Unchivalry & Sorcery: C&S Redbook

There is a document being promoted around various filesharing sites under the name C&S Redbook, aka C&S 6th edition. I don’t know who’s behind it, but it would appear from the title that is considers itself some sort of successor to Wilf Backhaus’s C&S Redbook, which he tried to sell in the late ’90s until stopped by lawyers representing his former writing partner Ed Simbalist and his associates.

How this came about is a sorry, perhaps even pathetic, tale.

Way back in the 1970s, when Original D&D was still thought of as a skirmish wargame, a couple of wargaming buddies in Edmonton, Alberta, Ed Simbalist and Wilf Backhaus, figured they could do better. They produced a game called Chevalier which they took to Gencon 1977 to offer to Gary Gygax. At the convention, they decided to take up an alternative publication offer, from Scott Bizar, of Fantasy Games Unlimited. After further development, the game was released as Chivalry & Sorcery.

At the time it came out, there weren’t very many roleplaying games. D&D was first, in ’74. There were a number of D&D derivatives, but by around ’77-78 there were only four distinct new games I’m aware of (ie, not mechanically derived from D&D): Ken St Andre’s Tunnels & Trolls, Chaosium’s Runequest, GDW’s Traveller, and Simbalist & Backhaus’s Chivalry & Sorcery.

Only by the time it was published, it wasn’t Simbalist & Backhaus’s Chivlary & Sorcery. It was Fantasy Games Unlimited’s. FGU had a rather acquisitive policy towards IP rights of the games it published.

Nevertheless, the hobby was small, and Ed and Wilf were probably happy to get paid at all – and likely even happier to see their baby in print. They worked with FGU to bring out more supplements and, in 1983, a second edition of C&S (with more supplements and even a couple of modules by the prolific Keith brothers). Ed even wrote a second game for FGU, Space Opera.

We can assume that at this stage Ed, at least, was happy with the way things were working out.

Wilf produced a second game of his own, the Archaeron Games System, for which two small rulebooks were produced – Warrior and Mage. They’re worth a small fortune on the second-hand market these days, but I woudn’t part with my copies.

By this time, the early to mid-80s, the hobby was bigger. Much bigger. Everyone and his uncle was trying to produce RPGs. Even Corgi (now HarperCollins) produced Dragon Warriors in paperback-sized rulebooks. There were tie-ins to big movies, comic franchises, and to the kind of novels gamers read – ICE had managed to acquire the licence to produce its Middle-Earth line, and Chaosium had Call of Chthulhu and Stormbringer. And the D&D juggernaut kept rolling on.

By the late 1980s the crest of the tabletop RPG wave was breaking. The indie games had always been fly-by-night operations, but even established RPG companies were feeling the bite. By the mid-90s the rot was well and truly set in. Companies were scaling back production drastically or going to the wall.

FGU scaled back. It scaled back so drastically that it was releasing games only to keep its IP. Yes, it appears quite a number of those contracts FGU had eager young game designers sign had a rights-reversion clause – if the game ever went out of print, they got their IP back, so FGU put out just enough cheaply printed copies to prevent that happening (if you ever see softcover single volume editions of Space Opera, for instance, that’s the reason). It’s no different to sports teams who put out-of-form players on the field because their contract stipulates they’ll be played a minimum number of times a season or the contract will be void.

Whether that clause applied to C&S, I’m not sure. But what did eventually happen is that Ed Simbalist, in partnership with a new firm, Highlander Games, raised the money to buy back the Chivalry & Sorcery IP and, in 1997, during a resurgence of RPG populariry as gamers around the world found each other through usenet and mailing lists, a third edition of Chivalry & Sorcery came out.

Ed and Wilf were, at that time, both active in support of C&S3 on the now-defunt Loyal Order of Chivalry & Sorcery (LOCS) mailing list, which is where I first encountered them. Ed and Highlander licensed a couple of fledgling fan-run companies, Mystic Station in the US and Britannia Game Designs in the UK, to produce official C&S products.

But the relationship between Ed and Highlander soon soured. Fans complained the new edition dumbed down the game, made it too like D&D; the publisher started disregarding Ed’s input. After a few short years, the relationship was irrevocably broken. Wilf withdrew from the debacle.

So there was another IP buyout (these things involve real money, people). Ed went into partnership with one of the two official licensees, Britannia Game Designs. And, as they were putting together a new edition of the rules (the fourth official edition, taglined The Rebirth), Wilf began circulating his own reworking of the first edition of C&S, calling it C&S Redbook.

He didn’t, of course, have the IP rights to do so. Why he did it is beyond me – although he did email me a copy of it and a system he called KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) when I asked if he was doing anything new with the Archaeron Games System. It wasn’t very much like the original 1st edition at all, and nor did I think it a particularly good game.

By the time The Rebirth came out, Wilf was openly selling PDFs of his version on CD, calling it the Redbook 5th Edition, and so it had to go to law. Wilf eventually stopped.

No one would ever devalue Wilf’s contribution to C&S. He’s the co-creator, for heaven’s sake. But if he wanted to use the name he should have chipped in to buy the rights back. And if he wanted to produce a new system (which is pretty much what he did), he could have very easily called it a new name and, on the cover, described himself as co-creator of C&S. Nobody would dispute his moral right to do so. But to call the game Chivalry & Sorcery? That was not only illegal, it was unchivalrous.

Both Ed and Wilf are dead now. Who is putting the unofficial ‘sixth edition’ under Wilf’s name, I don’t know. But I do know they have no right to do so, and so do they.

I do know the people who have the IP rights. People who invested their own hard-earned cash in acquiring them, working with Ed, because they are fans of C&S. And I know they are working on a new edition themselves. I have high hopes for it.

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