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Spellcraft & Swordplay Core Rulebook $30.00 $8.50
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Spellcraft & Swordplay Core Rulebook
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Spellcraft & Swordplay Core Rulebook
Publisher: Elf Lair Games
by Colin M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/19/2012 21:27:47

'Retroclones', or attempts to republish out-of-print versions of D&D with various nods to modern sensibilities and mechanics, have proven increasingly popular over the last few years. One of the more original takes on this is Elf Lair Games' "Spellcraft & Swordplay" (S&S).

The original 1974 D&D rules assumed one would use the wargame 'Chainmail' to resolve combats and introduced an alternate system involving a d20 for those who didn't own the game. S&S explores what would have happened if the 'alternate system' never took hold and D&D remained closer to its wargame ancestor.

Within these 175 pages you'll find everything you need to play divided into three sections:

Swordmen and Spellslingers Character creation starts off similarly to D&D, with six abilities rolled on 3d6. You then pick a race and class. Here we see the first major difference from most editions - all classes have d6 hit dice. A warrior, for example, starts with d6+3 HP while a wizard has d6-1.

We also see classes also get multiple attacks much faster than in most editions; A 3rd level warrior has three. This is a nod to the 1974 rules where a 3rd level fighting man fought as "3 men." Instead of getting improved to hit scores as one rises in level, they get more attacks. While at first glance this looks like a potential game breaker, it actually works quite well for instilling a gritty, fast paced pulp like atmosphere. Further, since (all else being equal) to hit scores never change, that means non-magical armor and weaponry is effective even at higher levels avoiding the sort of magic item inflation prevalent in D&D.

Spellcasters have to make a skill check (2d6+Int or Wis modifier) to cast a spell. Depending on the roll the spell may go off immediately, be delayed, or fizzle. If the spell does not fail it is not lost from memory, improving the potential effectiveness and versatility of spellcasters.

There are several 'elite paths' - subclasses available at 1st level (only) if you meet the prerequisites. These are Paladin and Ranger (off Warrior), Necromancer (Wizard), Druid (Priest) and Assassin (Thief).

Overall, this section is full of a lot of very interesting ideas. I wonder if the classes are precisely balanced - the assassin's instant kill ability in particular looks worrying - but one nice thing about rules lite systems like this is that it makes it very easy for the referee to customize.

Combat and Conflict Part two deals with actual gameplay. Non-combat tasks are resolved using a statistic check: 2d6 + Attribute + 1 per 3 levels + 1. The referee imposes any modifiers based on how difficult or easy the task is, and whether your character has a chance of knowing what he or she is doing based on class, race and background. Saving throws are handled similarly.

Combat begins by rolling for initiative. As written, initiative is incredibly powerful due to the number of attacks combattants can get. A good house rule is to split combat into two or more phases. For example, if I won initiative and had three attacks, I might attack twice, have my opponent counterattack, then launch my third.

Attacks are handled by rolling 2d6 and comparing it to a chart that cross-references weapon with armor class/type. A dagger only needs a 7+ to hit an unarmored man, but 13+ (good luck) against plate armor. Along with the benefits I mentioned earlier, this means carrying multiple weapons on your person makes sense. It's now a good idea to actually bring a knife to a knife fight rather than an unwieldy spear (9+ to hit). My issue here is some weapons (like said spear) consistently have high to hit rolls and are simply inferior weapons.

Following combat, S&S goes into great detail regarding naval warfare. This is actually in keeping with the 1974 rules, but like the '74 rules it's more than is necessary in a basic set. I might have reserved this for S&S's first supplement, 'Monstrous Mayhem.' S&S then discusses vision, blindness and diseases.

Overall I like this section. It streamlines quite a bit while maintaining Chainmail's combat system. As mentioned there might be individual issues with some of the weapons and other details, but easily customizable and not game breaking.

Monsters and Magic The last part begins with a chart listing various creatures and their stats and special abilities. This is followed by a key of how to read the chart, a comprehensive list of special abilities, and finally how to use these creatures in combat. I would have changed the order to discuss how to use the creatures first (since that tells me how well they fight), then the key, then the chart. Elsewhere I've read concerns that the special abilities aren't customized: A wyvern's darkvision, for example, is identical to a kraken's. That doesn't bother me, and if it did is easily changeable by an intelligent referee.

Following a page on monster creation and experience points, we now get into descriptions of the monsters themselves. Having the descriptions separate may feel odd to most D&D players, but is in accord with the 1974 rules.

Lastly we get to treasure, more specifically magic. Several items are described in detail. Lastly there are a few treasure charts.

The charts themselves are a little strange: You are supposed to roll 4d6 to determine what row to roll off of, and the range for coins goes from 5-22. The range elsewhere is even stranger, and I fear I don't understand the author's intent here. Unfortunately it isn't clear how to use the chart and I believe it may have been errataed for 'Monstrous Mayhem.'

The magic items may be where I have the greatest disagreement with the author: I believe they're overpowered - not for AD&D or later editions, and perhaps not even for D&D Basic, but for the 1974 rules. OD&D assumed very few if any modifiers to die rolls: +1 was typical for very high attributes. +2 was exceptional, and +3 might as well be an artifact. I can only guess at OD&D's intent, but I believe it was against dependence on magic.

S&S instead uses what became common practice of +5 weapons/armor being top of the line. In a system that uses 2d6 instead of 1d20 it's even more important to control these bonuses to maintain balance. Going into the math is probably not a good idea in a review: Suffice to say a +3 weapon in S&S is more powerful than it's +5 equivalent elsewhere.

Overall this was the weakest of the three parts, and I question magic item balance. As before, easily modifiable though I believe that is serious enough to warrant review.

Summary S&S packs quite a bit into its pages. It's a complete system that's quite playable as it stands. If you're still not certain, at least grab S&S's Basic Rules which take you to level 3 and gives you a solid look at what this game has to offer. There is one supplement (Monstrous Mayhem) available while a second (Eldritch Witchery) is in the works.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Spellcraft & Swordplay Core Rulebook
Publisher: Elf Lair Games
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/03/2011 22:29:38

(review originally posted at TenkarsTavern.com)

Ever have one of those situations, where something seems very familiar yet strange at the same time? Spellcraft & Swordplay is one of those situations for me.

It starts up like one of your usual OSR games, usual stats, 3-18, familiar classes... and then it takes me for a side trip when I realize everything is resolved using D6s. It's almost like melding Tunnels & Trolls with Original Dungeons & Dragons. Well, not quite, but you get the idea.

The main change (there are others, but to me this is the biggest switch) is that, for the most part, an increase in combat ability comes from an increase in the number of attacks, not in an increase in chance to hit. The number you need to hit is dependent upon the weapon wielded and the armor worn, level has little to do with it. A strength bonus to hit is a mighty bonus in this game.

All in all it's a well written, well presented game. I found some small editing gaffs (at one point in the rules, it refers to 2 "elite paths", but the third path, Ranger, is in the book) but nothing major.

Looking for a D&D / OSR like game that can be played with the dice in your Risk or Monopoly box and little else? Spellcraft & Swordplay is what you are looking for.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Spellcraft & Swordplay Core Rulebook
Publisher: Elf Lair Games
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/18/2011 17:47:14

There has over the last couple of years been a resurgence of various “Old School” games to hit the market. We have companies dedicated to giving us the feel of the first time we have gamed with newer rulesets, companies that give us updates on old rulesets, and companies again that publish supplements for older games. The fact that these companies can co-exist in this market must mean there is at least enough financial interest to give this resurgence some credibility.

S&S (from here on out) attempts to emulate the style and feel of the original “white box” D&D rules. Now I am in no way going to attempt to compare Vey’s work to Gygax’s. Nostalgia factored in, the original rules are on par with the Declaration of Independence, and almost sacrosanct document that can no longer be touched by the likes of us mere gamers and mortals. Taking out the Nostalgia, the Original Rules are a mishmash of text, hard to read with bad, even for the time, art. Now don’t get me wrong. I love my Original Rules. But at times I find it difficult to remember how I even learned how to play using them, let alone maintain a game. That is where S&S comes to our rescue. The feel is old, but the rules are modern, or at least as modern as the 2.5 version of the Open Gaming License. In its 107 pages you have everything you need to play a game minus dice.

S&S from what I can tell sets out to perform two important tasks. The first is to provide us a game that feels like something older than it is; to capture that gee-whiz nostalgia of the 1970’s. The second is to give us a functional game that can be used in the same way we use the various incarnations of D&D now. I’ll talk about how well is does, or doesn’t do, either job.

Nostalgia

S&S “feels” a lot like the old rules. The first third is dedicated to character creation. It is roughly analogous to “Men & Magic” and about the same size. We have our introduction that tells why this book is here. Section on ability scores and what they can do. There are entries for the four core races (humans, elves, dwarfs, and Halflings), Warriors (not Fighters or Fighting Men), Priests, Wizards, Thieves and Assassins, all the things we remember as kids or have been told about. Some things have been renamed (my OD&D had Clerics and Magic Users and it was not till 2nd Ed that I had Priests and Wizards) some oddly so (Crypto-Linguistics? I am going to need some more levels in Read Languages to figure that out!) but the spirit is there and that was point. Classes each have their own advancement tables as in days of old, though the hit point calculations are weird, but they are in line with OD&D rules (I just had forgotten how it was done). Though I missed the level names. Spells are a simpler deal. Levels and description, that’s it. Part 2, Combat and Confrontation is a little more modern than it’s old school counterpart, showing it’s modern sensibilities. It is in fact truer to a more modern concept, the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Ability checks for the most part replace all skills. Armor Classes though go up instead of down (so 7 is better than 3) and start at 1, not 10. Speaking of which attacks are on a 2d6, not a d20 which harkens back to an earlier game, Chainmail, in fact nearly every die roll here is d6. Old School indeed. Part 3, Monsters and Magic is the “Monsters & Treasure” or “Monster Manual” portion. All stats are in a table at the beginning of the chapter, with descriptive text and some pictures following. It does make it awkward to read, but again this is the same as the OD&D books. Monsters are followed by a listing of magic items.

What is interesting here is that S&S takes the original rule mechanics of the Original Game and runs with it. Rolling a d20 is the “alternate combat system”. S&S then is less a retro-clone and more an alternate reality version of the game.

Where S&S attempts to sit is in the same place in the player’s heart between Castles & Crusades and OSRIC. Like OSRIC it is an attempt to recreate the mechanics with modern notions. It even looks similar. And like Castles & Crusades it is attempting to be a full game, not a “fleshed out SRD” like OSRIC. S&S then is OD&D or even a Chainmail RPG with a modern viewpoint.

Playability

It would be hard to judge these rules on read through alone. The proof is in the playing. The truth is it plays fine, no better and no worse than any other version of D&D. Combat is lengthy, but is was long in OD&D as well, but not as long as 3rd or 4th Ed. Since nostalgia is very much on my mind while reading through this I re-rolled up my first character ever, a human cleric. I was careful to read through as I stated up my new character, decades of creating characters sometimes I tend to jump through it too fast. In this case I found S&S to be better than its OD&D counterpart. The rules are clearer and easier to understand. Outside of that its just like D&D. And that is sort of the point isn’t it. The nostalgia kicked in pretty hard too when rolling up that Cleric, er, Priest. For some a smell can trigger a strong memory. This time it was the sound of dice hitting the table. That was worth the price of the book alone almost.

Style

This book has a lot of style. It manages to invoke the feel of the old OD&D rules, but yet still be good looking enough to respect the sophistication most RPG players expect these days. I liked the wood-cut style clip art. It really looked great and added an extra something to the rules. In any case the art is an improvement over OD&D (which is really not fair to say). This book just looks really good. The PDF is crisp and easy to read one my screen. There is no color art work save for the cover, but that does not detract from the book really, in only enhances the overall feel I think. The style and layout of the book reminds me a lot OSRIC. At one point I was even comparing the two side by side just to see how well they compare to each other. 4 out of 5.

Substance

This one is harder. Everything you need to play a basic game is there. Compared to modern sensibilities of 240+ core books (or three of them) then this game seems to be a little light and maybe even“missing” things. Plus there is nothing here that we have seen before, sometimes a half a dozen times before. But it is hard to call these criticisms when they are so obviously part of the design of the game. So judging it on those merits it has plenty of substance. The real question here is not about its style or substance but why you would want to play this game.

Why Play It?

Why buy or play this game? Well if you have every edition of D&D then there is nothing new here. If you are happy with the version you are currently playing, then there is very little here to entice you. If you liked the old rules but don’t want to play them due to not having them anymore or having them locked in a hermetically sealed glass vault then these are for you. If you never played the old OD&D and would like to see how it worked, or if you played it back in the day and don’t want to shell out a few hundred bucks on eBay, then this book will do you rather nicely. If you want a good way to spend an afternoon or evening with something not totally new, then this is a good choice as well. All of this aside S&S works great as a good little Fantasy RPG. It is playable, it is fun, and it just happens to feel very similar to game I played when I still had a Walkman, a Member’s Only jacket and long hair. Today the Walkman is dead, couldn’t get into that jacket to save my life (but I bet my son could) and hair? Well. I have S&S, and that at least is something to tide me over an afternoon.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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