Saturday, April 6, 2013

Review: Swords & Wizardry, White Box Edition

Okay so this time I'm reviewing Swords & Wizardry, the White Box edition (available free), by Mythmere Games.  Swords & Wizardry (S&W) is one of the surprisingly numerous old school renaissance rules sets available nowadays which aim to recreate the early days of D&D.  I say surprisingly numerous because I am baffled by the popularity of the early editions of D&D.  The early editions had a lot of bad ideas in them and I really don't understand why you'd play them where there are so many better games out.

S&W starts out with perhaps the worst rule of early D&D and that's rolling your stats with 3d6 starting with the first of the six stats and working your way down.  If those stats are bad for the character class you had in mind playing, well too bad.  It sux to be you.  They do allow an alternative where you can arrange the rolls, but why not do the players a favor make that the regular rule up front?  This straight-up rolls rule is one of the things that drove me away from D&D after just a couple sessions.

Next up is a discussion of each of the stats, and again one of the senseless rules from early D&D reappears: the experience point bonus for having a high stat for your class.  For instance, a cleric character with a Wisdom over 13 gets a 5% bonus to any experience gained.  Why?  What is this rule about?  I have no idea.  And what if you planned to play a cleric but got stuck with an 8 Wisdom because of the straight 3d6 rolls?  Well too bad, it sux to be you.  This rule guides people to play whatever class gets them an XP bonus for a high stat instead of letting them just focus on which class they like most.

Then the rules go over the classes in turn.  Once again there is the clunky mechanic whereby each class has its own separate experience table.  As I recall from way back when we first started playing D&D (1978-1979), the varying experience tables tended to draw people to play the classes with the fastest advancement.  Thus people avoided magic users like the plague and generally preferred thieves.  Almost everyone played a thief or fighter (clerics were avoided because the other players would only allow them to take heal spells).  Players should be concentrating on what class most appeals to them, not what their straight 3d6 rolls stuck them with or which class has the fastest advancement table.  Also, S&W maintains the crappy mechanic where classes have certain levels where you get xdx+1 HP.  For instance the Elf class gets 2d6 HP at 2nd level, but 2d6+1 at 3rd level.  That kind of sux.  You basically get to re-roll the same dice as the previous level.  I always thought that was a gyp in OD&D and it still is.

However, one interesting difference in S&W is that all classes use d6 for hit points.  This may be why they have so to have so many xdx+1 levels.  It's an awkward way to set up HP advancement for different classes simply in order to use d6 as the hit die for all classes.

Weapon damage is the old system where all weapons do a 1d6 of damage, some with +1 or -1.  This certainly simplifies things, but I just can't buy that a club does 1d6 and a halberd does 1d6+1.  Why would anyone spend money on a halberd when the club is free?  And if a club is about as fearsome a weapon as a halberd, why didn't ancient armies historically all equip their troops with cheap clubs?

Anyway, if you've read some of my earlier posts you'll know that I'm not a fan of OD&D and thus not a fan of OSR rules either.  If you are a fan, then you'll like Swords & Wizardry.  However, I'd prefer that game designers put their talents into something really new and innovative, such as Old School Hack or 3:16 instead of re-inventing the square wheel.

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