A blog about tabletop hobby and or strategy games, with a side order of electronic turn based goodness here and there. Now with tons of retro gaming content both electronic and tabletop. Also with 20% more self loathing douchebaggery!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Retroclones Primer and: Swords and Wizardry: First Look

Some background: Over at www.theRPGsite.com last week there was a thread about retroclones. For those of you uninitiated, a retroclone in the RPG sense is an RPG designed to pretty much be a modern version of a classic RPG with very little changed based on legality and copyright laws.

Many fans make these games as a labor of love, and to permit new products to be made for their favorite long out of print RPG system. Which is of course mostly versions of Dungeons & Dragons, made easier thanks to the Open Game License which allows for VERY close approximations of old classics.

These games are usually FREE to download in a PDF format, with a normally at or slightly above cost edition available for purchase from a print on demand site such as Lulu.

Well, a couple years back I purchased the Basic D&D retroclone known as Basic Fantasy, which is an ascending Armor Class 20 level rendition of Moldvay/Cook edition Basic D&D in a lovely spiral bound version for 10 dollars. It has since been updated and I sort of feel out of the loop on that. (Plus, I have multiple ACTUAL Basic D&D sets in print which sort of negates the need!)

For laughs and because it was highly recommended I downloaded and printed out the latest version of Swords and Wizardry (visit www.swordsandwizardry.com to get it yourself!). Why? Well, Swords and Wizardry is based on ORIGINAL 1974 Brown and White Box D&D with a few things taken from the supplements. Except it is readable, understandable, removes some of the Garyisms you either love or hate, and the artwork and layout is DAMNED good for a free to download fan project. (Though purchasable support is available for it in their Knockspell magazine, and in Fight On!, another retro D&D fanmag. I have 2 issues of the latter coming in the mail, so perhaps I will do a review of them in the near future.)

I started flipping through it, and found it to be a simple and QUICK RPG system, something I have always wanted for quick pickup games when people don't show up for whatever reasons, but we still want to get some RPG gaming in. Characters fit on a half page of paper really, and that's for the DETAILED version of them.

Attributes are simple, and modifiers are merely -1 for 3-8 , 0 for 9-12, and +1 for 13-18. Movement is based on weight carried and basic adventuring items are just a simple generic "it weighs 10 pounds for your basic adventuring gear", assuming that players and DMs will show some common sense. There is a single saving throw, a fairly large but not ridiculous list of weapons and gear, a fair amount of spells, and a quick light combat system that can use either D20 ascending AC (Unarmored AC is 10. Add your attribute and class level bonus to hit to a D20 roll. Equal or beat target AC and you hit and do damage based on weapon type.) or classic descending AC which uses the THAC0 system so many people hate.

Being a cleaned up original D&D its appeal is how EASY AND FAST it is to play and run, and how being so simple, the game group can tinker with it to add in or muck about and make it what they want to play. Plus it assumes the DM and players can wing it, and don't need endless rules for everything. I have a notebook handy to keep track of house rules I put into play as interesting situations come up, and many things I just say "Ok, do this and you can do that!" to.

Here is an example from our play. One of the players wanted to have a Longbow that could be used as a quarterstaff in close combat. No rules for that in the book. Well I said "Sounds reasonable. Pay the costs of BOTH items and add 50% and you can do it." the player chose NOT to, but the old school rules light feel encourages such things by not being tied down to a large, rigid, and detailed system.


Another example was one of our players did not want to pay for both a torchbearer AND a hireling to push around a handcart in the dungeon. So he asked if he could affix a lantern holder to the cart. This is very clever. But it could be potentially cheesy too. I told him to roll a D20 equal to or under his intelligence to see if he could make it. He did, and thus he can now have a lantern swinging off a pole affixed to the handcart.

We started getting things moving, and as it was late we had only a short time to explore the dungeon I was loosely basing off the starter dungeon layout in the rulesbook (which will probably now be seen and printed out by the players. Yeah you may know where the secret doors are, but its mostly an unwritten dungeon so I am populating it with traps and creatures and treasure!) so they got to explore a couple hallways, avoid a simple trap, engage in a fight with some Hobgoblins, and get some treasure. We nearly had a character killed, but it was all due to the dice. They did some roleplaying, and now have some money for further expeditions.

Swords and Wizardry Session One Level A
Our Elf, Cleric, and Dwarf fight some strange Goblin like men who are guarding a treasure chest and a desk. What will they find out? Can they survive their first battle? Its up to their wits and the luck of the dice!

In play I am finding it even easier and faster than Tunnels and Trolls, but it could be due to my familiarity with Dungeons & Dragons in most of its' incarnations.

I am quite enjoying it, and will look forward to it being a long term pickup game. Someone doesn't show? Well, whoever is here can take their characters into the dungeon to explore, and when we call it for time if possible the characters leave the dungeon until the next expedition.

I will most likely use the megadungeon concept as it works best for an oldschool game, and I have a few ideas as to a simple campaign narrative. With Games Workshop's War of the Ring mass combat system for Lord of the Rings coming out, I may make it a simple Middle Earth setting with the PCs exploring a massive mountain complex shortly after the fall of Sauron. I have plenty of Goblins, Orcs, Trolls, Uruk Hai, and Haradrim I can use on the tabletop, plus with it being the end of an age, who is to say more D&D monsters haven't shown up due to the end of such dire magics? Maybe some of Sauron's dark energies have created new beasts who call this great cavern complex home?

I cannot give it a full review yet as I have actually only read a good 10-20 pages of it, and just winged the rest of it. Of course, most of the pages are spell and monster descriptions anyhow so its not a bad thing anyhow.

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