I missed the boat at Gencon '09; I didn't pick this game up there. I saw Jeremy Keller running demos at the IPR booth and it wasn't on my radar so I didn't take a chance and try it. I had Pendragon, why do I need another chivalry game? Shame on me. A week after the jaunt to Gencon, I received a call from a friend of mine at my FLGS in which he demanded that I buy this game. He had one copy left at the store, so I rushed down and picked it up. Yes, I already spent a billion dollars at Gencon and yes, I still hadn't finished my stack of reading acquired at Gencon; I still bought the game. I started reading when I made it home.
CF is 128 pages, has both a Table of Contents and an index. There are five chapters and three appendices. It uses artwork similar to a 12th century artist and side scroll on each page by Miguel Santos. It is standard digest size, a great size for bedroom reading, which can't be said for the full size RPG books out there. There is a good amount of white space which enhances the ease of reading.
The first section, which isn't a chapter per se, is Foreword of the Translator. This sets up the idea that this game was originally written by a 12th century monk. It reminds me of Penny for My Thoughts and Dictionary of Mu, both of which are written as an artifact in the game. This isn't an artifact in the game, but it still gives off that feeling. Some people will like it, some won't. I personally enjoy it as it is a nice change of pace from the normal instruction manual that happens with typical RPGs. To keep with that feel, there is a little bit of Latin throughout; not where you will miss anything if you don't understand it.
Imagine is the title of the first chapter. It gives the basic overview of the game, very traditional in that it has a section of what a RPG is, what dice you will need and some basic terms in the game. Informing the reader how to read the dice, it uses a step dice system similar to Savage Worlds. It adds aspects from Spirit of the Century(SotC) and some character creation steps from Burning Wheel. Three games that I have enjoyed as a GM and a player, so I was psyched by the mash up. I wanted to see how he did it.
The second chapter is titled Create. It is all about character creation for both players and GMs along with the list of the skills that are in the game. Player character creation revolves around a life-path system, called Mentors. Each player selects three mentors from their lives. Each mentor has a list of three skills that they teach and equipment that they give to the character. A character starts all skills in the game at a d4, as they select mentors the skills go up a die type, so d4 becomes d6 and d6 becomes a d8, etc. Each tool a character gets is assigned a die as well. When you use a skill, you can use a tool related to it as well or you can use a tool unrelated as long as you come up with reasonable narrative and spend Ardor, the games version of Fate points from SotC. It finishes up with Aspects. These are very similar to SotC's save that they have a die type assigned to it, a d8 to start. I am going to assume the reader has some passing familiarity with aspects, if not, check out the SotC SRD here.
The next two chapters are Play and Conflict. These are the mechanic chapters. I am just going to highlight some of the big things that caught my attention as there is a lot to cover and I think Keller does it a lot better than I could. When making a roll, the maximum number of dice a character can roll is based on it's Vigor which starts at 3. Vigor is not hit points per se, it defines how involved a character can be in influencing the narrative. I thought this was a great approach to abstract the damage and if the roll is strong enough, a permanent injury can occur, made possible by use of an aspect. Each rolled die over the target number is a success, so it is possible to take someone out with one roll of the die. It is pretty rare, but I would bet it would be very dramatic if it happens. Jeremy really wants to enforce maneuvers, the act of putting temporary aspects on either the scene or another character. He has significant portion of the Play chapter on aspects and how they work. The other thing I want to touch on is the advancement system, which I found really intriguing. A character selects a skill which is targeted for advancement, marking it as either self practice or some other character is helping with its advancement. At the end of any scene which the skill is used, the character can make an opposed roll against the skill using either the die value of the skill in the case of self practice or using the other character's skill die if someone was helping.
Explore is the final chapter. It details the various time settings the game could place in and how to GM them. I have just finished reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett so the time period of The Anarchy was familiar to me as Pillars takes place during that time. One of the major things that separates this from Pendragon is the lack of magic; I find this a good thing. Granted, Pendragon is about modeling Arthurian myth, so magic is a part of it; but if people want to play knights that represent the society back in medieval times, most turn to that game.
I was lucky to get into a demo that Keller ran at my FLGS. I was running an hour late, I have a 2 year old, 'nuff said. He handed me a pre-gen character and I jumped right in. I played a landless knight out on a hunt when my lord was murdered. I had some simple straight forward rolls to demonstrate the basics. Later on there was both a social combat called a Parley in the system and a formal duel to first blood. Both extended system worked very well and went the party's way. Now, it wasn't easy and it looked at times we would lose the conflict. Here is the actual play written up by the author.
Overall, I both enjoyed the read and play of this game. It is relatively simple matter to make a character that has depth with the Mentor system With the added benefit in that it doesn't run into the problem some people have with Spirit of the Century by limiting the number of aspects a starting character has to 3 instead of 10. Some people don't care for the step die mechanic, but I don't mind it and it works well in this system. If you are in the market for a game set in Medieval Europe, I would check it out. Also note, that I emailed Keller that I bought it at my FLGS and he gave me the PDF for free. It is available at IPR.