Posted on June 10, 2019
Chivalry & Sorcery Essence
It has been my observation that most Chivalry & Sorcery fans relish in the perceived complexity of the game. I am not sure the game is actually very complex, at least in its actual mechanics, although there are certainly a lot of topics covered in the rules and the presentation of the rules themselves could be more accessible (something I hope the upcoming 5th edition rectifies where appropriate). I think the legendary tiny font size of the 1st edition of the game, necessary to fit in what by the standards of the time was a truly exhaustively complete set of rules, created a certain reputation for the game and C&S purists wear that reputation like a badge of pride.
And more power to them, I say. I have a lot of respect for people who play AD&D 1e “rules as written” too, because despite my enormous affection for Gygaxian prose, I am still not entirely sure I understand what the rules are for some systems (overbearing immediately comes to mind). Still, one of the reasons I am generally an OSR gamer and one especially drawn to Basic D&D and systems inspired by Basic D&D is that I quite like the simple, easy to play and easy to tinker with mechanics. I certainly like not being drowned in hundreds of pages of rules like I am when I try to play Pathfinder. Perhaps this is why Chivalry & Sorcery Essence appeals to me. Plus, at least until the 5th edition Kickstarter, Chivalry & Sorcery Essence is the only version of C&S you can currently buy in print (it is available as print-on-demand) unless you want to pay top dollar for a print copy of a previous edition of C&S proper.
Chivalry & Sorcery Essence shares the ability scores and the same basic concepts as Chivalry & Sorcery proper, but uses a different system, based around rolling under a success chance on a d20, rather than a d100. Of course the book does not have the exhaustive set of character options, equipment, or spells that Chivalry & Sorcery 4th Edition has, but it has a good selection and everything is simple enough that you can easily see how you could make or import your own. Simple enough that you can easily see how to tinker is a feature, not a limitation, to my taste.
The 44 page book includes all the rules you need to play, and an introductory scenario set in its own fantasy medieval campaign setting, Darken. Despite the rules being about the same size as the core of Basic D&D, there’s nevertheless a lot of options for character creation and advancement, a blow-based combat system which makes all your decisions count and is much more tactical and realistic-feeling than D&D, and even a mass combat system! There’s quite a lot to sink your teeth into even at the relatively small size.
There are a few “rough edges”. Some of the interior art is not high enough resolution for print – but most of it is very serviceable. The layout is also “serviceable”. This is a 2011 book, so it is unfair to judge it by the standards of some of the amazingly laid out OSR books of recent years. The game is designed to be played using a d20, but in some places a d10 is more appropriate (e.g. in character generation I’d rather roll a d10 than halving a d20 roll).
If you’re an OSR player who likes rules light systems but is intrigued by C&S I think you might enjoy Chivalry & Sorcery Essence. At the very least, it’s worth a look while you’re waiting to check out Chivalry & Sorcery 5th edition!
You can buy Chivalry & Sorcery Essence here via my affiliate link in PDF and print-on-demand format. Some of the artwork in the print-on-demand version is a little low-resolution but it is still nice to have in hard copy, I think.