Review: Swords & Wizardry Core

I can still remember the impression the S&W Core Rules, a clone of Original Edition of Dungeons and Dragons, left on me the first time I read them.  I hadn’t read Matt Finch’s Old School Primer yet, but while reading the Core rules the enthusiasm was infectious. It had been a long time since a rulebook had really gotten me excited to play while reading.  There are actually 3 versions of S&W: Whitebox, Core  and Complete.  The first two are available free on the Mythmere Games website, while Complete can be purchased from Frog God Games.  Whitebox clones the 3 original Little Brown Books only, while Complete includes all supplements released for OD&D; Core includes a few items from the first few supplements.  Is the enthusiasm of the writing too much?  Does it take the place of where clear rules explanations and elaboration should be?  Also, does the 3 different editions “water down” the S&W brand/name/experience?

As mentioned above, the Core Rules PDF is completely free (PDF link here). Hard-copy prints can be purchased through Lulu; the prices aren’t too bad, between the low price of Basic Fantasy and the higher price of Labyrinth Lord. Unlike Labyrinth Lord, the Core Rules PDF includes the same high-resolution art you’d get in the Lulu printing; perhaps a small thing, but my mind did take note of that. As I’ve now read the Complete edition, I did notice that the artwork in Core is different from that in Complete. There’s a few pieces in Core that I like, but also a few that I’m not a big fan of (namely the dragon). Besides the art, the layout and look of the Core rules is pretty good. Readability is very good (the text is larger than in Complete), but there are many large blocks of white-space where additional art could have been used.  The charts have alternate coloring in them, making them far easier to read than any other game (Castles and Crusades has alternating colors in the new printing, but it’s two shades of brown).

As noted in the text, S&W Core is a game of brevity.  It doesn’t pretend or try to have rules for everything.  Based on OD&D, it is extremely light by today’s standards: 4 classes (if Thief is allowed), 4 races, and no skills or feats.  This is a game that will need a Gamemaster who’s quick on their feet.  Roll up your stats, pick a class and some equipment, and it’s time to play!  Swords and Wizardry, and by extension OD&D, is made for house-ruling.  While its bare-bones structure may scare off newcomers to RPGs, it can be a great way to begin.  Don’t know how to do something or don’t like what’s written?  House-rule it!  Want a d100 skill system?  BAM, it’s in!  Rather have ability checks based on ability scores, similar to Castles and Crusades?  WHAM, you got it!  Stick to OD&D style, and just describe in narrative to the Gamemaster what you want to do, and he rolls a D20?  Well that’s fine too!  It is also very easy to create your own classes and races, so if the 4 standard ones aren’t enough (or you really want to be a Bard…) it’s simple to add that in.

Again, this may frighten a lot of people.  Some may be better off with Labyrinth Lord, as it has a more concrete but still simple foundation.  But again, it’s hard to not get excited while reading Swords and Wizardry about playing and already brainstorming your own rules.  If you decide to do this and come up with enough changes, you may want to even go so far as to create your own custom document that integrates your rules with Matt’s.  Well guess what?  Here is a link to an RTF text version, provided by Matt, so you can do just that!

Like many retroclones, the Core book is the only one you’ll need to get started playing.  Along with rules for player creation and combat, monsters and treasure are also in the book.  The monster descriptions are kept pretty brief, as Matt wants the Gamemaster to describe the creature to the players in their own terms, and bring a fresh perspective to monsters that have now been around for decades.  Again, for some people that’s not going to be great, while for some they’ll be happy to be given the bare minimum and go off on their own.

Free Dominguez Kickstarter

Yes, another Kickstarter post. This time for the second solo album from Free Dominguez, lead singer of Kidneythieves. This Kickstarter has already met its goal of $30,000 and still has 27 days to go. Unlike her first solo album, this one will feature electric and electronic instruments. I’m excited for what this album will sound like. I haven’t listened to the new Kidneythieves albums yet, but Free has always had a steady output of music, both with a band and solo, and so I’m glad to see her continuing to evolve and to use Kickstarter as a way to get her music out there.

Fate Core Kickstarter

If you haven’t heard of Fate, it’s an updated and improved take on the Fudge RPG rules. It’s a very different but very rules-light and roleplay-heavy system, and has won critical acclaim in the RPGs Spirit of the Century, Dresden Files, Diaspora and more. Now, the company behind this system and games, Evil Hat, is running a Kickstarter to produce an improved writing of these rules in a system-neutral book ala GURPS and others. With these rules, you can run anything from fantasy, science fiction, cyberpunk, and more.

I haven’t personally used the Fate rules, but have heard many great things about it. The buy-in for this Kickstarter is very low; $1 gets you immediate access to the working draft, while $10 will get you all of the PDF expansions that are unlocked. As of this writing, it’s already at $66, 812, with an original goal of $3,000. I commend Evil Hat for setting a realistic goal as well as a long timeline. Right now 10 expansions have already been unlocked, with another one very close. There’s still 55 days ago, so who knows how far this thing can go.

Blog updates

I currently have 11 posts in draft.

When most people blog, I imagine that each post is a spur-of-the-moment thing (like this post is), and it gets written and posted in one sitting. Maybe it takes a couple minutes, maybe a few hours with a pot of coffee. Most of mine tend to take days if not weeks. I like to write reviews, so it takes a lot more time to really get into what I’m reviewing, collect my thoughts, and then work on how to even structure the review (I try to avoid templates or any other rigid structures when possible). Also, since this is something I do on my own, not getting paid, and no deadline set, I am a bit lax on getting posts done in a timely manner.

It also feels weird for me to upload such a short post. Yeah I could have posts that even just have a link or image I’d want to share, but I don’t really do that anyways (I’m not on Twitter, Facebook, etc.). One nice thing about having many posts in draft is that I can easily see what kind of things are on my mind, what interests me now. Ideally I’d like to write about a number of topics with a fair number of posts for each, but that usually isn’t the way my mind works.

Star Wars

I first saw Star Wars as I did the Star Trek movies: on good old VHS. We had several drawers of VHS tapes, and nothing beat picking out a tape and putting it into the huge tank of a player and watch the movie on the glowing tube TV. For me, it was almost always a Star Wars or Trek movie. Growing up, I watched both on a regular basis. I saw the re-releases in theater with my mom, and it was great to watch Star Wars on the big screen. A couple years later the new movies came out, and while I had mixed feelings about the movies themselves it was still great to see Star Wars movies in the theaters. Since Revenge of the Sith was released, it’s been several years since I’ve watched a Star Wars movie at home, while I have still watched a Star Trek movie at least once a week. It was only recently that I’ve asked myself why that is.

Growing up, Star Wars blew my mind just like everyone else’s. While I didn’t watch it in theaters to begin with, it was almost better for me to watch them at home; it was just me and the screen, and I was immersed in this world of adventure and heroism. Compared to the cold scientific logic of Star Trek, Star Wars is a warm blanket of risk and romance. I’m surprised I didn’t wear those tapes out. Every time we stayed over at my aunt’s, we watched them there as well.

When the self-recorded VHS copies wore out, we purchased the THX VHS trilogy set.  These had some clean-up work done to them, but it was still the original movies.  A few years later, the Special Edition set was released and we bought those as well.  New effects and more changes had been done to the films.  Even then I had slowly stopped watching the films as often.  The DVD releases weren’t purchased until after the prequel movies had been released on DVD as well.  I think I’ve watched those DVDs once, and I haven’t checked out the newest blu-ray release.

The recent news of the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney is what originally got me thinking about Star Wars at all lately.  With it in my mind, I opened up Netflix and watched The People vs. George Lucas.  This was an interesting film that asked a lot of the questions I didn’t even know I had.  Where are the proper releases of the original, un-altered films?  What happened to you George?  A lot of that are things that should be relegated to another post, but I will likely not cover them at all.  Again, this post is about growing up with the original trilogy and how I relate to it today.

Many say that Star Trek is for the brainy, geeky nerds, while Star Wars is more for the masses; Star Trek is about logic, Star Wars is about feelings.   I can agree with those opinions.  Did I simply grow out of Star Wars, and so felt it easier to relate to Star Trek?  Possibly.  It didn’t hurt I later got into The Next Generation and Voyager shows, so there was a lot more Trek in general to dive into rather than just 6 films.  Could I not relate to the prequels since I was no longer a kid?  That too is possible.

So could I watch any of the Star Wars films now, and still be as enchanted as I was decades ago?  I wish I could say yes, but I’m not honestly sure.  There’s little doubt I couldn’t watch the prequels again; maybe it’s generational, or those films really are bad, but they’re not “my” Star Wars.  Even in the original trilogy, I may have to leave out Return of the Jedi.  Ewoks?  Barf.  It was also the one to get the most changes of the original trilogy.  So if I did want to watch the first 2-3 films, how should I?  Purchase the original trilogy on blu-ray?  That would offer the best quality, but also the most changes.  I can try to hunt down the DVD releases that offered the un-altered versions as well, but I’m pretty sure those have gotten quite expensive; they also would be worse quality and not in the proper aspect ratio.  Sadly, unless I want to hunt down illegal copies of the laserdisc versions, I don’t really have any options.  The movies I want to watch, according to George Lucas and Lucasfilm, don’t exist.  Can Disney fix that?  If so, I have some money with their name on it.