A brief history of Codex Martialis

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    Hans Hellinger

    Codex Martialis was originally designed as a set of house rules back in 2001- 2002, around the time when version 3 of DnD and the original D20 license had just come out and were generating some new interest in the game. Codex, which I continued to improve over the next several years, was in part derived from an active collaboration with some of the people mentioned in the credits: gamer friends from New Orleans and historical fencing people I knew from Schola Gladiatoria forum.

    Having been away from gaming for pretty much all of the 90’s, at that time I had never tried DnD version 2 and was not yet aware that there were significant differences between the versions. So when Codex was initially developed, it was essentially version agnostic but more or less based on AD&D. I was still of the (already receding) mentality that DnD was something you made your own.

    In the ‘oughts I began to do some writing for the RPG industry. My first effort was completing The Primer of Practical Magic for Pelgrane Press in 2004. This was in part, a D20 adaptation of their splendid Dying Earth RPG. I was also later a contributor to Pelgrane’s gaming magazine The Excellent Primsatic Spray and to their bestiary sourcebook Tooth Talon and Pinion

    Also in 2004, I wrote the weapons section of The Flower of Battle, the second sourcebook for The Riddle of Steel game by my friend and fellow historical fencer Jake Norwood, and I was also a contributor to the Riddle of Steel Companion (released 2005). For the record, I liked Riddle of Steel but I had taken a different approach for Codex and wanted to offer the world a different interpretation of adapting historical fencing to RPGs. This is a subject I’ll revisit at a later date.

    Writing for other people’s game companies got me thinking about the commercial viability of some of my own games. Though I had limited time available, the existence of the D20 license provided the tempting option of just releasing a partial system – such as combat rules, without having to flesh out an entire soup to nuts RPG (something I would have loved to do but didn’t have time for). After a bit more than a years forced hiatus from writing caused by Hurricane Katrina, in 2007 I began to take a serious look at publishing Codex Martialis.

    This is when I began to learn about the details of the D20 license, all of the significant differences between 1E and 3.X, and especially the intense commitment of the fan-base in those days to sticking very close to the canonical rules of the current version – the only version which qualified for the OGL / D20 licenses.

    So when Codex Martialis was first published in 2008, it was fairly closely wedded to the 3.X rules which were out at the time. The new version just being released (4E) did not have the OGL license option, so the Core Rules revision, and the next couple of books I came out with (Weapons of the Ancient World I (2009) and Melee Weapons and Armor (book II ) (2010) were also oriented to 3.X, because that is what the license allowed and because gamers at that time insisted on fairly strict adherence.

    Between 2010 and 2020, I took a step back from gaming as most of my free time was taken up with fencing in the tournament circuit, teaching my fencing class, and taking a deep plunge into medieval history, starting with the Codex Guide to the Medieval Baltic and continuing with a series of Academic articles, blog posts and papers and lectures at HEMA events and Universities in the US and Europe.

    In 2020 I learned (rather belatedly) that the new version of DnD (5E) had restored the OGL license. I also hear that 5E was popular, a bit simpler than 3.X and 4E, and had a rules mechanic (Advantage) which was similar to the Martial Pool in Codex. So I began to take another look at writing some new content for Codex Martialis. In Sept 2020 we launched the Codex Integrum website and released an updated version of the Codex Core Rules, and a Quick Start Rules which is available for free. In Oct 2020 we released the Codex Superno, a gamers guide to the magic of the Medieval Renaissance. Then last month (Jan 2021) we released our first Codex Adventum historical adventure, The Road to Monsterberg, which is available on DriveThruRpg and currently in active playtesting.

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