Friday, July 26, 2019

Recaps & Roundups part 31: Swords & Spells

We come at last to Swords & Spells, the last official rules supplement for original D&D (although it's not actually named as Supplement V). Published in the same month as Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes, Swords & Spells is less a rules addition to D&D, and more an update of Chainmail. While Chainmail and its fantasy supplement provided the inspiration for D&D, Swords & Spells is the first mass combat system written with D&D specifically in mind.

Probably the biggest difference between Chainmail and Swords & Spells is that the new system has diceless resolution (a fairly revolutionary idea in 1976, as I understand things). Casualties are determined by cross-referencing damage, HD and Armor Class. Swords & Spells works on a scale with one figure equalling ten men, but it also allows for single characters to operate on the battlefield as well. Dan Collins (from the excellent has done some extensive testing on this, and came to the conclusion that single characters don't last long at all under this system. Realistic perhaps, but not desirable if you want your PCs taking part in mass battles. I'll have to work up a mass battle system at some point, but I'm not sure if I'll be working from Chainmail, Swords & Spells, AD&D's Battlesystem, or the "War Machine" rules from the D&D Companion boxed set. It's possible I might eschew all of these, and go for Dan's own Book of War rules; he's certainly done a more thorough mathematical investigation of these rules than I'll ever be able to.

Back to Swords & Spells, here are some things I might be able to pull out and use for the Ultimate Sandbox:

  • The turn sequence rules are similar to those from Chainmail, but specifically take things like spells and breath weapons into account.
  • There's a fairly comprehensive spell list (at least as far as the spells presented in the supplements go) that gives ranges, area of effect and duration for each spell.
  • The concept of "readied spells" is mentioned during the turn sequence. A readied spell goes off right at the start of the turn. I had previously thought this might be a new ability for magic-users, with the idea that they could ready any spell before combat and discharge it immediately in the first round. Now, I'm thinking that it just refers to those spells (7th to 9th level) that take an entire turn to prepare. If you cast a 9th level spell, it's not going to go off until the round after you started casting. (I believe this might be the first reference to casting times in D&D).
  • I didn't mention it when I covered the updated box art to the original D&D boxed set, but that was the first time the traditional pig-faced orcs were depicted. Swords & Spells shows them again, for the first time in the interior of a D&D product.
  • My copy of Swords & Spells is a later printing, with hobbits and ents renamed to halflings and treants (due to legal troubles with the Tolkien estate). I'm not sure if this product was ever printed with these creatures under their original names. The switch wasn't made in the D&D boxed set until 1977 (around September, if my notes are correct). It seems a little early for this to have happened in the first printings of Swords & Spells, but it's possible. It might even be the first D&D product to feature these name changes.
  • Finally, there's a combat example between a good wizard and an evil high priest. The good wizard's forces include: the wizard himself (wearing a +1 ring of protection), two sub-commanders (a Lord (with a +5 sword, +2 armor and a +2 shield) and a Swashbuckler (with a +1 bow, 10 magic arrows, +1 armor and a +1 shield), another Swashbuckler (with 2 javelins of lightning, +1 armor and a +1 shield), 400 pikemen, 60 elite guard infantry, 200 crossbowmen, 300 elven spearmen, 50 warrior maidens mounted on unicorns, 3 ballistas with 30 crewmen, 2 treants, and 300 battleaxe-men. The EHP's forces consist of: the priest (12th level, with a +3 mace, +1 armor and a +1 shield), a sub-commander (a Necromancer with a displacer cloak), 200 goblins mounted on wolves, 6 manticores, 40 ogres, 60 hobgoblins with pole arms, 800 orcs, 300 orcs with bows, and 3 fire giants. The battle goes against the EHP's forces, and he is forced to escape with a word of recall to avoid death or capture. His forces are routed thereafter, with the forces of good inflicting many casualties as they retreat. A map of the terrain is shown below.

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