Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Swords & Wizardry, or How I Fell in Back in Love with Old School

I started playing D&D with the 1981 Moldvay edition of D&D. It was borrowed from a friend's dad. I didn't have a full grasp of the rules or even what the creatures were. (I sent against my brother's heroes a horde of Halflings, for instance.) Until that point, my only "roleplaying" experience was either through video games like The Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy, or through the classic dungeon crawler boardgame: Hero Quest. We made up a lot of things as we went along, especially when the game took us in a direction that the rules weren't clear about. At the time, in our feverish young minds, not having a rule set in stone was cause for argument and likely fighting, so it didn't take long to move to my friend's father's version of AD&D 1st edition, which had a lot more rules, and from there onto 2nd edition and to 3rd and so on. Each edition added to the rules base. Sometimes the rules made sense, other times, not so much. It wasn't until shortly after the release of 3.5 that I realized that I wasn't really having any fun. All these rules and special circumstances had become a drag on not only the game, but my desire to play it. Eventually, I wandered away from fantasy gaming in general, heading off to the fertile fields of pulp and sci-fi gaming with lighter systems that fit not only the play-style I preferred but also allowed me to focus less on the prep (prepping even mid-level games in 3.5 was a nightmarish chore) and more on enjoying the game.

Although I had left D&D several times in the past, there's something familiar about fantasy gaming that keeps me coming back. D&D especially draws me in. I've tried running other fantasy systems or multi-genre systems in a fantasy world from GURPS to Savage Worlds, none really drew me in they way that D&D's tried and true class-based system has. However, the thought of running D&D...bleh. Once I discovered the OSR games, I was being drawn in, first on a wave of nostalgia, but then I became entranced by the changes made to the classic games. Still, even though I enjoy Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Basic Fantasy Roleplay, it wasn't until I found Swords & Wizardry that it really struck home how awesome old school could be.

Swords & Wizardry struck the right chord between the old and the new. Support for Ascending AC first caught my eye. Then I noticed the single save. Even though the rules were based on of the little books from D&D initial beginnings, races and classes were split up. The rules were slim and left many things open to the interpretation of each individual GM. The support of the Tome of Horrors converted for use with Swords & Wizardry didn't hurt in the least either. By the time I finished reading the rules, I was hooked and new this was the fantasy game for me.

Anyone reading this blog should know that I won't leave a system unchanged. Matt Finch even supported the hacking up of the rules by releasing a text version for those of us that want to hack into the game to really make it our own. Excellent! (I've covered some of the changes I've made to S&W in the past here.) I've modified classes from various OSR sources, like Classes of the Far East for Labyrinth Lord, to add to the game. I changed races from having to roll specific benchmarks to simple bonuses and penalties to stats, and expanded the selection. I added in skills like those found in the D&D  Rules Cyclopedia. Elven magic-users have additional spells they can choose spells from in addition to the normal magic-user list (a carry over from Basic D&D, but one that reinforced the supposed Elven tie to magic that never seems to be very evident in the rules). Spells that were easily converted from various Basic, 1st, and 2nd edition sources were added to the lists. I've bloated the rulebook, but didn't add many rules, that's the great thing.

Swords & Wizardry has given me what I've wanted, one that is inspired by the old, but takes mods from the new; a system that's written very much with the idea that the system will be tore into and made into a wholly new beast.

Enough pumping up S&W. My next post will start to outline the setting I'll be working on as a semi-regular feature along with my sci-fi setting and (hopefully) the MSH setting to boot. (Yes, I am that much of a glutton for punishment, and no I really don't have all that much free time.)

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