- 1 Initiative and Order of Battle
- 2 Surprise
- 3 The Attack Roll
- 4 Attack Tables
- 4.1 Specific Situations
- 4.1.1 Attacking from Behind
- 4.1.2 Critical Hits and Fumbles (House Rule)
- 4.1.3 Invisible Opponents
- 4.1.4 Melee Attacks
- 4.1.5 Missile Attacks
- 4.1.6 Movement within Melee
- 4.1.7 Negotiation and Diplomacy
- 4.1.8 Retreating
- 4.1.9 Spacing
- 4.1.10 Second Rank (or Spears and Polearms)
- 4.1.11 Spells
- 4.1.12 Subdual Damage
- 4.1.13 Terrain Features
- 4.1.14 Two-weapon Fighting and Two-handed Weapons
- 4.1.15 Note
- 4.1.16 Unarmed Combat
- 4.2 Damage and Death
- 4.3 Healing
- 4.4 Morale
- 4.5 Quick Method for Ascending AC Combat (Secret Formula!)
The Original Game offered essentially NO information about the order in which combat takes place, other than the fact that there is a surprise roll at the beginning of combat, and that the battle is divided into rounds. The game referred readers to a set of wargaming rules for mass combat by the same publisher, but there were no specific guidelines for smaller scale battles. Each set of players simply took those wargaming rules and adapted them in whatever way they liked. Power to the people! Swords & Wizardry provides a bit more starting guidance, from the Original Game’s later sources, so you can start playing with less preparation. Once you get going, though, it is essentially the same idea: add what you like, remove what you do not. The game is yours to adapt!
When the party of adventurers comes into contact with enemies, the order of events is as follows:
The Referee determines if one side gets a free initiative phase before the first initiative roll. This is either through common sense (adventurers or monsters are not alert), or it can be a range of probability (e.g., a particular ambush has only a 50% chance of succeeding when the victims are alert and watchful).
Any player whose character is going to cast a spell must say so before the initiative roll. Spell casting begins at the beginning of the round. Thus, if the enemies win the initiative roll and damage the spell caster, the spell’s casting may be disturbed.
At the beginning of a combat round, each side rolls initiative on a d6. The winning side acts first: moving, attacking, and casting spells. The other side takes damage and casualties, and then gets its turn.
Initiative rolls may result in a tie. When this happens, both sides are considered to be acting simultaneously unless the Referee decides to allow another die roll to break the tie. When both sides are acting simultaneously, it is possible for two combatants to kill each other in the same round!
Each combatant on the side that won initiative may move, or may fire any missile weapons. Then the losers of the initiative roll may move or fire missile weapons.
Each combatant on the side that won initiative makes any melee attacks (if in melee range), or casts spells. Spells take effect immediately. Spells cannot be cast if the caster is in melee combat with enemies. Losers of the initiative then make their attacks and cast spells.
Go back to step 2 (Declare Spells) and repeat the process until the combat is finished.
In general, a group cannot be surprised if they are already aware of an opponent’s presence even though they have not yet seen them – due to hearing them on the other side of a door, for instance. If one side is surprised, the other side automatically gets to take actions before the first initiative roll. If they also win that initiative roll, this means they will have taken two actions before the other side has a chance to do anything. If surprise is a possibility, roll 1d6 for either or both groups, as appropriate. (Roll only once for each side, not for each individual character or monster.) If the result is a 1 or a 2, the group is surprised. A party that includes a Monk or Ranger, however, is surprised only on a roll of 1. It is possible for both groups to be surprised, effectively canceling out the effect on both sides.
And here is something really nasty: if a group is surprised, each person (or creature) in it has a 1 in 4 chance to drop one or more hand-held items! Underground or in a dungeon, the distance between two groups when they discover each other is 1d6 x 10 feet. That is very close; the monsters may already be inside the radius of the adventurers’ light source. Outside, the distance will be about ten times this number, or, if the visibility is bad, three times. Anything affecting visibility could also affect surprise distance. For instance, someone with darkvision will be able to see up to 60 feet clearly at night or underground. A party carrying a light will be visible from much farther away, raising the possibility of an ambush. Other factors that may affect surprise are related to terrain types – thick woods or crowded city streets may decrease visibility and make it easier to surprise travelers. These and similar factors are left up to the judgment of the Referee.
Take note: Monsters do not always leap to the attack. Unless they are on the alert for intruders, the Referee may roll 2d6 to determine whether the monsters will attack if they surprise the adventurers. On a roll of 2-6, the monsters will be hostile and attack; on a roll of 7-9, the monsters will withhold judgment and wait to see if the adventurers are hostile; on a roll of 10-12, the monsters will have a positive initial reaction to seeing the adventurers, and might even be convinced to offer some help – if they are well paid, of course!
Any player whose character is going to cast a spell must say so before the initiative roll. (The Referee makes a similar determination for the opponents.) The casting of any spell starts at the beginning of the combat round. Thus, if the enemies win the initiative roll and damage the spell caster, the spell’s casting may be disturbed and the spell lost. (This is the Swords & Wizardry interpretation of several places in the Original Rules where a spell must be “ready.”)
At the beginning of a combat round, each side rolls a d6 for “initiative” – the opportunity to act first. The side with the highest roll wins and that group acts first. Initiative rolls may result in a tie. When this happens, the Referee may choose to resolve the actions as if they are simultaneous, or to have both sides re-roll.
Winners of the initiative roll take any movement, including any movement-like actions that might happen in combat such as climbing onto tables, or swinging from ropes, etc. Missile fire would also include things like pushing a boulder off a cliff. The results (deaths, etc) take effect, and then the losers of the initiative roll have their turn to move or fire missiles. It is not possible for the winners of the initiative roll to wait and see what the foes do – they either move or not. It is up to the Referee whether missile fire includes both shots from a weapon with a rate-of-fire higher than one; a longbow, for example, shoots twice in one round. In many games, only the first shot is allowed in this phase, with the second shot being fired after melee and spells are resolved.
First, all members of the side that won initiative may make hand-to-hand (melee) attacks if they are in melee range of an opponent, and the damage from these attacks is inflicted (enemies might die). Spells are cast and take effect. Next, the losers of the initiative roll make their melee attacks and cast their spells. Anyone who was killed by the winners of the initiative roll is already dead and cannot attack. Turning Undead also takes place in this phase.
Check spell effects or other actions that last or take a certain amount of time. If the Referee requires that the “second shot” from longbows and shortbows takes place at the end of the round, resolve those attacks in order of initiative. Then, go back to Declaring Spells and repeat the process until the combat is over. Combat ends when one side flees, surrenders, or is entirely slain.
The most important rule to understand about combat is the attack roll.
To have a character attack with a weapon, a player rolls a d20 and adds any bonuses to the result. These “to-hit” bonuses may include a Fighter’s strength bonus, a dexterity bonus (for attacks with missile weapons), and any bonuses for magic weapons. The player or the Referee also subtracts any “to-hit” penalties, which might come from using cursed weapons, enemies hiding behind cover, etc.). The total attack roll is then compared to a table to see if the attack hits. If the attack roll is equal to or higher than the number shown on the table, the attack succeeds.
If an attack hits, it inflicts damage; a number of hit points determined by the type of weapon the attacker is using. Damage is subtracted from the defender’s hit point total. (See “Damage and Death”).
If you are using the Ascending AC system, there is a quick formula that a Referee can use instead of the charts. (See “Quick Method for Ascending AC Combat”). The Referee will decide whether to use Descending AC or Ascending AC, as discussed earlier in the book.
The Swords & Wizardry Core Rules use a somewhat simpler order of combat, which is just as valid as the one used in the Complete Rules; it is another method that was used in the early days of the Original Game. In the Core Rules, there are essentially three phases of the round: first, the side that won initiative moves and attacks, or holds the initiative to wait and see what the enemies do. Then the losers of the initiative roll move and attack (the losers cannot “hold” their initiative). Finally, anyone who “held” initiative instead of moving and attacking may move and attack.
This system is faster, and mainly differs in only one way from the Swords & Wizardry Complete Rules: the losers of the initiative roll do not get a chance to take any movement in between the movement and attacks of the side that won the initiative roll.
In this system, which comes from the 1978 “Holmes Blue Book Set,” spells fire at the beginning of the round, followed by missile weapons. Then hand-to-hand melee attacks are resolved in order of Dexterity from highest to lowest, without regard to the initiative roll. Start from the highest Dexterity in the combat, and work through to the lowest. Monster Dexterity is rolled up when the combat begins, using 3d6. Anyone not in hand-to-hand combat can move only at the end of the round (after melee, not before). This is a very simple and colorful system, and is just as good as the official system if you do not mind rolling Dexterity for several monsters. Large combats can be a bit more difficult to track when the monsters all have different Dexterity scores, so for combats involving several monsters, it is often a good idea for the Referee to roll only one Dexterity score for each monster type involved in the battle, not each individual creature. This number would represent, in an abstract fashion, the speed of that group of monsters in this particular combat.
The order in which the two sides cast spells, fire their missiles, and move is either in order of initiative or in order of Dexterity, by whatever rule the Referee has established. Spells require a full round of casting.
Note: This is a simplified and modified version of an alternate combat sequence described in Supplement 3 of the Original Game. This system approximates the same results but does not directly track the Original system, which essentially used an 8-segment combat round.
In this system, there is only one initiative roll made in the entire combat, at the beginning of the very first round. The round is divided into 10 parts, or “segments,” of 6 seconds each. It is easiest to use a d10 for the initiative roll, with the result being used to represent the segment of the first round in which actions begin. In this case, since the first segment would be #1, it would be better to roll low (instead of trying to roll high, as in the “official” system). Each character rolls individual initiative.
Instead of making more initiative rolls, each character moves (and takes any other actions) at intervals of six segments. However, armor, spell casting, and other factors change that basic 6-segment interval upward or downward. This means that very fast characters might be able to move or attack more than once in some of the combat rounds.
Modifiers to the 6-segment Interval
- Armor type: No armor: +0
- Shield: +1
- Leather: +2
- Ring: +3
- Chain: +4
- Plate: +6
- Level 1: +0
- Level 2: +1
- Level 3: +2
- Level 4: +3
- Level 5: +4
- Level 6: +5
- Level 7: +6
- Level 8: +7
- Level 9: +8
- Dexterity 3-6: +1
- Dexterity 7-10: +0
- Dexterity 11-14: -1
- Dexterity 15-18: -2
- At one-half hit points: +4
- At one-quarter hit points: +6
- Base Movement Rate 3 or less: +6
Add the modifiers to the base number of 6 segments to see how many segments it will be until the character can take action again. For example, a Magic-User character wearing no armor (no modifier), with a Dexterity of 9 (no modifier) has just finished casting a spell. For his next action, he intends to cast Wish, a 9th-level spell (+8 modifier). He will get his wish in 14 segments: the normal 6-segment interval between actions, plus the +8 modifier for the spell level.
The overall result of this system is to allow lightly-armored and high-dexterity characters (or opponents) to make more attacks, over the course of the combat, than those who are heavily armored or wounded. It also allows the spell level to influence the speed at which spells are cast. Note that an unarmored Fighter with a dexterity of 11+ would be attacking twice in one round, and a Magic-User with a dexterity of 11+ would be able to cast 2 Level 1 spells in a round.
The main problem with this system is that it becomes complicated for the Referee to calculate the segment speed for monsters. Assuming that monsters move every 10 segments usually works; for a particularly fast or slow monster, a Referee might assign a speed of 7 or 13, respectively, or whatever other number suits that type of monster best. An interesting variation in this system is to divide a Fighter’s level by two and use that (as a negative number) as a modifier as well. That way, higher level Fighters also attack more frequently.
Attack Roll (d20) required to hit Opponent’s Armor Class
|Level||Target Armor Class [or Ascending Armor Class]|
Attack Roll (d20) required to hit Opponent’s Armor Class
|Level||Target Armor Class [or Ascending Armor Class]|
Attack Roll (d20) required to hit Opponent’s Armor Class
|Level||Target Armor Class [or Ascending Armor Class]|
The following are a compilation of guidelines and instructions for handling certain, specific situations that might arise during combat.
Any attack made from behind has a to-hit bonus of +2, or +4 if made by a Thief or Assassin. There are only two ways for most people to get behind someone during combat. One is to surprise an opponent and attack from behind during the surprise action. The other is to attack an opponent from behind when an ally is attacking from the front. Thieves and Assassins can get behind a target during normal combat if they successfully hide in shadows, even if no one is attacking the target from the front.
Many Referees have house rules that state that a “natural” to-hit roll of 20 (one achieved without using any modifiers) is an automatic hit and/or that a natural roll of 1 is an automatic miss and may result in the attacker dropping his or her weapon or suffering some other kind of problem. (A strained muscle might give a -1 penalty to damage rolls for the rest of a combat, or a helmet knocked awry might cover a character’s eyes until a round is taken to fix it.) This is up to the Referee. Some Referees even allow a natural roll of 20 to inflict double damage, but we do not recommend this for Swords & Wizardry because it winds up being too powerful; a +1 bonus to damage for a natural 20 would fit the system better.
Attacks against an invisible opponent have a -4 penalty. Powerful magical monsters, or those with more than 11 hit dice, will usually be able to see invisible creatures normally.
A melee attack is an attack with hand-held weapons such as a sword, spear, or dagger. Attacks in general are described above, (The Attack Roll). It is only possible to make a melee attack when the two combatants are within ten feet of each other, and two combatants within ten feet of each other are considered to be “in melee.”
Missile attacks are attacks with ranged weapons such as a bow, crossbow, sling, or thrown axe. A character’s dexterity bonus for missile attacks is added to the to-hit roll when the character is using missile weapons, and Fighters may receive an extra bonus for strength. When using missiles to attack into a melee, it usually is not possible to choose which participant (opponent or friend) will receive the attack; the Referee will determine this randomly.
For purposes of Swords & Wizardry, a defender effectively blocks an area about fi ve feet across, and enemies cannot simply move through this area without fi rst killing the defender. Alternatively, the Referee might allow such movement but grant a free attack to the defender(s) in the area. The Referee’s common sense ultimately controls the situation, but it is good for players to have some idea of what results their tactics will have. Whatever rule a Referee chooses for this should be applied consistently unless the situation is quite unusual.
The Original Game contained no rules about what happens if an attacker wants to move directly past an opponent, so this is wide-open territory for house rules. Maybe having a shield allows a defender to block someone completely, but if the defender has no shield, opponents can move through if they survive a free attack. (House rules on this could also relate to rules for overbearing an opponent, which are described under Unarmed Combat.) The Referee makes the final call.
Some combats can be averted with a few well-chosen words, which may include lies. If a party is out-matched, or the monsters do not seem to be carrying much in the way of loot, the party might elect to brazen their way through, in an attempt to avoid combat—or at least delay it until conditions become more favorable. Striking bargains, persuading monsters or non-player characters to do things, and getting out of trouble by using wits, are all important parts of the game. Do not replace them with die rolls! Using dice to determine a monster’s initial reaction before negotiations start is fine, but use player skill (or lack thereof) to decide how far the adventurers can improve a monster’s initial reaction. This is not a matter of “my character ought to be really persuasive”—this is one of the places where the player’s skill, not the character’s, is tested.
It is up to the Referee to decide if there will be any special rules for retreating away from a melee combat. Most Referees allow the enemy a free attack if a hero (or monster) tries to move out of the ten-foot “melee range.” In some cases the free attack is made at +2 to hit.
Because most movement and combat increments are divisible by three, it is easiest to assume that a character “occupies” an area about three feet across for purposes of marching and fighting.
Spears and polearms in the second rank of a battle formation can attack by reaching through the first rank.
Casting a spell starts at the beginning of the combat round. Spells cannot be cast if the caster is in melee combat; although the Referee might rule that even if the caster is within ten feet of an opponent, if blows have not been traded, then a spell can be cast. Wands and staffs are not subject to the restriction at all; they can cast their magic during melee combat. If the spellcaster suffers damage while casting a spell, the spell is lost. When the spell actually takes effect depends on which Combat Sequence Method is being used.
A weapon may be used to beat down, rather than kill, an opponent. When the player desires, damage infl icted by a character can be composed of half “real” damage and half “subdual” damage. Subdual damage does not kill, and such points are recovered at a rate of 1 hp per hour. If an opponent’s hit points, including the subdual damage, fall to zero, the opponent is knocked unconscious rather than killed, unless the real damage actually reduces real hit points to zero, in which case the opponent is killed accidentally!
Not all monsters may be subdued. Generally only humanoids and special creatures such as dragons will be subject to such attacks.
Characters and monsters will hide behind things, stand on things, lie prone, fight from higher ground, shoot arrows from within concealing mists or tree branches, and take every possible advantage of the combat terrain. The Referee will assign bonuses and penalties for terrain features. Most such bonuses will only be +/- 1 or 2, depending on the degree of cover or the benefit of higher ground. Trying to hit someone through an arrow slit in a castle wall might have a penalty of –4 (as suggested in the Holmes Basic Set in 1977). Remember, however, that the penalty to hit an invisible opponent is only -4, so +/- 4 is about the outside limit for terrain adjustments on the to-hit roll.
Just as shields improve armor class by 1, fighting two-handed grants a +1 to damage rolls (except for weapons that can only be used two-handed, where this is already taken into account in the weapon’s damage), and fighting with a weapon in each hand gives a +1 to hit, but only in rounds in which the attacker won the initiative roll. (Note that fighting with two weapons does not actually give two separate attacks; it just increases the likelihood of landing a successful blow.)
This above rule for two-handed and two-weapon fighting is the “official” rule for Swords & Wizardry, but it does not come from the Original Game, which had no rule for either situation. It comes from the creative pen of Jason Cone (“Philotomy Jurament”), a renowned crafter of house rules for the Original Game. Philotomy points out on his website that there are no specific, official rules in the Original Game for fighting two-handed or for fighting with a weapon in each hand. Under these rules, there is a result for each of three possibilities for what a hero is doing with his or her “off” hand: holding a shield, holding a weapon two-handed, or holding a second weapon. By assigning a different result to each choice (improve Armor Class, increase Damage, or gain a To-Hit bonus), players are able to pick a strategy for each particular conflict.
By the way, since a bonus on a to-hit roll has more of an effect than a bonus on damage rolls, the +1 to hit for two-weapon fighting occurs only in rounds when the wielder’s side wins the initiative roll. If you choose to play “by the book” using the Original Rules, ignore this whole section and substitute your preferred house rules for two-handed and two-weapon fighting.
Grappling (or overbearing) an opponent is resolved as follows: the attackers (or attacker) make individual to-hit rolls. The grapple is resolved among those who hit: each combatant rolls 1d6 per hit die. If the sum of the dice of all the attackers is higher than the defender’s total, the hapless defender is competely pinned and can be killed in the next round unless help arrives or the victim manages to break loose before the knife falls. If the sums are exactly equal, everyone is struggling and none of them can attack with a weapon. If the defender wins, the attackers are beaten back and stunned. They remain stunned for a number of rounds equal to the number of points by which the defender beat them. For example, if five orcs attempt to overwhelm a fifth-level Fighter, each orc rolls to hit. Let us assume that two of them succeed on the to-hit roll. The orcs roll a total of 2d6 (each orc has 1 HD), and the Fighter rolls 5d6 (the Fighter has 5HD). The orcs get a total of 10, and the Fighter gets a total of 15. Each orc is tossed aside and stunned for 5 rounds. Fist-fights can be resolved by assuming that a fist does 1 point of damage, and that there is a 50% chance per hit that the damage is subdual damage (see Subdual Damage, above). All Strength bonuses to damage are considered subdual damage only. A word to the wise: tavern brawls are more efficiently conducted with chairs than with fists.
When a character (or creature) is hit, the amount of damage is deducted from hit points. When total hit points reach 0, the character is unconscious, and if hit points are brought down to –1 or lower, the character dies.
A good potential house rule is attributed to Gary Gygax’s gaming table, a rumor that might or might not be true. It allows a character to remain alive (although bleeding to death at the rate of 1 hp/round if no assistance is rendered) until the character reaches negative hit points equal to the character’s level. In other words, a fifth-level character actually dies only upon reaching -5 hit points.
In addition to the various magical means of restoring hit points, a character recovers naturally at the rate of 1 hit point per day of uninterrupted rest. Four weeks of rest will return a character to full hit points regardless of how many hit points may have been lost.
Certain monsters, such as mindless or undead creatures, are fearless and always fight to the death. The majority, however, will not continue to fight a hopeless battle; they will seek to retreat, flee, or surrender. The Referee decides when monsters abandon the battle and retreat, based on the situation and the monsters’ intelligence. Keep in mind that the party’s own non-player-character allies might decide to fl ee if their prospects of survival look grim.
If you are using the Ascending AC system, it may be easier to calculate your “to-hit” rolls according to a simple formula. The numbers are the same as the Descending AC tables—this is just a different way of calculating the results. This is how it is done: each character class gains a base “to-hit” bonus, which increases as a character’s level increases (see the table below). Add this bonus to the attack roll, and if the result is equal to or greater than the opponent’s AC, the attack hits. That’s it; no chart needed for combat.
If you are using the regular attack chart, DO NOT add a base “to-hit” bonus to your roll – the combat charts already take it into account. The base “to-hit” bonus is a feature of this Quick Method only.
To use this system, write down your character’s base “to-hit” bonus. You will need to adjust it as your character gains levels, but after doing that, you will not have to check any table to see if he or she scores a hit.
|Base “to-hit” Bonus|
1 Includes Druids and Monks
2 Includes Paladins and Rangers
3 Includes Assassins