Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Swords & Wizardry

Matt "Mythmere" Finch, one of the minds behind OSRIC, has released the first installment of Swords & Wizardry, a retro-clone of OD&D. As Matt himself notes, this is less of a clone than OSRIC, instead being what he calls a "Rosetta Stone." By this, I take him to mean that his intention is to create a kind of game mechanical "key" by which players of many different versions of D&D and its spin-offs (including clones like OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, and Basic Fantasy) might be able to communicate with one another and cooperate in the creation of products compatible with their own preferred version of the rules. In this respect, it's very similar to my own recent discussion of a "universal system," albeit a more ambitious one than I'd originally intended.

I have only skimmed the first installment so far, but what I have read looks good. I am certain I will have my complaints, nitpicks, and criticisms. However, I am very pleased to see that someone has taken up this project, since I think it's an important one. Matt apparently has a number of plans for Swords & Wizardry, including a PDF support magazine; he'll be laying those plans out during the week and I'll report on them as I learn them.

This is exciting news for the old school community. I'm glad to see the release of something like this and hope that it will aid in the production of many original old school products. The fact that it's fully open except for a few trademarked terms is a huge plus in my opinion and should aid the project's goals immensely.

I'll probably have more detailed thoughts later.


  1. I don't understand the purpose of the CSL license accompanying the OGL. It seems to be a strange admixture of brand protection, help for newbies, and just plain weird stuff.

  2. Inaki, the additional license is for people who want to use the OGC but make a statement of compatibility with S&W. As such, it's the equivalent of a tiny d20 license addressing trademarks and having nothing to do with the use of the OGC itself.

    #4, which required a quick description of a magic item will likely be cut from the license. The trademarks mentioned in point #2 will likely change somewhat.

    Other than that, everything's certainly got a reason for being in there, from allowing me to pull the license of someone who's using it to commit fraud, to making sure that the dual armor class system is used in publications by anyone claiming that their material is compatible. Maybe it's just a lawyer's perspective, but I can see the reasons for each of those provisions.

  3. With respect to James' original post, please keep in mind that what's posted right now is the first draft for internet comments, not the final version. We learned from OSRIC that no matter how good a job you do, there will people on the net with ways to improve on it. OSRIC had a lot of phenomenal comments posted within a week of its initial publication. I'd like to tap that input before calling anything final.

    One thing that someone has already suggested is a book where the tables are actually left blank. I think that might prove annoying to someone who only wants to customize part of the game, and leaving additional blank columns in tables would be a layout nightmare - but I really want to pursue that idea for a "DIY" version to put up as print on demand. I think the original numbers would have to be there, but perhaps very small. I'm looking for further suggestions on this.

    Of course, there's also the ability to customize it by using the WP document I'll release with the final version, but the downside there would be that anyone using a word processor to customize the game would then have to face the difficulties of laying it out to look good.

    Another point that's been made is that the way I've portrayed it may make people perceive a bait and switch. From my perspective, it's definitely based on the white box plus the supplements. That's what I used as the skeleton, so almost everything ties back to that. However, the changes made for compatibility purposes are making people not see the Oe skeleton that underlies the game. This is even people who are really excited about the game - they're excited about compatibility and simplicity, they're excited about how it can be built out into all kinds of new gaming territory ... but they're not seeing it as, for example, a way for a modern gamer to learn Oe, even if they think I've captured lightning in a bottle as far as other uses of the game. What a game is, is decided by the people who use it, not by the designer - so it may be that the compatibility and flexibility sides are what people are going to see and use. That's simply yet to be seen - once it's out of my hands it belongs to the users.

  4. Matt,

    Thanks for all the clarifications. I'm very pleased to see you out there beating the drums in support of this rather remarkable project and answering questions. I, for one, am very grateful that you took it upon yourself to do this.

    There are aspects of the S&W approach that I wouldn't be keen on if your intention was for it to be taken as simply a restatement of the three little brown books + supplements. I get the impression, though, that that's not in fact your intention, as evidenced by your use of the term "Rosetta Stone" to describe what you've done.

    In that respect, I think S&W is an amazing thing, particularly the spell descriptions. I can't wait to see what you'll do with the referee's portion of the rules. This is big and I'd like to congratulate you for having done us all a huge service.

  5. James, thanks for the kind words. Based on comments so far, I'm going to cull back what I can in order to pull it closer to the retro-clone region while still maintaining the compatibility flexibility.
    Here are the changes I'm going to make for the next draft:

    1) The d6 HD for the MU will be changed to a d4
    2) the base (skin) AC will be 9, not 10.
    3) Cleric bonus spells will be eliminated
    4) cleric spells will begin at level 2 not 1
    5) xp charts will change somewhat to get closer, not sure how much yet
    6) level limits won't go in - these are "simulated" with a massive increase in xp costs.
    7) Halflings will go back in as an option
    Cool single saving throw category will remain for legal reasons

    I think this brings the game solidly into being a retro-clone; the different hit dice for different classes will be there from the supplements, as will higher level spells (but not including any from AD&D). Most of the other supplemental material - other than monsters - will not be there, since I want to keep the game very open-ended for house ruling.

  6. And here is the latest news, converting the game into a true retro-clone:

    The link: (make sure you click on the 6/5/08 file)

    This new version is, I think, a full-scale retro-clone of the White Box (including some additions from the supplements and a small number of legally-oriented changes). It retains the Rosetta Stone ability.

    Please take a look.

  7. Matt,

    Thanks for the update. I've really been enjoying S&W and, with the changes you've made, I think you've made a huge step toward two goals that, to my mind, are vitally important: an OGC OD&D retro-clone and a Rosetta Stone for old school publications.

    I can't wait to see what you'll do with the next installment. This is great stuff.

  8. S&W suggests basic strategies for converting between S&W and other retroclones. Ultimately, it states that some things can't be converted without significant headache. Perhaps the S&W website should contain a spot where other retroclone authors can put two-way conversion tips between their system and S&W.