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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Blue Book in Swords & Wizardry

Mounted Lizardman from Swords & Wizardry Core Rules, 4th printing, pg 23

I didn't sign up for the Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day, as I've never used rules, but I thought I'd point out a few influences of Holmes Basic I noticed in the S&W 4th printing pdf.

First, in S&W the Option 2 for Initiative/Order of Battle (pg 28) is called the "Blue Book Method", and accurately follows the order of combat from Holmes Basic, which is Spells - Missiles - Melee - Movement, the actions in each phase going in order of Dexterity scores. The Holmes Basic order of combat was strongly influenced by Warlock (1975), an OD&D supplement written by students at CalTech, and is a good option to include in S&W as OD&D as originally written doesn't give clear guidance on this.  

Second is the brief parrying option mentioned in S&W: "Another possibility is to let any character parry, but with a maximum effect of -2 to the enemy attack" (pg 11). This is similar to "The Parry" in Holmes Basic, pg 21, which gives the same penalty, and has its roots in Chainmail: "any weapon 1 class higher to three classes lower than the attacker the defender may parry the blow by subtracting 2 From the attacker's roll, but he has no counter blow" (pg 25). Parrying is also found in Warlock in a different form.

Third is artistic: S&W has a few homages to art by David Sutherland. The first, which I believe is by Matt Finch himself, is above and shows a lizardman with a polearm mounted on a giant lizard, and bearing a human skull. Compare with the artwork from the Foreword of the Blue Book in the banner at the top of this blog. The perspective is cleverly changed so that after all of these years we finally get to see what the lizardman was looking at. The second by Chad Thorson is a jawless skull with a melting candle on top, similar to the one on page 37 of the Blue Book; see this on the entry page for the Zenopus Archives site. (Update: This is a coincidence, however, as the artist had never seen the original when he made his drawing; see his comment below). The third, presumably also by Matt, is a sample cross-section laid out in a manner similar to the Skull Mountain cross-section.

Holmes Basic at its root is OD&D as interpreted by Holmes, and being a retroclone of OD&D, S&W should make for a fine expansion for Holmes Basic.

Jawless skull with candle from S&W 4th, pg 46
Sample dungeon cross section from S&W 4th, pg 72


  1. The "sample dungeon section " looks like a mix between Holmes (the skull-shaped mountain) and Moldvay (the ruins)

  2. I realize this is an older post but just wanted to chime in. At the time I drew the skull illustration I didn't own a copy of Holmes Blue Books (which I now own and am finding it to be my favorite iteration), but was an honest coincidence. Funny how things like that work out.

    Great blog by the way, I'm a new follower.

    1. Thanks for the info, Atom Kid! I'm currently participating in a play-by-post using the S&W Whitebox rules, which includes some of your artwork.

    2. Awesome! BTW my skull illustration was actually inspired by Snow White. I forgot to mention it earlier.