Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day: On Initiative and Combat

You still have time to get in on the S&W Appreciation Day Sales!

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Also, the d20pfsrd site has put their PDF's on sale!

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While I've been prepping for a new S&W campaign, I haven't polished up anything to the point of it being ready to post. But, after checking, I don't think I've ever posted the initiative system I use with S&W. So, I'm gonna do that!

This is my adaptation of Jason Cone's (Philotomy) adaptation of the order of combat from the old Swords & Spells TSR supplement. You may find this overly fiddly, but the DM is the only one who needs to have it memorized and so far, its worked great in actual play.

In my games I grant Fighters more than one attack at higher levels, so the following presumes as much. For context, I've also included an updated version of the Some Combat Modifiers and Maneuvers list I give to my players.


A Turn is equal to 10 minutes of Game Time. In combat situations, Time is measured in Rounds, which are equal to 1 minute of Game Time and may be further divided into Segments, which are 6 seconds long each. Game Time is just that, the amount of Time that passes within the imaginary world of the Campaign. Game Time does not equal real time, when in a combat situation, though it sometimes will, but often doesn't, in non-combat situations.

Initiative and Sequence of Combat 

1. Determination of Surprise:

Surprise will normally be determined by rolling 1d6 for all sides, a 1 or 2 indicating Surprise for that side. Some creatures have a greater chance of Surprising opponents (e.g. 1-4 in d6.) Others, a smaller chance of being Surprised. A character with a +1 Surprise Bonus is only Surprised on a 1 in d6, if the chance would normally be 1-2 in d6. The Surprise Roll is made for the whole party, by the character with the least chance of being Surprised. Regardless of how high any modifiers may be, a roll of 1 on whichever die is used to make the check, always indicates a Surprise for the side which rolled a one.

If all or none of the parties are Surprised, combat proceeds to step 2. Otherwise, those not Surprised may move, make a Full Attack Action if they are within 5 feet, one attack if within 10', cast, or begin a spell and use magical devices and missile weapons if these were at the ready. There will be one Surprise Segment, after which combat proceeds to step two.

2. Declaration of Actions: 

Players state their actions for the Round. The GM will decide the actions of all other creatures, first. Anyone casting a spell, must state which spell he is casting. Casting starts once the Declaration has been made. When casting, Spellcasters lose Dex. based adjustments to AC and will also be at +4 To Hit! If Damage is taken while casting, or the caster is knocked prone, or otherwise interfered with, the spell will fail and be lost from memory. A caster may not move more than his Base Move /10, if he is casting a spell that Round and then only after he is finished.

3. Determination of Initiative:

Each side rolls a d6. The highest roll wins Initiative.

4. First Spell Segment, Missile Fire and Movement: 
A. 1st Level spells will fire for the winning side, as well as Power Words, Holy Words, Words of Recall and Innate/Spell-Like Abilities.
A caster directly involved in melee, with no ally threatening his opponent, can only cast the spells mentioned in this step. Spells with a lengthier casting time, as well as scrolls, will take too long to cast leaving the caster at the mercy of his opponent. Magical devices may be utilized when directly engaged in melee.

B. Each combatant (non-spellcasting) on the side that won Initiative may then move, make a half move, begin a Charge, Close to Attack, Set to Receive a Charge, or may fire their initial missile volley, if their rate of fire is 2/1.

C. 1st Level spells, as well as Power Words, etc., for the losers of the Initiative will then take effect. 
D. The losing side's combatants may now act as in B, above. 
5. Melee and Second Spell Segment: 
A. The side that won Initiative may make any melee attacks, so long as no movement has been made and melee combat was already joined.

B. The side losing Initiative will then do the same.

C. 2nd and 3rd Level Spells will then fire, as will Scrolls of 1st Level and magical devices, for the side which won Initiative. 
D. The side which lost Initiative may act as in C, above.
6. Second Missile Attacks and Third Spell Segment:
A. Missile combatants with a rate of fire of 2/1, from the side that won Initiative may make a second attack, if applicable or a half move, if they took no more than a half move in step 4. Those with a rate of fire of 1/1 may make their attack, so long as they made no movement in step 4.  
B. Missile combatants from the side that lost Initiative may do the same.
C. 4th and 5th Level Spells cast, as well as Scrolls of 2nd -3rd Level, will then Fire, for the side which won Initiative.

D. The side which lost Initiative may act as in C, above. 
7. Second Melee Attacks and Fourth Spell Segment: 
A. Those engaged in melee on the side that won Initiative may take their second attack if applicable and no move has been made. If a move was made earlier, they may make their first attack, so long as their opponent was within 10' at the beginning of the Round. They may instead take a half-move, or act otherwise, if they have been holding their Initiative. 
B. Melee attackers which lost Initiative may act as in A, above. 
C. 6th and 7th Level Spells and Scrolls of 4th - 5th Level, will then Fire for the side which won Initiative. 
D. The side which lost Initiative may act as in C, above.
8. Final attacks and Fifth Spell Segment:
A. Any final missile or melee attacks are made, 8th and 9th Level Spells will Fire, as will Scrolls of 6th -7th Level, all at the same time, for the side which won Initiative.

B. The side which lost Initiative may act as in A, above. 
C. Any combatant who won Initiative and is Charging, may now attack. Any Defenders who set to Receive a Charge, will attack first. 
D. Any combatant who lost the Initiative and is Charging, may now attack. Any Defenders who set to Receive a Charge, will attack first. 
9. End of the Round: 
A. All Scrolls of 8th -9th Level, will take effect at the beginning of step 4 of the next Round, first for the side than won Initiative, then others. The caster will not be able to take any other action, save his normal movement, until the Round following the one in which the high Level scroll took effect. 
B. Go back to step 2 (Declaration of Actions) and repeat the process until the combat is finished.
Holding Initiative 

Initiative may be Held, the action being taken later in the combat Round, if desired. Initiative may not be Held by anyone being directly threatened in melee.

Some Combat Maneuvers 

Charging: A creature who is more than 10’ away from their target, may Charge one time per Turn, moving at double their normal movement rate and attacking in the same Round. They receive a +2 bonus To Hit, but suffer a -1 penalty to their AC and lose any Dexterity Bonus to AC when Charging. If the defender has a weapon which is longer than that of the attacker’s, then the defender will attack first. Certain weapons (spears, lances, pikes, Javelins, Bill-guissarmes, Pole-axes and Halberds) may be “set” against a charge, and will inflict double Damage if a Hit is scored upon a charging attacker. A rider upon a Warhorse and wielding a lance, will do double Damage with the weapon, on a charge. A creature may not charge if they are at their maximum amount of Encumbrance, unless they are on a Warhorse which is not at its maximum Encumbrance.

Close To Attack: Unless charging, a Character may Close to within melee range (10’) and then attack on the next Round.

Defensive Fighting: Any Character except an MU, may opt to fight defensively, bettering their AC by 2 but sacrificing a -3 To Hit. Attack rate is halved, when fighting defensively. (This replaces the Parrying rules in S&W.)

Disarm: A Fighter, Paladin, or Ranger may attempt to disarm an opponent, who is wielding a one-handed weapon. An attack roll is made at -2 To Hit, -3 if the defender is wielding a small-sized weapon. If a hit is made, the attacker must make a Saving Throw at -3. If he rolls a true 18 or 19 To Hit, then there is no penalty to the Save. A True 20 rolled To Hit, or on the attackers Saving Throw will automatically succeed with no further rolls being necessary in either case. Otherwise, if the Save is successful, the defender must then make a Saving Throw to hold onto his weapon.

Frenzied Attack: A Fighter, Ranger, Druid or Cleric, may launch an all-out attack during a Round, putting themselves in harm’s way in an attempt to damage their opponent. They will attack at +2 To Hit, but will suffer an AC penalty of +3. A Critical Hit or Miss, made during a Frenzied Attack, might be truly awesome or utterly disastrous.

Mounted Attack: A mounted Fighter, Ranger, Paladin, Cleric or Druid, attacking enemies on foot, receives a +1 bonus to their To Hit rolls and to their AC. If attacking while riding a trained Warhorse, or similar creature, the bonuses are at +2. If the enemies on foot are wielding Halberds, or Bill-guissarmes the bonus to AC will not apply. If the enemies are wielding Pikes, neither the To Hit nor the AC bonus will apply!

Push: Any character may attempt to Push their opponent. A successful To Hit, which will score no damage must be made. Both participants then roll 2d12 and add their Strength Bonus. If the Attacker is successful, the defender must make a Saving Throw, to avoid being knocked back 11' - 14'. If the defender wins the Strength Check, they may Push back and the attacker must Save, or be knocked back 11' - 14'. In either case, if the Save is failed by more than -4, it will result in being knocked Prone, instead. The Defender may opt to defend with Dexterity instead, but may not Push back if this option is taken (though, Class allowing, he may then attempt a Trip.).

Retreat: If a creature is moving away at greater than half his normal movement rate, opponents will get a free attack at +2 To Hit and no AC Adjustment from Dexterity or a shield may be used by the defender. A character may perform a Fighting-retreat at one-third his movement rate, but his rate of attack will be halved. This may be combined with Defensive Fighting, with no further penalty to their rate of attack.

Shield Bash: A Fighter, Paladin, Ranger or Cleric may forgo his normal attack and his shield bonus to AC to make a Shield Bash attack at +1 To Hit. If successful, he will do 1d4 points of Damage. Damage adjustments for Strength, a magical shield, etc., apply. He may attempt to Push the defender as well, making an opposed Strength Check against his opponent.

To make the Check, each combatant rolls 2d6. The Attacker adds half the total Damage from the Bash attack, rounding up. The Defender may add his Strength To Hit adjustment. If the Attacker is successful, the defender must make a Saving Throw, to avoid being knocked back 11' - 14'. If the defender wins the Strength Check, then the attacker must Save, or be knocked back 11' - 14'. In either case, if the Save is failed by more than -4, it will result in being knocked Prone, instead.

Certain conditions, such as a defender who is the same size or smaller than the attacker and using neither shield, nor heavy weaponry (two-handed,) may prevent the defender from being able to Push back at his attacker. The defender may Check with Dexterity, instead of Strength, but cannot Push back when doing so (though, Class allowing, he may then attempt a Trip.) Creatures larger than an Ogre may not normally be Pushed.

Trip: A Fighter, Paladin, Ranger or Cleric may forgo his normal attack and attempt to trip his opponent, knocking him prone. The Attacker must make a Saving Throw, to set-up his opponent for the maneuver. Then, he must score a To Hit, which will do 1d4 points of potential Damage (no other modifiers apply.) The defender must then make a save, at a penalty equal to the Damage scored. If successful, the Defender remains standing and takes none of the Damage. Otherwise, he suffers the Damage and is knocked Prone, suffering all of the effects of that condition.

Two-weapon Fighting: A character, other than an MU, with a Dexterity of 13+ may fight using two One-Handed weapons, the Secondary weapon being no larger than a shortsword. This does not grant an extra attack, due to the abstract nature of combat rolls in the game. Fighting with two weapons grants a +1 To Hit, or a -1 bonus to AC. The Player may choose which bonus he wishes and it will be assumed to go towards his attacking abilities, if he does not make his wishes known. The player may choose, which weapon scored the Damage on a successful Hit.

Some Common Combat Modifiers 

Attacking Invisible Enemies: Attacks against invisible opponents are -4 To Hit and they will receive a +4 bonus to any Saving Throws. The attacker must have an approximate idea of where the invisible creature may be, to even attempt an attack. More experienced/powerful PC’s, NPC’s and Monsters, have a chance, based upon Intelligence and/or other abilities, to approximately locate an invisible opponent.

Firing Missile Weapons into Melee: If a ranged weapon is fired into a melee in which an ally is involved, the attacker will be at a -4 penalty To Hit as his ally is providing cover for his enemy. If he misses his target by 1 - 4, he will hit the ally instead. The attacker may reduce this penalty to -2, by taking the time to carefully Study the situation and wait for an opportune moment. This will reduce his rate of fire by half and he will attack on Step 6 ( and 8 if applicable) of the Sequence of Combat. He will then only hit an ally if he misses by 1 - 2.

Flanking: If two attackers manage to flank a single opponent, they receive a +1 bonus To Hit.

Prone Defenders: Attacks made against a prone defender are at +3 To Hit and the defender loses any Dexterity bonus to AC. Attacks made from a prone position are at -2 To Hit. It will take one Round to recover from being Prone, with the Prone combatant still acting under the penalties given and if he is Hit during the Round in which he is trying to recover, a successful Saving Throw will be necessary to avoid being knocked prone again.

Rear Attacks: Attacks from the rear are at +2. The defender loses any Dexterity bonus to AC and no protection from a shield is possible.

Spacing: A Character “occupies” an area of about 5’ across, for purposes of marching and fighting. During combat, movement cannot be made through and past this 5’ area without incurring an attack, unless the defender is occupied with at least one other attacker, or otherwise engaged.

Rear Attacks: Attacks from the rear are at +2. The defender loses any Dexterity bonus to AC and no protection from a shield is possible. 


  1. HOLY CRAP, Great Post!

    This is why I love games like S&W, we can fine tune them in ways you just can't do with modern systems...


  2. Damn. That's a lot of post.

    I am going to need to link to all this great S&W stuff.

    My Swords & Wizardry posts, The S&W Witch and The Ördög

  3. Interesting post, just one request, would you be able to elaborate the third paragraph in greater depth please? Cheers
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