S&W, A Low Complexity System

Conversion thoughts from the Shadow Frog!

Swords & Wizardry is designed to be a low-complexity system for the player. The Referee has the option to increase the complexity beyond the standard for their home game but there is no official core expansion and it is most unlikely there ever will be. There is only a single core book: S&W Complete Rulebook. Hence, the word “complete”. The monster books are supplements for the Referee only. Adventures that include new spells are at the Referee’s discretion. There are no supplements for player use only other than some adventure player’s guides. 

This is the primary reason there will not be a Book of Lost Spells for S&W. It is true there are various spell lists referencing classes not present; however, there are multiple spells introduced in 1e that could have been included. S&W is not the system for this type of expansion. As an open system, it allows the Referee with the players to decide the complexity of their game without the burden of too many choices that could be potentially game-breaking.

There are a multitude of other systems that support a greater portion of the 40-year history of D&D; S&W is a 0e retroclone that officially supports the first 3 years.  Ideally, for those who want something more, S&W adventures form a skeletal foundation upon which to build.  For example, if I wish a modern version of 1e with medium complexity, it would be easy to use Castles & Crusades with a S&W version of Rappan Athuk. The strength of S&W is in its flexibility and synergy with other systems.

This is also a good time to bring up why adventures like The Slumbering Tsar Saga have not been converted into S&W. S&W is too limiting without creating a gigantic appendix of monsters, spells, and magic items that are standard in 3e/Pf. Converting original content is one thing but the conversion of large chucks of another system is a violation of my “remove or replace” philosophy. Such conversions should be left to the user. Eventually, 5e will be a better fit for conversion of this behemoth.

As is, S&W is perfect for a level range of 3rd-12th level for dungeon and wilderness adventures with slow advancement. It becomes frayed on the end points of 1st-20th level progression.  The greater the system integration and level, the more difficult the conversion.  The S&W system can be written to effectively; the ideal example would be Matt Finch’s Cyclopean Deeps. His monsters, magic items, and spells (I should say spell here, in Volume 1, he has exactly 1 new spell) not present in standard S&W are used to advance and enhance the story of the adventure. They are never placed randomly and without purpose. (i.e only appearance is in a random wandering monster table). They are not included just because they are some cool elements from another system but because they were specifically chosen as appropriate. Sadly, Matt is one of the few (last?) left that writes specifically to S&W. 

In particular, I am looking forward to conversion of Quests of Doom from 5e. As a medium-complexity system along with not having the more exotic additions from Pathfinder (i.e Advanced, Ultimate, etc) I expect it to far easier at least for now.


I'm with you Shadow Frog,

As far as I'm concerned, what's in the Complete book is enough, and I don't see a need for a S&W Book of Lost Spells.  Instead, please focus efforts on producing more great adventures that will keep everyone at the table interested in what's happening in the game.

There's enough other systems out there that offer a plethora of supplements with extra options and rules to both players and DMs so please keep S&W simple.

michaelsandar's picture

While I agree that Book of Lost Spells might be a little much for S&W, I think a huge resource would be a pdf that grabs all of those spells and monsters in various official sources (adventures) and brings them together.  Some of them are pretty common spells, that would be nice to have a print out of to hand to players during character creation.

I'm not on the level of Finch, but I write specifically to S&W... :)  too much clutter in other systems.

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