Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Swords and Wizardry - old school RPGs Part 2

This post is a follow-up to yesterday's, which discussed old style role playing games. The 1970's saw the birth of modern role playing games (RPGs). Legal events have allowed small publishers to reprint slightly modified versions of those first editions. One example of this is Labyrinth Lord, which we reviewed yesterday. A second example is Swords and Wizardry. Both are called "retro-clones, " close copies of early Dungeons and Dragons. In the case of Swords and Wizardry the version being emulated is one of the first editions of Dungeons and Dragons printed. For basic descriptions of how role playing games work please check an earlier post.

Swords and Wizardry is another RPG set in a fictional, dark ages world. Wizards roam the land and can cast spells, there are goblins in the forests and dragons in the dungeons. In all corners of the world there are opportunities for brave men, women, elves and dwarves to go, have adventures, and return laden with gold and treasure.

Dungeons and Dragons has been published in several editions and forms. Swords and Wizardry aims to present some of the earliest rules published. Players can take the role of a fighter/warrior, a wizard, or a cleric. Your character may be a human, an elf, or a dwarf. Readers with some experience in RPGs may ask, "what about hobbits? What about playing a thief?" These elements were introduced in later editions of Dungeons and Dragons and thus are not found here. The rules do include lists of monsters you may encounter, spells for the wizard and cleric to cast, and lists of magical treasures and items which you may find.

Coming on the heels of my post on Labyrinth Lord a person might wonder whether there is any significant difference between the two games. Swords and Wizardry is certainly a simpler product. While it lacks specific rules in several areas the text repeatedly encourages players to alter or augment the existing rules. This is very much in the spirit of Dungeons and Dragons, which in its early form absolutely begged to be modified and tinkered with. One might imagine that industrious players will come up with rules for hobbits, undersea adventures, magical flying boats, who knows? That emphasis on "take these rules and make them your own" is a nice touch.

I also found the rules of Swords and Wizardry easier to follow than those of Labyrinth Lord. Explanations flowed well and rules elements seemed to be presented in a more logical fashion. Neither set is crystal clear, but I felt that I could follow the former more easily.

The simplicity of Swords and Wizardry may verge on excessive for a modern player. Granted this is a clone of a vintage game and it's being played in that light but even nostalgia seekers may find it a tough one to fully engage in. For example, slightly stronger characters are about as effective as massively strong ones. Later versions of the game would award progressively higher benefits for progressively better strength, quickness, and toughness and I would find that hard to play without. Interestingly the publishers of Swords and Wizardry have addressed some of these thoughts with a free primer on old school role playing. I think it raises some valid points and is a worthwhile read for people used to playing modern role playing games.

As with Labyrinth Lord, one could ask who might enjoy these rules. I think they're a perfect introduction to RPGs for older children and teens with an interest in the games, assuming there is some adult who can offer tips and translation of odd terms. Swords and Wizardry is a free download so the price is certainly right. The rules will allow you to try out simple role playing and see if it suits you and your family. The writing style is slightly easier to follow than that of Labyrinth Lord, but players get fewer options in terms of the types of characters they can run. Perhaps in the end this is the best initial foray into RPGs, again assuming you have a more experienced player around to start things off. Without such a person I would look towards Zorcerer of Zo unless you have some very industrious and clever kids.

Swords and Wizardry is available free from Mythmere Games. They also offer some support material and an adventure pack.

Pros: cheap, simple, fun

Cons: may be too simple, little support material available

Beyond the Basics: just every role playing game ever published.

No comments:

Post a Comment