Welcome to Eldritch Weirdness, the first booklet of Options and Resources for the Swords & Wizardry game, containing 30 optional spells to inspire your imagination. All these spells are described in the S&W format, so they’re less detailed and more open-ended than you’ll find in most fantasy role-playing games. One spell, “Infuse,” is so open-ended it’s got no discernable game purpose at all, unless you add something somewhere. Like everything else in Swords & Wizardry, you’ve got the basics: now go and imagine the hell out of it.So begins Matt Finch's Eldritch Weirdness, Book One, the first supplement to his OD&D retro-clone Swords & Wizardry. That opening paragraph sets the tone, not just for the five pages of arcane spells that follow, but also for the whole of the S&W project. "Imagine the hell out of it" is a brilliant summation of this minimalist retro-clone that both respects the roots of the hobby and points the way toward the future.
How does S&W do this? For one, the entirety of its text is Open Game Content, meaning that anyone, including publishers, can use as little or as much of its text as they wish in their own products without the need for a special license or permissions. S&W also has its own "compatibility-statement license," which allows you to indicate that your games or products are compatible with S&W. Secondly, its text is a very close approximation of OD&D and some of its supplementary materials, including a fair degree of "elbow room" when it comes to adjudicating many game mechanics. There are differences, of course, some of which, such as the Hit Dice conventions -- I favor D6 for all classes and for monsters -- bring the game a fair bit closer to AD&D than I would like, but they are easily fixed. Indeed, the real genius of S&W is that its core rules are intended to be easily edited and then printed out, so each referee can make the game his own. Likewise, the rules are light enough that they can expanded in numerous directions without having to worry about the entire mechanical edifice crashing down on you.
But this post is a review of Eldritch Weirdness, not Swords & Wizardy. The 8-page PDF consists of a cover, five pages of text describing 30 arcane spells, and two pages devoted to the Open Game License. The entire package sells for $1.50. Let me state at the outset that I love the cover page. The very title itself recalls Supplement III to OD&D, Eldritch Wizardry, and font chosen for it (which it shares with the S&W logo) is a legible blackletter script that sets the perfect tone. The cover also features a black and white illustration by the author that depicts a robed and cueball-headed wizard conjuring with the aid of a crystal ball. It's a very nice image that recalls the best old school art, while not being imitative of any of it. The style and content is original yet evocative. I'd like to see more art done in this fashion.
The meat of the book itself is 30 optional arcane (i.e. magic-user) spells, from ball of ice to word of IOUN. As you would expect from magic spells of the old school, their effects are often quirky and sometimes even without immediately obvious use. The spell infuse mentioned in the quote above "infuses liquids (usually prepared ones) with magical propensities and potentials. It does not, in and of itself, create potions." What does that mean? I can think of several answers, but Eldritch Weirdness canonizes none of them, instead leaving it to the referee to decide for his own campaign. Another spell, called Omar's mistake, causes the caster to demonstrate numerous strange and unusual traits and qualities at once, some beneficial -- members of the opposite sex have a 1% chance to be affected as if by a charm spell -- and some not -- the caster may feel compelled to steal shiny objects. Why would anyone cast this spell? That's for each magic-user to decide should he learn it. And so on.
Eldritch Weirdness was thus aptly named; it's filled with lots of odd, slightly off-kilter magic that makes you scratch your head a wonder, "Why?" It's the perfect antidote for the overly mechanized, honed to a fine sheen approach we've seen in more recent edition of D&D, where randomness, judgment calls, and whimsy are frowned upon. I simply could not help being inspired by this book, which is remarkable both because it's so short and because, after nearly 30 years of gaming, I thought I'd seen it all. It's rare when you come across a work of imagination that makes you sit up and take notice. Eldritch Weirdness does just that and I heartily recommend it for anyone who wants to see a new product that shows what old school is all about.
Final Score: 5 out of 5 polearms