Let's Read Sword World 2.5!

Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
Earth, Water, Ice, Flame, Wind, Lightning, Pure Energy, Cutting, and Shock (all kinds of damage), Poison, Sickness, Spiritual Effect, and Curse.

The elements in Final Fantasy games make a lot more sense now. Same for your SCAs--I just imagine Cyan and Sabin doing their little 16-bit thing. And that Peep ability in FF4--yeah, that's where that came from. Or is it? I wonder which way the inspiration ran?

To me the whole thing just reminds me more than anything else of the JRPGs I used to play on Gameboy and NES/SNES emulators--which, of course it does.

Thanks so much for doing this!
 

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Iosue

Legend
Earth, Water, Ice, Flame, Wind, Lightning, Pure Energy, Cutting, and Shock (all kinds of damage), Poison, Sickness, Spiritual Effect, and Curse.

The elements in Final Fantasy games make a lot more sense now. Same for your SCAs--I just imagine Cyan and Sabin doing their little 16-bit thing. And that Peep ability in FF4--yeah, that's where that came from. Or is it? I wonder which way the inspiration ran?

To me the whole thing just reminds me more than anything else of the JRPGs I used to play on Gameboy and NES/SNES emulators--which, of course it does.

Thanks so much for doing this!
The question of influence is a tough one. FF4 started development in 1990, at most a year after Sword World original edition came out. But I don't know if the original Sword World had Monster Knowledge Checks. Was it SW -> FF4 influence? FF -> later SW influence? Was it a common house rule in the TRPG community that led to parallel development?

But there are a lot of mechanics that "feel" like JRPG influences. Like every monster having its own "spoils" chart you roll on after it is defeated, to see what treasure or items they leave behind. I know that the roots of that are D&D, but the implementation just feels like a JRPG. Also in Sword World, monsters (typically boss monsters) can be infused with "sword shards" that give them extra power. When they are killed, the shard appears, to be collected by the PCs. The cross influence is certainly there.
 

Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
Agreed. The interesting thing is that some of them preserve elements of earlier editions of D&D (as occurs with languages, where distant relatives of a language may preserve elements from a distant ancestor via common descent--Old English had grammatical gender, for instance, as does modern German). To take your example, separate treasure tables by monster were phased out after 3e, but were a big (and confusing) part of 1e and 2e--who was supposed to have Treasure Type Y anyway? (Having the table in the monster entry removes the need to flip back and forth.) Also, mixing sci-fi elements was seen in earlier versions like 0e, but was mostly gone by 1e after Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.
 

Iosue

Legend
Agreed. The interesting thing is that some of them preserve elements of earlier editions of D&D (as occurs with languages, where distant relatives of a language may preserve elements from a distant ancestor via common descent--Old English had grammatical gender, for instance, as does modern German). To take your example, separate treasure tables by monster were phased out after 3e, but were a big (and confusing) part of 1e and 2e--who was supposed to have Treasure Type Y anyway? (Having the table in the monster entry removes the need to flip back and forth.) Also, mixing sci-fi elements was seen in earlier versions like 0e, but was mostly gone by 1e after Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.
This is just a personal, subjective rambling, and so probably deserves several grains of salt, but one thing I find interesting is that in general western RPG culture tries to establish distance from video games. I imagine TRPG designers look to CRPGs from a wider, games theory perspective, but I don't think the generally look to them for mechanical inspiration. And in the most notable case where that did happen, it was not favorably received, at least in terms of the discussion. Setting aside the merits of the claim of MMORPGs on 4e, in as far as the discussion about that went, such influence was meant as a critique, and the most common response to that critique was to dispute the degree of influence. Some have surely said, "Yes, it was influenced by video games, and there it is awesome!" but I think that was a minority opinion. (Again, only referring to the discussion here. I suspect that in actual play, any such influence was welcomed or passed over with little to no thought.)

In contrast, Japanese TRPGs seem to lean in to the relationship with CRPGs. Mechanics are foregrounded. The most obvious example of this in Sword World is Monster Knowledge Checks. In 4e, for example, which among D&D editions had those most fleshed out analogue for this kind of check, a Knowledge check provided varying degrees of ecological and behavioral knowledge. In Sword World? By the book, the GM straight up shows the players the monster's stats. When standard play is already so meta, I can't imagine video-game inspired mechanics or rules provide much in the way of friction.

One reason I think for this is that, in the US, at least, TRPGs came first, rose to a certain degree of prominence, and were the primary inspiration for the CRPGs that came after. Whereas in Japan, CRPG development came out of the already existing western CRPGs, rather than the TRPGs in the first place. Dragon Quest was very specifically designed to combine the best parts of Wizardry with the best parts of Ultima. That the result happened to resemble D&D was beside the point.

I was listening to a podcast interview with Andy Kitkowski, and he suggested a very interesting theory/take. Essentially, there had historically been about a 10 year lag for western pop cultural influences to reach Japan, and TRPGs were no exception. Just about 10 years after TRPGs came on the scene in the US, they took root in Japan. But just as they were getting established, seemingly poised to gain mindshare among the youth in Japan, the Famicom hit the shelves. Shinwa published the first official translation of D&D in 1985. What else came out in 1985? Dragon Quest, indisputably the biggest, most popular game series in Japan.

But we can go even further. For the last few years, Call of Cthulhu has been the top TRPG in Japan. But what was the impetus for its sudden growth and popularity? Not actual plays by live players, a la Critical Role. It was video "replays" of the game that used vocaloids for all voices, and featured the kind of pop-up character animation found in dating sims and cell-phone based CRPGs.

Western TRPGs came first, and were popular first, and there's a certain pride in that. Even as they are now eclipsed by such derivitive works, they define themselves by how they are different from CRPGs. Japanese TRPG culture has always been in the shadow of CRPGs, and so has always found it amenable to make common cause with them.
 

Iosue

Legend
So after talking about the concept of Fellows as something to be shared on social media and in fanzines, the rules go into how to make a Fellow public. The creator puts the character on the platform of their choice in the simplified Fellow form. They can make as many Fellow versions from one character as they want, but they should release only one at a time. There are two sidebars talking about the design of Fellows: 1) the problem with a group bringing an outside character in is that it's extra work for whoever has to manage it. The simplified Fellow design makes this easier. 2) What makes TRPGs interesting is the dual elements of a character's mechanics/data, and the their particular characteristics as expressed through role-play. Fellows seek to address both these elements.

Receiving a Fellow into a group is pretty straightforward. The group needs to decide on the Fellow together, and the GM needs to make sure that they fit the scenario that's being played. Multiple Fellows are allowed, but clones are discouraged. The creator's permission is not needed, as public releasing a Fellow is considered explicit approval. How the Fellow joins the party is left to the group, and just about anything is fine, e.g., introduction by the Guild, meeting in a tavern, or even just happening to run into each other in front of a dungeon.

The rules governing Fellows on adventures are as follows:
A party cannot be all Fellows. There must be at least one PC.
The players manage the Fellow. Actions taken by the Fellows are decided by agreement of all the party. The players are also responsible for managing the Fellow, although the GM must make sure such management is appropriate.
The Fellow is always at a selected PCs side. The position and location of the Fellow is always tied to a selected PC. Accordingly, Fellows cannot be sent off to act independently of the party. During combat, the Fellow must be in an area where there is a PC.
The Fellow's actions follow the Action Table. A Fellow character sheet contains an Action Table, and all important and specific actions the Fellow are decided by rolling on that table. Sidebar: Based on the GM's judgment, the Fellow can take small actions in situations where to not do so would otherwise be a problem. The example given is hiding behind some rocks with a PC. However, in such a case, there can never be a situation that the Fellow is taken prisoner while the PC is not, or vise versa.
PCs supply any consumables that the Fellow needs. There is no place on the Fellow character sheet for equipment. Any consumables (e.g., potions) are supplied by the party.
Fellows do not receive damage, nor are they affected by ill effects. Fellows cannot be targeted, and are not subject to ill-effects. However, the party cannot make use of this by forcing the Fellow to undertake dangerous tasks. Sidebar: Fellows are functionally immortal. This is to both reduce the management burden, and to prevent them from being carelessly killed. In effect, it seems like they avoid all danger by miraculous luck, but they cannot not be used with this expectation. The book gives the GM the authority to cancel any action that appears to be an abuse of this characteristic, in their own judgment. The PCs are the main characters, and the privilege of facing danger themselves belongs to them.
If there is a TPK, the Fellow automatically returns safely. Fellows cannot be killed or taken prisoner by themselves. The GM may determine what will happen to the characters, but a Fellow cannot save them. Such an adventure would be considered a failed one, and if a report to a client is necessary, the Fellow can be expected to make it.

Next comes a section called Report and Thanks. After using a Fellow, someone in the group should contact the creator of the Fellow, give a report on what happened and what the Fellow did, and express thanks. Negative messages are not needed. A sidebar is provided to reinforce this. As far as rewards, XP, and prestige goes, there's a place on the Fellow character sheet to indicate if these are desired or not. If desired, such rewards should be reported to the creator. And if they are desired, the Fellow gets a full share, just as the PCs do. Now, whether these earned rewards can be reincorporated into the existing character when playing in the creator's home game depends on the GM, who, depending on the scenario, may disallow some or all of them.

Next up, we get into the nitty-gritty of Felow play by a look at the Fellow character sheet and Fellow actions!
 

Iosue

Legend
So, regarding the uses of Fellows, I've been reading the first official SW 2.5 replay, as well as the scenarios that came with the Adventurer Guild Box Set. And in both, Fellows are used for a purpose we haven't discussed yet: NPCs who enter combat. In both the replay and the scenarios, the parties come across particular NPCs who are then with the parties when monsters attack. Now normally, in D&D this would be handled with either an NPC generated like a PC, or a generic PC statblock for a particular type, or a monster stat block of similar type. I believe SW 2.0's method was this last one. And typically, such an NPC would be controlled by the DM, of course, which could be a pain, or make things awkward. Does the DM target the NPC? Doing so gives the PCs the advantage of not taking those attacks. Does the DM only target the PCs? In that case, the PCs get what are essentially free attacks every round from the NPC. But Fellows slot into this role quite nicely, neither putting extra strain on the DM or players, nor do they provide a disproportionate advantage to the PCs, despite their essential invincibility.

How do they do it? Here's a sample Fellow stat block:
Name: Wolf
Race:
Human Gender: Male Age: 16
Skill Package Level: 2 MP: 10
Skill Packages: Fighter 2/Scout 1
Languages: Common Trade Tongue (Spoken/Written), Burlight Dialect (Spoken/Written)
Self-Introduction: I'm a hot-blooded SOB who loves adventures. Nice to meet you!
XP: Not desired Rewards: Desired
Fellow Action Table
1d
Assumed die result
Action
Speech
Attained result
Effect
1-2​
7​
Sword attack (Melee)​
"Eat some sword!"​
12​
Power: 25/C(10)+4​
3-4​
8​
Scout Perception Check​
"What's this?!"​
11​
5​
9​
Full Power Attack (Melee)​
"Now for the coup de grace!"​
14​
Power: 25/C(10)+8
Skip next turn​
6​
10​
Scout Athletics Check​
"Leave it to me!"​
13​

The upper block contains basic information about the character. The self-introduction should indicate what they bring to the table. Here the creator also indicates if they want XP or rewards for the character.

Then comes the Fellow Action Table. Essentially, Fellows can only do the actions on the table. They should be not be expected to do any more than help the PCs by providing (a chance of) the actions therein. And the opportunity to use those actions depend on the PCs. The opportunity to roll for an attack only occurs if the PCs are in combat. The opportunity to roll for an action check only occurs if a PC is also rolling for a check.

When the opportunity for a Fellow Action occurs, you roll 1d6 and consult the first column. If the result matches the situation, the action occurs, and resolved based on the "Attained result" column. If the result does not match the situation (e.g., a Scout Perception Check is required, but the result is an attack), then it is as if the Fellow did not attempt the action, or attempted the action and failed.

In combat, then, it is not guaranteed that a Fellow will contribute on any given round. To make up for this unreliability, targets for the Fellow's attacks are determined after the result is seen. For example, there are two enemies, a strong boss monster, and a minion monster on its last legs. If the roll on the Fellow Action Table indicates a basic sword attack, the party can direct it to the low-HP monster, while if the result the Full Power Attack, they may decide to direct that at the boss monster, since it would be overkill on the minion.

The PC group can cancel Fellow Actions at any time. If they roll hoping for a Perception Check to see if an NPC is lying, and a Full Power Attack comes up, naturally that doesn't mean the Fellow mindlessly attacks the NPC. Or, if you have a Fellow with both healing and attack magic, and you need them to use the last of their MP to heal, the PCs can cancel an attack magic result, even though it may fit the situation.

Fellows use MP just like PCs, so it must be tracked, and if they don't have enough MP to cast any particular magic result that comes up, that action is automatically canceled.

When making a Fellow Action Table, the first two columns are already set as above. The Assumed die result is what the Fellow can be assumed to have rolled on 2d6 for that action. This is combined with their bonuses to create the Attained result. The Wolf PC has a +5 to-hit bonus, so for the basic attack, 7 + 5 = 12. For the Full Power Attack, it's 9 + 5 = 14. Likewise, the Wolf PC has +3 bonus for these Scout action checks, so the Attained result of the Perception Check is 8 + 3 = 11, and for the Athletics Check, 10 + 3 = 13.

The same action can only be listed twice on the Action Table, and if one is in the 1-2 or 3-4 slot, then the other has to be in the 5 or 6 slot. Other than that, there's lots of leeway for making Fellows. As a GM, you might create a Fellow with an all-combat Action Table, to give the party a temporary boost for, or in preparation for, a big boss fight (this is what the GM does in the first official replay). Or if they're in a part of adventure where succeeding in action checks is important, you can make all-action check Fellow. The standard method is as above, with two combat slots and two action check slots, but you might weight particular aspects in the 1-2 and 3-4 slots to increase their chances of occurring. Fellows are both pretty quick and easy to make, and yet also highly flexible in design.

The rest of the rules is filled with some Fellow creation minutiae that we need not go into here, so that brings us to a wrap on Fellows. I was so intrigued by these rules, that when my sister told me she couldn't make it to our next 5e game, I statted up a Fellow version of her Paladin, had her come up with the Speech lines for each action, and used it in the next session.

And that ends the Rules section of the book! Next up is the Data section. This is filled with Magic, Special Combat Abilities, and Items, so we'll next look at Magic -- that is, spells in Sword World 2.5.
 
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Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
I love the 'Speech' table with every action. You can totally see the anime freeze-frame with the character's sword or whatever held high in the air in an action pose.

The randomly generated action reminds me of those auto-combat NPCs like Umaro from FF6.
 

Iosue

Legend
The first section we look at in the Data chapter is Magic. That is, essentially spells, but SW uses neither the word "spell" or its Japanese equivalent "jumon" in the rulebook. This section is split into four parts: True Speech Magic (for Sorcerers), Manipulation Magic (for Conjurers), Holy Magic (for Priests), and Magictec (for Magitec users).

The chapter opens with an explanation of the format, which reminds me of D&D 4e powers. First is an icon with the spell's level in it. The icon is a wizard's hat for True Speech Magic, a fireball for Manipulation Magic, a diamond for Holy Magic, and a hexagonal gear-shape for Magitec. After the icon comes the magic's name, followed by Consumption for how much MP it costs. The next line is the Target, the Range and Shape, then Duration, and Resistance (for the result of a success resistance check). The next line is a Summary, a quick one-line reference of what the spell does, and Property. Finally comes Effect, in which the mechanics for how the spell works is detailed.

The Effect box is typically pretty concise. The books manages to fit four spells to a page with this format, and since there are only four spells per level, that means it only needs about six pages per style of magic to cover all the spells characters will have access to with these rules. Holy Magic gets a few extra pages because there are only two spells on the pages for 2nd level and 4th level magic. That is because Priests get specialty magic at these levels depending on who their god is. After the general Holy Magic spells are listed, it lists two spells (one 2nd level and one 4th level) for each of eight different deities. In this post, we'll look at True Speech Magic and Manipulation Magic.

True Speech Magic
Prototypical "wizard" magic, with many analogues from D&D, but IMO, generally more nerfed than their D&D counterparts.

Level 1: Energy Bolt (low-level damage at single target), Blunt Weapon (penalty to damage from target), Light (cancels darkness penalties), Lock (locks a regular lock without the necessary key)

Level 2: Sense Magic (detects presence of magic, but no other information), Dispel Magic (dispels one magic effect with the Curse property), Nap (target cannot take actions and has a -4 to any checks until woken by being touched by an ally), Vitality (bonus to Life Resistance checks)

Level 3: Unlock (automatically unlocks regular locks, and is an opposed roll for magic locks), Sense Enemy (can sense if the target considers themselves an enemy of the caster, but if the caster is in line of sight of the target, the target immediately knows that a spell was cast on them), Paralyze (-2 penalty to Life Resistance or Evasion checks), Reap/Slash (damage with a magic blade to one target)

Level 4: Familiar (creates a magical creature to serve the caster), Marking (magical tracker for one object at a time), Lightning (area effect damage)

Level 5: Weapon Master (temporarily gives target one of a number of SCAs), Wall Walking (self-explanatory), Translate (ditto), Blast (powerful damage vs one target)

Level 6: Conceal Self (conceals the caster if they use only Limited Movement and don't do anything), Hard Lock (magically locks normal locks), Fireball (powerful area-effect damage), Levitation (allows levitation in Limited Movement)

Manipulation Magic
This is largely buffing and nerfing support magic. It has one fairly weak offensive spell, and one fairly weak healing spell. Of special note are its "doll" spells, which animate a doll to do the caster's bidding. (Visually, thought not quite effectually, think Lulu from Final Fantasy X.) It doesn't have to be the caster's doll (though they will likely carry one or more of their own), but once spells are cast on a doll, no spells from some other person will work on it. Animated dolls have the physical capabilities of a small child, and judgments thereof are left to the GM.

Level 1: Enchant Weapon (+1 damage to target weapon), Spark (weak version of lightning), Dark Mist (area effect -2 to Evasion), Protection (+1 armor protection to physical and magical damage, but not poison, illness, or curse damage)

Level 2: Earth Heal (weak healing), Countermagic (+2 to spiritual resistance), Command Doll (command their doll to perform an action), Fanaticism (+2 to-hit, -2 Evasion)

Level 3: Fire Weapon (adds fire property to damage, and a +2), Raising Earth (+3 HP recovery for each of three rounds)

Level 4: Disguise (magically disguise into another humanoid or Barboros; can be penetrated with a regular True-or-Lie check), Doll Sight (caster sees through the eyes of their doll), Forbidden Magic (suppresses, or "forbids", magic of a particular type, at Level 3 or lower), Poison Cloud (area effect, -3 damage while in the cloud)

Level 5: Earth Shield (+2 armor protection), Intense Control (+2 to-hit and Evasion to any doll, golem, familiar, or undead controlled by the caster), Spell Enhance (+1 magic bonus to one target)

Level 6: Counter-sense (allows caster to determine type, name, effect, and caster of any magic cast on them), Stun Cloud (all in effected area cannot make declaration SCAs or minor actions), Mana Absorb (area effect; all those effected spend double mana when casting a spell, but receive 3 HP in return), Remote Doll (the caster "enters" the doll, and can move and talk, but cannot use any skill packages or SCAs.)

My overall impression is that the MP system, combined with the fact that casters get all the spells in their Skill Package at their level or lower makes SW casters much more versatile than their D&D counterparts, but the effectiveness of any one particular spell is not quite as powerful as its D&D analogue. From the POV of a game master and general player, I think it's a much more reasonable and sound magic system than any of the D&D versions. But, I don't know if those who like playing magic-users in particular would find the more restrained effects as being as much fun.

Nap, incidentally, was one of the major balance changes from 2.0 to 2.5. In 2.0, the spell was actually Sleep, and though it affected one character, they would fall completely asleep, only awakened by losing HP or MP, or by an ally using a Main Action. Nap now simply removes their ability to move or take actions, with passive checks being at -4, but they can be awakened by an ally simply touching them (a Minor, and therefore essentially a Free Action).

Next time, we'll take a closer look at Holy Magic and Magitec.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
If the maximum level is 15, but there are far fewer spell levels, is there a reason to go higher than your highest spell level? To get a larger bonus for when you need to roll while casting a spell? Maybe I’m missing something ….
 

Iosue

Legend
If the maximum level is 15, but there are far fewer spell levels, is there a reason to go higher than your highest spell level? To get a larger bonus for when you need to roll while casting a spell? Maybe I’m missing something ….
Rulebook I only covers levels 1-6. Rulebook II covers levels 7-10, and Rulebook III covers levels 11-15. The spells for the higher levels are covered in the respective ruluboo.
 

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