Magick and Faith in Chivalry & Sorcery

In contrast to Rolemaster’s spell system, Chivalry & Sorcery requires two (sometimes three) rolls to resolve its use of Magick. To clarify this, it’s perhaps helpful to understand more of the game’s Magickal metaphysics. C&S posits a Shadow World, in which exists this Magickal energy. To cast a spell, practitioners first must successfully access this power in the Shadow World. Then they must “target” their object on the material plane. Some Magick may be avoided with a Resistance Roll or even Dodged.

The intriguing aspect about C&S is that Magick is fueled by a character’s Fatigue, not any kind of “spell per day” or magical resource (such as RM’s Power Points). I know that in the game Dungeon Crawl Classics, casters can expend Hit Points (I believe the process is called “Spellburn”) to power magic. I have considered something similar to this for RM. But not until I read C&S and saw Magick use tied directly to a mage’s physicality did it became clear to me that this style of mechanics is more emulationist than “traditional” fantasy rpg magic systems. In the fictions I have read, wizards who are called into strenuous arcane battles often became mentally and physically exhausted at the ends of their conflicts. Seldom do I see them say, “Nope, all tapped out. No Spells or magical juju left in this gray-headed sage!”*

The innovation implications for RM should be obvious: get rid of Power Points and instead power Spells with Hit Points. Do I hear you say that this is too radical? It might be. Maybe I shouldn’t do away with PP entirely—this is one possible function of a sorcerer’s magic staff, after all—but not allow PP per Level, instead just one bonus, per the Attribute, at Level 1. Does this make the magic-user an unviable character Class, particularly if I don’t allow Body Development per Level? Possibly. It’s an interesting thought experiment, though. Would this likewise place high-level magic permanently out of reach? I’m not sure. It certainly would be difficult to do all alone, but, in a Ritual context, with mages sharing resources, it shouldn’t be so far beyond one’s grasp.

I already have claimed that C&S’s Magickal Vocations are impressively distinct from one another to a greater degree than the caster classes from other systems. C&S gets even better by differentiating the “divine” Vocations from the arcane Magicks. One could argue that, in traditional FRPGs, there aren’t even two different kinds of “magic.” There are different spells, sure, but, whether a caster works with Channeling, Essence or Mentalism (or, in some other games, the Arcane or the Divine), in practice all magic essentially is the same, powered either by PPs or rote memorization in the mornings. In contrast, when it comes to divine power, C&S adds a Faith Skill and a new resource, Belief Points.

Here’s how divine “magic” works in C&S. When an Act of Faith is performed, a Skill Roll, Faith, is performed and Belief Points expended to “power” the effect. If the test Critically succeeds, the believer gets all his Belief Points +1 back immediately. If it just succeeds, all of them. If it fails, only half. If it Critically fails, none. Similarly, characters being exposed to Miracles of a different religion must test their Faiths or lose BPs.

It’s a really neat method for emulating divine systems that require faith (even if the character’s belief is only the size of a mustard seed!) on the part of the adherent and the dynamic nature to this fidelity that might result from failures of divine acts and interactions with other religions. On a first examination, the mechanic might appear to belie my claim that C&S divine magic is qualitatively different from the arcane. Aren’t BPs, one might ask, just another magical resource like PPs? Yes, but unlike PPs, that take hours to recover, BPs are reliant only on the success of a character’s Faith. Moreover, it’s worth reminding the reader that C&S Magicks are powered through a caster’s Fatigue and not PPs, making the practitioners bodily sacrifice to her craft that much more palpable.

I should add that some C&S Acts of Faith require Fatigue, too. This, I suppose, simulates religious exercises such as fasting and fervent prayer. It also feels like a touch of humor when I read that characters can receive BPs for going to church at the expense of losing some Fatigue.😇

This Faith system does not emulate the kinds of theologies that posit an all-powerful Deity that does whatever He or She wants for Her or His worshippers at any time. I’m not sure if this can be systematized (outside of a GM inhabiting that admittedly arbitrary and potentially capricious role), and C&S points this out in its text. I believe we can get closer to this emulation, however, by doing away with BPs. This alternative system would use the Faith Skill alone. Very grand Acts of Faith would receive great penalties to the Skill attempt (simulating, for example, the natural doubt that would arise from trying to move an entire mountain to, say, walking on water). And the Skill itself, not BPs, would be subject to alteration depending on whether the Miracle was successful or not.

As a last observation, Magicks & Miracles demonstrates the greater possibilities of C&S’s Critical Die feature. For many of the Skill Tests presented in this book, the Critical Die offers a range of resolutions, not just a very good Pass or a very Bad fail. It encourages me to consider more granular options in RM’s—or even Against the Darkmaster’s—Action Resolution Tables.

*The exception, probably, would be The Dying Earth series of Jack Vance, upon which D&D’s magic system is based. Obviously novels published by any actual game companies are precluded from consideration.

8 Replies to “Magick and Faith in Chivalry & Sorcery”

  1. I think Gabe, that RM spells powered by fatigue points (con) as an alternative to PP might make magic users overpowered for lower levels as they would have potentially 90 first level spells for every rest period. Equally though, those 1st level spells aren’t always that useful without some creative thinking. However, toying with the idea it could work if the number of fatigue points used was a multiple of the spell level. It would need some playtesting but could work.

  2. Note that RMU did originally (well, beta2 anyway) require fatigue checks for casting spells with less prep than required. It wasn’t terrible, but it did kind of change the way spellcasting works in some fundamental ways. Races with a high Con for example benefitted from it. You might think that would be cool, but when an Orc has better ability to cast high level spells than an Elf, things get a little weird.

    The Faith system is not a bad idea, and certainly would make Channeling a lot more distinct. My main worry with that would be the one that was mentioned: it makes the power of the Channeling character very dependent upon the GM’s whims. So it’s probably not for me.

  3. Some interesting stuff here. A couple of thoughts:

    1. IIRC, RM already had a rule for spellcasting and fatigue that worked much like the general penalty for hit point loss? We played around with various things including a penalty equal to PP’s used as a percentage. So at 1/2 PPs the caster was at -50!! That ended up being too extreme but we are now applying a PP used penalty to RMU fatigue checks.

    2. I like the idea of using hit points for casting. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be shoehorned into the E/C/M model but could be another type of magic, like Arcane. BASiL expanded to 9 different “types” of magic that have different casting rules. I’m already working on a 10th: Blood Magic–caster has to bleed to cast and maintain spell effects. It’s similar to what you are suggesting but there is an ongoing cost; I’m still trying to balance bleeding rates vs spell level. You can read about our different realms here:

    3. We have been using the “Prayer” skill for years for Channeling spell casting roll. (alternatively it could be called “Worship”). Prayer reflects the time and effort a person devotes to praying to, sacrificing, exalting etc their god. The actual method of worship is dependent on the god and rather that create mechanics for that I simply use the Prayer skill as a measure of effort rather than some reflection of a “depth of faith” that might be an arbitrary GM decision as you pointed out. I wrote about it a few years ago:

    Also some additional thoughts on Channeling here:

  4. Speaking as one of the designers of the new edition of Chivalry & Sorcery, and an old Rolemaster buff (I even won a Channeling Companion with an old Rolemaster Moment story)…

    C&S doesn’t have hit points as Rolemaster does. It has Fatigue – roughly comparable to concussion hits – and it has Body, which Rolemaster doesn’t, really, as it uses the critical hit system instead.

    RM fatigue seems a bit more ephemeral. And… I’ve never actually used it in play. 😉

    However, there is an optional rule buried somewhere in Rolemaster (it may be RMSS/RMFRP rather than RM2/Classic) that gives a penalty depending on how what percentage of your power points you’ve used.

    I’d be inclined to use the Rolemaster rule to represent what C&S mechanics do.

    Since we have a Kickstarter ongoing, it would be very remiss of me not to encourage people to back it, so where I think RM players might really benefit from C&S:

    The family background tables, the noble holdings, the breakdown of technology and social structure by medieval sub-period, the concept the Grand Campaign (I love my War Law).

    C&S can enhance your Rolemaster game.

    1. RM2 first introduce the idea of fatigue penalties for casters who were below certain thresholds of their max PP (75%, 50%, 25%) in the Rolemaster Companion 2, when the PP Development skill was first introduced. The designers recognized that allowing casters to develop Power Points as a skill was potentially unbalancing because it would result in them having many more Power Points, so this idea of thresholds was introduced as one of the mechanisms to keep them balanced.

      You are not alone if you never used the fatigue rules in Rolemaster though. We never used the threshold penalties, and I don’t know anyone who liked exhaustion points. Happily, RMu is redesigning the way fatigue works to make it simpler.

      Best of luck with the new Chivalry and Sorcery. Anyone who appreciate the beauty of War Law is a fine human being in my eyes :).

    2. I’ve been playing RM for nigh on 30 years now (and GM campaigns for 25), but I still find myself going back to my original C&S rulebook (original edition – I replaced the binding ’cause it was falling apart) for ideas. The feel of C&S can be easily replicated in RM, but trying to transplant rules doesn’t really work so well.
      I was going to back the C&S 5e Kickstarter, but it was over by the time I heard about it. It’s a pity, because there are guaranteed to be elements I could include in my current RM campaign – now I have to wait until March.

      1. I didn’t back the KS, either, but I’m still so intrigued with the property that I keep peeking longingly at it now available on DriveThru. I love the detail and verisimilitude in C&S, but not much of that translates to my game/s. I tend to buy games if I’m certain to run them, but I love reading, too — enough that recent reviews of C&S’s supplements (for third ed?) Dwarves and Elves has me almost purchasing those in PDF, just for reading.

        1. I love reading games just to see how they do things, and hoping to see a really original take on something.
          I am being much more disciplined these days and buying games I intend to play in preference to just buying games for the sake of adding to my collection.

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