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.


  1. I have been patiently waiting for my FLGS to stock S&W. I intend to pick this up when they do, but if they advise me they intend NOT to stock it, then I will be over to BBP to get my copy.

  2. I'm not totally happy with a few things, but overall the game is great. I wish they would have put in the variant elf, and a halfling class. And, to make the game perfect for me, it would have only ascending AC in it.


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