Tuesday, January 19, 2010

First date with Swords & Wizardry: getting to know each other and (already) making demands

As I mentioned in my previous post, my friend Bob and I decided to drag the 20-siders out of the closet after a decades-long dormancy. Armed with a downloaded copy of the Swords & Wizardry rules, a fistful of 6-siders and with an entire Saturday evening at our disposal, we embarked on our re-acquaintance with roleplaying.

Our first night was spent scanning through the rules and rolling up characters. This took a surprisingly long time because we were not even done rolling up our first dude when we decided to house rule a new character class. Plus we were drinking beer and watching Hockey Night in Canada.

The plan was to roll up one each of the 6 character classes/races available in Old Style: Fighter, Magic User, Cleric, Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling. We agreed—or, rather, I insisted—to use the fatalist approach to character generation: before we even rolled a single 6-sider for ability scores, we had to determine the character’s race/class and gender and write them down—in ink—on the character sheet. In fact, we even came up with their names ahead of time. So our first character was to be Sigurd the fighter, and for his strength we rolled… a 9. Not too impressive for a fighter, Sigurd. We had a chuckle and debated starting over, “that one was only practice” and all that, but decided to stick with it since a low strength in Old Style is not really very meaningful—even to a fighter. The rolls came in: Str 9, Int 11, Wis 13, Dex 15, Con 16, Cha 5.

We agreed that it was really too bad that none of the classes benefits from a high dex, and that if anyone should it would be fighter. I also mentioned that, when toying with Castles & Crusades a couple of years ago, I had devised a rule that fighters could choose as their prime either Str, Dex or Con to encourage different types of fighters within the class. What came of this discussion was:

House Rule #1: Ranger, a sub class of fighters, have dexterity as their prime ability rather than Strength. They are limited to non-metal armor and lose the combat machine ability but can sneak around and have tracking abilities.

We hadn’t worked out the mechanics of the tracking or sneaking, but figured these would develop as we played. Also, we considered going with “Scout” as the name of this class to distance it from the baggage of Aragorn and the AD&D ranger but we couldn’t get over the little girl in To Kill a Mockingbird. Ranger it is.

Then Bob raised the valid point that we had already decided on Sigurd’s class and we couldn’t go changing it now that we’d already rolled him up, so, on the spot, I came up with:

House Rule #2: You may opt to change a character’s class to a sub class of the initially chosen class if that subclass came into existence after you started rolling your character but before you roll up his or her starting gold.

The hockey game had started up again so Bob didn’t put up a fight.

A few characters later and we’re rolling up Polvo the Dwarf who turns out to be the smartest (Int 15) and most charismatic (18!!) member of the party but when we rolled his Con, we got two 1s and a 2—a friggin’ 4! Neither of us could live with a Dwarf having a 4 constitution, so we made house rules #3 & 4, which go thusly:

#3—Dwarves prime ability is constitution, not strength.
#4—If a player rolls an 8 or less for their character’s prime ability, they may re-roll the lowest dice a second time and take the higher of the 2 results.

The courts approved the ruling, we re-rolled one of the 1s and got a 5; Polvo’s Con was now 8—not too good for a dwarf but at least he was suffering no penalty.

At this point I should point out that to roll the abilities we’ve been using the three 6-siders that came with a Tunnels & Trolls box set I recently acquired. These dice have a goblin (troll? alien?) head on the “1” face instead of the traditional single pip. I should also point out that these dice are generally located beside the computer my wife and I share and that it is a common practice in our house for us to roll them to see who gets the most “goblins.” The rules for this game are ever-changing and arcane in the extreme—my wife would make a good RPGer if she would ever stop scoffing at the idea—but the upshot is that the more goblins I see when I roll, the happier I am.

This is relevant because after we finished off Polvo, we started on Glebberd the Halfling and what do we roll for his wisdom? You guessed it: 3 of a kind! I literally jumped for joy at the site of the unbeatable 3 goblins staring up at me. Bob, of course, looked on in bewilderment. I laid down the story about the dice game that Alice and I play and told him that I refused to accept that a 3 of goblins could be anything but the best roll imaginable—despite Bob’s entirely reasonable response “But it’s a 3.”

House Rule #5: if a Player rolls a natural 3 for any ability, it is automatically an 18. This only applies if your dice have cool faces for 1s.

Bob’s response was “You just make up the rules to please yourself, you’re the rules fascist.” And henceforth shall my title be Old Style Rules Fascist.

I know what you Old Schoolers are thinking, “Sellout! He’s on the slippery slope to ability inflation.” But c’mon! Sure, the odds of getting an 18 have now been doubled—to 2 in 216. That’s still less than 1% and, given the relative insignificance of an 18 ability roll in Old Style rules, I think the game will survive.
So we had our 6 characters—one from each race/class—we were half way through a 12 pack and the hockey game was into the 3rd period (it eventually went into overtime; Calgary won in the shootout, if you’re concerned), so we put the game to bed for the night.

But later that night as I lay awake—I admit, I was pretty excited about actually playing the game again—I kept thinking about how silly it was that Halflings are pigeonholed into a class whose prime ability is Strength—something it is absurd to expect a 3’ tall dude to be well endowed with. Instead, they armor-up and step into the trenches, thus drowning out their innate skill at sneaking around. I remembered reading somewhere on the internet how some dude (sorry, I have no idea who I’m cribbing this idea from) house-ruled in his Holmes edition game that just as elves are both fighters and MUs, Halflings act as both fighters and thieves. Old Style has no thief class, but hadn’t we just created a sneaky fighter class? Of course! House Rule #6 came to me in a flash:

#6 Halflings are, by default, members of the ranger class instead of the fighter class.

And in my capacity as Rules Fascist, it became so.
One other house rule that we (I) decided on:

#7 Magic users in the Intelligence bonus (15+ in S&W) get to memorize 1 additional spell of their choosing above and beyond the amount they cast.

This rule does not directly affect our game yet since neither our MU nor Elf* have an INT of 15 or better, but I’ve mentioned this rule elsewhere on the internet, so I thought I’d better add it here.

* Also:
#8 Elfs may choose either Str or Int as prime.
#9 Out of disrespect for a former player in my group, elves shall be referred to as elfs. At least until it annoys me too much to continue to do so. Actually, I'm already annoyed by it and not a little embarrassed at my own peavishness. Strike this one from the record.

We didn't get nearly as far as I'd hoped, but we agreed that it was a night well spent. Next time, I hope to actually make it to the dungeon.


Jensan Thuresson said...

Great story! This actually makes me want to play S&W now (and drink beer).

Timrod said...

I think the cool thing about S&W is definitely the amount of room to maneuver. The beer part is important to the maneuvering.

Jensan Thuresson said...

Agreed. Me and my girlfriend actually rolled up two characters the other night...while drinking wine and watching hockey! (Sweden - Belarus)

Lets just say that I'm more proud to be a swede than I am of that cleric I created...

Timrod said...

Great news! Well, not about Sweden v. Slovakia. I watched that one with a Swedish friend and was sincerely rooting for the Three Crowns. Alas, there was no gaming involved.

Actually, the olympics have pretty much absorbed my energy and free time of late, hence no posting.