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.

Chivalry & Sorcery’s Gorgeously Detailed Magickal Vocations

The latest version of Rolemaster contains a very interesting and useful section (2.8, to be exact) on Customizing Magic in an RM game. As inspiration for this consideration, I’m recommending that every RM gamer, if you don’t already have it, pick up Chivalry & Sorcery’s Magicks & Miracles. It’s free, after all.

If you’re like me, though, and this is your first time exploring C&S, let me give you a warning: this isn’t a very well-organized book.* Designing an rpg is an art form, and expressing an rpg—in an orderly and systematic way—might be even more of one. I believe that a good rpg should be a mutually-dependent network of narrative mechanics, each component leaning on and resting on another, all bending toward a nexus, the Core Mechanic. It’s very difficult to present a game such as I have described in the linear method necessitated by prose. Sometimes the writer of rpgs has to rely on the reader to keep a concept or term in mind, patient for when it will, in time, be clarified. At the very least it is helpful to give some brief context for a component at the moment wherein it first is mentioned, even better to provide a glossary. Unfortunately Magicks doesn’t employ any of these strategies for comprehension.

Instead, someone fresh to Magicks, without being told to do so, must read the entirety of the book and then return, armed with greater understanding, to earlier portions of the text. I have done this, and perhaps my words here can better prepare new initiates to the experience.

Because, now that my criticism about Magicks’s delivery is aside, I must say that I love this book. Love this book. Each of the Magickal Vocations feels unique. As a result, the independent Magicks in which each practitioner specializes seems fresh. The C&S Magick system exhibits verisimilitude and suggests exciting possibilities for RM gamers.

To begin, let me remind the reader of the three Realms of RM Magic: Channeling, Essence and Mentalism. Channeling comes from the gods, Essence from the force, Mentalism from one’s own personality or being. It wasn’t until encountering C&S Magick that I realized just how limiting this structure is. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great way of organizing sources of magic, but when the powers being tapped come to define the casters themselves, you end up with (despite RM’s menu of magical Professions) just three (four, if you count Hybrid casters as a separate category) kinds of magical practitioners.

To contrast this with C&S, I’m willing to claim that C&S presents fourteen distinct casters. Two qualities conspire to define the Magickal Vocation: the Vocation itself, with its preferences for certain Magick Skills; and its primary Skill, the one specific to the caster’s central art, which explains the practice in great detail and provides specifications and descriptions of the artist’s preferred Focus. There simply isn’t space to provide descriptions for each of the Magickal Vocations, nor to explain just why I believe they’re so individual. As a way to give you at least one example of why I’m so enthusiastic about them, however, here’s the relevant language concerning the first listed Magickal class, the Conjuror.

The Vocation description.

Conjurers employ potions to perform their feats of magick, brewed from an enchanted cauldron. Conjurors are particularly adept at the magicks of illusion and transmutation and are able to brew potions that allow others to cast spells, though this can be risky.

Where a conjuror can practice magick it is restricted in that he must use a rather non-portable cauldron that acts as his focus. In the cauldron the conjurer keeps his “brew,” which contains Magickal components of all the spells he has learned. Often this brew attracts the attentions of a spirit (affectionately referred to as a “spook”) that will reside in the cauldron.

The Skill description.

Conjuration involves the preparation of “brews” in which the Conjuror prepares and stores spells for later casting. He actually binds minor spirits into potions. When drunk, the spirit is released, conditional upon the spell being cast. The Conjuror is particularly adept at the spells of Transmutation and Illusion, which are very amenable to the kind of casting procedures he employs.

The Conjuror has two major Items of Arcana, which he must fashion in order to cast his magick:

The Cauldron: This is the Conjurer’s major focus. The cauldron forms the container for the “Brew” through which the Conjuror casts all his spells. It must be constructed by using the 22 correspondences related to his birth sign. Once fully enchanted to MR 0 the metal correspondences must be taken to a metal worker to be smelted together with 50 lbs of copper and beaten into a 10 gallon cauldron (smaller cauldrons can be made for portable use). The Conjuror then enchants the remaining materials to anoint the cauldron. The enchanted gems must then be set into the handles of the cauldron by a Master Jewelsmith. It should be noted that the metals indicated in the list of correspondences cannot be replaced by other materials with the exception of metals such as Dwarvish or Greater Gold.

The Brew: This forms the Conjuror’s “Spell Book” and is created initially by using 7 parts of each of the 22 correspondences, all crushed, plus 21 different herbs, 7 flowers, 7 essences and 21 parts of each of 13 different liquids. All these ingredients must be fully enchanted to MR 0. Also, once each year the Conjuror must add 3 parts of each of the 22 correspondences and 13 parts of each of 13 different liquids. These need not be enchanted. If the Conjuror fails to do this, the Brew will dry up and both it and the Cauldron must be replaced afresh.

I see that this description should require some explanation about these “correspondences” and MR (Magic Resistance).

I’m able, only in part, to explain correspondences. The last chapter of this book, “The Apothecary Shoppe,” contains lists of ingredients, both Magickal and mundane. But, at a glance, I think it would be difficult for a character to find in this list twenty-two correspondences specific to her Vocation for the construction of a Focus (again, each of the fourteen Magickal Vocations have recommendations for Foci). It might be that the arcanist is supposed to cobble together all of the necessary correspondences by exploiting the various “Laws” of Magick, as specified by the rules, many of which allow seemingly counter-intuitive ingredients (such as Water for a Fire spell—the Law of Polarity) to be used to power or modify spells and their effects.

Magick Resistance is a result of C&S’s metaphysics of Magick. The rules explain that most substances resist being manipulated through the Magick arts and that they must be enchanted down to a level in which their energies might be more readily transferred. This would be MR 0. In a pinch, casters are able to work with MRs higher than this, though at a penalty.

I also should add that Foci, ranging from Simple to Greater, add bonuses to the casters’ Skill abilities, heighten their Magick Levels, and store Magickal energy.

You ask, how would I port any of this into Rolemaster? Well, in C&S, specific Vocations, of course, are able to purchase the Skills in which they specialize at lower costs than others. I’m running Against the Darkmaster, and in that game “Spell Lores” and Spell Skills are developed together by purchasing Ranks in a single Spell Lore. I could make Vocation Lores less expensive, award one-time bonuses for Vocation Lores, or create Background Options involving arcane “specializations.” It’s probably this last that I would implement, providing the vocational Focus or other relevant item with a higher Background Tier. C&S Spells are neatly organized by Vocation, so it should be no trouble to translate these into Lists or Spell Lores—particularly for VsD, wherein each Lore contains just ten Spells.

Next I shall explore C&S’s Magick system and how it might relate to RM’s. I also will look more closely at C&S’s “Priest Mages” and C&S’s detailed rules about Faith.

*Would you believe that a section called “Magick”, with two immediate subheadings of “What is Magick” and “Practising Magick”, doesn’t appear till Chapter 5–Chapter 5! Perhaps, after the introduction, start here.

Considerations of Social Status and Action Economies in Chivalry & Sorcery and Rolemaster

Going forward, my reading of Chivalry & Sorcery will be entirely with a mind for how I might adapt attractive features into Rolemaster. My exhaustive, three-part exploration of Chivalry & Sorcery Character Generation, I believe, well enough presents the basics of C&S’s system, so I pass with little comment over sections detailing its Core Mechanic, Vocations and Skills.

C&S, as we understand already, is a percentile system; tasks are resolved with a d100 roll. Attributes and Skills might contribute to the likelihood of succeeding at a test. Even though C&S utilizes a “Critical Die,” Skill resolution is more or less pass/fail (as in conventional RM). C&S Vocations essentially are RM Professions, and here the GM interested in running a game that simulates medieval history might do well to read carefully the Vocation descriptions and consider translating them or finding their analogues in RM. The C&S list of Skills is as prodigious and entertaining as anything found in RM. Movement contains, I suppose, slightly different calculations and estimates for types of travel over various terrains.

Now we get to C&S’s Social Class system. Social Class contributes to a character’s Influence Factor, which is calculated in this way: (INT + WIS + BV + APP) / 4 + Social Status. It’s easy to see how readily this might be translated into RM; instead of using the base values, as C&S does, RMers could average the bonuses for their characters’ RM Attribute analogues. Or they could total them altogether. I can see making some allowance for low-born characters who, because of their qualities, are “destined” for greatness. The C&S method for Exerting Influence is a bit of a process, but I can see an RMer comparing the two Influence Factors and using that as a modifier for the main actor on the Skill roll. C&S mechanizes the amount of any bribe being used, which would be easy in my Against the Darkmaster game that uses an abstract Wealth system. A single integer of Wealth would translate to +/-10 on the appropriate Skill roll.

Like the latest version of RM, C&S uses an Action Point system for resolving physical conflict. Unlike RM’s, however, C&S Action Points aren’t static. We already have seen how my character’s Action Points are derived from certain Attributes. Now, at the beginning of a Combat Round, I roll 1d10 and add this result to my PC’s Action Points total. This 1d10 roll might be modified if my character is wearing Armour. (Armour also burns Fatigue.) Then the conflict begins (or continues—the process is repetitive).

Actions are declared and resolved in the order of whoever currently has the highest number of Action Points, so the high number holder could—and most likely will—change after each action is declared and resolved. No more than 10 AP can be spent per Action Phase. Not to be confused with the Round, the Phase essentially is the declaration and resolution of a single Action, though a single Action could take multiple Phases (APs exceeding 10, with most likely a new character declaring an Action after this 10 AP Phase). APs can be held and carried over into the next Round.

With the exception of this last feature, it appears that C&S and current RM use differing mechanics to achieve similar results. Instead of adding a random number of AP to a character’s pool, as C&S does, RM uses an Initiative roll. Armour modifies the C&S AP roll; penalties modify RM Initiative. RM has a leaner action economy than C&S. Some C&S Actions take multiple Phases to resolve, some RM Actions take multiple Rounds.

There appear to be just two significant differences between the two systems: C&S allows PCs to hold over (and thus hoard?) Action Points into subsequent Rounds, and, in C&S, the AP cost of combat Actions might vary based on a character’s proficiency (or Personal Skill Factor) in that Action.

Without actually sitting down and playing this out, I’m having a difficult time imagining just how much of a “game changer” it would be to allow characters to carry over AP, from Round to Round, without penalty. A character might “sit the action out” for multiple Rounds, racking up AP, to finally explode, top of a Round, in a bewildering sequence of Actions. Would this strain credibility and realism, or does such a feature emulate the cinematic character who pauses and considers and then takes care of business with fluidity and economy? It’s important to note that, within C&S, Fatigue Points and Exhaustion are one more obstacle to C&S characters exploiting—if game imbalance is indeed possible—this freak of AP economy.

A final observation about C&S combat is that not all weapons, because of their varying sizes, equally are able to parry one another. The latest version of RM doesn’t appear to codify weapon sizes in this way but leaves such rulings to the purviews of individual GMs—definitely something I shall do in my home game if VsD doesn’t already have something in place (I shall have to investigate).

Interlude: A Rolemaster Hack of Chivalry & Sorcery Character Generation

So far, I’m charmed. With time and the right group, I’d explore the entirety of Chivalry & Sorcery, on its own terms, by playing it as the game it is. But since that’s unlikely to occur—at least not anytime soon, especially since I face a multiplicity of similarly attractive systems—I’m tempted to steal some of C&S’s most exciting features and “hack” them into any version of Rolemaster.

C&S’s determination of a character’s Social Class is full of roleplaying possibilities and seems easy enough to integrate into RM in a variety of ways. I probably would treat Social Class as a Culture, that feature that awards characters with starting Skill Ranks. In the realist medievalist milieu that C&S emulates, Social Class would replace Culture (since there is, broadly speaking, just the one “culture” of Middle Ages Europe). In a fantasy setting in which regional environment contributes to culture, I would use Social Class Ranks in addition to or as a subset of these more usual starting packages. Unless I had a specific campaign experience in mind—an adventuring party comprised entirely of Knights, for example—determination of character Social Class would be random. Social Class moreover, as in C&S, would contribute to a character’s starting equipment, overall Wealth, and reflect the character’s Social Status (also while recognizing that my current game system, Against the Darkmaster, presents “Noble” as a Culture). I have yet to see how Status, in C&S, behaves as a mechanic, so, without that precedent yet in mind, in an RM game Status probably would translate into a special bonus on certain Skills and Maneuvers.

I also like the determination of the Father’s (or Mother’s, for non-patriarchal settings) Vocation and Social Status and the Sibling Rank and Status in One’s Family tables. I’m not sure if I would use the C&S charts in toto or drift them into the RM method for Sibling generation as found in one of the Companions; I’d investigate my options in more detail. Porting in these C&S features again raises the question of how C&S deals with its Status rating system, so keep tuned as I discover this and consider possibilities for translating this feature into RM.

I would browse through all the C&S Special Talents & Abilities, being sure to compare them to RM’s (there appears to be considerable overlap). Since I am running VsD for my home group, I would use both C&S Talents and Abilities and RM Talents and (going back to the Companions) Background Options as inspirations for the slightly different packages VsD offers as Background Options.

Adapting C&S’s character Body Points system for RM probably would be the most radical hack I could make, and I want to do it. The approach essentially would result in making RM hp more or less static after character generation; Body Development would be removed as an RM Skill option (or I could make it prohibitively expensive, just for Fighter-types, perhaps). This would make development of Weapons Skills critical for adventurers (as if it wasn’t already) so that plenty of OB always would be on hand for Parrying. For VsD, I would give PCs starting HPs based on Kin and character bonuses resulting from Fortitude, of course, with yet another bonus that results from C&S’s character Build table. This necessitates that I also port in C&S’s character Size rules.

I would modify and use the Horoscope table. I need not adhere to the Earthly zodiacal calendar. It also need not be contingent on celestial systems. I could see myself designing a Viking game wherein runes are used for these purposes.

Finally, character age is appealing to me as an RM variation. The game group would have to be agreeable to the use of this feature, but, essentially (contingent on random rolls) PCs would begin play at various Levels. This approach might even make up a shortcoming that I have noticed in VsD’s emulation of its inspirations: the fictions informing VsD present PC parties of varying “power levels,” something that VsD, rules as written as yet, does not accommodate.

Chivalry & Sorcery Character Generation Part the Third

Step 14: Determine Character Fatigue Points 

Fatigue Points appear to be pretty much how they sound. To determine them, players have the choice between two calculations, whichever is more beneficial for their characters. Mine is a total of Strength and Constitution, so 30.

A PC can extend this resting period up to a maximum of 1 hour and still recover some Fatigue Points. The recovery rate after the first 10 minutes of rest is 1 FP per 10 minutes of additional rest for a PC with CON 15 or less and 2 FP per 10 minutes of additional rest for a PC with CON 16+. If the PC wishes to recover more he needs to sleep. A character can then recover Fatigue Points at the sleeping rate which has no maximum period for sleep.

If a character does not sleep once after every 24 hour period, the character’s “effective” Constitution is “reduced by one level for every hour he goes past 24 hours without sleep.” There isn’t a mention how long a character must sleep. Here’s an open door for you, Power Gamers!

Step 15: Determine Character Lifting & Carrying Capacity 

In this section appears another one of C&S’s delightful observations:

Not only in modern times but also throughout history, infantry carried a burden of 50 to 100 lbs of armaments, ammunition and equipment. In good condition and with the weight properly distributed by a decent backpack, etc., infantry can march for many miles under that load over all manner of terrain! To reflect this, Carrying Capacity is calculated as 1/2 x LCAP (rounding up).

A casual search doesn’t reveal the thread to me, but the foregoing strongly reminds me of some comments on Encumbrance I received on the Rolemaster boards over a year ago.

If a character exceeds his carrying capacity, he suffers a penalty of –1 Fatigue Point for every 20% of the character’s CCAP that he exceeds it, for every hour or part of an hour he carries it.

Uh-oh. This is the first calculation that has struck me as “fiddly.” Weight calculations are annoying enough, though in this game they are mitigated by C&S’s lenient approach to character penalties. Yet here that generosity seems to be “walking back.”

Note: Naturally I’ve been thinking about the play experience that these rules might accommodate at the gaming table, and it might be that “fiddliness” would be a boon rather than a curse. The types of characters likely to be generated (at least through the random method) encourage careful roleplaying rather than fast-paced action anyway. With the right group, I can see time-intensive considerations of weights and microscopic maneuver calculations as a pleasurable and essential component of the C&S experience. As I’ve been reading, I’ve been thinking that what this game emulates is not something that I would have enjoyed in my youth. It is something I would enjoy as an adult. On the other hand, some of the crunchiness is not something I’m particularly attracted to now, whereas, in my youth, my group would have been just fine spending an hour on something as mundane as totaling the weights of our packs.

Step 16: Define Character’s Jumping Ability 

More fiddliness. It’s Strength + Agility x .25. Then I add 2 for a Human. I get 9.

The rules for Running and Standing Jumping are interesting but a little too much to delve into here.

Step 17: Determine Character’s Movement 

There are two ways of determining Base Action Points. It’s based either on Agility and Constitution or on Agility and Intellect. The selected values are added and divided by 2.

My character is better off using Constitution. 10+12/2=11.

This is the first notice of an action economy system. It is going to be very interesting to contrast this structure with Rolemaster’s.

Step 18: Determine Character’s Horoscope

The designers say that this is optional but highly recommended. It’s another percentile roll. I roll 79, Capricorn. For this, my “Favoured Skills & Benefits” are Charisma and Materia Magica [sic?]. I’ll have to note this for later, when I deal with Skills, because, with this astrological reading, I get to choose two Skills from one category or one Skill from both categories.

It appears that the governing birth sign also awards XP bonuses whenever the character uses Skills affected by this portent. This further is skewed up or down dependent on the character’s Aspect. Finally, bonuses resulting from the use of Magick Skills are parsed away from the others.

My character gets +10% XP from the use of Charisma Skills and +10% XP from the use of Magick Skills.

This causes me to consider if every single action the character performs (such as in early Rolemaster) is going to be tracked in game for the purposes of calculating Experience.

Step 19: Character Age

Also optional. I roll 97. I’m 25 years old and therefore much more “experienced” than characters of the default age of 18. At this time, I’m not sure precisely what this might mean in game terms. It appears I have a lot of starting experience points. Are these to be spent on Skills? I wonder.

The implications of this alternate rule are exciting. I’m imagining, now, of starting PC parties of varying “power levels.” Their compositions would be something akin to Tolkien’s Fellowship which, at times, was comprised of a Maiar Wizard, an ageless Elf, a resourceful High Man and a smattering of others, including four “Level 1” Hobbits. As long as players aren’t concerned with “fairness,” this feature can be inspiring and rich with narrative possibilities.

Step 20: Determine Character’s Personalising Traits

Also (strangely) optional for such a detailed game. This section contains a table of possible physical traits, but it’s not designed to be rolled upon. There might be something like it in the GM book, or there are sources published by other parties that might be of use. This goes, as well, for something likewise surprisingly absent: a table of names, or at the very least a list of some that would be most appropriate for C&S’s default milieu of Europe in the Middle Ages. The player also is encouraged to imagine the Personal Foibles of his or her character.

Character Generation is finished—yes, I know there still is much to be done, but this closes the book’s first section. 

Postscript: The very next section details Special Abilities & Defects. In it I find a description for my character’s Low Metabolic Rate:

The character has a highly efficient metabolism. He requires half the normal amount of food per day to sustain his health and energy levels. His Fatigue Points are restored by 1/3 D10 FP (rounded down) above normal levels per hour sleeping or +1 FP per 10 minutes resting.

Chivalry & Sorcery Character Generation Part the Second

Step 6: Determine Sibling Rank

I’m going with a Knight. Perhaps, out of a sense of obligation to his Father’s wishes and desires, my character has chosen this path to enlarge his family’s estate. I expect my character frequently will regret this decision and feel the force of a priestly “Call” whenever he encounters Men of the Cloth. He probably abjures violence but is mercifully good at it whenever required to be.

I get to roll again. I roll 59. I’m the third child in my family; three siblings are younger than I am.

Step 7: Status in One’s Family

I roll again. 82. I am a Credit to the Family (the most likely result, 16-85%). 01-15% results in a Black Sheep and a resultant +5 PC points for the point-buy method. With this Status, however, the character is penalized in status points and starting funds. 86-100% results in Good Son/Daughter, and, though penalized with -5 PC points, the character is rewarded with double starting funds.

As a Credit to the Family, I enjoy regular starting funds and the full outfit of a knight.

At this point I start wondering about gender. Recognizing the patriarchal quality of the C&S milieu, I had—largely by default—been thinking of my character as male. But it would seem that players might choose to play a female—even while recognizing her lack of power historically. I haven’t noticed a table for randomly determining gender, though of course it would be easy to do with a 50/50 (as a GM, I frequently determine NPC gender in this way).

Step 8: The “Curse”

Since my character is Neutrally Aspected, I don’t need to roll on this table and I choose not to. The option is open to me, however, if, as the rules suggest, I want “to make things ‘interesting’.”

I can see the appeal of “spicing up” roleplaying (another way that the rules puts the attraction to Curses) in this way. Looking at the d100 table now, I see compelling effects such as “flames glowing blue in one’s presence” or “plants withering at one’s touch.” But I’m resolved to keep my character inviolate—at least for now.

Step 9: Special Talents and Abilities 

It could be that these are as cool as Curses are. Let’s see if I get one or more.

I roll a 12. That means I roll for one (this result is the next likeliest eventuality next to none). Less likely rolls allow me to roll twice or thrice or (on a roll of 100) select “any special Ability I desire for the character.” I don’t see the rules stating any numerical limit to this last possibility.

I roll 47 for my Special Ability. I have a Low Metabolic Rate. (I’m not sure what this means in game terms—even in “real” terms—but there is an upcoming chapter that might provide more details and the Internet for the latter.)

Any character with a Special Ability must also roll for a Flaw.

Step 10: Character Flaws, Deficiencies & Defects 

Since my character has a Special Ability, there is a 40% chance that he also has a Flaw. I roll 80. Nope, I’m Flawless.

Step 11: Personal Fears

One isn’t mandatory. I can elect to have a Phobia for my character either by rolling or choosing. I decide to do neither.

Step 12: Determine Character Size

For a Height of a Historic Human Male (sizes are based on genders and “power ratings”) I roll 2d10+57. I get 67 total (the average is 58). For Build I roll 1d10+1. I get 4 (average Build is 6). If I had had significantly higher Agility or Constitution scores, this number would have been modified negatively or positively, respectively.

My character’s Weight is determined by adding 5 pounds for every inch over 40 to a base starting weight of 10. That gives me 145. I’m a lightweight! No, wait, it’s worse than that. My Build of 4 is characterized as an Average Build on the low end, so I reduce my total Weight by 5%. So now (rounding up the fraction, per the rules) my total Weight is 137. A part of me, knowing that average human builds have increased since the Middle Ages, wonders if this is intentionally “historical.”

Step 13: Determine Character Body Points 

This foregoing isn’t just “fluff.” A character’s Build helps calculate the character’s Body Points. My 5% reduction results in a column just below another whose range begins with a Weight of 145. I start with 18 Body. I add this to my Constitution (12) and half (rounded down) of my Strength (9) for a total of 39. At this point in my exploration of this game, I have no idea if this is “good” or not.

A table shows me how many Body Points my character may recover per day (dependent on rest) as well as his ability to Resist Disease. The rules advise to make this calculation once and to record it on one’s character sheet.

When a character’s Body is reduced to negative values, he is not necessarily dead. One can sustain negative damage up to his CON and still remain alive, although deeply unconscious. When Body Points fall below a negative level equal to or lower than CON then death occurs.

I find the C&S relationship between Build and Body Points neat, intuitive and workable. Because of the lens with which (due to the nature of this blog) I am approaching this system, I inevitably compare it to the latest version of Rolemaster, which doesn’t appear to do much with its own concept of “build” outside of calculating Encumbrance thresholds and character Stride. I ask the community here to correct and/or clarify this or any other observations I’m about to make.

I’m beginning to suspect that C&S characters develop, incrementally, by discretely improving character Skills. It may be (as in systems such as Champions) that Attributes might likewise be available for advancement. In this latter case my forthcoming observations about realism and simulationism might be minimized.

A (more or less) static hit points score is the first hallmark of realism in a fantasy roleplaying game. Yes, a character should be able to develop her or his ability to absorb or resist pain and damage, but this aptitude should not be open-ended nor constant.

The D20 systems and their derivatives such as Rolemaster, for some time now, have explained that hit points are “abstract” values, representing a character’s ability to avoid and receive damage. Presumably, then, D20 and Rolemaster characters progressively improve at avoiding damage, but, say, 6 points of Bleeding damage always is going to be literal damage.

Mind you, at this point I’m not saying that C&S is a “better” game or more fun to play than Rolemaster nor its progenitor. What I am saying, though, is that C&S, so far, appears to be more “realistic,” and I admire the elegance displayed by making Build relevant to a character’s ability to take damage.

Chivalry & Sorcery Character Generation Part the First

Step 1: Decide PC Race

My best understanding of C&S is that the system prefers a human-centric milieu, with the option of “outsider” PC “Races.” Because of the mention of Elves and Dwarves, it appears that these outsider Races are what can be expected.

Notes such as these suggest the sorts of fictive qualities that this game might emulate: fairly realistic medievalist societies wherein folk belief is validated but actual experience largely consigned to the fringes of human interaction. I would describe such a genre as historicized versions of the Matter of Britain and “low-magic” fantasies such as A Game of Thrones (at least as it is presented early in the book series).

I prefer human-centric games anyway. I elect to be a Human.

Step 2: Select a Character Creation Method

From my first read-through, it appears that, whenever relevant in C&S, gamers have the option of randomly generating a character aspect. Personally, as a player, I would choose this every time. I’m always excited about giving up control of these choices, being handed some features—just as the real world does to the real us—and making the most of them. This “Wheel of Fortune” worldview contributes particularly well to the feudal society setting implicit in a C&S game.

But, as awesome as this is, I see this presenting the most difficult obstacle for—of all people—the GM, because this is an emulation of a feudal society. The game makes great pains to clarify that the Middle Ages is not a democracy, that serfs were little more than slaves, that they had no rights, that it was fully expected of them to obey, without question, the whims and will of their superiors. So… you can “do the math.” What kind of a player dynamic will it be in a campaign wherein all the players have randomly generated characters from the lower classes? Though the random class table (soon to be seen) is weighted towards a preference for Rural Freemen, it’s possible that you’ll get a spectrum of classes. Some PCs will have to be subservient and deferential to others. To me, this sounds cool, rich with roleplaying possibilities, but all the players will have to be on board. Such a game will be an experiment in exploring a unique, collective narrative, not escapist heroism (at least not for some).

Step 3: Divine the Birth Omens

Now I get to make my first roll. Looks like I’m Neutrally Aspected, the most likely result (a d100 roll of 16-85). If I were Well or Poorly Aspected, I would be supported by either Good or Evil supernatural forces that would affect my Magickal (yep, I “spelled” that right) affinities. Depending on either Aspect, my character would lose or gain 10 PC (Player Character) points, respectively.

Looking ahead, though, and having elected the random generation method, I see that PC points will not be tracked during character creation. All PC point values are for point-buy generation exclusively. Also, in case it wasn’t clear earlier, once Random selection is decided upon, all possible rolls will be random.  The other options are point-buy and default selections.

Step 4: Determine Personal Attributes 

This gets interesting. For Attributes I roll 2d10 eleven times and record the results, discarding the lowest two values. Then I assign them, by choice, to my nine Attributes. If I were doing the point-buy system, for the Human character I have selected there are Minimum and Maximum scores of 02 and 20 (for Historical campaigns), 22 (for Heroic campaigns) and 25 (for Super-heroic campaigns) respectively.

In the explanation of Attributes we get a first glimpse of C&S’s core mechanic. Each of these Attributes can be translated into a percentage roll. It’s a “roll under” system, so to test an Attribute I would roll 3d10 under its percentage score. Two of these tens determine the percentile. The third is the Critical Die, with a 1 denoting a Critical Failure (if the percentile test failed) and a 10 being a Crirical Success (if the percentile test succeeded). Precisely what these Critical results might mean will be detailed later in the rules.

Here are my rolls: 18, 16, 14, 10, 9, 8, 12, 12, 11, 17, 9.

Regardless of the choices to come, I’m beginning to imagine a Knight with a strong leaning towards the priestly crafts. As with most games, Appearance appears to be an attractive dump stat. We shall see if ever I learn to rue this choice.

Note: The nine Attributes are interesting to me. For almost a year I ran Le 7eme Cercle’s/Cubicle 7’s Northern culture game Yggdrasill, which organized Attributes into nine designations under the three macro-stats Mind, Body and Soul. Outside of the consonance with Old Norse numerological symbolism, I still find this a neat formulation of a sentient, physical being. RM”s ten stats make sense to me because of its consonance with the decimal system, but I think they’re more than is needed for game utility.

It’s interesting that Attribute values are to be assigned before Social Class is resolved, another deterministic aspect of the game, I suppose.

Step 5a: Determine PC’s Social Class

I get to roll again!

As you can see, the point-buy method necessitates that the higher classes be purchased with PC points, whereas choosing the lowest classes award PC points. A random roll most likely will result in a Rural Freeman.

I roll an 81. I have landed a Landed Knight. Sweet!

Whether or not the historical accuracy of this game is in question, it is features like this result that make C&S simply a joy to read. Turning to the section on the Gentry, I learn that “[c]ontrary to modern popular opinion, not every manorial lord was a knight. Some English manorial lords even tried to avoid knighthood because they did not want the extra governmental responsibilities or the hazardous obligations of personal military service.”

As a Gentle, my character enjoys +3 Action Points and -1 DF to the Skills Courtly Love and Renown. Right now I’m not certain what these terms might mean, but I’m sure that they’ll be explained anon.


Basic Chivalric Training includes Riding, Riding a Warhorse, Mounted Combat, Cavalry Lance, 2 other Combat skills, Wearing Armour, plus Courtly Manners. He might also have Reading if the INT requirement is met (this is usually due to instruction by a Priest who notices the character’s promise or at the orders of the Lord).

Step 5b: Determine Father’s Vocation and Social Status

It appears that, no matter what method of character creation is being used, the Father’s Vocation and Social Status always is rolled randomly. There is an individual table for each of the distinct Social Classes. This is in keeping with the rigid, hereditary caste system of feudal society.

I roll a 03. It appears, then, that my Father was a very minor Knight, with a feudal holding of 4 square miles. My Father’s status grants me, the PC, the Basic Chivalric Training package already described above, one more Combat Skill and a Social Status of 25 (undoubtedly to be better understood later).

Before I leave behind Part the First of C&S’s Character Creation, it appears that I have one more intriguing option as the offspring of a Landed Knight.

I shall have to mull over this.

Chivalry & Sorcery: The First D100 System?

There is a quality to Rolemaster that encourages me to read about actual history, to research real weapon and armor use and fighting styles, to consider types of fortifications and siege engines and tactics, to explore large scale military deployment, naval warfare, resource management, battlefield maneuvers that encompass horse and various kinds of troops. If I’m occupied with a version of traditional D&D… not so much. In this latter case I’m more interested in the weird, wondrous and sometimes “gonzo” elements at play in its preferred fantasy milieu. The nuts and bolts of “real” probabilities are a less considered texture in its usual background.

Informed by my light reading about the origins of our hobby, I’d suggest that some early companies might likewise have recognized a liminal space between the quality of the inspirations informing early D&D (according to Gary Gygax’s Appendix N) and some of the more “realistic” considerations in determining mechanical probabilities for narrative resolution in rpgs. They consequently wrote into this space. As just a few examples, I submit Fantasy Games Unlimited’s Chivalry & Sorcery, Chaosium’s Runequest, and (later) our own beloved Rolemaster and Columbia Games’s Harn campaign setting and rules system Harnmaster. 

I admittedly cherrypick these examples for two reasons: unlike some other crunchy game systems (such as GURPS and the Hero System) they are specific to fantasy roleplaying, and they appear to recognize the granular benefits of expanding the d20 core mechanic of the Original Games into a d100. Both aspects of these games should be of interest to RM gamers as points of comparison and perhaps innovations from which we might steal for our own homebrewed systems.

So I’m joining Peter R in an exploration of competing d100 systems. Perhaps my survey will contain a more historical emphasis, as I journey back to 1977 to begin with Chivalry & Sorcery.

Well, maybe I’m not doing precisely that, because I’m choosing to read the 2000 edition of C&S, which is subtitled “The Rebirth.” The editors of this version, in their introduction, state that these rules have been streamlined and expanded, so I expect that, as a modern gamer, there might be more for me to learn here than in its inception—though reading original editions always is interesting from the perspective of them being artifacts of antiquity. Also, all three volumes (and more!) of the core game are entirely free on DriveThruRPG. Can’t beat that!

In Designers & Dragons: The 1970s, Shannon Appelcline claims that C&S’s creators hoped to sell the prototype-version of their product, called Chevalier, as an “advanced” form of Dungeons & Dragons. They planned to meet with Gary Gygax at GenCon.

However after watching Gary Gygax chew out a staff member, Simbalist decided that he didn’t like the “vibe” of TSR, and so he left without mentioning his game, and promptly ran into Scott Bizar, who proved to be interested in the game himself. After Backhaus and Simbalist spent about four months stripping D&D from the manuscript, Bizar published it as the first of FGU’s three big-name RPGs, Chivalry & Sorcery (1977). It was one of the first roleplaying books ever published as a single trade paperback, rather than as a hardcover or in a box.

But perhaps even more interesting to us as RM gamers is Appelcline’s description of C&S. It was complicated and “realistic”: “The game provided a very thorough simulation of medieval feudalism and the economics that underlay it.”*

I can’t resist quoting from Appelcline again. He contextualizes C&S so well.

Finally, C&S fairly dramatically took RPGs out of the dungeons when few others were doing so. This resulted in the need for actual plots, and allowed C&S gamemasters to tell real stories when most other gamemasters were still running glorified miniatures games. Of course, many of those plots involved raiding “places of mysteries,” hideouts, castles, and other locations that were dungeons in all but name.

I already have read with interest volume one, the Core Rules of Chivalry & Sorcery’s Rebirth. I intend to go back to the beginning of this book, which involves character creation, and explain and model the process to the best of my ability. Some features of the system are exciting, others puzzling, but I think they provide unique perspectives on my current d100 gaming. The next part in this series should appear soon.

*”Though Simbalist would later acknowledge that it wasn’t necessarily a simulation of real feudalism, the product felt truthful (and thorough) enough that it was nonetheless widely accepted as such.” Appelcline.