Chivalry and Sorcery Light

Reviewed by Nicholas HM Caldwell

Chivalry & Sorcery (C&S) Light is a 48-page volume, created by Edward E. Simbalist, Wilf K. Backhaus, and Steve C Betney. It was conceived to fill the need for a "fast play" version of Chivalry & Sorcery, a game which has been around since 1976. The "Light" version divides into forty pages of condensed and simplified game mechanics and an eight-page pull-out section containing a simple scenario and six pregenerated characters.

C&S Light introduces itself and the concept of role-playing in a single page. The core game mechanics (Skillskape) are also summarised in a single page. As the name suggests, the system is skill-based with "Action Throws" being the C&S term for a skill check (RM maneuver). These are resolved by rolling d100 and d10 simultaneously with the aim being to roll under one's skill on the d100. The additional d10 is called the "Crit Die" with results of 10 or more (after modifications) and 1 or less (after modifications) being critical successes and failures respectively. A character's actions can be opposed, such as victims attempting to resist magic or foes parrying blows, and this opposition can take the form of Passive Resistance or Active Resistance. In Passive Resistance, your chance of success in the action in reduced in proportion to your opponent's relevant skill. In Active Resistance, the opponent makes an Action Throw (say to use a shield to block your blow) which you can passively resist! It sounds more complex than it actually is. This section of C&S Light repays careful attention.

Section 2 covers character creation. This is essentially a six-step process in terms of game mechanics. The first step is to choose the character's social class (Serf, Townsman, Yeoman, Guildsman, Noble). As C&S is a role-playing game that tries to recreate some of the realism of the medieval period, social class is paramount and will restrict the possible vocations available to the character. The second step is to assign scores to the nine attributes (Strength, Constitution, Agility, Intellect, Wisdom, Discipline, Bardic Voice, Appearance and Piety) [equivalent to RM stats] which are grouped into three categories, namely Physical, Mental and Social. You have 30 points which you assign to the categories to a minimum of five and a maximum of fifteen points. This sets the initial values of the attributes in each category. You can then vary attributes in the categories by 3 up or down with the caveat that the cumulative alteration equals zero. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch! Thus attributes have values between 2 and 18. When building a character for real, be sure to look at the skills section first so that you assign attribute scores sensibly as each skill is governed by a single attribute in C&S Light. The third step is to calculate the character's Body (effectively hits), Fatigue (a measure of exhaustion which is used in combat and magic so this is not optional) and Action Points which determines a character's movement rate and the number of blows deliverable by a character in a round. The fourth step is to choose a vocation (Warriors, Thieves, Mages, Clerics or Adventurers - each encompasses several subclasses so there are fifteen available vocations in C&S Light) and the vocation gives the character access to a number of skills at a discounted skill cost as well as the first level (RM equivalent: rank) in those skills. In addition, you can have five "Masteries" in skills of your choice - effectively this reduces the skill cost and provides another level in the Mastered skill. The fifth step is to buy skills using a pool of Skill Points determined by the initial social class. Finally you must choose your weapons and armour, calculating speed, chance to hit and damage. Character creation is relatively painless so long as you know what you want to achieve.

Section 3 is a three page section on how to calculate the "Total Success Chance" for skills and a description of the forty-seven major skills in C&S Light. In working out the "Total Success Chance", ignore the x3 multiplier on the attribute bonus step. This is an error as all of the examples use only the basic attribute score. The skill selection is fairly comprehensive and is well equipped to handle the needs of the medieval genre.

Section 4 focuses on "simple foot combat". If you accept that Rolemaster combat is easy, then C&S Light is easy, only differently easy, that's all. If you think that Rolemaster combat is complicated, then C&S Light combat is equally complicated but in a different fashion. In Rolemaster, the complexity is in chasing results through attack and critical tables. In C&S Light, the complexity is in the mechanics. For starters, characters have multiple actions in the action round, with the number of "blows" being a function of their Action Points and the relative weight of their weapon. A successful attack requires the attacker to make a skill check modified by whatever resistance is made by the defender. The defender may passively defend with a shield or a weapon (at a variable fatigue cost). Alternatively the defender may adopt an active defence such as a Shield Block, a Weapon Parry, or a Dodge. These will use up actions or Fatigue. Assuming the attacker hits the target, the damage must now be calculated (depends on weapon type, attacker's strength or agility, the attacker's weapon skill, and the result of the crit die). Armour and shields absorb damage with their protection varying according to the type of attack. If there is more damage than the armour or shield can normally handle, then the defender can choose to take the excess personally or let the armour or shield soak it all up (but with the risk that the armour or shield will be broken). Additionally "criticals" doing extra damage and serious trauma (maiming, blinding or even death) can also occur. Anyone planning to GM C&S Light should run several combats first in order to master the mechanics.

Section 5 concerns Magick, and in particular the Magus and Witch modes. Magi cast their spells from memory or from books whereas Witches cast their spells from memory or by drinking potions imbued with the spell. Characters can learn how to cast magic using one or both methods and will pay Skill Points as appropriate. In addition to learning the Mode, the character must also learn spells from the various schools of Magick. For more Skill Points, characters can gain a magical focus which can assist spell casting and store spells. In C&S Light, an unprepared mage can easily become a dead mage as preparation will usually take several rounds, if not more. Prepared spells can be held ready once prepared or stored in the focus. Casting spells costs Fatigue points, and if you've run out of them, the excess is taken in Body points. In terms of magical potency, both Magi and Witches are limited by their experience level, and really "levels" in C&S Light only appear to exist in order to keep the spell users under control.

Section 6 describes the Spells available up to rank 4 in the nine selected schools of magick. All of the spells provided are briefly described with the minimum of game stats. The spells are all straightforward and safe for novice gamemasters - the Divination school is limited to detection magic, no complicated scrying, precognition or retrocognition here!

Section 7 is a short Bestiary which mixes a few animals (bears, boars, deer, etc.) with traditional fantasy and medieval beasts such as minotaurs, unicorns, and wyverns. Goblins, Giants, Orcs, Ogres and Trolls provide some evil races and a sampling of Undead completes this menacing array.

The Appendices include a page on optional combat rules, a summary of level advancement (which covers characters from first to fifth level), how to create Elf or Dwarf characters, a page on equipment, and an Index.

The introductory scenario is fairly simple - a monster is terrorising a village and it's the player-characters' job to track the monster to its lair and rid the fief of this menace. En route, they have other encounters which are likely to be resolved by combat. The pregenerated characters form a well-balanced party with snippets of background revealing that there is more to C&S than the rules.

Overall, C&S Light is an interesting product. It's more a condensed version of Chivalry & Sorcery 3rd Edition than an easier version. The rules have been boiled down to what the designers felt was absolutely necessary and shoe-horned into a 48-page book. It's rules followed by examples, and ease of layout has been sacrificed in places in order to cram in another necessary chunk of material. You will have to flip back and forth through the book as a result. As I've noted, there are some contradictions in the book between rule and associated example, so you have to pay attention. Nevertheless it does succeed in making Chivalry & Sorcery more accessible, and it represents a passport to the C&S campaign setting (The Dragon Reaches of Marakush) which is compatible with both C&S Light and the full C&S 3rd Edition. Definitely worth a closer look if you are interested in a realistic medieval setting.  

Editor's Note

Chivalry and Sorcery Light is jointly published by Brittannia Game Designs Ltd. and Maple Leaf Games Ltd. in association with Gamestuff Inc. The contact details for Brittannia Game Designs Ltd. are as follows:
Brittannia Game Designs Ltd.,
94 Laurel Road
West Midlands,
Great Britain

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