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.