C&S 5th Edition: one designer’s notes

I really don’t need an excuse not to update this blog, as I can go years without posting.

But for what it’s worth, the last few months have been taken up with helping design and edit Chivalry & Sorcery 5th Edition – a game I’ve loved since I first got a copy of the 2nd edition rules in the early 1980s.

C&S 5th Edition is my first major game design. I’ve had a couple of small pieces in supplements, and I edited the dark fantasy Black Void RPG (well worth getting your hands on, by the way).

But this is my first time to get a cover credit. The first time I feel I’ve earned the title ‘game designer’.

And for the game to be C&S, for my fellow designers to be friends I met through C&S more than 20 years ago, makes it all the more special.

I credit C&S with rather more than being a fun game. It helped nurture a passing interest in the past into a passion. It wasn’t my only influence – growing up in a village dating from the Middle Ages, with a fine Norman church remains of a 12th-century motte inside an ancient hill fort certainly played a part, as did frequent trips to observe archaeologists working at Coppergate in York.

But gamers have a bent for classifying and codifying. We want maps and systems and mechanics.

Ed Simbalist’s articles on medieval economics and agriculture in the C&S Sourcebook intrigued me. When I went to university to study economics that interest stayed with me, and I specialised as much as I could in the economic history of the medieval and early modern periods.

I needed to get a bit closer to the medieval fields, so once in full time employment I went back to study archaeology at night school, specialising in medieval villages and landscapes.

I learned enough, researched enough, to see the flaws in those articles of Ed’s – the yields too high for wheat, too low for barley, the difference between good and bad harvest too random.

But without those articles, would I even have cared? Somehow I doubt it. And certainly Ed, a teacher by profession, was delighted when I told him where his articles had led me.

This is the gift C&S – by which I really mean Ed and Wilf, Jan and Wes and their whole team – gave me.

It’s been a pleasure to be invited to work on the 5th Edition. It’s been a pleasure to contribute to it.

We’ve expanded the medieval background, and we’ve simplified the mechanics as much as we can while still keeping the flavour of the game.

In a couple of cases we’ve restored old rules which the 3rd edition passed over. Influence is back, its mechanics drawn from the model used in 1st and 2nd edition, updated to work with the Skillskape mechanics introduced in 3rd edition.

Skillskape itself has been revised, and somewhat simplified, at least in character generation. Instead of making skills easier to learn, vocational and mastered skills grant a flat bonus. We’ve ironed out the pesky exceptions to the Skillskape rules that caused me (and I think others) a few headaches.

Many of these changes to Skillskape began life as my own house rules, aimed at making C&S easier to play. I guess I was lucky chief designer Steve Turner was thinking the same way, and I had a ready-made set of changes to email to him.

A new way of handling the Crit Die makes it function more like an effect die. We haven’t moved C&S – the granddaddy of simulation games – quite as far as a narrative system, but I do have some ideas in that direction. Something for a future C&S Sourcebook perhaps.

Blows in combat, the mainstay of 1st and 2nd edition, return to the game as an optional rule to replace the Action Point system introduced in 4th edition.

The enrichment of the medieval background means more – and more accurate – character backgrounds, and a more detailed introduction to the medieval world, addressing some of the topics that have had significant new research in the 20 years since the 4th edition. Most of the expanded background and work on social classes comes from Francis Tiffany, not only a scholar and gentleman, but a talented portrait artist as well

We’ve been able to take advantage of research into medieval diversity to present evidence of North and sub-Saharan Africans in medieval Europe. We’ve looked at examples of women taking up arms.

We’ve expanded our coverage of religion beyond the Catholic Church to include Judaism and Islam in the core rulebook, these sections written by Jewish and Muslim writers.

And we’ve tackled the issue of medieval prejudices and persecution head on – and found some interesting facts along the way.

All of this is wrapped in a truly beautiful full-colour rulebook, lavishly illustrated by 4th edition artists Andrew Hepworth and Dave Bezzina, and new-to-C&S artist Gordon Napier, and designed by the talented Andy Cowley (also a longtime C&S fan).

It is, in my opinion, the best edition of C&S yet published – the best in mechanics, in historical background, and in presentation.

You can read what one of our Kickstarter backers thinks here: Andrew Marrington’s C&S 5th Edition review.

You can get a copy of the PDF file on DrivethruRPG.

Yes, there will be a hardback rulebook. The files are currently with the printer. Kickstarter backers should get their copies in February, with the rulebook going on retail sale in March.

This entry was posted in Gaming and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.