Swords & Wizardry is undoubtedly one of the Old School games, one of the many legs of the OSR.
I notice that there is no mention of education or training in Swords & Wizardry Core. There is a little bit about researching spells, and there are other methods of learning spells, but what about characters who aren’t Magic-users?
Let’s see if we can’t do something about that.
Let’s add ‘schools’ to Old School.
Before we can really start, I think it necessary to establish the working parameters.
First, I think we’ll completely ignore the training for advancement rules from AD&D. They are little more than an adventurer tax and not to my taste.
Second, I notice the classes and abilities available are pretty straightforward selections, and I want to keep that. These rules will have to be optional.
Third, anything gained through special training should be implemented in a way consistent with other rules.
Sources of Reference
I like making use of previous art. Whether or not I use it as originally written, it generally saves me a fair bit of work.
For what I want to do here, I see basically two primary resources available.
One is the Principalities of Glantri Known World Gazetteer. It has special magical traditions you can become trained in to gain special abilities… if you’re a magic-user. Other classes need not apply. I could probably extend the mechanisms to cover abilities for other classes, but that comes close to starting from scratch. Also, this is not Open Gaming Content, so I’d probably have to keep it to myself, or file the numbers off really hard. Between the two, I think it’s more work than I want to do tonight.
The other is a set of four books written for the d20 Legends & Lairs series (Open Gaming Content, huzzah!) from Fantasy Flight Games: Path of Magic, Path of the Sword, Path of Faith, and Path of Shadow. These focus respectively on arcane characters such as wizards and sorcerers, martial characters such as fighters and barbarians, divine characters such as clerics and druids, and sneaky characters such as rogues. There is overlap between them also for the ‘mixed mode’ characters such as paladins, rangers, and bards.
Each of the four books I mentioned has the idea of specialized training in an academy or with a traveling master. They are called different things in each book, but the rules for applying them (learning the lessons and advancing) are the same.
- Path of Magic has Magical Traditions.
- Path of the Sword has Schools of Combat.
- Path of Faith has Disciplines of Faith.
- Path of Shadow has Shadow Schools.
The books typically also include feats, prestige classes, and legendary classes (basically special prestige classes), plus things more specific to each book, but the specialized schools are of primary interest here.
Each specialized school consists of ten lessons, each of which has a minimum level requirement, an experience point cost and time cost to study, and typically some kind of fee (gold cost) to the instructor, and each gives an ability other characters don’t have. This looks like a pretty good fit.
Magical Tradition Guidelines
When studying a magical tradition, a character must start with the first lesson and study them in order. Each has a minimum level requirement and experience point cost, and requires a certain amount of time to study as shown in the table below.
Obviously, some things will need to change for this to work in Swords & Wizardry.
- The experience point costs are laughable if applied to Swords & Wizardry because the experience point requirements climb so much higher than in D&D 3.x. Rather than having a negligible experience point cost to the lesson, I think it might work better to have the lesson provide a surcharge to the experience points needed to gain a level. Each lesson learned increases the experience points required to advance to the next level by 5%. The Referee can choose whether this applies to levels from the time the lesson is completed (so a fifth-level Magic-user who has completed two lessons would need (40,000-20,000)*1.10 =) 22,000 experience points to advanced to sixth level), or whether it changes the table as a whole and the character has some catch-up to do (instead of needing a total of 40,000 experience points to advanced to sixth level, the fifth-level Magic-user needs a total of 44,000 experience points).
- The study times required would probably be okay, but it might be worth slowing things a little. Let’s say each lesson requires a number of weeks equal to the lesson number (so a total of 55 weeks to go from no training to completing the tenth lesson, if nothing gets in the way).
- The minimum level requirements, though, might need to be adjusted. I expect most Swords & Wizardry games might get up to 500,000 experience points or so (Cleric 14, Fighter 11, Magic-User 12), cutting out the possibility of achieving higher lessons. Let’s instead say that in order to learn a lesson you must have a level at least as high as the lesson. It might be better to require that the character be a higher level than the lesson number, so the capstone ability is gained no sooner than eleventh level.
This assumes a trainer is available. I think if a trainer is not available it could still be possible to learn things (someone had to originally, after all), but it should likely be harder. Making the time required for each lesson equal to a number of months equal to the lesson number is probably appropriate if one person could develop an entire tradition in his lifetime, but even if it were scaled to years it could be possible in a human lifespan. It might be just barely, but establishing a new tradition from first principles is a pretty difficult thing.
In this case it might even be reasonable to make the baseline measured in months rather than weeks. This could see someone go from untrained to full mastery in 55 months, a little less than five years.
I think this should be a Referee call based on the campaign expectations. If advancement is fast (by game calendar), weeks and months may be the correct scale, while if advancement is slow (by game calendar) months and years might suit better.
I have no problem with someone choosing to take more than one school. The time requirements and experience point adjustments accumulate regardless of lesson number (that is, learning “lesson one” from three schools causes the same experience modifier as learning “lesson three” from a single school, though it can be done in half the time).
Sample Specialized Schools
These are adapted pretty much directly from the books. I’m going to adapt mechanics somewhat. The names are pretty transparently modified from the original.
Many school abilities in the reference books give bonuses to skill checks. As Swords & Wizardry does not have skills, I’m going to rule that generally if a school ability would grant a bonus, here it will allow the student to make a check (if most characters couldn’t) or automatically succeed (if most characters could make a check). A check is generally a d20 roll, aiming to be equal to or less than an appropriate ability score (usually the ability score to use is obvious, but the Referee will decide).
A ‘blind check’ is one made by the Referee; the student does not learn the result until the consequences are known.
I would be inclined to also throw in a small quest, test, or something similar that demonstrates advancement along the path of knowledge. If you want to learn dragon magic, study of and interaction with dragons should be an important element of the training.
Despite the name, these are not the classic “burn it with fire” spell casters, but characters who delight in making things go boom! Originally presented in Path of Magic, but I see no real reason why only Magic-users could do this.
- Alchemy Instructional: The student learns to identify combustible and explosive materials, and what will set them off.
- The Red Thumb: with a moment’s concentration and a flick of the fingers, the student can produce a candle-sized flame on one finger. This flame is not enough to cause damage, but can be used to set flammable objects on fire.
- Little Snappers: The student can make one ‘snapper’ per lesson completed per day; each snapper lasts only one day. If applied as a weapon (thrown a short distance or attached to a missile) a snapper can do one point of damage.
- Sparks: Once per day for a minute per lesson completed, the student can cause himself to be surrounded by hundreds of glowing sparks. These are harmless, but bright enough that in dark conditions dazzle opponents (improve AC by two points against sighted attackers) and lights up a 10-foot radius.
- Firewalker: The student gains a +2 bonus on saves involving fire.
- Burning Poker: Three time a day, the student can cause a melee weapon to do +1d6 points of damage on a successful hit, for one minute.
- Kiss of Fire: The student can cast fire spells for greater effect, as if one caster level higher.
- Flaming Fist: Much like The Red Thumb, but the student’s entire hand bursts into flame. Three times per day for five minutes each, the character’s hand will do an additional 1d6 points of fire damage on a successful unarmed attack. As with The Red Thumb, the fire will not harm the student but may set flammables (including the student’s clothes) on fire if careless (Dexterity check or saving throw to avoid).
- Big Bangers: As Little Snappers (including number per day) but doing 3d6 points of damage.
- Cloak of Fire: The student gains fire resistance 10.
White Shield Wielder
Bodyguards without peer. Originally presented in Path of the Sword, but while I don’t imagine many Magic-users would take this, I can see some Clerics doing so.
- Lead Footing: The student gains a +2 bonus to saves and ability score checks to resist being tripped, knocked down, or otherwise moved against his will as long as he has something to brace against. Being picked up by giants or dragons, well….
- Defensive Stature: The student’s Armor Class is improved by 1 when using a shield.
- Block Arrow: If the student only defends in a round, he gains twice the normal benefit (including magic) from his shield against ranged attacks.
- Defend Ally: The student can grant his shield bonus to an adjacent ally.
- Stubborn Will: The student gets a +1 bonus to any attempts to control his mind.
- Defensive Nature: Effects of Defensive Stature are doubled (Armor Class is improved by 3 when using a shield).
- Disarming Blow: The student can attack an opponent’s weapon (same Armor Class as the opponent); if successful and more damage is done than the target weapon can do, the target is disarmed and the weapon lands out of reach.
- Unexpected Charge: The student can charge and move past creature without suffering free attacks from creatures passed (per ‘Movement within Melee’, if that optional rule is used). Alternatively, the student can close up to twice the normal distance (24′ for a creature with a movement rate of 12) and attack an opponent with a +2 bonus. Referee choice.
- Energy Resistance: The student gains a +2 bonus to saves against one type of energy (fire, cold, electricity, etc.) chosen at the time this lesson is learned. Alternatively, the student gains energy resistance 5 to one type of energy chosen at the time this lesson is learned. Referee choice.
- Damage Reduction: When wielding a shield, the student reduces damage to him done by mundane attacks by two points per attack.
Dark Forest Herbalist
Harvest the plants, do useful things with them. Originally presented in Path of Faith, but again, I don’t think this needs to be restricted to Clerics.
- Herblore: The student can identify plants and their uses.
- Edibles and Poisons: In suitable terrain, the student can safely forage for food (plants, mushrooms, and so on).
- Tea Reading: Once per day the student can read tea leaves and make a blind Wisdom check to predict whether a particular action or activity (resolvable within an hour) is likely to end well or poorly.
- Healing Salves: The student can use salves and poultices to stabilize and revive an unconscious creature. Subject gains one hit point per minute of treatment until conscious (having one or more hit points) again.
- Extract Poison: The student can use salves and poultices to treat poison (subject receives a second save).
- Cure Disease: The student can use salves and poultices to treat disease (subject receives a second save).
- Healing Oils: The student can use salves and poultices to treat injury. Subjects recover hit points twice as fast while treated.
- Dispelling Incense: The student can use salves and incense to break enchantments (subject receives a second save against mind-controlling influences).
- Advanced Potions: One per day the student can brew a potion from herbs and plants. Each potion takes one hour and is viable for only one day.
- Mastery of Plants: Once per day the student can speak with plants (as the spell).
I have been chosen to give away a PDF copy of Swords & Wizardry Complete. It was not identified how, so I’m going to make something up.
Create a specialized school such as the examples above. At a minimum, each must identify the ten lessons to be learned. Each may also identify an academy (institution where the specialized school can be learned), a traveling master (a person who may teach you the school, if you can persuade him), and/or certain events or conditions around the learning of the lessons. Related art, backing stories, and other extras are welcome as well.
Adaptations of existing schools (from the Legends & Lairs books mentioned above) are quite acceptable. Go ahead and improve the samples already shown, I was rushed.
Put the school in a comment below, or host it somewhere else and put a link in the comments below. Cut off is midnight Pacific Time between May 7 and May 8, and I’ll announce the winner by May 10.
The one I like best when I review them wins. The optional bits are not required, that’s what ‘optional’ means, but I’ll be honest, they can count in the judging.
- Frog God Games themselves are offering 25% off all non-subscription and preorder products for S&W with the code SWApprDay at their website. If you buy a print product, you get the PDF as well!
- The online store for the S&W SRD is offering a 25% off sale on first and third party S&W products in PDF format. The coupon code is SWAD252013. You can visit their website here.
Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day, “O” in the A-Z Challenge, and suitable for Seekers of Lore.
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