Review Let's Read Sword World 2.5!


Since the designers originally started with D&D, I don't think it was so much the effect of different games and their resolution systems, but that when they went with their 2d6 system, they had to decide what to do with ties, and since resisting magic fell under the saving throw system in D&D, they went with that as the base. The swerve, as it were, was that they then applied that to the to-hit roll, as well.
Just wanted to respond to this because I skipped it in my previous reply (because I didn’t disagree with it). I’ve been thinking about opposed rolls for my game, and I think I see their logic. I’m not sure it’s D&D influence. If you think about how the game will flow at the table, doing it the way I suggested (attacker is rolling to overcome a defense/resistance), it’s going to flow awkwardly once you get outside of the martial combat case. Imagine trying to resolve an area effect (e.g., like fireball) where the defenders had to roll first.

It also seems like Sword World isn’t unique in this regard. Konosuba TRPG and Shadowrun also work that way. When D&D does opposed rolls, it’s the one doing its own thing (3.5e has you compare modifiers while 5e suggests there is no progress by either side towards the goal). I guess that was my experience speaking. 😅

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Sightseeing? No... Combat.

Core Rulebook I covers the Basic Combat rules. Rulebook II covers the Advanced Combat rules, and Rulebook III covers the Master Combat Rules. In 2.0, the Advanced Combat Rules were the Standard combat rules, and the Basic Combat rules were the Simple Combat Rules, both included in the first Core Rulebook. But it appears that GroupSNE found that the Simple Combat rules to be popular and widely-used, and so gave them sole pride of place in Rulebook I for 2.5.

Personally, I love these rules. They are much, much too simple for anyone who likes playing on a grid with minis. But they translate quite well to theater of the mind, and I think I'm going to crib heavily from them the next time I'm playing B/X in person.

So a battle takes place on a three-zone battlefield. In the middle is the Front Line Zone. On other side of that is the respective sides' Rear Zones. Any zone that has members of both sides in it is a Melee Zone. So in most battles, your melee specialists will move forward to the Front Line Zone, which becomes a Melee Zone, while the ranged attackers stay back in the Rear Zones.

SW 2.5 has a very B/X style combat sequence. First are pre-battle actions. The participants on each side are confirmed. Then comes battle preparations: if a character is going to declare use of special combat ability or minor action, they do so here. Any enhancement magic for Monster Knowledge Checks or Initiative is done here. Then comes the Monster Knowledge Check. After the Monster Knowledge Check, the party decides who they will be arranged on the battlefield -- who will be in what zone. Then initiative is rolled. It's side initiative, but all combatants roll and the highest roll wins initiative for that side.

The side that wins initiative goes first, of course. The order of turns within the side is completely up to the players (or the GM in the case of the enemy). However, no player can encroach on another player's turn. On a character's turn, first they can move, then they take their Main Action. After all the characters in the initiative-winning party go, then all the characters on the other side go. The battle continues after that, then it is the initiative-winning party's turn again, and so on. If the battle is over (one side is all dead, one side surrenders, or one side runs away and is not pursued), and the players win, then they can get spoils from each monster. But taking spoils from one body takes 10 minutes.

There are three kinds of possible movement in combat: All-Out Move, Standard Move, and Limited Move. With an All-Out Move, a character can go from one Rear Zone to the other. The Front Line Zone must be clear of any enemies in order to pass through it. After this move, they can only take Minor Actions, and have a -4 Evasion penalty until the start of their next turn. With a Standard Move, a player can move to an adjacent zone, and can take any action except for ranged attacks and casting magic. Limited Movement means they are only moving within their current zone, but they can take any action. However, none of these Move options are available if there are enemies in the same zone (i.e., the character is in a Melee Zone). In order to move out of a Melee Zone, a character must spend a turn preparing to leave the Melee Zone. They cannot go into the enemy's Rear Zone, they can only retreat to their own Rear Zone.

There are two kinds of Actions: Main Actions and Minor Actions. Main Actions include casting magic, wielding a weapon, preparing to leave a melee zone, picking up/handing over/stowing a weapon, equipping equipment or putting it away, and basically any Action Check that has a duration of 10 seconds or longer. Generally, a character only gets one Main Action per turn.

Minor Actions do not take any time, and include casting certain magic, stopping maintenance of any magical effects, dropping, sheathing, or receiving a weapon or other equipment, and standing up. They can be done at any time during a turn (except during a Check), and there's no limit to how many the character can do.

For ranged attacks (including magic), they usually have a range of 1 zone or 2. The can be done within the same zone the attacking character is in, and of course the adjacent zone as well. However! If a character attacks into a Melee Zone from outside, the target is determined randomly--including allies! The only away to avoid this is to have Targeting special combat ability. Then the character can choose a target and roll for their ranged attack normally. A character cannot fire through a Melee Zone to the far Rear Zone unless they have Eagle Eye special combat ability.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for someone used to D&D to get over to buy into this game is the fight mechanics. You might think, hey, this is a Japanese RPG influenced by anime and video games! Surely the fighting classes get a sorts of badass things to do! Unfortunately, this is not the case, at least as of Core Rulebook I. While the special combat abilities provide for some interesting options, in general the only thing the Warrior Skill Packages can do to enemies is deal damage. And they have to jump through some hoops to do so.

Weapon Attacks are resolved through the To-hit Check (2d + To-hit bonus). This roll is contested by the Evasion check of the defending character. If the attack succeeds, the attacker can roll damage. But damage rolls in Sword World use Power Tables. Basically, you roll 2d and cross-check the result on your weapon's Power Table. If you roll a 1-zoro, that means no damage is done at all. Your successful attack is nullified. But if we assume you don’t auto-fail, and do some damage, then you add bonus damage (STR bonus + level). Then you subtract a set amount of damage, representing the defender’s armor. So not only do martials get two chances to auto-fail, they could ostensibly succeed, but roll low and do no damage.

I should note that that is a worst case scenario, and the flip side is critical hits. For each weapon (or spell) that uses a Power Table for damage, there is a crit range: for most weapons 10 or higher. If you roll a crit, you get to roll on the power table again. That means that crits are exploding. And, I should further note, monsters do not use power tables to determine damage, so they don't crit.

But, that said, I love the zones. I love the movement rules, the ranged attack rules. I was a bit leery of the power table for damage until I found out about the possibility of exploding crits on every successful hit. I'm even on-board with to-hit rolls being opposed roll contests. But I can't wrap my head around why they would build so many failure points in the martial attack system. Magic, of course, does not have quite so many. An offensive spell either does damage (it has a power table), or it has an effect. Casting these is an opposed roll, caster's Wield Magic check vs. the defender's Spiritual Resistance. A successful save means a damage spell does half-damage, and an effect spell has no effect. This means that a martial character could do everything right and still do no damage, while a caster can actually fail their Wield Magic check and still do damage. And damage, mind you, that is not affected by armor.

This is not how I would design an attack system. (Point of order: it's actually very close to a system I did the 7th grade.) And yet. Sword World is an extremely successful game. If this system, which I daresay is one of the most major, load-bearing systems in the game, has not been received poorly enough by its many, many players, why might that be? My goal with such Let's Reads as this is not to critique or run-down a game, but to look at it on its own terms and understand what it's trying to do. And some things that may not look good at first blush, may indeed work out much better in actual play, when other factors come into play.

To look at the game from this perspective, I have to do a little jumping around the book. The next part will be a look at these rules in that light, to see what other design features and mitigating factors might actually make them fun.


Just wanted to respond to this because I skipped it in my previous reply (because I didn’t disagree with it). I’ve been thinking about opposed rolls for my game, and I think I see their logic. I’m not sure it’s D&D influence. If you think about how the game will flow at the table, doing it the way I suggested (attacker is rolling to overcome a defense/resistance), it’s going to flow awkwardly once you get outside of the martial combat case. Imagine trying to resolve an area effect (e.g., like fireball) where the defenders had to roll first.

It also seems like Sword World isn’t unique in this regard. Konosuba TRPG and Shadowrun also work that way. When D&D does opposed rolls, it’s the one doing its own thing (3.5e has you compare modifiers while 5e suggests there is no progress by either side towards the goal). I guess that was my experience speaking. 😅
Actually, after thinking it over, I think I was a little too biased from seeing the B/X similarities in the game, and knowing that was meant to, in some ways, emulate the gameplay of D&D. But I failed to consider that very early on, GroupSNE was also into (Classic) Traveller, and did the Japanese translation for Tunnels & Trolls, both of which are 2d6 systems. I'm not familiar enough with either to know how they handled opposed rolls, but I'm sure they had a profound influence on the design of Sword World, even if only where Sword World might differ.


Sword World Combat. A method to the madness?

So, the first thing to consider is that while yes, martials (and damage-using spells, for that matter) have two chances to auto-fail (to-hit roll and damage roll), the fact that Sword World is a 2d6 system does mitigate that. The chance of rolling an 1-zoro in the first place is 2.7%, so the chance of rolling it in two tries is 5.5%, slightly higher but on par with the 5% chance of a critical miss in D&D. But of course, in D&D, you're going to critical miss about once every 20 attacks. In Sword World, you're going to critical miss on the to-hit roll about once every 37 attacks. Then, you're going to critical miss on damage once every 37 successful attacks. Which is to say, while the probability of critically failing your attack is roughly the same, it's probably not going to feel the same. It's going to feel less frequent for Sword World players. And then 50 XP whenever your roll an 1-zoro is going to take the bite out of those rare times when you do roll an auto-fail.

Then we can think about dice mechanic aesthetics. In D&D, for example, you roll your attack. You hit. You know you're going to do damage; you just hope that it is high. In Sword World, you roll your attack. You hit. Now, you know there's a small chance of an 1-zoro negating your attack. But you also know there's now a chance (typically a better chance) of a critical hit. I think it can fairly said that this might even feel more exciting than D&D's straight damage roll. The probability of a critical hit in D&D? 1 in 20 attacks. Probability of a critical hit in Sword World? If we use the most common weapon crit range of 10-12, that means you're critting (exploding crits!) on 16.6% of your successful attacks! That's 1 in 6! Holy crap. Okay, I'm convinced of Sword World's implementation of the Power Tables for martial damage. D&D's method has simplicity and elegance on its side, but Sword World's method does have a little extra excitement.

Okay, so let's look at armor protection. Having successfully hit, now the armor could possibly ablate an entire damage result? In theory, yes. In practice? Probably not. Armor is generally going to countered by the character's bonus damage (Warrior level + STR bonus). Remember that players will generally start out with 2 levels in their main Skill Package. And it's unlikely that a front line melee character will have a strength bonus of less than 2. So starting bonus damage at level one is 4, maybe even 5. Of the 50 some monsters included in the book, only 11 monsters have armor protection of 5 or greater, and with the exception of one (the Level 3 Shield Hood), all are quite high-level monsters. All the monsters our starting characters will be facing have armor protection of 1 or 2, maybe 3. And keep in mind that bonus damage scales pretty fast. It goes up 1 every time you increase in Warrior level, it goes up when you increase your STR bonus, and some weapons can add to it.

Okay, a successful hit completely negated by armor is not likely enough to be a problem. "But Iosue", you say, "why the extra step? Why not remove armor protection in the first place, and reduce bonus damage to compensate?" And I think the answer here is that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Yes, having part, or even all, of your successful attack blunted by the enemy's armor protection does suck. But it is equally as awesome when your armor blunts your opponent's successful attack. This does have the effect of somewhat drawing out the battle, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. It (along with using 2d6 for all rolls) also reduces the "swingy-ness" of combat.

"But what about magic? The casters get to cast their damage spells and do good damage, and even if they miss, they get to do half-damage! And their damage is not reduced by armor protection!" True. However, there are tradeoffs. Magic cannot be cast on the same turn as any movement by the character, so this reduces mobility, or else creates an opportunity cost. Magic is a limited resource. Spells are limited by the number of mana points (MP) the caster has. If we look at the Tabbit Magic-user, he's got 28 MP. Damage spells are expensive. He could use Energy Bolt, which costs 5 MP, or Spark, which costs 6. So he's got 5 castings available, at the most. A typical fight can take about three rounds. A typical session (adventure) as suggested by the book is at least 1 preliminary fight (up to 3) and then the final climax fight. And a spell that does half-damage still uses up the same number of MP. So there's always at least some rationing of magic.

"I dunno. Still doesn't sound very anime," you might say. And that's entirely true. Particularly in the Rulebook I, SW 2.5 somewhat wears its D&D heart on its sleeve. There are what we might call "legacy tropes." In Rulebook II will come the Enhancer skill package, a table B skill package that revolves around the use of "trained techniques" (powered by mana): essentially self-buffs for the Warrior Skill Packages. But in Rulebook I, if you want to see what an anime character in Sword World looks like, you look at the Nightmare sample character. Fighter 2, Conjurer 1, emo as all get out. The game as intended is for there to be builds and skill package combos of all kinds. I suspect that because of that, its fanbase has had less of an issue over the years with the LFQW problem, and accordingly fewer steps have been taken address it.

This deeper look at the system has been very illuminating to me. I had some doubts when I first read the rules, but now I'm actually on-board with it. I have a copy of the first replay to be released for SW 2.5: "Brave Dreamers of the City of Water." What I think I want to do for the next installment is translate the part of the book where the party has their first combat, both to give an example of the combat rules in action, but also a taste of what Japanese replay books are like.
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The replay translation is turning out to be more work than I anticipated, so I think I'll just go ahead and do a little clean up on Combat, and the chapter on Items and Equipment.

So one thing I forgot to mention is Life-or-Death Checks. If you are reduced to 0 or negative HP, you fall unconscious and must immediately make a Life-or-Death Check. The target number is the absolute number of whatever your current HP are. If your HP is 0, it's 0 (don't roll an 1-zoro!). If it's -5, the target number is 5. If you make your roll, you're still unconscious, but you're stabilized...for the moment. You will have to make another roll in 10 minutes. If you make 6 of these, you naturally wake up with 1 HP. But if you fail one, it's all over. If you roll a 6-zoro (auto-success), you immediately wake up with 1 HP.

Of course, there are many things your friends can do to save you if you are unconscious. Priests have an Awaken spell, which wakes you up with 1 HP. This is the only method that can be used in combat, though. Once combat is over, allies can use an Awaken Potion (sprinkled on the downed character for the same effect as the Awaken spell), and they can try First Aid (takes 10 minutes, same rules as a Life-or-Death Check). Most interestingly, Cure Wounds will recover more HP, but it doesn't wake you up! And while it's not explicitly spelled out, the rules imply that negative HP take away from the number of HP that Cure Wounds restores.

The implications of this is that it's relatively hard to stand characters up once they've been downed. They may not die outright, but they are out of the fight unless the Priest can cast Awaken.

The other interesting part of these rules is that they ostensibly apply to monsters as well. Per the ruluboo, when a monster reaches 0 HP or lower, they fall unconscious. Ergo, enemies with "Awaken" can stand down monsters back up, and certainly the PCs have the option to revive a fallen foe after a battle.

Finally, for the Combat chapter, there is a small paragraph about surprise, or as the book calls it, "ambush". In Rulebook I, only certain monsters can surprise the characters, and there is no mention at all of the PCs surprising monsters. Being surprised means losing initiative, not being able to make any battle preparations, and each PC having a -2 penalty for all checks until the start of their turn.

After Combat, the next section deals with items and how to equip them. The game does not have encumbrance. It explicitly notes that there are no rules for how much a character can carry. The reason for this is that all monsters drop spoils. As the ruluboo says, "We have judged that there is no guarantee that the sense of reality obtained by such rules is superior to the game-like fun provided by having many different kinds of spoils."

While the game is not concerned with carrying capacity or things of that nature, it does pay a good deal of attention to what you can do with your hands. First, it notes that there is a difference between "holding" an item, and "equipping" an item. A sword that is merely "held" cannot be used as a weapon, it must be "equipped." Then it talks about handedness. All weapons and many items have a designation of 1H or 2H, indicating they can be held in one hand, or else require two hands to hold or wield. So you can carry as much as you want on your person, but you can only ever have one small thing in each hand, or use two hands to hold a big thing.

Next the game talks about "equipping" items. The game gets a little precious about this, with separate sections for equipping weapons, shields, armors, and accoutrements. It's pretty straightforward, but often, it seems like they are explaining a rule only so they can then say, "The rule for Grapplers is this." I don't know specifics, but from what I've read it seems like some Grapplers would take advantage of loopholes in 2.0 to create super powerful combinations, and this is an attempt to reign that in.

Due to the granularity of equippable locations, for both magic items and simple appearance items, it can feel a little video-gamey, although I don't think this is too terribly far from what has been in various editions of D&D. Wearable items have an "equip location". There are eight such categories: Head, Face, Neck, Back, Hand, Waist, Leg, and Elective. Items in the Elective category can be equipped any where. A PC, then, has nine locations for equipment: Head, Face, Neck, Back, Right Hand, Left Hand, Waist, Legs, and Other. Any thing can be equipped in Other; you can even double up on another location. Hand, by the way, also includes the arm.

In general, wearing two things of the same name does double any affect those items have. In some rare cases, it will be noted when there can be doubling up. For example, a quiver holds 12 arrows, and you can equip two quivers so that you have a total of 24 arrows.

That's it for combat and items. Next up are the rules for magic.


So how does Sword World 2.5 handle Magic?

So, there are four Magic-user Skill Packages: Sorcerer, Conjurer, Priest, and Magitec. All four make use of Mana Points (MP). Each needs a focus of some kind: wands and the like for the Sorcerer/Conjurer, holy symbol for the Priest, and Magisphere for the Magitec. Each uses a different magical language, and all need to be able to speak their language to cast their magic. Magic can only be cast if the caster has taken Limited Movement.

Magic-users use their Magic Bonus (Skill Package Level + Wisdom Bonus) to make Wield Magic checks. Unless the roll is opposed due to resisting a spell, the target number is 0, but a check for an auto-fail is still required. Auto-failing a Wield Magic check means that there is absolutely no effect, but the MP required for the spell are expended anyway.

Mana Points can only go as far as 0, and there are no ill effects if they do so. MP can be augmented by magic crystals. When casting the caster can have the crystal bear part of the MP cost. As far as general spell rules, they are essentially the same you'd expect from a D&D type game: range, target, area of effect, etc. In general, spell effects don't stack, except in the case of strengthening weapons. In that case, spells of identical properties stack, but if a spell of a different property is cast, the later spell takes precedence.

The properties that spells can have are Earth, Water, Ice, Flame, Wind, Lightning, Pure Energy, Cutting, and Shock (all kinds of damage), Poison, Sickness, Spiritual Effect, and Curse.

Once a Magic-user reaches a certain level, they have access to all the spells of the level and below. That said, generally each level only has 4 spells or fewer.

Skill Package-specific Magic Rules
and Conjurers use different magical languages (True Word Magic vs Manipulation Magic), but otherwise their restrictions are the same: they must spend 100 G on a magical focus, they must have one hand free to cast (they draw magical letters in the air), and their access to armor is limited.

Focuses can be something held in the hand, like wand or rod, weapons, or rings. They can have as many focuses as they want, nor are focuses dependent on the user. A Sorcerer or Conjurer can use another Sorcerer's (or Conjurer's) focus to cast their own magic.

Metal armor imposes a -4 penalty on Wield Magic checks, and heavy non-metal armor (requiring a Strength of 10 to wear) imposes a -2 penalty. This means that Sorcerers and Conjurers are generally limited to soft leather armor. However, the armor and speech restrictions do not apply to a Nightmare when they Transform.

Priests cast using the Holy Language and use a Holy Symbol are their focus. They have a list of general Holy Magic, but they also get access to a couple of spells unique to the god they have chosen to follow.

Magitec use the Magitec language, and their focus is a Magisphere. Magispheres come in S, M, and L sizes, and the S ones float! It is this Magisphere that powers and interacts with their Magitec. In Rulebook I, at least, there's only one Magitec, and that is Guns. Each Magitec spell in the book is actually a different kind of bullet. A character buys regular bullets, but when they cast, the Magisphere interacts with the Gun to give the bullet the desired spell effect. This casting on the bullets can be done as a minor action, and thus is done just before firing the gun. The Magitec then needs to make a to-hit roll to hit with the bullet. As near as I can tell, the caster does need to roll to cast a spell on the bullet, but only to confirm no auto-fail. Otherwise, they use their to-hit bonus. Magisphere's can also power some other, non-Gun effects.

That's it for magic. We'll take a closer look at spells when we get to the Data section of the book. Next up is a closer look at Special Combat Abilities.


So, Special Combat Abilities. The next section of the rulebook merely goes over how they work, but in order to make it clear (and I little less dry), I'll be jumping ahead to the list of SCAs (contained in the Data section of the book), so people can see clear examples, and get an idea of what SCAs are in the game.

As I said before, these occupy much same kind of design space as Feats in WotC-era D&D. They are a collection of buffs, penalties, and exceptions to the general rules of combat. Players get one at character generation, and then additional one every odd Adventurer Level. Some of them are gated behind Skill Package or Level (or both) requirements. SCAs are split into four categories: always-on, declaration, Main Action, and automatically acquired. In contrast to Spells, which use transliterated English for names, SCAs are almost entirely in Japanese. I suppose this is another example of the "mundane" vs. "magic" dichotomy.

SCAs are presented in a uniform format that lists: Name, requirements for acquisition, use (any requirements or conditions to use it), application (only for declaration SCAs, and describes their scope), a summary of what it does, and then a detailed explanation of its mechanical effect. Some SCAs have a roman numeral after them. This indicates higher level versions that can be taken later. (For many, the later versions are in the other core rulebooks.)

Always-on SCAs are the second largest category. These kinds of SCAs would probably quite familiar to a 5e player in how they work. You pick them, make adjustments to your character sheet, then forget about them. They include
Guardian I - An extension and expansion of Cover (see below).
Counterstrike - For every successful Evasion check in a round, the lower limit of your critical range goes down for your next attack.
Dodge - Available at Level 3 or higher; adds a permament +1 to your Evasion checks.
Tough - Only available to Warrior Skill Packages at level 5 or higher; a +15 to your max HP.
Twin Attack - An extension of the Ambidextrous SCA which allows you to split your attacks to different targets.
Targeting - Allows you to shoot into a Melee Zone without endangering an ally.
Eagle Eye - An extension of Targeting that allows you to shoot through a Melee Zone into the opposing Rear Zone.
Throw Enhancement I - Available at Grappler 3; increases damage and effectiveness of the Grappler's Throw SCA.
Duel Wielding - Available at Level 5; removes the penalty from double attacks with Ambidextrous.
Weapon Training A/S - Initially allows access to A-class weapons of a specified type. Can be taken again to get access to S-class weapons.
Stomp - Available at Grappler 5; allows a Kick attack following a successful Throw.
Ever Changing I - Available at Grappler or Fencer 5; allows the use of two declaration SCAs in one round.
Armor Training A/S - Allows access to A-class and later S-class armor.
Magic Enhancement Master - Extension of the Magical Enhancement SCAs that allows for more flexible and efficient use of them.
Ambidextrous - Allows two attacks at a single target, at a -2 penalty for each attack.
MP Reduction - Reduces the MP cost for spells of a specified kind of magic.

Declaration SCAs are the largest group. They have a duration (typically 1 round, or 1 attack), and sometimes come with a Risk, some kind of temporary penalty.
In-fight I - Available at Grappler 5. The Grappler chooses one target, and they get a +2 to their attack against that target for 1 round. However, they can't attack any other characters for that round, and they take a -2 penalty to Evasion for that round.
Decoy Attack I - Declared along with an attack; there's a -2 penalty to hit that target, but damage is +2, if the target Evades, they keep a -1 to further Evasion checks for 1 round.
Cover I - Declared at the start of the round, the character selects 1 adjacent ally, and for the next round they can take any attack that would normally hit that ally.
Return Cut - Declared when attacking with a two-handed weapon. If the target Evades that attack, the character gets a second attack against the same target with the same weapon.
Contained Strike I - Declared along with an attack, this increases to-hit by +1, but the target number for a critical hit goes up by 1 when rolling damage.
Full Power Strike - Damage goes up by +4, but Evasion gets -2 penalty for the next round.
Challenging Strike I - If a target is hit, damage is -2, but for the next round they have to try to attack the character that used this SCA.
Defense Stance - The user chooses one of either Evasion, Life Resistance, or Spiritual Resistance, and they get +4 to that check for one round. All other checks (except for the other two of those mentioned above, and Life-or-Death checks) take a -4 penalty.
Sweeping Cut - Available at Fighter 3. One attack with a two handed sword can hit up to three enemies, but damage is -3.
Violent Cast - +2 to Wield Magic checks for damage-inducing spells.
Deadly Blow - +1 to the damage roll on successful hits, increasing the chance of a critical, but receives a -2 Evasion penalty for the next round.
Magic Enhancement/Power/Reliability/Number/Distance/Time/Area - Various enhancements for magic, each its own separate SCA.
Magic Enhancement All - An extension of the above that allows the caster to choose one or more of the above effects.
Magic Restraint - Allows the focusing of an area effect spell on a single target.
Magic Suppression - Allows the caster to exclude chosen characters from the effect of an area effect spell. Requires both Targeting and Magic Restraint.
Magical Blow - Allows someone making a melee attack to add their Magic Bonus to the damage of the attack. Takes a -2 penalty to Life Resistance and Spiritual Resistance.
Multi-action - Available at Level 5. Allows a character making a melee attack To-Hit Check to make an additional Wield Magic check on the same turn, and vice versa.
Armor Piercing - Halves Armor Protection of an enemy, in return for raising the target number for a critical hit +1.

There are only two Main Action SCAs.
Aimed Shot - The user spends one turn aiming at a target. Movement must be Limited Movement. On their next turn, they fire. If the To-hit check result is 3 or higher than the target's Evasion check, the attack does double damage. If it's 1 or 2 higher, then only normal damage is taken.
Ward Break - The character can try to dispel one ongoing magical effect (without actually using the spell).

Finally the four Automatically Acquired SCAs. These are essentially Skill Package features, automatically obtained at a certain level. They do not count against the standard SCAs characters receive at these levels. They are always on.
Extra Attack - Acquired by the Grappler at Level 1.
Treasure Hunt - Acquired by the Scout at Level 5. Provides a +1 to the Spoils roll after an enemy is defeated.
Survivability - Acquired by the Ranger at Level 5. If the ranger is in a natural environment, once per day they can automatically succeed at a Life Resistance of Spiritual Resistance check.
Sharp Eyes - Acquired by the Sage at Level 5. Same effect as Treasure Hunt.

Next up, we'll do a little final Rules clean-up, and take a look at the Fellows rules, a new addition to Sword World 2.5!


As we come to the end of the Rules chapter, there's a small section on character recovery, death, and resurrection. I've covered 0 and negative HP and Life-and-Death checks before, so the new information here is the effects of not getting enough food and sleep, and natural recovery of HP and MP. Not getting enough food or sleep means losing a point off your maximum HP/MP, and inducing a -1 penalty to all checks. These accumulate for each day without food or sleep. Conversely, if a character can get at least a meal and 3 hours of good sleep (on bedding, sheltered from the elements), then they can recover 10% of their maximum HP/MP. They can take two 3 hour sleeps in one day, or one 6 hour sleep for twice the effect. I like this kind of natural recovery. Much better than the old D&D rule of 1 hp per day of rest, and if you like a slightly more grittier campaign, better than the current rules.

Then come the resurrection rules. Here SW 2.5 puts a flavorful twist on the availability of resurrection in D&D. If you are part of an Adventurer's Guild (which the game assumes you are, as we'll see later), you can take your fallen comrade to the guild and have them resurrected for 10,000 G. If you don't have enough, you can take a loan from the Guild. But every time someone is resurrected, their soul takes on Impurity. You roll on a table to see how much Impurity you take on, and if it expresses itself on your body somehow. This impurity may be unnoticeable, or it may express itself in physical deformities such as horns, skinmarks, and so on. The longer an interval between death and resurrection, the more Impurity you're liable to take on. Take on 5 Impurities, and you became a revenant. (None of the above apply to Runefolk, but if they are resurrected, they lose the last year's memories.)

Next is a section on character growth. I find this very interesting. At the end of a session (=adventure), it recommends the GM give 1,000 XP for attaining the adventure's goals, and 500 XP if unsuccessful, in addition to an "bonus XP" for defeating monsters (10 XP x monster level) and rolling auto-fails (50 XP). What's interesting about that is that this is the Level progression table (numbers in parentheses are cumulative totals):

Table A​
Table B​
1,000 (2,000)​
1,000 (1,500)​
1,500 (3,500)​
1,000 (2,500)​
1,500 (5,000)​
1,500 (4,000)​
2,000 (7,000)​
1,500 (5,500)​
2,500 (9,500)​
2,000 (7,500)​

If you consider that PCs start at roughly Level 2 in their primary Skill Package, it suggests that (assuming a 100% success rate), PCs will get level up roughly every two sessions, up to Level 5, and then it will take about three sessions to get to Level 6. Of course, leveling will likely be slightly slower due to unsuccessful adventures, and to buying levels for one's secondary Skill Packages. IMO, the game is essentially encouraging milestone leveling, while maintaining the tradition of accumulating XP totals.

This is another thing that illuminates, in retrospect, my experience playing D&D 4e with a Japanese group. Rather than a continuing campaign, it was 1 adventure per session, and we'd essentially do two sessions at a certain level and then level up. At the time I thought they were just eager to get through the levels and try different builds, but now I see that this is pretty standard in Japanese TRPG culture, and is in fact encouraged in the domestic games.

In addition to growth by standard leveling-up, at the end of every session, characters improve their ability scores. They roll 2d6, and choose one of the results. 1=Dexterity, 2=Agility, 3=Strength, 4=Constitution, 5=Wisdom, and 6=Spirit. The chosen ability score goes up by 1 point.

Next is a short section on Prestige. Prestige is gained by turning in "sword shards" (found in monsters) to the PC's adventurer's guild. However, the rules of what is done with Prestige are in Rulebook II.

The final section of the Rules covers Fellows. The essential concept of Fellows is basically the same as 5e's Sidekicks: simplified NPCs for the party. In addition to the expected pre-generated characters, each SW 2.5 Starter Set also comes with a selection of pre-generated Fellows that be used to fill out a party or to facilitate one-on-one play. But one might consider that a secondary expedient. Because the point of Fellows, unlike Sidekicks, is that they are created from PCs.

So probably the easiest way of understanding this (and probably the way they are most commonly used) is that you have a group. And sometimes, a player can't make it. Traditionally, this has been handled a number of ways we're probably all familiar with, from cutting the character out altogether, to Schroedinger's PCs (ostensibly "there" with the party, but not doing anything until the player returns), to having another player operate the missing player's character, if the character sheet is available. With the Fellow system, though, the missing player merely supplies the party with their PC in simplified form as a Fellow. The rules govern how the Fellow is handled, in a way that let's them contribute to the party while at the same time not making any other player (or even the GM!) responsible for playing that character. At the end of the session, the Fellow gets the same rewards and XP as the rest of the party.

Okay, again, nothing especially earth-shattering there. But what to me is most interesting about Fellows, and what is foregrounded in their section of the rules, is that Fellows can be publicly shared via websites and social media. In essence, GroupSNE hoped that Fellows would act to stimulate social media engagement in Sword World 2.5. Not only would one's own regular group make use of one's PC as a Fellow, but entirely separate groups, as well. Thus, the first section of the Fellows rules are concerned entirely with how a Fellow is pubicly shared, how they are treated by the receiving group, how the Fellow is rewarded, and how that is all communicated to the sharing player.

As they imagine it, a player has a character. They create a Fellow version of that character and shares it on, say, Twitter. Some other unrelated group says, "We need another PC for this coming session. That looks like an interesting Fellow. Let's put him in a party for the next session." The GM approves the Fellow. They play their session, gaining money, items, and XP. After the session, the group reports back to the Fellow's creator, thanking him, explaining what happened on the adventure, and what the Fellow gained. The creator takes that, and puts it back into the PC. Ostensibly (with GM approval), they can use the improved PC when playing in the next session. At the same time, they can create a new, improved version of the character as a Fellow, and repeat the process.

Next time, we'll look at this Fellow sharing process in more detail.


A couple questions and a comment:
  1. Runefolk lose their a year’s memories when they are resurrected. Does that include skill packages or just stuff that has happened in game?
  2. What constitutes a failed adventure? In (modern) D&D, PCs are usually expected to succeed. Having an adventure the PCs can lose may be decried as “not heroic”.
I’m looking forward to hearing more about how Fellows are shared. It sounds like a new twist on the old practice of playing the same character in multiple campaign (as a guest, etc).


A couple questions and a comment:
  1. Runefolk lose their a year’s memories when they are resurrected. Does that include skill packages or just stuff that has happened in game?
Just memories of people and events. Skill Packages and experience points are specifically noted as not being lost.
  1. What constitutes a failed adventure? In (modern) D&D, PCs are usually expected to succeed. Having an adventure the PCs can lose may be decried as “not heroic”.
Skipping ahead to the Game Master advice section, it says that success and failure is largely up to the GM, but in general if the PCs have a particular mission at the start of the game, completion of that mission counts as a success, regardless of what else might happen, while not completing that mission would count as a failure, regardless of what else might happen. But these are just guidelines; it's up to the GM, but the ruluboo says he should make a decision that the players can get behind.

It's probably good to note that the book, and Japanese TRPG culture in general, emphasizes focused and contained gameplay. The assumed default is to an adventure with a beginning, middle, climax, and ending all in one session. While the goals may be unclear in the beginning, or change in the middle, eventually they should become clear.

I also think the line about "500 XP if they fail," is something in the way of lip service, in that I think the game expects PCs to succeed much more often than not.
I’m looking forward to hearing more about how Fellows are shared. It sounds like a new twist on the old practice of playing the same character in multiple campaign (as a guest, etc).
I was vaguely aware of Fellows being stands-in for missing players, or extra heads to fill out a small party, so it was quite a trip to start reading the rules and see them discuss mainly how Fellows could be "hired out" to completely different parties.

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