Swords & Wizardry Is Back With New Art And New Energy
  • Swords & Wizardry Is Back With New Art And New Energy



    Frog God Games' successful Kickstarter for the third printing of the Swords & Wizardry complete rules funded last Fall, and over the past couple of weeks books started rolling out to those who pledged for the just core book. As more of the add ons are finished and go out to backers, this will be the culmination of a multi-year project that brings another level of diversity to our role-playing games.

    I am a fan of Swords & Wizardry, it has been one of my two go-to systems for fantasy games over the last few years, the other being Chaosium's recent reprint of the Classic Runequest game. I am part of a rare breed of fans who enjoy this game not because of its connection to earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons, but because it is a simpler game that can easily be slotted into a busy schedule.

    Stacy Dellorfano, the CEO of Contessa and organizer of their branded events at Gen Con, U-Con and various online spaces, did the art direction for this printing, and she is also a member of my regular online gaming group and was part of our multi-year Swords & Wizardry campaign that started in 2012. I backed the recent campaign for the core rules. This is actually my third time getting the game. I picked up the first, softcover, printing of the game at Gen Con years ago, and I also have the second printing as well. I even have a printing of Swords & Wizardry Whitebox that I picked up on Lulu a few years back.


    The Swords & Wizardry Monstrocities book also has a place of honor on my shelves, as one of my favorite old school monster books. I also keep a copy of the PDF on my tablet for when I travel, or want to go to the coffeeshop and not lug around a big stack of RPG books.

    I am a fan of the game, and I play the heck out of it, as a gamer and GM. This third printing is my favorite so far, in terms of art and presentation. Where the previous printings relied on recycled art from Frog God Games' archives of Necromancer Games material, this new printing features new and original art created just for it. My favorite pieces are the full page illustrations that are used to set off the different sections of the book, followed closely by Gennifer Bone's evocative art for the monster section. Between this and Bone's collaborative works with Rafael Chandler on books like Lusus Naturae, I don't understand why this woman isn't getting more art work in games. She whips up awe-inspiring and fearsome monsters like few people illustrating fantasy role-playing games.



    Without this new art, however, I doubt that I would have backed this printing of the game. I like that the art is evocative and imaginative, and portrays a different sensibility than what you normally get to see in fantasy RPGs. You aren't getting the sanitized corporate are that you see in books from the bigger producers, this is riskier and less safe and little scary in some places. The good kind of scary, of course. Some pieces, like the section dividers, remind me of the borderline psychedelic covers that you would see from Lancer Books in the 60s and 70s, back before commercial publishing tamed the fantasy novel.

    This aspect of the Swords & Wizardry art is an excellent homage to the rawness of the art in the original D&D books, but with a higher level of professional quality.

    I won't say that there aren't flaws in the presentation. The gutters are very tight, and this can mean that some pages dip closely into the spine. I could be wrong, and this is purely a production issue, but the paper also seems thinner to me than that used in the previous printing. This could just be due to vagaries in paper stock available to printers.


    Other than errata fixes, the rules are not changed from previous printings of the game. Frog God Games is very explicit in saying that none of the books are new editions.

    For those who do not know, the Swords & Wizardry rules are a retroclone, by way of the 3.x OGL SRD, of the Original D&D rules. The "complete" rules are based upon the original booklets, and material from most of the supplements. You get a full range of character class options from the basic ones like the Fighter, Magic-User, Thief and Cleric, to other choices like the Druid, Assassin, Monk, Paladin and Ranger. This puts the Swords & Wizardry rules on the cusp between the Original Dungeons & Dragons rules and the AD&D ruleset. In my games I have used material originally published for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons for my Swords & Wizardry games. This has allowed me to use anything from monsters in the Fiend Folio and the original Monster Manual II in my games, and run classic AD&D modules for groups.

    One of the main places, for me, where Swords & Wizardry diverges from OD&D is in the use of a single saving throw roll as its primary mechanic for saving throws. Each class has its own target for saving throws, and in certain situations (like when a Magic-User is targeted by magic) characters receive a bonus to their saving throw rolls. This bit of streamlining ends up saving a lot of time at the table, and it is one of the bits done by Matt Finch that drew me to the game. Yes, you can still use the five category types of saving throws in your games, if you prefer, and the option for that is also presented in the rules.


    Swords & Wizardry also allows you to choose between using an ascending or descending armor class system (which is also helpful for slotting material for differing editions of the original game into your home games). Possibly controversial, but I prefer to use ascending armor class in my games because, again, it simplifies play for me as a GM.

    In a time when role-playing game rulebooks are again growing larger and larger, it is good to have a game that is compact and simple. Everything that you need for play can be found in the books 144 pages. I think that we need more role-playing games across the board that you can toss into a backpack with some dice and go. This is what drew me to Swords & Wizardry in the first place.

    We need different visions of what fantasy role-playing games should look like because of the fact that not all of us draw upon the same inspirations, or have the same interests, and having diverse points of entry means that a greater spectrum of people can become interested in the games. More people interested in the games mean that there are more people for all of us to draw upon when we want to run, or play in games. Over the last few years I have run more than a few games of Swords & Wizardry, in my own unique style, and armed with this great new book, I plan to run a lot more games over the next forever.

    Once the books have all gone out to backers (those who ordered multiple books will have things shipped to them all at once, so that is slowing down getting to general release), the new books, adventures and supplements will be available to the general public through direct sales, at conventions and (hopefully) from your local gaming stores. If you are looking for an easy and streamlined game that is still robust, and gives you a solid foundation upon which to build years of gaming, Swords & Wizardry is the game that you are looking to play. I know that I am already trying to figure out what I will be running with it next.
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    Comments 19 Comments
    1. JeffB's Avatar
      JeffB -
      Its a clone of 0e and I think their argument for the 3rd print art/aesthetic falls flat and frankly felt like I was being lectured to in the FGG marketing.

      I backed at the pdf level so I could give the new look a chance, and I'm glad I did not purchase the print version. I'm hoping the 4th print gets back to the game's roots in art style.

      if they truly want to reach a mainstream audience and compete on store shelves, at the very least they need to go full color, and hardback with a different aesthetic than this 3rd print (which looks more like Danforths 2e MERP style with less finesse)

      That said, IMO this makes about as much sense as retro cloning 4e, putting in a bunch of black and white art of widely varying quality, printing it in softcover , and trying to convince the OSR market to rally around it.

      I wish Bill luck, but IMO he has lost the plot when it comes to S&W.
    1. Shadow Demon's Avatar
      Shadow Demon -
      I agree with everything that Jeff B stated above.

      Furthermore, the monster art goes with aesthetic over substance.

      For example, the manticore has scorpion tail when the description clearly states "... and a tail tipped with 24 iron spikes." The chimera has a cobra head at the end of it tail instead of dragon head that can breathe fire. The gnoll almost with looks he is off to fancy dinner instead of "ranging far from home in order to steal and kill with rapacious ferocity."

      It just doesn't work for me.
    1. Alzrius's Avatar
      Alzrius -
      You aren't getting the sanitized corporate are that you see in books from the bigger producers, this is riskier and less safe and little scary in some places.
      This does not match the example pages we're being shown in this article. Not at all.

      At best this is exactly the same level of risk as the "sanitized corporate art that you see in books from the bigger producers." At worse it's even more safe, such as that succubus looking like she's a cosplayer rather than "a creature of demonic lust, a drinker of souls who offers fatal temptation to mortals that fall into the trap of her deadly embrace." Don't even get me started on that picture of a bunch of monsters playing D&D together - I'd call that amusing, or even cute, but not "less safe."
    1. Von Ether's Avatar
      Von Ether -
      I applaud the "backpack and go" method. My poison of choice for that is the Castles and Crusades flip book. Makes finding monsters even easier.

      Now if I could find get a version with art like this and in Raggi's LotP and a ACKS "make your own class" system, I'd be set.
    1. Salamandyr -
      This is exactly the sort of fantasy sensibility you get in other RPGs.

      My interest in OSR is to get away from this kind of art.

      EDIT: I'm judging based on the art I see posted on this page on the Kickstarter. Perhaps there's all sorts of fantastic art of weird vistas and mighty thewed warriors on other pages. Somehow I doubt it.
    1. Myrdin Potter's Avatar
      Myrdin Potter -
      The OP states right in their post that the art director is a friend that plays in their campaign, so I was expecting praise. I wanted the rules in hardcover, FGG gave some new people a chance to do art and get a chance in the industry, the complete gamer package was a steal and, from the PDF as my printed package has not arrived yet, the layout and art looks quite serviceable. Art is always subjective and I don't think any real risks were taken in the art choice except for the cover, but I don't see any real failures as well. Overall, it looks good as a package and the 2nd edition was available for anyone that wanted an older art style.
    1. Mr. Greengoat's Avatar
      Mr. Greengoat -
      I can only find that having the same retro-clone rules done in various art styles and layouts a good thing if only for a choice in selection.
      More to the point, the artwork quality in the new 3rd S&W book is composed and designed with more panache than most of the OSR books out there. (and way above mainstream RPG stuff) You can only invoke unskilled late 70's illustration so much before getting bored. Mullen, Kovacs and the rest do some fantastic stuff. But really, there is plenty of room for different takes on the game, even those that harken back to the esteemed Danforth. This thread sounds whiny.
    1. mrm1138's Avatar
      mrm1138 -
      I really like the art in this edition, myself (although I'm still not big on the cover). Honestly, I think a lot of people went into this primed to dislike it because it was perceived as an "SJW" project.
    1. MrZeddaPiras's Avatar
      MrZeddaPiras -
      I think the quality of the new pictures is mostly better than those in the old edition, but it just feels like they really wanted to find in the game something that is not there. The new art has got this fairy tale vibe, and think some manga influences, and those are not the first things I think about when I think OD&D. But I imagine that was the point.
    1. Salamandyr -
      Quote Originally Posted by MrZeddaPiras View Post
      I think the quality of the new pictures is mostly better than those in the old edition, but it just feels like they really wanted to find in the game something that is not there. The new art has got this fairy tale vibe, and think some manga influences, and those are not the first things I think about when I think OD&D. But I imagine that was the point.
      This..it's not the talent, that's evident-they artists are quite good--though the cover is quite a comedown from Erol freaking Otus. It's the subject matter.

      I get the sense they're no longer satisfied with their current audience and want a new one. Which is fine...I guess. Though I can't really see their old audience sticking with them through the change, and frankly, the audience they're chasing has other options.
    1. Grimstaff -
      This really just reminds me how badly I want a full-color, all Mullen art version of S&W. His covers for the original S&W and Whitebox are some of the coolest, most evocative old school art I've seen.
    1. JeffB's Avatar
      JeffB -
      Quote Originally Posted by Grimstaff View Post
      This really just reminds me how badly I want a full-color, all Mullen art version of S&W. His covers for the original S&W and Whitebox are some of the coolest, most evocative old school art I've seen.
      Agreed, both fantastic covers. And appropriate to the game's style and intended audience. But also long before Matt joined up with FGG. FGG's stewardship, IMO has been mostly disappointing (and I felt that way long before this 3rd print of Complete)

      I still have the original S&W print through lulu. A "first" printing with the original font and white lettering. Nowadays they call it "core" (and 4th print, I believe). Its been used heavily.

      I also have the original print mullen cover white box in PDF. I need to see if Lulu can do that too. I use the BHP softcover print for play but it just doesn't look nearly as cool as those Giants do
    1. Wraith Form's Avatar
      Wraith Form -
      I love the rules--I have the E Otis cover version, and I have this reprint in PDF, and S&W's version of D&D just hits my buttons.

      The art is solidly "meh".

      The area I'm worried about is the overly frilly fonts. If you look above, even with perfect 20/20 vision, I can't tell at a glance the difference between a C and a G. The T and the P are very serif-heavy and look similar.

      If I can't read the dang words, you've failed me as a game--being able to understand the letters of the words in the book are vital.
    1. Nawara's Avatar
      Nawara -
      I really don't understand the [unexpectedly vocal dislike] in this thread. If you absolutely need nostalgic 1970s-style line art, just get one of the previous printings. (Or probably the next one, since I'm sure FGG knows their core audience.) This isn't a conspiracy, it's just a cool alternative to the OSR standard. And hey, if every printing going forward has the same rules with a different design aesthetic, that's pretty neat. It'll help FGG sell more copies of the core rules to completist collectors, which given the nature of Kickstarter means there will be lots more adventures and accessories coming out for the game as well.

      (That said, I completely agree with Wraith Form about the overly frilly title fonts being hard to read. I also lament that this project was used for the S&W Complete ruleset, rather than a Basic D&D retro-clone like Dark Dungeons. Oh well.)

      Still, it's a really impressive project and I'm glad all of the collaborators are getting to put a major retro-clone on their CVs. I approve.
    1. JeffB's Avatar
      JeffB -
      Part of the issue here was the company stance/announcements regarding the project. There was an air of "we know whats good for you and you WILL like the art, so shut it", and some dissent to that approach out there on the blogs and google+.

      I don't think there is so much hate, certainly no hate for my part- but it seemed dismissive of some fans and raises questions/concerns about the direction of Complete (along with previous decisions)
    1. Dahak's Avatar
      Dahak -
      I like the art, and would love it if I were crrating a fantasy game. But it doesn't fit S&W any more than it would fit DCC. I don't buy games because of good artwork, but I will skip games because of inappropriate artwork, and that's what's happened here.
    1. Salamandyr -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nawara View Post
      I really don't understand the hate
      It's not hate...and that's an overly inflammatory term designed to suppress criticism.

      It's dislike. And when a product that has historically been designed to your tastes is changed in such a way in order to pursue a different market, well...I think those original customers have a right to complain.
    1. Shadow Demon's Avatar
      Shadow Demon -
      This isn't hate, it is merely pointing out that this printing is not the preferred style and aesthetic of many who are (were?) the core customer base. That part is subjective. The open question is whether it is the preferred style of enough people to make the change economically worthwhile in the first place.

      In many cases, the 3rd printing art is actually superior to the recycled Necromancer art of the previous printing. However, there are actually objective substantive reasons why it doesn't work with the written S&W text. One would have to actually care about the written word in the first place for this to to hold any weight.

      Of course, it's biggest problem from the masses is going to be simple apathy as noted by the small number of unique posters in this thread. The truth is that retroclones are dying out (dead?) because there is nothing here that can't be obtained from the original available source. Sources that are well-known and understood by this game's core audience. Honestly, there are better interpretations of the source material (Delving Deeper for 0e White Box, Iron Falcon for White Box + Greyhawk, Labyrinth Lord for B/X; other supplements, why bother, play OSRIC or AD&D instead or maybe just try a old-school house-ruled version of 5e).

      The idea that new players that have never played an RPG before are going to gravitate toward this particular game as the optimum choice is truly a ridiculous premise.
    1. TaiChara's Avatar
      TaiChara -
      "Doesn't fit S&W"?

      S&W is just a rules set, and any preconception you -- yes, you -- happen to bring to it speaks far, far more loudly about you and your biases than it does about the game.
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