Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Appreciating Swords and Wizardry for the First Time

I have a confession to make. I agreed to do this blogswarm thing about Swords and Wizardry without ever actually having read the book or played the system. In fact, I haven't played any OD&D in my life, and most of what I've played is either Basic D&D (box set from 1978 or so) or AD&D which (to my 11 year-old mind) was the next logical step. After that, I didn't really encounter D&D until a while later in my life. I played some GURPS and a little bit of some other games, sure. But didn't really play The Original Game (as some wag put it) very much at all compared to most people who blog in the OSR community. Even when I started playing D&D again sometime in the early 1990s, it was still AD&D (1st ed.). After that I really have not played the system much at all until very recently, and that has been DCC.

So, why the hell should I be appreciating S&W? Well, why the hell not? I got a free copy of the S&W Complete from the Reaper Kickstarter (Vampire Pack + should be here in the next month or so), and this gives an opportunity to give it a gander. I also have the 2009 Core Rules PDF. Oh, and nota bene: I don't know a whole lot about the differences between various editions of The Original Game, its predecessors, or its OSR offspring. That may be of benefit to me. I can simply look at the game, as-is, and try to take it for what it is, on its own merits.

Just to make this simple, I'll try to figure out what I like about it. We're appreciating things about it, after all, not telling it that it's ugly and that its mom dresses it funny.  And there's a lot of good stuff here.

First thing I noticed about the Core Rules is the attribute modifiers. They don't go "up to 11," so to speak. They top out at +1 or -1. I am strangely attracted to that idea. It's not much of a bonus (or penalty), but it's something. I like that, because I (like lots of other people) am a power gamer at heart, though I loathe that fact. I really like it when I get high, positive modifiers. How could you not? At the same time, I don't like it when I've got a character with something like a -3 modifier. Yes, you can roleplay it, but that sort of seems like the game trying to tell me how to play my character. What seems like an advantage is, at the same time, something that takes you out of the things that really make a character unique (and achievable via gameplay, naturally), reducing him or her to a block of stats. YMMV, of course, but still I (and I'm sure a lot of you) have that same tendency.

On the other hand, I have the Complete rules as well, so I can go with the enhanced modifiers if I want them.

I also like that S&W Core Rules do some new things (e.g., saving throws) in a simpler way. I really never have understood the saving throw table's design. When I encountered 3rd edition for the first time, and the three saving throws, I loved it. I could actually understand what the hell they were even about. I mean, seriously, why the fuck do you need to have so many saves. What's the difference between a wand and a staff and a spell? I don't fucking care, that's what! This is so much simpler. Again, though, they step up and give you the option (in the S&W Complete Rules) to use the old style tables if you're so inclined. Nice! All the options you need.

I sort of like the treatment of character alignment in the Core Rules more than S&W Complete. It explains the concept, gives you a ballpark estimate of what it might mean, and moves on. Use it if you want it. I sometimes use alignment as a feature in my games (usually with respect to gods or magic items), but I'm doing it because it's in the rules, not because I really feel like it's useful. I'd prefer not to use it, frankly. Alignment? Who cares? Play the  game and see what happens. If you need a motivation for your character, then choose one, or (again) just wait and see what happens, who you fall in with, and what you do together. There. Now you know you're a dirty, lyin', cheatin' murderhobo and/or grave robber. I don't have to tell you you're chaotic evil. You just are.

The S&W Complete take on the Fighter is pretty neat. Sure there are paladins and rangers, but they're still not fighters. They can fight, sure, just not like a Fighter. Which is why, of course, he or she is a Fighter in the first place. (It's for the fighting, you see.)

Also good: Race as Class or Race and Class are options in this game, as is multiclassing. Just pick one ruleset or the other. Mix and match if you feel like. However, it limits the choices for particular races. That's within the idiom established by the fantasy roots of the game.

S&W Core Rules does my favorite thing of all: 3d6, in order. That's how I like to do attributes. S&W Complete is 3d6, in order (but, hey, go ahead and move 'em around if you have character concept and want to go with that). Again, nice pair of options, and not a whole lot to promote power gaming (e.g., 4d6 and drop lowest). That, I do not like.

Armor class? Well, just take your pick: Ascending or descending. How do you like to do your math? Ascending? Cool, fine with us. It's the utter sensibility of this sort of "here's the options, pick options you like" that I like best about the S&W rulesets. They are about helping you to play the game, but also promote a little thinking about your preferences (and those of your players). That's what rules should do, after all. Provide options for having fun with the game, but don't present so many options that it just gets ridiculous and takes like two hours to make a character (like in 4th ed. By the gods, what the hell was that shit?).

Okay, so that's about what I've got in me to write tonight. I do like this ruleset, though I prefer some elements of one ruleset more than the other. If I used them for my own game, I'd probably spend some time picking and choosing the things I like best.