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.
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…|
“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)|
“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!
“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)
“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.
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.
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.