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 Currently though, tables are seen as being rather clunky and outdated as they tend to take time to read and can slow down the flow of the game.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.-
[4 of 5 Stars!]