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Monday, March 18, 2019

The Origins of Swords & Wizardry Light or Ain't Retirement Grand?



I know I've posted about the origins of Swords & Wizardry Light in the past but there comes a time when you need to address certain falsehoods in the narrative making the rounds. So, here we are, back to the beginning. Strangely enough, the origins go back nearly three years to the day. Hold my beer, I need two hands to type ;)

Three years ago on St Patrick's Day, 2016, I signed out from work for the final time at 605 AM. I would run accumulated time and terminal leave for nearly four months, but for all effects and purposes, I was retired.

Retirement hits different people in different ways. A common theme is a need for a replacement time sink to work. You wouldn't think this would be needed. Not having to work is awesome! Work does, however, give one a purpose and I found myself in search of such purpose and lots of free time on my hands. Pub lunches and naps can only take one so far ;)

I started toying with the idea of a guerilla marketing ruleset for OSR gaming. Something that could be printed on a single sheet - both sides - and left in libraries, community centers, game stores and the like. I brainstormed that idea for a while. Bought legal sized paper for my printer, as I thought I might need the extra space of a larger sheet of paper. I had lots of ideas, and that was good. I found something to do in retirement.

Sometime in the late spring, I shared my idea with Zach Glazar (Frog God Games). We are friends and often use the other as a sounding board. Ideas that may sound good to oneself may not survive the intense gaze of another's more critical - and less biased - thinking.

I expected some ideas for layout, general feedback on rules to include or exclude. I hadn't even settled on a ruleset to strip down. I half expected to build one from the ground up of my own, using the various existing rulesets for inspiration. Instead, Zach told me my vision was lacking. I had a great idea - an awesome idea - but I was thinking too small. He then told me to hold that thought and he would get back to me.

Before I knew it, instead of some throwaway sheet of paper that would probably never fit enough rules to be playable (or if it did, the font would be too small to be readable), what if I had four pages, professionally laid out with high-quality art, using the Swords & Wizardry rules and stripping them down to the bare bones (and even whittled away at some of those bones) and Frog God Games would publish - both in print (to give away for free) and in PDF. Oh, and it would be called Swords & Wizardry Light.

Without Zach, without Frog God Games, there would be no Swords & Wizardry Light. There might be some hacked out ruleset, barely playable but certainly loved by its creator, hoping to be found in some random libraries, but its impact would have been minimal.

Swords & Wizardry Light was never the work of one person. It was a team effort from the moment we named it. Zach doing layout and feedback, Scott Swift on editing, James Spahn on smoothing out the rules and all of us trying to save space, one character (note: not "player character") at a time. All while thanking Matt Finch and Bill Webb for even allowing us to do what we did to the house ruleset of Frog God Games.

As a ruleset, Swords & Wizardry Light was intended to lower the entry bar to old school style roleplaying and RPGs in general. To feel comfortable and familiar to lapsed gamers and non-intimidating to new players, young and old. Oh, and since it is built on the bones of Swords & Wizardry, its a perfect marketing tool for Swords & Wizardry Complete. It is meant to complement the larger ruleset, not compete with it. It only covers three levels, and that is by design (and space consideration)

The rest pretty much is history. It debuted at GameHole Con in 2016 and has been given away at cons, via snail mail, with Frog God orders, PDF and more - thousands upon thousands of times. It's a perfect ruleset to run at conventions and works well for pick up games. It gives just enough of the fuller rules to bring folks back to the Frog God booth at conventions asking for more Swords & Wizardry. More OSR.

I do believe it accomplishes the goals we set out for it and more.

So, there you have it. The true story of the origins of Swords & Wizardry Light. Less exciting then some narratives and dramaless, unless you include the period where I was trying to emulate a d20 with 3d6...


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