Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

A Swords & Wizardy Read-through

I picked over these rules last year, but never got around to posting this. In the mean time the guys at Rpg SnobDungeon Fantastic, and Gaming Ballistic all started playing, reading and discussing this thing. Also, Frog God Games upped the ante by making the full-featured PDF of these rules free free free! (Labyrinth Lord is available in no-art editions as far as the penny pinching crowd is concerned.) Anyway, here is a Moldvay fan’s take on these rules. (Not the “complete” or “white box” variants– this is on the standard Swords & Wizardry system.)

  • Only the Fighter gets the strength bonuses– even the one for opening doors. Also… just +2 to-hit on 17 and 18. Damage bonus start at 16+. Fighters also get to apply their Dex bonus to their melee to-hit rolls.
  • No spell for the cleric at first level unless the cleric has a Wisdom of 15+. (Not a bad compromise, but I’d rather see the first level party die at the strict Moldvay-approved rates.)
  • Only fighters can parry– which is to put a penalty on all attacks against them depending on high DX, but they have to give up all offensive ability to do it. [I’ve never seen a rule like this anywhere.]
  • The rules indicate that Magic Users can put scrolls into their spellbooks. (Moldvay is perhaps oversimplified in this area.) Unusual spells are exempt from the spell limits, but still require the change-to-know roll.
  • The rules for dual-classed humans are pretty much not explained. (The parry rules would have been as bad, but they included a clarifying example.)
  • Thieves! An optional class that correctly has d4 for hit dice. (You don’t want these guys choosing to fight as their first course of action.) First level thief will mostly just climb things and listen at doors.
  • The game is forcefully clear that adventuring demi-human rules cannot be used to dictate the implied setting of those races. The players are restricted by those rules, but not the setting.
  • Multi-classing… gack-urgh! Why…? And wow…  the hit dice rules for these when leveling up is downright freaky.
  • Single saving throw with a bonus depending on class and race. This is probably far more sensible than the Moldvay approach, but whatever.
  • I have no idea what the fuss about descending versus ascending armor class is in these games. I don’t want to know, either.
  • One page on encumbrance and movement rates– I guess it’s about as clear as I’ve seen it. The “Carry Modifier” is a nice touch.
  • The experience bonus system rewards players for having 13+ in Wisdom or Charisma. I kind of like that.
  • I prefer the non-bluebook method for the combat sequence of play. (I was a Moldvay Basic kid, after all.) I do like that spells have to be declared before initiative is rolled and also that they can be spoiled. (Like I’d ever use “readied spells.” Heh.)
  • Attack tables: there are no sequences of twenties to gum up the math.
  • Attacking from behind: I don’t think I’ve ever seen clear rules on this. Finally… a combat use of hide in shadows.
  • You are explicitly encouraged to avoid die rolls for negotiation and diplomacy. I agree. (In B/X, I only rolled on the reaction table if I wasn’t otherwise sure of what the monsters would do.)
  • I don’t see the Moldvay Fighting Retreat rule here.
  • I don’t know how I’ve gotten along so long without the spacing and second rank rules.
  • Terrain features are essential… but the referee will just make something up.
  • Two handed weapons and two weapon fighting: the rules make sense, except you’ve got to remember that two weapon fighting bonus only applies when you have initiative. (!!)
  • There’s a joke in there about tavern fights and chairs… but I actually searched for rules on chair combat.
  • Unconscious at zero, dead when negative hit points equals level.
  • The loss of Moldvay’s monster morale ratings is a deal breaker. I can’t live without those rules. I won’t! (Needless to say, I vehemently disagree with The Manor on this one.)
  • “Part of the game is to press beyond the rules, to explore the undiscovered country of the fantastic realms of imagination!” (page 44)
  • Nothing in the Sleep spell description indicates the shape or nature of the ray/effect/whatever.
  • The Charm Person spell is until dispelled— unless that is defined somewhere, I don’t see what’s preventing a Magic-User from obtaining a veritable army of flunkies.
  • “When you design wilderness areas, try to have some areas that are more dangerous and some that are less —and figure out a way to let the players know where these are.” — Usually the wilderness allows for just about anything to show up… and the players have to learn when to run and when to fight. But yeah, different encounter tables for different regions can lead to this I suppose.
  • The Challenge Level system: this is far more nuanced than the advice given in B/X.
  • Hmm… I think the “getting lost” rules here are superior to the ones in B/X.

9 responses to “A Swords & Wizardy Read-through

  1. JSpace April 9, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Challenge ratings (which effectively neuter random encounters) and the downplay or extraction of important rules like morale, etc., change the game way too much for me. I’ve always strived to be as impartial as possible and a lot those supposedly obsolete rules procedures really help with that. I am no writer or actor, so randomly generating information with dice and tables really comes in handy, both during and in preperation of the game. Why something so functional to actual play is often looked down on by many gamer designers has mystified me for years.

    • jeffro April 9, 2014 at 2:04 pm

      I agree. Random tables are essential to maintaining your impartiality as a GM. I end up incorporating them reflexively in almost every scenario I make up. Also: not every encounter should be “balanced” just so that the players can win with the last hit point and no significant losses.

      The Challenge Level system in Swords & Wizardry is only a slight variation on the random monster tables that are used to stock dungeons– each level is more difficult than the last. This one premise puts the players in charge of the game’s difficulty– they are welcome to push their luck as much as they dare, with greater chances of both death and great treasure the further down they go.

  2. PeterD April 9, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    I’m playing S&W, like it says on my blog sidebar, but it’s S&W Complete with Erik Tenkar’s take on the rules. So two-weapon fighting gives a +1 to hit, regardless of initiative, classes aren’t race-restricted, we use DCC’s Luck stat, and some other rules.

    But one quickie – Parrying? Giving up your attack to reduce the chance of being hit? AD&D Player’s Handbook, p. 104, right at the bottom. There, your Strength, not Dexterity, matters, but it’s there. The Companion rules had one that gave a flat -5 to AC if you parried (but I don’t have a page ref, sorry, the books aren’t nearby).

    • jeffro April 9, 2014 at 4:01 pm

      There is nothing new under the sun….

    • Radpert April 11, 2014 at 9:52 am

      The rule you cite first (second sentence) is pretty balanced–conferring a slight advantage for using a weapon one-handed with no shield–but nobody seems to have a rule that covers a parrying dagger. (Note that
      fighting with two weapons does not actually give two separate attacks; it
      just increases the likelihood of landing a successful blow.)–Swords & Wizardy Complete, p. 41 (upper right-hand corner)

    • April 14, 2014 at 6:13 pm

      It was in the original basic set as well a 2 point bonus for sacrificing your next attack.

  3. JSpace April 9, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    My brain was probably fixated on wilderness exploration, but I see what you mean. Before switching to Traveller recently, I ran an OD&D campaign for a while, where you have to roll to see which level of wandering monster table to use in the dungeons, with the current “depth” used as a sort of modifier for determination. Just about anything could come strolling along. It was fun, the party consisted entirely of over-the-hill fighting-men (veterans), who roamed the countryside looking for work. The caller’s PC was nicknamed Mr. T.

  4. Charlie Warren April 12, 2014 at 10:34 am

    I think that’s the most fair and objective look at the rules I have read. Usually, one tends to go for one side or the other but yours is basically “The good, the bad, and the ugly” and I thought it was a great read.

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