I recently bought the Swords & Wizardry complete rules book and Monstrosities. It sits along side several other OSR games I’ve picked up over the last year or two. I’d heard good things about this one. While I was skeptical the very lean “rules light” approach would interest me, I’m delighted with the book.
The reason is that it’s shifted my thinking about an Old School approach. I’ve been meaning to take on my own take on a house rules set for OSR play, and the old AD&D fan in me, along with the gorgeous WoTC reprints, was the place to start. I got stalled out in all the byzantine rules, comparing to Labyrinth Lord, ACKS, and even Swords Without Number to find my own “dialect.”
It turns out that Swords & Wizardry is a better place for me to start. Rather than disassembling the complexity of AD&D, it offers a clean slate to build up from. Plus, hey, out of the shoot it offers up separate classes and races. I know I’m not alone, but maybe in the minority, that B/X style with races as class drives me nuts.
So! Without more rambling, I’ve already put together my own house rules below. You can probably see some of the influences of later editions that stray from purists’ love for the very original version of the game, as represented by S&W. But, it’s much more in the category of a game I want to play now! You’ll have to forgive my formatting here, especially on charts, for a couple days. Typos, too! I’ll fix as soon as I can sleep on it!
Ability scores provide modifiers to many types of rolls, including saving throws. Many modifiers are explained below. Others are left to the judgment of the game master. Saving throw modifiers are open to interpretation, based on situations in the game and players actual choices about what their character is doing (not what their character “is like” or “might be doing!”) For example, the game master may allow a Constitution modifier for rolls against a wyvern’s poison for anyone stung. Or, he may instead rule that the Dexterity modifier applies because the player described his character evading rapidly while doing nothing else.
All ability scores use this chart to determine the modifier, though each ability score uses the modifier in different situations. If your ability score ever changes — perhaps resulting from injury or magic — your modifier also changes.
Ability Score Modifier
4 – 5 -2
6 – 8 -1
9 – 12 0
13 – 15 +1
16 – 17 +2
To create your character’s ability scores, Roll 3d6 six times. Then, assign the results to your six abilities, described below.
If you have a low ability score that you really want to increase, you can increase any score below a 9 by one, but you must reduce a different, higher score by two. That penalty must apply to a single ability. You may do this multiple times for any scores still below 9. For example, if you have an ability score of 7 and another at 14, you could increase the lower score to 8, but you’d have to reduce higher score to 12. You could again increase the lesser score to 9, but then you would have to decrease any higher score by two again.
There are no experience bonuses for high prime requisite scores at all.
Ability Score Specifics
Strength: All classes may benefit from high Strength score modifiers for melee attack rolls and all damage rolls (except crossbows). Fighters gain other benefits via these house rules — see the Fighter class notes.
Dexterity: All classes benefit from high Dexterity score modifiers for ranged attack rolls. Strength modifiers to not apply to ranged attack rolls.
Additionally, Dexterity modifiers adjust Initiative rolls in combat. Dexterity modifiers do not adjust surprise rolls, however.
Constitution: The Ability Score modifier chart (above) applies to all hit dice rolls. The constitution modifier does not add additional hit points once the character reaches name level and gains specific numbers of hit points.
Intelligence: Characters know two languages, plus or minus languages based on their Intelligence modifier (minimum language known is one).
Magic Users with high Intelligence gain bonus spells. Magic Users with low intelligence may not be able to cast some higher level spells. See the Bonus Spells chart (below).
Wisdom: Clerics and Druids with high Wisdom gain bonus spells, but those with low Widsom may not be able to case some higher level spells. See the Bonus Spell chart (below).
Charisma: Characters may employ a number of special hirelings equal to four, plus or minus their Charisma modifier.
This chart shows the minimum ability score required to cast different spells. It also shows how many additional bonus spells a character with a high ability score gains. Note that bonus spells are cumulative. For example, an ability score of 16 means the character gains three additional first level spells and one additional 2nd level spell. An ability score of 18 means the character gains three 1st level spells, two 2nd level spells, and one 3rd level spell.
Score Modifier Bonus Spells
3 -3 Unable to cast any spells.
4 -2 Unable to cast 3rd or 4th level spells.
5 -2 Unable to cast 5th or 6th level spells.
6 -1 Unable to cast 7th level spells.
7 -1 Unable to cast 8th level spells.
8 -1 Unable to cast 9th level spells.
9 – 12 0 Character may cast spells normally.
13 +1 Additional 1st level spell.
14 +1 Additional 1st level spells.
15 +1 Additional 1st level spell.
16 +2 Additional 2nd level spell.
17 +2 Additional 2nd level spell.
18 +3 Additional 3rd level spell.
Assassins gain their level in bonus damage to backstab attacks. This bonus damage is added after normal backstab damage is multiplied.
Assassins also use the new Thief Abilities chart as though there are a Thief two levels lower than their actual level.
Clerics roll d8 for hit dice.
Fighters roll d10 for hit dice.
All fighters may parry, regardless of Dexterity score.
Fighters gain the ability to attack more than once per round as they gain levels. At 6th level, fighter gain a second attack. At 12th level, fighters gain a third attack.
Thieves roll d6 for hit dice.
There are no level or class restrictions for any race.
Humans gain +10% experience bonus at all times.
Replace weapon tables with the following:
Weapon Type Damage / 2-H Item Slots Cost Special
Axe, battle d8 / d8+1 1 5 gp
Axe, hand d6 1 1gp Can be thrown
Club d4+1 1 0 gp
Dagger d4 1 2 gp Can be thrown
Flail (two-handed) d8 1 8 gp
Lance 2d4+1 1 6 gp
Mace d6 / d6+1 1 10 gp
Morningstar d8 1 8 gp
Polearm d8 2 10 gp Reach
Spear, long d8 2 2 gp Reach
Spear, short d6 / d6+1 1 1 gp Can be thrown; Can use 1 or 2 handed
Staff d4+1 1 .2 gp
Sword, bastard d8 / d8+1 1 25 gp Can use 1 or 2 handed
Sword, long d8 1 15 gp
Sword, scimitar d6+1 1 10 gp
Sword, short d6 1 8 gp
Sword, two handed d10 2 35 gp
Warhammer d6 1 2 gp Can be thrown
Weapon Type Damage Range Rate of Fire Item Slots Cost
Axe, hand d6 10 ft 1 1 1 gp
Bow, long d6 70 ft 2 1 60 gp
Bow, short d6 50 ft 2 1 15 gp
Crossbow, heavy d8 80 ft 1 per 2 rounds 2 40 gp
Crossbow, light d6 60 ft 1 1 24 gp
Crossbow, hand d4 20 ft 1 1 100 gp
Dagger d4 10 ft 1 1 2 gp
Dart d3 15 ft 3 1/3 .2 gp
Sling d4+1 40 ft 1 1 .2gp
Spear, short 20 ft d6 1 1 1 gp
Warhammer 10 ft d6 1 1 6 gp
Ammunition Type Item Slots Cost
Arrows (20) 1 2 gp
Bolts, heavy (20) 1 2 gp
Bolts, light (20) 1 2 gp
Bolts, hand (20) 1 2 gp
Stones, sling (20) 1 .1 gp
Initiative and the order of battle breaks down as follows:
First, as a combat begins, check for surprise: If a surprise roll fits the situation, each side rolls 1d6. Results of 1 or 2 indicate that side is surprised.
Combatants that are not surprised may act, including casting spells, moving, attacking, or taking some other action like readying an item or searching around for something. Surprised opponents may not act, though they defend themselves normally.
If both (or all) sides are surprised, narrate what happens as the battle ensues. Move to step 2, Initiative.
2. Declare spell casting
Any combatant casting a spell in a round must declare so prior to rolling initiative. Opponents who act prior to the spell caster may be able to injure the spell caster and thus interrupt the spell. Interrupted spells are lost for the day and have no effect.
If a spell caster is injured prior to his or her action, the spell caster must make a saving throw with a penalty to the roll equal to the total damage suffered.
Next, at the beginning of each round, roll Initiative to determine the order for each combatant individually. Each player rolls d6, modified by Dexterity bonuses or other special bonuses. The combatant with the highest initiative roll acts first, the next highest acts second and so on through the rank order of all combatants. The game master may roll for groups of monsters as a single combatant so they all act on the same rank order. Players may wish to do the same with any NPC hirelings they control.
Any attack roll that shows a natural 20 on the die hits, regardless of opponent’s armor class. Such attacks are critical hits. Maximize the damage for the attack.
Contrariwise, any attack roll that shows a natural 1 on the die is a miss. Depending on the situation, the game master may also rules some penalty results, like a dropped weapon or temporary penalty to hit.
Damage & Dying
Characters reduced to exactly 0 hit points are unconscious, but may recover without further harm.
Characters reduced to -1 hits points or worse are dying. The character “bleeds out,” losing one hit point per round until he or she reaches negative hit points equal to his or her level. At the end of that round, the character dies. Damage that reduces a character to negative hit points greater than their current level dies at the end of the round.