Saturday, August 13, 2022

Maximum Mayhem Dungeons: Reprints Special #2

Another fun Kickstarter I am following is a reprint collection of OSR modules (9 for OSR, 1 for 5E) that look fun and have a lot of classic art and inspiration inside them.

These look super fun, sort of a cross between OSR and Dungeon Crawl Classics crazy and zany, and the art and presentation are spot-on with some classic fantasy artists in the books.

I am always on the lookout for great OSR adventures, and these look perfect.

The project is backed and I put a link in the sidebar.

Does This Come in an OSR Version?

I love OSR versions of products. It makes me wish I could go back in time for half of the 3rd-party Pathfinder 1e books I own and have OSR versions of all of those great books. I can pick up a book written for Labyrinth Lord, Old School Essentials, Swords & Wizardry, and most any other OSR game and use it with any one of the others. All of my old D&D and AD&D modules are usable as they are written.

Sure the above was written for Labyrinth Lord, but I can play this with anything from Swords & Wizardry to Castles & Crusades. Old School Essentials. Crypts & Things. Hyperborea. White Box. Basic Fantasy. The list goes on and on.

Why not play the AD&D or D&D Rules Cyclopedia reprints? I choose to support indie creators and communities. The more OSR games we have out there, the better the entire OSR community gets. This is about supporting diversity and choice, everyone should be able to play the game of their choice, or even create a game that captures their imagination. While having the original books is nice, ultimately they are limited and games that will never really expand or thrive with new adventures and experiences.

I can go to DriveThruRPG and find hundreds of OSR modules written for dozens of OSR games, written by small and indie creators with a love of the game. The original D&D and AD&D are still very closed-source games, and I support open-source projects because they benefit the world and help the individual over the corporation. I can buy a $60 mega-dungeon hardcover and have it be good forever, and usable with dozens of games.

My D&D 3.5, Pathfinder 1e or 2e, D&D 4, and even the few D&D 5 books I have are all tied to one game system. When I box up a game for storage, these books go with them. My OSR books stay out and they are always ready for whatever game I choose to play.

I know creating space for OSR stats in 5E books takes space and the market isn't that big, but it means a lot to us OSR enthusiasts. It also means I can use the book after D&D moves on an edition or two. The few 5e books I have I know will likely need updates when the game changes again, and I like a set of rules that really stays the same.

I did the "big consumerist" thing with Pathfinder 1e and collected all the books. To force me to collect another edition and double the size of my library feels wasteful. I would rather have OSR books I can use with many games than a book written for a specific edition of one game.

While I love my Pathfinder 1e books, there are books I can say "they were just trying to sell you another book" in that collection. There is a ton of waste in there, repeated classes and feats, same-enough spells, and really a sell-sell-sell mentality took over the line when it got hot. I can say the same about 5E these days, a lot of books, even from Wizards, you do not need and they reduce your enjoyment of the game.

If someone in the community writes the OSR game "Bad Dungeon" and it takes off huge, all my OSR books still work fine. When 5E or Pathfinder 2e go away, they go away, and you need to buy an updated book or hope things convert well enough. The old books do not go in a closet.

They stay out, ready to be played.

And also from an environmental perspective, having books that work forever and with each other is way better than supporting a consumerist model. Traditional books do not need electricity, and storing PDFs on phones or in the cloud takes electricity and resources. You are not reprinting the same content in "an updated version" and reselling those every 10 years with all the damage printing, transporting, selling, and tossing out an old edition books causes. I get tired of this "Amazon culture" of continuously selling you books, and then continuously replacing them with a new edition. Multiple starter sets. Reprinting monster manuals. Toss out the old, buy the new. Constantly consume. More, more, more. Bigger games! More options! More books!

Especially when there are a ton of single-book OSR games that just do it better with less.

It is funny, I go back and look at a lot of these games and see how the OSR is superior. If I want mages to do alchemy, I just house-rule how it works if it makes sense. In other games, I have to buy a book, read how it works, slow down the game to sort through dozens of pages of rules, often make one die roll and say it takes "X weeks and Y gold to make Z potion" and guess what?

If I would have house-ruled it I would have had an answer in 5 seconds, save $40, and keep my game streamlined without another book of rules to reference or carry around. All for an edge-case situation.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

OSR: Weak Cleric? Strong Church.

Most OSR games have clerics who get zero spells at level one. That is a tough life for the cleric, even compared to AD&D, which gives clerics one level one spell at level one. You may have players who don't like this and want to gravitate towards games that are a little more generous.

Actually, I love the OSR cleric since it opens the door to a little world-building for me.

The Setup

So let's say you have a group of players in Old School Essentials or any other game where clerics get the "bag of rocks" at level one, no healing spells, no cure light wounds, no nothing. So you send them straight to the dungeon, and all the cleric prays for is reaching level 2?

Not exactly.

I would have a messenger from the cleric character's temple show up, and say, "Could you come to the temple before you go? We wish to speak with you a moment."

And leave it at that.

When they go, have the person in charge of the temple give the spell-less cleric three healing potions to use, just because they want to be sure their follower gets back safely. Normally, I would go with scrolls, but since scrolls depend on spell levels you can cast, it has to be healing potions at level one. No price, no charge, just free.

There is your level one healing.

Now, why do this? Well, churches are typically charitable organizations, and you can use this to your benefit. Every so often, throw a few potions or cleric scrolls every so often to make up for the difference. Does the temple want to see the cleric grow into a powerful here? You bet they do, but within means and resources, of course. If the rest of the party starts pulling ahead in magic gear, have the church give the character a few items to help them keep up.

Yes, for free.

The Payoff

After a while, the church starts making requests of the cleric and the party of adventurers. We heard of trouble at a farm, reports of a desecrated shrine, or evil creatures spotted on a hill. This is a perfect way to deliver adventure hooks to the party, and it gives them a source of missions and good deeds to do.

Now you have a cool way to deliver information and adventure starts to the party.

As the good deeds pile up, the church increases in power and influence, and the missions become higher stakes. Not all the party's time should be spent on church tasks, but it should come up every so often - especially during slow times or when the party has no next adventure to go on. The stronger the local temple, the more they can offer the party.

Don't overdo it! The party should not feel hassled by the local temple, just every once in a while and don't pile things on with multiple requests while other big things are going on.

And, of course, if the party has unwanted magic items or extra treasure to donate, that would be appreciated too. The church could sell the party higher-level parties cleric scrolls and potions at a discount, and that would also be a good way for the group to spend money and keep the cleric's power on the higher end of the curve with plenty of healing spells tucked away in a prayer book and enough healing potions to pass out in a pinch.

The "weak" OSR cleric is easily fixed by making up for it with world-building and roleplaying, and, in fact, the cleric with benefits is probably stronger than their "go it alone" counterparts in more generous games.

Doctor Jones...?

Also, place some important objects, statues, books, icons, and other holy items as "treasure" in a dungeon that are worth gold, but worth a lot more if returned to the church. Recovering relics and other artifacts is very important and would generate greater favors for the party. Sure, this 3,000-year-old gold statue of the goddess is worth 5,000gp if sold for the metal, but do you know how valuable it is to the temple?

Yes, I know the thief says to sell it and split the money, but please have faith!

Returning that may just be repaid by allowing your party's healer to upgrade from +1 chainmail to a brand-new +2 set. You don't need to put the treasure the cleric wants in the dungeon, just put a relic and let the character pray for the new gear when the item is returned. The player has complete gear choice, and you don't have to guess what the player wants and leave it in a 10x10 room somewhere.

Worldbuilding Solves a Lot of Problems

Any time you have a perceived "weakness" in a game or set of rules, it is very easy to patch with just a little bit of careful thought. In this case, I like the weaker OSR clerics better since it lets me start the game by getting players used to helping their local temple and followers. I started a lot of games with strong clerics and never gave them a second thought, please go it alone! You have that cure light wounds, you are good to go!

This is even doable with druids and the area's druidic order. Paladins too. In a pinch, thieves or mages could have organizations that can provide help for a little later assistance.

And with cleric scrolls, the difference between the number of spells cast at a particular level is a minor problem. Creating those takes money, and just be a little more generous to make up for that and have the cleric spend downtime crafting scrolls or crafting potions. Maybe even donate your unused ones to the church or the scrolls that are too low-level to matter anymore.

Maybe another level party of level one adventurers could use them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Mail Room: Lost Lands Campaign Setting

Why do we need all these world settings? Well, for one, they are a unique brand of fiction, especially if they are someone's campaign world for 40 years. It is almost as if you get to sit at someone's table and read through decades of their gaming history, and somehow, across space and time, join in the fun and get to play with them.

The Lost Lands is the Frog God Games and a system-neutral setting, though 5E and Swords & Wizardry seem the best supported in the adventures they publish.

Since this is someone's home game world, they had to pull a few things out that would break copyright, possibly other campaigns and places puled from fiction, other games, and movies, and put in their game world. All of them I am sure replaced with suitable and copyright-free alternatives, but borrowing and expanding is what all of us did back in the day - so I get it. The world as it feels like a lot of material was made system neutral (and the adventures converted from Pathfinder 1e to 5E and S&W), and it feels like a classic AD&D-style world.

This world has all of the AD&D-style standards running about. We have drow, demons, strange extra-dimensional aliens, dragons, elves, dwarves, halflings, and all your favorites as big players and important parts of the world. Some worlds feel more human-centric, such as Forgotten Realms for my group always felt more human-centric and tied to the AD&D 2e lore and style of play. The Realms also felt more like "a world built as a fantasy novel series setting" than a place that focused on dungeons, which is why I bet the huge GMNPC problem cropped up there.

The modules of Lost Lands are old-school and great, and the world is home to the Rappan Athuk mega-dungeon. It is a world that feels like it could house many mega-dungeons. The best thing about Greyhawk is the classic modules, but this is also the worst thing about this world since they stopped making them. If all you are going to do is reboot them and ride off nostalgia, I am not interested. Sorry, I love them, but there is a point where reboots deny us the chance to see a new creator's Tomb of Horrors or Temple of Elemental Evil for this generation.

Put those dungeons in the Hall of Fame, please.

Time for new stuff.

Which is what we get here. Since I skipped all the original Pathfinder 1e adventures from Frog God (sorry!) I am experiencing them for the first time as OSR adventures, and they are great. The company converted them all over from an unsupported system and rebuilt them for S&W and 5E, which is a bold move that I support. Having the OSR versions makes them good forever since OSR games will always be with us, and games like Pathfinder and D&D will not always be the same year after year.

I know they promised 6E will be 5E compatible, but things do change, and big corporations do what they want to do regardless and expect you to follow along with your money because of the chains of nostalgia. 7E will likely be something completely different when we get to it, and we will see it in our lifetimes. Pathfinder 2e is already dramatically different, a great game but way too much for me to handle (not in math, but the number of choices plus the complexity of the rules runs counter to why I play games).

So I buy the S&W versions of these adventures and I am free to use them with the OSR system de-jour that is hot this year. This is sort of how the OSR works, you get a dominant system that lasts for a few years, it fades but never really goes away, and you get a new community darling that captures everyone's imagination for a while - and it may go huge or it may not and we are onto the next one. People buy everything since it all works together anyways, so there really isn't a strong "us versus them" system wars thing going on, and no money is wasted if a game falls out of favor.

My Labyrinth Lord adventures can still be played and are still valuable. All of these new S&W adventures can be played with anything from Old School Essentials to Castles & Crusades. Or even Labyrinth Lord. Or whatever else comes out from the OSR in the future, it will all work with very little modification. Or with a tiny bit of work, convert it to 5E.

There really isn't a comparable world with so many OSR adventures outside of Goodman Games and DCC. But this is more of a traditional AD&D-style fantasy set of rules than it is gonzo Appendix N, so Lost Lands feels grounded and classic.

And the Lost Lands setting is home to all these adventures and feels like the version of Greyhawk they promised us but we never got. The one where adventures would continue to be written, the system supported for years, and a place where your players could call home and know that somewhere out there adventure is waiting. The world is built for old-school dungeons and adventures, and it does not care for being a homer for a grand fantasy adventure novel series and assorted author GMNPCs.

More on this soon!

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Swords & Wizardry: Monsters

I swear Swords & Wizardry has every other B/X version beat for monster types and statistics. The basic game comes with a standard assortment of the classics, but when you start to add the volumes of bestiaries Frog God and Mythmere Games put out?

You have a game that is unmatched in variety, types, and support for the various bad guys and creepy crawly things in the world. You have a collection that arguably matches Pathfinder 1e in just choice, with all the classics you expect, plus hundreds of others players have never seen before.

Frog God also has permission to print a few monsters outside the OSR in these books, so you are getting a few classic monsters, not in the OSR but with stats and printed here for your use.

And given these monsters all have the needed stats for running in any B/X game, including entries for ascending AC, you have an invaluable resource for any B/X game you run, from Old School Essentials to Castles & Crusades. All of them are 95% compatible and ready to use.

This is really a great level of support I have not seen since Labyrinth Lord in terms of the books you can buy, use, and collect. And since these use S&W stats, they have the magic resistance numbers that AD&D, ACKS, S&W, and C&C support.

I know OSE gets a lot of attention and some of the newer games like Hyperborea and Crypts & Things, but whatever you play, these books are a great resource for them all.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Encumbrance Battle!

People generally hate encumbrance systems. Very few of us love creating per-pound loadouts and carefully tracking weight carried. Encumbrance is a staple of OSR play since there is typically a difference between the lightly loaded weights of a party going into a dungeon, and the weights when the party is trying to haul hundreds of pounds or loot out of the dungeon when wounded, exhausted of spells and resources, with monsters sometimes in pursuit and wandering monsters lurking about.

Let's say a party needs to walk 600' to get to the final room of a dungeon. At 90' per turn that is about 7 turns of movement, but when entering that is going to take much longer due to exploration and combat. Walking out of the dungeon through "cleared rooms" let's say the party is loaded down and can only move 30' per turn. That is 20 turns of movement. At a 1 in 6 chance per turn of wandering monsters that is a difference of (on average) one wandering monster encounter walking out unencumbered and three walking out encumbered.

Can your party handle those three extra encounters when walking out? How many resources do you save to get out of there? Will you get lucky and not have one encounter? Can you avoid contact (or parlay) with the encounters you do have? Do you throw down food to distract wild animals? Can you get a good reaction roll with intelligent creatures and possibly pay them to let you be?

This is one of the fundamental differences between modern roleplaying games and old-school ones, and this can drive some players crazy who have their expectations set by newer games. In an old-school game, beating the boss in the last room is not typically the end of the story. Modern games have this "movie mentality" where the boss fight happens and not much happens after that, and tripping random encounters after that fight can feel "mean and unfair" to some players.

And let's not get into why you can't really "rest" in a dungeon. We will get to that later. Short rests just took the "travel back to town" part out of the 15-minute adventuring day trope.

In an old-school game, when your party decides "people, we are leaving!" then an entirely new survival game begins. Hauling that loot out and surviving becomes a mission in itself. You can do the newer stories in old-school games and assume "everyone gets out okay," but the "endgame" of hauling loot out and surviving is also a classic experience that adds to the drama and tension of a dungeon run. People tend to skip this part of the mission since typically as the night goes on people need to go home, but saving a little session time for escaping with the loot is well worth the time and effort to try to make room for.

That said, here is a summary of encumbrance rules in various OSR games and my thoughts on them.

Old School Essentials

Please do not make me track gear weight! Only count my weapons and armor! Everything else is the coins of treasure I am carrying!

OSE exists in a post-encumbrance world, and they do not even give you the option to do detailed weight tracking. No equipment weights are given, and strength does not modify carrying capacity (which feels wrong). OSE is a great system that simplifies a lot to just the essential concepts, but at times I wish I had more options to play the way I want to and do detailed weight tracking.

OSE's encumbrance system feels a bit oversimplified, sort of like a video game, but I get it - a lot of people hate tracking weight. The only improvement I would make is adding a strength mod for carrying capacity, since some players may expect this and wonder why their 18 STR dwarf can carry as much as the STR 8 wizard.

  • Weights in coins.
  • Weapon and armor weights only.
  • No gear weight.
  • Basic encumbrance: Based on armor and if carrying treasure.
  • Detailed encumbrance: Based on total coins carried of weapons, armor, and treasure (no gear).
  • Strength does not modify carrying capacity.

Swords & Wizardry

Please do not make me track gear weight! Only count my weapons and armor! Everything else is the coins of treasure I am carrying! And yes, strength modifies carrying capacity!

Swords & Wizardry is a lot like OSE, but there is a 10-pound assumed gear weight for the "everything else" an adventurer wants to carry. They also track weight in pounds. I do miss having gear weights still, even if they are not used they are nice to have. In these ultra-simplified systems, they omit gear weight since they want to avoid confusion.

  • Weight in pounds.
  • Weapon and armor weights only.
  • No gear weight.
  • Basic gear weight assumed to be 10 pounds.
  • Encumbrance is calculated on total pounds carried.
  • Strength modifies carrying capacity.

Basic Fantasy

I am fine tracking weight!

Basic Fantasy does old-school weight tracking, which is cool. Every item you can buy has a weight. You put together a basic load. The big difference here is carrying capacity is tied to race, dwarfs, humans, and elves have a higher carrying capacity than halflings.

I can see how players unused to encumbrance tracking would be a little intimidated by a system like this, though you could easily house-rule it to the Swords & Wizardry "armor and weapons only" standard, and assume a weight for random gear, and let the rest be for treasure.

  • Weight in pounds.
  • All items have weights.
  • Strength and race set weight category (light or heavy load).
  • Strength modifies carrying capacity.

Iron Falcon

I am fine tracking weight! But please let's do it in coins!

Iron Falcon is just like Basic Fantasy, except the race modifiers to carrying capacity are gone and the game just uses one chart, modified by strength.

  • Weights in coins.
  • All items have weights.
  • Encumbrance calculated on total coins is carried.
  • Strength modifies carrying capacity.

Labyrinth Lord

I am fine tracking weight! But please keep everyone the same!

Another simple weight tracking system, but this time not modified by strength. A great equipment list in this book makes it a great resource.

  • Weight in pounds.
  • All items have weights.
  • Encumbrance is calculated on total pounds carried.
  • Strength does not modify carrying capacity.

Adventurer Conqueror King System

Please make weight tracking simple! And I mean simple!

ACKS does an abstract encumbrance system where nothing has listed weight but everything is converted into "stones" of weight. Random items are tracked six per stone.

  • Abstract encumbrance system.
  • No items have weights.
  • Item weights in "stones" (10 lbs.).
    • 1 stone per point of AC
    • 1 stone per 6 items carried
    • 1 stone per heavy item (8-14 lbs.)
    • 1 stone per 1000 coins
  • Encumbrance based on stones carried.
  • Strength only modifies maximum capacity.


Please make encumbrance as old-school as possible!

ORSIC is another hardcore system for encumbrance and gear weights. The game uses a single chart, but "carried" weight can have an amount subtracted from it depending on strength.

  • Weight in pounds.
  • All items have weights.
  • Encumbrance is calculated on total pounds carried.
  • Strength modifies weight carried.
    • Strength bonus subtracted from weight carried to determine encumbrance.

Castles & Crusades

I want an abstract encumbrance system with no guesswork!

C&C reminds me a lot of the old Aftermath encumbrance system, where items all have individual encumbrance values, and those are added up to get a carried total.  What you can carry is equal to strength, plus bonuses for having primary scores in either STR or CON. It is a simple, elegant system and one I am a fan of.

  • Abstract encumbrance system
  • All items have weights.
  • Item weights in "encumbrance value"
    • EV based on size and weight or item.
    • 10 lbs. or 160 coins = 1 EV
  • Strength modifies weight carried.
    • Base ER limit = STR score
    • STR and/or CON add + 3 to max ER
    • ER based on categories (1x, 3x, more than 3x)
  • Overburdened characters lose DEX bonus to AC.

Dungeon Crawl Classics

Encumbrance? I should be worried about surviving!

Toss the encumbrance system out the window, we are in DCC. Heavy items, such as armor, slow movement and give penalties to actions. There is a carrying capacity of "half body weight" and that is good enough.

  • Casual encumbrance system.
  • No items have weight.
  • Armor slows movement.
  • Maximum pounds carried is equal to half body weight.
  • Strength does not modify carrying capacity (but will factor into referee decisions).

What a Load!

Wow! A lot of work, and I hope all of that is right. Every game does encumbrance differently, no surprise. The expectations they put on players are different enough to matter, and I can see how some games are a reaction against the old per-pound system of the older games. The thing is, you go back far enough to games that take inspiration from pre-AD&D sources (S&W), and they were not that concerned about encumbrance either.

There was this time when "advanced" meant "more record-keeping" and even we felt it was a bit too much when we played AD&D. I thought S&W would differ dramatically from OSE, but really the two games are nearly identical with the only real difference being tracking weight in coins instead of pounds (OSE), and strength modifying carrying capacity (S&W)

Of all the games on this list, I like C&C and S&W the best. C&C does the best abstract encumbrance system and it is based on ability scores. S&W is the OSE modern standard, but it adds a STR mod to maximum load, which I can see house ruling into OSE easily. If I had to pick one game, despite OSE's options and organization, it would be S&W just because the game plays and feels tighter, and it retains the AD&D rules options that I feel are critical for playing a game that feels like the original.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Swords & Wizardry: Just, Good

Reading through Swords & Wizardry (S&W), I can see why there is a desire to go back to the original 1970s versions of dungeon gaming. I see a lot of house-ruling in B/X and BECMI that frankly, I started with and feel normal to me. There are some changes in B/X I feel are a bit too generous to hand out to everyone, and I can see why S&W does not give hit and damage bonuses for STR to any other class but fighters.

Just because everyone has house-ruled something does not always make it the best choice. Putting money in a pot for landing on Monopoly's Free Parking space is a popular house rule, but it imbalances the game and is not official.

You see the damage later on, when AD&D introduced a special 18/01-00 STR system, just for fighter classes, and this rule tried to bring the original bonus back but just made an 18 STR a requirement for fighters and inflated statistic generation. It is funny because at times I feel the changes made in later versions of the game were trying to patch mistakes or issues that existed as time went on, and we have OSR games emulating the patch instead of going back and cleaning up the mistake and unifying the experience.

With that hit and damage bonus, fighters feel interesting again. This bonus applies to ranged weapons. Combine that with attacking creatures with less than 1 HD at one per character level, and you have a really cool fighter. I read some B/X games and it feels like fighters do not have that much to them. I get this feeling with thieves and a straight double-damage backstab modifier.

Other Games

Some games do things better. I like Labyrinth Lord's (LL) equipment lists, especially in the advanced book. Old School Essentials (OSE) and Swords & Wizardry omit weight values for a few items, like crowbars, backpacks, and the like (S&W assumes a 10-pound "other" gear load). I picked up an OSR equipment list called the Adventurer's Catalog, and that works nicely (but there are a few differences between LL damage and S&W damage).

Castles & Crusades (C&C) does a nice job simplifying saving throws, class abilities, attribute checks, and skills into the Siege Engine. I like the system a lot, and they also do a great job with equipment and gear with an abstract encumbrance system. C&C is admittedly a simplified D&D 3 retro-clone since the class power unlocks feel very modern in design, but it remains OSR compatible with its AC, hit point, and damage scales. Like D&D 3 and AD&D, you are a step more heroic in C&C than the 1970s flavor of the game.

I don't like the loss of a unified attribute modifier table in S&W, but the STR to-hit modifier one works fine. A lot is left up to you like the original 1970s rules, and how you check abilities is also left to you, or if you even do it at all. You can use saving throws modified by ability score modifiers. You are supposed to make a lot up, not roll dice for roleplaying, and just wing it outside of combat. A lot of OSR games tell you to roll-under ability or give you no guidance at all.

If you need the structure of the ability and skill checks, play C&C.

Oh yeah, and clerics get no spells at level 1. This is the old school, and the price you pay for having a character that can bring others back to life.

LL & OSE do not have an AD&D-style magic resistance mechanic for monsters, and I miss this. S&W and C&C have this. In the base ACKS book, only the lammasu has a MR value (and some cacodemons have it in the heroic book). I consider magic resistance a core mechanic, so my two go-to games as S&W and C&C.

Improv Needed

S&W requires a high level of rules improvisation. I can see why a lot of the B/X games today emphasize structure and organization since people coming from modern games feel more comfortable when every rule is spelled out and easily referenced. S&W does magic, classes, and combat and leaves most of the rest up to you. A lot of gamers and referees can't handle that much freedom, so we want guidance and systems to help guide our actions.

An S&W referee could rule anyone with an INT higher than a 14 can decipher a rune. Or allow a roll-under check. Or just allow a spellcaster to read it. Or everyone rolls a d6 and hopes for a 6. Or just tell them what it is. Or not. Or require reading magic or comprehending languages. Or if you speak elf. Make a saving throw modified by INT. Whatever. You have complete freedom in handling this.

Frog God Games also has one of the best collections of S&W OSR modules and adventures around, designed like the classic dungeon modules of AD&D, and all very cool. They are still producing new ones, and you could play these with OSE, LL, S&W, C&C, or whatever game you love.

I hear the S&W license is moving to Mythmere Games, and they are already moving things over to their own store. I hope they do POD reprints of the adventures, but I am not sure what is being moved from Frog God to Mythmere. Whoever has the rights, please make POD copies available for some of these old adventures, please.

Some said that S&W is a Rosetta Stone-style game, like C&C, meaning it can play anything and everything converts out of it well. I can see the truth in that. Where the games are different is in the adventures written for them. C&C has a lot of story adventures, with good-sized dungeons and a lot of story encounters, more like an AD&D 2e or Forgotten Realms feeling. With S&W, you get lots of hardcore dungeon content written in that OSR style.

Style & Emulation

Some games are more emulators, where they emulate mistakes and design inconsistencies. If a class was weak in the original game, it will be weak in emulation.

Other games are more curated experiences, where they are not so faithful to the source but focus on delivering the best experience. Labyrinth Lord is a great example where it pulls in material from many games to deliver the homebrew experience of playing back in the day.

S&W is a rollback to the original rules that takes it forward in areas that make the game playable, such as the original rules not having a combat turn structure, or offering ascending AC as an option. S&W is technically an emulator, but it goes back to the original source and avoids the changes made in later versions.

It is funny since the different versions of D&D back in the day had different target markets, changes for legal reasons, and presentations of the same material. The base D&D game was more targeted at kids, while AD&D was created to change the rules enough to avoid royalties and the game was targeted at an older audience. Some rules felt like they tried to roll back bad decisions. Other changes felt too broad and weakened some classes. Some changes simplified things too much or tried to add detail that wasn't needed. All of the older market targets were rolled back to AD&D 2e, which went 100% all-in on making the game for a younger audience due to controversies in the media.

So we have emulation games emulating less-than-ideal choices and version changes that change the game, some not even for gameplay reasons.

There are lots of great games in the OSR world, and really anything you choose is great. Different games have different source inspirations and styles or presentations, little differences, and they all make choices depending on the goal of the game and the source material they are trying to emulate.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Thief Battle!

Let's look at a few popular OSR games today and compare thieves! Why? Well, I was reading the new Swords & Wizardry Boxed Set and saw that quadruple damage modifier at level 9+ and asked myself, how many other OSR games do that? And if you see a rule you like in one system but don't have it in yours, guess what? House rule it in; this is B/X. I am approaching this in a "what if I have to pick one game" way.

And since we are talking thieves, that d4 picture is appropriate since we will be rolling many of them today.

Old School Essentials

This is your pretty standard B/X thief class. I have seen a few YouTube videos mentioning people thought the OSE thief class felt weak, but from what I see, this is your pretty middle-of-the-road thief class compared to most of the popular B/X games.

Why is the lack of magic resistance important? If casters can't land spells, it is up to martial classes to make up the difference in damage output, and a well-placed backstab could be the deciding factor in a fight. Magic resistance in a game is a huge buff to martial character viability and keeps the game from being too caster-dominated.

  • Hit dice: d4, +2 hp after 10th level
  • Backstab: +4 to hit, double damage
  • Read Languages: 4th level, 80%
  • Scroll Use: 10th level, 90%
  • Thief Skills: As normal
  • Armor: Leather, no shields
  • Weapons: Any
  • STR bonus to hit and damage allowed
  • Monsters have no magic resistance

Swords & Wizardry

S&W does the backstab damage scaling at higher levels, which is why I think people feel the standard OSE thief feels weak. We get a save bonus here as well. Note the hit points go up at +1 after the 10th level, and S&W tends to keep hit point inflation down in every area to preserve balance. Also, note only the fighter class gets hit and damage bonuses for STR, which I feel is a solid rule for that game.

This has to be my favorite B/X OSR "avoid combat" style d4 thief, just because the payoff from backstabs is so great at higher levels. I do not mind the loss of STR damage and hit bonuses since this fighter buff in the game and magic weapons still usually work.

I also like the tighter hit point balance in S&W a lot. They keep a lot of modifiers down, and they specifically buff fighters to be excellent. Whenever they added a modifier or class feature, they carefully considered it and returned to the original rules, and I feel S&W has the best design balance in this list.

Quad damage to a magic-resistant creature on a backstab? Yes, we are talking about a significant party-saving moment sort of attack when the casters run out of spells and things look dire. This is what you are paid for.

  • Hit dice: d4, +1 hp after 10th level
  • Backstab: +4 to hit, 1-4: double damage; 5-8: triple damage; 9+ quadruple damage
  • +2 to save against devices, traps, wands, staves, and all magical devices.
  • Read Languages: 3rd level, 80%
  • Read Magical Writings: 9th level, 90%
  • Thief Skills: As normal
  • Armor: Leather, no shields
  • Weapons: Any (magical weapons, daggers, and swords only)
  • STR bonus to damage disallowed
  • Monsters have magic resistance

Basic Fantasy

More of the standard thief here, but we do not have the read languages or scrolls powers. I am sure you could house rule those in; this is Basic Fantasy, after all. Note the lower hit points after the 9th level, like S&W.

This is my least favorite OSR thief, but then again, easily house-ruled, so not a huge problem.

  • Hit dice: d4, +1 hp after 9th level
  • Backstab: +4 to hit, double damage
  • Thief Skills: As normal
  • Armor: Leather, no metal armor, no shields
  • Weapons: Any
  • STR bonus to hit and damage allowed
  • Monsters have no magic resistance

Iron Falcon

This is a new game, the spiritual successor to Basic Fantasy, written by the same author. This is very close to Swords & Wizardry in that STR bonuses are only for fighters, and it is nice to see another game adopt this rule. The game's damage multiplier goes up to an astonishing seven times at the 21st level! Wow. Otherwise, this is a race + class style game, much like Basic Fantasy, and a fantastic option to that set of rules.

I have not played enough of this game to rank it, and I would love to know how that super-high damage multiplier works in play. Otherwise, this compares with S&W just fine but lacks the magic resistance of that game.

  • Hit dice: d4, +1 hp after 10th level
  • Backstab: +4 to hit, 1-4: double damage; 5-8: triple damage; 9+ quadruple damage; 13+ quintuple damage; 17+ 6x damage; 21+ 7x damage.
  • Read Languages: 3rd level, 80%
  • Scroll Use: 10th level, 90%
  • Thief Skills: As normal
  • Armor: Leather, no shields
  • Weapons: Any
  • STR bonus to hit and damage disallowed
  • Monsters have no magic resistance

Labyrinth Lord

The standard B/X thief is here again, and the only real difference from OSE is the high-level hit points. Again, sort of middle of the road for me.

  • Hit dice: d4, +1 hp after 9th level
  • Backstab: +4 to hit, double damage
  • Read Languages: 4th level, 80%
  • Scroll Use: 10th level, 90%
  • Thief Skills: As normal
  • Armor: Leather, no shields
  • Weapons: Any
  • STR bonus to hit and damage allowed
  • Monsters have no magic resistance


At the 13th level and higher, you get five times damage. We see the AD&D-like 2 hp per level modifier and a no 2H weapons rule. I see a pattern here if the game is more like AD&D, +2 hp a level at high levels, and if it is more like B/X, +1 hp a level at high levels. Also not, some games give 10 total hit dice (AD&D) versus nine maximum (D&D).

The five times damage seems high for d4 hit die thief games, and I feel this fits better with an AD&D 2e hit point scale, and a d6 thief hit die. This feels really high-risk to reward and feels "extreme," but it is my second favorite OSR thief.

  • Hit dice: d4, +2 hp after 9th level
  • Backstab: +4 to hit, 1-4: double damage; 5-8: triple damage; 9+ quadruple damage; 13+ quintuple damage.
  • Read Languages: 4th level, 80%
  • Scroll Use: 10th level, 90%
  • Thief Skills: As normal
  • Armor: Leather, no shields
  • Weapons: Any, but no, 2H melee weapons.
  • STR bonus to hit and damage allowed
  • Monsters have magic resistance


We see the first AD&D-style d6 hit die here and the 5x backstab damage. A fighting-oriented thief compared to the other games. With that d6 hit-die, your thief is not avoiding combat all the time, and your group behavior changes to more of an off-tank role.

We see the d6 hit die here, so five times damage feels right for the increased AD&D hit points. Probably my third favorite on this comparison, and above the middle-of-the-road ones. But this is clearly a "combat style" thief compared to the others.

  • Hit dice: d6, +2 hp after 10th level
  • Backstab: +4 to hit, 1-4: double damage; 5-8: triple damage; 9+ quadruple damage; 13+ quintuple damage.
  • Read Languages: on chart
  • Scroll Use: 10th level, INT roll %
  • Thief Skills: As normal
  • Armor: Leather or studded leather, no shields
  • Weapons: Club, dagger, dart, oil, sling, single-handed swords (except bastard swords)
  • STR bonus to hit and damage allowed
  • Monsters have magic resistance

Castles & Crusades (Rogue)

It feels bizarre to put C&C in here since C&C is more of a 5E-style game (developed more than a decade before 5E). We get the fighting-oriented thief of AD&D, the scaling damage multipliers, read languages and scroll use at level one, and then several modern "class abilities" that activate as you level. The high levels feel especially interesting as the "superpowers" start to activate, so this should be considered a modern game design - and the most B/X of 5E-style rules (if that makes any sense).

Note the small shield use and a lack of a five times modifier. There is a "back attack" damage bonus for situations where the target is aware of the thief but not expecting an attack (like flanking or rear attacks), so overall combat damage is higher. This is the best "fighting thief" on the list.

I love C&C, so this is my top choice for a modern-style game. The high levels are exciting compared to everything else on this list when those class powers come online. But again, it feels unfair to put this on the list since we have a lot of modern design mechanics that were copied by Pathfinder 1e and 2e and D&D 5.

This is tied for 1st place, but with a huge difference. If I want the sneaky, avoid combat d4 thief, then S&W. If I desire a swashbuckling modern d6 thief, C&C is my choice. If the campaign goes past the 10th level, C&C wins easily because new powers are constantly activated.

  • Hit dice: d6, +2 hp after 10th level
  • Backstab: +4 to hit, +4 to hit, 1-4: double damage; 5-8: triple damage; 9+ quadruple damage
  • Read Languages: 1st level, SIEGE check
  • Scroll Use: 1sh level, SIEGE check, -10
  • Thief Skills: As normal
  • Armor: Leather, leather coat, and padded. Small shields are allowed.
  • Weapons: Blowpipe, broadsword, cat-o-nine-tails, cestus, club, dagger, dart, light hammer, hand ax, hand crossbow, javelin, knife, light crossbow, longsword, mace, main gauche, quarterstaff, rapier, sap, shortbow, short sword, sickle, sleeve tangler, spiked gauntlet, sling, whip
  • Class Abilities: Back Attack, Sneak Attack, Detect Secret Doors, Dex Bonus, Sixth Sense, Hide/Move Silently, Quick Reaction, Evasive Maneuver
  • STR bonus to hit and damage allowed
  • Monsters have magic resistance

Dungeon Crawl Classics

This is another odd game on the list, but the thief here is sort of a thief-assassin mix, with the d6 fighting hit die. This is a solid thief in the AD&D style and is probably tied for my second favorite thief overall (but one of my favorite games).
  • Hit dice: d6
  • Backstab: +4 to hit, automatic critical table roll
  • Thief Skills: As normal
  • Bonus skills: forgery, poison use, disguise
  • Read Languages: 1st level, skill roll
  • Scroll Use: 1st level, skill roll
  • Armor: Any but increasing check penalties apply.
  • Weapons: blackjack, blowgun, crossbow, dagger, dart, garrote, longsword, short sword, sling, and staff
  • STR bonus to hit and damage allowed
  • Monsters have no magic resistance (but this varies wildly by module)

Wrapping Up...

Whew! What a lot of research, and I hope I got everything right. This is not to say one game is better than another, but many design choices go into these games, and they vary wildly at times. Comparisons like this are also meaningful when you house rule, which further affects balance.

What I love about Swords & Wizardry and Iron Falcon is they go against the "well it would be fairer if..." feeling for strength hit and damage modifiers. Yes, giving everyone the modifiers is "fair," but is it balanced, and are we taking something away from fighters? Are we raising overall damage too high?

Ultimately, what you like matters the most, and your preferences in a game. You may have a  different idea of what a thief is than the game presents, like a thief's ability to fight. You may love the d4 hit die sneaky avoid combat thief, or you may want to participate in the fighting as a second-rank fighter. You may want to play a game with tighter balance in the numbers to make that d4 dagger more worthwhile. You may wish to have a party where the fighter is fantastic at fighting, and you are free to sneak around and cause trouble and backstab.

You may love the unlocks and superpowers at high levels and have more to look forward to past the 10th level than just marginally better numbers. This is where I am now; I like C&C's progression and old-school compatibility. If I were playing straight B/X and wanted that d4 thief, I would do Swords & Wizardry. OSE has a lot of variety, but it comes at the cost of some classes not having enough, so they play and are balanced versus other classes well. S&W also has many AD&D rules I like, such as magic resistance and that sweet damage multiplier.

Finding the game that matches your preferences is what matters the most.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

B/X is Forever

I always keep coming back to B/X and open systems.

I buy gimmick game systems but they don't last. I buy mainstream "supported" rules and they pull new editions on me, play games with the PDFs, and force me to spend money on the next book to keep up with the rules. I buy non-open content games and they go out of print, and the community support is lacking. I buy nostalgia games based on movies and TV shows, but they are rarely good for anything else.

Some games I feel are just ever-evolving sets of rules that force you to keep up, and the only moment they are complete is when they release a new edition and invalidate everything. But with B/X and other open systems, the game just keeps getting better. I can find a set of rules that fits how I like to play, from traditional to modern, and it all works together. People are always creating new dungeons, systems, monsters, spells, and content for B/X, and the market will never stop. I can always find something new to try or publish something myself.

I had a choice recently to buy a mega-dungeon (Rappan Athuk) for a choice of systems, Pathfinder 1e, Swords & Wizardry, or 5E. I chose the OSR game, Swords & Wizardry because it is easier to convert a B/X system into another B/X system, Pathfinder 1e, or 5E than it is to go the other way. And someday both 5E and Pathfinder 1e will be out-of-print, and my OSR copy will still be supported. And if 6E comes out in a few years the B/X version of the book will convert to that too, while still being able to be played with any OSR game out then - or the classics.

Just as a consumer B/X is a wonderful place to be. There are plenty of free sets of rules, like Basic Fantasy, that play wonderfully and have low-cost print options.

Every B/X book I ever bought, from Labyrinth Lord to Old School Essentials is still able to be used. Every module, every adventure, every monster, and most everything works with another game. Whatever game I choose just works. A company making my B/X system of choice could go out of business and the system will not disappear with it. My books are usable with other games.

I can buy new B/X games and use them as standalone games, or supplements for my existing games. My B/X adjacent and compatible games, like Castles & Crusades and Dungeon Crawl Classics, happily ride along with the fun.

B/X is sort of like the "Steam" of gaming, an ever-expanding marketplace of classics, new games, and interesting add-ons to what I already have. New editions for classics come out and those are fun to have as well.

I have never seen anything like this market and it is cool and amazing to be a part of.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Books for Games, The Renaissance

Okay, most of this is dark stuff. A book about colonialism and the brutality of conquering native populations, and the start of the slave trade. An art book showing architecture, clothing, and the feeling of a Renaissance setting. The Great Plague. A book about the decline of magic and witch trials. If you put any of this on your typical "roleplaying PDF store," you would get an adult content warning. Yes, even for the art book because it has artistic nudity.

No warnings on Amazon, where the grown-ups shop.

Bleh, we are way too protected from ourselves and our dark pasts. What game are we considering these for? Why can there only be one...

Yes, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and this is the signature game of fantasy horror where you know you are screwed from character creation. You are all guilty by default of being a part of the wealthy, exploitative, decadent, callously cruel, wasteful, environment destroying, slave-taking, rich, and colonial power that just messed with something they should not have, and all fall like cast members of a Friday the 13th movie.

I can't play dark horror in D&D. In Pathfinder 2e, some of these concepts are banned.

This is fantasy horror at its best.

And I love shopping for this game because I am diving through some of the most twisted and horrible history books ever written. I don't have to buy game books or adventure modules; I got tons of content just for this concept alone, reading history. Want more books?

Forcing native cultures to learn a language and to change their beliefs at the point of a sword? Taking them for slaves? Needless wars to make the rich richer? Stealing wealth from primitive cultures to enrich the wealthy back home? Books on the nature of Hell and how it changed as a tool of societal control? A history of death? Climate change? Oh, we have it all here. I might as well have "works with LotFP roleplaying game" stickers made and stick them all over these books.

I seriously think some of the history books from this era are better than the printed adventures for the game. In fact, many of them are worse and could never be published as "adventures."

And it all happened for real.

If you ever wanted to know why Renaissance society was one of the evilest and heartless this planet has ever seen, just open a book. And yet we romanticize this era with modern high fantasy and rewrite it to be more inclusive. This is like taking some of the worse genocides of the 20th Century and rewriting them to be more inclusive and family-friendly and putting them in roleplaying games.

I know, I know.

We need our escape; this world is horrible enough today to be constantly reminded of how awful it was in the past.

But to "get" LotFP, the way I play it, you need to know why the characters in that game deserve all the terrible things that happen to them. Great horror has that puritanical notion of punishment for sins, like the original Friday the 13th. And great horror has a deeper meaning to the events of the time it was created. The paranoia and mistrust of John Carpenter's The Thing can be seen as an AIDS metaphor of the early 80s. We shy away from these things because they make us uncomfortable.

But when we can experience them in a safe environment, we learn more about ourselves and our fears. And we may know why these things done at this time were so horrible.

And maybe we reflect a little and try to make up for all the awful things back then.

Or we could keep forgetting.

Hundreds of years after our rose-colored Renaissance, the default setting of all of our popular fantasy games, we are still living with the disastrous effects of that time. And yet we continue to put the time on a pedestal and rewrite it instead of facing what that moment in Earth's history did to us.

We will never make it right by ignoring it or painting it over with varied and colorful hues.

Or by banning them in stores because they upset a few people. If I were a part of a culture that was wiped off the planet by colonialism, I think I would want people to be a little upset.

When you consider this, LotFP goes from being "that silly B/X game that uses shock value to sell books" to an actual top-tier roleplaying game. There are times I see LotFP adventures doing what Dungeon Crawl Classics does better, and I feel those are a bit misguided. This is more like Mork Borg to me, but with a sense of impending doom and punishment for all characters in the game for "what they did."

Very few games inspire me to go out and educate myself like this.

And yes, I know about the referee's guide's advice about "not using the real world" as a setting. A lot had changed between when that was first written and now, and there are great B/X and OSR options that did not exist back then. But all of them are in the high fantasy genre, and where LotFP shines is in that unhinged Renaissance horror in a slightly realistic and non-fantastical world. 

I choose a semi-realistic version of the natural world, slightly fantastic with the presence of magic but still rooted in reality. I am not using elves, halflings, or dwarves since they put too much Tolkien in the setting and break the unspoken rule of the familiar that horror requires. I play overseas and the New World not-on-Earth canon, as trips to these places should be fraught with strange, unexplained, and supernatural. A coast or island could appear in the middle of a charted ocean, and the ship is off in some nether-realm nobody knew about.

And the reasons for inflicting horror on the classic colonial powers and their seven-sins wrought followers are way too tempting to resist. I do feel, at least for me, that the shock value of LotFP has worn off and it does not sell me on the game anymore. What does sell me on the game is the message of unholy retribution on the sinful colonial powers that brought so much conflict, war, and injustice to the world and the same issues we still deal with today.

And dealing with these quite modern themes is the key to a great horror story.

A massive part of it is using that "shock value" to set you up for the things you learn - which actually happened - that will be even more shocking. A genital with teeth is one thing, but wiping out an entire civilization for their gold and land is entirely different. Popes who do all sorts of horrible things when put in a position of trust are part and parcel of this era.

And all of this is much more horrible.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Swords & Wizardry: Fighter Damage

Swords & Wizardry only allows STR to hit and damage bonuses for fighters.

Not rangers, monks, or paladins - only fighters.

Those are not fighters; get the AD&D fighter sub-classes out of your mind. They have other powers.

The DEX to-hit bonus for missile weapons for all classes. And the fighter STR bonuses for to-hit and damage apply to missile weapons. An 18 STR fighter with a DEX above 13 will be +3 to hit and damage with melee and missile weapons.


Now I want to play a fighter.

This is a strange concept coming from B/X, where the default assumption is everyone gets to hit and damage bonuses for everything. Taking it away feels strange. But what about my thief? What about my ranger? We always had those bonuses! This is unfair! Find a magic weapon if you want a non-fighter class to get a hit and damage bonus.

But I get it; this is how it was in the old days.

And a part of me likes fighters being incredible again.

In many cases, your damage modifier matters more than the die of damage you are rolling because now you have guaranteed minimum damage. And fighters with magic weapons rock like Conan. Put a girdle of giant strength on your fighter, and you are a severe damage dealer.

Even with a bow.

Synonym Classes

We do not need a barbarian class in this game; fighters have it covered. In fact, needing a barbarian class feels like the fighter class in the game wasn't working right, and you are not forcing players to choose between two similar options only with a slightly different job or attitude. I could say this for any fighter-synonym class, such as knight, cavalier, archer, champion, guardian, or any other word you can pull from a thesaurus.

There is a difference between a class and the jobs that the class can do.

Paladins, rangers, and monks all feel different enough that they should have a class. Paladins have magic powers. Rangers have a unique skill package, almost like a thief. Monks fight differently.

Original Game Had It Right

This is an excellent example of returning to the original rules and finding the original intent of why the rules "were how they were" and bringing that back. Giving everyone hit and damage bonuses for a high strength sounded "fair" in later versions of the game, but it ultimately made fighters weaker and less enjoyable to play. Fighters are trained to use a high STR to maximum effect; other classes are not.

I get the feeling legions of house rules flooded in after the original D&D, and since "everyone played that way," the designers changed the rule to give everyone the bonus. Maybe they should not have. Many Monopoly players have house rules, and some traditions mess with the game's balance.

Part of me feels TSR tried to put the cat back in the bag with the "percentile strength" for fighters only in AD&D. When they realized giving everyone STR hit and bonus damage took something cool away from fighters, they tried to patch the issue with the 18/01-18/00 strength system for fighters only.

What this ended up doing is requiring every fighter to have an 18 strength, killed 3d6 generation, and inflated all of the hit and damage numbers incredibly. Doing 1d8 with a longsword is very heroic in itself, but letting fighters have the training to maximize strength into battle prowess is honestly what their class should be about.

And then you see what happened as the editions went on. Next, fighters needed to be buffed to make them interesting and worth playing again. The hit point scale inflated, and the base weapon damages started to mean less and less. To do serious damage you needed multi-attacks or special class abilities. We go down the road of weapon proficiencies, fighter feats, fighter power, class abilities, and all sort of other buffs stacked on the game - which invited other classes to get similar buffs - and you wonder if any of this would have happened had they left the "fighter only STR bonus" as the rules in the game.

Asymmetric Balance

And if this makes rangers, monks, and paladins weak - revisit their powers without giving them the bonus and see what can be done. Looking at them in the rulebook, I can say the other classes have plenty of extraordinary must-have abilities, even at low-level. Monks? Always on damage bonus. Rangers? Party is rarely surprised and tracking. Paladins? Impressive saves, disease immunity, and lay-on hands.

Clerics? Be patient. And turn a lot of undead. Have faith.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess does something similar by only letting fighters have a meaningful attack bonus progression, and every other class is capped at a +1, no matter their level. Again you see the asymmetric design, which is not unfair; it is a design decision and how the game works. Sometimes I look at some B/X games and see them not being brave enough on design asymmetry, and I feel some classes are lacking, and others are overpowered.

Swords & Wizardry makes some bold design choices, and they feel right. I also need to mention the excellent Iron Falcon, which provides this as an option too.

Let the Conan character be Conan.

Let the front-line fighter be incredible.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Swords & Wizardry Boxed Set

I go to Amazon and discover this gem of a book is out of print! What happened? Given the current drama around Labyrinth Lord shutting down its social media and websites (but keeping things for sale, please keep the support up for an OG OGL game) I could not stand to see another stalwart in the B/X community having troubles.

But, no, this is something much, much better...

We are getting a brand-new Swords & Wizardry Boxed Set!

This is a very cool, multi-book boxed set for a nice price, and it does not change much about the rules we love, but it completely revises the art and presentation. We get split books for players, referees, and monsters. There do not seem to be any rule changes here, and that is a good thing.

Oh, this is nice to see. With Old School Essentials out there and plenty of other B/X choices, it is very cool to see Swords & Wizardry step up and say, "We are a player too." And there are tons of modules and adventures in print on the Frog Gods Games website.

Swords & Wizardry is one of my favorite AD&D-like games since it keeps the demons and devils of the original game, and it keeps the magic resistance mechanic to balance caster power. There are no bards either, which I originally thought was a huge problem, but coming back after seeing bards become a tired cliché in modern games I am not so unhappy about this anymore. I love bards, but too much is too much, and I feel they have become this do-everything meta-class.

That said, Swords & Wizardry has a strict "do not roll for RP" rule. If a player wanted to be a "bard on the side" of a normal class (thief, magic user, druid, etc) I would not stop them - just give their character a lute, and if they RP a great performance, let it influence the situation as the referee sees fit. Have the player sing a song, and make the sounds of their song themselves - at the table - live in front of everyone. 

Actually, when I think about it, this bard-on-the-side just may be my favorite implementation of a bard class yet. Not only does the character have a bread-and-butter class to fall back on (of their choice), but the player also needs to write songs, sing them for everyone, rhyme, make songs up on the spot, prepare things ahead of time, and hold a tune. A player will need real musical talent to earn the RP benefits, and no dice or rules are needed.

Wow. This is amazing news, and I have this on order. And they keep the genius "one saving throw number" rule, which is purely amazing.

I still like C&C's simplified presentation, but if I wanted to enjoy an AD&D-lite game with all the best features, S&W is a great choice and one I will be looking at as time goes on. They do a lot of the 1e-style rules right here, and it feels like the real thing - while simplifying the numbers and putting some needed limits on die modifiers to keep the numbers and dice under control. The B/X market is very cool, and there is a game for everybody here. Do you like one edition more than another? Do you like horror? Do you want simple or complex? Do you want a particular theme or flavor to the game?

You can't really go wrong with anything you choose.

And all of this works with my other B/X books, so a win-win.