Category Archives: Swords & Wizardry

2015 A to Z Challenge Reflections.

I planned to write a follow up on my A to Z experience this year, and a survey that arrive just before midnight alerted me to a Reflections Post, that needed to be done by May 8th. I am doing catch up on articles and clearing a backlog of things to review, on this rainy, thunderstorm laden weekend.

This was the second year that I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge to write a post every day, except Sundays, in April. As with last year, 26 blog posts is not difficult for me. I had most of them done and scheduled before April. Also, like last year, I only had time to keep up with the blogs in the (GA) category. This year, I read most of the posts.

For me, the hardest part of the challenge is a theme that I feel good about. This year, I wrote about different aspects of planning a city, whether it is a living city or an abandoned/lost city. Once I had a topic, I came up with 26 topics. I then scheduled each topic for the appropriate day and wrote on the topics that interested me.

I had most of my topics written with at least a few paragraphs or notes of things to be sure to mention. I dug in and wrote several posts in a marathon session, so that I only had to let them sit to do cleanup before they posted. A few topics seemed a bit harder to write, and I got a bit repetitive when some topics had overlap.

I did not come up with as many tables and generators as I had hoped. I did get some ideas for building them. Once those ideas have sat for awhile, I will gather them and see about making a more coherent PDF to share.

My goal of a system to randomly generate parts of a city did not materialize. I think because of the all the dice table in Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad #1, that +Adam Muszkiewicz showed me. It touched on most of what I was after. I don’t really need all the details I think I do, I just WANT them.

Since I scheduled each post, I had no problem posting on the correct day.

I am currently on the fence as to whether or not I will participate next year. I like that I used it to help me clarify and flesh out ideas for my own use. If I participate again, I will have to use it to do something helpful to my own needs and desires as a GM; whether it be a module, series of new creatures, a collection of maps, or NPC’s, it will have to be something that serves a dual purpose.

This year, there were twelve blogs with the (GA) tag for games. Of those, one was geared towards game books and not directly RPG related, that I could tell. Perhaps it was just not my thing.

Nemo’s Lounge gave up doing custom NPCs with a drawing after 16 posts. Both the drawings and NPC’s were great!

Wampus Country was doing a town a day and got up to E when it stopped. He had some interesting ideas, that I enjoyed while it lasted.

 

Others missed a beat here and there, but most of us managed all 26 postings for the month.

Tower of the Archmage had a great series of vignettes of a party of adventurers. He often included a map. He hiked the Appalachian trail and was gone for the whole challenge, so he wrote and scheduled all of his postings before he left. This series would make a neat short story and/or a module/dungeon.

Tim Brannon at The Other Side did vampires, as he promised he would last year, after doing witches. Who knew there were so many vampires in different cultures. He began with A for Aswang, which I not too long before learned about from watching Grimm. When White Star came out, he even did an A to Z special with a Space Vampire, modeled on the one from the 80’s Buck Rogers TV Show.

Mark Craddock of Cross Plains reviewed his favorite things about D&D.

Keith Davies of In My Campaign built several mythologies/pantheons and had a system to help him build them.

Sea of Stars had a series of NPC;s.

Spes Magna Games did a series on the “Boogie Knights Of the Round Table”. I have not seen the movie, Boogie Nights, but I got the reference. What if King Arthur and his knights where in the age of disco? He kept it going until the last few days, but did all 26 posts.

Another Caffeinated Day did a series of NPC’s,

The Dwarven Stronghold did NPC’s and magic items.

If you need NPC’s, items, maps, images, vampires, or city planning suggestions, there is a lot of good stuff collected in these posts, check them out.

Review – Swords & Wizardry Complete and GM Screen

In the spirit of Swords and Wizardry Appreciation Day, I ordered the hard back Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook, and the Swords & Wizardry GM Screen. They arrived on April 29th, but I have not had time to do more than unpack them and make sure they arrived in good shape, until now.

The Book Itself:

This volume is well put together and the black ink on white paper is easily legible for older eyes. It is 134 pages including three intitial blank pages, cover page, table of contents, Swords & Wizardry license, OGL, and index. There are an additional six pages of supporters, I am guessing from a Kickstarter, These are followed by a full page illustration advertizing a game I have not heard of, a page mentioning the S&W SRD, two pages with a heading of “Notes”, and two final blank pages.

What It Is/Isn’t:

Inside you will find almost AD&D/OSRIC. It has all of the classes from AD&D, except for the illusionist and the bard. There is no mention of psionics. The hit dice are different than OD&D, but not quite AD&D. Magic users and monks have d4, clerics, druids, assassins, and thieves have d6, and the fighter types have d8. As in AD&D, the ranger starts with 2d8. Monsters are d8 as in AD&D.

Armor Class:

Armor class has the two options of ascending, AAC, or descending AC, with descending starting at 9. There is a single saving throw, with a mechanic for the saving throws for each type of peril. I am drawn to the simplicity of AAC and knowing what you need to hit based on the AAC number.

Spells:

The spells described go up to 7th level for clerics and druids, and 9th level for magic users. There is, as with other sections, a house rules section, where Matt Finch describes how he handles spells above 6th level. The spells are presented in alphabetical order for all spells. For old grognards, like me, who like the spells arranged by level within each class, as in AD&D, this takes getting used to. Page 73 marks that last page of spells and the end of the player’s section.

GM Section:

The “Referee” section has an introduction emphasizing the need for Rule 0 [Is there a better link for this?]. It then moves on to how to design an adventure with a basic dungeon map with key and a wilderness map with a key. The discussion then moved on to discussing monsters in the dungeon and challenge levels/ratings. There is just over one page listing all the following monsters by challenge level up to 13.

Monsters:

Before it gets to the monsters, it discusses wilderness encounters and has encounter tables. It then discusses mass combat, siege combat, aerial combat, and ship combat. The monsters presented are most of what I consider the most common/favorite of the genre. The monsters are followed with a page and a half listing of challenge levels up to 17. Finally, there is a concluding page to this section on creating your own monsters.

Treasure:

The treasure section has ten pages of the various types of magic items. It begins with one page on generating a random treasure hoard. Other than the index, the last game worthy page is the sample character sheet. It is only one side of the page, the other side holds the S&W license and the OGL statement. Since this is not the pre-internet age, and the PDF is free, you can print this from the PDF. As always, you can just write your information on a piece of paper, making your own as you go, or find one of the many available online. If not for the internet and the availability of the PDF, this page should be perforated for easy removal, and the licenses would need to be on a different page.

Packaging:

Unlike other resources I have ordered online, the packing job did not cover the entire back of the book with bubble wrap. There was a small area about two or three inches square that was not covered in the center of the book. The cardboard did cover the entire book. I did not have any damage to my order, but this was the only weakness in the packing job. I only noticed this based on the packing jobs of all the other OSR products I have received. This is minor enough that it may just be one of those things that happens when there is a flood of orders. I didn’t get a good picture to illustrate it, like I thought I did. In the grand scheme of things, since the order arrived in perfect condition, not a problem.

Content Of The Book:

In addition to being easy to read and having a solid layout, there are many illustrations of various sizes, including full pages. There are a few corners, or nearly half the side of a couple of pages that were empty. Because the majority of all of the other pages filled the page to all the corners, the white space stood out. Some seemed to call for an illustration, or an illustration to fill the entire space available. There were only 5 or 6 pages in the whole book like this, again a minor issue.

There are suggested house rules and rules variants. As with S&W Core and White Box, there is lots of room to house rule to make it your own. I especially like the forward by Tim Kask, that the rules are only a framework and are not meant to bog the flow of play down into paper shuffling and arguments, and the GM has the final word. The main thing is to have fun! See Rule [-1].

Since the PDF is freely available, one can modify the PDF to include only the player information for use at the table or in online games. Be sure to include the S&W and OGL if you do so in a product you plan to market.

The GM Screen:

The GM screen has the usual charts for attack matrices for characters and monsters, turning undead, indoor and outdoor movement, saving throws, and information on melee and missile weapons. This is on four pages on the GM side of the screen. The player side of the screen are covers of the various iterations of the printed rules. This accordion folder screen is one piece. It is laminated to protect it from wear and tear and spills. It is a light card stock, so not as thick as my AD&D DM screens.

If you use AAC, then nearly two pages of the screen are not needed. You could easily use a binder clip to place information over that portion that you need such as the map or note on the current adventure, or other rules needed frequently during play.

The accordion fold is determined to make the screen look like an ‘M’ when viewed from the GM side. I supposed with use, or a strategically placed small binder clip, one could get a shape that is more suited to use at the table.

Takeaway:

Since we are encouraged to make the game our own, we can hack it to make it closer to AD&D if we choose, to make the character class hit dice the same, and if one has the AD&D manuals or OSRIC, one can easily have all the creatures, spells, and items that are there.

Whether you are old, like me, or just like to have a physical book, it is well worth your while. You could just get the free PDF and print your own, but the issue of binding a hardback is a challenge few wish to face.

I like the simplicity and brevity of Swords & Wizardry Complete. It has enough to do more than get you started. A creative GM can make the creatures in this single volume cover years of play. I have played for over 35 years and have not encountered all the creatures in the AD&D Monster Manual either as a player or a DM.

I am also very into the AAC and how easy it is to calculate without needing a chart. The single saving throw may be tough for some, but it does bring simplicity.

I like the simplicity and don’t like when play bogs down to look up a rule. I mind it more as a player than as a referee, but as a DM it does not take long to feel all eyes upon me, and get frustrated. That long pause of a grinding halt interrupts the momentum. Either mark every page you need for rapid access, make detailed notes, or memorize it, if you don’t want to make it up on the fly. Keep the game flowing. Play should only stop when there is a natural break in the action for a bathroom break or it is the end of the agreed upon ending time, after the last extension runs out.

The GM screen is not a must have for play. One can easily make their own by printing the necessary information from the free PDF, if you even use a screen. I tend to use a screen when I run AD&D for two reasons, tradition and the need to look up combat and other tables. The AD&D screens would be better served to have other information on them than the psionics table, unless there is a lot of psionic activity in a game. I find that distance and a book or clipboard or sheet of paper is enough to cover maps and notes from prying eyes.  Unless your game space puts players right next to the DM, I don’t see much use in a screen. I do still like them for the mystery it conveys by hiding something “secret” and “mysterious” from the players. I think the decision to use a GM screen is up to the individual GM. If you are comfortable with the rules, and don’t need it to add to the aura of mystery to game play, then you probably don’t use one.

New Goodies!
New Goodies!
Barely shows gap in bubble wrap.
Barely shows gap in bubble wrap.
Book and Screen
Book and Screen
Inside of GM Screen
Inside of GM Screen
Back of GM Screen - Shiny!
Back of GM Screen – Shiny!

White Box Omnibus – A Review

I won a copy of White Box Omnibus, by +James Spahn of Barrel Rider Games on the Happy Jacks Podcast for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day.

Things have kept me busy since then. After White Star came out and I reviewed it, I figured I better hurry up and read through the Omnibus and do my promised review.

James’ own introduction to the text explains it well:

White Box Omnibus is a compilation of six previously published
products: White Box Companion, White Box Bestiary, White Box TreasuresWhite Box Adventures: The Wererat’s Well, White Box Adventures: The Wizard’s Tower and White Box Adventures: The Dragon’s Hoard. But a few extras have been added. In addition to cleaning things up a bit, there are a few new things you’ll find.

The Monk has been added as a player character class. It is written in the spirit of Arneson’s Supplement II, but streamlined to fit WhiteBox. You’ll find simple, easy to implement rules for introducing powerful magical artifacts into your campaign along with new monsters in the bestiary.

The three adventures featured in White Box Omnibus have now been augmented by an appendix – The Willow Valley Gazetteer. It’s a mini-campaign setting which can be used to tie the three adventures together, or even continue having adventures in that region.

Section 1 – Class options  Contains variations on standard classes that give bonuses in one area, but limitations in another. Such as the “sub-class” of cleric, the healer, who can use a healing touch once per day but has a -1 on to hit rolls.

Bard Class – This is a simple class designed to work within Swords & Wizardry and other D&D clones, instead of the kludge of AD&D.

Druid Class – A version of a cleric with a Forestry ability that allows tracking, passing without trace, or dealing with wild animals.

Monk Class – Similar to the class in AD&D, with house rules suggestions to make it more like the AD&D monk.

Paladin Class – With the exception of leaving out the warhorse, this is the paladin we recognize.

Ranger Class – With the Forestry ability, like the Druid.

Thief Class – Single skill called Thievery using a 1d6 mechanic based on level. This covers all the thief skills in a big separate table in AD&D. There is a house rule for climbing that add a bonus to the roll.

Section 2 Magic Items – A list of very interesting armor and shields.
potions, scrolls, rings, staves, wands, weapons, and three pages dedicated to miscellaneous magic items. The miscellaneous items has a house rule about “purposed magic items”, i.e. Artifacts.

Section 3 – Bestiary – This includes many creatures that are well-known from other versions of OD&D & AD&D.

For example, Brain Lord – Squid headed humanoids p. 39-40.

Section 4 – Adventure – Wererat’s Well 15 pages including the introductory illustration and map by Matt Jackson.

Section 5 – Adventure – The Wizard’s Tower – 20 pages including the introductory illustration and map by Dyson Logos.

Section 6 – Adventure – The Dragon’s Hoard – 18 pages including the introductory illustration and map by Matt Jackson.

Appendix – The Willow Valley Gazetteer – 22 pages including the village map by Matt Jackson, and an area map done in Hexographer. There is a d20 rumor table for the village and a couple of pages on communities of halflings, dwarves, and elves. This mini-campaign setting has a detailed village, and the area map ties it all together into the three adventures and several of the new creatures and items.

I am a big fan of AD&D. Mostly because it is what I knew and played for so long. I am growing to be a major fan of simple. Less rules and less “fiddly bits” that get in the way.

This large collection of material that supplements Swords & Wizardry White Box to give it many of the things I like about AD&D, or supplemental material from the later LBB’s. It also streamlines them and makes them easy to use, like the bard. In AD&D, the bard class is a mess. I don’t know anyone who started as a fighter, changed to a thief prior to getting the benefits of a 9th level fighter, etc.

The simple bard class presented here, plus the simplified single skill abilities for druids, rangers, and thieves make it easy to avoid paper shuffling and digging through the manual.

The magic items are new and interesting. They have given me many ideas.

I also like how James separates out ideas for house rules in grey highlighted text.

The simplicity of what is presented here is also modular, so that one can pick and choose what you want to use, and easily house rule things that you feel are missing or “not your way of doing things.”

I only skimmed the three adventures. They are clearly presented and to the point. There is enough detail to help out the DM and enough openness to easily supplement the material or drop it in to an existing campaign.

The gazetteer is a village with a map of the village and an area map that ties the three adventures together with the setting. This could easily be the start of one’s own sandbox campaign, or be dropped in as a new area to explore. It is a good model of one way to build a sandbox.

The layout is well done and the whole thing is easy on the eyes and easy to read on a screen.

Just as with the recent White Star, I recommend the White Box Omnibus!

White Star – White Box SF RPG

White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying, by +James Spahn of Barrel Rider Games is all the rage at the moment. It has a vibrant and rapidly expanding G+ Community. It also has its own compatibility logo!

Appropriately enough, it was released on May 4th, for Star Wars Day.

I am a big science fiction fan and my first love in reading was science fiction over fantasy. I have played Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Traveller, plus various board games such as Imperium, and several video games. I tended to be the one who ran Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World, to give my brother a break from DMing AD&D.

However, my days of playing/GMing science fiction RPGs faded and have not revived like fantasy based RPGs, like AD&D or recently DCC.

I recently bought the Metamorphosis Alpha PDF and printed it out and read it through, with plans of making my own version of the starship Warden, perhaps for a Roll20 campaign.

All the hoopla about White Star is contagious, and I bought the PDF.

I had plenty of interruptions trying to read the PDF. This whole working for a living thing interferes with all my fun.

The art, maps, and layout make it easy to read. The system is designed to be totally compatible with Swords & Wizardry White Box, so any creature or item can easily traverse the two genres. Like the AD&D DMG discussion of combining Gamma World and AD&D, or Boot Hill and AD&D.

The original six standard abilities and 3d6 make it quick to pick up and play.

Rules are presented with a framework, and a clear Rule 0 reference that the Referee can make any changes they want to games in their world.

If you need a lizard man/reptile man in space, you have them stated in Sword & Wizardry already. Take any creature and “re-skin” it by changing its description, and any creature found in S&W is ready to go in White Star.

That is one powerful thing about all the clones and play alikes in the OSR. I have not specifically played Swords & Wizardry, but I “get” it, and since I am used to it, it will not require a lot of effort to run it.

I like how ship to ship combat is a simple abstraction from regular melee combat, with AC, HP, etc. for ships. While certain details are nice, I know that some SF RPG’s are so “crunchy” with rules for every little thing, that the rules get in the way of moving on. Combat can take way too long even in some “rules lite” systems. I’ll have to whip up a couple ships and have them fight it out.

The rules as presented are a sufficient framework to get playing quickly. This framework is familiar to so many, that it is easy to add house rules, ideas from other games, genres, etc., that one can make White Star their own.

Any SF sub-genre could be crafted with this, a generation ship scenario like Metamorphosis Alpha, post apocalyptic like Gamma World, space opera, exploration, war, space pirates, etc.

Race As Class

One thing that others complained about, and I didn’t like at first, until I thought about it, is race as class. In most fantasy worlds with retro-clones or AD&D, demi-humans have level caps. I don’t like that. Also with OD&D clones, there is race as class. I don’t like all aspects of that in fantasy, or in Science Fiction, but I see it making sense in a planet hopping scenario.

If the humans are the dominant group and the “aliens” are tagging along, the level limits will exist because the aliens don’t fit well into the culture, architecture, and design of the human controlled worlds, buildings, and ships. When a handful of aliens are among a huge number of humans, their uniqueness only gives them so many advantages. The hindrances of being surrounded by human sized items, furniture, doorways, etc. will limit how well they can improve their skills among humans. For example, a creature that breathes methane will require special equipment to travel with humans. For aliens that are humanoid to the point of being indistinguishable from humans apart from outward appearance and interior biology, such limits would not be as severe. A ten foot tall alien, however, would have major limitations on space travel.

If the situation is reversed, where a few humans are among a bunch of aliens, surrounded by alien technology, then the humans would have the same issues. I can see someone building a campaign where the humans are a tiny minority in a vast alien empire. If the humans have to have special equipment to breathe while travelling on a ship, it will limit how well and how long they can function outside any special accommodations on the ship added for humans.

Non-humans on their home planet would have advantages that humans would not have.

Humans could have variations leading to sub-species, such as those who inhabited a high gravity planet and get a bonus on their strength when on lower gravity planets and ships.

Rule 0 trumps race as class. If you don’t like it, don’t use it. Problem solved.

Forget Rule 0, There’s A Problem

One minor thing is buying bullets for firearms in preloaded magazines. I don’t know why that minor lack of verisimilitude bugs me. Handgun ammunition is usually available in boxes of 50 and shotgun and rifle ammunition is often in boxes of 20. Detachable magazines are usually reusable. In fact, I am not aware of any firearm for which magazines are not reusable. Of course, Rule 0 and all.

High tech firearms in the universe could be different. People are separated from manual drudge labor, to the point of not having to load magazines. What do you do with the empty one? Turn them in for a magazine deposit? Like bottle deposits in Michigan?

Also a pistol with ten rounds – is it small and easily concealable, or bigger and harder to disguise? Is it ball ammo, hollow point, etc? Can I rack the slide to chamber a round and drop the magazine and top it off to carry 11 rounds? It is all too easy to get hung up on little details and need a rule for it. There is always something that we know from our personal experience that makes it seem like a good idea to add complexity to handle it. Rule 0 still accommodates this. If I really wanted to get down to it, I could build rules for different calibers, revolvers vs. semi-automatics, hollow points vs. ball, ceramic/metal/polymer/combination, breech loaders vs. muzzle loaders, etc.

I don’t have a problem with how computers and other technology is presented in games, so why should this bother me? For example, I know a lot about computers, but their functions are so abstract in the internals and have changed so much since the first computer my parents bought in the early 1980’s that I can handle computers being small and powerful with interfaces much simpler than today. The whole touchscreen “revolution” has changed a great deal about interacting with computers. Voice recognition is better and primitive voice interfaces exist with smart phones, such as, the well-known Siri for the iPhone. The whole exposure to the idea of computers in movies, TV, and the written word have shaped our thinking to allow the devices we use every day to still hold some mystery that makes it easy to ascribe special powers to them.

Aliens & Creatures

Chapter eight on creatures leads with an explanation that specific details about color, activity, and diet is left to the Referee so that their imagination is not restricted.

There are a great many aliens and creatures to fill all the desired tropes of science fiction.

Campaigns

There are several ideas for types of campaigns, plus a campaign based in the Kelron Sector.

Adventure

There is a short sample adventure at the end to get things started. It is an interesting scenario with many familiar ideas from multiple movies, TV shows, books, and stories.

Art

The artwork of the cover and interior is awesome. Maps by Matt Jackson are cool too!

Ideas

Even if you don’t specifically play these rules, there are ideas in here that can be used in any variety of science fiction and other genres of RPG’s.

Editing

There are a few oddities in the flow of words and a few misplaced commas, and some other minor things. If you plan to print this out, I would wait for the update to the PDF. These errors increase towards the end.

I think that I will buy this in print, hopefully the textual issues are resolved quickly.

Other than the few issues in the text, the layout is well done, and it is easy on the eyes.

Other

I let my reading this jump ahead of reading and reviewing the White Box Omnibus also by James Spahn, that I won on the Happy Jacks Podcast for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day.

I have heard good things and after reading White Star, I am sure I will find something good!

Happy Jacks Podcast – Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day

After listening to the Drink, Spin, Run livecast and its heavy representation of Michigan residents, I hopped over to the Happy Jacks Podcast for their live broadcast for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day.

I was paying attention during the DSR session when they explained what the three Swords & Wizardry books are based on, and I was the first with the right answer on the Happy Jacks Podcast and I won something from +James Spahn of Barrel Rider Games. It is one of his recent White Box series of material. I wasn’t clear if it is PDF, print or both.

Once I find out what I get and have it, I will have an article about it. I think it’s the White Box Omnibus.

The winning answer: Swords & Wizardry White Box = OD&D White/Brown Box; S&W Core = “Extras”; Complete = Every Supplement.

Some Thoughts on Swords & Wizardry

Today is the 2015 Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day (SWAD?). This is something +Erik Tenkar started a few years ago.

I have not played Swords & Wizardry rules, but it is close to original D&D and has a lot of support and interest in the OSR community.

I have collected the free rules, core, white box, and complete, and today, I bit the bullet and ordered the hardback S&W Complete and the GM Screen. There are also a lot of cool and free resources in modules and other game supplements. They all have ideas that help inform me as a DM and a player.

Swords & Wizardry is often the go to ruleset for online contests among the OSR.

One big benefit of these rules, is that +Matt Finch has allowed others to hack them to suit their needs, and there has been a plethora of rules for many genres, including other fantasy variants.

There are also many games of other genres that use S&W rules. Just today, two science fiction genre games were announced, and both sound cool. White Star by +James Spahn and Outer Space Raiders by +Chuck Thorin. Each had their own take on the genre, and since both are based on S&W, I can see taking bits from both.

+Sophia Brandt over at Die Heart has a very helpful article that explains S&W to newcomers. I find her articles interesting, informative, and helpful.

There are many other articles with ideas for in game, and on the experience others have had in play with Swords & Wizardry.

Catch the Drink Spin Run livecast tonight.

There is a G+ page for Swords & Wizardry, where you can catch what others are doing with it, either play reports, new supplements, etc.

Swords & Wizardry also has its own SRD: Official Swords & Wizardry SRD

Get the three different rule set here:

Download Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox

Download Swords & Wizardry: Core

Download Swords & Wizardry: Complete