Sword World

Back in 1988 Group SNE wanted to start publishing materials for the Record of Lodoss War setting. To avoid paying licensing fees to TSR, they began to describe Record of Lodoss War as a generic fantasy setting. That said, the other fantasy RPGs of the time, Tunnels & Trolls and RuneQuest, lacked some of the classes and races that were used in the replay. The game that would soon be called ソード・ワール ドRPG “Sword World RPG” was thus a more viable alternative to Dungeons & Dragons. It seems unlikely that anyone at Group SNE anticipated that the game would become the leading RPG in Japan, as D&D was quite popular then. But Shinwa, the Japanese publisher of D&D, went out of business in 1991 and D&D wouldn’t even be available for sale in Japan for several years.

The Sword World rulebook was published in April of 1989 as a 448 page bunkobon with no interior art. Ryo Mizuno is credited as the author, but the game was actually designed by Miyuki Kiyomatsu. Bunkobons incidentally aren’t a great format for RPG rulebooks. Surely a larger book that lies flat on the table is better. However, bunkobons are cheap and they can be sold through bookstores. Tunnels & Trolls was the first RPG sold in Japan in this way. And like T&T, Sword World only uses six-sided dice.

The Sword World races are 人間 “human”, エルフ “elf”, ドワーフ “dwarf”, グラスランナー “grass runner”, and ハーフ・エルフ “half elf”. A grass runner is pretty much a hobbit. Once a race is chosen, the six ability scores for a character can be generated: 器用度 “handiness”, 敏捷度 “agility”, 知力 “intelligence”, 筋力 “strength”, 生命力 “constitution”, and 精神 “willpower”. These are numbers which range from 4 to 24, but they are not entirely independent. Quantities labeled A through H are generated in a manner that depends on race, and these are summed in various ways to get the ability scores. If you always thought strength and constitution should be positively correlated, Sword World might well be the game for you.

The classes are ソーサラー “sorcerer”, シャーマン “shaman”, ファイター “fighter”, シーフ “thief”, プリースト “priest”, レンジャー “ranger”, セージ “sage, and バード “bard”. The sorcerer and priest are pretty much the magic user and cleric of D&D. The priest, for example, can cure wounds and turn undead, both of which are treated as spells, however.

Sword World has skills and classes are treated as a type of skill. Skill level is a number from 0–used for those who don’t have the skill–to 10 which is the highest skill level. Players earn experience points to advance in level. Some actions are resolved by the player comparing a 2d6 roll against the gamemaster’s 2d6 roll. The player succeeds if he gets the higher roll, and if he has a relevant skill he can add his skill level to the roll.

Players also roll 2d6 when attacking. Monsters have an 回避点 “evasion grade” number which the attacker must roll at or above. However, a 2 is always a miss and a 12 always a hit.

Damage is determined indirectly by a 2d6 roll. One takes the 2d6 roll and a “key number” which depends on the weapon used and the attacker’s strength to look up the damage in a table. The key number is at least the minimum strength required to wield the weapon. For example, one must have an 8 strength to attack with a broad sword. But the key number for a broad sword can be as high as 16 if the attacker’s strength is that high. There is no additional benefit to using a broad sword for attackers with strength above 16. In any case, if the 2d6 roll is 2, no damage is inflicted, and if the roll is 10 or higher, the attacker can make the 2d6 roll again to compute additional damage. Fighters, thieves, and rangers get some additional bonuses depending on their level. Damage is subtracted from the defenders constitution.

Comptiq Magazine: February 1987

This week let’s take a look at the February 1987 issue of Comptiq magazine, containing episode VI of the Record of Lodoss War replay and incidentally a fine piece of Deedlit fan service from illustrator Yutaka Izubuchi.

The Maze of the Minotaur scenario (pdf, 3.3Mb)

Last month the party was dropped off on the island of the minotaur. They fought some lizardmen, one of whom fled into the maze. This month they enter the maze where Ghim the dwarf falls into a pit trap and is hit by a giant rolling “Raiders” boulder. Etoh attempts to heal him but Ghim only recovers 2 hit points. Next the party enters an orange-lit room where the image of an old man materializes and asks whether the party members are all sacrificial victims for the minotaur. Deedlit realizes the man is the sage Woot and that his words contain the hidden message that every path that doesn’t lead to the minotaur ends with a trap. The players consider whether the man is a self-insert of the dungeon master, and moreover whether the DM is God. The DM modestly points out that his powers are limited by the need to provide an entertaining session.

Next they encounter a maiden in the maze who tells them that she is to be sacrificed to the minotaur. Deedlit is suspicious and casts charm person on the maiden. The spell fails and Deedlit accuses the maiden of being an 魔物 “evil spirit”. Laughing, the maiden polymorphs into the form of Deedlit and attacks Deedlit. This doesn’t benefit the doppelganger since the whole party still attacks it and it is soon dead.

The party sets off some shriekers, which attract a shadow, which Etoh fails to turn. They fight giant rats and two ghouls which Etoh again fails to turn.

Finally they locate the minotaur (HP 37). Deedlit hits it with a magic missile and the others attack with weapons. Parn is killed, but Deedlit takes up his magic sword, ultimately inflicting most of the damage. In a quick wrap up, we are told that there are magic items in the loot and that Parn gets raised from the dead.

Comptiq Magazine: January 1987

The January 1987 issue of Comptiq magazine features episode 5 of the original Record of Lodoss War replay. Woodchuck, raised from the dead in the previous episode, observes that death means little and henceforth he might as well throw caution to the wind. The DM tells Woodchuck that he was lucky to survive being raised given his low constitution, an interesting comment given that system shock is an AD&D rule and they are supposedly using the red box.

Phan, king of Varis and father of the rescued princess, summons the party to an audience. Parn buys a new suit of plate mail to look sharp for the occasion. When the party arrives at the castle, they find red carpet laid out for them. The king thanks the party for saving his daughter and gives them a leather bag with unspecified contents as a reward. Etoh tells the king about Karla, and Elm, the court magician, recognizes the name. Elm says that the king was advised by the great sage Woot that if Karla gave aid to Marmo, then Varis would lose its war with Marmo. Now that Karla has revealed herself, the king is advised to seek the counsel of Woot again.

Parn volunteers the party to serve as messengers, a task requiring them to cross the mountains through a tunnel excavated by dwarves but now infested with monsters. The king proposes that before he entrust such an important task to the party, they first undergo a trial, namely that the party should travel to an island at the mouth of the Varis river and kill the minotaur who dwells there and exacts a daughter of marriageable age every year from the kingdom as tribute. And with Parn having accepted the trial before hearing the details, the party is ferried to the island. On the shore they encounter 3 lizardmen who demand that the party leave their territory in the neutral alignment language. The party refuses and a battle ensues in which the lizardmen are killed and Parn takes 3 HP of damage. At the entrance of the maze the party encounters 5 more lizardmen. Slayn puts 4 of them to sleep and the 5th escapes into the maze.

A postscript gives the results of a readership poll to see who is the most popular Record of Lodoss War character. Deedlit wins with 41 votes.

Comptiq Magazine: December 1986

The December 1986 issue of Comptiq magazine features episode IV of the Record of Lodoss War campaign that taught Japan how to play Dungeons & Dragons. Episode III ended with everyone in the party but Etoh put to sleep by the sorceress Karla. Etoh pretended to be asleep.

In episode IV the party wakes to find themselves locked in a room without their weapons. Woodchuck looks through the keyhole of the door and sees a corpse which Etoh says was animated by Karla. Etoh overheard the magical password that Karla used to lock the door. Deedlit suggests fashioning clubs from the legs of a table. Etoh says the magical password to open the door and Ghim and Parn rush the zombie and bash it apart. The party members locate their weapons in another room and then ambush Karla’s henchmen when they come upstairs to investigate the noise. The battle leaves the henchmen dead and Ghim with a single hit point.

In another room of the house the party finds a chest on a table. Woodchuck shakes it, breaking the potion inside. Woodchuck picks the lock of the room where the princess is imprisoned. She is apprehensive until Etoh speaks to her using the lawful alignment language. Parn asks whether the princess is beautiful, and indeed she is (18 CHA). Parn announces his intent to be the next king of Varis. In an aside to the readers the DM says this is unlikely to happen. When exiting the house Woodchuck is killed by an invisible stalker and Parn drinks a potion of heroism so he can kill it.

The party takes the henchmen’s horses and returns to town. En route a roc flies overhead and lands in front of them, polymorphing into Karla. She offers the party whatever they desire in exchange for the princess, while preparing a magic missile spell should they refuse. The DM at this point has to remind the party that their alignment prohibits them from accepting the bargain, which proves unnecessary as a squadron of knights in service of Varis arrives. Karla says she will meet the party again and flies away. The party members level up and Woodchuck is raised from the dead.

B5 perfect bound magazine

Comptiq Magazine: November 1986

The first Record of Lodoss War replay was serialized over eight issues of Comptiq magazine. The November 1986 issue contains episode III of the replay, the plot of which is turning out to be quite different from that of the anime.

Previously the party had cleared the dungeon of the crystal guardian and everyone except Slayn the magic user and Deedlit the elf leveled up. Etoh the cleric, now able to cast spells, uses detect magic on the weapons and potions recovered from the dungeon. In a tavern, Parn hears about war between the countries of Valis and Mamo. The party decides to head east where the conflict is. En route on the royal highway, they see flashes from a fireball and a lightning bolt; they hear screams and the clash swords. Arriving at the scene of battle they find only dead and wounded.

Etoh casts cure light wounds on a soldier, who tells the party he was one of four soldiers accompanying a headstrong and disobedient princess, when overcome by a sorceress and her henchmen. He urges the party to rescue the princess. At this point the player playing Etoh supposes the sorceress is Karla, who they learned about last episode. The DM tells the player he is correct even though there is nothing about the in-world situation that justifies such a confirmation.

The party follows the abducted princess to a dilapidated house and rushes in. Slayn puts two of Karla’s henchmen to sleep and Deedlit charms a 3rd. Then Karla comes downstairs and puts everyone in the party to sleep except Etoh, who feigns sleep, ending the episode with a cliffhanger.

B5 perfect bound magazine

Comptiq Magazine: October 1986

The second installment of ロードス島戦記 “Record of Lodoss War” appeared in the October 1986 issue of Comptiq magazine. Like in the first installment, the artwork is by Yutaka Izubuchi, who some say is responsible for the extra long ears one sees on elves in Japanese illustrations.

The party of six travel through a forest to a cave in the side of a cliff where they enter their first dungeon. The dialogue, you may recall, is intended to teach how to play D&D and topics which get treated during the course of the adventure are light sources, marching order, the use of minis, listening at doors, and map-making. Woodchuck the thief irresponsibly leaves the rest of the party without taking his own torch and encounters giant ants in the dark which he narrowly escapes. Later Etoh the cleric fails to turn some skeletons, so Parn and Ghim are forced to fight them. Beyond the skeletons they discover a room with a desk and a portrait of a beautiful woman. The desk contains a letter signed by Karla. If the replay follows the same story as the anime the party will be seeing more of both the beautiful woman and Karla.

Having explored the complex completely, the players are puzzled why they haven’t found the treasure-guarding crystal warrior they were told about in the previous installment. Deedlit the elf and party mapmaker analyzes her map and predicts the location of a secret door behind which they find a room with a statue made of quartz crystal. The statue speaks and poses a riddle: “I hide blue and black. What am I?” Deedlit solves the riddle and the statue allows them to pass unharmed to the treasure room, where they find a magic sword, a healing potion, and enough gold pieces to level up.

B5 perfect bound magazine 210 pp.

Comptiq Magazine: September 1986

The first installment of ロードス島戦記 “Record of Lodoss War” appeared in the September 1986 issue of Comptiq magazine. Record of Lodoss War would go on to get light novel, manga, anime, and video game adaptations—even its own tabletop RPG. But in the beginning it was just a Dungeons & Dragons session written out with didactic intent as a dialogue between dungeon master and players. D&D had been available in Japanese for 15 months and the authors observed that people still didn’t know how to play. The only participant to get a credit is Hitoshi Yasuda, the founder of Group SNE, who I understand played Ghimu the dwarf.

The dialogue starts with character generation and to my satisfaction ability scores are rolled 3d6 down the line. In addition to the dwarf the party contains Parn the fighter, Etoh the cleric, Slayn the magic user, Woodchuck the thief, and Deedlit the elf, all inhabitants of Lodoss Island, which has as features the White Dragon Mountains, the Forest of Demons, the Desert of Death, and the Swamp of No Return. These forbiddingly named destinations are left for future installments and the party journeys from Zaxxon, the village of their youth, to a town where they purchase a map from a shady character for 5 GP. The map indicates the location of a crystal warrior guarding a hidden treasure.

This issue contains something more significant than the start of the Record of Lodoss War franchise. It contains the start of the TRPG session or “replay” as a form of literature in Japan. Replays are generally written in the voice of the DM and the players, just like the sample session in the original edition of D&D. However, at least in the Lodoss replay the players and DM often speak in character and players are referred to by the names of their characters.

B5 perfect bound magazine 218 pp.