Sword & Shield is a rules light, tabletop RPG in development by Christopher Brandon. A few weeks ago I stumbled across the Brandon’s blog for the system. You should check it out at http://swordandshieldrpg.blogspot.com/ along with his other works. Soon after discovering Sword & Shield our weekly D&D session was canceled by two of our members going out of town. After a short conversation with the remaining player I offered to run the play test adventure for him and his two boys. It was a rousing success, the boys (four and five years-old respectively) were not only able to handle the simple rules but the standard dungeon delve held their attention with minimal coaching.
The Nuts & Bolts
The play test rules have a character creation process consisting of three classes: Fighter, Thief, and Wizard. Character details can easily fit on an index card. Each class has a polyhedral die assigned to the abilities Fight, Shoot, and Magic. Fight is used for melee combat, Shoot for ranged, and Magic for casting spells and resisting magic/status effects. The system uses opposed rolls for conflict resolution. In addition there is a generic Skill ability used for sundry checks including climbing, tracking, lock picking etc.
What Sword & Shield Does Well
What the system does well is quick combat. Melee combat represents not just one attack but a flurry of attacks. Attacking a creature and failing can end with the instigator taking damage. Turns go by quickly and combat can be quite dangerous. One combat ended with the party fleeing and hiding after a few rounds of attrition against a living statue. The best compliment you can give a rules light system is it is easy to pick up and play.
Sword & Shield does have some shortcomings. The encumbrance rules are harsh, donning armor and adventure essentials can leave characters easily over-encumbered and slow. For the play test we tossed out encumbrance as being overly difficult for the boys (fractions). The Luck mechanic seems out of place. Luck points allow a character, once per level, to turn a failed check into a success. It seems easier just to omit the Luck mechanic as currently written. Damage also suffers from a small dilemma. A wizard with a d4 Fighting die using a light weapon can never damage a creature with an armor reduction score of four or better. This came up during the play test as the wizard did not take any damage dealing spells.
With development currently halted for Sword & Shield (seriously bug Christopher Brandon to continue its development!) I would play Sword & Shield again with a few house rule changes.
Encumbrance: Change the encumbrance rules to -1 Movement for each ½ hit points of encumbrance. This should allow parties to still be able to run away from combat successfully and let them carry gear and loot.
Luck: Allow Luck points to be used per play session, with each uses counting as rolling the highest possible result on the die for the check in question. Gaining levels will give players extra points of Luck to use for failed checks.
Initiative: Initiative is rolled by the Party Leader for each opposing faction in a skirmish. While this mechanic works well enough, I would like to see individual initiative rolls to spice things up and keep the wizard from casting Dazzle on the BBEG at the start of every combat.
Minimum Damage: Allow successful attacks to do a minimum of one damage.
A wizard with a dagger attacks a fighter wearing chain mail and using a shield. The wizard rolls four on his d4, and the fighter rolls a 1 on his d8. 3(difference of the rolls) + 1(damage bonus for dagger) = 4 points of damage. The fighter has armor 4. In the basic rules the fighter would never take damage from the wizard. The minimum damage rules makes any time the fighter takes five or fewer points of damage he would take a minimum 1 point of damage.
HP: I like the idea of rolling hit dice as a general rule. But it can also be disastrous if you roll poorly In our play test the thief ended up with the most HP, six at level one. The fighter had three. With minimum damage rules in effect the fighter can be killed pretty easily in melee. There are loads of HP mechanics out there. For first level I would at least change to make starting HP a minimum of ½ the hit die rounded down. Roll a ten, the fighter starts with 11 HP. Roll a one, the fighter starts with minimum six HP rather than two. Fifth edition Hackmaster has some sound, if cumbersome bookkeeping, mechanics for HP progression.
XP: As a rule of thumb I throw out calculating experience points for leveling up. I find it more natural as DM to allow players to level up when it seems appropriate rather than during extended rest at point X in dungeon Y. Sword & Shield’s XP system takes some extra work to calculate. As written it takes longer to level low-level parties than high level parties who can handle stronger monsters.
Streamline Task Resolution: The most difficult thing to remember in the play test was which tasks require you to meet and which require you to beat the target number. In Fight, Shoot, and Magic you have to BEAT the opposing die roll. But you only have to MEET for Skill checks. For simplicity sake choose one or the other. As lock picks grant a +1, use the Beat mechanic. Our play test saw the wizard fail to cast Heal a number of times as I continued to roll eights on the Challenge Die.
I am salivating to play Sword & Shield again. It is a breeze to run and simple to pick up and play for those not baptized by tabletop RPGs. I think I will keep the play test rules around as an introductory system for new players interested in learning RPGs. Download the play test rules and adventure and let me know what you think!