Category Archives: Swords & Wizardry

Ask The Readers: Running a Ultima campaign in S&W

The Avatar Inspired by Chgowiz’s Siege Perilous project I am tempted to run my own Ultima campaign using Swords & Wizardry rules. Alas he only covered the early parts of the series (Ultima I – III) that I never played. My favorite Ultima games were always Ultima VI and VII.

There are a few issues I am a bit unsure about, mainly how classes should work and what changes are necessary to the world and story to make it possible to run a compelling S&W campaign.

I’ve posted these questions in this thread over at the Swords & Wizardry forums. If you have any advice, please post your answers there, or use the comment section below. Thanks, any help is much appreciated!

My stance on D&D 4th Edition

D&D 4th Edition When you read some of my older post you’ll notice that I praised D&D 4th Edition on numerous occasions and recently I have become more of a critic. For quite some time I wanted to write a post about that issue, but feared it would lead to another edition war. That is not my intention, so please try to be polite in the comments and remember that what is fun for you must not necessarily fun for everyone!

When D&D 4th Edition was announced, I was pretty excited. A lot of the changes they’ve made in Star Wars Saga Edition were pretty good in my opinion and I was excited to see what they would do to improve D&D. D&D 3.5 Edition was a pretty good game, but there were a few things bothering me.

From the moment of the announcement I was in full fanboy mode. I ordered the “Wizards Presents” books, read every article about D&D 4E, listened to the official podcast an told all my friends about how cool D&D 4E will be. When I finally got the books I was blown away: awesome artwork, cool classes, a lot of interesting changes. The reliance on miniatures bothered me a bit, but since I already had enjoyed the D&D Miniatures game, I thought this wouldn’t be such a big deal.

A friend of mine, who is the D&D expert in my group offered to run D&D 4th Edition for us and so, I created my first 4E character. That is, I actually created a Warlock and a Wizard. but when the first session came I decided that a Dwarven warlock would be much cooler than my Eladrin wizard. We played a couple of sessions and it was not uncommon for a player to ask the GM if he could give another character class a try.

But it was not exclusively the wish to experiment with all those shiny new classes, but at least in my case,  something else had been bothering me all the time, although I just couldn’t put a finger on it. I thought that I just wasn’t comfortable with the class I’ve chosen. At one point we discovered that playing without miniatures was harder than we initially thought, especially since the Warlord of the group had a hard time making use of his powers when you only had a pretty blurry picture of the combat situation in your head.

Then I realized what has been bothering me all the time. For me, combat in D&D 4th Edition always pulled me out of the game. As soon as we started putting miniatures on a battle mat, immersion was gone. I stopped thinking about my character as my alter ego in the game world but it became that small plastic miniature on the game table. And I believe that a lot of the powers even reinforce that feeling for me. I just have a hard time imagining how certain powers are supposed to fit into the game reality. And that reduced my enjoyment of the game tremendously.

Shortly after that I started to realize that D&D 4th Edition is not the game I’ve wanted it to be. I tried so hard to love that game, but then it turned out very different from what I’ve expected, I just had to be disappointed. For a time I blamed D&D 4th Edition for it, but that’s definitely not fair. D&D 4th Edition is a good game, even if I don’t have fun playing it.

Perhaps I will give it another try in a few months or years, when the initial frustration has waned. Or I will just continue to focus my attention on other games. It’s not as if Wizards mysteriously destroyed all alternatives. If I want to play D&D I can still use my D&D 3rd Edition books, have some old-school fun with Swords & Wizardry or check out Pathfinder.

And again I want to remind you I don’t want to start another edition war. D&D 4th Edition is a great roleplaying game but it’s just not my cup of tea right now. So, if you enjoy the latest edition of D&D, don’t get angry at me when I don’t. And when I criticize the game, please remember that I don’t do it to take away your fun! Feel free to comment on this post as usual, but please keep it civil and polite. Thanks!

Why play old-school D&D?

Dungeon Crawlers If you haven’t been living under a rock for quite some time, you probably noticed a growing trend in the RPG hobby: OD&D is back with a vengeance.

Ok, in most cases it’s not really the D&D from 1974 that Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson created, but the various retro-clones that are enjoyed by gamers all over the world. A lot of those gamers are people who have been playing D&D since the 1970s and who are more or less affectionately called “grognards”. But a growing number of players enjoy the charm of OD&D (or its clones) without ever having played the game back in the day.

So, why should anyone play old-school D&D today, where there are hundreds of modern games available? If you are one of the “grognards” you probably just play the game you’ve enjoyed for decades. For others its nostalgia, because they first played D&D before moving to other games and for a few of us (like me) it’s actually a new and exciting thing!

My favorite retro-clone at the moment is Swords & Wizardry White Box and as far as I was told it’s pretty close to the original game from 1974 with a few improvements. One of these improvements is probably the option to use ascending Armor Classes (like in D&D 3rd Edition a lot of modern gamer have played). But if you wish you can of course play it with the classic descending Armor Classes.

So, what is the appeal of S&W? There are several reasons why old-school gaming can be fun and exciting even today. In a way, playing S&W White Box is like learning a new skill. The game is extremely rules light and the DM (or referee) has to make rulings on the fly very often during the course of a session. You don’t have rules for every situation that may arise, so thinking on one’s feet and improvising is necessary. Especially when you are used to rely on rules, this can be a new experience for any DM.

The players have to adjust, too. In most cases combat is much more dangerous, because a character usually starts with just 1d6 hit points. A good hit with a sword and your character is history. Picking fights carefully is very important if you want to survive. Another aspect of old-school gaming is that the players are often more challenged than the characters. If there’s a riddle to solve, the players will have to solve it. There’s no skill roll to solve that for you. Some people may not like this, but we enjoyed this a lot. And I have to admit that especially when social interactions and riddles etc. were concerned I always preferred player challenge over mere dice rolling. And if in doubt you always can combine the two methods (at least in modern games).

But the part that is the most fun (for the DM or referee at least) is the fact, that you can easily change rules you don’t like or add classes, items etc. at whim without the fear of breaking the game. In most more complicated games some small changes may have big consequences that are usually not easily foreseeable. In my opinion old-school D&D is a heaven for homebrewers.

If you try to play S&W White Box or any other old-school RPG like a modern RPG, you will probably not enjoy it. It just wasn’t meant to be played that way. But if you are willing to try out something different, you are in for a ride!

By the way, if you are interested in giving S&W a try, check out fellow RPG blogger Chgowiz’ Swords & Wizardry quickstart.