Chivalry & Sorcery is a game whose early editions had some pretty significant issues, but also had some interesting ideas to mine, many of which were teased out somewhat better in the 2nd Edition of the game than the 1st. However, once Fantasy Games Unlimited largely lost interest in producing new material for it, it entered into a long period in the wilderness. After the rights to the game were retrieved from FGU, a 3rd Edition would be put out from Highlander Designs, which so far as I can make out was a company formed specifically for this purpose.
However, after putting out the core 3rd Edition rules in 1996 and a brace of supplements in 1997, Highlander Designs would go bankrupt, having perhaps both overestimated the market’s appetite for a high-crunch fantasy system in the mid-1990s and made the questionable decision to radically scale back the game’s emphasis on historical detail, thus undermining its major selling point.
Brittannia Game Designs stepped into the breach here; they’d previously been formed with the intent of producing third-party supplements for the game, but a deal was struck to allow them to pick up the rights. A 4th Edition followed in 1999-2000 (with Chivalry & Sorcery Light, a condensed version of the new edition, preceding the full-fat version, dubbed Chivalry & Sorcery: The Rebirth), as would an extremely condensed version of the game, Chivalry & Sorcery Essence, released as a 4-page PDF. 2011 would see another Chivalry & Sorcery Essence released, this time expanding its page count to some 44 pages (though with the same 4-page system underlying it), but the general idea of providing a lighter version of the game persisted. All these iterations made at least some effort to start bringing back the sort of historical detail which the third edition had downplayed.
All of these brief flowerings did not amount to a whole lot in the long run, and Brittannia suffered from extensive periods of apparent inactivity. Still, a community of Chivalry & Sorcery fans still existed, evidence for which can be found in the existence of the various Red Book editions of the game. The first of these, released in 2000, was a free PDF of the game’s first edition, with the layout redone to be remotely sensible. (As a reminder: the original release of Chivalry & Sorcery 1st Edition would have spanned some 512 pages if printed conventionally, so FGU condensed it into a 128 page book by shrinking down the manuscript pages and printing them four to a page, with the result that the text is tiny to the point of being nearly unreadable.) This one was authorised; later recompiled versions of the Red Book, circulated within the fandom, included the texts of various supplements and were very much not authorised.
Now, however, Brittannia seem to have been able to crack the art of using Kickstarter to bankroll a revival of the game, having run two Kickstarters to fund various major new releases (the 5th Edition core rules and the Land of the Rising Sun supplement), with a clutch of supplements funded as stretch goals on each project. At the time of writing, they’re coming into the last stages of a third Kickstarter to produce a bestiary supplement.
On this latest Kickstarter, the stretch goals are not additional books but 3D printer templates to produce miniatures – a clever way to add a little bonus for people who enjoy that sort of thing without creating a substantial backlog of books yet to be written. Whilst producing further books has for the most part been well within Brittannia’s means, one stretch goal from their first Chivalry & Sorcery Kickstarter has been substantially delayed; Ars Bellica, the miniatures and mass combat rules, has had its production hampered by the pandemic putting a cramp on the production of various illustrative photos deemed necessary to get some of its concepts across. (That said, Ars Bellica is kind of a bonus anyway, since the stretch goal did not fund but Brittannica decided to go ahead with it anyway.)
That said, with Kickstarters stretch goals are the cherry on the top; so long as delivery of the core product pans out fine, you can forgive a lot otherwise. And Brittannia have actually been very good on that front, with both 5th Edition Chivalry & Sorcery and Land of the Rising Sun hitting my mailbox right when they were originally estimated to. This is especially impressive when Land of the Rising Sun was funded, printed, and distributed entirely within the pandemic. I’ve been glad to back the bestiary Kickstarter because I think I can be fairly confident of actually getting that bestiary.
So much for the reliability of delivery: what of the quality of product? Let’s take a look at the loot so far.Continue reading “Chivalry & Sorcery 5th Edition – The Story So Far”