Chivalry & Sorcery & Eyestrain

Chivalry & Sorcery

One reason I started doing my character creation walkthroughs was the fact that, well, I have over 2000 RPG items, and I’ve barely used any of them for actual gaming, despite playing constantly for the past 32 years or so. With such a cornucopia, it’s hard to decide what to do next, as I have games ranging from the common to the obscure, from the classic to the just-published.I’ve been looking a lot at the goofier, gonzoier, heavy metal, stuff from the “classic era”, but when D&D came out, there were a lot of reactions to it. Really, for the first few years of RPG history, every game was, in some way, a response to Dungeons & Dragons — some were slavish imitations of it, some were D&D on acid trips, some were “D&D but in a different genre but we copied over a bunch of stuff from D&D because it’s the only template we had for designing an RPG”, and some were more profound statements of disagreement with the design ethos of D&D. One of these rebuttals, Tunnels & Trolls, was pretty much the only game of the era consciously and deliberately designed to be simpler for the sake of simplicity.

This article isn’t about Tunnels & Trolls, as you’ve probably figured out from reading the frakking title. It is about another Noun & Noun game, one which looked at D&D and said “Unhistoric! Simplistic! Balderdash!”. That game, of course, is Chivalry & Sorcery, the SCA Authenticity Fascist to D&D Ren Faire dude wandering around in a T-Shirt saying “I’m just here for the wenches”.

This is Chivalry & Sorcery

This is D&D

Any questions?

Anyway, read on for more!

Eyestrain & ‘Eadaches

Cause, y’see, every game back then had some kind of Blah & Blah name and I wanted to talk about the eyestrain and I couldn’t think of a good “e” word so I… never mind

Chivalry & Sorcery is printed in very small type.

Very small. And there’s a lot of it. While a 128 page rulebook doesn’t sound like much today, this one is dense. It’s the Champions Fifth Edition of its day.

It would have been hard to read when I had decent vision, which several years ago. Now it’s… harder to read. There is no PDF for sale that I can find, so I’m going to have to soldier through. Clicking the ads on this site might help pay for my eye surgery. Not that I want to guilt you all, or anything.

Diving In

The book starts with a discussion of the realization that characters in D&D simply went from The Town to The Dungeon, that there was no real world there. (The editorial team for Fourth Edition D&D replies “Yeah? So?”) The goal of C&S was to create a game which reflected a world, where every character had a place in it, where reality existed outside the character’s immediate perception. They chose France in 1170. I am going to sue my High School, because my French History class was long on Capetians and short on hobbits. (heh heh… short on hobbits…get it?) Yes, they call them “hobbits” in this edition, not “hillfolk”, “halflings”, “short hairy footed gluttons”, or “ducks”. To be fair, the introduction does say they are painting the setting with “a very liberal brush”. Dude, when 37 of your 128 pages are dedicated to casting spells, your brush isn’t just liberal, it’s calling Gus Hall a Capitalist Pig.

We then get a bunch of stuff on the feudal setting — social class matters, only knights and the like can bear arms, most people will have an NPC “master” of one sort or another until they hit about fifth level. (A complete range of potential masters appear in the “Monster” section, which pretty much meets most people’s expectations of the boss. (“I’ve got a pointy-haired nitwit!”)) Basically, a lot of this boils down to, “Based on a roll of the dice, some of the PCs are going to be lording it over the other PCs.” Realistic, sure, but good for gameplay? I’ve often mocked D&D 4e as the “Harrison Bergeron” RPG, but design has shifted towards balance over randomness for good reasons. Random chargen works for games where character creation takes five minutes and characters are basically disposable tokens, but the more involved creation becomes, the more choice becomes important.

Then we get a rather odd, to modern eyes, paragraph on “The time frame”, where it’s very explicitly recommended that one real-world day equals one game-week. Apparently, in at least some groups back then, there was a fixed ratio of real world to game time, so if your character had to rest for three weeks, you couldn’t play him for three weeks, or something. Today, we just say, “OK, it’s been two months since your last adventure”. I began gaming very shortly after C&S was first published, and I never encountered anything like this.

The Prime Requisite Directive

OK, let’s make a character!

You can be a man, elf, dwarf, or hobbit.

Three Rings For The Elven Kings Under The Sky

Elves are divided into High Elves and Wood Elves. Apparently, to be an elf, you must randomly roll on some table to even have a chance of being an elf. Elves are especially powerful because they can become “combination characters”, such as “Fighter-Magick User-Clerics”. Yes, they spell “magic” with a “k”. Pretension for the win!

Then follows a long list of reasons why “if you’re not an elf, you suck”, including bonuses to attack and dodge, an infallible chance to detect secret doors (yes, in this highly realistic game of feudal simulation, you can be expected to be looking for secret doors), they never fumble, they don’t sleep but instead rest “in contemplation of beautiful things” (for example, Arwen’s, ah…. “two towers”, if you etgay my iftdray), and they can call upon Elbereth Githoniel if praying. You know, just like everyone did in medieval France. I am so going to sue my High School.

Still The Prettiest

Still The Prettiest

Seriously, game designers at this time had a major woodie for elves, and it was still a quarter century until Legolas surfed on a shield.It shows up in Rolemaster, too. We can thank EGG for keeping elves semi-normal and smacking them down with level limits, perhaps a reaction to his being “forced” to include Tolkien themes in D&D, when he greatly preferred sword & sorcery.

Seven For The Dwarf Lords In Their Halls Of Stone

Dwarves are short, hairy, grumpy, and disarm traps with a bonus if they’re thieves. Remember what I said about secret doors? Yes, you can expect to be disarming traps, too. Oh, and female dwarves are so rare that if they appear in the game, an NPC will show up to protect them. This may be based on what happened when actual human females showed up at early games of D&D.

Nine For Mortal Men Doomed To Die

Men get no special bonuses, but they aren’t stinkin’ furriners, and have no limits on their choice of class.

This Headline Removed At The Insistence Of The Tolkien Estate

Hobbits were originally “closely related to men”, but a habit of marrying their own cousins caused them to be short and gluttonous. No, it doesn’t say that. It says that lived in the vales of Anduin until they fled west from Mirkwood and founded the Shire… Gandalf? War Of The Ring? Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, they aren’t even trying to pretend to file down the serial numbers! I mean, seriously, it’s all in there. Anyway, hobbits are tough, resist spells, have a bonus to opening locks and picking pockets and is anyone noticing this list of thief skills is looking awfully familiar????

Lastly, hobbits recognize “nasty” people 50% of the time. This is a very useful skill; at any party, you’ve got a 50/50 chance of knowing which human babes have a thing for hairy toes.

OK, this looks like a good stopping point. I just glanced over to the next page and learned there’s a chance you can roll up a balrog or a vampire. (But not a vampiric balrog. You’ll need to wait for D&D 3.0 for that. Templates, how I love thee.)

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4 Responses to Chivalry & Sorcery & Eyestrain

  1. Pingback: Review: Chivalry & Sorcery Essence « Mark Rolls Dice

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  4. Random Stranger says:

    C&S was first intended to be an Advanced D&D to be pitched to Gary Gygax, but the authors didn’t take to him

    So you have that, and the dwarf protector of females. and the Elf gosh darned wonderfulness, straight out of their perception of Tolkien/ It really was as simple as that. And in the 70s, you got away with it, just as TSR did, up to a point

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