Thursday, July 2, 2009

Swords & Wizardry - Warts, Houseruling, & Me

There was some discussion recently on the Swords & Wizardry forums about troublesome aspects of the core rules as they stand. Matt Finch has said his goal was not making his house rules available but restating the original rules, warts and all.

I think that's laudable and probably the best attitude he could take towards this endeavour. The community benefits from a simple, original conception to work from and house rule from. And if this remains as much in the spirit of the original as he can manage it doesn't become an argument with Matt having to justify rules to every new DM that comes along.

With the possibility of older versions of D&D being reprinted or supported slim to none, the OGL was an unlikely boon. The systems thousands have grown to love playing have at least been preserved in amber, and if enough people form a community around these simulacra, they can share new ideas with each other.

That's all well and good, but coming with the majority of my roleplaying experience with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (first edition), Swords & Wizardry did not feel like a snapshot of rules captured, or a restatement to me. It felt like a revision! And re-vision in the literal sense of, having a new vision on the philosophy of play. It felt drastically new in a way that excited me.

Part of this feeling was from all the cruft that had accumulated in the rules over the years being cleared away (paladins, druids, illusionists, gnomes, assassins, weapon modifiers versus armor class, polearms). But part of this feeling was from fundamental changes made to the basic rules- no thieves at all!, a single saving throw, and ascending armor class.

I know now that Matt had to make certain changes so that Swords & Wizardry wasn't in fact the exact same set of rules as the original Dungeons & Dragons (I don't really know why, because as I understand it, rules can't be copyrighted or trademarked, but so be it). I also know now that ascending armor class was an innovation of 3e. But when I first encountered Swords & Wizardry I was under the impression that Matt had made this brilliant revision himself and that the spirit of Swords & Wizardry was this: no sacred cows, changing the rules to make them more elegant, simpler, more playable.

It was this accident of perception that led me into my current attitude of absolute confidence that I too can add to, cut from, and edit the Swords & Wizardry rules and make them if not better, my own. (The irony is that a misunderstanding is what lead me to this tenet of the OSR community-- that houseruling isn't just accepted but encouraged).

Why does this matter? Well, for one I imagine there are more people like myself who had no experience with 0e, and so capturing those rules exactly is not an agenda for them. I also imagine, they might be in the same mindset as me-- feeling empowered and invited to make drastic rule changes of their own. To question the system.

And why does that matter? I think because it's from that very same attitude that any thought of little ol' me being able to offer up a monster, or treasure, or One Page Dungeon, that the community might like is possible. It matters because the feeling of confidence engendered by knowing the rules are just guidelines is the same confidence that will cause the next Hand of Vecna, Leomund's Tiny Hut, or Drow, to rise up from the minds of the Old School Renaissance.

You may be thinking, but of course, Gary said that from the start, that these were just guidelines. Well, yes, he also said the opposite quite a lot. And anyway, it's a very different thing to be told something and to experience it. It was was the missing thief and the armor that gets better with higher numbers that led me to the place where I am now: confident I can design a better monster, a better magic-item, a classic dungeon, and excited to share it all with you for free.


  1. My plan for S&W is to create my own version of the White Box rules with our house rules and revisions and print up our own books for use. The simpler rulesets are more-easily modified than the more complicated versions.

  2. For the most part I'm happy with the rules as they stand, but I am thinking of a streamlined character creation booklet to handout to players.