The Grand Campaign

Chivalry & Sorcery 1st edition opened with an introduction to the concept of the Grand Campaign. There was no succinct single sentence definition which I can reproduce here, but rather a description of the Grand Campaign as encompassing an entire fantasy world and permitting play at any and all levels of detail within that world – as kings and commanders of armies, to individual characters of any social rank. This is fundamentally different from most modern roleplaying game campaigns, which are often described in terms of “stories” in which the player characters are protagonists. Rather, in the Grand Campaign as described by Simbalist and Backhaus in the 1st edition of Chivalry & Sorcery, it is really the history of a simulated fantasy world which is being “played out” rather than an individual story within that world. Individual players may control many different characters in that world, indeed, they may play powerful kings, chivalrous knights, or humble peasants, and anything between. The Grand Campaign encapsulates this idea of play happening (or at least, being able to happen) at multiple levels of play, with groups of players choosing to play at all the levels or just those which interest them.

Building and expanding on the Grand Campaign as described in Chivalry & Sorcery 1st edition with my thoughts after some time spent with the 5th edition of that august gaming lineage, the levels of play in the Grand Campaign could be described as follows, listed in order, with “1” at the “highest” level of play and “4” at the “lowest” or most narrowly focussed-level:

  1. Grand Strategy – This level of play is primarily military and geopolitical in nature. It will focus on the struggles between baronies and kingdoms and on the clash of armies, and deal with questions of economics and resources.
  2. The Nobility – This level of play complements Grand Strategy by fleshing out the important political and military characters – princes, generals, knights. C&S 1e notes that “the military miniatures enthusiast will probably elect only to deal with Knights and Nobles”.
  3. The Fantasy Campaign – This level of play is probably the more typical fantasy roleplaying game’s fare (albeit with more C&S-style realism). It adds magicians to the mix, expanding the game beyond the knights and nobles of the historical ruling class.
  4. Village Life – This level of play includes ordinary life in the game world, down to the lowest serf. I have called this “Village Life” to emphasis the micro-nature of this level of play within the Grand Campaign, but it could just as easily focus on the day-to-day in towns or cities. This level of play is not typically a feature of fantasy roleplaying games – this sort of activity is generally performed by NPCs in the background of play.

Chivalry & Sorcery 1st edition was intended as a single-volume rulebook to address the whole of the Grand Campaign (or at least levels 1 through 3 in my improvised hierarchy):

“The essential feature of Chivalry & Sorcery is the flexibility built into all of the campaign types. Players may choose the type of campaign that they desire and may ignore all elements that are not relevant to their needs and aims.”

Ed Simbalist & Wilf Backhaus (1977), Chivalry & Sorcery, 1st edition

My own Chivalry & Sorcery campaign is at level 3. Indeed, probably every fantasy roleplaying campaign I have ever run or played in has been at level 3. There is certainly nothing wrong with level 3, but there’s a lot of play which can happen at other levels which isn’t a feature of my own games or my own experience. The Grand Campaign would involve play at multiple levels, possibly with many more players and even multiple GMs, not necessarily all playing together at the same time, but all playing in the same world, with the potential to interact and affect each other.

This explains why, as previously discussed, the concept of time and a relationship between real world time and campaign time is also strangely (to modern eyes) so important in Chivalry & Sorcery 1st edition. Indeed, C&S 1st edition is not alone in this – it seems to have been a feature of the Greyhawk and Blackmoor D&D campaigns as well. In this context, the infamous Gygax quote in the AD&D DMG that “YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT” makes a lot more sense than it might from a purely “modern” (really, 1980s onwards) roleplaying game perspective. This sort of defined relationship between real-world and game time would have been essential for games which spanned levels 1 to 3 of the Grand Campaign.

I have been drafting and re-drafting my own rules-lite game which spans levels 1 to 3 of the Grand Campaign (with play focussed at level 2) for a year and a half. I am about to re-embark on yet another re-write. But since I am presently running (and enjoying) a level 3 “Fantasy Campaign” using Chivalry & Sorcery 5th edition, and since Chivalry & Sorcery introduced the concept, I have started to think about the practicalities of using Chivalry & Sorcery‘s latest incarnation for the Grand Campaign.

The first thing I would note is that the wargaming clubs which predominated in the hobby in the 1970s are now, effectively, a separate world from the roleplaying game one. Campaigns as run by Arneson and Gygax, and indeed, Simbalist and Backhaus, with 20+ players drifting in and out between sessions are generally impractical – unless maybe you were playing Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (and even then, that would not be a very Critical Role-like experience so maybe not). I suspect but I am not sure about early C&S campaigns, but it was certainly a feature of early D&D campaigns that players had multiple characters, and would choose which of their characters to play at the start of each adventuring session, alternating between them over the course of many sessions. I think a similar approach would be necessary in the Grand Campaign in 2020, and this would also help facilitate running such an ambitious exercise with a more realistic-sized play group.

I believe the Grand Campaign calls for players to take more responsibility and direct control of many aspects of the game world, albeit underneath the Gamemaster’s supervision. The Player-Referee (as the GM is occasionally called in Chivalry & Sorcery 1st edition) of course has the most characters at their disposal, but the game actually rails against the injustice of this somewhat, and explains how player characters may marshal armies and enlist the support of allies and vassals and how such characters are in effect, under their control rather than the Player-Referee. In the Grand Campaign, players can be expected to manage the resources and incomes available to their estates and feudal holdings at levels 1 and 2 of play.

A good way to invest the players in these additional responsibilities, and in play at level 1 especially, is to involve them in the world building process. Chivalry & Sorcery 5th edition has a solid introduction to world building, starting with map making (just as 1st edition notes), description of feudal society, and a detailed system for building feudal holdings from the level of kingdom down. There is no reason why this work should only be done by the GM – and indeed, there will be more investment in a collaborative world building effort. After the initial preparation is complete, of course, world building will continue to be on-going during play in order to satisfy the demands of play, and the GM will need to do this “just in time” worldbuilding largely by themselves, but they will be building upon a shared foundation.

Unlike in 1st edition Chivalry & Sorcery, which started with miniature wargaming rules first and eventually moved onto character generation around the halfway mark, level 1 play is not entirely facilitated by the 5th edition core rulebook. The Kickstarter included the stretch goal to deliver the Ars Bellica supplement, a mass-combat system which can also serve as a miniature wargame in its own right. Subscribers to the Brittannia Game Designs Patreon can get access to the latest draft of this supplement. The current draft is certainly usable, and as an alternative to the full miniature rules most of the supplement describes, it also includes an “Art of Maths” option for mass combat to be resolved with some maths based on troops and resources and a few rolls. Either one of these should bridge the gap and satisfy the requirements of level 1 play nicely. The core rulebook does provide the economic details which would be necessary for Grand Strategy level play.

Play at levels 2, 3 and even 4 are all well-provided for by the Chivalry & Sorcery 5th edition core rulebook. No other game in my collection so admirably and comprehensively caters to characters drawn from every class of feudal society. Non-human options are already dealt with in the core rulebook, but are greatly expanded upon by the previous edition’s Elves Companion and Dwarves Companion (which are still compatible with 5th edition), and by the recently released Nightwalkers supplement (that’s an affiliate link) which greatly expands on lycanthropes and vampires in Chivalry & Sorcery (remember: monsters are people too!). A supplement is on its way for Goblins, Orcs, and Trolls as well. The non-human races have their own societies, social classes, vocations, etc, sufficient to support play at levels 2, 3, and 4. As I discussed in my reviews of the Elves Companion and Dwarves Companion, it is a mistake to think of Chivalry & Sorcery‘s demihuman and monstrous races as “vanilla D&D” versions – but they could still be incorporated into a newly built world with just the geographic features adapted to your own setting (as indeed, these books do for Marakush).

I am not sure whether I ever will run the Grand Campaign, but I’d certainly like to try, and Chivalry & Sorcery 5th edition is the first game in my collection I’d use for it. In the meantime, I will press on with my own Fantasy Campaign, level 3 game!

One Comment on “The Grand Campaign

  1. Hi. This was interesting to read since I’m going to start a CS game with some newbies and an old time DnD friend. I had forgotten the campaign levels from when I had 2nd and 3rd edition but now after reading the rules your article gives more sense to the “why do I care about wheat harvests?” The players are going to be like most FRP players and the mundane is the realm of the GM so they don’t want that level of responsibility but it’s nice to know how it is all supposed to fit. I’m going to use some Harn material as well and it’s got that same living world vibe; I went with C&S just for that as Harn felt even more grounded in reality and for the players they want to not play in reality.

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