the wonder of role-playing games: reviews, solo rpgs, old-school & narrative games

16 Apr 2015

Why Swords & Wizardry?

Perhaps you are like me and spend too much money on buying RPG stuff. Or perhaps you’re just the opposite and want to have cool swag without paying for it.
Some time ago I didn’t know anything about the Old School Renaissance (OSR) and nothing about Swords & Wizardry. I’m not a grognard and haven’t played any of the original games. Instead, I began with D&D 3.5 which was kind of confusing for a first time player.
Maybe that’s the reason I prefer rules-lite games. I like to focus on action, story, suspense, instead of looking up and discussing rules.
I choose easy and if possible I choose free.

Why Swords & Wizardry?

It is old school. S&W is a retro-clone of the original D&D from 1974 with rules clarifications and some additions. The original booklets were a bit obscure and also assumed familiarity with miniature games and the Chainmail ruleset for combat. S&W is rewritten and much easier to understand. Still, it is a simulacrum of the original D&D and you can dungeon-crawl to your heart and play the old modules.
New school isn’t necessarily better. It just depends on what you like. Old school D&D has a focus on exploration, resource management and strategy as a whole which doesn’t make it less of a value than newer iterations of D&D. It is rules-lite and complete. There are three iterations of S&W: WhiteBox, Core and Complete. I personally prefer the stripped-down WhiteBox which leaves out the later supplements. The task resolution mechanism is even more streamlined and unified. It only has the three core classes (Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User). If that’s not enough for you, you might want to take a look at the WhiteBox Omnibus (aff) by Barrel Rider Games (review here).
However, Complete also has its merits, as it covers a lot of ground, many optional rules, more classes, more levels etc. Core is somewhere in the middle.
But every iteration is a complete game in its own right. And they are fairly lightweight, especially compared to later D&D games like 3.X, 4 or Pathfinder. For me, that’s how I can emphasize playing the game instead of pushing around miniatures (nothing wrong with that, it’s just not what I enjoy in RPGs). It’s free. There is the rationale that people don’t value free stuff because they didn’t have to work for it. In some cases that might be true but just because something is free doesn’t mean it’s not good. The whole open-source movement defies that idea. I’m running Linux on this machine and it is an awesome OS and it’s totally free.
S&W’s electronic versions are 100% free. They are clearly works of love and well-rounded games. These rulesets can easily beat some games that cost money. It’s easy. I don’t have to read tons of stuff to get started. Especially the WhiteBox version is forgiving in this regard. I’m free from the pressure of knowing all the rules because the game is so uncomplicated. Even the saving throws are streamlined. If you choose ascending AC it’s also familiar to newer gamers where a target number is more intuitive. S&W is easy to learn and it just WORKS. It’s universal (for D&D-like games). S&W is often called the rosetta stone of the OSR. It has the traditional descending armor class as well as the newer ascending armor class. It’s easy to convert D&D games to it and from it. The OGL allows people to create compatible stuff with it, so you’ll find lots of material written for S&W.


Every fantasy gamer should take a look at Swords & Wizardry. It draws inspiration from the very first role-playing game but makes it playable even for a newer generation. S&W is a game that has a lot to offer: it’s lightweight, easy to learn and the PDFs are free. This blog post is part of the Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day 2015.

Swords & Wizardry
White Box Omnibus (aff)