20 December 2009

Swords & Wizardry Third Printing – Some Impressions

I received my copies of the third printing of the Swords & Wizardry core rules from Lulu a couple of months ago. Shortly after receiving my copies, I wrote up some initial impressions, but – akratic individual that I am – I never got around to posting them. Since S&W will be going into distribution soon, though, I thought that I might as well post them now. Better late than never, eh?

The cover looks sharp: the Mullen art is as gorgeous as before, although the picture is slightly smaller in scale now with a black ‘border.’ The ‘Swords & Wizardry’ label, which is now yellow and includes the ‘core rules’ subtitle, stands out more vividly than it did before. It is more likely to catch one’s eye on a bookshelf than the earlier printing, in my opinion. The blurb on the back is briefer than the one on the second printing, and more to the point. To quote the Bard: “brevity is the soul of wit.”

The interior illustrations and layout look pretty much the same as the second printing. There is one new illustration that I noticed (on page 22). It is an attractive book, on par with Chaosium’s Basic Role-Playing (2008) in terms of layout and art. I certainly consider it decidedly superior aesthetically to Troll Lord Games’ Castles & Crusades core book (at least the first, second, and third printings). Not bad, considering most of the work was done free of charge!

As for rules content, here are the main changes from the second to third printings:

Ø The Fighter and Dwarven Adventurer saving throws start at 14 (as does the Elven Adventurer when in ‘Fighter’ mode).

Ø The Cleric saving throws start at 15 (as do those of the Magic-User, which are unchanged from the second printing).

Ø Clerics have a bonus of +2 on saves versus poison and paralysis.

Ø MUs have a bonus of +2 on saves against spells, including those cast from wands and staffs.

Ø Missing spells have been added (including the much missed Stinking Cloud!).

Ø There is an Appendix with the Thief (two versions) and Monk classes.

All of the above changes, except for the new classes, also appear in the free PDF version.

The special abilities for Dwarves and Elves remain too sketchy for my tastes. I don’t understand why the list of special abilities included in the ‘White Box’ version of S&W were not provided, even as an ‘optional rule.’ And Hobbits, err … Halflings, continue to lack a proper write up.

Two versions of the Thief class are presented in the appendix. The first is the ‘standard’ thief, the version that we’ve known from the Greyhawk supplement onwards, albeit with some minor tweaks (e.g., a special ability called ‘delicate tasks’ in place of ‘pick pockets’ and ‘disable traps’). Any race can be a Thief, so that gives players who want to run non-human character an additional option. Racial modifiers are also provided, giving someone a reason for playing a Halfling in S&W.

The second version of the Thief is called the ‘Simplified Thief’ and uses the Thief’s saving throw (which starts at 14 at level one) to determine the character’s success or failure at attempted ‘thief tasks’ (e.g., picking locks). Readers familiar with my own version of the thief class for S&W will recognize this system, as it’s essentially the one that I developed for that class. Great minds think alike, I suppose. Or rip off Tunnels & Trolls. ;)

I was rather puzzled by Matt Finch’s decision to include a version of the Monk class, rather than the Ranger class, as I believe he originally had planned. The Ranger certainly seems more appropriate for the typical S&W ‘campaign ethos’ than a martial arts master. Nonetheless, I rather like the version of the Monk class that is included. The Monk shares a number of abilities with the Thief. However, I was a bit puzzled as to why a ‘simplified’ version of those abilities was not included as well (using the Monk’s saving throw as the target number for success). That’s such a painfully minor quibble, however, I’m almost embarrassed to bring it up.

Also, personally, I would have appreciated a version of the traditional Basic D&D ‘Elf’ class in the appendix. The Elf ‘fighter-wizard’ is one of the oldest archetypes in D&D, but not one provided in the core rules for S&W (which requires Elves to choose between being a fighter or a magic-user on a daily basis – they can never be both). A modified version of the optional class from the White Box version of S&W would have been adequate. Yet again, ironically, the rules for the White Box version seem more fleshed out than the core rules for S&W, at least when it comes to the non-human races.

Overall, though, the third printing of the core rules book for Swords & Wizardry is excellent. The book is very attractive – superior in terms of layout and art than many professional RPG products, as mentioned earlier – and the rules are very clearly explained. Even more than before, S&W is my favourite ‘retro-clone’ RPG system, and I look forward to many more games in the future. Well done Matt and Mythmere Games!

The third printing of Swords & Wizardry can be ordered from (the excellently named) Black Blade Publications.

09 December 2009

Fight On! #7 available!

A quick announcement: the new issue of Fight On! is available! This one includes a modest contribution from yours truly.

The cover by Pete Mullen looks brilliant.

Here is the official blurb from Calithena:
Deep under the misty mountains, the proudest and toughest keep Fighting On! Join us in those days of blood and plunder by picking up a copy of issue 7, dedicated to M.A.R. Barker and featuring EIGHT adventures, tables, settings, reviews, encounters, monsters, spells, magic items, new classes, non-canonical expansions to Empire of the Petal Throne, and much, much more! With art and articles by Akrasia, Mark Allen, Lee Barber, Baz Blatt, Calithena, Jeff Dee, Krista Donnelly, Allan Grohe, Zach Houghton, Gabor Lux, James Maliszewski, Peter Mullen, Stefan Poag, Alex Schroeder, Anthony Stiller, and more, this is one of the most beautiful issues we've produced. Take your game to the next level and buy it today!

You can get the new issue at http://www.lulu.com/content/8047414 .

Table of Contents
Legend of the Dullahan (Matthew Riedel)……………….3
Creepies & Crawlies (Zach Houghton & Douglas Cox).....7
Temple of the Sea Demon (Gabor Lux)…………………9
Knightly Orders (Robert “Treebore” Miller)…………....14
The Shaman (James Maliszewski)………………………16
Thrazar (Steve Zieser)………………………………….19
The Devil’s in the Details: Pé Chói (Baz Blatt)…………20
Former Gnomish Caves (Alex Schröder)……………….25
A Part of the Tsuru’úm (Baz Blatt)……………………..26
Barony of Northmarch (Coffee)…………………….….27
Rad Expanse of the Broken Moon (Brian Isikoff)……...28
Song of Tranquility (Jerry Stratton)………………….…29
Tables for Fables (Age of Fable)……………………….35
Maze Master’s Miscellany (Beaudry, Random, & Rients).36
Grognard’s Grimoire (Ragnorakk & Mistretta)…………37
Beware the Lord of Eyes (Allan T. “Grodog” Grohe)….38
The Forgotten Entity (Geoffrey McKinney)…………....44
Mooning Ixtandraz (Peter Schmidt Jensen)…………….45
Wandering Harlot Table (Adam Thornton)………….…46
From Tekumel’s Underground (Aaron Somerville)……..48
The Search for Lord Chúrisan (Krista Donnelly)……….52
Taking it with you (Lawson Reilly)……………………..61
The Duchy of Briz (Akrasia)…………………….……...63
Darkness Beneath: The Fane of Salicia (Lee Barber)…....66
The Four M’s (Calithena)………………………………77
Critical Misfortune (Clovis Cithog)……………………..78
One Charge Left (Lee Barber)………………………….79
One Time at D&D Camp… (Harnish & Robbins)……..80
Finding Players (James Edward Raggi IV)………….…...82
Merlyn’s Mystical Mirror (various)……………………...85
Artifacts, Adjuncts, & Oddments (Green & Calithena)....88

Front cover by Peter Mullen. Back cover by Brad Johnson. Fight On! and Erol Otus logos by Jeff Rients. M.A.R. Barker photograph by Giovanna Fregni. Interior art and cartography by Mark Allen (portfolio.marjasall.com: 3,5,29,33,37,38,42,44,48,49,56,57,60,62), Matthew Riedel (4,7), Black Blade Publishing (blackbladepublishing.com: 5,37), Dei Games (deigames.com, 6), Anthony Stiller (7,40,41,42,43), Lee Barber (ghosttower.crithitcomics.com: 8 (logo),66,68,71,72,73,74,75,77,79), Kelvin Green (junkopia.net/kelvinsdirtybits/main.html: 8,88), Otherworld Miniatures (otherworld.me.uk: 9), Gabor Lux (10,11,12,13), Bill Hooks (14,15,36), Tita’s House of Games (tekumel.com: 15), Steve Zieser (19), Kesher (23,51,59), Alex Schröder (25,43,54,58,84), Baz Blatt (26), Coffee (27), Brian Isikoff (28), Jerry Stratton (www.godsmonsters.com; 30,31,32,33), Age of Fable (35), Martin “Istarlömé” Gillette (40), Peter Jensen (45,88), Jeff Dee (50), Talzhemir (51), Mikko Torvinen (64), Akrasia (65), Robert S. Conley (66), Ben Robbins (80), James Forest & Larry Whitsel (81), Stefan Poag (84), M.A.R. Barker (85), Joe Wetzel (86), and Eric Bergeron & Rob Kuntz (87).

Leif Ericson

Thanks to the student essays and exams that are piling up on my desk at an alarming rate now that term in winding down, I will not have time to post anything for the next several days. Consequently, I thought that I would post this picture of Leif Ericson as a placeholder. The statue of Leif is a few blocks south of my flat in Milwaukee, on a bluff that overlooks Lake Michigan.

08 December 2009

Ah, the Majestic Wilderlands!

Robert Conley (author of the Points of Light setting books for Goodman Games) has just made available his version of the classic Wilderlands setting in his The Majestic Wilderlands (cover displayed above).

It is designed for Swords & Wizardry, although easily useable with any pre-3e version of D&D (0e, Basic, 1e, etc.). Approximately half of the book is devoted to new 'Wilderlands-based' rules for S&W (including new classes like 'Myrmidons of Set' and 'Rune-casters of Thor', new magic items, and so forth), with the other half providing an overview of the setting.

If you're a fan of both S&W and the Wilderlands (I am!), this is a product well worth checking out. More information can be found here.

(Okay, back to grading papers...)

29 November 2009

What is the OSR, part deux: The Pundit Replies

The RPG Pundit has replied to my post on ‘What is the Old School Renaissance’ at his own blog here. The whole rant is rather entertaining, and highly recommended for a good chuckle.

It seems that the poor Pundit is frustrated by the lack of a clear definition for the OSR. Of course, that was the entire point of my post. It simply is impossible to provide a precise definition for such an amorphous, diffuse, cantankerous group of people. If the OSR is a ‘movement,’ it is one in which the participants disagree with each other about what truly constitutes ‘old school’ (aside, perhaps from a few ‘core cases,’ such as 1974 0e D&D and, perhaps, Holmes Basic D&D; even 1e AD&D is probably considered too ‘new school’ by some participants). I consider the D&D Rules Cyclopedia and Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu to be ‘old school.’ Some other folks would not. Amazingly, there is not ‘authority’ in the OSR to tell us who is right and who is wrong.

What’s puzzling to me is why the Pundit has such animus towards the OSR. Perhaps he is bitter over the relative lack of success of his own ‘old school’ game, ‘Forward to Adventure!’? Or perhaps he simply likes to construct new ‘enemies’ to be the targets of his rants?

In any case, I found this remark rather sad: “I, as someone who defines Old School as an aesthetic and not a mechanic, already feel like I ended up in the wrong side of the fence…

Well, Pundit, nobody put you on “the wrong side of the fence” (whatever that means) except yourself. It’s only because you decided to construct an ‘enemy’ out of the OSR, and infuse that ‘enemy’ with a fictional consciousness and ‘ideology,’ that you are on the wrong side of some imagined fence. You could have been a participant in the OSR, Pundit, and you still can, if you like. Heck, I believe that Calithena even invited you to write an article on FtA! for Fight On! a year ago (I know that Jeff Rients positively reviewed FtA! in Fight On!).

Destroy that fence that you’ve built in your mind, Pundit. Join the OSR, if you like. Nobody is stopping you except yourself.

28 November 2009

What is the Old School Renaissance?

Over at the RPGsite I’ve become involved in a rather irritating debate with the ‘RPG Pundit’ over what constitutes the ‘Old School Renaissance’ (commonly abbreviated ‘OSR’). (Also participating that debate, among others, is estar of the ‘Bat in the Attic’ blog.)

My view is that the OSR consists simply of the following folks:

a. those gamers who like to play ‘old school’ RPGs (typically ‘Original,’ ‘Basic/Expert’ D&D, and pre-3e versions of AD&D, but other games as well);

b. those gamers who play (and sometimes produce) the retro-clones of those ‘old school’ RPGs (Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, BFRP, and others);

c. those gamers who play (and sometimes produce) ‘old school flavoured’ games (e.g., Castles & Crusades, Spellcraft & Swordplay, Mutant Future, Mazes & Minotaurs, etc.; ironically, I would include the RPG Pundit’s game Forward to Adventure! In this category – the Pundit is part of the OSR whether he likes it or not!);

d. those gamers who play (and sometimes produce) ‘old school’ modules or settings (which can range from classic-feeling settings, e.g. Robert Conley’s Points of Light books, to modules with a ‘classic-with-a-twist’ quality, e.g., Matt Finch’s Spire or Iron & Crystal, to entirely ‘different-from-the-past’ fantasy settings, e.g., the ‘steampunk’ fantasy setting of John Higgins’s Engines & Empires);

e. those gamers who contribute to ‘old school’ fanzines like Knockspell, Fight On!, and Footprints, produce ‘old school supplements (like Jeff Rients’s excellent Miscellaneum of Cinder) or who simply put their ‘old school’ ideas up on the internet (typically on blogs) for others to look at and use.

In short, the OSR consists of people who like certain kinds of games (‘old school games’) and sometimes product things (modules, rules books, settings, fanzines, etc.) for those games.

That is it.

Really, that is it.

There is no ‘ideology’ or ‘party platform’ for the OSR. A fondness for older games and older play styles simply does not comprise an ‘ideology.’ While there is the ‘Old School Primer,’ it is not a ‘manifesto’ in the traditional sense, and I know many members of the OSR who reject parts or all of the advice and views presented in it (myself, I agree with about two-thirds of it).

If the OSR ever evolves into a movement with ‘leaders’ and ‘spokespersons,’ with views that are dogmatic or reactionary, then I’ll be the first one out the door. But I just can’t see that happening. The alignment of the members of the OSR is ‘Chaotic Creative.’

25 November 2009

The Future of Mongoose’s ‘Runequest,’ ‘Eternal Champion,’ and ‘Conan’ RPGs

Apparently Mongoose Games is now the biggest company that publishes RPGs exclusively (WotC publishes non-RPGs). My opinion of the company is not terribly positive. Their books, based on my admittedly rather limited exposure to them, often seem poorly constructed, poorly laid out, and poorly edited.

There are some exceptions. The Conan RPG, at least the ‘Atlantean edition,’ is a decent piece of work (it’s the only Mongoose book that I owned until my recent acquisition of the Elric of Melnibone corebook). Of course, the superior quality of the Atlantean edition was achieved only after Mongoose fixed all of the horrible editing problems with the first printing. Nonetheless, in terms of its presentation and description of the Hyborian world, Mongoose’s Conan RPG is second to none. It is only because I had wearied of the d20 system by the time that I purchased it that I never actually played it.

In contrast, while I was excited when I heard that Mongoose would be publishing a new version of RuneQuest (a game that I had played and enjoyed in the early-mid 1980s), I was so disappointed by the actual product when I perused it in a local games store that I passed on the line entirely. Only my recent interest in the Chaosium version of the Elric!/Stormbringer RPG led me to purchase the MRQ (Mongoose RuneQuest) version of Elric. The Mongoose book’s author, Lawrence Whitaker, gave me some extremely helpful on-line advice (he was involved in some of Chaosium’s products during the 1990s), and the magic system in the MRQ version sounded intriguing. I just received the book today. While the rules do look interesting (except for the use of ‘hit locations’ for the combat system – something that I find far too fiddly for my tastes), the text is lost in a wall of grey. *sigh*

Anyhow, every year the head of Mongoose, Matt Sprange, posts an ‘overview’ of the company’s progress over the previous year and its plans for the upcoming year. The ‘State of Mongoose 2009’ has just been posted here.

Some initial reactions:

RuneQuest II

RuneQuest is back, and is better than ever! …

I’m glad that I waited before checking out MRQ. I hope that MRQII includes an alternative to the ‘hit locations’ system for combat, but I doubt it. Still, I’m interested in checking out the core book.

Also, it seems that all of the core MRQII books will be bound in leather. Does this mean that non-leather versions will not be available? The post was not clear on that.

The Eternal Champion

With RuneQuest II, we have the opportunity to redress the Eternal Champion series too. The original Elric and Hawkmoon books are great examples of why we have taken a new approach with the whole RuneQuest line. Both were originally 160 page books, but 100-odd pages of each was taken up by the core rules!

By taking those core rules out (and adding more pages!), we can now bring you great volumes packed with Eternal Champion goodness. Elric and Corum will appear first (backed up with some suitably fiendish campaigns – Lawrence Whitaker has already staked his claim for the first Elric campaign!), but you will be seeing Hawkmoon and the fabled Multiverse sourcebook soon enough. … There are plans to heavily support the Eternal Champion series throughout 2010 and beyond, so if you are a fan of Michael Moorcock’s greatest works and find RuneQuest II to be an agreeable system, you are going to love what we are working on right now.

Given this news, I’m relieved that in my recent spending spree on all things Elric/Stormbringer that I didn’t pick up any of the Mongoose line (except for the core book). I’m not sure what I think about the plan to not include the relevant MRQII rules in the Elric and Corum corebooks. On the one hand, it’s nice to have everything essential in one book. On the other hand, if one already owns the core rules (MRQII corebook), paying for a slightly reworked version of those rules seems like a waste of money. Since I'll probably purchase both the Elric and Corum books eventually, I suppose that it's a good deal overall. Hmmm...

Hopefully the new ‘Eternal Champion’ line of products will still be compatible with the BRP version of Elric!/Stormbringer (5e), the fantasy system with which I’m presently quite enchanted.

In contrast, the future looks grim for Conan:


A disagreement between ourselves and the licence holders has resulted in Conan being suspended in limbo. It is a tricky position – we cannot produce more material for the game (sales of further OGL Conan supplements will simply not justify the work required), and we have been forbidden to move the sword-swinging barbarian to a new games system.

This is too bad, as I actually think that Mongoose did a decent job with the Conan, at least in terms of their treatment of the Hyboria setting (which can be used with other RPGs). It would have been very interesting to have seen a RuneQuest version of Conan produced. The system certainly would have been more appropriate than d20, in my opinion (at least a suitably modified version of the OOP edition of RuneQuest with which I am familiar – I assume that MRQII will be similar overall).

Another comment-worthy quote:

The last State of the Mongoose also stated that we were revising our editorial and proofreading procedures.

Um, yeah. After eight years it’s good that this is finally addressed. Good grief!


We also made a promise this year that we would only be printing books in the US – not China, not Thailand, not even Canada, but the good old US of A.

Huh? “…not even Canada”? WTF? What’s wrong with books printed in Canada?

Ruffled patriotic feathers aside, I’ll be interested to see Mr. Whitaker’s version of RuneQuest this year.

23 November 2009

Some Otus

Another extremely lazy post, I know, but you can never get enough Erol Otus!

22 November 2009

Two Great Tastes...

For some reason, I'm very tempted to combine these into a single campaign:

17 November 2009

S&W House Rules PDF

I can't believe that I forgot to mention at some point during the past couple of months of this blog that internet-friend Benoist of the Citadel of Eight kindly put together a PDF version of my various S&W house rules a few months ago!

It can be found here (note that clicking on this opens the PDF directly).

Thanks Benoist! This should give people interested a nice 'paper' copy of my house rules something to print up and read when they're on the bus, in the pub (or wherever).

14 November 2009

Why I Dislike 'Feats'

My participation in this thread at the RPGsite prompted me to reflect somewhat on exactly why I dislike 'feats' in 3e and 4e D&D, that is, why I loathe this game mechanic in the more recent versions of 'Ye Olde Game.'

'Feats' in 3e and 4e are an 'exception-based' mechanic. That means that if a PC/NPC/monster (hereinafter simply 'character') has a certain feat, the normal rules do not apply to him/her/it. Instead, other rules apply to the character. Feats provide 'exceptions' to otherwise universally-applied rules.

My dislike of feats has nothing to do with 'fairness.' Indeed, such a concern would be laughably misplaced, given how concerned the designers of 3e and 4e were to ensure overall 'balance' within their systems (i.e., all character classes, races, and so forth, are equally 'powerful' and 'useful' -- sadly defined exclusively in terms of combat ability in 4e).

Feats require one to remember more rules, or at least be willing to look up more rules during the game. The 'more stuff to remember' aspect of feats is irritating. I have to remember too many things in my job ("what is today's lecture on, again?"; "is there a faculty meeting on Friday?"; "what was Kant's argument for the 'Formula of Humanity' again?"; etc.) -- having to remember loads of fiddly rules for my hobby is a burden that I do not care to assume. I'm simply too old and lazy. Ultimately, though, my dislike for 'feats' is primarily that I find the mechanic aesthetically ugly. It is unacceptably 'clunky,' in my opinion, to have a game with the following structure:
(a) here are the rules to govern the actions of characters; and
(b) here are hundreds of fiddly exceptions to those rules (often with their own 'sub-rules').

Blech! In contrast, a system like 'Basic Role-Playing,' which uses skills, is not 'exception-based'. The same rules apply, all the time, without exception. Some characters will be much more skilled at certain things than others, and thus enjoy much greater success rates at those things than others. However, there is no need to provide 'rules-exceptions' for those characters. The overall mechanical structure is far more parsimonious, and intuitive in my opinion, than the feat-based mechanical structure of 3e and 4e. To some extent, the same thing is true of older versions of D&D. Higher-level characters will have a greater chance to hit, make their saving rolls, etc., than lower level characters, but the basic mechanic is the same for all characters. (I'll concede that there are some 'exception-based' rules in older D&D -- namely, class-based abilities -- but they are far, far fewer in number than 'feats' in 3e and 4e. Consequently, they do not really bother me.) So that's it, gentle readers. That's why I hate feats.

Phew! It felt good to get that off my chest.

13 November 2009

D&D Dreaming

More fun 'old school' art from the artist "Steve," who goes by the moniker "Ye Olde School," here.

08 November 2009

By Crom!

I just finished reading volume one of The Savage Sword of Conan. These volumes, published by Dark Horse Comics, reproduce the Savage Sword of Conan comics from the 1970s (originally published by Marvel).

Volume 1 was excellent, and I've already finished the first story of volume 2. My only complaint with volume 1 is that it presents only the second half of the classic Howard tale, "The Hour of the Dragon." I don't know why the entire story wasn't published in Savage Sword, although I suspect that the story was perceived as simply too long to be presented in this format.

Anyhow, that minor complaint aside, I highly recommend these books to anyone who is a fan of Conan (or 'swords & sorcery' tales more generally). I look forward to many months of further reading!

30 October 2009

Chaosium's 'Classic Fantasy'

I've long admired Chaosium's "Basic Roleplaying" system. During my most active role-playing years as a teen, such games as Call of Cthulhu, Hawkmoon, and Runequest (2nd edition) were among the games that were part of our regular rotation (although, I have to confess, they saw far less 'game time' than AD&D and, later, MERP and Rolemaster). I especially enjoyed playing a 'D&D-ized' version of Runequest, which involved the core book and some optional rules from the magazine White Dwarf (from back in the days when WD published articles on a variety of different RPGs, before it became a catalogue for Warhammer minis).

While I haven't played BRP in many years, I've always admired its intuitive yet nuanced mechanics. A revised and expanded version of BRP was published recently, and I had been meaning to pick it up for many months now.

Since Chaosium is having a sale until November 1, I finally have been prompted to make this long-neglected purchase. Further prompting me, is the release of a 'D&D-ized' version of the BRP rules called 'Classic Fantasy,' which brings to mind the White Dwarf-RQII variant that I enjoyed greatly so many years ago.

29 October 2009

Favourite Quote from Knockspell #3

"The Society for Optimalised Objectivism, a conspiracy overseeing the Market of Uugen, is dedicated to upholding absolutely free market forces within their sphere of influence. They worship an ancient star vampire residing in a crystal globe; the “high priestess”, An-Raydn, enjoys good relations with the Supreme High Bursator of Fedafuce, the venerable Grenspanios (now living in a distant city state)."

~ Gabor Lux, "The City of Vultures," Knockspell #3, p. 34.

27 October 2009

Black Blade Publishing takes on S&W and Knockspell

Mythmere has been tormenting the more obsessive fans of Swords & Wizardry (including yours truly) for weeks now with vague intimations of a significant publishing and distribution deal for S&W and Knockspell magazine. Finally, dear readers, the agony of the wait is over, with this major announcement (from here):

Black Blade Publishing to become Exclusive Publisher of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules and Knockspell Magazine

October 27, 2009 – Mythmere Games, developer and publisher of the ENnie-award winning Swords & Wizardry fantasy role-playing game, is pleased to announce an exclusive agreement with Black Blade Publishing to publish the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules and Knockspell magazine, and to lead the charge to get Swords & Wizardry into retail distribution. The first print releases under this agreement will be a softcover version of the 124-page Swords & Wizardry Core Rulebook and Knockspell #3.

Working with Studio 2 Publishing as its distribution partner, Black Blade Publishing expects the Swords & Wizardry Core Rulebook to start hitting the shelves of brick and mortar game stores by February of 2010. In addition, the in-print version of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rulebook will be available for purchase directly from Black Blade Publishing or through select retailers by late-October, 2009.

Electronic copies of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rulebook will be available immediately directly from Black Blade Publishing, and will be available very soon directly from Studio 2 Publishing, DrivethruRPG, RPGNow and YourGamesNow.

Print versions of Knockspell #3 are available for purchase directly from Black Blade Publishing, and issue #4 may be distributed to stores around February of 2010, at the same time as the core rules.

“The Swords & Wizardry fantasy role-playing game is about a lot more than a return to the way these games used to be played. Swords & Wizardry unapologetically throws off 30 years of re-imagining and so-called ‘fixing’ of the original rules, returning to the wonder and mystery of “free-form” fantasy gaming without complicated rules and long rulebooks. Black Blade Publishing is very excited to be publishing the key Swords & Wizardry titles from Mythmere Games. The quality of new products being introduced in the old school gaming community is amazing, and we are really excited to be a part of it.” -- Jon Hershberger, co-founder of Black Blade Publishing

Founded in 2008 by Matthew J. Finch, Mythmere Games is best known for the Swords & Wizardry fantasy role-playing game, the award-winning retro-clone of the original 1974 edition of the world’s most popular fantasy game. For additional information, visit http://www.swordsandwizardry.com.

Formed in 2009 by Jon Hershberger and Allan Grohe, Black Blade Publishing will begin publishing the Swords & Wizardry Core Rulebook in October 2009 under license from Mythmere Games. For additional information, visit http://www.black-blade-publishing.com.

Studio 2 Publishing has been serving the games hobby industry since 2004, serving game designers and publishers as a sales and marketing organization as well as providing fulfillment and inventory management services. For additional information, visit http://www.studio2publishing.com."

It sounds like a great arrangement, and I look forward to the future success of S&W and Knockspell!

Say, speaking of Knockspell, issue 3 is now available. I'll have a few comments on it tomorrow (time permitting).

18 October 2009

Failed Saving Throw versus 'Real Life'

Here I am trying to interact civilly with a couple of undergraduate students. ;)

More seriously, I just wanted to mention that I'm still around, but my current teaching responsibilities have prevented me from thinking about, much less blogging about, RPGs over the past couple of weeks. Hopefully things will lighten up somewhat in the near future.

07 October 2009

Ilmahal Index

For the sake of convenience, here are links to my various posts on my campaign setting ‘Ilmahal.’ Like my ‘house rules’ index, I will update this index as I post more information on Ilmahal.

1. Ilmahal Overview and Map

2. Ilmahal Cosmology (of the planes and the gods)

3. The Roll of Years (Ilmahal timeline)

4. Duchy of Briz and Map (revised version)

5. Earldom of Ysfael Map

06 October 2009

The Duchy of Briz: Overview and Map (revised & expanded)

Island Overview

The Duchy encompasses a medium sized island (roughly 80 miles north to south, and 40 miles east to west), off the eastern coast of the Island of Ilmahal. The northern third of the island is dominated by a grim and menacing woodland called the Maelvorn Forest. Beyond the forest, on the northeastern corner of the island, are the wild highlands called the Storm Ridges. The southern part of the island consists of fertile farmlands and river valleys, although sparsely settled rocky hills dominate the eastern and western coastlands.

The island – called ‘Brohn’ in the ancient Morghain tongue – was inhabited by a peaceful, if primitive, Morghain clan for many centuries. It eventually was conquered by Aphorian legions some twelve centuries ago. The island was abandoned by most human folk approximately four centuries ago, when the Aphorian Imperium withdrew its legions from Ilmahal. Much of the island was overrun subsequently by disorganized bands of humanoid savages. These bands settled in the abandoned Aphorian villages and forts that dotted the island, and fought amongst each other in a disorganized fashion for many years.

Approximately 225 years ago, a troop of mercenaries and adventurers led by the renowned warrior Flavius Briz landed in the ruined southern port of Irylond. Briz and his followers subsequently re-conquered the southern part of the island, slaying thousands of humanoids and driving the remainder into the dark Maelvorn Forest to the north, or the Storm Bridges beyond. Flavius Briz then declared himself duke of the island, renamed the port Irylond after himself (now simply ‘Briz’), encouraged the resettlement of the farmlands, and established three guard towers to protect the southern island against future humanoid incursions. Over the subsequent decades, a number of freemen from southern Ilmahal, tempted by the prospect of establishing their own farms and businesses, settled in the duchy, contributing to its wealth and stability.

Most of the duchy’s human population live in the southern part of the island. The one exception is the fishing town of White Cove, which is considered part of the Duchy. The present Duke of Briz is Duke Aelig Briz II. A small number of furtive Waldleuti (diminutive forest folk) dwell in the southern Highland Forest.

The nine towns of the Duchy:

1. Briz. (Formerly called ‘Irylond.’) The capital and only sizable town in the duchy, Briz is a moderately cosmopolitan cultural and economic centre, and hence the only place where representatives of other lands, and even other races, have permanent trading bases.

The imposing tower of Duke Aelig Briz II can be found on a small island attached to the town by a grey stone bridge. The ‘Red Raven Inn’ is large and rowdy establishment, frequented by rogues, mercenaries, adventurers, and other dubious sorts. The ‘Black Sail Tavern’ is rumoured to be the headquarters of the local thieves’ guild; they are said to led by the beautiful Amarrah Evensong, and run a brisk smuggling operation. An order of scholars, ‘The Grey Order,’ has a college in the town. In addition to educating the sons of the petty aristocrats of the Duchy, the Grey Order has been known to hire adventurers to obtain rare items (lost relics, strange herbs, and so forth) for their esoteric researches.

Some of the ruins of the ancient Aphorian town ‘Irylond’ are said to persist partially intact, hidden beneath the bustling port, allegedly holding lost treasures, forgotten lore, and dark eldritch horrors.

2. Solan. A fishing village on the southwestern coast of the island. A number of ancient Morghain cairns can be found to the southeast of the village, many of which are rumoured to be haunted by restless spirits. Treasure hunters sometimes venture into the cairns. They rarely return, and those that do generally wish to say nothing of their experiences in the hidden mounds of the dead.

3. Riagad. A fishing village on the eastern coast. A couple of small copper mines in the nearby hills provide additional revenue for the town. Riagad has a reputation for being dull.

4. Ninian. Another fishing village on the eastern coast. Sometimes called ‘Old Foggy’ because of the cool mists that perpetually form off the coastal hills. The village is ruled by a mayor, Sir Bran ‘the Melancholy,’ who is an ex-adventurer. An important lighthouse lies a few miles to the northeast of the village. A strange blue fire burns from the lighthouse’s brazier at all times. Only the lighthouse’s keeper, the taciturn Carthedon, knows the secret of the blue flame. The village’s only inn, ‘The Drunken Herring,’ is known throughout the realm as a welcoming and lively place.

5. Juvad. A trading village surrounded by a number of grain farms. The ale and lager served by ‘The Golden Grain’ – owned and run by garrulous Liam ‘Gutboy’ Brewson – are famous throughout the duchy. A reclusive mage named Neveldar ‘the Blue’ lives in a mansion just outside of the town. His diminutive servant Roderick obtains supplies and news for his master, as the mage never leaves his manor. A faint blue mist emanates from the bricks of Neveldar’s manor at all times. Strangely, as far as the villagers can tell, the mage has not aged a day since constructing and entering his manor some forty years ago!

6. Envel. A prosaic rural backwater, Envel is surrounded by farmland. In addition to grain, some farmers near Envel grow an unusual crop – pumpkins. The pumpkin ale sold by the tavern ‘The Goblin’s Nose’ is famous not only throughout Briz, but in lands further away. The owner of The Goblin’s Nose, Zethar ‘Orange-thumb,’ is a wealthy man, thanks to the money he has made by exporting his ale.

7. Maugan. A small town located in the coastal highlands. It supports a few nearby silver mines. Some of the abandoned mines are said to be haunted.

8. Pereg. A highland town surrounded by farms to the east, and a large temple devoted to Amithos (the sun god) and the Solar Court to the west. Many religious subjects of the duchy make pilgrimages to the temple. It is well known for its potent whiskey (‘Pereg’s tears’), which is somewhat popular with the temple’s clergy.

9. White Cove. The second largest town in the Duchy, White Cove dominates a small rocky island to the north of the dreaded Storm Ridges. The tower of the powerful wizard Ulfor – a friend of the Dukes of Briz – overlooks the town. Ulfor is the formal ruler of the island, holding the title of ‘baron,’ although he typically delegates responsibility for day-to-day affairs to White Cove’s mayor, Sir Aidan. Ulfor has dwelt in his tower for over a century, and is widely believed to be the most powerful wizard not only in the Duchy of Briz, but in the surrounding areas as well. Rumours claim that he is either half-fey or half-demon. Ulfor has been known to pay adventurers great amounts of money for the retrieval of rare substances and items (lost artifacts, exotic herbs, rare gems, parts of magical beasts, and the like).

Legends suggest that beneath the town of White Cove there exists a vast complex of natural caverns that were once inhabited by a depraved cult of worshippers of the Crab God. Even today, the occasional disappearance of a townsperson is blamed on the black ‘Cult of the Crab.’

10. Three imposing guard towers stand at the southern border of the Maelvorn Forest to limit humanoid incursions into the civilized lands of the south.

Other areas of note:

Gentle Ridges. A small range of rolling coastal hills that contain a few copper mines, most now abandoned. Some ancient Morghain ruins can be found in hidden vales throughout the Ridges.

Highland Forest. A small forest made up of a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees. A number of small Waldleuti settlements are scattered throughout the forest. The Waldleuti avoid contact with most outsiders. Some ancient haunted Morghain barrows are said to exist in the wooded hills.

Maelvorn Forest. A dark and gloomy forest, the Maelvorn dominates the northern part of the island. Many tribes of humanoids live scattered throughout the woods, fighting amongst each other, and occasionally raiding south into the rich farmlands of the Duchy. More dangerous and powerful creatures are rumoured to dwell deeper within the forest, including a sleepy but powerful emerald drake. Legend suggests that some ancient and beautiful – but deadly – non-human (perhaps even pre-human) ruins can be found near the murky Lake Vorn in the centre of the forest.

Misty Hills. As their name suggests, these hills typically are covered in mist formed by moisture blown in from the Murcha Sea. Some ogres are known to dwell within the caves that dot the hills. They occasionally raid nearby settlements. Sir Bran, mayor of Ninian, has offered a bounty of one hundred gold coins for the scalp of every ogre brought to him.

Off the coast of the Misty Hills lie five forested islands. As far as anyone knows, they are uninhabited by intelligent creatures, although it is believed that the ruins of an ancient Aphorian order of sages – the ‘Amber Savants’ – can be found somewhere on one of the islands.

Western Highlands. An imposing range of rocky hills that dominates the western coast of the island. A number of ancient Morghain cairns can be found throughout the highlands. The cairns are said to be filled with treasure, but haunted by terrible, restless spirits. Local tales speak of an ancient Aphorian monastery somewhere within the northern hills, concealed by mystical means.

Storm Ridges. An unpleasant, broken land, with little vegetation, the Storm Ridges primarily consist of reddish and black rocky hills. Sailors and fishermen regularly report seeing a mysterious, ancient purple tower on one of the highest hills on the northern part of the ridges, near the Maelvorn Forest. No one who has investigated the tower has ever returned.

Swamp of Norg. A fetid marsh covered in a perpetual miasma of malevolence. According to legend, the swamp was created many centuries ago following a great battle between a demon frog lord named Norg and a great Morghain hero named Cadifor Manus. A tribe of lizard men and a band of depraved frog people are said to dwell in the swamp. Sailors have reported seeing mysterious barges leaving the swamp in recent years.


This is a revised and expanded version of my description of the Duchy of Briz (the original description can be found here). In addition to providing more details on the various towns, regions, and NPCs of the Duchy, this version gives much more information on the kinds of possible adventures that can take place in the Duchy's different areas.

I've submitted this version of the Duchy of Briz to Fight On! magazine (along with some notes on adapting the Duchy to one's own campaign world, which I've left out of this post). Further edits may be necessary, of course, but hopefully nothing of substance will be changed.

This is the version of the Duchy of Briz that I used for my summer Swords & Wizardry campaign. I plan to post a summary of that campaign at some point in the near future.

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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).