Swords & Wizardry Interview

Last week while researching Mythmere Games’ Swords & Wizardry game system, we had a unique opportunity to interview the system’s primary creator, Matt Finch, as well as the creator of the Swords & Wizardry Quick Start book, Michael Shorten. Give the interview a read and then if you like, you can make a Swords & Wizardry campaign right now! Let’s get right into it.

OBSIDIAN PORTAL: Is Swords & Wizardry your idea?

MATT: Yes.

MICHAEL (On the subject of the Quick Start book):  Yes, it was. It was inspired by some things I was reading on the Internet and hearing from people – that Game Refereeing an old school game was hard, and that it was difficult for someone to play, as well as a desire to have a book that could be used to demo how much fun old school gaming can be.

OBSIDIAN PORTAL: Who all has worked on it?

MATT:  A huge number of people too numerous to name individually. Rob Ragas and Verhaden worked on layout, Chad Thorson and Jeff Preston are the two artists with the most illustrations in the books. Pete Mullen’s cover art pretty much electrified the whole old-school community. As (Michael) mentioned, the credits are:

Contributors: Marv Breig, Jason Cone, Allen T.
Grohe, Jr., and Jerry Mapes
Cover Art: Pete Mullen
Editing: James Maliszewski, Rob Ragas, and Jesse Rothacher
Interior Art: Edward M. Kann, Pete Mullen, Jeff Preston, Michael
Shorten, and Chad Thorson
Layout: Rob Ragas (first printing) and Jesse Rothacher (second printing)
Additional proofreading and suggestions: Jim Bobb, Eric Norred, and
the Swords & Wizardry forum
With special thanks to: The Knights and Knaves Alehouse

Keep in mind, too, that there are two versions of S&W – the Core Rules (includes OD&D supplements like Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, etc), and the WhiteBox version which replicates the pre-supplement version of OD&D – there are some rules that were changed in the supplements. Lots of people assisted with the WhiteBox version as well.

MICHAEL (On the subject of the Quick Start book):  I was the primary author, although I had help from all of the crew in the Three Headed Monster gaming cooperative (http://thmgames.blogspot.com/). The cover was done by award-winning Mark Allen, the rear cover was by Paul (bliss_infinite) Fini of IndieOnlyComics and the interior art was donated by John Adams of Brave Halfling Publishing.

OBSIDIAN PORTAL:  Where did you get the notion to make it?

MATT:  I’d already done a similar project, OSRIC, for First Edition. Many players of the original edition wanted to see it covered, especially since the books for 0e now cost about $200 for a set, and the pdfs cannot be obtained legally. 

MICHAEL (On the subject of the Quick Start book):  There were certain iconic modules back in the day, B1 In Search of the Unknown and B2 The Keep on the Borderlands, that had a great deal of guidance and gameplay assistance. Most of the retroclones were already rules-light, but I thought it would be very helpful to have a book to help people new to old school gaming and Swords & Wizardry. It would also be nice to have something that could be used to teach beginners how to play RPGs.

OBSIDIAN PORTAL: In what ways is S&W different from DnD?

MATT:  From 0e, very little is different – they are designed to be playable even when some players are using one book and some using the other. The major differences are for legal reasons; the largest of these are that S&W uses a single saving throw category (instead of having different categories of saving throws) and has a different way of assigning bonuses to xp based on attribute scores. Now, if you’re asking how it differs from 4e D&D … there’s virtually nothing in common other than the basic concepts.

MICHAEL (On the subject of the Quick Start book):  

Well, Swords & Wizardry is a “retroclone” of the original 1974 Dungeons & Dragons plus some of the mechanics and rules from the first supplement Greyhawk. A retroclone is meant to be as close to the original, but the designer may introduce differences.

S&W is very close to OD&D, with the big exception of a single Saving Throw value (versus multiple saving throw types from OD&D) and the concept of Ascending Armor Class (where higher is better, OD&D had Descending AC, where lower is better). The rules are laid out in a more logical fashion and better organized. S&W tends to focus on the “dungeoneering” aspect where OD&D had a bit more about wilderness adventuring and stronghold building.

OBSIDIAN PORTAL:  Is this your first venture into creating game systems?

MATT:  Other than OSRIC, yes.

MICHAEL (On the subject of the Quick Start book): It was my first published venture yes. I had never designed anything for a specific audience. I’ve tinkered with other game systems and made changes, but this was more “from scratch” in taking S&W and spinning it down to it’s bare essence and creating and adventure that could teach as well as be fun.

OBSIDIAN PORTAL:  What do you want players and DMs to get out of your system?

MATT:  Fun, of course! And a chance to play the oldest version of the game without shelling out $200+ for the books or using illegal pdfs.

MICHAEL (On the subject of the Quick Start book): I hope they get to have the same fun that I have when I play Swords & Wizardry. It’s a wide open, “imagine the hell out of it” game and in the chargen and dungeon, I try to foster that approach. I also hope that GMs get a sense of how they can manage the game, make rulings and still have fun without feeling like they are bound by rules or mechanics.

OBSIDIAN PORTAL:  Looking back on the creative process, what things would you have done differently?

MATT:  I’m pretty happy with how it has all turned out. We have gotten fantastic artwork and lots of fan support. Lots of people have heard about the game, we’re in distribution to brick-and-mortar game stores … it’s all good.

MICHAEL (On the subject of the Quick Start book): I don’t think there’s anything I would have done differently – aside maybe try to make a buck or two more! The Quick Start was downloaded over 1,500 times from July through December of 2009.

OBSIDIAN PORTAL:  What aspect of your system are you the most proud of?

MATT:  I can’t take credit for the system. That’s Gary Gygax, not me.

MICHAEL (On the subject of the Quick Start book): I think the impact that it’s had. I know that a very popular 4e blogger (ChattyDM) had a great time running the Quick Start and getting the feel and joy of an original D&D style game. I’ve heard from people who have introduced their kids to RPGs using it and have heard from people who have used it as a springboard to learning Swords & Wizardry. That’s really cool and humbling. To me, sharing the love and knowing that people are having fun from something I wrote is just the best karma I could have hoped for.

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'

Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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