Nine hundred years ago, the Dark Ages ended. But a new and terrible age then began, one of great conflicts: brutality and heroism, terror and courage, glorious victory and disastrous defeat. Western Europe turned its eyes eastward toward the Holy Land and moved to take it from the Saracens. But the forces of Islam would have none of this, and under the call of jihad they arose to meet the invaders.
The Crusades supplement presents the lad of Outremer as a powerful AD&D setting, with historical background and maps; new character kits; details on strange magic and fantastic beasts; and adventures. It is a violent and dangerous world, but one of promise and hope as well.
Only the brave need come.
HR7: The Crusades Campaign Sourcebook, by Steve Kurtz, was the seventh and final book in the Historical Reference series. Like its immediate predecessor, it doesn't actually include the "HR" code, as TSR stopped using them in 1994. The Crusades was released in November 1994.
Ending the Historicals. TSR never matched its production of 1992 when they released the first four References, but after a gap of a year, they began publishing a new one every six months. Yet by 1995, TSR had covered the most evocative topics and sales were dropping below the level where the line could be continued, so it was dropped following The Crusades.
There were other problems during that gaming era that might have contributed to the cancelation. By 1995, TSR was starting to have financial problems. They were cannibalizing their own sales due to a proliferation of too many campaign settings. One-off campaign-settings-in-a-book could easily have exacerbated that problem.
Books that had been considered but never produced included a Rus book, a Balkans book, an Arabic book, and an Arthurian England book.
Not Paired, But… Many of the other Historical References were paired so that GMs could have adversarial cultures to use against each other. That wasn't the case with The Crusades, mostly due to the line's cancelation. If the line had continued, TSR was considering pairing The Crusades with a book drawn from their own Arabic setting, Al-Qadim Arabian Adventures (1992) - which they recommend within the pages of The Crusades. A possible Balkans book could alternatively have provided Mongols for the Crusaders to battle.
Beyond that, The Crusades has some tenuous connection to HR3: Charlemagne's Paladin's Campaign Sourcebook (1992), as the disintegration of the Carolingian empire may have contributed to the Crusades.
The Crusades in D&D. Much like Charlemagne's Paladins, The Crusades feels very close to the standard D&D game thanks to the game's basis in the Middle Ages, as seen (mostly) by central Europeans. Its biggest variations from standard D&D play come from the interface between European and Arabic culture and from the war-time footing it suggests.
The Crusades follows in the footsteps of HR2: Charlemagne's Paladins Campaign Sourcebook (1992) and HR6: Age of Heroes Campaign Sourcebook (1994) by allowing GMs to run "historical," "legendary," or "fantasy" campaigns. Not surprisingly, the fantasy setting is a lot like the default D&D setting, with only druids absolutely forbidden (and for many, they'd always been a bit of an oddball in D&D anyway, given their heavy Celtic theming).
If anything, the result is more a great setting than a groundbreaking book. Yet that great setting features the sort of adventure, excitement, and lawlessness that many players want in a roleplaying setting - and in fact is the type of world that some publishers have purposefully created by blowing up their old setting, such as when GDW started a civil war in their MegaTraveller (1987) RPG.
Amusingly, the D&D game had already seen one crusade when this book was published in the "Empires" event for the Forgotten Realms (1990-1991); however, that was a battle against Mongol-like hordes.
The Crusades in Other Gaming. Because they're more an event than a setting, the Crusades haven't gotten a lot of focus in other RPGs. Among the scant Crusades supplements are Holy Warriors (1985) for TimeLine's time traveling Time and Time Again RPG, The Old Man of Damascus (2007) for Cthulhu Live, and a GURPS Crusades (2010) PDF. The Ars Magica (1987) RPG has also touched upon The Crusades from time to time (particularly the Albigenesian Crusade, which wasn't really the same as the Crusades depicted here).
Future History. "Seeds of Evil" in Dragon #249 (July 1998) describes how to use the Masques of the Red Death (1994) campaign with all seven of the Historical Reference campaign books.
About the Creators. Kurtz authored several D&D books from 1992-1995. His four D&D books written prior to The Crusades were all for the Al-Qadim line, which is probably why he got to write this book. (Afterward he'd move on to darker topics.)
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.