Chivalry and Sorcery (C&S) is an older game system first published in 1977 (Red Book) by Fantasy Games Unlimited. A second edition appeared as a 3 volume box set in 1983. It changed the focus slightly by removing the tabletop wargame rules for medieval battles using miniature figures which had been part of the "complete system" of the red Book. In 1997 a third edition of C&S was released with most of the references to the historical middle ages removed. This edition focused on fantasy tropes mostly drawn from the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. The fourth edition (The Rebirth) reinserted some of the medieval material from previous editions.
In C&S magick (always spelled with a "k") is present, but relies heavily on concepts drawn from historical sources - think Tarot cards, the Kabbalah, alchemy, astrology and witchcraft. The fantasy elements borrow heavily from J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth, and although hobbits, elves and dwarves are mentioned as possible player characters, they can seem downplayed in favor of a more realistic, historical approach to the game setting. I get the impression the authors may have had more interest in history than fantasy literature, which can explain the differences in emphasis between C&S and the Original Fantasy Role-Playing Game. In many ways the C&S first edition is a study in feudal European history in the form of a role-playing adventure game with some fantastical elements added, perhaps in order to market a "complete RPG system". Being a history buff and avid role-player (who also enjoys fantasy stories), C&S appeals to me in all its editions.
In keeping with a realistic approach to the middle ages, feudalism with its rigid social hierarchy and limited upward mobility is a central theme in the game and affects play in several ways. Players may take the role of a serf or peasant (rolling randomly can produce such), but this severely limits the PC's freedom and access to wealth. It is suggested by the authors that the GameMaster (a term possibly coined by them) start all characters as members of the knightly class who therefore have access to better weapon training as well as more personal freedom and the ability to form relationships with the more powerful nobility while rising in social rank. Traditional warrior knight, church clergy or adept dabbling in magick are all careers which the character may pursue and which cast PCs as members of the feudal society.
The authors of C&S point out the limitations of the dungeon as a basis of play and encourage the game master to develop a world based on an historic model (they suggest a version of medieval France which they themselves use). Tournament, chivalry, courtly romance, fealty and the medieval Christian church provide PCs with reasons to adventure and can play a bigger part in the game than the traditional fantasy conflict of good verses evil (Law vs. Chaos), although that is certainly a part of the game as well. The Red Book uses an alignment system based on law and chaos scores along a numerical continuum (1-20) with the low end being lawful behavior respecting religion and social institutions.
The authors describe "places of mystery" where monsters and treasure may be found in the fantasy campaign. These are described as ruins, enchanted forests, faerie mounds and the like (fantasy "dungeons" are denigrated as impracticable fabrications). The "fantasy campaign" is presented as one way to play C&S, but not the only way. Suggested monsters, like magick, rely heavily on historic sources and the work of Professor Tolkien (with a nod to R.E. Howard and Fritz Leiber). This gives C&S a feel quite different from White Box. (Apparently, the game presented in White Box has more widespread appeal as evidenced by its success.) C&S is a niche product, but one with a devoted following as evidenced by the number of revised editions that have been published and its influence on later settings and games such as Harn/Harnmaster (and possibly RuneQuest which promotes a similar "immersion" within the game setting).
So what do I think of Chivalry & Sorcery? Although I have only played the game twice (2nd edition in the mid 1980s), I continue to collect the old volumes and they are frequently reread. I enjoy the idea of C&S (and role-playing in a realistic feudal milieu) immensely. The problem is that the system demands a devotion to history and a medieval mindset that is extremely alien to most Americans. In many ways C&S is a simulation study within a game. The King Arthur Pendragon and HarnMaster rules are similar in that the referee and players have to be willing to confine their play to be consistent and believable with regard to a perception of what the medieval European society was like (maybe with some Tolkienesque fantasy tropes thrown in).
As a student of the middle ages, I love the idea of gaming in this period. (The most success I have had with something similar is running Call of Cthulhu set during the crusades.) I don't mind solo gaming, but to get the most from a game like C&S it needs to be a group experience. (This isn't a dungeon delve, which can be done solo.) My favorite C&S edition is Red Book - 1st edition. It seems the original authors are more straightforward in what they are wanting the game to be and although the print is quite small, the material in the Red Book seems more complete with the miniatures game included. I can also hear the author's voice more clearly in the 1st edition text giving me a more personal connection which I enjoy. I never met either Mr. Simbalist or Mr. Backhaus, but I do appreciate their take on gaming and their contribution to the hobby.