One year ago, more or less, Wizards of the Coast released the 4th Edition rules for Dungeons and Dragons.  Long before that, there were such things as 1st Edition, AD&D, and 3.X.  And probably other variants that I’m too lazy to look up or talk about.  Ever since that first edition, there have been those who prefer one version of the rules to another.  I, for example, prefer 3.5 to 4 and have never played anything earlier than 3.  Swords and Wizardry is a part of the retro movement aiming to clone (and update) the original version of our beloved game.

Prior to seeing stuff about Swords and Wizardry on Chgowiz’s Old Guy RPG Blog, I had never heard of the retro gaming movement.  Even now, I’m not sure that it’s a unified “movement” so much as it is a bunch of guys and gals who love their game and do their damnedest to keep it alive and well.  So, when the first version of the Swords and Wizardry Quick Start rules became available I decided to download it and give it a try.  To be honest, anything before 3.X had always scared me a bit, due in large part to THAC0 and the total lack of books available at my FLGS (I mean, what’s up with that?  It’s like a ghost game that you have to find by knowing the right guys and handshakes and slipping twenties around.  Or so I thought in high school.).  Nonetheless, I dipped my toe into what turned out to be a delightfully warm pool.  But not the kind that’s warm because someone peed in it.  No sir, no pee in this gaming pool.

I proceeded to download both pre-release versions of the QS rules and go over them.  I actually read every word, which is pretty rare for me.  And now, at long last, the full Swords and Wizardry Quick Start Rules are available.  Hallelujah!  Here’s where I proceed to the real body of this review.  Like, you know, the part where I review something instead of just telling you how much fun I had looking over the pre-release versions.

To start with, I like the production aesthetic of the S&W QS.  It is simply done, easy to read, and laid out quite nicely.  It certainly doesn’t have the production values of, say, a WotC official product but it doesn’t pretend to.  It is a set of rules created by a man passionate about his game, and it shows.  More and more I appreciate the indie gamer ethic, and products like this are the reason.  It is polished and clean, and very easy to use.

The QS rules contain basic rules for setting up characters, pointers for the Game Referee, and a simple adventure to get things going.  The Dungeon of Akban is probably my favorite part of the QS package.  The map is well-done and the adventure is laid out in an easy-to-read fashion.  The section for players gives a basic run-down on how to make a character and then fleshes it out a bit more.  The options are a tad limiting, since the poor dwarfs may only be fighters, the elves may be magic-users or fighters, and the humans may be clerics, magic users, or fighters.  I’ve never been a fan of racially-restricted classes, since it feels pretty limiting.  This is probably my only real “problem” with Swords and Wizardry (and I believe it is different in the core rules).  The upside here is that the classes and races are both easy to understand and run, so it’s very suitable for a Quick Start set.

The relevant rules for exploration and combat are succinctly summarized, and this is one of the strong points of the game mechanics.  The system is relatively simple, but doesn’t sacrifice quality for ease of play.  It is certainly a system that will require a bit of getting used to for fans of other D&D editions.  The combat rules are pretty familiar, but Swords and Wizardry has done away with skills and feats.  Not sure how I feel about this, but it does simplify things and allows characters to do a lot without being bound by rules.  It means Game Referees need to be on top of things, and inventive, but since when is that a bad thing?

All in all, the Swords and Wizardry Quick Start rules are a quality product for a quality game.  It has everything a group of players needs in a QS set, and it definitely has piqued my interest in playing more retro D&D.  Give it a spin.

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