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Old school Swords & Wizardry Tabletop RPGs

Comparing Swords & Wizardry Core vs. Complete

Reading Rappan Athuk renewed my interest in checking out Swords & Wizardry, and it also made me curious about the differences between S&W Core and S&W Complete.[1] I searched for a simple summary of those differences and kept seeing variations on this: “Core is the 3 LBBs + Supplement I (Greyhawk); Complete is 3 LBBs + the classes, spells, monsters, treasure, and some additional rules from all supplements to the LBBs.

I wanted something a bit more definitive, and when I glanced through both books the classes jumped out at me as the only substantial difference — so I decided to do a quick side-by-side analysis. I compared the latest printing of both books, the 4th printing of Core and the 3rd printing of Complete.

If you’re new to S&W, or want to compare versions on your own, the game is free and you can grab almost every printing here (with thanks to Smoldering Wizard for collecting those links).

Quick and dirty

Here’s the TL;DR version of what I found:

  • Complete includes more classes
  • Complete includes one additional race
  • Combat in Complete alternates sides for movement/missiles and then again for melee/spells, while in Core each side does everything before the other side goes
  • PCs die at -1 in Complete vs. -[level] in Core
  • Complete includes rules for siege, aerial, and ship combat
  • Core and Complete include the same monsters, spells, and treasure (except for Complete having druid spells)

The additional classes are by far the largest difference, followed by the variations in combat and dying and the special combat rules that appear in Complete.

Marginally less quick and dirty

Here’s a more detailed look at the differences I found when comparing the two versions. I didn’t do a deep dive and compare monster stats or spell descriptions because that wasn’t what I needed at the moment — I needed a snapshot to tell me which edition I would prefer.

Classes

  • Core includes cleric, fighter, magic-user, and (optional) thief
  • Complete adds assassin, druid, monk, paladin, and ranger

Races

  • Complete adds half-elves

Combat

  • The first three steps (surprise, declare spells, initiative) and final step (end of round) of combat are the same, but the default approach to the middle steps differs (see below)
  • In addition to offering Holmes as an alternative combat sequence (which both do), Complete also offers Core’s approach and a third variant
  • In the Special Situations section, Complete notes a house rule about critical hits and fumbles, and also clarifies spellcasting in melee with a note about wands and staves
  • Under Damage and Death, dying is different:
    • In Core, 0 HP means unconscious and bleeding out 1 HP/round, with death at -[level]
    • In Complete, 0 is unconscious, -1 is dead, and bleeding out is noted as a house rule

Combat steps

Here’s a breakdown of the first bullet, the middle steps of combat. In Core, the middle steps are:

  • Initiative winner does everything (move, missiles, melee, spells)
  • Then initiative loser does everything
  • Then folks with held initiative go

In Complete, the steps are:

  • Initiative winners move or fire missiles, then initiative loser moves or fires missiles
  • Initiative winner makes melee attacks and their spells go off, then initiative loser does the same
  • Held initiative doesn’t exist

High-Level Adventuring

  • Complete includes a few additional details about constructing castles.

Magic

  • Complete adds Gate as a level 7 cleric spell
  • Complete includes druid spells (since it includes the druid!)

Designing the Adventure

  • There’s an additional dungeon example in Complete

Special Combat Rules

  • Complete includes siege, aerial, and ship combat in the Special Combat section (both include mass combat)

Monsters

I looked at the monster lists by challenge level, and wherever they varied I confirmed that both books do in fact include those monsters. In Complete, the variations are:

  • Dragons don’t appear in the Monsters by Challenge Rating lists (they do in Core)
  • CL 1 adds the lethal variation of giant centipedes
  • CL 2 adds lethal giant centipedes
  • CL 5 adds giant leeches
  • CL 9 subtracts giant fish
  • CL 10 subtracts baalroch demon, which becomes CL 13 (although its description says 17)
  • CL 13 subtracts dragon turtles, which become CL 12
  • CL 14-16 adds dragon turtles

There are alphabetization errors in both versions’ monster lists, so my guess is that dragons were an unintentional omission from Complete’s lists. The leech, centipede, turtle, and fish look like cases of Complete correcting omissions from the lists in Core (since both books have those monsters, and their CLs are identical). I’m not sure what to make of the baalroch demon: He’s CL 10 in Core, and appears at CL 10 on the list; in Complete, he’s CL 17 and appears under CL 13.

Hack to taste

S&W is designed to be hacked to suit one’s personal preferences, and if I were to sit down and run an S&W game right now I’d probably grab Complete and just eliminate all classes except the original three (cleric, fighter, and magic-user).

Complete already uses my preferred approach to combat and dying, and given that the rest is functionally identical I’d rather have the small amount of extra material (castle stuff, aerial combat, etc.) just in case it came up. Both versions share Matt Finch‘s excellent writing, a conversational tone, clean layout, and clear rules, and of course you can just as easily drop the bits of Complete you like into Core (and so on).

Having now spent quite a bit of time with different versions of S&W, I’ve found that I love the clarity and spark of the presentation in the 3rd printing of Complete — the 2017 version helmed by Stacy Dellorfano, with layout by Leigh Tuckman. Given that it was only a buck during the KS and the every other printing is available for free in PDF, I hope this one will eventually be available for free as well.

[1] S&W WhiteBox is a different animal from both Core and Complete in ways that are much easier to evaluate (all weapons do d6 damage, most monsters have one attack, flatter power curve, etc.), and in any case Rappan Athuk is written for S&W Complete; the easiest course being to run it with Complete, that’s what I wanted to look at.

Categories
B/X D&D D&D Labyrinth Lord Old school Tabletop RPGs

B/X D&D vs. Labyrinth Lord treasure stocking

My head’s full of Labyrinth Lord at the moment (I’m working on a megadungeon), so I’m prodding the areas where divergence from B/X D&D interest me in some way. So far I’ve looked at dungeon stocking, which is basically the same with a minor flavor difference, and dungeon doors, which aren’t the same at all.

In rereading the excellent post by Wayne Rossi that sent me down this path, Clones and Rules, Inside and Out, I noticed that Wayne called out “treasure stocking” as an interesting difference between OD&D and its principal retroclone, Swords & Wizardry. Here are the two bits that grabbed me, with the middle snipped out for clarity:

Indeed, if you follow OD&D’s logic a bit further, treasure is based not on monster level but dungeon level, which is significant. […] But in S&W, gnolls should always be guarding CR-appropriate treasure, and therefore the reward is determined by monster level, not dungeon level. This pulls the game toward the modern “dungeon combat” genre.

I wondered whether or not B/X and LL differed in this area, so I took a look.

B/X D&D dungeon treasure

Here’s the Expert Set on treasure in dungeons, with the middle excised for clarity:

If random rolls are used, the table below lists treasure amounts found in unguarded rooms (those without a monster) on all dungeon levels. […] If a monster is present, use the Treasure Type listing (p. X43) for the monster to find the amount of treasure in the room.

Let’s poke that with an example, a level 1 dungeon:

  1. If the treasure is unguarded, roll for level 1 treasure
  2. If there’s a monster, use the monster entry instead

Since there are 2 HD monsters, which have treasure more generally associated with dungeon level 2, on the level 1 wandering monster table, that means those monsters likely have more rewarding treasure than an unguarded room.

Most monsters will be 1 HD, though, with treasure you’d expect for level 1, because most of the level 1 wandering monster table consists of 1 HD monsters.

Let’s see how LL handles this.

Labyrinth Lord dungeon treasure

Here’s LL on treasure, again with the part I’m not comparing snipped out:

When a monster result is obtained on the above table, the Labyrinth Lord must roll for a random monster appropriate for the labyrinth level. […] If treasure is present, the treasure will be determined based on the Treasure Hoard Class of the monster encountered, or from the Unprotected Treasure Table based on labyrinth level.

Sticking with the same level 1 dungeon example, that means:

  1. If the treasure is unguarded, roll for level 1 treasure
  2. If there’s a monster, use its entry OR roll for level 1 treasure

That leaves the choice to the GM: Make randomly rolled treasure appropriate to the dungeon level (by only using the Unprotected Treasure Table), or make some treasure — that which is held by 2 HD monsters — more appropriate to level 2. (Or a bit of both, I suppose.)

That first option sounds a lot like what Wayne noted about OD&D, so let’s take a quick side trip.

OD&D dungeon treasure

Book III, The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures:

A roll of 1–3 in those rooms or spaces with monsters in them indicates some form of treasure is present. A roll of 1 in a room or space which is unoccupied indicates that there is some form of treasure there. […] To determine the kind of treasure use the following table[.]

Relative to our example, that’s:

  1. If the treasure is unguarded, roll for level 1 treasure
  2. If there’s a monster, roll for level 1 treasure

No matter what’s in the room, you get level 1 treasure. This is huge in OD&D because of how its wandering monster determination works — I’ll be looking at that in a future post. For now, what matters is that treasure is always dungeon-level appropriate.

Conclusions

B/X: If I’m exploring level 1 of a B/X dungeon and I bump into a 2 HD monster, there’s an incentive for me to try and take its treasure: There’s a decent chance this room has better treasure than the other rooms on level 1.

By extension, in B/X I know that trying to find unguarded treasure, which consumes resources (time, torches, wandering monster checks), is likely to be less rewarding than trying to take it from a 2 HD monster. Maybe over time that pushes me to focus more on taking those tougher-than-me monsters’ treasure, and less on trying to find unguarded treasure. Personally, I think that makes for an interesting choice: Do I take a greater risk in exchange for a greater reward, or risk less and get less?

LL: If I’m delving into level 1 of a Labyrinth Lord dungeon and I find a room with a 2 HD monster in it, I don’t know which option the DM has used. The monster might have the treasure listed in the bestiary, or it might be guarding the treasure listed in the Unprotected table. Maybe I can infer that since using the monster’s treasure is listed first in LL, it’s the default option — but only maybe.

In LL, it’s a crap shoot. I can’t assume a tougher-than-me monster will reward my efforts with better treasure. It’s probably safest to assume it won’t, which makes the dungeon more like OD&D.

OD&D: In OD&D, I know that 2 HD monster will have level 1 treasure. The incentive there is to avoid the monster at all costs, because the treasure’s no better than what I can find in an unguarded room. Over time, that may lead to more of an emphasis on exploration and monster-avoidance.

It’s a bit muddier than that analysis makes it seem, though.

Oh shit, a spider

Let’s use a 2 HD monster that appears on the level 1 wandering monster table in both B/X and LL: the giant crab spider. I’ll limit myself to B/X, since this post is already getting long.

  • In B/X, that spider has treasure type U. That’s a 10% chance of 1-100 cp, a 10% chance of 1-100 sp, a 5% chance of 1-100 gp, a 5% chance of 1-4 gems, and a 2% chance of 1 magic item.
  • Dungeon level 1 automatically gives me 1d6x100 sp, plus a 50% chance of 10-60 gp, a 5% chance of 1d6 gems, a 2% chance of 1d6 jewelry items, and a 2% chance of 1 magic item.

Statistically, that means:

  • If I try to steal that spider’s treasure (setting aside whether I do this by fighting it), it’s quite likely my reward will be…nothing.
  • Conversely, if I instead poke around in an unguarded room, I’m guaranteed to get at least 100 sp, and very likely (50%) to get at least 10 gp. My chances of getting anything else are about the same as they are with the spider.

Unless I happen to know that giant crab spiders have kind of shitty treasure, dealing with the spider isn’t a risk I’m likely to take more than once. Sure, I could get super-lucky — but I could also get super-lucky just poking around an empty room, and I’d run a lower risk of dying.

Moar conclusions

The way LL handles treasure clones B/X, which is LL’s goal, but it also changes the character of the dungeon. The simple-seeming addition of half a sentence — “…or from the Unprotected Treasure Table based on labyrinth level” — does have an impact on the overall flavor of an LL dungeon.

I’m not sure that it’s a significant impact, though. The water gets pretty muddy when you mix in the fact that not all monsters whose HD exceed the current dungeon level have better treasure than unguarded rooms, as well as the option to go the B/X route or the LL route — not to mention the vagaries of the dice.

To me, this difference feels less meaningful than the fact that LL dungeons don’t actively work against the PCs. It’s more of a difference in flavor, much like the increased chance of finding special/unique rooms.

Categories
B/X D&D D&D Labyrinth Lord Old school Tabletop RPGs

B/X D&D vs. Labyrinth Lord dungeon doors

After comparing dungeon stocking in B/X D&D and Labyrinth Lord, I went hunting for a detailed list of differences between the two games. I couldn’t find one (still looking!), but I did come across a post about stuck dungeon doors by Peregrin on RPG.net noting that there might be a difference there. There is one, and it’s fascinating.

Why do stuck dungeon doors matter? It sounds like such a little thing, but it’s surprisingly significant. The nature of dungeon doors plays a big role in defining the character of the dungeon.

To get there, we first have to walk back the cat a little bit — specifically, all the way back to OD&D.

OD&D dungeon doors

Here’s what Book III says about doors:

Generally, doors will not open by turning the handle or by a push. Doors must be forced open by strength, a roll of a 1 or 2 indicating the door opens, although smaller and lighter characters may be required to roll a 1 to open doors. There can be up to three characters attempting to force open a door, but this will disallow them rapid reaction to anything awaiting them on the other side. Most doors will automatically close, despite the difficulty in opening them. Doors will automatically open for monsters, unless they are held shut against them by characters.

There are three cool things in that excerpt:

  1. Most dungeon doors are stuck
  2. PCs have to force them open, but monsters don’t
  3. Most doors automatically close behind the PCs

My favorite interpretation of why that might be comes from D&D blogger Philotomy, whose site has vanished from the web. Fortunately, “Philotomy’s Musings” have been preserved (in several formats). Hit that link and scroll down to “The Dungeon as a Mythic Underworld,” and you’ll find this theory:

Similarly, characters must force their way through doors and have difficulty keeping them open; however, these same doors automatically open for monsters. This is a clear example of how the normal rules do not apply to the underworld, and how the underworld, itself, works against the characters exploring it.

I love that! The dungeon itself is working against intruders. It’s a fun theory on its face, it explains a lot, and it highlights something compelling and quirky about OD&D.

Even if you don’t buy the “mythic underworld” concept, though, dungeons in OD&D do work differently for monsters than they do for PCs. With that in mind, let’s peek at the B/X D&D Basic Set.

B/X D&D dungeon doors

Here’s the B/X version:

Doors in a dungeon are usually closed, and are often stuck or locked. A lock must usually be picked by a thief. An unlocked door must be forced open to pass through it. To force open a door, roll Id6; a result of 1 or 2 (on Id6) means that the door is forced open. The roll should be adjusted by a character’s Strength score adjustment. The number needed to open a door can never be less than 1 nor greater than 1-5.

Once a door is opened, it will usually swing shut when released unless it is spiked or wedged open. Doors will usually open automatically for monsters, unless the door is held, spiked, or closed with magical spells.

The mechanics are a bit different, but it’s not the mechanics I’m interested in — it’s the “active dungeon” element. Most doors are stuck (or locked), stuck doors aren’t stuck for monsters, and they close automatically behind PCs. Like dungeons in OD&D, dungeons in B/X work against the PCs.

Ready for LL’s take?

Labyrinth Lord dungeon doors

Labyrinth Lord on dungeon doors:

Labyrinths often have many doors, some secret and others obvious. Many are locked, and a thief will need to attempt to pick locks. However, characters can attempt to break a door down. In this case, the player rolls 1d6. A result of 2 or less means the door has been broken down. Strength adjustments apply, but no matter what the adjustment there must always be a chance of success or failure. Bonuses cannot take the success range above 5 or below 1 on 1d6. For example, if a character has a STR of 15 he receives a +1 to open doors. He would instead need to roll 3 or less on 1d6 to succeed. A character with STR 5 has -2 to open doors, but since the odds cannot go below 1, if the player rolls a 1 on 1d6, he succeeds in breaking down the door.

Setting side the die rolls, which aren’t my focus, that’s quite different!

Stuck doors aren’t mentioned at all, and locked doors can only be broken down (rather than forced open). Also absent are doors that close automatically behind PCs, but not monsters — doors are just doors, and they work the same way for everyone.

Conclusions

Many small differences between B/X and Labyrinth Lord can be chalked up to maintaining a certain amount of “legal distance” from D&D, or to limitations based on what’s available in the SRD, or both. I’m not sure if this difference falls into that category, but I thought that looking at Swords & Wizardry (which emulates OD&D) might help.

S&W notes that “Stuck doors (and many doors in an ancient dungeon may be stuck closed) require a die roll on a d6 to force open.” That’s part of what OD&D says about stuck doors, but not all of it. It seems odd to me that the rest of OD&D’s rules for stuck doors would be off-limits legally, but I guess it’s not out of the question.

But whatever the reason, Labyrinth Lord dungeons don’t work against the PCs in the same way that B/X (and OD&D) dungeons do. A by-the-book Labyrinth Lord dungeon will have a different character than a B/X or OD&D dungeon, and it will play by the same rules for monsters and PCs.

The differences between B/X and LL dungeon stocking were pretty minor, the most notable being a slightly upped chance of a room being special/unique in LL. That gives LL dungeons a subtly different flavor than their B/X counterparts. The dungeon door difference feels more significant, and it surprised me.

Whether that’s a good, bad, or neutral thing comes down to personal preference, of course — and if you like the B/X approach, it’s just a house rule away.

Categories
B/X D&D D&D Labyrinth Lord Old school Tabletop RPGs

B/X D&D vs. Labyrinth Lord dungeon stocking

Wayne Rossi wrote an excellent post, Clones and Rules, Inside and Out, about the apparently subtle differences between some retroclones and their sources which, in fact, produce non-subtle differences in play. Here’s an excerpt, from his comparison of OD&D dungeon stocking to Swords & Wizardry dungeon stocking:

An OD&D dungeon designed according to its guidelines is going to have “unguarded” treasure. According to the book it should be hidden and/or trapped. But a S&W dungeon isn’t going to have that, if the referee follows the guidelines in the S&W rule books. Over time the game is going to play differently, since the OD&D group is going to be looking for hidden treasure while the S&W group would be justified in looking for combat.

Wayne is one sharp dude, and he has a knack for noticing stuff, prying it apart, and being able to succinctly share what makes it tick. (His OD&D Setting PDF, which I blogged about here on Yore, is a marvelous example of this — and a great read.)

His comparison of S&W to OD&D got me thinking about my favorite flavor of D&D, Moldvay/Cook (B/X), and its closest OSR analog, Labyrinth Lord. I wondered whether or not they differed in the area of dungeon stocking, and I realized I wasn’t sure — I’d just assumed they were pretty much identical.

But what if they weren’t? What if B/X and LL diverged in the same way as OD&D and S&W, or in a different subtle-but-significant way? Let’s take a peek.

Dungeon stocking

Both B/X and LL sum up dungeon stocking in one chart (plus a bit of explanatory text nearby), making them easy to compare. Here’s page X53’s chart from the Expert Set above page 124’s chart from LL.

They both use the same four categories: monster, trap, special (which LL calls “unique”), and empty. They also both employ two die rolls: d6 followed by d6 in B/X, and d% followed by d% in LL. LL’s chart is a bit cleaner, both because it uses percentages (which I find more intuitive to assess than fractions) and because of its layout.

Room contents

Broadly speaking, the percentages for room contents are about the same — except in one case:

  • Monster: 33.33% chance in B/X, 30% chance in LL
  • Trap: 16.67% in B/X, 15% in LL
  • Special/Unique: 16.67% in B/X, 25% in LL
  • Empty: 33.33% in B/X, 30% in LL

The chance of a room being empty or having a monster in it are close enough to identical to call them the same — about 30%. Ditto the chance of a trap, about 15%.

What’s different is the chance of a special/unique room, 1 in 6 for B/X vs. 1 in 4 for LL. That’s not a huge difference, but it’s a difference.

What about the chance of treasure?

Treasure

Here are the percentages for the chance of treasure being present in each system:

  • Monster: 50% chance in B/X, 50% chance in LL
  • Trap: 33.33% in B/X, 30% in LL
  • Special/Unique: Undefined in B/X, “Variable” in LL — essentially the same thing
  • Empty: 16.67% in B/X, 15% in LL

For all practical purposes, those percentages are identical.

Conclusions

B/X D&D and Labyrinth Lord are essentially the same game with respect to dungeon stocking, the chance for a given room to be empty or otherwise, and the chance for there to be treasure in the room.

The only meaningful difference is that you’re somewhat more likely to encounter a special/unique room in LL than you are in B/X (and, consequently, slightly less likely to have the other possible contents come up).

To me, this is evidence of a shared design goal: Give the players a meaningful choice when it comes to seeking out treasure. Which makes sense, because both systems share the same XP methodology: 1 XP for 1 GP, plus XP for monsters, with the bulk of your XP coming from gold.

Dungeon rooms with monsters in them are more likely to have treasure than any other types of room, but you have to deal with the monster (which is itself worth XP). Empty rooms have the lowest chance of yielding treasure, which makes searching them — and expending resources in the form of time, torches, and wandering monster checks — risky in and of itself, but if you’re lucky you find unguarded treasure.

LL incentivizes the same style of play as B/X, which is a testament to its clarity of purpose as a B/X retroclone.

I also like that the one real difference, special rooms, would give an LL-designed dungeon its own flavor when compared to a B/X-designed dungeon. The party would run into a couple more special rooms, and special rooms are neat. There’s a philosophical difference there, albeit a subtle one.