Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Why I appreciate S&W and you might - even for 40K

Today it's Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day.

Lots of readers of the Expanse will know what S&W is - a rules-light tactical roleplaying game, and more especially an Original D&D 'retroclone'.

But quite a lot of people reading have probably never even heard of S&W: this is for you.

I'll look at what I appreciate about it, then what you might, then finally a way of using it to do something it's not explicitly designed to do: run 40K. There's a discount today too.

Why I appreciate S&W...

It also comes in a free pdf. It's clean, pretty and easy to read and follow. The intro says:

...from the very beginning of role-playing GMs have been encouraged to extrapolate and interpret, to make the game their own. If a given rule does not seem "right" to you, then ignore it! Or, better still, change it! Make your game or campaign your own. ...

The game means it, and it has lots of options. I'm using S&W to help run a campaign with people who've never played early D&D, part of a rules blend that includes another retroclone and plenty of house rules, from other bloggers too. From S&W it's the single save and the subdual and wielding rules. I also go back when I want another perspective.

Because S&W shares a structure with early D&D and the other retroclones, and because a worldwide online community supports it very actively, there's more material than there seems to be. It all plugs in, and possibly more smoothly than you'd imagine.

When a player wants to get a fuller look behind the screen, or introduce new players or start a whole new campaign, I just give them one link. The system also has an example of play that could be useful for anyone just starting out as a GM, maybe in any system.

Why you might appreciate S&W...

Again, there's a free pdf. It's clean, pretty and easy to read and follow. And it also says:

What you hold in your hand are guidelines; this is one set of "rules" that has an internal integrity that makes it work. Is it the only way to play? Certainly not ...

Because there's your way too. S&W is based on the early D&D frame, which means an ancient lineage combined with years of experimentation and refinement. It also means almost anything is possible. But not in the way that some games seem to think. No rule for what you want to do? That's the point. You rule - possibly all of the players together.

Not persuaded?

Early D&D - and that means S&W too - is very much about exploration, of deep spaces, open wilderness, strange cultures and whole worlds, but also about rigorous thinking, as well as high risk (higher than you might think...), high reward and high weirdness. More importantly maybe, also that elusive delayed gratification, and even a growing passion.

It's not 'balanced', but it does do a rich background and win-at-all-costs approach in one.

It can be fey and cliched, even if D&D made many of the cliches, but also brutal, maybe more than any game you've ever played, dragging characters through the grime, bloody, exhausted, half-starved; setting a high bar then cutting them back down for their trouble.

But if they can just scrape through, if they're audacious enough, shrewd or just careful with their equipment, they get a shot at going to the very top: making local bigshot, or becoming a famed figure, great name, living legend, maybe a lord, emperor, even a god.

So you want to roleplay in M41, but don't have a degree in Dark Heresy etc.

You know it - there's a free pdf. It's clean, pretty and easy to read and follow. This too:

... All GMs need to worry about is keeping a "logical reality"...

If you know the 41st millennium inside out, OD&D (S&W) can help get you there. Given 40K is science fantasy and seems heavily inspired by D&D anyway, porting it is simple.

You've got four base classes to work with. Clerics and magic-users could be psykers, with 100+ powers in the core rules. If you're not sure about Vancian magic, house rule it, maybe using this approach. Humans as humans, elves as Eldar (maybe fighter-thief, and fighter-MU-thief for warlocks etc.), dwarves as Squats (maybe all classes but cleric) and halflings Ratlings. Then you've got all those entries in the monster section to use...

For far future weapons just double existing ranges and damage rolls, and for armour add (subtract) one point of AC, then assign what you want to those types, adding more if need be. Flamers could do damage like burning oil, plasma and melta could do +1 as a pistol, +2 as a special weapon and +3 as a heavy, melta also removing 1D3 AC, etc.

Your power armour (plate +1) could halve effective weight carried and confer infravision, the thief's Hear Sounds and the sensitivities of the elf and dwarf, but no moving silently; each failed save could mean one ability is lost as wear and tear. The bulk could mean a character counts as two characters for the allocation of incoming attacks and effects.

Veterans, elites, heroes etc. could just start at higher levels - second, third, fourth...

But for me the litmus test of 40K as RPG is the Ork as player character. This is easy with S&W too. I'd go with Orks created as human fighters, with a minimum CON of 13+ and +1 to all saves. To cover that Waaagh! energy driving the Ork on and keeping things working, a save could be alllowed vs. each fumble or opposing critical: success would mean the result gets rerolled. Each extra Ork in the party could be a further +1 to saves.

That discount then: Erik Tenkar - organiser of the event - has the details here. It looks to be valid on most or all of the good stuff, but today only, so hurry if it takes your fancy.


ERIC! said...

Nice, Love me some 40k and bring it to the OSR makes alot of sense, for me atleast!

garrisonjames said...

This is a great way to subvert both rules-sets at one go. Very interesting adaptation. You may be on to something here.

Sean Robson said...

Great post, Porky. The beauty of Swords & Wizardry is that it is such an elegant, bare-bones rule set that you can easily make it into anything you want it to be.

Porky said...

@ ERIC! - The overlap is there for sure. Rogue Trader - first edition 40K - is over 25 years old already, and it has close ties to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay too of course. In some sense, there's no real line. The settings and even the systems blend well.

@ garrisonjames - With the market changing so fast, and newer games still pushing at the limits, I think there'll be more and more of this kind of thinking, or rather a return to it, with the benefit of what we've seen since the early days. And maybe surprising developments. Given the passion there is out there for the landscapes of Warhammer and 40K, think what could happen if GW or a new owner created an equivalent to the OGL and licensed the creation of supplementary or even core materials.

@ Sean Robson - Yes indeed. Beauty is a good word for that immense scope, through the wider cosmos of compatible systems too, as well as the essential nature they share. Again, I think it's all just getting started. The approaches these games represent are still young.

Andy Bartlett said...

I'm going to necromatically revive this post, if only to say - have you seen Stars Without Number? It is also free, is a Sci-Fi game based largely on B/X D&D (but with a skill system reminiscent of Traveller), and could easily be given a 40k skin. Indeed, 'The Retired Adventurer' did a whole series of posts on using SWN for a 40K game.

The supplements (some free, some not) provide plenty of great advice on running campaigns of different flavours - one particularly suited to 40K games would be Darkness Visible, on campaigns about espionage, secret cults, etc.

(I expect that you *have* seen SWN, but I couldn't find mention of it browsing your blog, and if you haven't, you might well like it.)

Porky said...

I'm impressed you found the post this long on and grateful you took the time. I do know about SWN and I'm glad it's out there too, helping keep the space open. I'm pretty sure somewhere here I've linked to some or all of the posts at the Retired Adventurer, possibly in a comment. All that said, I didn't know about Darkness Visible so I'll go and check it out.

I don't know how you feel in general about my thinking, but I get the impression that when you have a certain understanding, my thoughts are often in the same vague space, or that I'm going to want to explore the given subject a bit more.