Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook, by Matt Finch

My order from Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day came on Thursday, the Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook and the module Grimmsgate (which I'll cover in an upcoming post), both written by Matt Finch. Sure, I got the pdfs, too, but there's nothing quite like holding a physical book in your hands (call me old fashioned). Also, I got these just in time for the resurrection of my Expeditions in the Northlands Campaign, which takes place this Sunday.

Caveat: I'm already biased toward this system, (if you hadn't noticed) and tend to like more rules lite systems. I've been wanting to run this game for a few years now, but had to complete my D&D 3.5e campaign first.

For those who don't know what Swords & Wizardry is, let me summarize:

It a basic sense, it's an updated version of the original D&D rulebooks published way back in the 1970s. I don't want to call it a retroclone, because its not an exact emulation of these books. Instead it clarifies and expands on the rules/guidelines found in those early books and supplements. You can download the free pdf of the Swords & Wizardry basic rules here.

The Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook is an updated version of those basic rules found in that link, which only covers the four "iconic" character classes: fighter/fighting-man, cleric, magic-user, and thief. In this book, you also get the Assassin, Druid, Monk, Paladin, and Ranger. I would describe it as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons "lite," because it includes revisions of material found in the original 1974 boxed set, supplements, and the 1979 Holmes Edition.

The rulebook is, as it says, complete. You don't need any other books or supplements to run games. It includes sections on character creation, combat, spells, monsters, and magic items. Even to my delight, you'll find guidelines on conducting mass, aerial, and naval combat. And the layout is fairly simple and straightforward.

So why buy the Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook?

I'm hesitant to call it a "rulebook," because it harkens back to the days when rules were more or less seen as guidelines. And that's the philosophy behind this updated version.

Also, those original rulebooks from the 1970s were (how shall I put this?) hard to decipher at times. There was hardly anything "complete" about them, just a bunch of options for players and "referees" to use as they see fit. The original D&D rules required that you had Chainmail to understand the combat system. Swords & Wizardry Complete brings many of these options into a coherent format all in one book.

Again, let me emphasize the words "guidelines" and "options":
--"0e", as the book calls the version of D&D from the 1970s, used combat tables. If you don't want to use those, it provides the "ascending AC" system that's found in more "modern" editions of D&D.
--You have four different methods of running combat rounds. Chose one and go with it.
--The alignment system is law, neutral, and chaos--but who's to say you can't integrate alignment graph from say, AD&D.
--I disagree with how the rules allocate bonuses to ability scores, I can change them with few problems.
--I've taken the character "funnelling system" from Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG and integrated it with Swords & Wizardry with no problems.

Think of Swords & Wizardry Complete as template, one you can alter as you see fit.

In summary...

Presentation: 8 out of 10
Creativity: 7 out of 10 (I'm kinda torn on this one. The rules themselves are updates from the originals, but yet the "spirit" of the game encourages lots of creativity).
Utility: 9 out of 10

Buy this if: you want a rules-lite RPG, easy to tinker with, simple to run even for players new to RPGs (in fact I encourage you to introduce new people to RPGs with this system), or if you want to run something similar to D&D back in the 1970s, but don't want to risk those little brown books.

Don't buy this if: You want a "complete" rule set with lots of "crunch" and rules that cover lots of specific situations.

Yeah, I know, I used Grognardia's system. But since it seems that J. M. is not longer updating that blog and has gone into hiding...

1 comment:

  1. We have the exact same order! Of course, I had to wait until Friday to pay for mine...

    I'm just like you in that I have the pdfs as well, but prefer a book!


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