Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pimp a Game - Chivalry & Sorcery

Chivalry & Sorcery was the first RPG I ever purchased, at least it's the earliest I can still find. Metamorphosis Alpha being in some box in the basement - I hope .  Shortly after beginning to play RPGs, I went to a game store - I think in Superior WI, looking to purchase one for myself.  They had several D&D booklets, but I was attracted by the introduction that advertised it was a ' the  most complete rule booklet ever published.'

Looking back on it, I can appreciate how different C&S is from D&D.  It approached role playing from a perspective that makes 'Gygaxian naturalism' look like like a high school play. 
It is firmly set in European medieval fantasy, your character rolled for their position in society, you could end up as anything from an unacknowledged bastard of a peasant to the king (about a 1/400,000 chance, but better than buying a lottery ticket).  The writers boasted that in their campaign they had a set of tables which would place a character to within a few miles of a given town in France and let them know who their overlord was.

After five pages of rules for determining Social Class and Influence, there are fifteen pages about Knighthood in the Feudal setting, covering topics ranging from High and Low Justice, through Jousting, Heraldic Arms, Orders of Knighthood and Courtly Love.  Then you have nineteen pages of miniatures rules for army campaigns. In comparison it treats Clerics and Thieves in just over four pages.  I have occasionally wondered if Gygax's rant about Social Class and Rank in the 1e DMG was inspired by this game. 

 The mechanics of play are also unique for the time, and some conventions I haven't ever seen again.
It used a straight d20 roll for characteristics, instead of a multi-die bell curve.  It also had a fair amount of math, as you calculated secondary characteristics, such as Charisma and Personal Combat Ability off of your primary characteristics.  Alignment was also linear, ranging from Saintly (Wisdom automatically 15+ and character automatically takes Holy Orders) to Diabolic ("...so fiendishly demoniacal that even the Dark One is ashamed of his excesses at times.")

The combat rules enforced armor class modification to hit, and damage was based off of a Weapon Damage Factor which multiplied was multiplied by a value in the Personal Combat Factor table.  It also featured the concept of losing 'fatigue' vs hit points and location specific critical hits.  One dwarven character was known for almost always rolling a groin hit with his crossbow, whenever he scored a critical.  One of the unique concepts was the 'Bash', certain weapons (and shields) were able to knock your opponent back when they struck.  Nor was combat movement abstract, you chose specific movements each round, which cross referenced against you're opponent's maneuvers adjusted your chance to hit.

Clerics and Thieves were almost after thoughts with only two or three pages being devoted to each.  Alignment was a linear scale, from Angelic to Diabolic.  Clerics had a limited number of miracles they could perform, although many could also cast "Magick" spells.

Magic was a Vancian system, however you needed to learn the spell, which involved casting it many times until you had learned it completely before you really wanted to try casting it in combat.  The concept was that every object as well as spells had a "Basic Magick Resistance" which needed to be overcome before you could enchant them or cast the spell.  The "BMR" was reduced by successful casting, learning a spell meant that you had reduced the BMR to 0 with a 100% chance of casting.  Failure of course raised the BMR, eventually to the point where you could never learn the spell.  When rolling up a magic user, you also rolled to see what type of magic user the character was.  Magic users were grouped into different schools from 'Primitive Talents' to ''Mystics'.  Primitive Talents, such as elves were basically multi-class characters, who cast spells as well as pursuing other careers.

Experience was awarded for different actions for each class.  Fighters gained the most from typical dungeon crawling, while a magic user really needed to be holed up learning new spells in order to advance.  Thieves and Dwarves earned XP from treasure at 1GP = 1XP, while Magic Users only receive 1XP for 10 GP.

Advancement was similar to D&D , you accrued experience and at certain amounts you received bonuses to hit points, fatigue and Personal Combat Factor.  

Interestingly, the book included tables of NPC statistics of different types at every level from 1 to 20 - they were grouped as Typical No-Fighters, Average Fighting Men, Average Knights, Superior Knights and Mighty Knights.  I ran the numbers once and there was no way for a player characetr to be quite as good as a Mighty Knight.  So there was always an NPC that could show a PC the errors of their ways,

The beastiary included gave detailed coverage to Dragons, including the Questing  Beast (whose tracks you would encounter, but never the creature) and the Blatant Beast (who demanded poetry and tales).  Social Monsters, goblinoids, giants and several kinds of trolls had tables giving their stats at different levels.  The rest of the monsters were skeleton stat blocks.

There were several suplements published including one for Vikings that expanded the setting later, but the expansion still placed the character in a specific society and milieu.

We played AD&D mostly in college, but when several of us were stationed in the Norfolk area afterwards we switched to C&S.  Overall I enjoyed playing the game and I still use the section on Designing the Feudal Nation when designing campaign settings.  For difficulty it rates a 100 on the Dead Orc Scale, on par with AD&D.

Submitted for the RPG Blog Alliance February Blog Carnival at Arcane Shield.


  1. Oh wow, I'm not the only person in the world who played C&S! That was my first game as well. The historical aspects of it really appealed to me, since before that I was totally into historical military board games. Playing C&S first is probably why I never got into D&D until 3.0 came out.

  2. I am not sure we're talking exactly the same edition, but I would point out a few other things (from 2nd Edition C&S): it used a weird but interesting system for Characterictics generation, where players rolled a "pool" of points (I think something like 2d6+3 x 10 points, plus astrological bonus/penalty) which were then added to the Chatacteristics; they started at 4 and you simply assigned points to them, with scores above 15 being at 2 points per increase.

    The combat system was, IMO, very good. Characters added a personal combat factor (a plus to hit, basically) to the weapon's Base score, and that would be the roll they needed to roll equal to or under in 1d20. Opponents could spend Attacks to subtract penalties based on their Parry, Dodge, etc... ability, and in general the feel of combat was a lot more pseudo-realistic on one hand, but also a lot more fun, with all sorts of stuff happening all the time.

    I really liked the game and it was popular in a number of gaming clubs in Portugal in the mid-80's. My opinion in general, though, was that it was under-developed, there were many areas in need of better explanations, and especially reorganziation of the rules and where they appeared in the books(a common lament, as AD&D is also all over the place!).

    Later we developed an ADD/C&S hybridwhich worked really well. ADD characters classes, spell lists and some other stuff, C&S combat and spell casting rules (simplified), and enchantment rules (one of the better areas of the game, IMHO).

    It's funny, 20 years after I can still remember exactly how a lot of the rules of the game played, what they were, etc...!

  3. Rodfish - you're right. for games out of the box/book, C&S was the best.