Referee Information

Running a game of Swords & Wizardry is a lot easier than running most other role-playing games, simply because there aren’t many rules, and your discretion overrides them anyway. Most situations are handled by making “common sense” decisions about what would happen next. If there are a bunch of zombies around the next corner, and the players decide to not go around that corner, it’s up to the Referee to determine whether or not it makes sense for the zombies to come out and attack—or whether their orders are simply to stay where they are. If a player decides that his character is going to jump through a wall of fire, with several bottles of flammable oil in his backpack, it’s up to the Referee to determine whether or not they explode. This means “making up” a lot of stuff on the spot. If you’re not a good storyteller or if you’re not up to doing a lot of creative thinking on the fly, it might be better that you try a different game—one that provides more rules and guidance for every little situation that might arise. But if you’re a good storyteller, creative and fair, Swords & Wizardry's small, Spartan rule-set frees up your creativity to create a fantasy role-playing experience completely different from the type of game that depends on a multitude of rules.

Swords & Wizardry also frees up your creativity in terms of customizing the game. You can add house rules wherever you want to without accidentally messing up something else buried in the rules of a more complex game. If your campaign needs a special set of rules for Asian spellcasting, plug them in as a replacement for the normal Magic-user character class. If you want to use critical hits and fumbles in the game, add ‘em in. You won’t break anything because there’s not much to break.

Designing an Adventure

Basically, the “adventure” is just the setting for the game, usually a map and your notes about certain locations on the map. As the players tell you where their characters go and what they do, you’re referring to the map and your notes to describe what happens as a result. Don’t try to plan for all contingencies—it’s guaranteed that the players will do something unexpected

during the adventure, and you’ll just have to run with it, thinking on your feet and making up new things as you go. Just as you challenge the players with the adventure, they’ll challenge you to keep up with their collective creativity.

For the basic dungeon adventure, draw the dungeon floor plan on graph paper, number the rooms (or other important locations), and then write yourself a “key” to remind yourself what monsters, treasures, traps, and tricks are found in these numbered locations. The traditional dungeon, which many people on the internet call a “megadungeon” is a vast labyrinth of underground tunnels, rooms, corridors, and chambers, extending many levels down beneath the surface. It might contain subterranean lakes, rivers, chasms, and cave-ins, and it is certain to contain traps for the unwary, monsters in their multitudes, and most importantly: treasure beyond the wildest dreams of the players—if they can bring it out safely.

In designing a megadungeon, it’s often helpful to start with a quick cross-sectional map of what the dungeon looks like. But the real meat of designing the dungeon comes when you start making the floor plans of the dungeon levels themselves. An example floor plan is shown here, together with a key for the first few rooms on the following pages. This should give you a basic idea of how to start designing your dungeon.

Sample Dungeon Map

Sample Dungeon Map Key

Entry Room: A double line of pillars runs from north to south in this room, and there is a massive statue at the southern end of the room, a fat creature with a horned head holding a massive bowl in which fires burn mysteriously without any visible source of fuel. A corridor leads to the north, and there is a door in the East and West wall. No monsters. The fire pit can be used to light torches.

Giant Ant Room: This room is the home of a nest of giant ants, and the stone floor is broken up and uneven from their burrowing. At any given time there will be 1d4 giant ants in the room, and there’s a 10% chance one of them is a warrior ant. Checking around on the floor will often reveal some sort of treasure the ants have churned up from their nest (from past victims, most likely). Roll 1d6: 1–3 = no treasure; 4–5 = 1d10 gp; 6 = 3d6 gp.

Empty room: the only thing in the room is a broken helmet (useless and worthless). The ceiling of the room is damp, and drips.

Empty room: Note that there’s a secret door in the south wall. Roll 1d6 for each character to notice the door if there is a cursory inspection of the walls; humans, Elves, and Halflings have a 1 in 6 chance, and Dwarves have a 2 in 6 chance to notice. If the characters take time to search, using up one minute per 10 ft section of wall, they may roll again with the same odds.

Goblin Room: 8 goblins make their lair here. They have treasure of 200 gp.

Stairs Down: This room is empty, but the wind drafts create a strange whistling noise.

The six rooms above give you a general idea of how to create the key for your dungeon map. The map also gives you a few standard symbols: a pit trap at location 7, beds, fireplace, a basin and curtains in location 17, a fountain or pool in location 19, a portcullis trap at the entry to location 14, and archways in location 15.

Here are a few more brainstorming ideas for things that can be found in a dungeon: pit traps, teleporters, statues (that might animate and attack, or reward certain actions), altars, arrow-traps, pools (possibly with magical waters), magic pentacles, areas of natural caves, shaky ceilings, chutes to lower levels, stairs up and down, chasms into the depths (possibly with a bridge, possibly not), pools of lava, secret doors (very important), shifting walls, and whatever else you can dream up.

If you feel like you don’t have enough time or ideas, you might decide to purchase or download one of the many adventure “modules” that have been designed for fantasy gaming. For example, Tomb of the Iron God, which is available from theSwords & Wizardry website (, is designed as an introductory dungeon adventure.

Running a Dungeon Adventure

The following are few rules of thumb for running a dungeon adventure; they are guidelines for the average or normal situation and can (and often should) be altered to fit the circumstances.

Listening at Doors: Listening at a door has a 1 in 6 chance of success for humans; non-human characters most likely have better hearing than humans and can hear noises with a 2 in 6 chance of success.

Opening doors: Stuck doors (and many doors in an ancient dungeon may be stuck closed) have only a 2 in 6 chance of opening on the first try. Smashing through a door with (up to 3) characters gives each character a normal chance of success, but they will spill into the room and should automatically lose initiative if there are monsters within.

Secret Doors: Secret doors are not spotted by chance while passing by; they must be searched for. Searching for a secret door takes a turn (10 minutes of game time) for a 10 ft segment of wall. Humans, Halflings, and Dwarves have a 2 in 6 chance to find a secret door while searching, and Elves have a 4 in 6 chance.

Traps and Pits: Anyone passing over or through the trigger for a trap has a 2 in 6 chance to spring the trap. It is suggested (but not required) that for traps involving a stone trigger (such as a pressure plate) or a hole or gap in stonework (such as a falling block or an arrow-hole), that a dwarf has a 1 in 6 chance to notice the features of a trap before passing over/through it, as long as he is moving at a careful speed; and that he has a 3 in 6 chance to notice features of a trap when he is searching (one turn per ten-foot square of wall or floor). Identifying the features of a trap does not tell the dwarf how to disarm the trap (although in some cases the disarming mechanism might be obvious once the trap’s visible features are identified).

Creating a Campaign

A campaign is the world beyond the adventure, the cities and forests and coastlines and kingdoms of the fantasy world.

The players will almost certainly want their characters to explore wildernesses, visit cities, and do all sorts of things in the fantasy world. At the beginning of the game, you might want to sketch out a map of a single village (as a starting point) and some of the surrounding area. (The location of the first adventure—a dark forest—perhaps?) As players move their characters around from adventure to adventure, you can expand the little map into an entire fantasy world—with continents, kingdoms, and great empires at your disposal.

If you want to take a shortcut, you can set your entire campaign in a fictional world created by the author of one of your favorite fantasy books. Most of these have maps, and the author has already created the details and the feel of the world for you. The worlds of Conan’s Hyboria (Robert E. Howard), of Elric and the eternal champions (Michael Moorcock), and of the Dying Earth (Jack Vance) are popular fictional settings ready for gaming. Indeed, publishers have already created pre-packaged campaigns for all three of those examples.

Once the players decide to adventure beyond the dungeon, you’ll have to expand your map a bit, and perhaps make plans for the kinds of monsters the party of adventurers will encounter. These adventures might include traveling to another dungeon based on rumors that a great treasure is there, piracy on the high seas, exploring the coast in a merchant galley, dashing to the rescue of a village besieged by an orcish tribe, or hunting bandits for bounty money. The possibilities are endless, and since the party’s direction is up to them you will never quite know what they’re going to do. (This is why it’s a good idea not to try to plan for the campaign’s expansion until it starts to happen.) Most referees create encounter tables for wilderness travel, using the monsters in this book. There is also a file of additional monsters that can be downloaded from the game’s website, if you want to expand the possibilities a bit.

A short encounter table for a dark forest (which, frankly, you could re-use for every dark forest the characters enter unless you want to personalize them a bit more) might look as follows:

Dark Forest Encounter Matrix
1d10 Monster Encounters Humanoid Encounters Giant Animal Encounters Lycanthrope Encounters
1 Humans or Demi-humans Merchant Caravan (4d10) Giant Ticks (1d3) Werebear
2 Dragon Bandits (4d10) Giant Spiders (2d6) Werebear
3 Giant Animal Berserkers (4d10) Lion (1d2) Werebear
4 Lycanthrope Bandit patrol (1d6) Bear (1d2) Wereboar
5 Manticore Berserker patrol (1d6) Giant Badger (1d3) Wereboar
6 Giant Animal Soldier Patrol (2d6) Wild Boar (1d6) Wereboar
7 Gnolls (3d8) Elven patrol (1d6) Treant (1d2) Wererat
8 Goblins (3d10) Forest Nomads (2d8) Worgs (1d6) Weretiger
9 Wolves (1d20) Lone traveler (character type) Troll (1) or Ogres (1d4) Werewolf
10 Owlbears (1d3) Adventuring Party:
1d6 adventurers + 1d6 men at arms
Purple Worm (1) Werewolf


Obviously, different terrain types may have different encounter tables and subtables (the lycanthrope subtable, for example, is heavy on wereboars for a forest, but you might want to emphasize werewolves in less forested areas, or invent your own lycanthropes (perhaps the hills have a lycanthrope form of mountain goat, for instance).

Experience Points

The player section of these rules gives some information about gaining XP, which are awarded for gaining treasure and killing monsters. It may seem counter-intuitive that treasure somehow makes characters more experienced, but that's not what awarding experience for gold pieces is all about. Gold pieces are an after-the-fact measurement of how ingenious the character (player) was in getting them. The gold pieces aren't the source of the experience, they are the measurable product of it. Solving puzzles and finding traps are all already rewarded though this "gold standard," and shouldn't ordinarily be the source of bonus XP. However, if the treasure from an adventure isn't the best measurement of the effort, as in missions the players undertake without expectation of reward, the referee will have to provide an alternative source of XP. This can be done by awarding XP bonuses for finding and avoiding traps, for solving puzzles, and for turning potential enemies into allies with smart decision-making or fast talking. Overall success with a mission is another method of awarding XP when the adventure is going to be short on gold. Smart decision-making by the players is the key to awarding XP properly; avoid giving rewards for situations that were actually determined by the dice.

If you find that whatever system you're using leads the players toward bad decisions—seeking out unnecessary combats or looking for traps to spring, for example—you might consider adjusting your system. This is true for the "official" system of awarding experience, too. Remember, the Referee is the ultimate judge of what works best for the game, and any rule can be changed to fit the gaming group.