be involved. Crusades of Valour actually admits that Monks, for example, are highly unlikely to adopt the way of the solider, but given the religious motivation might become embroiled in the warfare or may best be considered as “special forces” operating behind enemy lines.
There are two new prestige classes introduced by the book. The knight and the janissary; each are taken from historic inspiration. The Janissaries were captives of the Ottoman sultan, taken as young children and trained in the ways of religion and war. They were elite troops and fanatics, a good choice for a prestige class. The knight class that Crusades of Valour presents is not that of the feudal landlord but that of the warrior and scholar of the crusading orders such as the Templars and Hospitalars of our past. Religious men with no fealty to anyone outside the Order; in any almost any other supplement this choice of knight would have been a mighty gamble but in the holy war setting it makes perfect sense. The Janissary is only a level 5 class though, which is a shame because its one of the few possible prestige classes in which someone could have realistically reached at a very young age.
Yes, there are new feats and spells. However, rather than being the all to predictable offering from yet another d20 supplement the chapter actually manages to give me something new in the form of the Crusade domain. It’s not actually ever called the Crusade domain but is rather a set of divine spells in which can only be accessed by Clerics during a holy crusade. It’s the first time I’ve seen something like this and I think it’s a great idea; it means we can have miss-matched domains in terms of power but counter that with when, why or how that domain’s divine spells can be accessed. This, in turn, provides Clerics with all sorts of interesting motivations.
A whole twenty pages of the ninety six paged book are filled up with example religious orders, well, they’re a little more than examples since each one has about a page of text and an attached Military Cohesion stat. The Military Cohesion attribute is the key number in the Cinematic Battle System and so these religious orders become your templates for equivalent orders in your own game.
Similarly, in the Gods and Followers section you’re given a complete list of deity templates in the form of “Gods of Destruction, Gods of Law, Gods of Magic, etc” and a note of the sort of zeal you would expect from their followers and the sort of action, if any, you might expect from the god. This is very much better than inventing some arbitrary gods and talking about them.
As well as suggested methods of handling the actual battles and followers in a crusade there is an awful lot of information on how events escalate up to a jihad and suggestions for player involvement along the way. The spark of trouble and the almost inevitable escalation thereafter is presented in a similar tabular form. There is a list of events ranked in seriousness and then, from there, discussion on what each event means and possible outcomes of this. We’re talking about the difference between blasphemy and heresy or a raging holy war and the actual dictates of a god. There are also similar lists and studies into possible reaction of religious followers to any given events, ranging from dismissive cynicism to fanatical battles to the death. You can, if you want, roll dice to simulate this but I can’t really imagine any GM wanting to. It’s far better to cleverly introduce the holy war, building it up in such away that the players can keep track of what’s going on and get involved than consider the alternative of “Oh! I rolled a 10! Crap! It’s jihad!”
Importantly, there’s also coverage on how and why a holy war might end. You don’t need to escalate things until the very gods themselves battle it out on the field of honour through their mighty avatars while the players stand by and whimper. The zeal for a holy war can run dry, especially if you see no success and empires and religions can run out of troops, trade or money. If you want the climatic battle to end with your party facing off an actual divine avatar then there’s advice on how to do that properly as well and how to avoid reducing your deities to nothing more than just another monster.
Crusades of Valour is a good source book. Given the difficulties any GM will face trying to run a campaign set in a Holy War and how memorable such a campaign would be, Crusades of Valour becomes a very useful source book. It’s money well spent.