It took me a long time to check out the Complete edition of Swords and Wizardry. I’ve been a fan of the Core edition for quite awhile now, but I always dismissed the Complete edition as a more “commercial” version. Of course, that’s hypocritical of me; I also support Goblinoid Games, and they’ve certainly made a strong commercial push as well.
The higher price of the Complete PDF was always a turn-off, and the fact that Frog God Games had run out of hardcovers. I generally prefer to support those who use Lulu or other print-on-demand services for their paper copies. So for this rulebook, it is only because of its recent Kickstarter for a second printing that finally convinced me to purchase both the PDF and hardcover. The PDF can be purchased from DriveThruRPG here.
Putting aside the changes the new printing have brought (mainly a new cover by Erol Otus and errata/typos fixed), there’s a lot to take from this edition. Compared to Core which only had 4 classes available (if the thief is used), Complete has 9 available, pulled from all OD&D supplements released by TSR before it moved on to AD&D. There’s some that I know I’d never use (Monk and Druid), but it’s good to give other players and DMs more options.
Like the other 2 editions of Swords and Wizardry, Complete is still a game that relies on the rulings of the Gamemaster and the active imaginations of the players to ensure an enjoyable gaming session. Despite a few more rules and options, this is still a rules-light game compared to modern systems. Complete is rooted in OD&D and its encouragement of actually roleplaying.
Unlike Core, the interior of Complete is totally black and white, including the charts. That’s not a huge complaint, but the colors used in Core are very easy on the eyes. Where Complete does shine is its artwork. I don’t think there’s a single piece I don’t like (unlike in Core), and several of them are nothing short of stunning. Unfortunately the text isn’t as great, as its small size makes it hard to read; this is primarily with the PDF, the hardcover is a bit easier on the eyes. As the total page-count isn’t very large, I’m not sure why a slightly larger font size wasn’t chosen like in Core.
There is one thing about the Complete rules that does bother me: class restrictions. Of course this isn’t limited to Complete, as it’s something OD&D and AD&D have as well. Compared to newer editions of D&D and Pathfinder, or the broad classes offered by S&W Core and Labyrinth Lord, Complete basically says no to a lot of options. Want to be an Elven ranger? Sorry, no can do. A halfling assassin? Wrong again. Most of the “non-core” classes are listed as human only. Now, it would be pretty easy to house-rule that away. But compared to adding a custom class to Core, I’m already having to strip away something from Complete that I don’t agree with. As mentioned later editions of D&D and Pathfinder have no such restrictions; even Castles and Crusades list “typical classes” for each race, but by no means does it restrict a player’s choice. Of course, if I wanted to play an Elven ranger in Core I would need to be an Elven fighter on paper, but simply equip with a bow, etc. to be a ranger in my mind. In Labyrinth Lord and other B/X editions I would simply be an Elf.
The new printing of Complete also leaves some questions in my mind. The new cover by Erol Otus is definitely an improvement over the first printing, but it’s still nowhere near the excellent Peter Mullen cover of Core (of course I’ll admit I’m a huge Mullen fan and wish for a retroclone solely with his work…). The PDF I was sent by Frog God Games is a fraction of the size of the PDF for the first printing, the images are horribly pixelated (except for the new cover), and there’s no back cover. I’ve emailed them to see if this can be fixed.
So compared to all the other retroclones, editions of (O)(A)D&D and Pathfinder, etc. why would one choose Complete? Well, one reason is just to support Mythmere Games; while Matt may get a small profit from printings via Lulu, the higher costs of Complete (hopefully) offer more support to him as well as to show support for future offerings for Swords and Wizardry. Would I choose Complete over the Labyrinth Lord AEC? Probably, since it’s just one volume. Would I choose it over Castles and Crusades? Probably so, again since it’s one volume and is superior in layout and readability. The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to start with the free Core edition. If you enjoy that game, and Matt’s writing, and wish to have more options, then by all means go for Complete.