Posted on April 24, 2020
Chivalry & Sorcery 5e: 5+1 Sessions In
Some time ago, I reviewed the Chivalry & Sorcery 5e PDF, on the basis of reading it through and rolling up a character myself, but not after actual play. Since that time, the printed books have been shipped, and I’ve started a Chivalry & Sorcery campaign. Now we’re a few sessions in (four “regular play” sessions and one “session zero” character generation session), I feel like I am better placed to comment on the game in play.
As a group we are still learning the system, and given C&S 5e is a 600+ page book, this is going to take a little longer. We are still looking things up in play just to make sure we are doing it right, but as of the fourth session of regular play, we are now, as a group, more looking things up to be sure we’re doing them right than we are to resolve differences of interpretation or different recollections of the rules. In my review of the PDF, I described the game as complete not complicated. After playing for a while, I think this is generally true, there are definitely some “crunchy” parts – especially in the magick system. Generally, the “crunch” feels like it adds both realism and tactical thinking which is welcome, but it can also slow us down in play when we use a new subsystem for the first time. As with all such subsystems, the more familiar we become with using it in play, the faster we get with it. By the second or third time we do something in C&S we do it quite quickly and smoothly.
Expressed in GNS terms, without intending to affirm any kind of validity to that hot mess of a model, C&S is heavily simulationist. The core mechanics are not complex, but there’s a lot of detail in procedures for particular situations, and a lot of granularity in the skills list. There are also some rules which have needed clarification/expansion after the book was printed (link to publisher’s webpage here), which helps with the more complicated aspects of magick in particular. In general, these detailed procedures are smooth in play, but there are some stress points when some players try to play the game like D&D. For example, the game has an action point pool-based approach to determining who can act first in combat and how much they can do. This is excellent, and feels realistic to me. However, when players try to “hold actions” until certain conditions take place, as if they were playing 3rd edition D&D, which in mechanical terms means they build up action points since they don’t spend them on an action, which leads to a glut of action points. This doesn’t actually break the C&S rules, mind you – in fact, you are intended to be able to bank action points, but typically you’d be banking “left over” action points in a round, not one’s entire allocation of action points for a round. So we are making good progress on the learning curve with respect to the C&S rules themselves – but as a group we still need to make some progress on learning how to play C&S as C&S.
As I discussed in my initial review of the PDF, the PDF is hyper-functional, filled with links, and particularly useful electronic tabs to skip between major sections. The physical book does not have such conveniences, but it is a distinctly satisfying 600+ page full-colour book, with a ribbon. The pages are nicely laid out, and visually appealing. The artwork sets the tone for the game beautifully, much more “low fantasy” and medieval than modern Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder. Given the size of the book, I find that some extra ribbons are useful during play as I deal with procedures for magick with some characters, certain skills with others, NPC stats, etc, at the same time. Occasionally, I think some information could be better co-located in the book. For example, if some of the information about magickal vocations and modes of magick from the Vocations chapter could be repeated in the Magick chapter, it would save some flicking around in play. This is less of an issue with the PDF than the physical book, and illustrative of why I have started to use multiple ribbons in play. The information is laid out logically in the book – just the size of the book naturally means one has to move around quite a bit.
I enjoy the book a lot and commend Brittannia for running an outstanding Kickstarter, and getting the physical book out promptly. Many other Kickstarters I backed, with long, drawn out deliveries, are now frozen, with physical rewards only partially fulfilled, but my C&S book arrived early, and is all the more cherished for it. More importantly, I am enjoying the game, even though we have moved play online, and I don’t hesitate to recommend Chivalry & Sorcery for anyone who wants a more “realistic” medieval fantasy roleplaying game.