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Fidchell

By Gary Gygax

Introduction

Fidchell was invented by Gary Gygax, best known for his co-authorship of the original Dungeons and Dragons game and subsequent authorship of countless titles related to role-playing games. Gygax also invented the three-dimensional variant DragonChess, a Recognized Variant on these pages.

The game of Fidchell first appeared as an appendix to the Epic of AErth book for the roleplaying game Dangerous Journeys. AErth was designed as a parallel fantasy world to our own world, and Fidchell reflects that background. Gygax briefly traced the evolution from Chaturanga in his India-parallel lands, through Chatranj and Great Chess much as they existed here, to his British Isles equivalent. There elements of his Avillonian culture and a native game of fidchell were fused into Great Chess, and the result spread through his world. That game is here.

Do not confuse this game with the historic board game of fidchell (various spellings) from Ireland, about which exists more speculation than known fact. A game of that name existed, but what it was is largely conjectural. However, a modern cognate word is used to mean chess piece.

Setup

Fidchell is played on a 12x12 checkered board. Eight squares, four on each player's side of the board, are portals, marked with runes as follows:

  • Abyssal, e12, brings in Fiends.
  • Astral, e1, brings in Immortals.
  • Faerie Seelie, h1, brings in Unicorns.
  • Faerie Unseelie, h12, brings in Wyverns.
  • Subterranean (4 squares), f6, g6, f7, g7.

Each player has 36 pieces, generally starting on the first three ranks. (Four of the 36 pieces start off board, and enter through that player's portals as later outlined.)

    +---+---+---+---+ABY+---+---+UNS+---+---+---+---+
 12 | n |:t:| c |:j:| d |:k:| q |:b:| a |:c:| t |:n:|
    +---+---+---+---+ABY+---+---+UNS+---+---+---+---+
 11 |:::| l |:s:| e |:::| g |:g:|   |:e:| s |:l:|   |
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 10 | ? |:?:| ? |:?:| ? |:?:| ? |:?:| ? |:?:| ? |:?:|
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  9 |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  8 |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
    +---+---+---+---+---+S--U--B+---+---+---+---+---+
  7 |:::|   |:::|   |:::S   |:::S   |:::|   |:::|   |
    +---+---+---+---+---U---+---U---+---+---+---+---+
  6 |   |:::|   |:::|   B:::|   B:::|   |:::|   |:::|
    +---+---+---+---+---+S--U--B+---+---+---+---+---+
  5 |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  4 |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  3 |:?:| ? |:?:| ? |:?:| ? |:?:| ? |:?:| ? |:?:| ? |
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  2 |   |:L:| S |:E:|   |:G:| G |:::| E |:S:| L |:::|
    +---+---+---+---+AST+---+---+SEE+---+---+---+---+
  1 |:N:| T |:C:| J |:D:| K |:Q:| B |:A:| C |:T:| N |
    +---+---+---+---+AST+---+---+SEE+---+---+---+---+
      a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h   i   j   k   l

First rank: Noble, knighT, Chaplain, Jester, Druid, King, Queen, Bard, Astrologer, Chaplain, knighT, Noble.

Second rank: empty, Longbowman, Serjeant, Engine, empty, Guard, Guard, empty, Engine, Serjeant, Longbowman, empty.

Third rank: 6x Warrior, 4x Man-at-Arms, 2x Pike.

Off-board: For White, 2x Unicorn, 2x Immortal. For Black, 2x wYvern, 2x Fiend.

Before play begins, the players (White first) alternate setting up their third ranks, one piece at a time, placing their Warriors, Men-at-Arms, and Pikes in any desired order. White then makes the first move.

Pieces

The Warrior moves one space forward or sideways. It can command up to 3 squares. Its promoted form is the Guard, below.

The Pike moves one, two, or three squares straight forward only. It cannot vault over occupied squares. It can command up to 3 squares. Its promoted form is the Pike Guard, below.

The Man-at-Arms moves one space forward or sideways. It may also capture one square diagonally forward, but cannot move diagonally without capturing. It can command up to 5 squares. Each of the four Men-at-Arms has a different promoted form.

The Longbowman moves straight forward one square, or diagonally forward one or two squares. It vaults, ignoring intervening pieces. It can command up to 5 squares. Its promoted form is the Longbowman Guard, below.

The Queen moves one square in any direction except straight forward or back. It can command up to 6 squares.

The Engine moves two or three (not one) squares straight forward or diagonally forward, or one square straight back. It vaults, ignoring intervening pieces. It can command up to 7 squares.

The Guard moves sideways one, two or three squares, or one square forward or back. It cannot vault over occupied squares. It can command up to 8 squares. A Guard which is not itself a promoted Warrior promotes to Guard General, below.

The Serjeant moves like an orthodox chess knight, one square diagonally followed by one square outward horizontally or vertically. It vaults, ignoring intervening pieces. It can command up to 8 squares. Its promoted form is the Esquire, below.

The King moves one square in any of the eight directions. It can command up to 8 squares. Each player's original King may also make one Knight move at any time during the game, even when threatened.

The Pike Guard (promoted Pike) moves one, two, or three squares forward or sideways, or one square back. It cannot vault over occupied squares. It can command up to 10 squares.

The Guard General (promoted Guard) moves one, two, or three squares sideways, or one square forward or back, or one square diagonally. It cannot vault over occupied squares. It can command up to 12 squares.

The Longbowman Guard (promoted Longbowman) moves one, two, or three squares forward on a diagonal, or up to three squares sideways, or one square forward or back. It vaults, ignoring intervening pieces. It can command up to 14 squares.

The Jester combines two moves. It can move one square in any direction (like a King). It can also move like an orthodox chess knight, one square diagonally followed by one square outward horizontally or vertically (with a vault). It can command up to 16 squares. (In other games, this is sometimes called a centaur.)

The Knight (T) moves one square diagonally followed by one or two squares outward horizontally or vertically. It vaults, ignoring intervening pieces. It can command up to 16 squares. (In other games, this is sometimes called a wildebeest.)

The Esquire (promoted Serjeant) moves just like a Knight (above).

The Fiend moves three squares away (not more or less) from its starting square, in any directions--but not in a straight or diagonal line. It vaults, ignoring intervening pieces. It can command up to 16 squares. In addition, any enemy piece adjacent to the Fiend cannot move while the Fiend is adjacent.

The Chaplain moves like an orthodox chess bishop, sliding any unobstructed distance along a diagonal. It cannot vault over occupied squares. It can command up to 21 squares.

The Noble moves like an orthodox chess rook, sliding any unobstructed distance horizontally or vertically. It cannot vault over occupied squares. It can command up to 22 squares.

The Unicorn moves like the Noble (above) or the orthodox rook. However, the Unicorn may vault over one piece on its move. It can command up to 22 squares.

The Marshal (promoted Knight) moves one square diagonally followed by one or two squares outward horizontally or vertically, or two spaces diagonally followed by one space outward horizontally or vertically. It vaults, ignoring intervening pieces. It can command up to 24 squares.

The Astrologer moves like an orthodox chess bishop, sliding any unobstructed distance along a diagonal, or one square horizontally or vertically. It cannot vault over occupied squares. It can command up to 25 squares. (In other games, this is sometimes called a dragon-horse.)

The Wyvern moves two or more spaces horizontally or vertically, followed by one space outward diagonally. (It commands the squares on either side of the horizontal or vertical paths from its location, if at least 3 squares away.) It vaults, ignoring intervening pieces. It can command up to 28 squares.

The Druid combines two moves. It can move like an orthodox chess rook, sliding any unobstructed distance horizontally or vertically. It can also move like an orthodox chess knight, one square diagonally followed by one square outward horizontally or vertically (with a vault). It can command up to 30 squares. (In other games, this is sometimes called a chancellor.)

The Immortal combines two moves. It can move like an orthodox chess rook, sliding any unobstructed distance horizontally or vertically. It can also move like the Fidchell Knight, one square diagonally followed by one or two squares outward horizontally or vertically (with a vault). It can command up to 38 squares.

The Bard moves like an orthodox chess queen, sliding any unobstructed distance in any of the eight directions. It cannot vault over occupied squares. It can command up to 43 squares.

Rules

These are the other places where Fidchell differs from orthodox Western chess.

Winning the Game

The game is won by capturing the opponent's King, when that opponent no longer has another eligible piece left to become King (see Captured Kings, below).

A King may be left vulnerable to capture. A King that can be captured, must be captured, if the opponent calls attention to the capture. [NB: This is not explicit in the original publication, and was learned through correspondence between this author and the inventor.]

However, if a player's King is threatened with capture and its owner cannot make a move that will save the King (i.e. a traditional checkmate), that player loses immediately. The leader surrenders rather than relinquish the throne.

Captured Kings: When a player loses their King, the King is immediately returned to the board (if possible) in place of the first listed of the following successor pieces. If no successor is available, the game is lost.

  1. The AEtheling (promoted King's Man) is the first choice.
  2. Either Noble can be the second choice without an AEtheling.
  3. The Queen is the final choice with neither AEtheling nor Noble.

Captured Queen: If a Queen is captured, and the player already has a Royal Princess (promoted Queen's Man) on the board, the Queen replaces that Royal Princess. A Queen captured when there is no Royal Princess is gone.

Opening and Using the Portals

The eight portals described in the Setup may be used to bring in pieces from off the board. To open a portal, a player may give up a turn if the following conditions are met:
  1. The player must own a qualified piece next to the portal. (The type of piece which is qualified to open a specific portal is described below.)
  2. The portal square must be empty.
  3. If the portal is Astral or Faerie Unseelie, its counterpart (also described below) must already have been opened by the opponent.
  4. The player then places a piece appropriate to that portal on the empty space.

Abyssal: The Abyssal portal may only be opened by Black using a Druid or King. Black may place a Fiend in the opened Abyssal portal.

Astral: The Astral portal may only be opened by White, using a Druid or King, after the Abyssal portal is already open. White may place an Immortal in the opened Astral portal.

Faerie Seelie: The Faerie Seelie portal may only be opened by White, using a Bard or Queen. White may place a Unicorn in the opened Faerie Seelie portal.

Faerie Unseelie: The Faerie Unseelie portal may only be opened by Black, using a Bard or Queen, after the Faerie Seelie portal is already open. Black may place a Wyvern in the opened Faerie Unseelie portal.

  • Once each of these first four portals is opened, its owner may give up any future turn when that portal is empty to place the second, matching piece on the empty space. Each of these portals may be used twice, and only by one player.

Subterranean: The four Subterranean portals may only be used once each. The two nearest White may only be used by White; the two nearest Black may only be used by Black. Astrologers, Chaplains, Jesters, Knights, and Nobles may open Subterranean portals. The piece that is placed in the newly-opened portal must be one which has previously been lost by that player. It may be any one of Astrologer, Chaplain, Engine, Guard, Jester, Knight, Longbowman, Man-at-Arms, Noble, Pike, Serjeant, or Warrior. In this manner, each player may make two resurrections of lesser pieces per game (one for each of their Subterranean portals).

Promotions

Seven types of piece immediately promote upon reaching the 12th rank (enemy's back row). With the usual sort of Fidchell pieces, the piece simply flips over to reveal a new symbol and associated abilities.

  • A Warrior promotes to Guard (G+).
  • A Pike promotes to Pike Guard (PG).
  • A Longbowman promotes to Longbowman Guard (LG).
  • A Guard promotes to Guard General (GG).
  • A Serjeant promotes to Esquire (T+).
  • A Knight promotes to Marshal (R).
  • These move-types are described in Pieces, above.

The promotion of Men-at-Arms is special. Each Man-at-Arms is identified with a different rune or symbol outlining which promotion it will make.

  • The King's Man (Mk) promotes to AEtheling (AE). An AEtheling moves and opens portals like a King, and is first in line of succession should that player's King be captured.
  • The Queen's Man (Mq) promotes to Royal Princess (RP). A Royal Princess moves and opens portals like a Queen, and may become Queen if the player's Queen is later captured.
  • The Druid's Man (Md) promotes to Seer (D+) which moves and opens portals like a Druid.
  • The Bard's Man (Mb) promotes to Spellsinger (B+) which moves and opens portals like a Bard.

Features Unknown in Fidchell

There is no equivalent of castling, stalemate, or en passant capture.

Computer Play

A Zillions of Games version of Fidchell is under development.

Equipment

Gygax described the most typical set as made from simple blocks of wood marked on the top, with the promotable pieces bearing the symbol for their promoted forms on the underside. Recommended sizes for each set were:

  • 1" square pieces
    • 6 Warriors (3/4" high)
    • 4 Men-at-Arms (1" high; remember to distinguish the four types!)
    • 2 Pikes (1 1/4" high)
  • 1 1/4" square pieces
    • 2 Longbowmen, 2 Serjeants, 2 Engines, 2 Guards (all 1 1/2" high)
  • 1 1/2" square pieces
    • 2 Knights, 2 Chaplains (1 3/4" high)
    • 1 Astrologer, 1 Jester (2" high)
    • 2 Nobles (2 1/4" high)
  • 1 3/4" square pieces
    • 1 Druid, 1 Bard, 1 Queen (2 1/2" high)
    • 2 Unicorns [White] or Wyverns [Black] (2 3/4" high)
  • 2" square pieces
    • 2 Immortals [White] or Fiends [Black] (3" high)
    • 1 King (3 1/2" high)


Written by Glenn Overby II.
WWW page created: November 8, 2002.