Chivalry & Sorcery: What if Gary and Dave had not found the fun?

Back in “What does D&D have to do with ironclad ships,” I wrote about how, in the wake of Dungeons & Dragons release, a mania for realism consumed role-playing game design. In Dragon issue 16 from 1978, Gary Gygax wrote “‘Realism’ has become a bugaboo in the hobby, and all too many of the publishers—TSR included—make offerings to this god too frequently.” At his cranky best, Gary rails against the champions of realism for another  3,800 words.

In 1977, Chivalry & Sorcery tried to top other system’s more realistic combat systems, and the more authentic magic systems, with a REALISTIC FEUDAL SOCIETY.

A page from first edition Chivalry & Sorcery

A page from first edition Chivalry & Sorcery

You can tell that C&S is as serious as a legal contract because it’s written in the same, punishing 6-point courier as a contract’s fine print. I imagine the published text was typewritten and then reduced to half size. C&S needed the micro-text to reach the goal of offering “the most complete rule booklet ever published.”

C&S feels like half role-playing game, and half broadside against the decadent practices of some other game, which I won’t name but which has the initials D and D. I presume most of the passages in the original C&S draft began, “Actually, in a real feudal society…,” but that the editors cut for space. To be fair, the game features a cherry-picked version of feudal realism that dwells on historical customs drawn from the Society for Creative Anachronism. You have fair ladies, honorable knights, church-bound clerics, and boot-licking peasants. Plus, you have a fanciful notion of chivalry—something more than the church’s public service campaign aimed at getting a ruling class of murderous, mounted thugs and warlords to behave.

To a young D&D fan, circa 1978, C&S seemed like a systematic attempt to drain everything fun from D&D and replace it with an educational exercise.

This might seem fun But actually…
Dungeons Because of the constant escalation in the numbers and the power of ‘magical’ spells, the dungeon expedition has become a form of walking nightmare to player and dungeon master alike.” (p.64)
The mere fact that a ‘dungeon complex’ exists within a larger world means that there is a natural limit to what it can and will contain. A large concentration of ‘evil’ will attract the Church and might bring down a ‘Crusade’ against it. A large concentration of loot will attract the King, a personage always in need of money. Nor is it possible to keep such a dungeon complex secret for long. Myths and legends about such a place and what is to be found in it soon become common knowledge.” (p.105)
So dungeons won’t exist, because the church or king will get them. And that’s a good thing, because they become a kind of walking nightmare, and not the fun kind.
Dragons The first rule when dealing with Dragons is to do everything possible to avoid them.” (p.115)
Wizardry Far too many players who have Magick Users assume a blithe complacency about the subject. To most, it is a type of ‘weapons technology,’ a quick and really easy method of burning, blasting, and otherwise crushing opponents which they cannot destroy by mere wit and superior tactics. When in doubt, use ‘over-kill!’ What these ego-trippers and uninformed players do not understand is that it is not in the nature of magicians to risk their skins unless some great treasure is to be had.
What real ‘experience’ is to be had in a dark, damp dungeon? The Arcane Arts are essentially contemplative in nature, the actual practices being done only after long preparation and research. The magical effects are too difficult and are often too dangerous to achieve to permit any Magick User, however highly placed, the luxury of blazing away with spell after spell, or of taking time off from important work to go down into a dungeon!
These quotes only sample the screed on page 64, explaining that if your Magick User does anything but study, you’re doing it wrong!
Magic items Chivalry & Sorcery has deliberately avoided the tendency in some games to publish extensive lists of miraculous and highly predictable magical devices. It is our feeling that each device is unique and must be designed as one of a kind by the Player-Referee. Thus Magick will be somewhat scanty because no player in his right mind will consent to spending weeks of time merely writing of the characteristics of hundreds of magical items.” (p.106)
The game includes no lists of magic items, leaving the dungeon master the tedium of creating them. But that’s for your own good.
Freedom and adventure When the society demands that a man occupy a definite place in the rank order of things and conduct himself accordingly, anyone who proves to be a ‘maverick’ counts for little.” (p.1)
Most characters who do not have a ‘living’ from a holding will have to take service with some Master or great lord. Usually, such service provides food, shelter, and a limited amount of money in the form of wages. Characters will probably have to settle for such positions simply to stay alive…” (p.13)
Sword wielding One of the features of social class that dominates Chivalry & Sorcery is the rather great distinction made in the matter bearing arms. Knights have the prerogative of bearing weapons that are forbidden to the lesser classes of society.” (p.1)
Some weapons are reserved for the use of noble or near-noble ranks. Historically, permission was occasionally granted to those normally prohibited to bear such arms, but that right was considered a high honor.” (p.13)
Playing a character you like Random rolls determine every aspect of your character. If you wish to play a non-human, you still have an 80% chance of being required to play a human. The random determination of social class stands as the game’s most oppressive feature. Sure, you could roll a king, but you stand a much higher chance of rolling a peasant. Given the game world’s rigid social structure, your character’s social standing locks you in. Imagine a modern-day game where your random chance of being a spy or vampire hunter stood realistically infinitesimal, dwarfed by your change of working in a cubicle.
The introduction hints that a group might just agree to play knights and noblemen, but I keep getting the feeling that the authors will pop up and scold me for such pleasure seeking. (Maybe that’s just me. I also expect my father to appear and scold me whenever I touch my house’s thermostat.)
Joining an adventuring party What you do in the game varies widely depending on your job and status. If you’re lucky enough to roll a Knight, then you can fight, woo the ladies, and enter tournaments. As an administrator, you can run the royal bureaucracy and build influence. (Hint for bureaucrats: See page 11 for the section “Temporarily Increasing One’s BIF,” that’s Basic Influence Factor to those new to the game. Page 12 lists the sixty-some stations in the royal bureaucracy.) If you’re a Magician, you research and study. If you’re a peasant, you scratch out a meager living until the pox takes you.
The game offers few opportunities for players to join together in play.
alry & Sorcery first edition

Chivalry & Sorcery first edition

I do not mean to declare that C&S cannot be fun. Obviously, some folks found it fun, but then I just saw a TV commercial where a woman claims to find doing taxes fun. I see the target audience of C&S as the sort of Society for Creative Anachronism enthusiast, who lambastes poser members for the hidden zippers in their costumes.

For the rest of us, not every aspect of C&S is less fun than D&D. Personally, I’m always uncomfortable role-playing the act of flirting with a beautiful maiden as played by a chubby bearded guy. I know that I need to free my mind from those hang-ups. Luckily, C&C brings a wargamer’s eye to romance by providing formulas for a Knight’s Courtly Romance Factor (KCRF) and a Lady’s Courtly Romance Factor (LCRF). “Check out the LCRF on that saucy maiden!” Page 22 and 23 include typically dense rules for turning courtly love into a percentage chance of gaining her ‘favour,’ Wink wink nudge nudge.

I have a copy of first edition C&S from 1977, old enough that you can play a Hobbit.® Take that, Tolkien estate! In Dragon issue 95, Gary Gygax wrote about the minimal influence of Tolkien on D&D. “The seeming parallels and inspirations [from Tolkien] are actually the results of a studied effort to capitalize on the then-current craze for Tolkien’s literature.” Gary drew from authors like Poul Anderson and Fritz Leiber, and then added some Tolkien as a sop to his fans. Beyond feudal history, C&S draws almost entirely on Tolkien, and then adds bits from D&D to appease its fans. In a much fairer review of C&S than the one you’re reading, Robert Dushay writes, “While many of the D&D creatures could be inserted into a feudal Europe as dangers unknown to the common folk, the Tolkien 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 extent of C&S’s Tolkien lore nearly matches its feudal lore. Page 84 describes this necromantic spell: “The Ring of Great Command: A spell which the Necromancer places in an enchanted Ring of Power. The Ring binds the possessors of lesser Rings also fashioned by the Necromancer: 9 for mortal men; 7 for Dwarf Lords; and 3 for the Elven Kings. Upon completion of the Ring, which takes 1 year to fashion, the Necromancer places much of his Power in it. The Ring gives him the power to assume the form of a Nazgul for a period up to his Time Factor once per day.” The rules for Sauron go on from there.

Beyond the passion for social realism, C&S features a 1970s wargamer’s passion for pervasive abbreviations. Just about everything in the game has a factor! Just like math! With a quick flip though the text, I spy Military Ability Factor (MAF), Personal Combat Factor (PCF), Personal Magick Factor (PMF), and Magick’s Level (MKL, but presumably corrected to MKLF in the second printing). MILF must be in there somewhere. How hardcore wargamers like Dave and Gary avoided this mania, I’ll never know, but I thank them for it. If you think the white box was inaccessible, imagine it filled with more factors than a math text book.

Chivalry & Sorcery leads me to a thought experiment that increases my appreciation of Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax’s original creation. We tend to think of role-playing as D&D’s biggest invention. For the first time, a game let you play a character, who has traits and abilities modeled by the game, in an open-ended world. In my thought experiment, I wonder if D&D would have ever succeeded if it had played more like C&S. What if instead of winning treasure and powerful magic, players gained influence and loyalty? What if wizards only indulged in research and study? What if instead of braving mysterious dungeons to face terrifying monsters, players took more mundane roles in realistic, feudal kingdoms? In short, what if Dave and Gary had lacked such a gift for finding the fun?

Would we have seen D&D’s explosive growth in the eighties? Would we have Ultima, Zork, or World of Warcraft? Would Gary Gygax have appeared on 60 Minutes or Futurama? How many of us would even be playing this game? I suspect that a “realistic” version of D&D would have remained a tiny hobby appreciated by a few enthusiasts, unknown to the wider world. We would never have seen an game scene grow enough to the accommodate folks who do enjoy playing Chivalry & Sorcery for its nuanced, sober attention to medieval lore, and the folks who enjoy killing monsters and taking their stuff.

38 thoughts on “Chivalry & Sorcery: What if Gary and Dave had not found the fun?

  1. Steven Satak

    This is a good blog entry. I just sold off my C&S books, all of them. They were sitting on my shelf for sixteen years, maybe longer, and all I could do when I opened the Sourcebook was mutter, somewhat like Dave Bowman, “My God – it’s full of tables!”

    Thank you for covering it a bit more in-depth and, like the Men In Black, seeing things that I need not see. I never liked the SCA all that much, anyway. They went on about courtly this and chivalric that, moaned about how the modern world was so corrupt, didn’t understand them, yadda e yadda. But their internal politics blew donkey dick and they had their pecking orders and treated the ones who didn’t quite fit in – a little different. I wasn’t one of those, but I watched. And I realized these people had created a little alternate reality where immersion was absolutely essential. Not (as they said) so they could escape from the inequalities of the modern world (where presumably they were at the bottom of the heap), but so that they could be in a world where they could do the same shitty things to people that had been done to them for years – a place where the rules were twisted so that the biggest nerds of all were at the TOP of the social order.

    They turned out to be just as incompetent and corrupt as the folks on the outside, but now it was *their* turn.

    And someone decided to base a game on this… thing? I suppose back in CA 10, it made sense. But even three years later I, a nimrod of merely 20, could see the failings of the SCA (rammed home seven years later when I tried to enter and found things had gotten *worse*).

    I am not surprised the game was made the way it was. The designers (God bless them both) probably did not fully appreciate the irony of creating a game where you eagerly traded the humdrum existence of the modern world for … the humdrum existence of a medieval world. Only a true nerd would think this desirable; only a true nerd would fail to appreciate the irony. Just because you can re-create the Society for Creative Anachronism as a set of rules and tables doesn’t mean you should.

    My God. Didn’t any of them ever wake up in the middle of the night, wondering why they’d created a game that was a simulation of a simulation of a world that never properly existed and would be zero fun to live in if it were real?


      1. Shane Devries

        P.S. Steve,

        Have you ever watched “Game of Thrones” ? If not then you would not understand that many C&S campaigns are EXACTLY like this series. Do you think Game of Thrones is boring? I bet you don’t…

        C&S allows you to put in as MUCH of the medieval background as you like or as much of the fantasy side of role-playing as you like. It is up to the GM running it and the players he has sitting around the table. I have GM’d this system over 30 years now and the fantasy adventure side of things in our campaigns is right up there with ANYTHING played in D&D, AD&D and any other system for that matter. However, saying that, I have also conducted several LONG campaigns that were run along the lines of Game of Thrones long before the HBO series came out with many situations seen in that series playing out in our sessions with the politics, love, drama, warfare and any other aspect of medieval like life being played out. There is only so many times a GM can run a goblin band at a group of adventurers before they get bored with fighting goblins, trolls and wyverns etc…..The political, social side of C&S allows players to carry out activities and actions, make alliances, gain honour, increase station and power in a truly medieval society as they go through their lives that gives meaning for the players for the validity of the lives of their characters. This in turn allows them to see their characters as not just mere hackers of goblin hordes and dungeon crawlers but important persons living and interacting in a wider world rich in social order, politics, and achieving their aspirations as they attempt to climb their own social ladders.

        I strongly suggest you play the game first before you call me and my friends “nerds” for playing and enjoying a game that were are fond of. Do not judge a book by its cover without first reading in completely or in this case, playing the system under a competent GM who is very experienced with C&S as a system. There is nothing boring or humdrum about being a C&S character at all. My players of 30 years experience will attest to that. And if you were to call them nerds to their faces you might end up with a few bruises or worse for you insults.

        One of my players in particular said to us on more than one occasion, : “I look forward to playing C&S every Friday night. If I miss out on just one session it’s like skipping a paragraph in a good book that you can never go back to find and read no matter how much you wish you could”.

        1. No Soy For me

          Watching Game of Thrones was fun. Playing it might not be. Monopoly is fun because it is VASTLY different that actually buying and selling property. I can imagine playing IRS – the Role Playing Game might be a tad bit tedious. That said ANY game can be tweaked to fit your needs but C&S RAW is a bit deep for people who just want a hack and slash vs a courtly romance. Which I would guess is the majority of players. For romance I’ll opt for the real thing. Slaying trolls with fire and orcs with swords, I’ll take the fantasy game.

  2. Shane Devries

    Wow, what a one eyed misinformed view of C&S.

    My first question to you would be: “Have you actually ever played the game”? My guess is no.

    Sure, C&S is designed to replicate a realistic Feudal society but that is not the be all, end all of the game. C&S has ALL the magick, adventure and allure of exploring a fantasy world as D&D, actually, its ability to do so far outstretched anything D&D every had back in its first publication.

    If you understood why Ed Symbolist and his crew designed C&S you might be better informed as to his intentions. D&D might have had a rich plethora of rules for exploring dungeons at the time in the late 70’s but it lacked any depth at all in the place these dungeons had in a fantasy world. C&S was Ed’s attempt to create a realistic world that could enable D&D dungeons to exist. Ed explained that his reasons for designing C&S was to enrich D&D and he took the game to Gary in the hope that he might buy the game, work with Ed and his crew to create a realistic world structure with rules for D&D. But Gary was apparently rude, and showed zero interest towards Ed’s work. So Ed took his system and published it himself with his partners as a rival to D&S instead of a “background setting” extension for D&D.

    I have owned and played C&S since my first introduction to it way back in 1983!! So I have GM’d it with my group of players for over 30 years now!!!! The reason it survived and out grew D&D that we were playing back then was the fact that its detailed system for character generation, their place in society and the depth of the rules made D&D look like a kids game. C&S gave us a level of depth and strength to it that provided greater realism and believability that D&D just could not match. The D&D GM’s in my group simply gave up on the system and quickly became convinced that C&S was and still is a MUCH better game system for those who want a more realistic system that had the bonus of adding social structure to the characters as a back ground.

    As for Mage’s simply sitting in their abode’s researching and studying this is far from a realistic appraisal of how C&S actually works Mages. Yes, it is true that a mage MUST sit for daye, weeks, months and even years to enchant items, research spells and combine them to form devices of power or spells but this does not mean that Mage’s are useless in an adventure setting, far from it. C&S has what is called “Downtime” periods of time when the Mage, or any other character for that matter, is busy with personal endeavours etc. However, when a Mage needs a particular spell component, parchment, or any other magical material that is not available for purchase he MUST go and find it. This means most of our games centre around the Mage deciding that he needs something to complete an enchantment and so a party is formed and sets off to find it, retrieve it and return with it. This is where C&S adventure for Mages gets really involved, deep, exciting and rewarding. In D&D there was none of this. But in C&S the focus was and still is on this kind of fantasy role play for mages.

    Yes the Social structure of the rules system for characters limited their ability to use certain items, rise to certain stations in life and caused inequality in characters but so does real life. The players therefore had to overcome these limitations by rising to the challenges in the game as they arose. Even in real feudal society a lowly peasant could be knighted if he showed true valour in battle for example. So to can a peasant in C&S if he does what it takes and is successful. Overcoming ones disabilities and limitations in life is fundamental for people in the real world and thus equally as important in a C&S feudal society. This is why C&S introduced its “Honour” system and “Social Status” scores. These rules enable the character, however lowly born to rise if he proves his worth. If enough points are accumulated the character can rise in station and thus more doors are opened to him/her in the game. This is something I doubt you picked up on in your review?

    To close there is MUCH MUCH more to this game than basic tables, maths and the boredom of feudal life. The level of fantasy introduced as compared to realistic Feudal society is purely up to the GM himself running the world. It is “HIS/HER” creation, C&S simply provides the ground work and basis for both realistic and fantasy role play to the level you and your group desire. It’s up to you. Im my own group we use Harn as our C&S world and therefore with a Feudal setting provided we can add in the fantasy side of the game as much as we desire which C&S provides well.

    It is interesting to note that after C&S 1st Edition was published in 1977 very quickly Garay Gygax began work on his AD&D version which added a massive amount of work detailing the world around the dungeons, society and in-depth rules on character creation and their place in the world. It you want to talk about “tables” and the need to use “math” then please, by all means let’s discuss AD&D in fine detail. AD&S and its release in 1980 killed off any idea of C&S being the superior product at the time because Gary spared no expense to ensure AD&D was the most in-depth and rich source to GM’s and players alike to use for their fantasy role playing worlds. The irony is that although detailed and rich, C&S could not compete with Gary’s AD&D, even when C&S 2nd edition came out in 1983 the level of detail and complexity already found in AD&D that provided rich in-depth worlds far exceeded that which C&S 2nd edition could provide by a factor of 10.

    My advice to you is to play C&S with a GM who knows the system VERY well and your feeling towards C&S as a game system will change very quickly. The combat system of C&S and the level of detail to fighting is still in my opinion better than any other system to this day. It is just a pity that AD&D killed any chance C&S had to find popularity, not its complexity which is a myth still kept alive by naive, misinformed comments like your own. If you have NEVER played a game using the C&S system but instead throw out comments based purely on flicking through its pages then that sir is simply naive and misinformed.

    Like I said, I have been GM’ing C&S for over 30 years now with the same group of friends. That is clearly a testament to its staying power as a system that went beyond dungeon crawling. C&S provided us with a believable social structure and society that we were able to use first with my own world creation then later as a system in the setting in Harn. I and my friends are in our late 40’s, we all have families, kids and even grand children now. However, through all of these life changes the ONE thing that remained constant was our love and devotion to C&S. This game system provided us with the rock that kept that bond of friendship between us all for over three decades. I am sure that if we stuck with just playing D&D none of us would even know where each other lived anymore. C&S was and still is such a rich, believable socially structured system for characters to live in that players continue to play it at my home every week on Friday nights all these years. As a system C&S has withstood the test of time.

    1. DM David Post author

      Guilty as charged. I cop to writing an unfair look at a game I never played. (I don’t think the post made a secret of my approach.) After all these years, C&S continues to enjoy a passionate following of players, so clearly the game offers something. I’m grateful for your balancing look at why the game still gets played. I would enjoy the campaign you describe.

      From my perspective, the best aspect of C&S is its grand campaign, complete with an advancing calendar, rules for downtime, and ways to accommodate a big pool of players and characters. A lot of early role-playing campaigns operated like this, including Blackmoor, Greyhawk, and Arduin, but C&S pioneered explicit rules for the grand campaign. Sadly, the grand-campaign model quickly fell by the wayside. Perhaps too few gamemasters could spare enough time or could rally enough players for a critical mass. Nonetheless, we see hints of this play style’s return with the Pathfinder Ultimate Campaign book and D&D next’s promised downtime system.

      I’ve only ever seen the first edition of C&S. I’m curious about the game’s various editions and how they changed.

      1. Shane Devries

        Hi mate,

        I am glad you read my words and understand a little better why people such as myself and my friends play C&S after all of this time since it’s first release in 1977. I cannot begin to tell you how much pleasure C&S has given us after all of these years. The many campaigns and situations that my players and even I as a GM have gone through are often recalled like remembering old movies we are fond of. This is what makes the game so memorable for us all.

        As for C&S’s editions all I can tell you is that I started with 2nd Edition and that is the only one we play. I own EVERY book of all the other editions for reference material but we stuck to 2nd edition because it was the most comfortable for us to play. 2nd edition had all that 1st edition had but in a much better format while 3rd and 4th editions rules were altered so much that we did not like them. For example, the 2 later editions changed the combat “BLOWS” system to an “AP” (Action Points) system. So instead of a character having a certain number of blows each turn he could use this was changed to AP’s. Certain actions and combinations of actions would cost the character “X” amount of AP which would be taken away from his available pool of AP. Although it might sound fine in theory in practice this system is over complicated and time consuming thus slowing down the tempo of the action as the players and GM’s try to calculate action costs, sequence of events and the remaining AP left etc… The Blows system of the original system was MUCH simpler, easy and flowed well for combat sequencing.

        As the editions evolved the rules altered with them I will admit but these changes were mostly cosmetic in most cases. However, the Magick system did alter a great deal from 2nd to 3rd as rules mechanics for all aspects of spell learning, casting etc changed. These changes are too enumerable to explain but suffice to say that the changes were not liked by many steadfast older loyal C&S adherents and thus most older C&S players seem to hold on to the older versions of the game just as we do. Younger players might take to the newer versions readily but us old gamers like the old rules way too much to change.

        My forum for C&S is there as a link. Feel free to take a look anytime you wish. You can see from the members there why we love the system so much. And yes, I agree that to be a loyal C&S player or GM you probably have a certain kind of tolerance, acceptance, or attraction for complexity for the rules of C&S. This probably stems from the belief most C&S adherents have that a more complex of detailed set of rules makes for a more in-depth, richer and believable world to role-play in. If you don’t play C&S you might not understand this or believe it but for us this is very true.

      2. bryan borich

        I have to agree in part with Shane, C&S gave you a background characters could interact with outside of dungeon crawls. And maybe best of all, there was Land of the Rising Sun, a Japanese oriented background. I’m not mentioning the Norse expansion or the Saurians expansion, which gave you a prehistoric world.

        The bad part I admit was the combat system, it was probably too realistic and took to long (for me).

        And I wouldn’t have minded more work on the Magick.

        1. David Hartlage Post author

          Thanks for commenting. I think the most problematic feature of C&S is that it never helps GMs join all the diverse characters into a party so players can game together. Obviously, an expert game master can solve this problem. I suspect the early players tended to keep portfolios of characters, so they could join compatable characters together for a session.
          – Dave

  3. Don Holt

    Shane Devries wrote:
    “There is only so many times a GM can run a goblin band at a group of adventurers before they get bored with fighting goblins, trolls and wyverns etc…..The political, social side of C&S allows players to carry out activities and actions, make alliances, gain honour, increase station and power in a truly medieval society as they go through their lives that gives meaning for the players for the validity of the lives of their characters. This in turn allows them to see their characters as not just mere hackers of goblin hordes and dungeon crawlers but important persons living and interacting in a wider world rich in social order, politics, and achieving their aspirations as they attempt to climb their own social ladders. ”

    I would like to second his thoughts on this aspect of any RPG game. One of those C&S abbreviations you missed was BIF, basic influence factor. Rather than having players solely interested in gaining level, you can have them gain position. After dealing with about 2 years of 4th edition D&D, I was glad that Pathfinder returned to these ideas.

    I returned to RPG playing after a break of about 25 years (1983-2008?) when 4th edition D&D was just hitting the shelves. I was baffled by a game that appeared to have lost all meaning of what an RPG was supposed to be. I also was sadden that all the GM’s were running published scenarios and no one was running their own world.

    As for the “realism” aspects of C&S, I don’t think it is the setting realism that attracted most players of C&S to the system, but rather the mechanics of the system. Perhaps a bad example, but the concept of daily or encounter abilities found in 4th edition D&D is without believability. If you can perform a certain feat, why would you not be able to perform that same feat later in the day when you had rested?

    Also why do all actions take the same amount of time? Several systems have attempted to address that problem, such as the turn order determination in 7 Seas. C&S blows system was probably first and tried to factor at least your weaponry into a varied time order.

    These are the “realism” aspects of C&S that I enjoy. For players to get a certain effect, there most be a proportional cost. It is these absence of greater story arcs and effect/cost mechanics in the D&D system I find lacking. I’m told that Pathfinder returns the story arcs, which is great. Alas I think it is too late for me to attempt D&D a third time. I would have like to have seen it in it’s heyday of 3 and 3.5 editions.

    1. Shane Devries

      Bravo mate, well said.

      I find the biggest critics of C&S are the ones who never played the game. They might have looked inside the books, screamed loudly and ran away but never played it because they refused to take the time to read it, digest it and work through the system’s rules to understand it.

  4. Jeff

    I am posting a comment on a 2 year old post because I was Google searching C&S after benefiting greatly from the magical properties of material found in the 3 edition. I don’t even know why I bought a copy but it proved invaluable today.

    Great points above, great blog overall.

  5. Rod

    I have played lots of RPG games. My favorite for ongoing campaigns is C&S.

    C&S is a gem of a game and an encourages the readers to only use what they want from the rules. We never bothered with the rules suggestion of synchronising the campaigns with real time, we just allowed players to have x weeks downtime for their characters with xx Experience points and said before an adventure “…after x weeks you decide to …” or like “… a knock is heard at your door …” and the adventure would begin.

    Of the editions, I liked C&S 1st edition the best with its fast blow by blow combat and then 4th ed C&S coming in at a close second. 3rd edition had less flavor and 2nd was similar to 1st but felt incomplete.

    The major shortcoming of C&S is that it wasn’t character balanced, which is critical to a long running campaign. One player could be a powerful knight another a useless peasant; forcing the GM/referee to help let the peasant find something to make them special.

    These days I have been liking D&D 5th edition but its only a matter of time before I get the urge referee another C&S game.

    1. Shane

      Good read Rod, ty. We too tend to ignore the “Timeline” aspect of C&S to an extent. I try to keep a timeline but fail at times due to the depth of the campaign etc. Saying that I do keep a rough timeline. When it comes to “Downtime” I detail this VERY carefully and sinc it from one character in the party to the next. This keeps all toons on the same timeline and working together to get tasks done etc.

  6. Centurion13

    Eh. I sold those books, every single table-laden one of them. Don’t regret it at all.

    I have always been of the opinion that it is the storyteller (the GM) who makes the game. Or doesn’t. Adding rules doesn’t help (I played plenty of RoleMaster in the early to mid 1980s. Never again.)

    D&D 5th Edition might be getting away from the World of Warcraft disease of 4th Edition, and bully for them. But 2nd Edition always seemed to have all the parts needed to tell a ripping good tale.

    I still have Arduin on the shelves, as well. Almost as bad as C&S, but with better art. Would I buy more of the Arduin books? No. What a crazy campaign that must have been, where Dave Hargrave’s creativity meter had only two settings – mildly amusing and death sentence. And then they documented it as a set of ‘rules’. Wonderful. My campaigns were just as silly, I am sure. But I never tried to document them and then sell the results to other people.

    1. bryan borich

      While I don’t know Hargraves still directly I had one GM who did. And I found him to be one of the better ones I’ve experienced in the dungeon crawl style.

      I even used to have some material they never published, which I modified for my own use.

      As for C&S, it provided one way to give a variety of alternate backgrounds and develop a world other than just plain “European”.

  7. Steve

    Note: I *like* C&S. I play RQ mostly, but as I’d had a Dark Ages Europe campaign I often used the C&S books for inspiration and ideas.

    But Shane: if spending 2400+ words ARDENTLY defending a 40-year-old set of rules doesn’t mark you as a “nerd” well, I’m not sure what would. I think the “protesteth too much” line is hit somewhere around 500 words. Own it, man. “Nerd” hasn’t really even been a derogatory term for 15 years.

    1. Shane Devries

      If I have played and liked C&S for the last 40 years I am going to defend it mate. I think you “whinge” too much about something you obviously do not understand. Own it, mate. And yes, I was one of the nerds who started playing RPG’s way back then, glad to wear that badge. I also owned a V8 muscle car, went nightclubbing and got laid all the time. You can actually be a nerd and cool kid at the same time.

  8. Bhoritz

    I like C&S even if nowadays I play other rules.

    My problem with the review is not that you berate the game without ever playing it. Nor that you were obviously not there during the “great realism wars” of the beginnings of RPGs (that you seem to reduce to a on/off simplistic topic).

    It is more because you seem to think that to be fun, a medieval based game must be 21st century america in a pair of thights.

    I suppose that you not only want your characters to be free of any medieval societies constraints but also that they can buy their magical swords at the Wizard’s Walmart during the black friday (obviously the birthday of the Dark Lord), whilst attending to ceremonies from any pantheon all equally represented in a society of freedom and equality.

    So you mix criticisms about rules and about setting which are not even related.
    Your comments boil down to “this game is not the “popular” version of D&D (the pale tasteless version of the hollywoodian middle-ages, which has become the norm after dozens of years of uneducated misrepresentation of the original D&D content (made by nerds history lovers for nerds history lovers)), so it must be bad”.

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  10. Stephen Turner

    If anyone is interested in having a look at how the rules developed the 4th edition is free on Drivethrurpg

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  12. Dave

    So sad that Chivalry and Sorcery is now given away free.

    It is a gem of a game and i played it for many years along with other games I also liked D&D, Stormbringer, CoCthulhu, Top Secret, etc. It remained the preferred game for many of my players.

    It’s rules, are full of errors and typos, and all versions of the game have player imbalances, but these are not insurmountable and can be fixed. It is not mandatory to roll on all those tables and this choice is left to the gamemaster.

    The treasure of this game is that is It is rich with a sword-and-sorcery flavor that is both grim-and-gritty and drenched in a realistic air. When fighting, characters don’t just lose handfuls of hit points after being struck and then surge back a few moments later (or after a quick rest) like in the arcade world of D&D, they actually get cut, bashed, a broken limb, bleed and later may go into shock. Fighting is a real risk in this game.

    The “magick” system feels stunningly real and is well researched too. It’s actually fun to be a spellcaster in the sense that you feel like you are researching and learning each spell, and casting them is risky because of targeting and backfires. Magick can be dangerous and unpredictable, as it should be.

    The best versions of this game are 1st, 2nd and 4th editions. I had the benefit of owning these. The major flaw in 4th edition is the action system used in combat that makes combat too slow. I simply divided the weapon speed into the Base Action Points (BAP) to give a resultant number of Blows per Turn to mimic the style of combat used in 1st and 2nd edition, and this makes the fights fast and fun.

    It offers a welcome change to the comicy world of D&D where hit pints just go up and down. In C&S that pushover goblin can surprise you with a lucky hit, and that fact can get a player’s blood pumping fast.

    As mentioned above, C&S is more like “Game of Thrones” and D&D more like its animated cartoon. Both games are good and its depends on the style of game you want.

  13. Colin Speirs


    C&S Fourth is given away free because I believe Steve and co are working on C&S 5th

    If you want to pay for a version of C&S, well, C&S Essence, the internet argument turned into a for sale product exists. It is a streamlined “Inspired by” RPG that uses a single system using a d20 roll (no, not that d20 system, that is what the argument was about)

    I have a version of C&S Essence built up to an Arthurian RPG coming sometime. But I’ve been saying that for years

    One thing though. The game DOES include magic items. Not a huge chart of them, but each artificer type has appropriate magic items listed in the mage description

    So weaponsmiths produce weapons and armour, natch, including swords with personality and Mithril armour. Jewelsmiths produce Rings of Power. Alchemists do oils and weird stuff, Thaumaturges produce magical powders.

    And, of course, other items can be created using the rules in the game.

  14. Larry Neer

    Sorry for the necropost…

    Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap.
    First corollary to Sturgeon’s Law: That 90% is different for each individual.

    1. Shane Devries

      Agreed. It’s a matter of perspective and the ability to persevere and learn the system. Back in 1983 when I first bought the boxed 2nd edition I remember sitting in Mac Donald’s with a friend saying, “omfg I think I just wasted $20”. However, I took it home, read it over with friends while continuing to play AD&D and started making characters. Son we gad a quick trial of the combat system and were totally confused so I took all the fluff out and played it as simple as possible. No crit rules, no badges, no reach or speed etc. eventually we started to add rules in and over a period of a couple of years we were playing the entire system as written and NEVER looked back. Over time d&d and paladium dropped away and by 1985 all we played was C&S which we still play to this day. All my players prefer C&S BECAUSE of its complexity and revel in the system and what if has to offer. The older players in my group with decades of experience will not go back to d&d or any other system for this fact.

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  16. GenCon'77

    Chivalry & Sorcery 1e 1977 was a lot of work to learn and run a campaign as a GM, but it was a great time! (Agree with Game of Thrones analog). Did you know that it won the Origins Award for Best Ancient and Medieval Rules in 1979?

  17. Colin D. Speirs

    And back to Necromancy (one of the reasons I loved C&S in the first place)

    Last summer (2019) there was a Kickstarter for 5th ed Chivalry and Sorcery. It funded. The PDFs have been delivered and the print copies should be going out end Jan 2020. Amazing campaign run by Steve Turner

    It uses the skill system from 3rd much refined, and brings back your old favourites, including Influence.

    There is a range of supplements in the works too, and those old 3rd/4th books free on Drivethru still work

    The pdf is on Drivethru, 600 pages in a readable font for under $30

    And yes my name is in the cover, so consider that when reading the above

  18. Swarting

    My favourite thing about Chivalry & Sorcery is that, rules as written, 75% of humans are male and 5% of 5% of the population of 12th century Europe are dragons, so… that’s about one dragon per 60km2, which I am sure we can all agree is a much higher relative density of dragons than *unrealistic* AD&D!

  19. Colin D. Speirs


    C&S 5th has addresses some of those issues at least.

    We have examples of notable women warriors for example, as well as people of colur present in Europe and starting options for Jewish and Muslim characters, as they were also present in Europe at the time.

    Dunno about the faith of dragons, but the last one I wrote C&S stuff up for had set herself up as a goddess

  20. Delaver Ray Case Jr.

    I hate to Necro a post like this, but I find it interesting that you mention Gary & Dave somehow avoided so many abbreviations. Have you seen Gary’s “Dangerous Journeys” from 1992? It’s CRAZY!!

    MR, MRCap, MRPow, MRSpd, MM, MMCap, MMPow, MMSpd, SM, SP, PM, PN, STEEP…

    there are more.

  21. Ricky Moore

    This is an angry rant, directed not at the article but at the kind of people who seriously contend that complex games and realism is objectively unfun. Usually these people have the mental condition of an 11 year old, regardless of their actual age.

    Do you know that some people find roleplaying easier with a lot of social actual restriction and tone to the setting? That some people like complex combat, or that some people think all of your Wuxia dungeonpunk orcs look gay as shit and don’t exist in any world I’d want to play in?

    Seriously, these normies with a short attention span and an obsession with bullshit from films seem to find it incomprehensible that people actually like complex and detailed games. I’m not there to drink beer and screw around, I’m there to play the damn game and I like the fact that the ‘cherry picked version of feudalism’ is markedly different from the retardation that is MODERN HIPSTERS IN FANTASY. Even Gygax with his 9 alignments is basically plagiarizing the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I don’t buy that shit in real life, I’m sure as shit not interested in it in my fantasy game.

    There are people who want to have detailed information on villages and manors, who find the role-playing and consequences far more weighty when there’s a lot of restrictions that prevent some of the nonsense that happens in D&D (or whatever).

    The snarky implication that people playing Chivalry & Sorcery are ‘not having fun’ is a complete cunt dismissal of an entire branch of the hobby that has decades of hardcore supporters. “Uh, I don’t know how to use a spreadsheet and am afraid of math, so nobody else can have fun doing it!” It doesn’t make you sound clever, it makes you sound like a twat and an idiot at the same time.

    And I like D&D – old D&D anyway – and I play it as a hardcore exploration/wargame and never fudge the dice. I bet that would be ‘unfun’ to you, too. Seriously, you’re just as bad as the people who think ONLY LOSERS PLAY D&D and are, as usual, projecting your own inadequacies and preferences on other people who, quite obviously, like what they’re doing.

    Furthermore, crunchy, detailed systems are vastly superior for long-term campaign play because they give structure and detail to what could otherwise become a boring repetition, putting all creativity for towns and combat on the GM’s improv skills. These

    Even though I hate television and the people who make it, I don’t sit around and pretend nobody likes to watch TV. But for the low-IQ, short attention span, only-one-shots-ever players (who should just turn on a fucking video game) anything they don’t understand is ‘boring’ and only fools would ever try it. The complete lack of empathy is one thing, the pairing of idiocy and condescension is a whole other realm of ‘fucking irritating’.

    Basically, if I ever encounter some halfwit 5e or Forge Hipster who insists that HarnMaster fans secretly want to play Powered by the Apocalypse, and that ‘I play fantasy to get away from reality!’ is a fucking argument that extends beyond their little pin head, I know I don’t want to be around that person and probably wish people like them would have a stroke.

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