Sword & Sorcery -flavored games

What's out there, and more importantly, what do you think about them? I'd like to keep the discussion focused on games, and not the literature or what the genre is fundamentally about. If you think the game is S&S, it's enough for this thread. Personally, I'm interested in desert/jungle/mediterranean locations, lost civilizations and their ruins, opulent palaces, mysterious+weird+uncommon magic, competent characters and pre-medieval tech level.

Comments

  • The prominent ones on my own radar right now are Sorcerer, S/lay w/ Me, The Shadow of Yesterday, Runeslayers, D&D (certain flavours, of course), to pick the ones that spring to mind immediately. There are, of course, many others - many enough that a general survey is somewhat cumbersome. I'll let somebody else list more :D

    Also, you know what I think of those games already, for the most of them. Runeslayers is one we might not have discussed - it's an obscure yet provocative sword-fighting game from late '90s, sort of like an early Riddle of Steel except very pulpy aesthetically. Free, so easy to check out.
  • I also vouch for Sorcerer (with Sorcerer & Sword).
  • A good summary by Eero.

    There have also been a few attempts at PbtA swords & sorcery games, including "Fallen Empires" by Vincent Baker (a reskin of Apocalypse World in a dark fantasy S&S-style setting).
  • Vincent's In a Wicked Age is a solid one, too. And there's Swords Without Master or whatsitsname - I read it at some point, but haven't looked into it closely.
  • Runeslayers is one we might not have discussed - it's an obscure yet provocative sword-fighting game from late '90s, sort of like an early Riddle of Steel except very pulpy aesthetically. Free, so easy to check out.
    I'm leafing through it. Very RuneQuest-feeling to me, which isn't strange considering its history.
  • If you're interested in S&S which includes some funky technology, there are also:

    * Dictionary of Mu (based on Sorcerer)
    * Dungeon Planet
    * World of Algol

    Blood Red Sands might be of interest to you, as well. (I'm not 100% sure if it fits the genre, though.)
  • D&D of course!
  • On Mighty Thews. The magic and geography rules are neat. The "Pulpy Primer" is worth using with any S&S game.

    (In short: all magic is just hidden knowledge, so you have to describe where/how you learned the sorcery to use a spell. The geography of the world is cooperatively created based on two or more thematic poles that cause the landscape itself mirror the themes of the story. All very S&S.)
  • edited March 2017
    On Mighty Thews sounds interesting, funny I haven't ever looked at it.

    Actually, it's like I read an early draft over a decade ago. The name is peculiarly familiar.
  • I don't want to knock PbtA games, and I love classes as a concept, but do you think playbooks are a good fit for S&S as a concept? I've seen two PbtA S&S hacks, and the playbooks, while thematic, feel off.
  • On Mighty Thews. The magic and geography rules are neat. The "Pulpy Primer" is worth using with any S&S game.

    (In short: all magic is just hidden knowledge, so you have to describe where/how you learned the sorcery to use a spell. The geography of the world is cooperatively created based on two or more thematic poles that cause the landscape itself mirror the themes of the story. All very S&S.)
    This is indeed very cool and appropriate.
  • edited March 2017
    I don't want to knock PbtA games, and I love classes as a concept, but do you think playbooks are a good fit for S&S as a concept? I've seen two PbtA S&S hacks, and the playbooks, while thematic, feel off.
    I can't see any reason why, in theory, playbooks wouldn't work for S&S gaming. I also haven't seen a particular hack which gripped me, though. The World of Algol playbooks are nice, but for a very specific (a la "Barsoom") kind of genre/setting. I think it's just a taste issue, probably - what kind of flavour you're looking for, and whether the playbooks align with that or not. (I also think people shouldn't be afraid of writing more PbtA games without playbooks, for that matter.)

    Or is there a particular reason you think it wouldn't work? That would be an interesting insight into the genre, if so.



  • If you codify what makes a rugged, self-made individualist and turn it into a type, it ceases to feel like a rugged, self-made individualist. Conan is not a barbarian, he's the barbarian.
  • edited March 2017
    As for other S&S games, I'll mention the Lankhmar D&D setting for being based on Fafhrd, and the Elric! and Stormbringer games (both Chaosium) for being based on Elric. I don't know Lankhmar, but I know Elric's world is iconically Moorcock (S&S in the epic mythology vein).
  • On playbooks and type - true! I never interpreted playbooks that way, though. I see them more as unique individuals than as "classes" or "types". But it depends on the design of the playbook!
  • edited March 2017
    If you codify what makes a rugged, self-made individualist and turn it into a type, it ceases to feel like a rugged, self-made individualist. Conan is not a barbarian, he's the barbarian.
    But that's exactly what AW (and some of the derivatives) does. When you play the Battlebabe playbook, you're not playing just a battlebabe, you're playing the Battlebabe. Admittedly, not all PbtA games do that (but quite honestly, I don't think they necessarily have to).
  • edited March 2017
    From the perspective of this fictional world, yes, you're the Battlebabe. From the perspective of a player who bought the book and flipped to "Battlebabe" and read all the options contained therein, or for someone who's played several games with several Battlebabes, you're a Battlebabe. I mean, you and I can have conversations about Battlebabes and what we like and don't like about them! We cannot do that for Conans. Different mental niche.

    I'm not claiming this is super important or anything, but it might have something to do with Upstart's take and query.
  • edited March 2017
    On Mighty Thews sounds interesting, funny I haven't ever looked at it.

    Actually, it's like I read an early draft over a decade ago. The name is peculiarly familiar.
    Early drafts circulated on the Forge about the time I started lurking it - which means, almost exactly 10 years ago. I believe I've played all versions of the game, and what has most changed over versions is the way "magic" is handled - which finally "gelled" into the most literary sword & sorcery subsystem in this s&s game.

    Another thing about it which is quintessentially s&s (but not unique to On Mighty Thews) is eschewing character "advancement" completely. Rather, it used to be a rule - but strangely didn't make it into the final version, which is a pity - that when bringing an existing character into a new adventure you can rewrite it completely, as if you were creating the character anew.
    This "short story" angle is shared - though maybe with less radical an approach - by most games trying to emulate "literary" swords & sorcery (as opposed to "gamey" or "post-D&D" s&s) that I know of, including Sword & Sorcerer, In a Wicked Age and Swords Without Master. Some of my favorite games amongst those I don't get to play often enough.

    An opposite angle - real focus on character advancement of the rags-to-riches fashion, almost an attempt to remake D&D - is found in Vincent's own S&S/planetary romance AW hack Freebooting Venus (available for playtesting). Maybe relevant to the discussion occurring here, Freebooting Venus does away with character-type playbooks (all PCs effectively start with the same playbook, representing a freebooter, or enterprising adventurer). Rather, the game carries a promise to be expanded via a number of additional "modules" (rules + content, not unlike playbooks) following PCs into as many different venues of adventure - such as pursuing wizardry, leading a warband, ruling a city-state, or being dead. These are to be acquired via character advancement, rather than chosen at the onset of play, and unlike AW playbooks they're complementary and cumulative (I suppose one character could well have all of them at the same time) - but they do point almost to different games or at least sub-games being played at the same time, whole different situations to explore, rather than to radically different roles within the same situation and game as in AW.

    A final remark that Worlds Without Master has included a different, self-contained game in almost each issue (I possibly have the distinction of having produced the only supplement to a game appearing in a previous issue, really) and these are all "swords and sorcery" games by definition (as it's the magazine's mission statement to perpetrate and possibly update the s&s genre).

    EDITED to add: Oh, and there's Nod, from the same author as On Mighty Thews. That's a good one.
  • Swords Without Master has gotten a couple of mentions in passing here, and I just want to give it a more detailed thumbs up — it's expressly designed to tell epic-level sword-and-sorcery stories with ultra-competent characters built more around story flavors, big ideas, and big narrative beats than around stats or classes. If you're interested in fairly simple mechanics designed to lead to satisfying collaborative storytelling, it's pretty great.

    The same designer, Epidiah Ravachol, also created Dread, and the recent offshoot The Dread Geas Of Count Vulku, which is another game directly inspired by sword-and-sorcery novels, most expressly the work of Clark Ashton Smith and Jack Vance. Like Dread, it uses Jenga as a conflict-resolution system, but it has a set story about a bunch of conniving, competitive warriors and magic-workers all serving the same dread lord and fighting for his recognition. Put it this way — one allowed move is to sacrifice yourself for the good of the party, which gives you "the right to demand of your companions 'Which among you will sing of this?'” I love it.
  • Some other games not mentioned so far, and how they're relevant to swords & sorcery gaming:

    The Clay That Woke (Paul Czege): decaying jungle kingdom, ancient and bizarre traditions, a surreal jungle full of unpredictable monstrosities, self-control and the inner "beast" as core themes, characters wearing very little clothes if at all. Presented as a work of fantasy fiction interspersed with rules.

    Trollbabe (Ron Edwards): the powerful loner as a main character, wandering from location to location into adventures, a short-story format, a concern with the here and now, a state of protracted racial war; magic which makes sense once you reference Sorcerer or On Mighty Thews or actual S&S fiction to "flavor" the numbers; character "progression" as change and scars, not rags to riches. References a bunch of obscure, trippy comics.

    Circle of Hands (Ron Edwards, again): the setting information makes an earnest, possibly the best ever attempt to reconstruct everyday life in a land which historically didn't exist anywhere at any time, but could reasonably have existed at a number of times somewhere. Until you factor in magic, of course. Magic in this setting is scary.
  • From the perspective of this fictional world, yes, you're the Battlebabe. From the perspective of a player who bought the book and flipped to "Battlebabe" and read all the options contained therein, or for someone who's played several games with several Battlebabes, you're a Battlebabe. I mean, you and I can have conversations about Battlebabes and what we like and don't like about them! We cannot do that for Conans. Different mental niche.

    I'm not claiming this is super important or anything, but it might have something to do with Upstart's take and query.
    Guess you have a point there.
  • Interesting! I'm not sure I agree. I mean, if we play a bunch of S&S epics with a male barbarian Conan-esque character, we'd end up with a similar situation, wouldn't we? But, yes, perhaps.

    Rafu, I was wondering whether to mention "Freebooting", but wasn't sure it really fits the S&S genre. To my eyes, it does, but I'm not hardcore about it or anything.

    What about Enter the Avenger? That seems fairly S&S in vibe.

    Showdown could work really well for an S&S epic confrontation between two warriors or sorcerers, although it doesn't specify genre itself.
  • edited March 2017
    Interesting! I'm not sure I agree. I mean, if we play a bunch of S&S epics with a male barbarian Conan-esque character, we'd end up with a similar situation, wouldn't we?
    Hah, but a Conan-esque character isn't reaaaally Conan, now is it?

    *I kid, I kid*
  • Well, you can't have it both ways... ;)
  • From the perspective of this fictional world, yes, you're the Battlebabe. From the perspective of a player who bought the book and flipped to "Battlebabe" and read all the options contained therein, or for someone who's played several games with several Battlebabes, you're a Battlebabe. I mean, you and I can have conversations about Battlebabes and what we like and don't like about them! We cannot do that for Conans. Different mental niche.

    I'm not claiming this is super important or anything, but it might have something to do with Upstart's take and query.
    When I think of S&S, I don't think of parties of specialists who all share the spotlight. It feels liked The Fellowship or D&D to me. And maybe there's that lack of individualism you mentioned too.
  • I don't see what PbtA has to do with "parties of specialists". Certainly I wouldn't expect an S&S hack to be like that, in any case - as you point out, it doesn't really suit the genre.
  • If solo protagonist RPGs were that easy to pull off, we'd never have had 7 editions of Call of Cthulhu, plus Trail, plus a billion supplements, all for groups of characters, of which Lovecraft wrote next to nothing.

    If I wanted to pick out other characters from Elric's saga to be protagonists, they'd probably be Elric's enemies. The shared scenes would be cool, but they'd probably be in the minority. Lotsa players spending lotsa time not playing their characters... sounds like a problem.

    So, Upstart, I completely agree with you, but I have no games to recommend which actually solve this issue.
  • Solo protagonist RPGs aren't hard to pull off at all! It's just that they run counter the main line of RPG design tradition, which makes them rare - but every single one I've played worked absolutely fine with regards to, well, being a solo protagonist RPG. :)

    Of the aforementioned s&s-ish games, S/lay w/Me, Nod and my own Enter the Avenger (thanks mentioning it, Paul) are outright solo-protagonist RPGs. S/lay w/Me accomplishes that by being a 2-player game. Nod and EtA are games for 3+ players where one player fills the main character role, while the others play supporting characters, antagonists and the world at large - each player having their own specific tasks.

    Trollbabe, possibly owing to being an earlier design, chooses an oblique approach - where each trollbabe is essentially the solo protagonist of their own tale, but these stories are told more-or-less simultaneously, with a single GM framing all scenes and alternating between protagonists. Crossing these stories and having the trollbabes meet is optional, and depends on a player choosing to do so, basically by leaving her own story to enter another's.

    The Clay that Woke is a step from Trollbabe: it has all the individual, single-protagonist stories happen within the same broad geographical area so that they end up being woven together by proximity, with crosses unavoidable. This is actually the solution most common to multiple-protagonist novels (or films): weaving stories together through crosses, with some bigger picture existing but not being immediately apparent. It is also one possible approach to playing The Shadow of Yesterday or Sorcerer.

    A further step is what Sorcerer and Sword basically recommends doing: having all PCs be movers and shakers within some kind of limited scope, but very tense, local situation - not knowing in advance who's gonna to reveal themselves as a hero and who as an antagonist or villain. PCs, then, are more likely to be at odds with each other than work together as a team (this is also how I run Apocalypse World, by the way).

    In a Wicked Age is similar to the above, but to that it adds specific rules for establishing which character(s) are coming back as recurring main characters. Blood Red Sands does something like that too, in a much more stylized way.

    On Mighty Thews does have a problem here, as does Swords Without Masters. My best suggestion to preserve the intended s & s feel is: no more than 3 players, including the Master of Ceremonies/Overplayer/GM. This means an adventurous pair of main characters, more in line with the reference genre than any larger group.
  • I could see the approach from Clay / Sorcerer and Sword working well for S&S emulation, if we zoom out a bit from the iconic single-protag tale and think more "Worlds of Sword & Sorcery". And obviously Nod and Avenger are great if everyone's on board. When I get pumped to play S&S, though, it's usually as protagonist, and I don't like my odds if there's only one of those for the group.
  • When I get pumped to play S&S, though, it's usually as protagonist, and I don't like my odds if there's only one of those for the group.
    Oh, now I see what you mean! I don't usually think of that because, you know, I've usually been the GM in games with one, so...

    Anyway, I suppose taking turns playing the two roles is as essential to S/lay w/Me as being a one-shot game (thus, potentially playable in different roles next time) is to Nod or Enter the Avenger.
    Missing from the picture, though, is something like SKEW or Lovecraftesque - where there's only one main character that we all get to play.
  • edited March 2017

    Oh, now I see what you mean! I don't usually think of that because, you know, I've usually been the GM in games with one, so...
    I personally prefer games with one GM and 1-2 players, 3 being the absolute maximum. And I prefer this regardless of genre. Players get a lot more attention from the GM and the play is a lot more intense. It also works great for S&S. With 2 players, it won't matter if everyone is playing in different places and only crossover occasionally into each others' paths or if they are together from the get go.
  • edited March 2017
    I don't see what PbtA has to do with "parties of specialists". Certainly I wouldn't expect an S&S hack to be like that, in any case - as you point out, it doesn't really suit the genre.
    Maybe I'm articulating my point badly.
  • Well, Modiphius is doing the Conan game.
  • Upstart:

    Sure, want to try again?

    I may be coming from a different background than you, too - I've never played a PbtA game which had a "group of people doing stuff together" vibe at all. (Well, perhaps we did briefly in a short online playtest of the Sprawl, but that was very short-lived.)
  • Upstart:

    Sure, want to try again?

    I may be coming from a different background than you, too - I've never played a PbtA game which had a "group of people doing stuff together" vibe at all. (Well, perhaps we did briefly in a short online playtest of the Sprawl, but that was very short-lived.)
    Dungeon World certainly has this vibe, and so does Monster of the Week. Both of those are by design, however, because the genres they are working with are pretty team-based.
  • Upstart:

    Sure, want to try again?

    I may be coming from a different background than you, too - I've never played a PbtA game which had a "group of people doing stuff together" vibe at all. (Well, perhaps we did briefly in a short online playtest of the Sprawl, but that was very short-lived.)
    I think I was projecting The Sprawl too much into my observations, actually. However, single protagonist (like in S/Lay) feels more S&S to me, perhaps because of Conan. Nod and EtA are interesting to me because of a single protagonist model.

    I think rivals/enemies model is interesting, but it tends to produce disjointed stories which lack focus, and are challenging to keep track of.

  • I've been working on my old Sword & Sorcery game on and off for about 4 years now, but it slowly turned into a bit of a comparative mythology / Hero's Journey thing and then back again.

    However I mostly just run modifications of Agon and On Mighty Thews for Sword & Sorcery.

    I really want to learn Swords Without Master but I've been too shy to try and get into the Saturday Night or Sunday Morning Swords stuff they have on the Google+ page.
  • While somewhat removed Blades in the Dark shares many of the same elements that drew me to Swords and Sorcery fiction. You have a ruined world where the supernatural element is a constant threat that cannot be easily sworded through. You have a decadent empire, disadvantaged masses, and constant cultural tension. You have a class of broadly competent violent people seeking riches and a place within the world. Use of supernatural powers is fraught with risk and often personal cost. Add onto that a focus on risk taking, scrapping together Coin, and the Vice mechanics. I think early Conan could easily be a scoundrel.
  • I feel like Ben Lehman's Polaris likely qualifies as Sword & Sorcery. By design each scene is for a single character on their adventure, it features a dying decadent world, a focus on the present with no real future to speak of, and demons and magic.
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