I took a look at Spellcraft and Swordplay (S&S) recently to see if it had something to offer that the free old school games Labyrinth Lord and Swords and Wizardry did not. The latter two games are reproductions of early editions of Dungeons and Dragons and bring with them that game's benefits and problems. S&S is vaguely based on an even earlier game but has enough modifications to make it at least closer to being an actual original product.
I purchased the revised edition softcover through Lulu. The product itself is a nice 106 page text with some evocative woodcut illustrations and some terrible Larry Ellmore clipart. There's no point in ranting about the Ellmore art- if you don't mind then it's not an issue and if you do then I'm preaching to the choir. I do mention it mainly because if it were gone then this would be a much more fabulous book to leaf through.
Let's jump to the conclusion first. S&S is a terrific beginner's role playing game assuming at least one player has some prior experience in this genre. The book includes rules for spells, monster lists, treasure, and tips for designing your own magical creatures and opponents. Players have a fair variety of characters they can play and each character has some advantage which makes it appealing. Warriors, for example, are especially hardy and very effective in combat. Wizards can cast spells and create magical items. Several other character types are included, most of which are familiar to experienced D&D players.
Speaking of which, would an experienced D&D player ever want to play S&S? Non- D&D players can skip ahead here if they value their sanity. I think the author includes some interesting modifications to traditional D&D. Wizards can potentially cast spells repeatedly, with the odds of not forgetting a spell dropping as the spell's level increases. Warriors are the only class to get dexterity-based armor class adjustments. And rolls to hit are made on 2d6 and related to a target number based solely on the opponent's armor class. These are some of the changes which come to mind and each is going to please some people and offend others. For my purposes I play D&D with some component of loving nostalgia so I don't see myself switching my group to S&S. On the other hand, I could well imagine introducing new players to the genre with this game.
I think S&S is a very nice option for new players assuming they have one person to help decipher the rules and run the game. The author does have a tendency to write as if he knows for a fact that the reader has played D&D many times before. If this is not the case then the rules are going to generate some confusion from about page 8 onwards. On the other hand, for an experienced reader this game has a lot to offer. The combat system is simple and appealingly streamlined. The different character classes have very clear roles and strengths. The magic system allows beginner wizards to have more of a presence in the game. I think these qualities make S&S a very nice introductory system. If I had some 9 year olds I would probably start them out on this and see how things went.
Purists may find S&S irritating because "its roots are showing." They may say "that's not an accurate representation of Dungeons and Dragons!" Players of newer designs may complain that S&S lacks some game components now considered standard- extensive skill lists or feats. Both sides have valid points. From my perspective I see S&S as a very nicely designed game that gives props to the old school while providing an entryway for new school players. In some ways it may be best as an introduction game, which is what this blog is dedicated to discovering anyway.
You can purchase Spellcraft and Swordplay at Lulu.