Friday, May 31, 2013

Sword World RPG for OFRGAD

Sword World RPG for OFRGAD

As I noted in an earlier post about the Dragon Half RPG, the tropes of D&D would be reflected and recontextualized in many ways in different countries. The first major Japanese re-creation of fantasy roleplaying was the Sword World RPG by Group SNE, originally published in 1989. Sword World set the pattern for fantasy RPGs in Japan, offering not only core rulebooks (basic, advanced, & monsters) in the pocketsize format so familiar to Japanese gamers, but also the replay (basically the transcript of a gaming session) and novelizations. It also saw a fullsize book, a revised edition, and currently Sword World 2.0 graces the shelves of any new bookstore in Japan, while second hand bookstores shelves groan under the weight of rulebooks, replays, and adventures for the older edition.

 The original edition I am holding is a 440 page pocketsized tome devoid of art except a psychedelic snake-wrapped swordhilt on the cover and a minimalist setting map.
Although later editions such as the monster manual had some art by the incredible Yoshitaka Amano, and the fullsize edition was gorgeously illustrated, the book I have looks like a trigonometry text. There are 19 chapters in the book: Welcome, Characters, Skills, Combat, Armed Combat, Magic, Adventurer Skills Other Than Battle or Magic, Character Growth, Character Making, FAQ, Combat Notes for GMs, Magic Notes, Skill Notes, Monsters, Treasure, Awarding XP, Advanced Combat Options, Magic Options, Monster Skill Options, ending with Designer Notes and a Chart Book. The poor organization and focus on combat really betrays the early fan origins of Sword World, and it is a wonder that Group SNE is still in business and has made some fine rpgs like Lodoss and Paradise Fleet since Sword World.

Sword World reads like a trigonometry text as well, and that is not a good thing. There are tables of effects for combat rolls and more tables of trivial modifications for attributes. The example of filling in a character sheet looks like a flowchart for taxes. All in all, not fun, which is a shame because the Dragon Half RPG which is derived from Sword World reads, looks, and probably runs ten times better and is a hundred times more enjoyable. The system is 2d6 plus mods, check a spreadsheet for result. Ho hum.

The setting is the New Kingdoms of Fosseria in the Age of the Sword. You may notice the island at the bottom of the map is called The Cursed Island, and would later become the setting for The Lodoss War RPG.

As a RPG history buff, Sword World is an interesting relic to have on my shelf, but I doubt it would last beyond a session of play with all the more intuitive and fun games out there. It does, however, really showcase the difference in RPGing culture expectations in Japan, and comparison with recent games like Sword World 2.0 and Araianrod show that Japanese FRPGs may have gotten prettier as books, but not any smoother as systems.

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