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.