Getting Crown and Skull to the Table For the First Time



(I had initially posted this on the Runehammer discord earlier today, but the verdict was it might be a good for the forums.)

I just ran Crown and Skull for the first time, overall positive experience but I don’t feel like I quite have the correct state of comprehension to give it a true imperial review yet- so here at least is my thoughts in rough chronological time!

I’ve been reading and re-reading though the book to try to get a vibe for the setting and understanding of the rule for a while now, but in direct preparation for needing to actually teach and run, I started running into hurdles in the book that I hadn’t noticed at first. C&S relies on concise and evocative technical writing to explain rules, which is great, however when a single word change error or misunderstanding happens it can completely change the rule, causing some resistance to learning. I assume this gets easier the more I play and the more I re-read, this is just a big ask for such a heavy tome.

We played a 3 hour session consisting of teaching, creating characters using the templates since I didn’t want to get too bogged down in customization before we knew what we were doing, and 3 or 4 different scenes. I predesigned the adventure as I didn’t want to risk randomness throwing off my precarious preparation for my first time, perhaps this is a mistake for C&S?

Initial teaching and character creation was a real highlight in my eyes- given that C&S has some radical rule departures, being able to quickly and linearly make a character (chose a name, story, buy items, buy spells), lowered the bar to entry for my players so we can focus on digesting roll under and attrition and not have to deal with the “tax-form-like” experience of calculating abilities, rolling for money, cross referencing class statics, etc. that are typical of RPGs.

My players seemed to really dig the premade setting and how baked into the rules they are. Everyone got a kick out of looking at the map, deciding hometowns, reading short excerpts from the stating town of Gardenburrow and their own hometowns got them hooked on setting tidbits outside of the blurb that I told to bring them in. This almost never happens, but outside of any explanation, world building, or effort of my own, for example, one player read about the Holy Order, saw hints of it through other passages they read and made their cleric character looped into the will of the order and its relation to the more druidic faith of Gardenburrow. Amazing. Im thinking this has something to do with the approachability of The North Holds- its nothing radical in terms of fantasy, but just enough for players to get invested, and relatable outside of purely the output of the GM’s naration. I think this is a huge boon.

I ran an encounter with corrupted wolves who attacked in the middle of town to get us all used to phases and attrition. Players loved the idea of attrition- made getting hit far more interesting and a decision point rather than “math time”. Phases did not end up really clicking with any of us just yet- maybe that’ll come with time, deadlier encounters, or more varied phases from enemies in an encounter. I also think having terrain or event dangers happen on phase tempo would be good too, just felt like something else to juggle so I skipped.

A couple of pain points from this fight: Finding the “correct” enemies to use was difficult. I felt like I needed to throw a normal/average/“balanced” fight so I don’t accidentally completely ice the party (I did that when running Torchbearer and we didn’t continue after that encounter…) or make the game seem trivially boring. I ran the wolves as 10hp and basic attrition for the most part, which resulted in combat feeling very spongy. Enemies took a while to take down, and players slowly took small amounts of attrition damage. Other RPGs might have more risky attacks coming from enemies, with the chance of an attack putting them in real danger at any swing, whereas in C&S, you’re just losing 1 “hit”. Perhaps that is fine and another context switch to get used to with C&S’s death spiral? Maybe I had too many hit points on the enemy so they stuck around too long? Maybe that was the right amount of hit points as encounters need to chip away at the party long enough to feel impactful? Example enemies in the book all had more hit points on average so this felt low initially. I later reread the monsters in the Storm Point Asylum adventure and saw MUCH lower hit points. My gut feeling is this felt like poor communication. I think in retrospect I would’ve preferred the wolves to have like 5 hit points but at on multiple phases. But again, I was trying to avoid playing with fire too much. Perhaps C&S is all about playing with fire so to speak?

A fight later on was to be with Frog-kin, but their stats seemed shockingly powerful- way more hit points, way more actions? Seemed like a lot to me. I ran them as 20hp, basic attrition for the most part, and again, same issue with the wolves- everything was very slow to kill and not entirely dangerous enough to force players out of the run-of-the-mill tank and spank combat. Maybe the solution I run the far more powerful enemies and just see what happens? Embrace the danger and chaos? I am hesitant to do that before I understand the baseline and average before I start tweaking.

Asymmetry was also difficult. Lots of rules are written in terms of what they would do to the players OR what they would do to the monsters, but as far as I am aware never both. I had a player pick up bear trap from the equipment, its explained to require Muscle to escape. Do monsters have Muscle? No. Do I just role flat luck? I guess that’s the rule? vs 6 as the default? Sure? How much damage? d8? Bear Trap was a choice pickup compared to grabbing something more well defined in its reliability like a Bow, so what Bear Trap does compared to a well defined weapon DOES matter. Same issue was seen with the cleric’s spells. The descriptions for most of the spells are very “hand-wavy” which is fine, but when life or death is on the line, I think character abilities need to have some more specificity. Perhaps I haven’t seen the light yet in the new context switch of C&S.

What I did like in terms of GM support in how interlocked the setting and story prompts are, and how it allowed for trivial plot creation. I’m usually hesitant about pre-made settings because I generally find them more work and less creatively fun then making my own setting. The North Holds felt like a great middle ground. Gardenburrow has a problem with corruption? Great I can work with that! The Frog-kin want to parlay, and it sounds like a trap? Fantastic hook, zero effort, room for creative freedom. By the end of the one-shot, players were theorizing about the injustice of the Frog Kin’s imperial actions and two-tiered society, the nature of theology in this universe, what role the elder trees play, the true source of corruption… list goes on, I didn’t have to think of any of those prompts and its clear I have creative freedom to create my own reveals and resolutions to those questions that don’t revolve around reading what the actual “canon” answer is in a lore dump. Fantastic.

At wrap up, the players said they really liked attrition as it made them consider what is important and what is ok to lose, albeit, very game-y. Having more stuff in your backpack making you more durable didn’t really make a lot of sense in universe to us but was a fun and engaging system. Quickly the players realized that a high priority should be filing their inventory with gear to give them more staying power. Is this a correct assertion? Another player suggested that you should load up on defense enough to counter the somewhat trivial penalty to Hurry, as that will allow you to get ahead in action economy. Again, is this a correct assertion? Obviously some dangers cannot be prevented by defense, so going with that strategy leaves you vulnerable to specialty attacks, but maybe that the correct player move? Are non-defense dangers supposed to be less common compared defense dangers?

I also know from experience that when players have full freedom to customized outside of predefined classes, the best strategy they tend to go for is to hyper specialized into a few key tasks such that they almost never fail or succeed exceedingly well and leave other tasks to other party members who have specialized in other tasks. Does that desire to specialize balance well with C&S’s desire to fill up your inventory/skills to maximize your “hit points” over the course of an average campaign? Or is it intended that you are able to achieve both desires? Fill your inventory/skills, and become highly specialized? This question probably doesn’t matter too much, I can see it going either way, but I’d be curious as the the game design’s intended experience!

If we play it again, I know we’ll likely want to do point buy characters instead of templates. This system seems like a “character-build” gold-mine. However this really crunchy, rules-y desire to make an optimized character seems in opposition to how nebulous SOME of the rules are written. If a player is trying to decide between different spells or items, I think it would be important to be able to make a honest comparison, but by the nature of the books succinct technical writing, only some detail is able to get empirically defined, leading to lots of GM by GM calls, which I’m imagining could be a lot to gamble when precious hero points are on the line.

I had fun, it was a great breath of fresh game-design air, and has given me lots of things to think about! What are your all thoughts? How is my Day-1 analysis? I’d love to hear you-all’s take aways!


Hey Jakewoodtracy

It sounds to me like you’re playing C&S like it should be played.

If I had to describe the game as succinctly as possible, it would be

“C&S is a unique take on old-school roleplaying, promoting rulings over rules by encouraging creativity and imagination.”

I’ve been playing since I received my PDF copy during the initial pre-order. We’re currently on HEX issue 9, so I’m gauging that’s around 8 months ago for me. The situations and examples you cite are exactly the same kinds of questions that I had when I first began learning how to play. Since then, I’ve been running a tabletop or VTT game almost every week and have become very comfortable with how the game plays.

However, it appears you are already coming to understand the whole concept when you quote:

I would go with your gut and make rulings at the table that bring the most excitement and fun for you and your players (which it seems you’re already beginning to do).

If you are coming from a game of rules instead of rulings (like 5e, Pathfinder, etc) you will be looking for the rules that govern any particular situation. But once you become comfortable with making those rulings yourself, based on player creativity, your imagination, and what’s cool for you, your game will only blossom.

Similarly, the mechanical nuances will come with play too. You’ll learn what’s a good challenge for your players with regard to monsters and the like just by experimenting or even creating your own monsters, etc.

It is a learning experience, and I would say, In the words of Yoda, just: “Unlearn what you have learned”



I’d like to hear someone chime in about what OP said about filling a backpack for means to make ones self tankey. Is this correct and the way it can be played? Sounds like something is strange about being played like that.


Thanks for putting this post on here as well, as I think this incredibly helpful for any newcomer!

I’ll post some of my thoughts here as well for visibility:

  • for the Combat situation, you should try running the monsters as they are and letting it be dangerous. Feel it out. It’s ill-advised to nerf or change the enemy damage and then say that combat isn’t dangerous or too spongy. Let go of “Balance” and up the stakes! Doing so will make PCs think of new ways to approach these problems!

  • All actions can be negotiated and should be engaged within the fiction to get more bonuses, INCLUDING damage rolls.

  • Stocking up on random items costs Hero Points, so they’ll slowly drain themselves to “stay alive”, but become very ineffective. However, Conan doesn’t just pick up brigand’s short sword in case he takes attrition damage.

  • Keep in mind that Combat is only part of the game and exploration and other encounters can be non-violent! Hankerin has made characters that are combat inept and has had tons of fun playing them!

  • Remember to have and use Hero Coins (Rerolls or Max Damage?! Crazy!)! I would throw in some sort of Counter token on every scene that says how many Hero Coins are available (remember, 1 coin per PC, but they can be used by anyone)

  • And I reward Hero Coins in town from visiting important sites, interacting with the people in a living world, paying back debts, helping in community, getting blessings from local holy people.


This shake out of C&S mirrors my experience. I can say from our table there is definitely an adjustment period. The danger level can vary wildly, and in an unpredictable manner. Running an introductory adventure with pregen characters feels important here, as everyone gets a “feel” for the difficulty curve. Most games have a fairly linear one, not so C&S, and the loss of a carefully crafted, point by point, character to the unfamiliar system can feel capricious enough to put off a new player. If you can get over that hump it’s also what makes the game feel so dynamic, IMHO.

At the same time, the danger spread from wolf to frog certainly encourages padding out the inventory. The penalty on relative skill level that a “sandwich” filled pack will cost at character creation, doesn’t read the same way to players, as being dead cause you only had 9 slots filled. To dampen this incentive, we buffed armour and some weapons to have tiers of attrition like shields do.

The conundrum of the bear trap, and the broader asymmetry of the system has been a stickier issue for us. How to hot swap architecture from attrition and ATK, to HP and damage die, with enemy DEF and character DEF being of exponentially different effect… I tried a flavor based adaption and the table took offense at the loss of fidelity. It was like in video games where you get to play as a character you’ve battled, and suddenly they feel deeply nerfed. (I posted our stab at this in a post called “from enemy to ally, or the transmogrification ray”)

All this said, I love this game at the table. As player and dm. Fast, pithy, souped up, and nuanced, the mutant love child of index card and burning wheel.


Looks like this was briefly mentioned in another comment, but my table talked about loading up on the cheap hero-point items like “cloak”, “flint and steal”, “dagger”, “rope”, etc. All of these could be situationally useful, and otherwise, act as an attrition soak. I think the proposition is- would those 5-10 points spent of basic gear be better spent on 1 or 2 far more impactful items or spells that would prevent you from the attrition slog and damage you’d take in the first place? I think its going to be an interesting dynamic question to keep asking over a campaign as everyone slowly learns the priorities of the system, which is probably the point now that I think about it.


Another realization that I had made about trying to balance is that even player and enemy actions are not equivalent by the nature of the asymmetric attrition/hp system. When I first read through the monsters and saw things like “2 phases, 2 tactics” and thought “wow 4 attacks? that 4 times more than a player! Thats gonna be a tough enemy!” Thinking in terms of multi-attack or the likes in dnd. However thats not the case. For monsters (for the most part) one tactic is ONE damage (attrition). There is no chance for a monsters to combo exponentially compared to the players when given extra actions (as a baseline). A player could strike down a monster in one hit with one lucky roll or smart play. There is no way a monster can do that to a player in C&S, and my GM instincts from other games made me assume that would also be the case, especially with the deadly tone of the enemy design in this game- its just a different type of dangerous.

“Unlearn what you have learned” rings very loudly…


i wouldn’t worry about this because this is assuming that all attrition is basic attrition.

When you account EQUIPMENT, DESTROY, and BRUTAL ATTRITION, you’ll see players start to melt and panic. And that was just 1 tactic on one phase. Now you amplify this with more tactics and more phases for the monster AND potential of hitting a 6 on the Tactics die, and this could easily start melting PCs down.

Remember, that if the PC takes ANY attrition type and they have no Equipment, it is a Shot in the Heart. Does not matter how many skills they still have available.


The “no equipment, shot to the heart” rule, where does one find that?

It’s interesting cause we started to experiment with the it the other way, 'no skills, and catch flesh attrition= death) to incentivize skills over equipment. (Also we liked how narratively you can get yer bell rung but not be torn to shreds)


It can be found in the Attrition section (page 12) in the Death section.

Any time a hit can’t be absorbed by inventory you take a ‘hit to the heart’. Inventory here is defined as the combination of the characters items (aka equipment) and skills.

So if you get hit with Basic Attrition as long as you have at least one item or one skill you do not take a hit to the heart.
If you take Equipment Attrition but have no items left you will take a hit to the heart. Even if you have skills left. This is because Equipment Attrition can only be absorbed by items.
Likewise if you take Flesh Attrition but have no skills left you will take a hit to the heart. Even if you have items left.
This now gets really dicey if you take Destroy Attrition since you need to have at least one item and one skill so if you are out of either items or skills will take a hit to the heart.
Brutal Attrition is thankfully a little more forgiving in that you only need to have a specific (1D6) total of items and skills left to avoid taking a hit to the heart.


First, Cheers, this is super clear and unambiguous, and needs to be be copy/pasted into the second edition. IMHO.

My table, after much chatter, took death at “attrition that cant be absorbed by inventory”, to be “total inventory” mentioned three bullet up, ie, skills AND equipment. There was discussion around the Needler, who does “Destroy attrition, unless no equipment left, then flesh attrition” and the Demon where it says “If crossing off one’s final skill inventory due to this attack, a hit to the heart is instantly inflicted”. Were these special cases unique to these creatures or simply examples of the core mechanics?

We ran the game with the “total inventory” format at first and quickly discovered the incentive for rampant “ham sandwiching”. So we explored allowing characters to take equipment damage on skills if gear gets zeroed, but not vice versa. (taking inspiration from the Needler entry). Slightly rewarding the costly investment in skills as they become your final wall against death.

But if, as written, players have two “HP” tracks, either of which could end a character…man, we absolutely missed that. I wonder what the table will say…will it be the return of the deli meats?


Well I did forget to point out that what I wrote is just how we are using it. If you and your table prefer having it where if you run out of items or skills you can use the other to avoid a hit to the heart go for it. Always do what is the most fun at your table.

If you want to avoid the “load up on sandwiches” thing you can make a rule that only items that cost at least 3 hero points can be considered for the 10 equipment slots. Just make sure to allow for when the characters take flaw a that lowers the cost. So you could make a sandwich cost 1 hero point and say it has the flaw that it can’t be repaired. So basically they are full on spending a hero point for the ability to stay alive longer because once that sandwich is hit with attrition there is no repairing it so that hero point is gone.


When I suggested the 3 hero point idea I did forget that there already exist 1 and 2 point items. Anyway. So really might want to just let the characters stack up on a lot of 1 hero point daggers or some backup +1 armor. Which would be a lot more useful to the characters anyway. Since it just makes sense to have backups for when a weapon or armor gets damaged.

You can always just rule that all the sandwiches in total cost 1 hero point and only count for 1 equipment slot. The same way the rations do. This would also mean that spending 2 hero points to fill up 2 equipment slots with food would make sense since that would allow for backup rations in case they lose 1 slot to damage.


It already works this way. Multiples of the same small items go into a single Pouch. If the pouch takes attrition then everything in it is lost. It’s right in the book, page 12- “all small items are counted as a single Pouch item.”


I found the standard rule in the beginning of the book BUT ALSO Page 284 in the Enemies section talks about taking a hit without equipment = Dying.



Excellent! … how do you interpret that? if a character who has 0 equipment and 2 skills gets hit with equipment damage, they lose a skill? or are they dead? (Needler damage would imply a shift in attrition type, unless that’s an mechanic specific to them)

Does it work the other way?Can flesh attrition come out of equipment at the bitter end? (Demon’s damage description, if it’s the general rule, would say NO) But then you can die with youre proverbial boots on, ie equipment stots full. (Which is how we’ve been tentatively rolling)

The fact that, at death, you have to heal a skill, and not repair equipment, implies a hierarchy. This reminds me of Palladium’s SDC and HP, most damage goes through SDC first then HP, but some attacks can erode HP directly.


I would say that the needler isn’t meant to kill as it will transfer any equipment Attrition to skills (think individual rule/card rule supercedes main rule). However, if you are out of both equipment and skills, it’s a DOWN! If the enemy only has Flesh Attrition and the PC has 0 skills left and there is still attrition left over? That can’t be absorbed by inventory and that’s a DOWN!

I would then rule that any type of healing will save the PC from death and will bring them back up. They’ll probably have nothing in equipment available but they might run away, use any remaining skills or spells, or find a creative solution to help using the environment and negotiation with the GM.