The Ferrowar

Sometimes the most fierce denizens of a dungeon are the smallest.

The Cat-taurs (a name the Ferrowar loathe) are a clannish breed of fae who dwell in tunnels and caverns laced with magic. They resemble ordinary housecats in shape and size, but in place of a head a humanoid torso with enormous cat ears emerges. In contrast to their drab surroundings, they are striped and spotted with many bright and unusual colors . Along with their sensitive ears, they possess darkvision and move incredibly silently (they gain a bonus to stealth and alertness, however that is handled in the game). They roam the tunnels in packs of 3d6 individuals (1d6 HD), always led by an alpha (2d6 HD) that may be male or female. Their chief weapons are usually bows and spears tainted with a poison that functions as a low level sleep spell. In addition, they possess the remarkable ability to phase through solid walls and floors up to 3 times per day, and have an unfailing sense of direction.

Theirs is a warrior culture, with epic lyrics composed in their caterwauling variant of Pixie to be howled through the empty caverns to distract and disorient their foes. Often, clan members will duel with one another over matters of honor, and it is not unusual to find ronin Ferrowar cast off on their own to wander clanless after some defeat. Their sense of personal honor is vast and volatile, and their word is unshakeable, especially in the case of a life debt. This does not mean, however, that their sense of honor interferes with their strategic judgement. They are great hunters of larger, dumber humanoids, and will not hesitate to track adventurers for days before ambushing them when they have the advantage. Honor shared freely amongst one's own kind is not necessary when one is facing one's enemies. When defeated, the enemies will often be picked clean of shiny objects, and while the Ferrowar do not indulge in the cannibalism of sentient species, they have no qualms about leaving their prey to the mercy of other creatures. 

They prefer elaborate multisyllabic names such as Rampolcanther and Pirrowee. They will never consent to being a familiar of any wizard or witch. They worship a petty god called Arihina of the Hidden Moon, who guides them in their hunting and is propitiated with shiny objects dropped in dark underground pools. They purr only in their own company and when about to strike a finishing blow, and this last is said to be a most horrible sound. 

Roguish Luck in S&W.

Rogues are any characters that rely on luck, wits, and street smarts to overcome their problems. They can be thieves, merchants, assassins, swashbuckling pirates, highwaymen, or anyone else who lives by breaking the rules. I have often percieved the Rogue to be a class that is really all about luck and street smarts, but have always been a fan of the 3e sneak attack. Thus, I have come up with a Rogue class that I think can embody any number of archetypes.I have never been a big fan of thief skills, since they create a lot of the same 'arms race' effect that I talked about with Fighters. So, here is my Rogue for S&W:

Hit Die: d6
Armor: Light or Leather Armor only.
Attack Bonus: +1 per 1 and 1/2 levels.
Saves: As Cleric in the Core Rules

Luck: A Rogue may retry any die roll a number of times per day equal to 1/2 his level + 1. So a first level rogue can use Luck once per day, a second level twice, and so on.

Dirty Trick: A Rogue has a number of Dirty Tricks up his sleeve equal to 1/2 his level + 1 per day, just like his Luck. A Dirty Trick represents an unexpected advantage that the Rogue has over an opponent in combat, and can take one of two forms:

a) the Rogue gains a bonus to an attack and damage roll equal to his level, or
b) he can perform a combat maneuver as a move action, like a Fighter.

He may also make a Dirty Trick from a position of surprise any number of times per day.

Street Lore: This ability begins at 10% and increases by 5% every level thereafter to a maximum of 99%. This is a Rogue’s knowledge of the word on the street, the combination of gossip, hearsay, and unexpected fact that makes up worldly knowledge. A successful check with this skill will reveal what is known to the common people and the criminal underworld about a person, place, or thing.

What Makes a Man a Fighter?

Fighters present a unique problem: since they embody a skill that is fundamental to all classes (combat), any modifications/additions to that core ability tend to generate an arms race among the other classes. There is nothing that the Fighter can do that doesn't make a kind of sense for some other classes as well, at least in combat. Usually people try to diffentiate Fighters by means of higher bonuses, but this often contributes to bonus inflation in D&D combat in general. My solution to this problem in S&W is to allow Fighters to use Combat Maneuvers as move actions, thus increasing their versatility. So a Fighter can kick a chair in somebody's way and then turn and take a swing at another character without stopping. They can bull rush a guy off a cliff and then attack his buddy coming up on the flank. Fighters should be the 'mosh pit masters' of S&W, always able to do a little more in combat than everybody else.

Otherwise, they function as follows:

Hit Die: d10
Armor: Any
Attack Bonus: +1 per level
Saving Throw: As in Core Rules.

And that's it. I often want some other kind of skill to make Fighters different, but I suspect I'm just overthinking it.

Combat Maneuvers in S&W.

At bottom, there is one reason to have combat maneuvers at all in D&D: to make combat interesting. That is really the only reason. Not to make it more or less deadly, not to make it more or less realistic, but to make it more fun to do and to imagine. Herein lies the problem, because the sliding scale of simplicity vs. complexity, realism vs. gamism, etc. means that what is interesting and fun is not always necessarily what is realistic or easy for different players. Different people prefer a different mix, easily seen through the proliferation of different D&Ds over the years.

In all my houserules, I want a simple system that can allow complex results. With combat, I ask myself the question: what do I want a fight to look like? If my players are in a tavern brawl, these are the things I want to happen:

I want someone to break a chair over someone's back.
I want someone to swing in on a chandelier.
I want someone to dump a spittoon over someone's head, blinding him.
I want someone to get doused in whiskey and lit on fire.
I want someone to lose their weapon because it got imbedded in a stool.
I want someone to bash another person unconscious with a serving tray.
I want an unarmed person to steal someone's weapon in the middle of a fight.
I want the band to keep playing throughout, just pick up the tempo.

The problem with most maneuver systems is: why would I want to waste the chance to kill someone (make a standard attack roll) for the chance to blind/stun/do something awesome and interesting?

The answer: make maneuvers more likely to succeed than attacking.

I use the Zak Sabbath d10 + stat bonus method, and I find that a 3 or 4 in 10 chance to affect the situation in your favor is often as tempting as taking a standard swing of the axe, especially if I have the bad guys doing the same thing. I typically point out the standard new school combat maneuvers as well: Push/Pull, Overrun, Trip, Grapple, Disarm, Feint, Bull Rush, and Sunder. I tend to call all the interesting things you can do to improve your tactical situation (jumping on a table, kicking a stool in someone's way, etc.) a Stunt, and usually they give the player a +1 or something like that.

Anyone can make a maneuver check instead of an attack roll. For Fighters, this is slightly different, as will be shown in my next post.

The Collector: A Mysterious Magic-User in S&W.

Magic-Users, known colloquially as Collectors, are called by many other names besides (such as sorcerers, witches, druids, magicians, shadowcasters, blood mages, etc.) based on their philosophy and style. They are the masters of occult lore, and spend their lives gathering magical knowledge and spells. Collector Guilds are often defined by the spells they know in common, and wage furtive war with each other over magical knowledge, with neither wishing to show the extent of their expertise.

Hit Die: d4
Armor: None
Attack Bonus: +1 per 2 levels
Saving Throw: as in Core Rules

Spells: All Collectors start with 4 spells (+/- INT Mod), chosen randomly from a d30 list prepared by the DM and kept in a Collector's spellbook. They gain spells as they collect them in the game world and copy them into their spellbook. There is no automatic learning of spells in this game. A Collector possesses spell slots as a Magic-User in S&W, and must prepare their spells ahead of time as in the core rules.

Occult Lore: This ability begins at 10% and increases by 5% every level thereafter to a maximum of 99%. It represents the knowledge the Collector has acquired of the magical world, its items, denizens, and history. A successful check with this skill enables a wizard to know something about a magic item, another wizard, a magical creature, etc. In order to read another Collector's spellbook (which may be written on anything) Collectors must be adept at cracking codes. Thus, a successful check with this skill enables a Collector to read the magical codes of other Collectors. To read a Collector's coded spell, you must roll your percentile chance minus 5 x the spell’s level. Thus, a first-level Collector would be unable to read a sixth-level spell (5x6=30% vs. 15%), but a third-level Collector could, even if he could not cast the spell. This ability can also be used as Detect Magic, any number of times per day.

Starting Spells (1d30)
1 Command
2 Cure Light Wounds
3 Light
4 Shield
5 Purify Food & Drink
6 Create Water
7 Remove Fear
8 Resist Cold
9 Sanctuary
10 Animal Friendship
11 Detect Trap
12 Entangle
13 Faerie Fire
14 Predict Weather
15 Speak to Animals
16 Pass Without Trace
17 Affect Normal Fires
18 Burning Hands
19 Charm Person
20 Comprehend Languages
21 Dancing Lights
22 Ventriloquism
23 Feather Fall
24 Hold Portal
25 Magic Missile
26 Mending
27 Message
28 Sleep
29 Spider Climb
30 Unseen Servant

(Above is the basic list that I use for my game, but you might want to throw in spells from any number of sources, such as Adventures Dark and Deep, Space-Age Sorcery, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, etc.)

Swords and Wizardry Appreciation Day is Metal.

Here we go.

Swords and Wizardry Appreciation Day has been an incredible success so far, and I'm very pleased to be participating. I first want to take a moment to say that Swords and Wizardry really is what got me into the OSR to begin with. When I first started learning about older editions, my heart went out to the Original Edition, and S&W remains my default for all houserules that I come up with. It remains the version of D&D that I have DM'd more than any other except 3rd, which is what I started playing back in the early 2000s. It was and is a revelation, the breath of fresh air that taught me how to really make the game my own, more than all of my modifications of 3rd ever did. I owe Matt Finch and co. a debt of gratitude forever because of that.

Thank you.

To show my appreciation for this beautiful little ruleset, I offer up my humble houserules in the next few posts.

This is a fun game we played last night.

We were over at a my friend Dave's, who had a whole lot of D&D 3 books around and a bunch of people were there who had never played an RPG. I like the art in a lot of 3e books, so I told everybody to find a book they liked and pick some picture of a vaguely humanoid dude they liked. Everybody did, except for Patrick who found a picture of a Neogi and was really adamant about playing a Neogi and I said fine except that he would have to be about the size of a guinea pig and he was fine with that.

Then everybody took a sheet of paper and I said to write down three sorta-specific things that they thought their character would be good at, and three sorta-specific things that they thought their character would be bad at. I then told them to write a little +1 next to two of the good things, and a +2 next to the other, and a little -1 next to two of the bad things, and a big -2 next to the other.

While they did this, I pulled up Untimately's random dungeon gear chart and my own list of random first level spells. I assigned everybody gear, then I rolled a 20% chance to see if each character had magic. If they did, I gave them a random spell from the magic list, which they could cast once. I just had them roll 2d6 for HP and for attacks we just rolled a d20 (with a bonus +1 if they mentioned something about fighting in their description). There were adjustments allowed for weapons to fit their description, and I pointed out that being good with a bow doesn't make you necessarily good with an axe, etc., and we were ready to go!