Swords & Wizardry Light for my Beowulf Campaign?

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So Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day comes along, and I finally get to “go live” with my announcement of Old Norse Old School Roleplaying (thanks, everyone, who celebrated or noted my contributions on social media). On that day, after joining the Swords & Wizardry Legion on Facebook, I started paying more attention to this Swords & Wizardry Light (SWL) stuff. I’m unsure of exactly when and how this “Fast-Play Fantasy” first caught my eye. I’m deciding that it was at Gamehole Con 2015 (I have the four-page pamphlet in my stuff). I’m guessing that I looked at it, thought, “What would I do with this?” and then tucked it away in my “big” books of Swords & Wizardry Complete and sundries.

At the end of August there will be a gaming convention right next door to me, and, if everything works out, that will be the first convention at which I will run my Beowulf campaign. So I got to thinking if, so as better to meet the mission of the Legion to expand awareness of SWL in particular, the campaign might be adapted to SWL. As a result, I spent a very happy couple hours on Appreciation Day doing just that.

Introducing SWL to my ONOSR/Beowulf game was an inspiration. In the game’s first formation, my Beowulf campaign was going to make ample use of pregens. But SWL, by limiting and streamlining options, paradoxically empowers players to create their own characters before a session, which in all likelihood, at a convention, will be a one-shot. Of course, characters can be rolled up before nearly any traditional Swords & Wizardry (SW) event, but I suspect that ONOSR presents some innovations and alterations that might present a learning curve for even the most experienced SW gamers. After looking at SWL, it appeared to be a wise move to minimize the Aspect options of ONOSR and to use the time saved to clearly and carefully present the other ONOSR innovations. To do this, I used Tenkar’s template and order of rules of SWL. I was able even to shorten the document by outright deleting Races (I chose not to use the ONOSR Race options) and a lot of unnecessary items such as Equipment and Monster lists, which I know, at a moment, I can draw out of many other materials at my table.

All of this was proceeding easily enough until I encountered two snags, the first of which, Tenkar’s formulation of the Fighter, was fairly easily avoided. Here was the apparent snare: the Fighter in SWL enjoys a Base Attack Bonus of +1 at 2nd Level and +2 at 3rd Level. All characters in ONOSR are Fighters. Moreover, the Beowulf campaign had been designed for ONOSR characters (Fighters) of 8th Level. Now, SWL only provides rules for up to 3rd level. For groups who want to play beyond third level, SWL says, consult Swords & Wizardry Complete. I suppose this would mean, then, that Fighters moving onto Complete would remain at BAB +2 for two more levels per the normal rules. No problem then: my 8th level PCs would enjoy the +5 BAB as usual. (After thinking this through, I’m really looking forward to what Swords & Wizardry Continual Light is going to do with this; the apparent pattern, according to SWL, is for Fighters to receive a +1 BAB at every level!)

Now that I think of it, the second SWL innovation didn’t give me much trouble either, but it incited a fair degree of thought about game design. This second innovation, of course, is the limiting of dice to just 20s and 6s. I began my Beowulf conversion by keeping true to the vision of SWL (otherwise it wouldn’t really be SWL, right?). Okay, I said to myself, working my way through a copied version of my Beowulf campaign, that damage roll can be 1d6-1, that one a 1d6. But when I started coming across my homebrewed percentile charts and Encounter Tables that, in the time of original composition, I had made to use dice that are not 20s and 6s because, well, because I own dice like that and I might as well make use of them, that I decided to give the thing up. Well, okay, to clarify, I decided at first that I would allow those dice when required for my charts and tables. But then, I thought, if I was going to allow those dice on one side of the screen, why not on the other, as well?

Yes, it came around to me, why? The desire for even smaller rules I understand. As I started asking these questions, I investigated what others were saying on social media. People are asking a lot of questions about SWL, and it seems that the best answer to the overall question of why a micro-game like SWL is because it is conducive for convention play. And this is precisely the reason why I experimented with the Beowulf conversion and am very thankful for it. In fact, I think my Beowulf game is going to be better for this! But what I still don’t understand is what benefit is received by leaving out those other dice in the dice bag. I mean, who doesn’t have those dice? If someone can own a 20, it’s likely that that same person can own the rest. This is not the 90s wherein I can still relate to the writer of the Hero System who says go pillage Yahtzee and those Monopoly sets in the family game closet so that you can play a roleplaying game you out-of-money kid; aren’t you glad my system eschews polyhedrals? But polyhedrals are cool! Who doesn’t enjoy a vast variety of polyhedrals? For a while I was enamored with systems that used only one kind of die. For some reason I had the idea that those systems were cleaner, more elegant. But this isn’t true. I’ve found it’s much more useful to have every tool at hand when one needs a number between, say, one and four rather than to make do with something formulated out of a d6 and a d10 for no other reason than that those are the dice that that particular game uses.

Anyway, what I ended up doing was to use the SWL idea but to key characters to Swords & Wizardry Complete level advancement and to a full dice bag. I hope this still will qualify my game for the Legion. And in the meantime, I wonder why Tenkar made the choices that he did.

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