Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Swords and Wizardy core review

Sword and Wizardry is an interesting beast. The first question to ask is which version to review. For now I’ll be sticking to the free ones, although I may use the discount code to pick up the complete version later. I have copies of the second, third and fourth printing (just like early edition players handbooks, which kept tweaking the rules and not warning anyone, we’d pull out our handbooks to resolve some dispute and discover different peoples handbooks said different things). I also have  a draft of the white box edition. For the most part I’ll stick to the fourth edition.

The stats are the standard six rolled on 3d6 in order. Most stat bonuses appear to be either -1 if you are below average or +1 if you are above (the fourth printing seems to relent a bit and allow extra modifiers for high strength to a maximum of +2 to hit +3 damage). Character classes are the basic three cleric, fighter, and magic user. Thief is included as an option in the fourth printing. Advancement charts are very old school (exponential scale to name rank then linear, with different rates of advancement for different classes). Fighters and fighters only get the option to parry using their dex score (like most old school parry rules this is a trap, try to parry your way out of a fight and your dead). The fourth printing mentions dual classing for humans but gives little guidance. In terms of races other than human: Dwarfs are always fighters or fighter/thieves and capped at 6th level unless they are strong;  Halfings are either fighters or thieves but a maximum of 4th level fighter; Elves may be Fighter/Magic-Users, Thieves, or Fighter/Magic-User/Thieves but are limited to 4th level fighters and 8th level magic users. Alignment is Law, Chaos or Neutral, but not much emphasized. The equipment list is well the equipment list. Armor class has both the “old school” descending armor class, as well as an alternate ascending armor class. Movement includes a weight based encumbrance table, reduced movement for combat and extra movement for running. There is a very short how to play section. Saving throws are based on class and level (weirdness note:  although there is a text description of the saving throw process, the chart in the saving throw section is for an alternate system). The combat round is very “old school” with group initiatives and pre-declared spells ( an alternate system uses a dex based system for initiative). Surprise has been made extra nasty by giving  a 1 in 4 chance to drop something in your hand if you are surprised. Separate to hit table are provide for each class (well thieves and magic users have to share) as well as monsters. The specific situation rules add some tweaks for different situations, well as a two weapon fighting option.  Turning undead is done on a 2d6 table. Death is not instantaneous at zero hit points even though you fall unconscious, you have to hit minus your level in hits points before you are dead. Morale is handled by the DM will determine…. Rules are included for building a stronghold and hiring henchmen. Spells are the basic old school ones although I did not check for completeness in my little brown books. It has a pretty good monster list, although the demon list seems to be augmented with ones that did not show up until the Eldritch Wizardry expansion. Treasure generation seems to be new system with trade out options for every 100 gp to add gems and magic items. Magic items are the same old, same old. Book finishes with a one page campaign setting and a map.

The book is well written and rules straight forward. I enjoyed the pen and ink line art throughout the book. The fourth printing is well formatted and colorful. I would have organized things a little different, perhaps sticking the example of play with the campaign setting in the back. Overall  Swords and Wizardry core remains true to its desire to re-create the little brown book rules, although one can sense the strain in the little flips and twists the author sneaks in. The core rules set will definitely give you the old school experience. As is traditional “old school” many things such as climbing, jumping, handling boats, etc. is left to the GMs discretion. Me, I was done with the “old school” long ago, having started playing just about the time the Greyhawk supplement came, and never looked back. I never liked the level caps on races (Swords and Wizardry second printings allowing higher level dwarves and elves, but on a slower experience scale, was better). One also finds the basic three character classes quite restricting after a while. I will be using my discount code to pick up the “Swords and Wizardry Complete” edition, as is seems to offer a bit better range of character diversity.  Its also got that cool Erol Otus cover as well. You can too either at

Frog God Games website (use the code SWApprDay ).


SRD store webstore (use SWAD252013)

I am going with the Frog Gods link myself, as they make lots of other cool stuff and I want to support them. However SRD is also cool (an online version of Swords and Wizard can be found at

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