Wednesday 17 April, 2013

Swords & Wizardry: Stepping Back to Move Forward


When Tenkard’s Tavern put out the call for bloggers to talk about Swords & Wizardry I pretty much dismissed it at first.  I have a love for all things OSR and I felt there was no need to sing the praises of one game over another.  It did however, get me to look over my shelves and find the re-purposed Babylon 5 screen I had made along with the other supplemental material I owned.  I think what I am trying to say is that of the 100’s of books on my shelves, this game inspired me enough to create my own tools for it.  Mind you I know have an official screen, as well as the new hardback edition of the book from the Kickstarter, but it is always the simple things that bring joy.

The game I ran last year was very short (honestly I think it only went 5 or 6 sessions), but despite the campaign length S&W brought me back to my roots.  When I first started playing D&D there was nothing more than my box set and my imagination.  I took page after page of graph paper and created maps of musty old dungeons, haunted keeps, and sketched out a world that was my own.  Of course AD&D came, then an abundance of modules, campaign settings, and other cool stuff, but it was my  basic books that really put my imagination to the test.  As the role playing games evolved this “exercise in imagination” became less and less. With more responsibilities on me (got older, joined the work force, etc.), it was easier to buy  splat-books and game aids rather than creating my own stuff.  By the time D&D 3.X came out I became reliant on rules instead of making rulings of my own.

So lets move ahead 10 years, I had downloaded the free version of S&W from LULU and began to read it cover to cover.  As I went though the PDF I felt like something was missing, I would stop mid sentence, flip around the pages, and still feel like I was missing vital information.  I put my laptop away and decided to chew on what I had just read for awhile… finally I realized it was not that I was missing anything, I had just misplaced my imagination.  I stopped being a judge and let rules dictate my actions when refereeing a game.  It was almost like a light went off over my head!  The next day I re-read the rules, bought a copy of Complete and never looked back.

In short form it was games such as Swords & Wizardry that helped me find the 16 year old gamer again.  The teenage boy who sat at his dinner table with a 5 subject note book and his box of pencils and pens, spending hours crafting dungeons, creating monsters, and making house rules to cover the challenges that came up during the previous session.  Perhaps this is my idea of fun as a game master, perhaps this is what I lost between the ages of 28-38.  I am not saying that reading this game is going to stir up some sort of magic spell that will bring you to this place, but I would like to hope that it will take you on a journey… one that will have you try other older games, sit down at a convention with a GM who is running Star Frontiers, Basic D&D, or FASA Star Trek.  Even if you are not up to trying the older games, pick up Dungeon Crawl Classic or Castles & Crusades, these games will give you the OSR warm fuzzies and perhaps help you think outside the Pathfinder box… if you are not doing so already.

So I would like to leave you with three things…

First a quick and dirty Grappling system I used for my last S&W campaign:

Grappling and Overbearing in Swords & Wizardry

Attacker and Defender roll 1D6 for each Hit Die/Level and add the following modifiers:

  • For each +1 bonus to STR (or DEX if Grappling) the attacker gains an extra D6
  • For each +1 bonus to DEX (or STR if Overbearing) the defender gains an extra D6

Each 5-6 rolled counts as a success.  The character with the most successes wins.

  • All 6s count as a critical success
  • All 1s count as a critical failure

Optional/Situational Rules

Fighters may succeed on a 4-6 due to their combat prowess

Thieves may succeed on a 4-6 (defense only) due to their ability to escape sticky situations

Second a code to get S&W items at 25% off.  Use the code SWApprDay and click on the image below to claim your cool discount for today only.


Third one luck poster will get a $10.00 DriveThru RPG gift card from me, well just because…



  • Love S&W Complete. Just love it.

    Your Grappling/Overbearing rules look interesting. How do you handle grappling a monster? HD are easy, but how do you figure out how many bonus dice a “strong” (ogre, giant, etc.) or “agile” (goblin, leopard) monster should get?

    I have a very small number of design quibbles with “classic” (AD&D 1E and earlier) D&D and its simulacra, and the lack of attribute scores for monsters is one of them.

  • John Reyst says:

    Hey! I just wanted to make sure your readers are aware that the store is offering the entire Swords & Wizardry catalog (including 2 adventures from Bill Barsh of Pacesetter Games) at 25% off.

    See it all here:

    Be sure to enter coupon code SWAD252013 when ordering and HAPPY S&W Appreciation Day!

  • James says:

    For bigger creatures and faster creatures I just up the die type. For Bugbears, Ogres, and their ilk I could use a D8, for giants a d10, for a dragon a d12. For something fast I use the rule for thieves (defense only), but again up the die type. A Jaguar would have a d8 to d10 easy. Monster attributes are something I always do on the fly. Creating an attribute chart with a min and max score and then placing the monster sub types within rages will give you a great cheat sheet to use. Old school is very DIY and that is why I love it.

  • James says:

    Sorry about that. I originally had yours up and they thought that the one sent by Bill’s group was the correct one. It was not until this morning that I realized there was two.

  • Rob says:

    Great read on your experience with S&W. I’m going through much of the same right now. Making variant rules, creating maps, etc etc.

    Fun stuff!

  • Austin says:

    Some nice stuff there! I especially loved this line:

    > I finally I realized it was not that I was missing anything, I had just misplaced my imagination. I stopped being a judge and let rules dictate my actions when refereeing a game. It was almost like a light went off over my head!

    You hit the nail on the head. Nothing wrong with _enough_ rules to make it all fun and fair, but let’s avoid drowning in them!

  • James says:

    I like this dice pool approach – simple yet quite versatile! Grappling was always the worst part about 3.5 and even Pathfinder. Great job!

  • Yeah, you hear a lot about grappling rules being the most complicated for a given system, but these are the farthest thing from complex – definitely useable.

  • Henry W says:

    Could end up being a lot of dice even at mid-levels, but they’re d6’s so readily available and what’s a game without chucking a good handful of bones.

    I like the fighter and thief each getting an appropriate bonus for different reasons.

    The opposed rolls reminds me of Risk in a way, but all in one throw so its more convenient.

  • James says:

    The system is definitely a on the fly system. I do find the idea of throwing massive amounts of dice around, but then again I did play Champions back in the day. The French site had some good ideas on a similar system of doing this. I will have to go back and look at some of the ideas. I see that the blogger shares the same idea of ramping up the die type depending on circumstance. In the past couple of years i have been getting a kick of writing variant rules for my favorite systems. One of the big ones will be my source book for DCC due out shortly. OSR has brought some of my love back from the hobby after going through a Jaded period for awhile.

  • I always, ALWAYS love alternate grappling rules for games with the D&D DNA! Thanks!!!

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