Common Terms The Dice Gaining Experience
Time in the Game Saving Throws Gameplay Examples

Most likely, you already know basically how this game works. One of you is the “Referee,” who runs the game world: the Referee designs the adventures, makes decisions and dice rolls for the monsters, describes what the characters see, and judges the effects of their actions. The rest of you are the “players,” each of you taking on the role of a “player character” who might be a powerful wizard, a hard-bitten warrior, or any other sort of fantasy avatar representing you in the game world. You do not need to use miniatures, although they can sometimes help clarify who was standing underneath the stone block when it fell, and other such important questions.

If you are a player (not the Referee or GM) your first step is to create a character, recording your character’s statistics and equipment on a character sheet; the next step is to sit down around a table with some dice and start playing!

If you are the Referee (also sometimes called a GM or Gamemaster), you will have to prepare an adventure first. There is more for you in the For the Referee section of this site – you are important enough to have whole sections for your use only!

Once you’ve got a character, the Referee will describe where the character is, and what he sees. The game might start in a rural peasant village, in a vast and teeming city spiked with towers and minarets, in a castle, a tavern, or at the gates of an ancient tomb—that’s up to the Referee. But from that point on, you describe what your character does. Going down stairs, attacking a dragon, talking to the people you meet: all of these sorts of things are your decisions. The Referee tells you what happens as a result: maybe those stairs lead down to a huge tomb, or that dragon attacks your character. That’s for the Referee to decide. The rules below are guidelines for how to handle certain events: combat, movement, healing, dying, and other important parts of the game.

Basically, you and the Referee work together, with the Referee handling the details of a dangerous fantasy world, and you handling what your character does in it. The epic story of your character’s rise to greatness (or of his unfortunate death) is yours to create in the Referee’s world.

Common Terms

You will discover several common terms and abbreviations while reading the rules of this game. Some of the more common are:

  • RPG stands for Roleplaying Game (what you are reading now.)
  • Referee or Game Master or GM The Referee may also be known as the Game Master, or GM.
  • PC or Player Character As a player, your character will be a player character (PC), while the Referee will provide non-player characters (NPCs).
  • XP or Experience Points are the measure of a character’s growing expertise and ability.
  • HD or Hit Dice are the number of dice a character or monster rolls to determine total “hit points” (hp)
  • HP or Hit Points The amount of damage one can handle before becoming incapacitated.
  • AC or Armor Class is a measure of protection against attack.
  • Saves or Saving Throws represent the attempt to avoid or mitigate some type of unusual attack.
  • GP or Gold Pieces are the most important medium of exchange. Do not worry about trying to memorize all this; most of it will be self-evident as you read through.

The Dice

Swords & Wizardry uses several different kinds of dice, abbreviated according to how many sides they have. A four-sided die is called a d4, and if you roll 3 of them (adding the results together), that is written as 3d4. The six-sided die is a d6, the eight-sided die is a d8, the ten-sided die is a d10, the twelve-sided die is a d12, and the twenty-sided die is a d20. When the rules mention d100 (or percentile dice), roll two ten-sided dice, treating the first roll as the “tens” and the second roll as the “ones.” If you were to roll a 7 and then a 3, the result would be 73. A roll of 0 and 0 means a result of “100.”

Gaining Experience

Characters are awarded experience points (XP) for killing monsters and accumulating treasure. Monsters have a set experience point value (in the monster descriptions), and one gold piece is equal to one XP. It may seem odd to award experience for treasure, but keep in mind that every gold piece gained by the character is an index of the player’s skill. Awarding experience only for killing monsters fails to reward a party of adventurers that successfully lures a dragon away from its hoard so that its treasure can be stolen without a fight, and it fails to reward characters that operate by intelligence, stealth, trickery and misdirection.

Each character class has a Prime Attribute listed in the character class description. If this Prime Attribute is 13 or higher, all experience point awards to the character are increased by 5%. Additionally, if the character has a charisma score of 13 or more, experience point awards are increased by 5%. Finally, if the character has a wisdom score of 13+, the character gains a third 5% bonus. It is possible for a character to gain as many as three 5% bonuses to experience point awards.

When your character has accumulated enough experience points to reach a new level, you will roll another hit die and gain new spells if you’re a Magic-user or Cleric. Your combat skills may also increase. In other words, you’ve become more powerful and can pursue greater challenges!

Time in the Game

Sometimes the Referee will rule that “an hour passes,” or even, “a month passes,” in the life of our intrepid adventurers, but two important time measurements need a quick explanation. These are the “turn,” and the “combat round.” A turn represents ten minutes, and a combat round is 1 minute.

Turns are used to measure normal movement when the adventurers are in a dangerous place; combat rounds are used to measure time when the party is in combat.

Saving Throws

From time to time, a spell or some other kind of hazard requires you to make a “saving throw.” A successful saving throw means that the character (or monster) avoids the threat or lessens its effect. Each character class has a “Saving Throw” target number, which gets lower and lower as the character gains levels. To make a saving throw, roll a d20. If the result is equal to or higher than the character’s saving throw target number, the saving throw succeeds. Monsters can also make saving throws (a monster’s saving throw target number is listed in the monster’s description).

Free-Form Roleplaying

Swords & Wizardry is a free-form roleplaying game, meaning that there intentionally aren’t very many rules. The Referee is responsible for handling situations that aren’t covered by the rules, making fair evaluations of what the characters do and deciding what happens as a result. This is not a game in which the players are “against” the Referee, even though the Referee is responsible for creating tricky traps, dangerous situations, and running the monsters and other foes the PCs will encounter during the game. In fact, the players and the Referee cooperate with each other to create a fantasy epic, with the Referee creating the setting and the players developing the story of the heroes. If they aren’t skillful and smart, the epic might be very short. But it’s not the Referee’s job to defeat the players—it’s his job to provide interesting (and dangerous) challenges, and then guide the story fairly.

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Gameplay Examples

Example #1

The brave adventurers Prepare to enter the Dungeons...

Referee: “Everybody got your Character sheets? Potato chips? Ready to go?”

Brian (Werner the Cleric): “Ready.”

Lindsay (Yesdinil the Sorceress): “Let’s go.”

Donovan (Hobart the Half-pint): “Pass the dip over here.”

Russell (Eyeballs the Thief): “Here.”

Referee: “Last time you were just at the top of the stairs leading into the deep ruins of Mythrus Tower. You’re headed down the stairs. What’s your marching order, and what kind of light source are you using?”

Donovan: “Standard marching order. I’m in front with my axe, Lindsay is in the back to cast spells, and Brian is behind me so he can cure me if giant ants eat my face, like last time.”

Lindsay: “I have my bullseye lantern lit so we can see further into the dark. Brian, you should carry a torch or something, because my bullseye lantern is more like a beam, and we need some light around us.”

Brian: “I’m Werner the Cleric, not Brian.”

Donovan: “Whatever.” 

Lindsay: “Light a torch, Werner.”

Brian: “Werner lights a torch.”

Referee: “That means Werner can’t carry a shield, so what armor class are you without the shield?”

Brian: “Are we using ascending or descending armor class?”

Referee: “Descending armor class. The lower your AC the harder you are to hit.”

Brian: “I’m wearing plate mail with no shield, so since my base armor class is 9 for descending AC, I subtract 6 for the plate mail, so I’m AC 3 with no shield. I carry it slung on my back, though.”

Russell: “Eyeballs the Thief is just lurking in the shadows of their torchlight. I’m at the back guarding Lindsay’s Magic-user.”

Donovan: “Also, you’re a total chicken.”

Russell: “You’ve got to go with your strengths. It’s what I do, man.”

Referee: “Okay, you start down the stairs. It’s a twisting, dark stone staircase leading down into the darkness. The walls are damp, reflecting your torchlight. You can hear faint echoes from the dwarf and the cleric’s plate mail as they clank their way down. After about fifty feet, the stairs end, coming down into a ten-foot wide corridor leading north. It goes as far as you can see, even with the sixty-foot range on the bullseye lantern.”

Lindsay (checking the map the party made in their last adventure): “We go north for 80 feet, keeping an eye out for trouble. I think that takes us to the Long Hall.”

Referee: “Yes, no problems along the way, you can reach the intersection with the Long Hall. Sixty feet was the first half of your move because the guys in plate mail have a movement rate of 6. You’ve got 40 feet left to move in this turn.”

Donovan: “What do we see?”

Referee: The 10 foot corridor you have been following makes a T-intersection with a wider hallway, 20 feet wide. It looks like it goes a long way both east and west.”

Lindsay: “Bullseye lantern, shining it around.”

Referee: “Like last time, you can see that the Long Hall goes as far as you can see with the bullseye lantern, that’s 60 feet, both east and west. There is a door leading south 40 feet from your corridor, and a door in the northern wall 60 feet from where you are.”

Brian: “There’s an open pit trap right in front of us, right?”

Referee: “Not right in front of you: it’s in the northern half of the Hall, so you’ve got ten feet before you hit it, but yes. You can sort of see it in the shadows of the torchlight, an open pit.”

Donovan: “Russell’s great at finding pit traps.”

Lindsay: “Yeah, by falling into them.”

Russell: “I check the ceiling.”

Brian: “Werner goes to the edge of the pit and looks down with the torch.”

Referee: “There’s a skeleton in there.”

Lindsay: “Seriously?”

Donovan: “It wasn’t there last time.”

Referee: Rolls some dice.

Example #2

Lindsay: “I hate it when you do that.”

Referee: Rolls more dice. “There’s a gold ring on the skeleton’s finger. You can see it glinting in the torchlight.”

Donovan: “I’m going down there to take a look. Can they lower me down? It’s only ten feet deep, right?”

Referee: “It’s ten feet deep. In that plate mail, you’re too heavy for them to lower down without rope, though.”

Lindsay: “I have rope in my backpack. I’ll take it out.”

Russell: “Anything interesting on the ceiling?”

Referee: “Nope, just damp stone.”

Brian: “Or we could lower you in there, Lindsay. You’re not wearing armor, you’re a Magic-user.”

Lindsay: “I’m not going down there, it might be an animated skeleton, and I’d be in hand-to-hand combat with it.” trouble Develops

Referee: “Werner is looking down into the pit, and Yesdinil is digging through her backpack. You aren’t paying much attention to what might be coming down the hall.” Rolls to see if the goblins who set this ambush will surprise the party. He rolls 1d6 to see if the party is surprised, and gets a “1.” The party is surprised. Since Russell mentioned that his Thief was lurking in the shadows, the Referee decides to check and see if this is successful as a Thief’s Hide in Shadows skill. He rolls percentile dice, with a result of “2” and “0,” which means 20. Eyeballs is a third level thief, so his chance to Hide in Shadows is 20%. The roll is exactly equal to what Eyeballs needs (it would have failed if the die roll had been 21 or higher), so the goblins don’t notice Eyeballs lurking in the shadows.

Referee: “All of a sudden, arrows shoot from the darkness.” There are six goblins waiting beyond the edge of the torchlight, firing short bows. Since a short bow has a rate of fire of 2, each goblin gets 2 shots, for a total of 12 attack rolls. The Referee decides that each visible Character will be attacked by 4 arrows. The range is 70 feet (the goblins are outside the 60ft range of Lindsay’s bullseye lantern), and the range on a short bow underground is only 50ft, so the goblins are attacking at –2 due to the range.

Referee: “Each of you except Eyeballs is getting shot by 4 arrows. Lindsay, what’s your AC (armor class)?”

Lindsay: “9. I’m not wearing armor.”

Referee: Rolls 4d20, getting a 3, 7, 15, and 19. He checks the tables to see what a goblin needs to hit armor class 9, and finds that a monster with less than one hit die needs a 10 to hit armor class 9. Even with the –2 to hit because of the range, two of the attacks score hits.

Referee: “You’re hit by two arrows.” Rolls 1d6 for each of the hits to find out how much damage the hits cause. The rolls are a 2 and a 5. “You take a total of 7 points of damage.”

Lindsay: “I’m still alive, but I’ve only got 15 hit points. I’m down to 8.”

Referee: Rolls more dice to find out whether there are more hits, and Werner the Cleric is hit twice.

Brian: “Fear not, dear lady, for there is an honorable cleric of Law present to cure you!”

Referee: “Brian, you’re hit twice.”

Brian: “Ouch! Seriously? I’m armor class 3.”

Referee: “Yep.” The goblins need a 16 to hit AC 3, and there’s a –2 for range. The Referee rolled a 1, an 18, a 6, and a 20. “You take (rolls 2d6) five hit points. And Donovan, they totally missed you.”

Lindsay: “I’ll roll our initiative. I’m not casting any spells until I can see what’s out there.”

Donovan: “Can we even see what’s attacking?”

Referee: “No, you don’t know what’s out there. They aren’t using any light, so they aren’t illuminated. Just a dark hallway down there, with arrows shooting out at you.”

Lindsay: “I rolled a 6 for initiative.”

Referee: Rolls a 3 on a six-sided die. “You have initiative; you beat their roll. What do you do?”

Donovan: “I charge and attack. I’m a dwarf, so I can see in the dark. Eat dwarf axe, monsters!”

Referee: “Okay, but this is just the movement and missiles phase. Are any of you using missile weapons?”

Brian: “We can’t see anything to shoot at.”

Referee: “You could shoot at –4 as if they were invisible. You know roughly where they are.”

Donovan: “I charge and kill them.”

Referee: “Hobart the Half-Pint charges forward, axe held high. Brian, what does Werner the Cleric do?”

Brian: “Follow Donovan.”

Referee: “Lindsay?”

Lindsay: “Draw my dagger, but stay where I am.”

Russell: “Draw my longsword and move up. I want to move silently and hide in the shadows, and see if I can get around back of whatever’s there.”

The Referee rolls the percent chance to see if Eyeballs the Thief is able to successfully move silently and hide in the shadows. Eyeballs is third level, so his chance is 20% to hide in shadows and 30% to move silently. The Referee rolls a 34, which is not good enough; the number would have to be 20 or lower. He rolls an 85 for the move silently check, so Eyeballs is not moving any more quietly or invisibly than a regular person sneaking along. Even so, the Referee decides that with all the combat going on, the goblins probably won’t notice Eyeballs unless he does something to draw attention to himself.

Referee: “Werner and Hobart charge forward, so Werner’s torch will be illuminating the area as they move. You guys are in plate mail, and your movement rate is only 6, so you get 60 feet. There are 6 goblins within 10 feet of you, which puts you in melee combat range. They’re spaced out all the way across the 20 foot wide hall. Eyeballs has a move of 12, so you could get all the way behind them, Russell, except they’re blocking the whole hall. What do you do when you see that they block the hall? Do you want to move up into combat?”

Russell: “No, I want to hang back 20 feet from them so I’m not in melee. Do they look like they see me?”

Referee: “Looks like they’re focused on the charging dwarf, but one of them does glance over at you.”

Russell: “So I probably missed the roll. Oh, well.”

Referee: “Probably. Not all of them really noticed you, though, from what you can tell.”

Russell: (turns to the other players) “I can probably still get behind these guys if they cluster around Werner and Hobart.”

Referee: “Now it’s their turn for missiles and movement. The three in front of Werner and Hobart drop their bows and draw short swords. The other three fire their bows again, one at Werner and two at Hobart. The Referee rolls and determines that there are no hits against the platemail clad adventurers, even though the goblins are no longer attacking at –2. “No hits. It’s your melee initiative.”

Donovan: “I attack the nearest one.” Rolls a d20 to hit. “I got a 15, and with my strength bonus, that’s a 16.”

The Referee checks his to-hit chart. Hobart is a fourth level fighter, and the goblins are armor class 6, so Hobart needs an 11 to hit.

Referee: “Hobart’s axe slices into the goblin. Roll damage.”

Donovan rolls to see how much damage Hobart’s hit inflicted. Hobart has a battle-axe, so the damage is 1d8. He rolls a 5, but since his strength is 16, he gets +1 to his damage.

Donovan: “6 points.”

The Referee has already rolled hit points for the goblins; this one has 2 hit points.

Referee: “The goblin falls to the fl oor, dead. Goblins don’t have more than one hit die, so you get one attack per level. You’ve got three more attacks, since you’re a fourth level fighter. ”

If these monsters were hobgoblins, with 1 hit die plus 1 hit point, Hobart would not have the extra attacks, but since he has four attacks per round against goblins, he proceeds to end the combat in only two rounds, going through the goblins like a chainsaw. The Referee checks to see if any wandering monsters were attracted by the noise of the combat, rolling 1d6 to see if he gets a 1. He rolls a 3, so no wandering monsters hear the noise and come to investigate.

After the battle, the party goes back to the pit to check out the ring the skeleton is wearing.

Donovan: “Let’s tie a rope to Eyeballs and lower him down.”

Russell: “Okay by me.”

Lindsay: “We tie a rope around Eyeballs and lower him into the pit.”

Referee: “Who’s holding the rope?”

Brian: “Lindsay and I hold the rope, and Donovan’s Character keeps an eye out for more trouble.”

Referee: “Okay, you lower Eyeballs down into the pit. There’s a skeleton wearing a ring.”

Russell: “I don’t touch anything yet. I’m going to light a torch so I can see better.”

Referee: “Okay, you light a torch.”

Russell: “Check for traps.”

Referee: “It doesn’t work like that. You can check a small mechanism to see if there’s a trap in it, but you can’t just illuminate the place with find traps radar.”

Russell: “Okay, I look around the ring and the bones to see if there are any tripwires or anything attached to it.”

Referee: “No tripwires. While you’re checking the ring, you notice that there’s an inscription on it, though. It isn’t in a language you can read.”

Russell: “Okay, I check inside the pit for secret doors.”

Referee: “It takes you a full turn to check a ten-by-ten area for secret doors. Which wall are you searching?” The Referee knows that there is actually a secret door in the floor of the pit, but is careful not to reveal anything by specifically mentioning the floor.

Russell: “North wall and the floor.”

Referee: “That will take two turns.” He rolls two six-sided dice in the first turn, when Eyeballs is checking the north wall of the pit. Even though he knows there is no secret door, he rolls a die anyway. If he didn’t, the players would know for sure that there was no secret door. The second die roll is a check for wandering monsters, because the party is using a full turn of time to search. “Nothing happens in the first turn, and you don’t find a secret door in the north wall. You start searching the floor of the pit.” Once again, the Referee checks for wandering monsters, but still doesn’t roll a 1. He rolls 1d6 to see if Eyeballs finds the secret door, and now he rolls a 1, meaning that the secret door is found.

Referee: “You discover that the crack between the floor and the walls goes in really deep. You think that the floor might swing downward like a trap door. You also find what looks like a keyhole in the floor, in the northwest corner.”

Russell: “Can I check the keyhole for traps?”

Referee: “You can use your Delicate Tasks skill to see if you can find a trap in there. If there’s a trap, you can roll again to see if you can remove it.”

Russell: “If I screw up the roll when I’m checking to see if there’s a trap, does that set off the trap?”

Referee: “No. Only if you fail the roll when you’re trying to actually remove it.”

Donovan: “Did we loot the goblins yet?”

Referee: “No, you forgot.”

Donovan: “I go check the bodies while Russell’s thief is messing around in the pit.”

Referee: “The rope jerks and starts to pull Eyeballs upward.”

Donovan: “Very funny. Okay, I hand my end of the rope to Lindsay and then I go loot the bodies.”

Russell: “I check the keyhole for traps.” The Referee knows that there is a trap in the lock, which will drop a stone block into the pit if the key is not used. This is not an issue yet, because just checking the keyhole for traps will not activate the trap. Eyeballs the Thief’s Delicate Tasks skill is 25%. The Referee rolls 1d100, and gets a 58.

Referee: “You don’t find any traps.”

Russell: “Okay, I’m going to pick the lock.”

Referee: “Donovan, Hobart finds a total of 10 gold pieces on the goblins, and also a key.”

Russell: “Wait, I don’t pick the lock yet, I wait to see what Hobart found on the goblins…..”