How to Play

Gaining Experience
Saving Throws
Different Categories of Saving Throws
Table: Saving Throw Categories (Alternative Method)
A Note About Experience Points

Once you have created a character, the Referee will describe the setting and what your character can see. The game might start in a rural peasant village, in a vast and teeming city spiked with towers and minarets, in a castle, in a tavern, or at the gates of an ancient tomb—that is up to the Referee. But from that point on, you describe what your character does. Going down stairs, attacking a dragon, talking to people on the street: 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 and echoing tomb, or perhaps that dragon attacks your character with a storm of fiery breath. These are the Referee’s decisions. 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 deciding what your character does in it. The epic story of your character’s rise to greatness (or unfortunate death) is yours to create in the Referee’s world.

Gaining Experience

Characters are awarded experience points (XP) for killing monsters and accumulating treasure. Monsters each have a set experience point value (given in the monster’s statistics), and each gold piece acquired earns one point as well. It may seem odd to award experience for treasure, but keep in mind that Swords & Wizardry is not just about slaying monsters – it is about outwitting your foes when you can! In fact, sometimes trickery and guile are the only way to handle a powerful monster like a dragon or a demon. Skilled players avoid risking their characters’ lives if there is another, smarter way to walk out of the dungeon with a backpack full of gems and loot.

XP Bonus: Each Character Class has one or more Prime Attributes listed in its class description. If a character has this Prime Attribute at 13 or higher, all experience point awards to the character are increased by 5%. (If the class has more than one Prime Attribute, all must be 13 or above to earn to bonus.) 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. Thus high Wisdom or Charisma may earn bonuses twice for a character, as the Prime Attribute as well as individually. It is possible for a character to gain as many as three 5% bonuses to experience point awards for a total increase of 15%.

Some multi-classed characters do not receive this bonus – see the rules for multi-classed characters for details.

When your character has accumulated enough experience points to reach a new level, you will roll another hit die and add that number to the character’s hit points. He or she may gain new spells or other abilities, as applicable, and combat skills may also increase. In other words, your character has become more powerful and can now pursue greater challenges!


Sometimes the Referee will rule that “an hour passes,” or even, “a month passes,” in the life of the intrepid adventurers. However, two important time measurements need quick explanations. 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. See the Movement Rate tables as an example of how “rounds” and “turns” are used.

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 – easier to beat, in other words – as a 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.

Take note: Some character classes have better-than-average chances to make a saving throw against particular types of hazards. Magic-Users, for example, get a bonus of +2 to the die roll on their saving throws against spells of all kinds. These various bonuses are described in the explanation of each character class. Fighters, Paladins, and Rangers do not get these bonuses because their base saving throw numbers are better than the other classes across the board.

Monsters can also make saving throws; a monster’s saving throw target number is listed in its description.

Different Categories of Saving Throws

The Swords & Wizardry saving throw system is an adaptation of the original, which had several categories of different risks instead of a single basic saving throw as used here. The original version had the following categories and target numbers:

Table: Saving Throw Categories (Alternative Method)
Class Level Death Rays and Poison Wands (all) Turned to Stone Dragon’s Breath Spells and Staffs
Clerics (including Druids and Monks) 1 11 12 14 16 15
5 9 10 12 14 12
9 6 7 9 11 9
13 3 5 7 8 7
Fighters (including Rangers and Paladins) 1 12 13 14 15 16
4 10 11 12 13 14
7 8 9 10 10 12
10 6 7 8 8 10
13 4 5 5 5 8
Magic-Users, Thieves, and Assassins 1 13 14 13 16 15
6 11 12 11 14 12
11 8 9 8 11 8
16 5 6 5 8 3

This table does not integrate directly into Swords & Wizardry: if you were to house-rule it in, you would have to make some changes such as eliminating the Swords & Wizardry class bonuses on saving throws for Magic-Users and Clerics, and giving Paladins a +2 on all saving throws; but keeping the Druid’s +1 saving throw bonus against fire.

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A Note About Experience Points

Swords & Wizardry uses an XP bonus method adapted from the Original Game rules, because the XP bonus system from the Original Game gets disjointed and even somewhat contradictory when it is applied to the expanded classes like Rangers, Paladins, and even Thieves. So, just to be clear, this XP bonus system is NOT an authentic reproduction of the Original Rules; it is simpler and more modular, which makes it easy to replace with a house rule or with your interpretation of the Original Rules if you choose to do so.