How to play

Once you’ve got a character, the Referee will describe where the character is, and what he sees. The game might start in a rural peasant village, in a vast and teeming city spiked with towers and minarets, in a castle, a tavern, or at the gates of an ancient tomb—that’s up to the Referee. But from that point on,you describe what your character does. Going down stairs, attacking a dragon, ing to the people you meet: all of these sorts of things areyour decisions. The Referee tells you what happens as a result: maybe those stairs lead down to a huge tomb, or that dragon attacks your character. That’s for the Referee to decide. The rules below are guidelines for how to handle certain events: combat, movement, healing, dying, and other important parts of the game.

Basically, you and the Referee work together, with the Referee handling the details of a dangerous fantasy world, and you handling what your character does in it. The epic story of your character’s rise to greatness (or of his unfortunate death) is yours to create in the Referee’s world.

Gameplay example

A Fighter,Arnold the Lion, is fighting three goblins in a dark alley of the Glittering City of Semoulia. We eavesdrop just as the encounter begins:

Arnold’s player: “I draw myself up to full height and inform them that I’m a captain of the guard. My soldiers are right behind me, and these vermin better disperse or I’ll have them brought in for interrogation.”

Referee: “Um, no. They’re not buying it. You’re covered in filth from that garbage pit, remember?”

Arnold’s player: “Oh, yeah. I forgot that.”

Referee: “Roll initiative.” (Secretly rolls a d6 and gets a result of 6.)

Arnold’s player: “I rolled a 2.”

Referee: The goblins attack first. They’re all more than ten feet from you, and they move forward with their clubs at the ready.”

Arnold’s player: “They don’t charge?”

Referee: “Nope.”

Arnold’s player: “They don’t get an attack because they closed in. It’s my turn to attack, right?”

Referee: “Yes.”

Arnold’s player: (Rolls a d20.) “16—sweet! Adding my base to-hit bonus and Strength bonus gives me a total “to-hit” roll of 18!”

Referee: (Notes that goblins have an armour class of 14, using the ascending AC rules.) “You swing your sword into the leading goblin. Roll for damage.”

Arnold’s player: (Rolls a d6.) “2 points, but I’ve got a +1 damage bonus, so that’s 3.”

Referee: (That’s enough to kill it. The goblin had only 2 hit points.) “Okay, so as it’s moving forward, the goblin slips a little bit in a puddle on the stones of the narrow alley where you’re fighting, and skids right onto your sword. As you yank out the blade, the goblin falls dead to the ground. The other two are still attacking, but they look nervous now—obviously starting to reconsider this whole thing.”


Swords & Wizardry is a free-form roleplaying game, meaning that there aren’t very many rules. The Referee is responsible for handling situations that aren’t covered by the rules, making fair evaluations of what the characters do and deciding what happens as a result. This is not a game in which the players are “against” the Referee, even though the Referee is responsible for creating tricky traps, dangerous situations, and running the monsters and other foes the PCs will encounter during the game. In fact, the players and the Referee cooperate with each other to create a fantasy epic, with the Referee creating the setting and the players developing the story of the heroes. If they aren’t skillful and smart, the epic might be very short. But it’s not the Referee’s job to defeat the players—it’s his job to provide interesting (and dangerous) challenges, and then guide the story fairly.