From the Parallel Worlds Magazine archive.
Stephen A. Turner is the driving force behind the historically-inspired Chivalry & Sorcery roleplaying game. His company, Britannia Games Design, acquired the game in 1999 and launched the 4th edition in 2000. The 5th edition was launched through Kickstarter and came to fruition in February 2020.
Hi Stephen, thanks for taking the time to speak to Parallel Worlds. For those who don’t know, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Outside of gaming I run my own book-keeping company and have done for over 10 years. Prior to that I was a career Credit Manager (a business-to-business debt collector) primarily in the export sector in the steel and chemical industries and still do that for clients. I started wargaming in 1974 and roleplaying in 1979. Cut my teeth on writing with tournament scenarios for the Role Playing Game Association (RPGA), both at Euro Gencon and local conventions. I ended up as a RPGA Regional Director and TSR Demonstrator, quitting when I started Brittannia Game Designs Ltd (BGD). I am also one of the organisers of the Dudley Bug Ball convention.
Chivalry & Sorcery (C&S) has a long history, the 1st edition being published by Fantasy Games Unlimited in 1977. What was it that first attracted you to the game?
I first came across C&S with the 2nd edition in 1982. After years of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) 1st ed we were recommended the 2nd ed of C&S when it first came out. My mates and I ended up playing it exclusively and from that first year sprang the first jottings that would become the Dragon Reaches of Marakush. The style of play and detail influenced the sort of game we would play: Space Opera, Rolemaster, Space Master and Harnmaster.
Britannia Games Design acquired Chivalry & Sorcery from Highlander Design in 1999. Why take such a leap of faith?
Highlander Designs had acquired the IP in the mid 1990s and through fledgling chat rooms started asking for writers. I approached them with the idea to release adventures set in my campaign world of Marakush. The first proposal was for a campaign setting book. We achieved a licence and BGD was formed. Dragon Reaches became our first product in 1997/1998. When Highlander released Creatures Bestiary we became aware they were in financial trouble. Facing the choice of losing the licence just as we were looking at our third product we decided to make a grab for the IP and were successful. We now had the game itself and were in control of our own destiny.
Chivalry & Sorcery uses its own game system, called Skillskape. Fundamentally it seems to be a percentile based resolution system — is that an accurate description?
One of the problems C&S has historically faced is an accusation of complexity making it difficult to play. Fans of the game know this isn’t necessarily true, however 3rd edition introduced Skillskape to make the game more playable. Although now more playable it stripped out the historical flavour (which we have returned first in 4th and now in loads more detail in 5th). Skillskape uses 1D100 against a Total Skill chance rolling equal to or under to succeed. There is a third D10 rolled which measures the magnitude of the skill attempt, 1 being minor and 10 a critical. This is the game mechanic. It does allow the GM the ability to customise situations so that any specific skill encounter can have 20 outcomes.
Basing the main game in medieval history, we have more source material than any licenced game.Stephen A. Turner
What are the advantages of using its own dedicated system over licencing D&D5e or Pathfinder?
There are so many advantages, the main ones being no licence fee, no reliance on approval of material, full editorial control on what we produce when and how we produce it. Of course we don’t have the reach of the fanbase of both the big boys, but for the old-school gamers there is that nostalgia that C&S was one of the second generation RPGs, predating AD&D.
BGD delivered on the Kickstarter for Chivalry & Sorcery 5th edition. Is this the first time you have used Kickstarter to launch a product?
This was the first Kickstarter I have run but used my experience of the multitudes of Kickstarters I have backed. The lessons learnt were to aim to deliver on time and list achievable stretch goals and communication. Our target date for the delivery of the core rule book was February 2020; we shipped in January 2020 (the PDF was supplied in time for Christmas 2019). As at 31st December 2020 we have supplied both social stretch goals (a Victorian steampunk RPG and adventure) and the five stretch goals that were unlocked (two adventures, two species guides for players and a concept album). The key was communication, we have probably released more updates in the time period than any other Kickstarter — sometimes once a day during the campaign. Also a group that could assist in promoting on social media and answering backers questions promptly and openly.
The setting for Chivalry & Sorcery is grounded in realism. Although it provides rules for magic and magic use is it fundamentally a medieval inspired simulation?
Yes and no. Chivalry & Sorcery is indeed grounded in realism and will work just as well by ignoring the magick and religion rules and fantasy sections. This would indeed be simulationist. However it is much much more than that. Having a solid historical background provides a framework within which to hang your own campaign. Marakush is an example of that: by using the framework C&S offers there are solid foundations behind the fantasy campaign. It goes back to the old discussion as to what is the ecology behind a dungeon. Without a social structure behind the scenes a campaign can fall apart. All the greatest [science fiction] and fantasy books have a social structure behind them: Dune, The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones etc.
Be prepared for brutal critics — grow a thick skin.Stephen A. Turner
BGD is getting ready to launch another Kickstarter, this time for Land of the Rising Sun. Can you give us a summary of that?
Land of the Rising Sun (LotRS) was originally a standalone game in 1980 using the game mechanics from C&S 1st edition. With this 2nd edition, it has made more sense to make it a full-blown expansion of 5th edition. To make it standalone would have made it more than 600 pages (the size of the core rules). The rule book gives character vocations suitable for medieval Japan but expands on those, allowing for example players to play such characters as spirits which inhabit temple bells and swords, amongst other objects.
What are the fundamental differences between European feudalism and Japanese feudalism? How does Land of the Rising Sun differ from Chivalry & Sorcery?
The main differences between European and Japanese feudalism was that [in Europe] knights gained land as a reward for military service and had direct control of the serfs who worked that land. In Japan samurai did not own any land; their lord paid them a salary taken from the taxes raised from the peasants. Gender was another difference in that samurai women were expected to be strong like the men and face death without flinching. European women were considered fragile flowers who had to be protected by chivalrous knights. Samurai were expected to be cultured and artistic, able to compose poetry or write in beautiful calligraphy — unlike knights who were often the opposite. Religion-wise most Japanese believed in both Shintoism and Buddhism, one or the other, to a greater extent — as opposed to Europeans who tended to follow a single faith.
Are there specific new systems added to Land of the Rising Sun?
LotRS adds new character species to play, new methods of magick, the Shinto and Buddhism religions, and new skills appropriate for Japan, such as Atemi. This is an expansion and if the GM allows it you could have a samurai making his way along the silk road to Europe, or a bunch of knights the other way.
What are your plans for the future of Chivalry & Sorcery?
Historically C&S had a supplement called Swords and Sorcerers, this covered rules for players to play Vikings, Celts and Mongols. The decision was made to redo this supplement but expand it into three separate books. We are also working on expansions for Artificers (Weaponsmith Mages and others) and Alchemists. An early Feudal sourcebook is in development, along with many other products. The future plans include further development of the fantasy setting Marakush alongside more historical supplements and adventures. Basing the main game in medieval history, we have more source material than any licenced game and we are also looking at periods outside the medieval period.
Do you play games by other designers?
As someone who has been roleplaying for 40+ years I have an extensive collection. My favourite games from other designers are Harnmaster (both types — fans will understand), Call of Cthulhu, Leagues of Gentleman, The One Ring, SLA Industries and Traveller. Others on my living room shelves are Black Void, Shadows of Esteren, and Nibiru.
The lessons learnt was to aim to deliver on time and list achievable stretch goals and communication.Stephen A. Turner
Do you have any advice for novice writers or designers who dream of getting their game published?
The first advice I would give is to give what you think is complete to others to run. If you have an adventure, run it at a [convention] and have others run it as well. Be prepared for brutal critics — grow a thick skin. The combat system for C&S 4th ed (which got minor tweaks from twenty years of play) was rewritten over twenty times following playtesting comments. Once you are happy with your product, look to get it in a format that can be released as PDF/POD.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m currently reading England without Richard 1189 to 1199 by [John T.] Appleby. I also have his take on the anarchy of Stephen and Matilda as the go-to reference for my weekly zoom game. I’m also a big Arthurian fan, so regularly dip into the mountain of reference books I have when looking to add more to my research (not having Latin is a big handicap). The design team will also look at historical pipe rolls for ideas — one Patreon article was based on the Coroner introduced in the 1194 pipe rolls of King Richard.
Do you play video games?
I do enjoy video games when time permits, in particular Civilisation, but at the moment I’m getting to grips with Stellaris. I do need to get back to World of Tanks as I have almost completed my Tiger 1.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us! We wish you all the best with the launch of Land of the Rising Sun on Kickstarter.