12 June 2023

Recommended: Swords and Wizardry Complete – Revised Edition

The kickstarter for the revised version of the Swords & Wizardry Complete rules was a great success. Backers (like myself) now have PDFs of the new core rulebook. I’ve looked it over and am very favourably impressed. The organization and layout have been improved from earlier versions. Information is presented in a direct, economical, but nonetheless aesthetically pleasing way. Kudos to Suzy Moseby on doing such a fine job on the layout. The art is solid, with a few very good pieces, and nothing objectionably unappealing. I like all three covers (the Erol Otus one [depicted below], as well as the green and blue designs by Del Teigeler). (But I do miss the original wonderful S&W cover by Pete Mullen.)

It's amazing to me how much content Matt Finch has managed to pack into such a slim package (144 pages) in a clear and accessible way. Roughly speaking, Swords & Wizardry Complete, gives you pretty much everything in the original D&D 1974 box set, and a lot (but not all) from the subsequent supplements (Greyhawk, Blackmoor, and Eldritch Wizardry). What you end up with is something very close to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (as realized in 1979), but somewhat simpler and lower-powered. The main (or at least most noticeable) differences: in S&W there are no half-orcs, gnomes, illusionists, or bards; alignment is three-fold (Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic); hit dice are lower (e.g., fighters have d8 in S&W instead of d10 as in AD&D); and slightly lower level-limits for demi-human characters. Aside from these changes – which, of course, are easy to modify if one wishes – S&W provides a “simplified” version of AD&D, and is readily compatible with most material produced for D&D and AD&D prior to 3rd edition.


There are some minor but helpful innovations in S&W that distinguish it from "0 edition" D&D. Among them: the ‘ascending’ scale for AC is used (which I appreciate and find preferable to the older system, although the old ‘descending’ system is provided as an option as well); a single unified ‘saving throw’ is provided for each class (but with the option to use the older system, broken down into categories like “death rays and poison”); four different options for determining initiative are outlined; rules for morale are provided; and rules for two-weapon fighting are included. These are all helpful additions to the game in my view.   


Since it is a “clone” of early (0e) D&D, S&W includes elements from that system that personally I am not that keen on. For instance, the special abilities of thieves (as well as assassins and monks) are quite miserable, with very low chances for success at anything until characters achieve higher (7+) levels. If I were to run S&W again, I’d probably just use my version of the class instead. Likewise, I’ve never been a fan of the way earlier editions of D&D and AD&D implemented “level limits” on non-human characters. I think that there are better ways to “balance” non-human characters against human ones. (S&W does include an optional rule to permit non-human characters to advance beyond their level limits, but with a 50% penalty to experience points earned by those characters. I’d likely either use that option, or simply grant some additional bonus to human characters instead.) Of course, one cannot really fault a retro-clone like S&W for “cloning” such rules from earlier editions, and in any case such things are easy to house-rule.  


In short, this revised, updated version of Swords & Wizardry is excellent, the best version yet. It was the “retro-clone” that helped inspire this blog in 2009 – and for which I wrote a number of house-rules – and it remains my favourite. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the spirit of old school Dungeons and Dragons!


(For a more comprehensive review, check out this one at the blog “It’s Okay; Gary Sent Us.”)

09 June 2023

Rest and Recovery in Into the Unknown versus 5e D&D

One of the things that I dislike the most about the standard 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons rules is its system of “rests.” Even if adventurers have been in the savage wildlands for several weeks, so long as they can manage to camp for eight hours, i.e., take a “long rest,” all of them will be (almost) as good as new. After a long rest, characters recover all their hit points, spells, abilities, and so forth. The only minimal kind of attrition that they experience is that they can recover only half of their hit dice (but another long rest a day later can get them back to full).


The potency of long rests greatly reduces the roles of attrition and resource management in adventuring, things that were very important in earlier (TSR era) versions of the game. Attrition and resource management make the game more interesting and challenging, in my view. And while D&D has never been very good with respect to “simulation” (to say the least), completely “recharging” after a nap in a sleeping bag is “video-gamey” at its worst. 


Now there are options that DMs can use alter the unfortunate nature of rests and recovery in 5e D&D. The Dungeon Master’s Guide mentions a few decent ones in Chapter 9. One is “Healer’s Kit Dependency,” which requires the use of a healing kit in order for a character to spend any hit dice (healer’s kits come with 10 ‘uses’ each). Another is “Slow Natural Healing,” which eliminates the automatic recovery of hit points after a long rest (characters have to spend hit dice in order to recover any hit points, whether after long rests or short rests). And then there is the “Gritty Realism” rest variant, according to which a short rest is eight hours, and a long rest one week. A version of the latter option is used in Adventures in Middle-earth (now Lord of the Rings Role-playing), with “long rests” possible only in ‘safe’ locations (e.g., Rivendell or Lake-town), which perhaps explains why I was so thrown off by the standard 5e rules after having run an AiME campaign in the past.


The Into the Unknown rules make rest and recovery somewhat less easy than do the standard 5e rules, although they don’t go as far as AiME or the “Gritty Realism” variant. Below I’ve summarized them. I also added “safe rest,” although I think that it just makes explicit what is already implicit in the rules. Obviously, these rules could be used in any 5e D&D game (given the compatibility of ItU with 5e). 


Short rests: One segment (10 minutes) with no strenuous activity (e.g., combat).


·       No more than one short rest can be completed in any given hour. (Characters can “rest” for longer than one segment if they choose, of course, but they will gain the benefits for only one short rest in doing so.)

·       Characters must consume rations (one-third of one day’s worth) in order to gain any benefits from a short rest.


·       During a short rest, a PC can:


o       Spend one hit die to recover hit points (only once/PC).

o       Use a healing kit to spend one additional hit die to recover hit points (only once/PC).

o       Regain “Second Wind” (fighters).

o       Regain “Mighty Deeds” (fighting style – fighters).

o       Regain “Action Surge” (fighters).

o       Regain “Indomitable” (fighters).

o       Regain “Channel Divinity” (priests).

o       Use “Arcane Recovery” (magic-users).

o       Regain “Arcane Study” (magic-users).

o       Regain “Spellcraft” (magic-users).


Long rests: Two watches (8 hours) with no significant disruptions (e.g., combat, strenuous actions, chases, etc.).


·       No more than one long rest can be completed every 24 hours. (Characters can “rest” for up to 24 hours if they choose, but they will gain the benefits for only one long rest in doing so.)


·       After a long rest, a PC:


o       Recovers one used hit die.

o       Can spend multiple hit dice to recover hit points (these rolls are made with advantage, unlike rolls after short rests).

o       Recover one level of exhaustion.

o       Prepare spells.

o       Regain spell slots.

o       Regain “Arcane Recovery” (magic-users).

o       Regain any abilities that would be regained after a short rest (see above).


Safe rests: At least one full day (24 hours) of rest in a safe, civilized location (e.g., a well-protected keep, an inn within a friendly town, an elf-lord’s haven, etc.).


·       After a safe rest, PCs recover all lost hit points, hit dice, spells, class abilities, etc. 

o       Certain unusual conditions (e.g., specific diseases) may require multiple safe rests or special treatments (e.g., potions, spells, rituals, divine intervention, etc.) to remove.



05 June 2023

Against the Darkmaster – June sale


To celebrate its 5th anniversary, for the month of June Open Ended Games is offering the PDF of the Against the Darkmaster rulebook at 50 percent off.

I'm not sure if this is part of the same sale, but physical versions of the core rules and GM screen are available as a "bundle" for 75 USD (instead of 90 USD) here.


I’m a big fan of this game – indeed, I wish I was running it right now! 

If you’d like to learn more about VsD, the quick start rules are available for free ("pay what you want") here. In addition, here is a review, and here is another, and here is one more. 


(The illustration above is a draft of the cover, found at the artist’s website.)

04 June 2023

Victory in the Moathouse (Greyhawk campaign)

PART 7Victory in the Moathouse and an Unpleasant Ambush
(Flocktime 578 CY)

7.1 Confrontation with Lareth the Beautiful (Flocktime 12th)
Our doughty adventurers — Erik (the mountain dwarf fighter from the Lortmils), Althaea (the high elf wizard from the city of Tringlee), and the brothers Godric (the human rogue from the Barony of Shiboleth) and Cedric (the human cleric of St. Cuthbert) – find themselves within the lair of Lareth, the “Master” of the ruined Moathouse. The party is accompanied by Spugnoir (a scrawny and squeaky Suel wizard). But they no longer are accompanied by the traitorous Zert (who lies lifeless, with a thoroughly pulped head, among the bodies of many black-clad followers of Iuz). 
The party leaves the area that had been occupied by Lareth and his followers. They explore further into the underground complex beneath the Moathouse. Eventually, the party confronts Lareth again – this time, the foul champion of Chaotic Evil is accompanied by a horde of zombies and a terrible ogre (whom Althaea recognizes from her earlier encounter when first exploring the Moathouse ruins). Lareth laughs maniacally as the shambling undead and hulking humanoid assault the adventurers.

Things look quite bleak initially, as the ogre smashes its club onto Erik’s head, knocking the dwarf out in a single blow. Althaea retaliates with several magic missiles. Astonishingly, it is Spugnoir who manages to finish off the ogre, with a couple of well-placed thrusts with his dagger. Cedric calls upon the holy might of St. Cuthbert and manages to repel some of the zombies. At the same time, though, Lareth calls upon the unholy wrath of Iuz, and compels Althaea and Godric to drop what they’re doing and grovel before him. The situation looks dire, but Cedric blasts Lareth with a divine bolt. Althaea and Godric recover their wits. The elf then hits Lareth with some magic missiles and the rogue follows up by slicing open Lareth’s jugular. The golden “Master” of the Moathouse is no more! Ultimately, it is the adventurers who have the last laugh.
The remaining zombies collapse with the death of their master. Cedric quickly heals Erik, returning the dwarf to consciousness.
The party loots Lareth’s body and returns to his lair. There, the adventurers assemble the various items they’ve found, and Althaea casts detect magic. Lareth’s black plate mail, ring, and staff all radiate arcane energy, as does Zert’s sword “Betty.” The party rests for the remainder of the day (about eight hours). Later, the ring is discerned to grant “free movement” to its wearer. It is given to Godric. The staff is of “striking” power, and “Betty” is unusually sharp. 
7.2 The Rescue of Knarf and Departure from the Moathouse (Flocktime 13th)
After recovering some of their strength, the party explores much of the remaining complex beneath the Moathouse. While doing so, Erik, full of bitterness, smashes in Lareth’s head with the sword “Betty.” Eventually, the party triggers a trap that releases a portcullis in a passageway, preventing further investigation of the western area. 
After some further exploration, the party returns to the secret exit located to the east of the main complex, the place where they had first entered the tunnels. As they had noted earlier, the rope ladder had been cut and the trapdoor closed. Althaea uses her mage hand to secure a rope and grappling hook to an iron rung just beneath the trapdoor above them. Erick climbs up the rope and (after several attempts) manages to prod open the trapdoor with “Betty.” He clambers onto the surface, only to be hit immediately with a frosty orb cast at his head by a nearby fiendish gnome. Despite this icy shock, and with a surge of energy, Erik scrambles toward the gnome and hits him with his sword. The gnome squeals in agony and subsequently disappears in a puff of mist. Given the fogginess of the night, and the pounding of his head, Erik cannot locate where the gnome has gone. By the time the rest of the party reach the surface, the vile gnome appears to have fled the area.
The party re-enters the underground complex via the other secret entrance, the one within the bandits’ headquarters within the Moathouse itself. They find the ogre’s lair. While exploring, Erik thrusts his sword into a pile of rugs and mats, accidentally tearing a finely made cloak buried within the pile. The party opens a barred door, revealing an imprisoned, emaciated gnome, and two dead humans. Cedric aids the poor gnome.
After gulping down some much-needed liquid, the gnome creakily introduces himself as Knarfallan of Gneissvale – or “Knarf” for short. He explains that he, and his two guards (the dead humans), were captured days ago while travelling from Gneissvale to Hommlet. Knarf reveals that there were three “evil” gnomes in league with the bandits, along with the ogre, Lareth, and the cultists. In gratitude for being rescued, Knarf gives Althaea an iron ring that indicates that the bearer is a “gnome friend.” 
The party returns to the bandit lair and rests for a few hours. Erik attunes himself to the staff of striking, while Althaea discerns that the torn cloak is in fact a “Cloak of Elvenkind.” She hopes that it will be easy to repair, and asks Spugnoir to use his prestidigitation cantrip to clean it of the ogre’s foul stench and lice.
The party conducts a final investigation of the underground complex. They find the gnomes’ dwelling place. There they uncover three scrolls (“Disguise Self,” “Hold Person,” and “Misty Step”), and a letter written in gnomish. Spugnoir is delighted with the scrolls – finally his participation in this adventure is paying off! Knarf translates the letter, informing the party that it is addressed to an unnamed “friend” in Nulb, and that it concerns the activities of the brigands over the past few weeks, including some trouble with “meddlesome adventurers” – no doubt the party! The letter is signed “Moth-Gar” – presumably one of the evil gnomes.

Exploring a bit further, the party defeats a few ghouls, and then decides to abandon the damnable place. They go to the above ground ruins in order to recover an ivory box that they had left within a ruined tower days ago. Erik enters the tower to pick up the box, but is immediately attacked by a giant spider. However, the spider is instantly pulverized by a number of magic missiles launched by Althaea. The party then loads their mule Vick up with recovered loot (including two suits of black plate mail, one of which is Lareth’s enchanted armour). After a short rest, the party begins their march back to Hommlet.
7.3 Ambush! (Flocktime 13th)
It is a grey, dreary morning as the party trudges back to Hommlet. The bleak weather matches the adventurers’ sense of exhaustion. After a couple of hours of slow progress, Godric spies something ahead. It is a wagon behind a dead horse, slain by several arrows, with a rather frustrated gnome looking on. Althaea casts invisibility on the Godric. Scouting unseen, the rogue spots a dead archer to the east. It looks as though the archer slew the horse before being himself slain. A quick search of the body reveals it to be wearing a “Burne’s Badger” tunic.

The party cautiously approach the gnome, who gestures at them for help. Alas, it is an ambush! Appearing out of nowhere – presumably previously invisible – the malevolent “traders” Rannos Davl and Gremag attack, along with a couple of warriors who burst out of the back of the wagon. Spugnoir is badly wounded by a deadly thrust from one of Gremag’s daggers. The gnome tries to cast a spell, but it fizzles. Enraged, Erik smashes in Rannos Davl’s fat head, and kills the gnome in a gory explosion with his deadly staff of striking. The two warriors also are slain with little difficulty, but the surprisingly deft Gremag disappears in a dusty cloud, managing to escape the wrath of the party.

The adventurers take the body of the dead archer, placing it on the back of poor Vick, in order to return it to Burne’s Badgers. Althaea examines the loot recovered from the ambush. She finds that Rannos Davl’s shortsword and dagger both radiate magic. The dagger is given to the shaken Spugnoir.
7.4 Return to Hommlet (Flocktime 13th)
As evening approaches, the party arrives back at Hommlet. There they meet immediately with Canon Terjon at the Church of St. Cuthbert. Cedric updates the priest on the events that took place at the Moathouse, as well as the treason of Rannos Davl and Gremag. Canon Terjon is astonished and worried. He tells the party that there will be an emergency town council meeting the next day, at which the party can convey their news to the other council members. 
The party returns to the Inn of the Welcome Wench. They collapse in exhaustion. 

 [Cedric, warrior priest of St. Cuthbert]

[For other instalments and more information about this campaign, check out the Index.]

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