Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Intriguing C&S Quotes

Thanks to the kindness of Victor Raymond, I am now the proud owner of the first edition of Chivalry & Sorcery, as well as its two sourcebooks. In my youth, I only ever saw anyone play the second edition of the game (the boxed set), so having the chance to read the first edition and its sourcebooks will be a treat for me. Expect many more posts about it in the days and weeks to come.

For the moment, though, I just wanted to share a couple of quotes. The first is from Scott Bizar's introduction to the rulebook:
Chivalry & Sorcery is the most complete rule booklet ever published. Its very completeness creates problems in the mass of rules to be absorbed. However, the useful suggestions within the rules for how to run a C & S campaign will more than compensate for any difficulty in mastering the volume of rules.
In his introduction to The Chivalry & Sorcery Sourcebook published a year later (1978), Bizar's introduction begins with the following:
In the summer of 1977, when we first released Chivalry & Sorcery, we believed that we had published a truly complete game that would never need a supplement. That the book you are now reading exists, demonstrates how wrong we were. C & S is indeed the most complete game ever created, but it is an ongoing campaign and new aspects of the campaign are constantly coming to light and need codification. For these reasons we have created the Sourcebook.
Now, on one level, it's amusing to see Scott Bizar attempt to recast his original boast about the completeness of C&S. It's a very easy thing to do, too, since he frequently made such statements about FGU's games (something similar is said in his introduction to Space Opera, for example). On the other hand, pay attention to what he says about C&S being "an ongoing campaign." It's an odd statement on the face of it, but makes more sense when you realize that, as authors Simbalist and Backhaus made clear in the original rulebook, the game is actually a codification of a system created by the University of Alberta's Fantasy Wargames Society to address problems they had with the lack of context for "dungeon and wilderness adventures," which is to say, problems they had with Dungeons & Dragons.

As I understand it, the earliest version of C&S was, like so many early RPGs, a set of house rules for OD&D and the story goes that Simbalist and Backhaus initially thought of submitting their work to TSR for publication as a supplement to D&D. That didn't happen for a variety of reasons (I've heard at least two versions of the tale) and Chivalry & Sorcery as an independent game was born. But the process of house ruling that had led to the creation of this game out of OD&D was still ongoing, even after the rulebook was published in 1977. Simbalist and Backhaus were still playing their campaign and still adding new rules and clarifying existing ones. That's what Scott Bizar was referring to in his introduction to The Sourcebook.

You know what? I find this really appealing. It suggests that C&S was a game that was actually played rather than having been designed solely for the purpose of being sold. It's not a consumer product but a product of passion. That's why I love OD&D's supplements so much (the first three anyway), which feel as if they were the results of someone's having used the LBBs and, through play, come up with new options, additions, and modifications to them. To my mind, that's how an RPG should be developed, not according to a preplanned product schedule created independent of -- or in contradiction to -- actual play. I realize that adopting such an attitude would pretty much doom roleplaying to being a largely hobbyist endeavor, but would that be such a bad thing?

23 comments:

  1. 'I realize that adopting such an attitude would pretty much doom roleplaying to being a largely hobbyist endeavor, but would that be such a bad thing?'

    I don't think it would, but it would get over that 'had an idea!- publish it before someone else thinks of it' mentality that pushes people into publishing too soon. I've done it myself. What emerges through actual play - how would a designer know if they didn't let the rules breathe before slapping them down in text.

    I'm prepared to wait for a good product.

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  2. I feel a bit churlish now not to just have given you my 2nd edition. Mr Raymond is a far more gentlemanly Victor: kudos to you, sir. 8/

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  3. "I find this really appealing. It suggests that C&S was a game that was actually played rather than having been designed solely for the purpose of being sold. It's not a consumer product but a product of passion."

    For me, the earliest Villains and Vigilantes stuff has this feel exactly. Was this generally true of FGU games? Their ads in Dragon always looked so neat, but I mostly just played tons of V&V...

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  4. "I realize that adopting such an attitude would pretty much doom roleplaying to being a largely hobbyist endeavor, but would that be such a bad thing?"

    It's worked out well so far: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/

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  5. I realize that adopting such an attitude would pretty much doom roleplaying to being a largely hobbyist endeavor, but would that be such a bad thing?

    No, it wouldn't be a bad thing at all. In fact, I think the hobby could use a lot more of it and a lot less of production cycle games. While the later served, and still serves, a purpose, when it became the end all be all of the hobby in the 90s it sucked a lot of the appeal and creativity out and turned it into a consumer hobby (I'm just as guilty of buying into that as the next guy...still am).

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  6. There's lot in there too that puts the campaign in the context of a club that, it seems assumed, would run things in a shared world with multiple GMs and multiple PCs per player. Shocking idea now.

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  7. I traded barbs with someone on another site this morning when they said, "Software is useless if it can't be sold".

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  8. @Delta:

    Obviously they meant some permutation of the inverse--"any useful software SHOULD be sold" (as opposed to distributed freely).

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  9. @Overlord:

    Oh, that is very much my dream. Sadly, the only other person who's expressed a desire to GM in my group is woeful...he ran a couple of sessions and there was an immediate but quiet revolution to get things back to my control...I wasn't involved, if that's in question :)

    My local group has about ten people in it, and I'm the only one with both the desire and the experience to GM. I'd be interested to hear what other readers' groups look like in terms of GM rotation, co-GM setups, shared worlds, etc.

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  10. @Overlord: Maybe shocking but still doable...in fact I think I'll float the idea for the Atlanta D&D Meetup. I imagine such a game would also overlap with the West Marches idea. Given how tied character creation is to create leaders for minis rules, that could also be an aspect.

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  11. Your observation about C&S being a game developed through playing is spot on; in fact, this is true of almost every fantasy RPG published before 1980 (at least almost every one I can think of). Tunnels & Troll came out of Ken St. Andre's house rules for a D&D-type game; Runequest/BRP comes out of the Perrin Conventions; Arduin is Dave Hargrave's revision/extension of D&D; The Complete Warlock comes out of the Caltech gamers' adaptations of D&D. The Fantasy Trip is the only early fantasy RPG I can think of that was deliberately designed, and I can't remember if it's pre-1980 or not. (Is Dragonquest pre-1980?)

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  12. buzz said...

    "I realize that adopting such an attitude would pretty much doom roleplaying to being a largely hobbyist endeavor, but would that be such a bad thing?"

    It's worked out well so far: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/


    Forge-theory derived games aren't what is meant here by hobbyist games. They're all about using a theoretical framework to create an a priori rules structure that doesn't need to be tinkered with or houseruled. To play something else, you "hack it", which basically means to assign different meanings (mere colour) to the abstract structure without actually mucking about with it. Like re-naming chess pieces.

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  13. @John harper Brinegar: From memory Melee (the Microgame) was 1977, Wizard was 1978, and In The Labyrinth (the formalization of TFT as an RPG*) was 1980. Dragonquest was released at the end of 1980, and is to my mind the first purpose-designed (rather than adapted) fantasy RPG.

    Gamelords' Thieves Guild and Midkhemia Press' FRP rules (which were never published once Feist's book became popular) were also the rules used for house campaigns.

    [* Although I'd argue that The Fantasy Trip wasn't designed as a role-playing game, but rather descended from the tactical boardgame. YMWV.]

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  14. The first time I ever played D&D the DM was running some home-brewed mix of D&D and C&S. I picked up most of the core C&S books myself a year or two later (C&S, and Sourcebooks 1 and 2). I never used them as an RPG but I frequently used the campaign design and background notes in world building.

    I also had their supplement, Swords & Sorcerers: Vikings, Steppes Nomads, Gaels & Picts which added the peripheral cultures to the feudal core. I remember wanting to get a copy of their official campaign setting, Arden, though a copy never crossed my path at the time.

    I did get a copy of Saurians: Dinosaurs & Intelligent Saurian Races which had rules and a campaign setting for a prehistoric C&S world. I remember thinking at the time that it was the neatest idea imaginable. I think someone even made official? miniatures for Saurians; I remember as a high school student having to go downtown to the old Toronto PO to pay customs charges on my Saurian army, and the PO staff taking the entire shipment apart and puzzling over it, trying to determine what product category it should fall into. Hmmm ... I must still have those minis tucked away somewhere (crude, chunky old monstrosities that they are) though I don't think they've seen the light of day in at least 20 years.

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  15. Alexander said: Forge-theory derived games aren't what is meant here by hobbyist games. They're all about using a theoretical framework to create an a priori rules structure that doesn't need to be tinkered with or houseruled. To play something else, you "hack it", which basically means to assign different meanings (mere colour) to the abstract structure without actually mucking about with it. Like re-naming chess pieces.

    That's not the point. The point is, that from a "marketing" perspective, games that have a hobbyist approach can be reasonably successful.

    Not successful enough to tempt the likes of Hasbro to get involved, but successful enough to be self-sustaining.

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  16. Joshua is right, Alexander. I pointed to the Forge because its primary mission has always been promoting creator-owned RPGs that are born out of actual play. The OSR has more in common with the Forge (and thus, the Forge with the golden age of RPGs) than it does any other gaming movement.

    And... it's been a huge success. The hobbyist model of the OSR and Forge diaspora *is* the future of this hobby. Heck, it's the present!

    (And your assessment of "Forge theory games' is quite off the mark. Like, in pretty much every way. But that's a discussion for a different blog.)

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  17. I'm not making an assessment of Forge games. I'm simply pointing out that they're derived from a theory about coherency in RPG design. They're playtested of course, but they're not gradual accretions of cool stuff made up as you go along (i.e. the hobbyist approach). The "good intentions" of the designer—whether the game is a product of passion or commercially motivated—is not really important to the point of this post. Forge games are surely products of passion, but they're not designed through play. Any new rule created during play is only a stopgap until it's analyzed by the overarching theory, analogously to the way in which new rules for a commercial game need to abide by the pre-planned release schedule. The esotericness of RPG design theory creates the same sort of firewall between game players and game designers as the (self-justifying) "high production values" of commercial games. And so I don't think forge games fit what is meant here by the hobbyist approach. And you are the one that is off the mark.

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  18. As someone who has played a lot of Forge games I'm going to agree with Alexander in the context of this post.

    Forge games are about intentionally designed games that are retained by their designer as owner. C&S meets neither criteria. As Alexander points out C&S was a game of gradual accretion, not intentional design. The game was bought by FGU who published it and it took heroic effort on the part of the original designers to get it back.

    Contrast the into quote highlighted here with the opening to any of Ron Edwards's Sorcerer supplements to get the different on creation.

    That said, I have long thought the indie RPG movement and the OSR are closer relatives then people admit. Both are drawn from passion in gaming and both prioritize actual play over product creation. While Forge games are intentional as opposed to organic designs they have always been about the game being built to support what people want at the table and not fun stuff to read and argue about online. In that sense, that they are built by players for motivations tied to play they are both hobbyist movements instead of commercial ones.

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  19. 'And... it's been a huge success.':
    So successful(see sales figures, success must've been redefined as selling 'some'.[Which doesn't matter, imo. But they're not setting the world on fire, nor should any game designer be striving for such, I feel; but Forge games aren't appealing to most people, ime. Which also is irrelevant from a hobby standpoint.]) that the Forge is gone now! :-)

    In all seriousness, this would mean reduced visibility for games, and all that entails.

    'I have long thought the indie RPG movement and the OSR are closer relatives then people admit. Both are drawn from passion in gaming and both prioritize actual play over product creation.':
    Absolutely. But Indy is a clumsy moniker, imo. It seems to mean small publisher, rather than 'non-traditional'(i. e. organically developed) games.

    I really need to check C&S out, I've long heard about it, but have no experience with it.

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  20. But Indy is a clumsy moniker, imo. It seems to mean small publisher, rather than 'non-traditional'(i. e. organically developed) games.

    Philosophically driven?
    Intentional Games?

    I'd love a better term because I think indie could easily describe the OSR, but unfortunately much as modern in terms of art and indie in terms of music have required specific meanings instead of the general meaning in the broader language we're kind of stuck.

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  21. Herb and Alexander: Plenty of "indie" games grew out of pure play, as hacks of other games or "solutions" to frustrations with them... just like C&S. I wouldn't dismiss them as being irrelevant to James' point.

    velaran: It's been discussed to death elsewhere, but the Forge is not gone. And the communities it has spawned and the games that have been created have had an impact on the hobby that can not be understated. Burning Wheel has won, what, two Origins awards?

    Anyway... I read the sentiment in James' final paragraph and immediately thought of all the great, passionate design that exists in the DIY/small-press space these days. There are tons of games that are not "designed solely for the purpose of being sold", and, frankly, I think they are some of the best games the hobby has yet produced.

    I look forward to seeing what all indies (OSR, Forge, whatever) have to produce in the coming years. The second Golden Age is now! :)

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  22. @Buzz:
    Forge Being Gone:
    It was a joke. RPGPundit has won, that's all that matters! :-) Ron Edwards seems to take his ball and go home every few years. It'd be nice if say, John Wick or Vince Baker, would do that for a change. More variety!

    'Burning Wheel has won, what, two Origins awards?'
    Plenty of games have won this award that non-hobbyists(and even gamers!) will never know about.(Or even want to play.) It's like the Oscars. But people care even less! :-)

    'I look forward to seeing what all indies (OSR, Forge, whatever) have to produce in the coming years. The second Golden Age is now! :)':
    Totally with you on that one.

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  23. James wrote: "As I understand it, the earliest version of C&S was, like so many early RPGs, a set of house rules for OD&D and the story goes that Simbalist and Backhaus initially thought of submitting their work to TSR for publication as a supplement to D&D. That didn't happen for a variety of reasons (I've heard at least two versions of the tale) and Chivalry & Sorcery as an independent game was born."

    Here http://www.space-opera.net/GB/interviews/ed.htm Ed Simbalist gives the "story" himself; "Wilf Backhaus and I went to GenCon in 1977 with our Chevalier RPG - admittedly a D&D clone in some respects but also containing all of the seeds that would soon spring forth as Chivalry & Sorcery, which I regard as a dramatic departure from the slash and hack approach to RPG that existed in those early days. Wilf and I were going to approach TSR to see if we could sell them Chevalier, but we had very bad vibes when we witnessed E. Gary Gygax chewing out some poor teen-aged convention volunteer who had managed to goof something up. So we just enjoyed the Con. Then we met Scott. He pointed out his Hyborean Age miniatures rules as something he'd written, and Wilf reached into his ubiquitous briefcase, remarking, "Well, we've written something, too." Scott was no dummy and saw the potential of Chevalier. He wrote out a letter of intent on the spot, and Chivalry & Sorcery was the result."

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