Wednesday, April 17, 2013
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Swords & Wizardry
Let me begin this post with a confession: I did not start out loving Swords & Wizardry. When it was first announced, I was excited for a very specific reason. I was running original Dungeons & Dragons based on the original booklets, which are collectibles. I needed a resource that would let me stop using the OD&D books and run with something a bit cheaper, in case pizza got on the booklets. Since most of my gaming is over Google+ these days it's even more imperative; I don't want to have a game where players need to hunt down an original D&D boxed set just to roll up a PC or look up a spell - especially considering that at the time I allowed spells from Greyhawk, a very expensive supplement.
For those of us who read Philotomy's Musings and the OD&D revival, the lacunae and oddities of the OD&D game made it into less of a complete game and more of a framework, something like a model kit that people could assemble their own games from and fill in their own ideas. From that perspective, S&W wasn't an acceptable substitute. It was a game all its own, with little idiosyncrasies of its own, and different rules - the thing that stuck out to me was that it originally had d6 initiative a la Moldvay but no OD&D surprise rules. (Those were added back in later.) It was like a model kit that was partly assembled.
It was the realization of what Matt Finch did with S&W Complete that brought me around. This was not, no matter how it's labelled, a simulacrum or retro-clone; it was something different, a distillation. It's missing a couple of things - artifacts, sage rules, an adventure on par with "Temple of the Frog" in Blackmoor - but the important thing is that S&W Complete takes the good from the OD&D supplements and leaves the rest on the floor, and bolts those parts onto a straightforward and light framework. It still has its idiosyncrasies, but these become forgivable when you are using it as a system in its own right and not a replacement for OD&D.
In actual play, S&W Complete is something like "AD&D Lite." This is what OD&D plus material from Supplements I-III is sometimes described as, but it's a very rough-edged version. S&W Complete is a more refined one, with nice and straightforward initiative rules and none of the things like hit location, weapon vs armor charts or other oddities that are introduced if you try and use the actual supplement booklets. There are also improvements, such as the treasure system; initially I was hesitant about it but further investigation shows that it's got one big advantage on treasure tables: every monster can have treasure generated for it, no matter what game you adapt it from. It makes adaptation much easier and more flexible with the treasure.
The golden age of D&D was from 1974 to 1979, and while S&W isn't an exact recreation of those rules, it captures them in a way that makes them immediately accessible. In many ways I think that's more valuable than the "game creation kit" approach that I had hoped for back when it first came out; it's hard to overstate how nice it is to have the core classes, races, spells and rules I want all in a single volume. Plus it's got a terrific community and an easy overlap with the OD&D community.
S&W Core is a good light experience, but to me S&W Complete is the real deal - a robust but rules light game capturing everything that was good about mid-late '70s D&D in a single game. Nobody had ever done that before, in any TSR edition or any of the so-called clones. There's work that can be done with it, but it's overall the best framework out there today.
Today only you can buy products from Frog God Games, including S&W Complete and resources for it, at 25% off. Use the code SWApprDay for the discount. You can also buy S&W PDFs from the d20pfSRD Store at 25% off using code SWAD252013.