Monday, December 20, 2010

What It Is: Swords & Wizardry Complete Rules (Part Two)

All right, last week I reviewed the Player's Section of the new Complete Rules for Swords and Wizardry.  Today, I'll be finishing it up with the Referee's Section.

Let's Get Started
The introduction is good for explaining what it means to be an OSR referee compared to some of the new school games, rules interpretation in particular.  It sets the tone for a referee to act outside the rules and modify them as needed.  Compared to later editions of the game, which seem to have rules for everything and endless errata, it's a refreshing change.

Some of the symbols from p. 78.
The section jumps right into adventure design, reminding referees about their most important duty: providing a setting to give the rest of the players some form of challenge and entertainment.  The cross-sections and the maps are all hand-drawn, encouraging referees to go it their own.  There are plenty of "Dungeon Map Symbols" to give fledgling referees ideas for things to add to their dungeons.  I like this a lot because those huge lists of map symbols (I believe in the inside of the cover of the DM's book of the original Red Box) actually exposed me to new words like dais and portcullis.  I was 9 years old and had no clue what those were.  I bet if I asked around the coffee shop I'm writing this in, I'd find more people NOT knowing what those words mean than those who do know.  The key example is pretty simple and illustrates that all you really need as a referee is a brief description, stat blocks, treasure, and some space for notes.  While I look for a lot more than that from adventures I purchase, when I'm writing something up, I am usually good with the basics.

When it comes to stocking the dungeon, S&W deviates from the original sources, going for a later "Challenge Level" concept.  Starting with the "sublevels" of Challenge Levels A&B (for the weakest threats like kobolds and goblins) and going up from Challenge Level 1 (Orc) to Challenge Level 17 (Orcus, the Demon Prince).

I like ambush POV shots like this one from p.82
The random generation tables are the usual mixed bag.  The rules are quick to point out they are just guidelines, but it just seems a bit nuts to have the players run into a horde of 250 kobolds on the fifth level of a dungeon.  Two things can happen there:  Either the sheer volume of the monsters will overwhelm the players or they will be powerful enough to shrug off all of the attacks.  Either way, it's absurd.  I know large numbers of low-level monsters is something very traditional to the game, but I'd like to see someone finally start putting some common sense into it.  What's the point of rehashing these rules if you don't fix some of the things that are clearly absurd or broken?

The addition of mass combat rules in the game are a nice touch.  They look pretty simple, and I'll have to give them a whirl sometime. The siege rules are interesting that they almost admit that it's better to find a supplemental set of rules for it.  They are a bit meager for my taste, but I guess are there because the old rules had them.  The aerial and naval combat rules look pretty simple to use.

Things to Kill
Now, the section I have been waiting for.  The monster section.  154 monsters over 24 pages means that the stat blocks are succinct and the descriptions and flavor text are slim, to the point of sparse.  There aren't as many pictures as I'd expect and the ones that are there aren't always clearly linked to the monster in question.  All said, there is enough to work with here if you are a full blown member of the OSR, with an understanding of the context of the more obscure monsters. I'm thinking that some of the more obscure monsters (Carrion Creeper, Ceiling Lurkers, Trapper Beasts...) might be difficult for someone new to the game to use properly.

What's missing from this p. 119 picture?  A duck swimming in it.
One thing I really like about the monster section is that they clearly define Challenge Levels.  Well, as clearly defined as that concept can be.  Still, this is good for referees who may not be experienced enough to properly scale monsters to have an idea of how deadly their creations might be.

Ooooh!  Shiny!
The treasure system in many ways resembles the classic tables many of us grew up with.  What I like about how the Swords and Wizardry handles things is that instead of an arbitrary "treasure type," you have a gp value based upon the total experience points of the monsters.  It's a concept that a lot of later editions of the game embraced and is very nice to see here.  They have several "tradeouts" which allow you to include gems, jewelry, and magic items in lieu of cash.  So, after fighting my CL 7 Ogre Mage, I have a 2400gp treasure horde to work with.  I have one 100gp tradeout to work with (a bit low, statistically).  So the treasure ends up being 2300gp in coins and a 4gp gem.  Wow.  Let's try it again and see what happens the second time.  This time we get THREE 100gp tradeouts and one 1000gp tradeout.  This time we get a 49gp gem, a 5gp pendant, a magic sword which is cursed to force the bearer to run away from combat, a +2 staff, and 1100gp.  Not a bad system.  The magic items are your typical OSR fare.  They are clearly described and there are a lot of options stuffed into a small area.

Overall impressions
Swords & Wizardry's Complete Rules captures that moment in history where the original D&D rules were becoming Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.  It's clear and, instead of having to look in a number of supplements for all of your options, gives you everything you need to play the "complete" version of the original rules in one place.  It's a sharp looking book and very clearly organized and written.

If the Complete Rules existed in a bubble, I'd say jump on it in a second.  Unfortunately, I'm hesitant to give it a glowing review because they are catching OD&D when it was almost AD&D.  It's the bridge between OSRIC and Swords & Wizardry's White Box or Core Rules.  If you are already using OSRIC or have a bunch of 1st Edition books, I'm not sure this will bring anything new to the table.  I say "unfortunate" because I really want to like the Complete Rules more than I do.  It's just not jumping away from the pack in any way for me.

Buy this if you more options than the bulk of the OD&D clones (S&W's White Box or Labyrinth Lord) but aren't heavily invested in OSRIC or AD&D 1e.
Don't buy this if you already have an early AD&D clone you are happy with.

You can buy Swords & Wizardry's Complete Rules here, at the Frog God Games website.