The City of Fire & Coin: A Free Swords Without Master Preview

There's this game that keeps not being published. You might have heard about it here, a post from over two years ago that first says, "Save up now, cause you'll want to buy this at the 2010 GenCon!" and then says, "Oops, sorry, I mean later in the year in 2010! Totally! Absolutely!" And then 2011 rolls around and it's all like Swords Without Who? Never heard of him. And so it goes, on into the far-flung future of 2012.

But here we are, in the sci-fi future of our dreams. Scientists have invented computers that can recognize cats on the Internet, an injection that lets you go an hour without breathing, helicopter drones that can deliver tacos, and a preview for Swords Without Master that contains all the rules you need to play taught to you in a very convenient read-along-as-you-play(tm)* format! What a brave new world we live in!

Who knows what technological miracles the second half of 2012 will bring . . .

* Does not denote an actual trademark.


  • Seems pretty neat! I like the flavor of the text. It will take me a while to read through it all, but I definitely will and let you know what I think. Thanks for sharing this!
  • I just got it and read through it. I feel like it's the third in a trilogy of very innovative rpgs about sword and sorcery, the first two being In a Wicked Age and On Mighty Thews. I love the rules for ending scenes and picking up the dice. I'm a bit confused by how the end works, but I'm thinking that I should forget everything I read in the pdf and sit down with three people and just read the text cold and see what happens.

    I really like it in theory and I'm curious how it plays!
  • I really like it in theory and I'm curious how it plays!
    I hate to use a technical term, but it plays good.
  • The file got downloaded the day you put it out, read up to half the way today while commuting, and I'm seriously considering playing this thing at a convention coming in a month.
  • Wow.

    Back in the 80's-early 90's, i was used to play with Conan OST and all the games were starting this way

    Making a game where the GM is narrating this way is just a wonderfull idea.

  • edited June 2012
    Mostly true story: A while back I was enjoying a lovely dinner with friends who all happen to be game designers themselves. Ostensibly we were going to play a game that night, but before that we were chatting about our various publish aches and pains. I got to talking about why it was taking me so long to finish Sw/oM. I had painted myself into a corner. I had chosen the single most difficult chapter to write, "The City of Fire & Coin," to be my preview chapter.

    "But why is it so hard to write?" they asked. In unison.

    "We'll it's a bit weird writing instructions in the first and second person to the first and second person. I mean, that pronoun thing alone took months to sort out."

    "Yeah, but now it's sorted. What's the real hold up?" they asked. In unison again. It was chilling.

    "It's the voice. I can't find the voice. It's not like Time & Temp, born out of my hatred and given shape by my own voice. That was easy. Creating from hatred is always easy. This, this was born out of love. I need to do something that recaptures that awe I had when I first laid eyes on D&D, or when I first heard Ronnie James Dio sing, or when I first gingerly pulled Swords Against Death off my public library's shelf. I want the Overplayer to unabashedly embrace the flavor text of old. I want to shed the awkward self-awareness brought on by my education and culture that has forced me to shield myself behind a wall of ironic distance. I need to return to the days of high adventure--oh shit, I think I need Mako to narrate this."

    And that's the true story of how "The City of Fire & Coin" found its voice.
  • And the world is all the better for it.

    I've recruited a group of interested Ithacans and we're going to play this thing from end-to-end on July 3rd.
  • That bit about monkeys with swords and spears waging war across the city rooftops . . . That was beautiful man.
  • Epidiah: would you have somewhere a diagram of the rules/ whole "City of fire & coin" ?
    It would help people who are not native english speakers to play it (for exemple: me)
  • That bit about monkeys with swords and spears waging war across the city rooftops . . . That was beautiful man.
    Why thank you. I learned long ago that dirty secret to gamer marketing is that monkeys sell.
    Epidiah: would you have somewhere a diagram of the rules/ whole "City of fire & coin" ?
    It would help people who are not native english speakers to play it (for exemple: me)
    That presents an interesting dilemma. I do not have anything at the moment, and I have reason to avoid such things for the native English speakers, but I might be able to work something up for you. I'll put aside some time next week and see what I can do.

  • great, thanks
  • So, I ran this last night, and have several comments, but the most important one first: dude, what is up with the end of the game? Did I miss a page or something?

    Page 16: "Now let us take this journey to its very end."

    Page 17: a FAQ

    Page 18: a glossary

    Page 19: a picture of me scratching my head

    So, for the end of the game, we just went around the table and had an epilogue, but is there something else we should have done?
  • edited July 2012
    Hey there,

    I'm sure Ep will answer, but the ending is in the Reincorporations on that page:
    The End Game starts the moment the third
    element is filled in on the third Motif card. It
    can happen between phases or in the middle of
    a phase. This does not matter. We will pick up
    playing exactly where we left off. But know that
    the game is soon about to end and our story is
    about to be completed.

    The End Game is when we reincorporate our
    threads. While we continue to play the game as
    we have just learned, look for opportunities to
    bring the Morals, Mysteries and Motifs back
    into the tale, ways to echo, answer or restate
    these threads. Each time we do so, we come one
    step closer to the very end.
    This makes up the endgame. Doing an epilogue as a wrap up, too, sounds fun.

    (edited for accuracy)
  • I think I see where the confusion lies. And I'll try to clear things up in the text as soon as I can (which may be a while, because the computer has yet to boot up today.)

    The End Game plays exactly like the game you've just been playing. Same Perilous Phase. Same Discovery Phase. Same Rogue Phase. In fact, you don't have to skip a beat when that third Motif card is filled. Just keep on playing just like you were, but now with the knowledge the story is about to end and with the added goal of reincorporation.

    Does that address the issue you were having?
  • Yes -- I think I was just a little rules-exhausted by that point, so I got it backwards. Since it says "now let us take this journey to its very end" after describing the end game, I thought there was one more part I was missing.

    So! Other things to say. I really liked running this. It inspired a lot of discussion at our table. I am kind of a traditionalist with RPGs, so playing a game where the dice (for the most part) determine the direction of the story, not the success of the characters, was interesting and fun. I really liked the read-as-you-play format.

    I do have some constructive criticisms, which I hope are taken with love. I felt like the text for the Overplayer to read was too wordy in places. It caused me to read more quickly so as to move forward, which led to some confusion. The tone is great! I think you can manage to keep that tone and cut the text by 10-25%. Another very minor thing is the Rogue cards: they should all be on one page so that you can easily cut them out and hand them to players. I had to do this myself.

    My group had a few issues, but I think that's an artifact of my group and not the game. In the Discovery phase, when re-stating how Morals and Mysteries work (p. 11, third column), they all got confused and I finally said, "Morals and Mysteries work exactly like they did before; don't worry about it," which worked. We also cheated a little: 3-4 hours is about an hour longer than we usually play, so we decided to have two Motif cards, which worked fine, actually. I bet you have some notes about more or less Motif cards in the full game. Lastly, we had some trouble with people talking before rolling dice, narrating stuff that should wait for the dice to hit the table, but that worked out ok. I had to be a mean Overplayer and tell people to zip it every once in a while.

    I will be interested to hear from my group how they enjoyed it. I think they did, but I'm not sure they did as much as I did.

    Great job on this, Eppy! I will be interested to play again.
  • I'm very happy you liked it. And thank you for the feedback. As you can probably imagine, the balancing act going on in the text involves a thousand and one concerns as I'm juggling tone, conciseness, and 999 different ideals of clarity. I'll see what I can do about being more succinct without sacrificing someone else's clarity.

    The good news is I got the rogues on an extra sheet for you. It's up on the post where you got the PDF. That was an unfortunate oversight on my part, but easily corrected.

    With regards to the length, my number piece of advise is to hit the motifs fast and hard, which is not something you can really do while you're just learning the game. But I've managed to play an hour and a half long game with three motif cards. It was an online game, which I think helped, because there wasn't a lot of off-game chatter and you were constantly staring at the motifs. Switching to just two motifs certainly won't break the game (though it might get it a little tight for threads at the end if you don't happen to roll Mystery or Moral).
  • I had some trouble understanding how to play out the end game as well, but I haven't actually run it yet, so grain of salt there. My confusion is with how do you reincorporate motifs? What is that like at the table? Someone says something about one of the motifs and then they can't talk anymore?

    I should just shut up and run the thing.
  • edited July 2012
    Edited because Eppy, like, actually wrote it, and thus can explain it better than me.

    (That spider thing really happened, though.)
  • Reincorporation should look pretty much like any other moment in the game. You're still playing out the phases like normal, but with an eye towards bringing the story to an end and echoing one of the threads.

    For the Motif thread in particular, you want to reincorporate a blend of any two elements on one Motif card. So let's say the rogues are just about to finish up a grim, frost-bitten adventure in the north and one of the motif cards reads like this:

    + a giant serpent covered in white fur
    + spectral women that visit in the night
    + trolls the size of mountains

    Manyara has just reincorporated some Moral about how much wiser it is "to let the ice gods slumber" by burying one under an avalanche. It's a Rogue Phase, so she hands the dice to Snorri and demands, "Show me how you spend the pittance we've made on this adventure." Snorri rolls Glum and ends the game this way:

    "Who knows how many days without light we traveled across this starlit glacier before we found a strange and lonely hut occupied solely by a man who clearly shared some ancestry with the trolls. After some grunting and haggling, I manage to trade the silver bowl we found for warm, but meager soup and three snow lizard mounts to take us back into the lands of the sun."

    It is agreed upon that the half-troll rancher and his snow lizards are acceptable reincorporations of the mountain-sized trolls and the furry serpent.

    Does that help?
  • It does, yeah!
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