A Higly Opinionated Comparison of Swords & Wizardry

It’s Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day and I’ve got a couple of posts lined up to celebrate. I figured I’d start with just an overall rant about the game. First, I’m going to say this. Don’t take this as “You’re playing wrong it.” or any sort of rehash of the Edition Wars. Like the title says “highly opinionated”. I’m not going to rant about every edition and version of the World’s Most Popular Fantasy Roleplaying Game just the ones that I feel are relevant.
Let’s talk for a quick moment about what is different about Swords & Wizardry as compared to the other retro-clones. First there’s the option of using Ascending or Descending AC. Second and most importantly, there’s the One Save Mechanic. Characters (and monsters) just have one Saving Throw. Not three or five. Just one. this may seem over simplified at first glance but it’s not. If you take RAW, there’s modifiers to this based on class and race. Plus there’s plenty of room for GM’s to put their own spin on it by using Ability Score bonuses or other little bits. Plus one of the favorite house rules making the rounds is using the Saving Throw as general mechanic for task resolution. It’s simple and it works.

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Pathfinder/3.X: From available data, Pathfinder is out selling D&D so I’m including it here. I’ve played a lot of Pathfinder. Our group has gone through most of the Paizo Adventure Paths. But one thing I’ve thought since the Beta release. Fun game but I’d never want to run it. It’s just so complex and tactical. I’ve never calculated how game time was spent on cross referencing rules. double checking exactly what a condition means and having a spell caster move just right to he can get the most enemies into the area of effect for a spell. Routinely, we’ve used spreadsheets to keep track of all the bonuses, modifiers and penalties for the characters. To put it bluntly, there’s lots of number crunching in Pathfinder. I’d rather spend my time killing monsters and taking their stuff than worrying about game mechanic minutia. Swords & Wizardry is quick, easy and simple. Spend you’re time adventuring and not on accounting.
Little Brown Books/Red Book/Blue Book and their cousins: I’m going to throw in Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Basic Fantasy and similar games into this category. I have most of these and the rules are very similar to each other and to Swords & Wizardry. There’s two things I like about Swords & Wizardry that put it ahead of these. First, the option for Ascending AC. It may not pure old school but I like Ascending AC over Descending. The One Save mechanic and easy to read monster stat blocks make the Game Master’s so much simpler than looking up at chart to figure out that Creature X has the Saves of a 5th level fighter. Less time looking at charts, means more time playing. Plus it makes converting adventures and creatures into Swords & Wizardry much easier than the other way around. Easy conversion means that a GM has even more tools at his disposal.
Castles & Crusades: This one deserves a special note. Of all the clones out there, it’s my opinion that Castles & Crusades most resembles Swords & Wizardry. The Siege Engine of Castles & Crusades works nearly same as the One Save Mechanic of Swords & Wizardry. I mentioned converting. Yeah, it’s breeze on this one.
Dungeon Crawl Classics and Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Why in the world would I lump these two together? Because the rules of these two games reinforce a particular theme. They’ve got personality Swords & Wizardry sets in the middle without bring any particular personality to the table. Now that’s a good thing. Because this encourages GM’s to create their own campaigns with their own quirks and personality. Like I said before, rules and other crunchy bits are easily converted into Swords & Wizardry. Embrace it. Make that campaign uniquely your own. Pull in those crazy rules bits from every other game you have and blend it together and come up with something cool.
Quick and simple mechanics. A flexible system that’s very easy to convert various resources into and it’s very good at accepting house rules. It takes the best parts and puts them together in a way that makes the GM’s and the players jobs so much easier so they spend their time on adventuring and not crunching numbers and cross referencing charts and rules. Yeah, that’s why I like Swords & Wizardry. It’s a solid framework that I can easily tweak and build on. I can easily pull bits and pieces from just about any of the retro-clones put them into Swords & Wizardry.

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