Chivalry & Sorcery, 1st Edition

“Warfare & Wizardry in the Feudal Age”

Copyright 1977, Fantasy Games Unlimited, Inc.

Authors: Ed Simbalist & Wilf Backhaus
Contributors: John Vrapcenak, Ron Gillies, Wayne Wittal

8 1/2" x 11" rulebook, 128 pages

Chivalry & Sorcery donated by Dr. George Cunia.

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Chivalry and Sorcery is another legendary old-time game with modern devotees, but it had far less spread into the hobby than most of its peers. It is clear from reading the rules that the authors worked hard to create a game set firmly against a historical backdrop. While it cannot be said that C&S was a great success, it went through three editions and some of its ideas were major improvements in role playing rules.

Unlike most games of its day, C&S set the game in a specific culture, and referees were advised to make their adventures fit the logic of the world: no massive underground structures packed with monsters and treasure in this game! Unfortunately, the first edition was badly muddled. The rules were unclear and often difficult to follow. In some cases, even if the rules could be followed, they needed drastic pruning to create a playable game, at least by current standards. Like its contemporary, AD&D (click here for review), it attempted to cover every eventuality with simulationist detail and became a bloated mess as a result.

The Setting

Everybody who knows a little about C&S knows the setting: the real Europe of the middle ages, or at least very close to it. Where most role playing games of the era were set in a loose fantasy setting with medieval trappings—armored knights on horseback, castles, hereditary nobility—C&S set out to show a more authentic view of feudal society. For example, wealth is not found in hoarding money, but in the web of obligations and favors that nobility owed and dispensed to one another. The trappings of nobility: horses, noble weapons like swords, even clothing proper to your station were jealously guarded, and a person from the lower classes might be whipped or even executed for acting above his station. A noble's greatest possession is not his castle, his armor, or even his sword, but his great warhorse. Horses are expensive to keep and train because they cannot work (the horse collar had not yet been invented), but are necessary for the fighting effectiveness of a knight. Nobles must spend their wealth like water to maintain their property and their reputation, which put heavy pressure on them to accumulate coin.

While the culture praised gentility and piety, the real requirements for success were strength, toughness, honor, and bravery. Nobles ran the show in their own lands, so long as they didn't tread on the king's perogatives. Nobles made the laws and enforced them, and those under their judgment had no recourse but the mercy of their lord. Nobles plotted with one another and made alliances, jealous of the king and their neighbors. The Church likewise schemed to gain power. Nobles had to be warriors, and their sons were raised by friends so that they could be properly toughened up: it was believed that parents could not be harsh enough on their own sons to make them into good knights. Knights who failed to show honor were disgraced and excluded from society until they restored their names in heroic and suicidal quests.

There were extensive notes on what players needed to know about medieval society: knightly orders, the ranks of the nobility, the rules on courtly love, how the law was administered and the typical punishments for offenses, the various types of fortifications, basic living expenses and provisions (critical if you need to know how long your castle can withstand a siege), the costs of giving a tournament (quite expensive). Building castles, tournaments, courtly love—all were here, often with tables to determine a character's success at these activities.

C&S did make some concessions to be a gaming setting. There is a lot more coin around than there was historically, female characters have more freedom of action (such as becoming a warrior) than they actually did, and there's no mention of the brutality and injustices of the period, including the violent suppression of non-Christian peoples under Christian rule. The rules didn't sugarcoat the medieval period's dark side so much as simply ignoring it. This is an idealized world: noble ladies were beautiful, just, and courteous, and knights were tough, reckless, honorable, and fair-spoken. Nobles were always honorable, because failure to treat one's underlings with respect would bring retribution from other nobles.

But C&S meant to be more than an "explore this culture" game: it tried to improve upon and replace D&D. Major elements were lifted right out of D&D (and its Tolkeinesque roots) and added willy-nilly to the otherwise historical background: Elves (High and Wood), Dwarves, and Hobbits are around, as are Balrogs, Orcs, and Trolls. Thief characters must belong to the local chapter of the Thieves' Guild, and some of those thieves specialize as assassins. Plenty of monsters unknown to the medieval Europeans but known to D&D players were listed in the rule book: were-rats, lizard men, gnolls, mummies, giant ants, giant centipedes, giant killer frogs... And while the rules pointed out the illogical nature of dungeon complexes filled with treasure and monsters, they nevertheless recommended building smaller underground fortifications with guards and traps for player parties to explore and loot.

While many of the D&D creatures could be inserted into a feudal Europe as dangers unknown to the common folk, the Tolkein elements are harder to explain and C&S didn't even try. There was no discussion of the social status of non-humans, whether the proud elves and dwarves respected human feudal customs, or the particularly thorny question of non-human relations with the militant Catholic Church of the day. The rules went so far as to show how a player character Necromancer could go about creating a Ring of Great Command, which ruled over three rings for Elven Kings, seven for the Dwarf Lords.... We have difficulties imagining the Pope directing a Holy Crusade to conquer Mordor from the infidel orcs, all for the glory of Christ. We are reasonably sure this was not what the designers had in mind for the game.

 

The Game

The designers did have three different games in mind when they designed C&S. In addition to the role playing game, C&S could be used for conventional miniatures wargming battles set in this historical period. Players were to obtain and paint suitable figures for set battles, and fight them out using the miniatures rules included in the book. While we are not experienced enough miniatures players to review them, we found useful role play information in them: noble commanders are rated for their likelihood to obey orders as opposed to charging off to attack the most prestigious foes, and military formations are likely to disobey the commands of any but their hereditary lord. The rules on sieges are interesting, noting that an attacker's best chance is to sieze control of the gate before the other side is aware of their presence, with treachery as the second best tactic.

The second game, referred to as the Grand Campaign, had a broader scale: players guided the fortunes of their fief, primarily through military campaigns. Players' holdings generated a certain amount of cash, which could be used to buy forces or fortifications. (There was little recognition of the agricultural basis of the economy, with no rules for variable harvests, or the effects of weather, for example.) The size and nature of your army depended on the nature of your fief, generated with the tables and rules provided. Player lords could then attempt to increase their holdings, by negotiation or war, with the battles to be fought out using the miniatures rules. Or, if a group had a more role-playing bent, you could generate a character to command your fief, and interact with the world more deeply, hosting tournaments, engaging in courtly love, and vying for honor. This style of game resembles GDW's En Garde (click here for a review) to some degree, in that role playing is secondary to plotting and executing your actions on a series of tables. Since many non-combat actions depended mainly on die rolls (influencing other nobles to ask for favors, avoiding being influenced in turn, joining a Knightly Order, etc.) it would be easy enough to run this game without much role playing. Of course, this game blended into a full RPG, in that it really required a referee, and players could choose actions not covered in the rules: suppose my character fought and destroyed an enemy of the King—would the King look more favorably on my character's next request, or perhaps the King might see my character as a threat and plot to have other nobles constrain his actions?

This brings us to the role playing game, the third game supported by these rules.

 

Character Generation

The C&S book began with the character generation system, and it should be familiar to a D&D player, although it is much more complex. Like other game systems of the era, a great deal of character generation is random, leaving players little choice in the type of character they get to play.

The basis was as simple as most games: players roll d20 for nine "prime requisites": Dexterity, Strength, Constitution, Appearance, Bardic Voice, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, and Alignment. There is no provision for player modification of these scores, although a high or low score on one Prime Requisite may adjust others. For example, a dexterity of above fourteen adds one point to Appearance. Alignment deserves particular mention: C&S preserves the original D&D "Law/Neutral/Chaos" trichotomy, but they are listed on a single continuum, and players roll a d20 to see what their character's alignment is! While the rules say alignment is merely a guideline, it really is treated more as a prime requisite: players cannot adjust it except under special circumstances, and alignment will have effects on how non-player characters and institutions react to a character.

There are more detailed rules for generating character age, sex, size, and weight. If players wish to attempt to play a non-human, they have to roll on a table to see what they get. The table has an eighty percent chance of being human regardless, and a five percent chance of being a real monster, such as an orc, goblin, or even a dragon or balrog! It would be difficult to play such characters: while there are some rules on character generation tucked into the monsters section at the back of the book, there are no rules for setting their social status or income or any of the other derived characteristics necessary for such creatures to enter society...assuming it were even possible for them to.

Once the prime requisites are generated, secondary characteristics are calculated: Body (hit points) is a function of class (if human) or race (nonhuman) modified by various prime requisites. Fatigue points are a function of the experience level of the character. Military Ability Factor and Command Level (useful for the wargaming side of the game) are calculated from various prime requisites. Personal combat factor (an important modifier to the ability to hit in combat) is calculated by a clumsy equation including carrying capacity, military ability, dexterity, and character class.

To round out the character, players generate their character's horoscope, which will modify the character's experience awards, and at the referee's option, players can roll for their character's mental stability, to see if they are afflicted with one or more phobias or even more severe psychological problems.

Crucial in this society of little social mobility, a character's social class and rank are also randomly determined. Much depends on these rolls, as they determine income, status, and type of profession available to the character.

Character class

Chivalry & Sorcery uses character classes as D&D did, with Fighting Man, Frocked Cleric, Thief, and Magick User. Each of these broad classes support a wide variety of subtypes. The rules on how one starts a character are very vague: do they start with any equipment? What are the social status requirements?

If you want your character to be a fighting man, there are many options. Apparently, physical characteristics are unimportant to entering the profession of the fighter, but to be a successful one, it's a good idea to have good physical characteristics. The type of fighter you are depends largely on who your father was. Forget about knighthood unless you are born noble: besides the problem of affording the equipment and the horse, you would be flogged or killed for acting above your station. Since characters do not start with a purse of money, one may assume that the eldest son of a knight is a knight, outfitted with appropriate armor, weapons, and horse. Later born sons may be permitted the knighthood, or may be destined to be clerics. For non-nobles, the rules are even vaguer. Other fighting character types include sergeants, men at arms, yeomen, civic militia men, and possibly others. It is likely that one joins these different groups based on one's social class, but there is no clear information on this.

The clerical classes are slightly less confused. One may be an ordained priest, although there are no requirements listed for how a character becomes one. Presumably, one must be male (of course), and of higher status (noble and possibly guildsmen or townsmen). The rules mention that noble priests may be trained in knightly combat, although they are not permitted edged weapons, although another rule says priests are generally non-fighters. One may become a monastic cleric, provided the character has an alignment of less than eight (lawful) and a Bardic Voice score of ten or more. The last resort is to become a friar, and there are apparently no restrictions on this. Military men may also join the fighting monastic orders, although it appears these are only open to knights.

The magick user classes are easier to understand. Provided the character has an intelligence of at least twelve, or eleven for townsmen, guildsmen, and noblemen, a character may be a magick user. The player rolls on a table to determine which type of magick user the character is (natural, minor arcane, major arcane, or mystic), and then rolls for the subtype of magick user they are. Notice that a character may be rolled into a spell casting type that they are unsuited for, as there are secondary requisites that could seriously limit a character's ability to cast spells and gain experience.

Finally, a character may end up as a thief. There are no requisites at all, although a high dexterity is strongly recommended. If the character's alignment is too lawful, it is immediately shifted. This is one of the two ways that the rules recognize alignment changes. (The other is via a high level clerical miracle.)

It must also be noted that a character's horoscope influences their experience score, so they may end up astrologically aspected for a character class they are otherwise wholly unsuited for, or be astrologically unaspected for a class that they are forced into.

 

Melee Combat

At its center, the melee system is more complex than D&D's, but handles the hit points in a simple fashion that is a major improvement over D&D's. Characters need to roll under a to hit number, determined by cross indexing on a table the attacker's weapon against the defender's armor. Damage is a fixed amount, based on the weapon and modified by the character's Personal Combat Factor (PCF), calculated during character generation. Damage is deducted from Fatigue, which increases as the character goes up levels. If the character runs out of Fatigue points, the remaining damage comes from Body, a fixed value calculated at character generation. Presumably characters die when their Body score reaches zero; the rules don't seem to specify. Fatigue also governs how many attacks a character may make: after a limited number of attacks (Fatigue divided by three), each attack costs one Fatigue point. Higher level characters are allowed more attacks before they become fatigued. Unless there's a rule we missed, this means that a character can become wounded by making an attack, and actually kill himself by not resting if he drives his Body score to zero.

Outside of these core rules, there is an awful lot of clutter. Characters get multiple combat actions ("blows") based on the weapon they are using, modified by their PCF. Blows are used not only to attack, but also to maneuver and dodge or parry. There are four to hit tables, based on the attacker type: chivalric warrior, trained infantry, untrained humans, or naturally armed monsters. The to hit number is modified by attacker and defender abilities and actions. Damage is modified based on the type of weapon the attacker is using (light, light-heavy, or heavy) and the defender's armor (for example, chain mail hauberks reduce the amount of damage from light weapons by one quarter). If the attacker rolls below the critical hit value (determined on the same table as the basic to hit number) with an unmodified die roll, then the amount of damage is upped by half again, a d10 is rolled to determine what percent of the damage is applied directly to body, and a d20 hit location table is consulted to see if there are any more specific injuries to account for—and this result may supersede earlier rolls.

Let us not neglect the Bash, since the authors feel it is a critical part of combat. A bash is basically driving your opponent back or even knocking her down. This may be a side effect of a regular hit in melee, determined by a separate die roll. It may be the result of a missile hit, a successful shield parry, or by a deliberate body smash.

Unlike D&D (or AD&D), where melee combat often had few choices for players, C&S has several options for players. Chivalric knights could choose a "Great Blow" option in their attack, spending an extra blow to boost their chance of hitting and increase their damage. Defenders could similarly use a desperate defense, reducing attacker's to hit chances. Defenders could also choose dodges, weapon parries, or shield parries. There are also optional rules for choosing tactics each combat turn (fleche, charge, close, keep distance, stand ground, retreat, or flee), and attacker choices are cross-indexed to defender's. The results modified to hit numbers and modified other combat effects, (too close to engage with this weapon, lose a blow; optional bash; etc.).

There's more, some of it quite interesting, but it is difficult to conceive of a melee combat with more than four figures involved, even without optional rules. Thus far, this is possibly the most complex set of melee rules we have yet encountered, with the Tri-Tac system used for Bureau 13 the only close contender. We believe that players must have simplified these rules to play.

 

Magick

The magick rules are extremely complex and confusing. As noted above, if a character wishes to become a magick user, she rolls on a table to determine her "mode" of magick: Natural, Minor Arcane, Major Arcane, or Mystic. The probabilities for each are based on the character's social class. Each of the modes has a number of different types of magick users. Here is a list of all of the magick user types:

Natural Mode Magick Users
Primitives Natural spell casters. Their magick is intuitive to them.
Drug Trance Enchant potions to employ magickal effects.
Dance/Chant Dance to summon a totem spirit.
Shaman May cast spells directly, or may summon spirits.
Medium Enter trances to speak to spirits.

Minor Arcane Mode Magick Users
Alchemist Create magickal substances.
Astrologer Learn from the stars.
Diviner See into the future.
Hex Master Witches.
Artificer Build wondrous devices.

Major Arcane Mode Magick Users
Enchanter Performs magick through song and rhyme.
Conjuror Brew up magick using a cauldron.
Thaumaturgist "Miracle worker," usually through illusions.
Necromancer Death magick; summon the undead.

Mystic Mode Magick Users
Power Word Magick words.
Cabbala/Symbolist Magick by inscribing symbols on things.
Sacred Square Magick through numerology.

While these spell casters operate by very different magickal principles, they mostly follow the same rules. The main difference between classes is which spells they are limited to. So far as the game is concerned, it doesn't matter if a spell is cast by chanting or drinking a potion.

The two key concepts to the magickal rules are magickal level (MKL) and Basic Magickal Resistance (BMR). One's MKL may be based on experience points, or on a derived characteristic called the Concentration Level, itself based on intelligence score and a second requisite, and experience points. Put simply, the Concentration Level determines the base MKL, and experience increases it. The second requisite is a different Prime Requisite score, depending on which specific type of magick use the character was rolled into.

The BMR is necessary for mastering spells. All spells have a base BMR, from zero to ten. The probability that a magick user can cast the spell is found on a table, and is based on the caster's Concentration Level and the spell's BMR. Each time the caster succeeds, the spell's BMR is reduced by one, and the caster's probability of subsequently casting it increases. Each time the caster fails, the spell's BMR is increased by one, and the caster's probability of a subsequent successful cast decreases. The spell caster needs to continue practicing with the spell. When the BMR of the spell reaches zero, the spell BMR will not change, and each successful casting after this simply boosts the probability of success. When this probability reaches one hundred percent, the spell is mastered, and the caster need not roll to cast it any more. On the other hand, a series of unsuccessful attempts may raise the spell's BMR to ten, at which point the caster will never be able to master it, and may no longer attempt to use it.

Once a spell is learned, a spell caster may use it as often as she wants to. The price is fatigue: each casting reduces the caster's fatigue score, by a percentage, not by a set number of points. By this system, even the highest level magick users are limited to casting no more than twenty spells under the most favorable conditions without risking taking Body damage.

To cast a known spell at an opponent, the caster usually needs to "target" them. The probability of this can be found on a large table, cross indexing the type of target (basically the character class of the target), the mode of magick used on them (natural, minor arcane, etc.), and the relative experience levels of the caster and the target. The result is a percentile score that must be rolled. While this is not entirely clear, it appears that success at targeting with a mastered spell means that the target is now affected by the magick.

There are modifications, of course. The strongest defense is a magickal circle. The effects of a circle of protection depend on the type of offensive magick used against it, but roughly, the hostile caster must succeed in targeting the circle, and if she does, then she has to roll again to target specific occupants within the circle.

Individual spells are classified into eight types: detection, communication and transportation, basic magick, command, illusion, ancient lore, black magick, and demonology. Each of these types has a collection of spells, broken down into levels. Many of these spells are borrowed directly from D&D, names and all. (A few examples: passwall, hold portal, rope trick, knock.) It is rather jarring to consider medieval magick users throwing fireballs and casting hallucinatory terrain spells, but there they are. A clever idea is found in the Basic Magick spells. These are spells about manipulating the elements: air, earth, fire, water. For each element, the caster learns eight spells to manipulate the substance (create, detach, affix, amplify, concentrate, intensify, remove, and accelerate). Using these eight spells and selecting the format that the matter appears in, the magick user can produce a huge variety of effects: create bridges of rock, a cloud of dust, a rain of sand, a blast of stinging gravel, etc.

Enchanting items

If a spell caster wishes to create an enchanted item, the BMR is again key. Depending on the projected use of the item, the magick user needs to select an assortment of magickally appropriate materials. Each material has a BMR, and each needs to be enchanted to a BMR of zero, with a success rate of one hundred percent before it is suitable for creating an item. Of course, different types of magick users create different types of items. Perhaps the most important for the game is the Alchemist, whose search for the Philosopher's Stone produces a number of magickal substances as side effects, which are required for other, lesser spell casters to create their own magickal items.

The Alchemists work a little differently from most spell casters. Rather than learn spells, they must succeed at a series of progressively more complicated alchemical procedures. Their ultimate goal is the creation of the Philosopher's Stone. Succeeding at this task ennables them to essentially grant their own wishes (what D&D refers to as a "wish spell"). Eventually, these alchemists are "summoned to a Council of the Wise," and they disappear from the game.

Clerical Miracles

Clerics also have some spell casting abilities, but they use a completely different magickal system. There is a list of twenty one different miracles, and for every 10,000 experience points they earn (not the same as going up a level), they may use the next higher miracle on the list. The number of miracles a cleric may cast a day is the same as the number of miracles known. This list is invariant: clerics obtain the miraculous powers in order. Low level miracles include cure minor wounds and purify food and water; high end miracles include parting waters, controlling weather, and having visions. Two high end miracles are worth noting: one is humility, which lowers a clerical character's own alignment (lower scores are more lawful); the other is the most powerful miracle on the list, the ability to force an individual on a crusade against the infidel. Clerics can also pray, which raises morale. Other clerical powers depend on their subclass and status: monastics create "waters" (magickal potions) or illuminate sacred manuscripts; ordained priests can, among other things, celebrate High Masses (which have limited protective abilities), hear confessions (impose quests on others), and exorcise spirits. Bishops can raise the dead. The Pope can call a national crusade.

 

Additional Features

The rest of the game book includes encounter tables and monster lists. Advice to the referee is peppered through the text. It is helpful to note that travel in this period was not only dangerous, but also expensive. Aside from the everpresent trolls lurking under bridges to collect tolls, there were tolls to pay to enter towns, and tolls to pay lords of castles that overlooked the highways. Roving patrols of soldiers were ready to collect tolls from the unwilling. Inns may be unable to accommodate a party, and travelers are left to either risk a charge of vagrancy for sleeping in the street (spend the night in gaol and pay a fine), or seek shelter at the castle (pay gifts to the hosts). The authors point out that not all encounters need to be hostile: even if a party meets an ogre in the woods, it may be on its way home and not be hungry or willing to bother harassing a large group of well armed humans.

C&S is possibly unique in our experience for giving characters experience points by the day. While characters can gain experience by adventuring, they also do so for simply practicing their profession. As may be expected, different character classes earn experience points for different things: warriors earn different numbers of points per day depending on if they're going to war at the time or not; they also gain points for battle, championing a lady, competing in tournaments, and so forth. Clerics earn experience for doing good deeds, writing manuscripts, sanctifying objects, and, oh yes, slaughtering enemies of the church. Magick users actually gain experience points for learning new spells, and so forth.

 

Summary

C&S was an unusual book. It had some novel and creative ideas, and still works well as a sourcebook for a somewhat romanticized historical medieval Europe. The wargaming miniatures rules are valuable for a referee seeking to set battles in this period. On the other hand, the rules are very badly written. Information necessary to understand sections of the rules may be scattered through the book, and it is often not possible to really understand a section until a referee actually tries it out.

To some degree, we feel C&S was badly marred by trying to be three things at once, and we don't mean the Grand Campaign. The medieval culture game would be most interesting, although possibly better as an En Garde style "plot and roll" kind of game. The forced marriage between medieval Europe and Tolkein's Middle Earth is not a comfortable alliance, however. Tolkein's humans may have had some degree of feudal politics, but the explicit social mores of medieval Europe seem out of place. There is no evidence of clerics in Middle Earth, laws about riding horses, limits on who may carry chivalric arms, or tournements and courtly romance. Since combat and magick abilities are class-based rather than ability based, one has to translate all other backgrounds into C&S's knights and lesser warriors to succeed.

Both of these settings are further spoiled by the cramming of D&D's magic system into these settings. While there is a rich tradition of spellcasters in both Tolkein and medieval stories, neither one would use the flashy magic of traditional role playing fantasy.

C&S had some useful and interesting innovations. The separation of Body and Fatigue points was a useful way to track hitpoints; the options available in melee other than "I attack"; the inclusion of social class rules and making them meaningful is unusual in RPGs; and perhaps most impressively, the in-game results of normal religious practice (masses providing protection against evil for celebrants, for example) is quite possibly unique.

While this first edition is clearly a dated game system, with its awkward mechanics and overly detailed rules, the breadth of the background and the clever solutions to D&D's problems make it well worth a look.

 

Personal Note from the Curator

I remember this game when it first came out. We never really tried it, which was probably a good thing. The one or two characters I created were serfs with no positive prospects, and our refereeing abilities were not up to the task. I am also certain that I never really understood the rules back then. I approached this review expecting to be far more critical than I was, but I now stand in real admiration of the game. A good group could have a lot of fun with a game like this. I would almost recommend it as a sourcebook, but this first edition is probably too rare for that. If later editions have the same degree of background material, then it might be helpful to those who want to play in this romantic setting.

—RAD

1/6/04; modified 5/12/04

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