DMGR2 The Castle Guide review

May of 1990 saw the release of one of my favorite titles which I forget about more often than not. During this review I was kicking myself in the pants because if I would had remembered it and picked it up, it would have saved me many headaches.  DMGR2 The Castle Guide is the result of a collaborated effort between many writers and researchers, and it served to fill in some large gaps left in the system for a very long time. Property! At 9th level, most PC classes gain the ability to benefit from property, and this opens up a large can of worms for many DM’s and players, namely one of law and government.

We are aware that the default government for any fantasy world with swords and sorcery is Feudalism. Even if we have different forms of rule, it still boils down to Feudalism. Researching feudalism is tough, and for the most part we can play our games in a way that completely ignores it, and we have to if we have no other options! Well, that is where this book comes in handy. The rules for a fighter becoming a lord at 9th level, and attracting followers is not very well detailed, and there are a lot of misconceptions with it: that it limits play, that it requires BATTLESYSTEM, that it takes a lot of boring bookwork; but what the rule eluded to, was that a local hero should become a national one, an epic hero!

We players of the AD&D system are good at writing around things that we aren’t experts at. We are writing fiction! And this book doesn’t change that; it isn’t a historical text, it is a guide book that allows DMs to add a dimension to their games which we might not normally have, and it works for all settings: published or home-brewed.

Well, let’s crack it open.

CHAPTER 1: The Feudal Setting

This chapter is a crash course in government as it applies to our fantasy societies. The complex philosophies are broken down in a way that is fast, fun to read, and informative. It isn’t overwhelming, the language is kept simple, and this is all practical information that is system neutral (or dependent) which can be applied to existing games with no issues. It is thorough enough to allow us to be able to see society itself: how they live and die, so that we can remove some of the modern baggage which we take into the game. This chapter doesn’t limit play, it actually cleans it up! If we apply it to the settings, the maps make more sense, we get a better picture about what is going on, especially in regard to all of the things that had been left out.

CHAPTER 2: The Days of Knights

Knights need not be fighters, and this book is about more than just castles, but it does focus on the “Lord” clause hidden in the system. It identifies exactly what this means, how one can become a lord, what they are responsible for, and gives ideas on how to apply this concept to our games without having the entire campaign high-jacked by one PC.

It also redefines the Laws of Chivalry in a cleaner way than in previous publications that doesn’t result in suicidal characters, nor does it give rules lawyers the ability to take over the table. It is a lot more functional!

For those that do wish to pursue it, the book does examine the Knights Path as it was, and also touches upon demi-human equivalents to knights. It is fun to read! It gives tons of ideas for NPCs as well as story applications.

CHAPTER 3: The Tournament

For many of us, these things are either used to take a break from our normal game, or they are ignored, but its place in Feudalism is a very important one! Tournaments were not just sport, this was medieval politics in action, and it gives the DM a clear understanding of this, and how to apply it to their games.  Tournament, was how lords typically did war with one another; it was a means of grabbing more power or proving your dominance over your allies and enemies. Under feudal law, it is illegal to murder a lord, but if one is challenged to a duel, and the other accepts, a lord can be legally slain in tournament.

On a technical level, this chapter provides two quick systems, one for handling jousts, and one for handling contests of archery, but also gives a couple of ideas for other displays of power better suited to none-fighter classes.

CHAPTER 4: The Evolution of Castles

Once it gives details for the world of castles, it then explains the castles role in society, and what happens there. The word Castle itself is used to describe many different buildings, this chapter identifies a castle’s role in its environment, and details a few different styles of them as well. It also begins the technical details of construction by listing what materials can be used to build them.

CHAPTER 5: Castle Construction

This chapter is fun, as it provides details for its own system of play that is completely independent of the core AD&D rules. It has tables and explanations which make it possible to determine how long a building will take to construct, how much it will cost, and even a fun chart of random events that can take place during the construction!

The chapter also offers a detailed example of play using all of the rules applied, including a map of the finished product.This is sandbox play at its finest! It allows the DM and the Players to focus on aspects that they want to, and ignore those that they don’t. If one doesn’t want to play this scenario out because they are currently busy with bigger fish, they can pay others to oversee the construction and the DM will be able to know when it will be finished, or this can be a fun part of the game; and one that the players will remember!

Now the downside of this system is that it details how to construct a building from scratch, it does not detail how to take an existing structure and improve it, for that you will still need to use the 1st Edition DMG.

CHAPTER 6: Unusual Castles

As noted before, this guide allows any structure to be built, not just castles! From simple wooden forts, to enormous palaces, anything is possible. This section is an idea factory so that the DM and the players can work together to see these things built.

CHAPTER 7: Warfare!

There are two game systems that can be played with our structures once they are constructed, BATTLESYSTEM and AD&D, these are two very different games. While it recommends BATTLESYSTEM, and sets out to revise and expand rules for handling a siege, it also allows this to be played out through AD&D rules, which is writing around the mass combat. Yes, it offers quick play rules for very complex things, but it also seeks to empower a DM with the knowledge that he needs to feel up to the challenge of writing scenarios that can be technically terrifying for them.

Detailed in this chapter are military strategies and concepts for both sides, and the most comprehensive details of siege engines and mechanics that has ever been undertaken by TSR.  It also reprints materials found in Dragon Magazine which detailed unusual means of attacking a castles walls such as Giants beating the things down, and while the systems detailed in this book focus mostly on historical data, it does give you warnings on how the effects of magic, if left unchecked, are going to destroy society and render it back into the stone age. Unlike real castles, these have to withstand attacks from wizards and dragons as well, and while the book can’t provide the answers to all of our problems, it gives us enough information so that we can be prepared for the them.

CHAPTER 8: Quick Resolution Systems

This chapter addresses two problems inherited in the system, the level of detail that we are wanting to achieve, do we want to play this out with BATTLESYSTEM, do we want to stick to AD&D, or do we want to use a combination of both? Either way, a siege can last months or years, regardless of the methods we want to use to determine who wins,  we are going to want to speed up the clock from time to time.

We want a mixture of random and character driven events, and this offers a few different methods for dealing with it. No method is perfect, but it will get you started, and at least comfortable with the idea of dealing with anything from orcs testing the defenses to all out war, regardless of what side of the walls your character is standing on.

CHAPTER 9: Generic Castles

The biggest failure of this book is the noticeable lack of examples. Including the example found in chapter 5, there are only four maps, and three of them are those worthless forced perspective maps. While sitting down with your players and designing a castle from scratch can be fun for some tables, that is not playing D&D. DM’s know how to draw maps, but players typically only think about the game when they are at the table, and players who sit down and draw detailed maps of dungeons is kind of a lost art now, simply because we play differently than we used to.

Thankfully, today we have the Internet, and many examples can be purchased 3rd party. I personally recommend PDF versions of Castle Book I (1978) and Castle Book II (1981) that were put out by the Judges Guild, as you’ll get more bang for your buck with them. TSR did follow up this title in 1991 with Castle Sites, but it only offered seven examples that were limited in use and too overly detailed for my taste. It is also acceptable to steal maps from modules; even if the module is trash, sometimes they at least have a map or two that you can lift and have your players key it.


This book is one of my favorites, and it is well designed! I like the fact that it offers lots of options and, historically, in AD&D, this was the precursor to the Green Series of historical settings. The Castle Guide stands on its own as a fun campaign, I played it in a one-on-one scenario and it was one of my all-time favorite games! Granted, it isn’t without problems, as it still requires Gary Gygax’s Dungeon Master's Guide, at least in my opinion, but I think that this is as close as you can get to a perfect book that is easy to grasp and fun to play. Its usefulness is limited, but that does not take away from it, as what it does do is superb in execution. I give it a B-, it did push the game further and allow anyone to play high level campaigns easily, it also helps us up our medieval game without being snobbish.

As far as value, this book got a huge print run, but not as large as the "Complete Class Handbooks" did, so it’s going to cost a bit more. For a copy in good and gently used condition, you are looking at between $20-$35, a beat up copy should run you no more than 5-10 dollars depending on just how bad it is. A near mint copy I can see getting a fair market value of $55-$75 max. If you own this book, take care of it! Use it, as it is fun and very helpful, but since they aren’t going to make any more of these things, once one is destroyed, then it is gone.  PDF’s are available for it, and while they’ll do in a pinch, if you do use this book, you’ll be doing a lot of page turning, so the physical copy is preferred.


Brooser Bear said...

One of the best books in the series. Kinda adds meat to Gygax's article on castle construction in DMG. Another great companion set of books is the Ewart Oakeshott series of books - A Knight and his Armor, a Knight and his Castle. Gives a great overview of what the place was built like, the feel of the gear, etc.

RipperX said...

Thanks for the new reference. This one sounds good! You've sometimes got to watch how much real history that you add, I know that I've researched subjects to the point were all of the magic was gone from the subject.

I think that at the end of the day, we are writing fiction, which requires a few ideas that aid the normal person is suspending their disbelief. I have watched movies with historians and it isn't fun. They don't enjoy it, they yell at the tv and point out all of the errors.

Ewart Oakeshott sounds like a good historian though, the kind I like where they focus on the lives of those that lived it over bogging one down with specifics. Casual and practical history, to me, is far superior as it adds to fictional ideas rather than setting limitations upon it.

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