Higher Level Adventuring

Swords & Wizardry usually isn’t played just once for a single adventure—it is usually a weekly or monthly series of sessions in which the characters continue to adventure, gaining experience and power. Eventually, the more powerful characters will begin to make a mark on the game world itself; they may take control of a castle, build armies, and even, if the game goes on long enough and the group decides not to retire the characters, name kingdoms after themselves or venture into other worlds, realms, or dimensions. Perhaps they will do battle with demon princes, maybe they will forge artifacts of great power—even unite great empires beneath their banners on the field of war or through diplomacy in grand courts. Later “generations” of characters might even be serving as henchmen for the old, retired greats of the game!

The first several levels of playing the game are mainly devoted to the characters becoming more powerful, bringing back treasure to buy better equipment, finding magic items, learning spells, and getting more hit points as they gain levels. Often these adventures are expeditions into an underground dungeon complex, but might also be a series of voyages on a ship or any number of other adventures—whatever the players decide to embark upon.

As the game reaches higher level, the players will most likely begin projects that aren’t specifically covered by the rules. Perhaps the Magic-user wants to build an army of magically animated iron warriors, but needs to figure out how to do it. Maybe the Fighting-man wants to establish a small, fortified manor in the wilderness hills, but needs to hire some troops and clear out the area.

This side of the game is only limited by your collective imaginations. Of course, as the characters become better known (or more notorious), they will be petitioned by all manner of people from kings to peasants for help, and they will hear of mysterious places and rumors far beyond the normal fare of less renowned adventurers.


Strongholds and (sometimes) politics begin to dominate the game after the characters reach “name” level—assuming that the players don’t retire their characters at this point, which most do. Adventurers can start building strongholds before they have reached name level, of course, but they don’t get the followers (or necessarily the recognition of other nobles in the area) until reaching a level where their renown is enough to attract villagers and troops to their protection.

Once the game reaches this level, the character will have to clear the area around the stronghold of any monsters, and can then safely begin building fortifications and taxing peasants as they flock (or trickle) to the character’s banner.

It is possible at this point that actual battles might be fought, either on land or at sea, as the character defends his fief or seeks to expand it. There are many sets of rules for this “wargaming” side of the game available for the players and Referee to choose from.

One very simple rule of thumb is provided below, in case your group wants to avoid too much detail.

Mass Combat

Units of Troops

For mass combats, the soldiers are lumped together into units of five or ten (depending on the scale of the combat). All troops in the unit should have the same type of armour. For the unit, add up the hit points of all the soldiers in the unit and treat the unit as if it is a single creature. Stronger creatures, such as giants or dragons, do not need to be grouped into units (although they are treated as a separate unit for combat purposes), and player characters should not be grouped together either.

Initiative and Combat Rounds

Combat rounds are five minutes long if troops are grouped into five-man units, and ten minutes long if they are grouped into ten-man units. At the beginning of the battle, roll for initiative. Whichever side wins the initiative can choose to move first or last, and can also choose whether to attack first or last. For example, at the beginning of the Battle of Azure Wood, where Garfinkel the Wizard’s forces are opposing an invading goblin army, if Garfinkel wins the initiative he might choose to move first and attack first, to move first but attack last, to move and attack last, or to move last but attack first.

Order of Battle (Mass Combat):

  1. Missile attacks and spells are resolved before anything else happens. If archers have a rate-of-fire of 2, only the first shot is resolved at this point; the second shot is resolved at the end of the round. Both sides resolve their missile attacks and spells, in the order chosen by the side with the initiative.
  2. Movement is resolved in the order chosen by the side with initiative. If soldiers are charging and make their impact for the first time, the results of the charge are determined immediately during the movement phase (defenders with long weapons will get a first attack, and then the charging soldiers get an attack).
  3. Melee combat is resolved (see below) in the order determined by the side with initiative.
  4. Broken units may attempt to rally (see below).
  5. Any final missile fire from archers with a rate-of-fire of 2 is resolved, in the order determined by the side with initiative.
  6. Initiative is rolled for the next round, and the new round begins.
Missile and Melee Combat

When a unit makes its attack, it makes a single attack roll against the armour class of the opposing unit; in melee combat, the attack can only be made against a unit directly in front of the attacking unit. A unit of five soldiers with 1 HD each makes its attack roll as a 1 HD creature, not as a 5 HD creature.

The first hit inflicted against a unit inflicts no damage. After a unit has been hit once, later hits are resolved as follows: damage is inflicted by rolling once (for whatever type of weapon the unit is using), and multiplying the result by the number of people in the attacking unit.

If a unit is attacking a single target (such as a giant or a lone player character), the damage is reduced by half.

Keep in mind that monsters retain their abilities; a monster that can’t be damaged by non-magical weapons won’t be hurt at all by normal arrows from a unit of regular longbowmen.

There is one special rule here: if a monster, character, or unit cannot be hit because of a good armour class or terrain modifiers (explained later), there is still a chance that a unit can inflict some damage. If the unit rolls a natural 20 to hit, it will inflict damage, but only one-quarter of the damage it would normally inflict.

Hit points inflicted on a unit don’t actually kill anyone until the unit makes a morale check (see below).

When a unit is down to half its original hit points, and any time it is hit after losing half its hit points, the unit must make a morale check. The morale check is made on a d6:

1 Four out of five of the soldiers in the unit are dead. The unit is removed from the board and the 1 or 2 survivors are fleeing.
2 The unit has no casualties, but is forced back one half of its move (the attackers can also move up their troops by the same amount if they choose to do so). The unit is “broken.”
3 The unit remains in place, but is “broken.”
4–6 Morale check succeeds, and the unit remains in the combat normally.


If a unit loses all its hit points, all the soldiers in the unit are considered dead.

Broken Units

If a unit is “broken,” it means that the unit is thrown into confusion or fright, or that they are simply so battered that they cannot function until they rally themselves.

A broken unit cannot attack, but after the melee phase of combat they may attempt to rally.

A broken unit can move backward out of combat, but cannot advance toward the enemy.

A well-trained or experienced unit of regular troops (not mercenaries) has a 75% chance to rally. Well-trained mercenaries have a 50% chance to rally. Levees and militia have a 25% chance to rally.

If the unit rallies, it is no longer considered to be “broken” and can attack normally again when the time comes.


Large-scale combat depends greatly upon the terrain, and gaining superior terrain is an important part of such combats. Fighting down a slope or from higher ground is a major factor; perhaps the most important factor. Don’t forget, though: even if a unit cannot be hit, when the attacker rolls a natural 20 it still inflicts one-quarter of its normal damage.

A unit fighting from the higher ground has a choice to make each round; it can gain a +4 on its attack roll or it can force all attackers to take a -4 on attack rolls against the unit during that round.

Units fighting inside a forest are immune to missile fire unless they are lined up at the edge, using trees as cover, in which case all enemy attacks are made at -4 (including melee attacks—holding the edge of a tree line is an advantage even in close combat).

Defending from behind a wall causes enemy attacks to be made at -4. One point about this, though: a wall at the edge of a tree line doesn’t get both modifiers from the wall and the trees; only one -4 will be applied to enemy attacks. Thus, if a unit is on top of a castle wall, defending against archers firing from below, the attack against them will be made at -8 (-4 for the higher ground, and -4 for the wall).

If a unit is flanking another unit (attacking from the side) it gains +4 to hit.

If the unit is attacking another unit from the rear, it attacks at -4 and also inflicts double normal damage.

Movement Rule

A unit cannot turn and move in the same round unless it is a mounted cavalry unit.

These rules should be enough to handle most situations, although there aren’t details for naval combat, siege weaponry, or many of the other circumstances that might be encountered in a large-scale battle. Keep in mind also that these aren’t “official” rules, just a quick outline of one way to play out the sort of battles in which the characters might find themselves as commanders or participants. The players and Referee are completely free to use another set of rules to suit their purposes.

Magical Research

Magical research is another area in which higher-level characters will begin to grow beyond the scope of the rules.

Even fairly low-level Magic-users may want to develop new spells, and higher-level Magic-users might become involved in all kinds of research from potion formulae to creating magical items, to creating golems, to breeding monsters.

In general, the details of such projects are left to the Referee; they will certainly be expensive, and will probably involve finding books of lost lore (yup, in dungeons, although perhaps the Wizard has henchmen to retrieve them by this point) and strange components ranging from eye of newt up to the heart of a dragon. Special laboratories might be required, as might the services of a hired alchemist or sage.

Remember that new spells should be carefully reviewed to make sure they aren’t too powerful—the spell’s level should reflect the spell’s power. If a spell turns out to be unexpectedly powerful to the point where it endangers the game, it is always the referee’s prerogative to protect the game by adjusting the level of the new spell.