SW2.5 Supplement Review: Monochromatica

June 18th, 2024
Welcome to Yandere World, enjoy your extremely creepy stay

Time to dip back into Sword World 2.5, the popular Japanese answer to D&D, with the latest supplement/campaign world translated by the Sword World Translation Project: Monochromatica. But this time we’re not returning to the default world of Raxia. No, we’re headed way beyond, almost-but-not-quite outside the universe completely, to a whole new realm where color is power and the gods are nutbars.

It’s gonna get weird.

I: Where are we?

They Bubbled and Bobbled the Fingal Dopple

Many eons before the story opens, there was a war between the gods. (This is known Sword World lore, so don’t look so surprised.) On one side were the gods of the First Sword, who were dedicated to peace and harmony; on the other, gods of the Second Sword, desiring only power and anarchy. Clashes between these forces caused ripples in the structure of reality. Small pockets of space-time formed in the barrier which separates Raxia from other universes. These so-called Bubble Worlds are essentially bizarro mini-versions of Raxia, with their own local flora, fauna, laws of physics, and gods, who alter the structure of their pocket universes to their whims.

When these bubbles formed, populations of Humanoids, Barbarous, and other creatures living in the Divine Civilization Era were sometimes trapped inside, and have since evolved their own little cultures in Galapagos-like isolation. But Bubble Worlds are not totally separate from the main reality. Creatures, items, and people from Raxia can sometimes fall into these alt-universes and spread their knowledge among the population. Therefore, many bubbles still have familiar features to Raxians, like the various branches of magic and Magitech and such, though with different proportions and levels of significance.

For some bubbles, the membrane is so permeable that people from the prime reality are fairly common, and the population will be at most faintly curious about their isekai’d cousins. On the other hand, leaving a Bubble World is usually much harder. The few people who came back with stories of funky otherworlds were historically treated as kooks. Recently, with the rise of the Adventurer’s Guild and other means of organized information gathering, these stories are gaining more traction.

II: Yes, but where are we?

Fifty shades of gray

In the Bubble World of Monochromatica, the people have given all the color in the world over to the gods. Maybe it was to curry their favor. Maybe it was to ensure their survival. Maybe they didn’t have a choice. However it happened, now everything’s in living black-and-white and the gods have enormous amounts of power.

The concept of “color” isn’t entirely foreign, though; it’s mostly associated with the gods and god-adjacent concepts, including life and death. Upon death, most living beings will become vividly colorful for a brief time before their bodies fade back to the usual monochrome. Oftentimes the only time anyone gets to see someone’s real skin, eye, and hair color is the moment they die. Plus of course the gods themselves appear as in-color beings when they venture out in person.

And they really are in person. In this setting, the local gods are not only previously living beings (as they all are in Sword World), but they still have physical bodies. When they say “church is god’s house” in Monochromatica, it’s not just a homily. There are numerous gods at all power levels, some with only a few followers (and consequently very little power) and others who are known and worshiped by all.

The biggest homegrown gods are:

Aznareps, the Root of Despair: 2 goth 4 u. Pretty much wants to destroy the world, or at least cause so much jealousy and despair that nobody wants to live there anymore. Always appears obscured in black flame. Ancient depictions reveal them to be a giant eight-winged serpent. Not really an improvement.

Biblically accurate Aznareps

Ethirael, the Sleeping Goddess: Goddess of the dreams of Monochromatica, be they snooze-type or aspiration-type. Appears as a woman with the head of a blue jellyfish, tentacles and all. A beautiful female face appears on the jellyfish head, with her eyes perpetually closed.

Tirkat, Keeper of the Boundaries: Goddess of lines that should or should not be crossed, from national borders to “that’s your side of the car seat, this is mine.” Appears as a stunning woman from the waist up and a huge crimson spider from the waist down. Worshiped by explorers, inventors, researchers, and anyone looking to push the envelope.

Neraingatos, Daughter of Time: According to legend, as long as she dances, time flows normally. When she stops, everything stops. Whether this is true or not, nobody (mortal) has ever seen her standing still. Appears as a slender woman with limbs that taper into needle-like points, surrounded by a golden glow.

Formless Chaos Medoro: Y’AI’NG’NGAH YOG-SOTHOTH … ahem. Medoro is a playful trickster god who likes to wander around Monochromatica being cheeky and causing trouble. They appear in a different Humanoid guise every time they venture out. Nobody knows their true form. Just a silly guy, a funny li’l guy.

Also, oddly, the ancient gods from Raxia (Lyphos, Tidan, Dalkhrem, all them) are worshiped here like anywhere else. Some of their churches are transplanted faiths from Raxians who fell into the Bubble World; others were already established gods when the bubble came into being. They grant spells to Priests like normal, even. These more traditional gods don’t make contracts with people like the locals do, though (see below).

III: Return of the Mack

The preferred term is “people of color,” DAD

Besides colors and lack thereof, the other big concept in this Bubble World is “lingering attachment.” Any living being who dies with a strong longing or regret can attract the attention of the local gods. If their worldly attachments are strong enough, one of these divinities will offer them a contract; if they agree, they will be resurrected on the spot. These returned beings are called, with exceeding originality, “Returned from Death.”

Note that I said “beings,” not ”people.” Pretty much any living thing can be Returned from Death, from plants to animals to mythical beasts. “Regret” is a broad term, apparently. The quickest way to identify a Returned from Death is to find some small hint of color on their person (eye color, maybe, or a lock of hair) which will grow and become more vivid as they deepen their contracts with the gods. Eventually they’ll become full-color people or critters walking around in this grayscale land.

You’ve got red on you

You may remember that people who are resurrected over and over in Raxia will accumulate soulscars and eventually become Undead. This isn’t the case in Monochromatica. Returned from Death (which I’ll just call “Returned” from now on) who die by normal means come back to life scot-free, without a spell even, due to their divine contracts. While this is a short-term boon, after a few decades the fun may fade. The only way to stop the endless cycle at this point is either to give up your regrets and move on, or be killed by another Returned.

Becoming a Returned has other sweet bonuses. They’re the only ones in this world who can cast magic spells or use class abilities like Spellsongs or Evocations; they get interesting and useful superpowers called “Gifts;” and, if they gain enough power, they’ll eventually become rampaging monsters who mindlessly spread wild, corrupting coloration throughout the world until they can be destroyed.

Um. Maybe not that last one.

When a Returned … returns, they don’t remember which god they made a contract with. All they know is, they’re back, they have a cool Gift, and they can go follow their dreams. But the more they use their Returned abilities, the closer they get to their contracted divinity, until one day they have a breakthrough and their existence is completely aligned with their chosen god. Suddenly they become a divine conduit, and all that god-color-power flows into their soul “like a muddy stream,” as the book evocatively puts it. The person that was the Returned ceases to exist. There is now only a mindless avatar of power known as a Deformed.

You can paint with all the colors of the wiiiiiiind

Color Overflow, as it’s called, causes anything a Deformed touches to gain color. But it’s false color, random and bizarre. Yellow grass and red bushes under a canopy of blue and orange leaves. A purple brook teeming with day-glo fish. Marmalade trees, tangerine skies. Groovy. Any living thing that spends too much time in this Stained Land becomes likewise stained, dies, and resurrects as Deformed themselves. For people from Raxia, seeing Stained Land is strange and off-putting. To a Monochromatican who has spent their whole life in black-and-white, it’s terrifying.

‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky

Luckily, Returned can kill Returned, which includes the Deformed. Returned hit squads called Hunters are often called out to destroy these dangers. If the Deformed dies, the Stained Land they create will very slowly (like, decades slowly) return to normal. Of course, Deformed can also permakill Returned, so it’s not a perfect solution. Worse, a Returned isn’t immune to the corruption of a Stained Land, and hanging around in one long enough will turn them into Deformed too.

Currently, Monochromatica is divided by a large swath of Stained Land crawling with Deformed monsters. The locals have built a series of watchtowers along the border and will often call for the Hunters if monsters try to enter the black-and-white areas. Nobody really knows what’s on the far side of this corrupted land. The colors have even spread into the sea, where shipping is increasingly affected.

Destroying a Deformed or Returned monster leaves behind a multicolored gemstone called a Colored Sphere. People can sell these Spheres to the Monochromatica version of the Adventurer’s Guild, the Red Blood Engine. Let’s all just take a moment to appreciate that name. Metal.

The Red Blood Engine has the technology to extract the divine power from Colored Spheres and use them in proto-electromechanical devices called Red Blood Circuits. These Circuits are used to power large-scale civic projects like public lighting, smelting furnaces, and intercity rail. Everything powered by a Red Blood Circuit glows a creepy crimson color. The whole Red Blood technology is unique to Monochromatica; any devices somehow brought back to Raxia become inert.

One must have a splash of color

IV: Gifts and other . . . gifts

Oh, you shouldn’t have

The Returned gain access to funky, double-edged powers called Gifts which only work within Monochromatica. These are semi-divine spell-like abilities like mutual chains which increase the damage you do to a foe and the damage they do to you; summoned butterflies which cause anyone in the area to fail their Willpower rolls; magical traps which zap anyone who tries to move; pillars which rise from the ground, protecting everyone in a location but preventing them from making melee attacks; etc.

Each Gift has a flowery description of its appearance, and most also have an overkill effect called a Spill which happens at least one out of six times. Spills will often take the Gift to unintended extremes. Sometimes this can be helpful. Probably not, though.

And the Master of the Game spake, and said: Lo! Thou gainest +2 to thine actions for one round

Gifts are connected to a new form of combat unique to this supplement called Grid Combat. This is essentially Sword World’s Simplified Combat, but on a grid. Makes sense. Positioning becomes important in Grid Combat, since Gifts have specific areas of effect. At the same time, there are still boundaries between the Rearguards and the Frontline, blocking rules are similar, and you can conduct a melee attack against anyone in the same area without having to be directly adjacent. It’s an interesting take on the sort of “everybody piles together in one big melee” combat that Sword World usually does, if a little odd conceptually. Without Gifts, though, this is just a more complicated version of Simplified Combat, probably not worth using for regular fights.

As a Returned does things to pique the interest of the gods (finishes adventures, levels up, is resurrected or awakened from unconsciousness, causes a Spill, etc), they receive Contract Seals, which they can use to buy or improve Gifts. The number of seals they have in total is called their Contract Depth.

Around Contract Depth 12, they can learn the name of their contracted god. This nets them a Blessing. Much like Gifts, Blessings are all kinda strange and edgy. Someone contracted to Aznareps can sever people they kill from their regrets, ensuring they can never come back as Returned. A person contracted to Medoro can change their appearance with time and concentration. Ethirael sends prophetic dreams. Neraingatos gives the ability to briefly stop time. And Tirkat allows people to leave Monochromatica and return to Raxia, though she reserves the right to yank them back anytime she needs them.

The contract will continue to deepen until they reach Depth 31 and Color Overflow becomes increasingly inevitable, which for most characters will be around 9th level. The only reliable ways to prevent Color Overflow are to stop leveling up, or find a way out of Monochromatica for good.

V: Playing in Monochromatica

If you wanna be my baby, it don’t matter if you’re black-and-white

As you’ve probably surmised by now, the PCs are all Returned from Death with lingering regrets about their former lives. The basic conceit is for the party to start new characters who died suddenly in Raxia or a Shallow Abyss and made a pact with a Monochromatica god for a second chance, or somehow got yanked into the Bubble World and attracted a god’s attention along the way.

After making a regular character, players must also choose a personal regret or attachment, and gain a few Contract Seals to purchase some beginning Gifts. Every character must take one level of a Gift called “Clinging to Life,” which gives a small bonus to HP and all the powers of a Returned. Beyond that, it’s the player’s choice.

The most obvious attachment for a Raxian is wanting to return to Raxia to see their family or feed their goldfish or something. If that doesn’t appeal and you can’t think of anything, there’s a handy chart of suggestions to roll on or choose from, from Revenge to Protection to Atonement.

From there, the PCs enter Monochromatica. The rules suggest they quickly be met by a guide who helps explain the world and how things work. (The alternative, to let them flail around, may be funny but probably not good for player engagement.) Ideally this guide is a Returned Hunter from the Red Blood Engine. The PCs are then encouraged/somewhat railroaded into joining the Red Blood Engine to use their Returned powers for the good of all, and start their epic journey to find some way out of this creepshow.

Welcome to the lower level of a Multi-Layered City! Enjoy your … er … Welcome!

Most PC groups will become Hunters fighting monsters and Deformed who threaten the monochrome commoners. Pretty much any monster from Raxia can show up in this world in regular, Returned, or Deformed varieties. Consequently there aren’t a lot of unique monsters described in this book, but the ones that are are particularly powerful and bizarre. The Warped Berserker, for instance, is three or four Barbarous merged into a single Deformed body who can use Gifts and Divine Magic together. Hue Spirits are Deformed Fairies, with all the sinister mad capriciousness that entails. Strangest and most tragic are Innocents, Deformed children whose pure wishes and desires cause them to appear and act as normal Monochromaticans, naively spreading Stained Lands and slowly color-poisoning everything and everyone around them.

No, she’s thrilled to be here, honest

The book ends with three scenarios, each intended to take around 3 hours of play, which will carry characters from beginners to level 4-5. The first has the adventurers hijacked into Monochromatica, where they end up protecting a train from Deformed monsters. The second takes them to the Multi-Layered City of Le Veille where they have to break up the world-ending plans of the Cult of Aznareps. Finally, they venture into the Stained Lands to find a means to travel to Raxia, and possibly even come back again. You know, if they want to.

VI: Thoughts

Such as they are

My first impression upon seeing this book was: Holy crap this is dense.

My current impression, after reading it through and writing this review, is: Holy crap this is dense.

I mean, the concept is fairly simple. Bubble Worlds, sure, we already had Shallow Abysses, it’s not that far removed. Gods being capricious greedy buttholes, yeah, been there. World without color? Okay, interesting, let’s see where this goes …

But Monochromatica takes these ideas and runs alllll the way down the field with them. It takes Sword World as a whole, adds a huge scoop of bizarreness, and shakes it like a snow globe. What settles out is a whole new world with the regular bits and pieces assembled in new ways. It is funky and it is cool and it is ambitious and it is artistic and it is weird. It also opens up a multiverse of sorts, where GMs can remix the game however they like, dump the players in, then bounce somewhere else when they get tired of it. Though the easy D&D comparisons are to Planescape and Spelljammer, it actually reminds me more of Eberron or Dark Sun; not necessarily in theme, but in how it takes the all old familiar refrains and makes something different out of them.

Monochromatica is not for first-time Sword World players. I can’t stress this enough. You have to know what Raxia is about before you experience how thoroughly this setting messes with it.

But do I recommend it for experienced players? That depends on where your group is at. Raxia is a big playground all on its own, with labyrinths and magic trains and floating cities and portals to the netherworld and whatnot. If you’re lucky enough to have a group who plays Sword World regularly, and seems happy with it as is, there’s already plenty to keep them occupied without having to leave the world behind.

Where this setting would shine most, I think, would be with older gamers. Monochromatica sometimes feels like a meditation on life and death, longing and regret. Players who’ve been around the fantasy RPG block, who’ve already slain more than their share of dragons, or who want a more layered experience in their games, would (I feel) really take to this setting. There’s still plenty of action and excitement and really wild things, but there’s this sort of underlying feeling that you’re not fighting evil. You’re fighting inevitability. The light is dying. Get to raging.

As a greybeard grog who’s played more games than you’ve had hot dinners, I love the hell out of it.

Monochromatica is an original. It’s certainly its own thing. It’s a game setting. It’s a magnum opus. It’s a philosophical treatise. It’s a dessert topping.

It’s a lot. If you like your campaign to be a lot, you’ll love this.

Sword World 2.5: New Supplements

November 1st, 2023

Sword log: supplemental

Since my original set of Sword World 2.5 reviews, several more books have been translated by the Sword World Translation Project. Collectively, these books help mitigate what I thought was the biggest problem in the original rulebooks: useful information split up among several rulebooks. Now, with these supplements, useful information is split up in a different way among several other rulebooks. That’s progress.

Of course, these supplements do more than re-Balkanize the rules. They also offer more. More spells, more items, more monsters, more options, more feats, more classes, more races. More. More.

This time I’ll be doing an orbital review of five of these supplements: Magus Arts (MA), Epic Treasury (ET), Monstrous Lore (ML), The Character Building Book (CBB), and the Outlaw Profile Book (OPB), plus how they synergize with the original rulebooks.

The Compendia

Ooh, five-dollar word

MA, ET, and ML are primarily books of listings, which take up about 50% of each volume. MA, for instance, contains lists of every spell for every magical tradition that had been released at the time, including all the extra divine spells for all the gods of Raxia. That’s something like 480 spells in total! All unique! It’s enough to make you puke!

MA also tries to mitigate a problem with the Artificer class. Y’see, Artificers are the only class that can fire guns, since bullets are Magitech items. However, guns are effectively useless without the Marksman minor class. So there was always an “Artificer tax” in that you also had to grab a few levels of Marksman or else ignore half your spells.

In response, MA expands the Artificer spell list to give them extra utility without guns. The downside is that most of these new spells are a bit … lame. For instance, [Sound Bomb] lets you throw a ball of magic that makes one loud sound of the user’s choice. Oh joy, a less useful version of the Minor Illusion cantrip. I mean, it’s nice when you need it, but it’s not really a bread-and-butter spell, you know?

Oh well. They tried, bless ‘em.

In the same vein, ET contains every weapons table, plus a big ol’ encyclopedia of potions, accessories, and adventuring items, magic and otherwise. ML has nearly 400 distinct monster listings, many brand new to the system. And they’re all right there, in single volumes, top to bottom, without the original rulebooks’ level splitting. No more trying to remember which book Basilisks are in. It’s a completionist GM’s wet dream.

Each book also contains a world-building chapter or two. Magus Arts has several pages of information about magic: where the different magical traditions came from, how the common people tend to feel about them, how the Barbarous monsters have integrated magic in their society, and so on. Epic Treasury discusses adventurers’ social status, what the Adventurer’s Guild does exactly, and deep dives into the origins of each character class and how they synergize with each other. Monstrous Lore examines the history of Humanoid/monster interactions and how non-human intelligences generally fit in the world.

I’m a lorehound, so naturally I love these chapters. If you aren’t, they’re definitely skippable. The huge data chapters are the meat. This is the mustard.

New Classes

A new pleasure, a new pleasure

ET and ML together introduce four new classes into Sword World.

Tactician (Minor Class): Shout orders at people. Tacticians use Stratagems to provide minor bonuses to their own side or hindrances to their enemies. Each successful Stratagem builds up a resource called Edge, which you can then spend on Maneuvers which give the caster a bigger bonus on their own actions. This class synergizes very well with Bard, to the point of including Stratagems specifically intended to power up Bard Spellsongs.

Druid (Major Class): Not quite what you’re thinking. Druids use Nature Magic to summon spirits of the wild to attack their enemies. The way it’s described, I get the mental image of the Druid calling up giant glowing 1980’s-style special effects versions of eagles and tigers and stuff. Druids can also create Symbols of Beneficence for other characters, which allow them to cast extremely powerful boosts or protective spells upon their friends.

And I shall call him “Rearprojectiony”

Warlocks (Major Class): Sword-World-brand Warlocks have made a contract with a mostly harmless Daemon called a “Gate Imp,” who can open a portal and summon bigger badder Daemons to fight for you. A Gate Imp will constantly look for ways to break or at least change their contract to their own benefit. Warlocks should also either have special sacrificial items ready to banish the Daemons they summon, or be prepared to fight them if their Banish check fails. It’s also possible (with several very bad rolls) to lose control of the summoning portal itself and unleash a new Shallow Abyss on the world.

As mentioned in an earlier review, this class is extremely frowned upon in polite society. Probably not a great idea to go advertising. Summoned Daemons are very effective in a fight, though, so other adventurers are generally more tolerant of the class.

Geomancer (Minor Class): All right, let’s get weird. Geomancers can deploy a magic item called a Geograph, which accumulates essential Qi from the surrounding area. They can then expend this energy to cast Aspects (essentially spells). Using a Geograph doesn’t require MP, can be used as a Minor Action, and can confer some fairly powerful buffs/debuffs …


Yes, nearly every Aspect affects one randomly chosen character within range, friend or foe. This makes the Geomancer’s exact position on the battlefield extremely important, and sometimes requires playing the odds. Thankfully Aspects can be canceled if needed, but the spent Qi is still lost, and the Geomancer can’t cast another Aspect that turn.

Stand back, I don’t know how it works!

The Geomancer class is good for gamblers and people who like serendipitous results. It doesn’t use up your own resources, which is a bonus. Since it only uses a Minor Action, it doesn’t really get in your way if you want to try something else.

Yeah. Ehh. Not for me.

New Races

We don’t much cotton to your kind ‘round here

The Outlaw Profile Book (OPB) adds a handful of new races to Raxia.

Alv: Pale-skinned Goth Elf-types who must occasionally absorb a handful of MP from people around them or die. Possibly vampires reincarnated by the grace of the goddess Harula, the Guiding Star, for a second chance at a decent life. Rare enough that normies often confuse them with Nightmares or Undead. Abilities include Darkvison and Spirit Drain.

Shadow: Tall Humanoids with gray skin and white or silver hair. Their defining feature is a small third eye in the center of their foreheads, and all three of their eyes glitter like a cat’s in the dark. Historically, Shadows were often used as assassins, and they still carry that reputation. Their language is so complex as to be nearly impossible for non-Shadows to learn, so they’re good couriers for secret information. Abilities include Darkvision and Moonlight’s Protection, giving them a permanent +4 bonus to Willpower.

Soleil: My guys. My guys. Soleils are big bronzed muscular himbos (even the women). They hate to wear a lot of clothes and tattoo sun imagery all over their bodies. Their big ability is Radiant Physique, whereby they can make their bodies glow dazzlingly once per day to blind enemies. They can also recover HP by laying out in the sun for a few minutes, and gain a big bonus to Willpower and Fortitude checks during daylight hours. Unfortunately, they also receive a big penalty to those same checks at night. The Soleilian language is made up entirely of poses and gestures.

Huh hah HYAH!

Weaklings: You may recall that the Humanoid races of Raxia can literally get scars on their souls. Soulscarred beings will become slowly more twisted and monstrous until they hit 5 Soulscars and become Undead. The Nightmare race is born with one Soulscar, which makes them pale-skinned and horned.

So since it’s possible to be born with more Soulscars than usual, what happens when the rare Barbarous is born with fewer Soulscars? Well, they become Weaklings.

Hey hey, we’re the Weaklings! People say we Weakling around!

Weaklings have a more Humanoid appearance than their parents. That doesn’t mean they look Humanoid; Garuda Weaklings have small wings, Tannoz Weaklings have a claw on one hand, Minotaur Weaklings have big ol’ horns, etc. But they’re not instantly recognizable as monsters and can disguise themselves with minimal effort. Weaklings know first-hand what it’s like to be really oppressed by society, and tend to be motivated to help Humanoids change things for the better. Or at least not let things get worse.

Each variety of Weakling gets a healthy one-stat bonus and a weakness to an elemental type. They also get special powers depending on their species, like the Basilisk’s Poisonous Blood or the Minotaur’s Herculean Strength.

New Ways to Make Friends

And influence Tabbits

The CBB and OPB add a table-based way to create characters in Sword World. All you have to do is choose a Course (Basic, Intermediate, or Advanced, each of which opens up more races and classes), then a race based on the Course you chose, then a character category (Warrior, Spy, Remote Support, or Magic Warrior). Then you just start rolling on tables.

So. Many. Tables.

I think the idea behind the CBB character generator is to provide role-playing prompts and give your character an actual background. Which is a fine idea. However, this method has so many tables that even the flowchart that describes the procedure is pretty intimidating.

Ye gads

Once you decide on your race and category, you’ll receive the character’s basic ability scores just like during regular character generation.

Just for grins, I’ll create a Dwarf Warrior. Looking on the Warrior page, I see that nets this new character a Skill/Body/Mind of 4/11/5. I’ll add that to the character sheet.

Then we get to rollin’. Many of the tables are d66, giving numbers from 11 to 66.

The Environment table (of which there’s one per race) describes the circumstances of your birth/origin. I roll 34 on the Dwarf Environment table, netting me “Blacksmith’s Family (Weapons)”. The description is “You were born and raised in a family of armorers who make swords, axes, spears, hammers, and a variety of other weapons. You were raised in the blacksmithing environment. Whatever path you choose, you will know a certain amount about weapons.” All right! Role-playing hooks, gotta love them.

Now for my Childhood Experience roll. I had to flip through the book to find the table for Dwarves, discovering that there are FOUR tables, one for each character category. The amount of data in this book is seriously impressive/daunting. Anyway, I rolled 31 on the Dwarven Warrior table: “An Eye for Value (Generic Search): As an artisan and armorer, it is important to have an eye for things. You have been trained or blessed with the opportunity to see the fine works and treasures of your ancestors and predecessors.” The roll also gives me my adjusted ability score values, which I shall duly enter.

Looks like a fairly prosaic “Dwarf raised by weaponsmiths to take over the family business” background so far. Let’s see if we can interject some drama with the First Happening. This time I just roll 1d on a simple forking table: “1-2: roll on the Tragedy Table, 3-4: nothing, 5-6: roll on the Fortune Table.” Aaand of course I roll a 2. One quick roll on the Tragedy Table later, and

Okay, but life goes on, right? Next we roll on the Juvenile Experiences Table. In this case there’s just one table for all Warriors, Spies, and Magic Warriors, which simplifies things. I rolled 15, which gives me “Learned the Adventurer’s Basics” and one level of Scout, costing 500 XP. “Hearing the sounds beyond the door, avoiding unexpected dangers, and finding what is hidden. These are true qualities of an adventurer.”

Ehh, Scout’s a worthwhile class to have, I’ll take it. I still have 2,500 XP to spend, plenty to build whatever I want.

Okay, Second Happening, and I roll … 1. Another Tragedy. Great. I roll 15: “Caught in a Disaster.” This kid’s life, I swear.

For Adolescent Experiences, there are three tables to choose from, including one that mentions “Generic Search” from my Childhood Experiences, so I should use that. I roll “Conviction to Meet Expectations,” which gets me the [Power Strike] combat feat. This is an excellent first feat for a Warrior, so I’m good with it.

Third Happening! What horrors await me now? Roll … another 1! Excellent! I am Wednesday’s child. So I roll 32: “Spent Time as a Slave.” Just a wonderful life I’m leading, here.

Now let’s get out of here with the “Why I Started Adventuring” table. Roll 46: “Your hometown was destroyed.”

… figures.

But now, finally, I’m beyond all that. Sure, I’m fleeing the burning, collapsing hulk of my previous life, but that’s no reason to be downcast. I’ll pick up a couple levels of Fighter, grab some gear, and my character is ready to go work out their aggressions by kicking Barbarous ass.

Oh! There’s also a character name generator at the back of the book. So let’s roll to name our tragic Dwarf:

Nismo Yurtrum.

No wonder his life was crap.

So how is this process? Tedious, to be honest. Your character comes out of it full of role-playing hooks, which is good, but you have to jump all around in a book and roll a lot of dice, which is bad. There’s also the whole deal with “giving up your character-building autonomy,” though all it really does is push one class level and your first feat on you. Even then, it’s more a suggestion than an edict.

The OPB has this entire process over again, but adds the new races and classes. The characters it creates are a bit rougher around the edges, too, since the book describes a wilder, more lawless campaign at the frontier.

In Sum

Dim sum

If you already liked Sword World, this is all just more to love. It’s a great convenience to have all the spells/items/monsters in single lists, and the new races and classes are (mostly) worthy expansions on the game. There’s plenty of lore subtly added as well.

The CBB/OPB character building method is an interesting way to toss together a character already seething with angst. Or it can make characters who have pleasantly bland upbringings, depending on how you roll. It may be fun for the sort of people who like to be handed pre-gens and enjoy busting out their improv chops at the table. If you already have a concept in mind, just build it normally.

Part 1: Intro to Sword World/Thumbnail History of Raxia
Part 2: Races and Classes
Part 3: Combat
Part 4: Gods and Spells
Part 5: Fellows
Part 6: Guilds and Monsters
Part 7: Conclusion

Sword World 2.5: An Overview, Part Seven

June 23rd, 2023
Sword World 2.5

(Chapter the Last in my exhausting — er, exhaustive — series of Sword World 2.5 articles, picking the bones of the English version by the Sword World Translation Project. Download their translationjoin their Discord, or peruse their sub-Reddit. And gyre and gimble in the wabe.)

The Translation

Biting the hand

Before TSR released the first Japanese version of D&D in 1985, unpaid Japanese game enthusiasts would receive copies of the English books and painstakingly translate them in their spare time. Bootleg copies of these translations were photocopied and mailed around between college campuses for groups to play this cool new thing from the States.

Sword World 2.5 is currently published by Fujimi Shobo, an imprint of Kadokawa Publishing. Anime and manga likers will instantly know that name, because they’re a juggernaut with their fingers in practically every media pie in Japan. TTRPG enthusiasts have been trying for years to get them to sell us SW in English, but the publishers apparently don’t really see the crowded US RPG market as anything worth competing in. So now we have the Sword World Translation Project, a group of unpaid English-speaking game enthusiasts who have received copies of the Japanese books and are painstakingly translating them in their spare time … hmm, this sounds familiar somehow.

I have zero affiliation with the SWTP besides greedily consuming their output and lurking on their Discord. It feels petty to criticize this whole entire mad project they’re slaving away on, laying books out in front of me free of charge. It’s really a fine translation and I have no qualms about recommending it.


This is not a professional, sponsored, paid translation, and it shows. The layout is occasionally janky. Sometimes items have the wrong title or text because the format’s been obviously copy-pasted from somewhere else. The phrasing is sometimes odd and unclear and would benefit from another editing pass or two. I wish they’d chosen a different body font than Baskerville Old Face, which always reminds me of a 1950’s schoolbook. Their kerning is a bit too tight, which makes the spacing stand out. I want someone to go through and add some frickin’ padding to the frickin’ boxes for the LOVE OF PETE.

But (again), I’ve been watching how they work on Discord, and they’re pretty good about fixing mistakes. They recommend waiting a few weeks after a book or supplement gets translated before downloading the PDF as a permanent copy, since they’ll be changing it constantly to iron out the mistakes. They claim they’ve picked up a sub-team of competent copy editors, so maybe some of my complaints about phrasing will clear up. Auquid, the SW2.5 main translator, is so responsive and prolific that I wonder what they do for a living. The text isn’t Engrish-y or anything. I’ve certainly seen worse design skills, on paid products even.

And they’re doing it for free, so, yeah. Worth every penny you’ll spend on it and more.

The Game Itself

Just gnawing away on that hand, really getting into it

There is a lot to Sword World 2.5. The three core books alone are around 1,300 pages of pure uncut content. (The books are physically small, so that’s not as much content as 1,300 pages would be in D&D-style books. It’s still a lot of pages to flip through.)

The game’s conceit of escalating complexity from Book I -> Book II -> Book III has consequences. For instance, Book I introduces Sorcerers, Conjurers, and Priests, with level 1-5 spell lists for each one. Fine. Book II adds Bards, Enhancers, and Fairy Tamers, and includes their full lists from levels 1-10, while only having the levels 6-10 lists for the other traditions. Book III adds Alchemists and Riders, with their full list of abilities from 1-15, but only has levels 11-15 for everything else.

This trickles down in other places too. Level 1 combat feats for Bards sit aside level 6 feats for everyone else in Book II. Low-level Alchemist items are in tables with the highest-level magic items. A level 3 monster meant to be an opponent for Riders resides in Book III next to all the level 10 critters. It makes sense in its way, but it can be a pain to keep everything straight, especially for GMs.

Supplements like Epic Treasury, Magus Arts, and Monstrous Lore alleviate all of this with their comprehensive lists of what’s in the core books, plus more. This comes at the expense of having more books to refer to (and buy, if you’re not reading an unofficial translation, heh heh, tug collar).

The GM has to work to keep encounters tuned to the party’s strength, since the 2d6 mechanic has a smallish challenge-to-pain window and monsters start hitting hard quickly. Getting new armor and equipment is sometimes more important than leveling up. It’s also easy for a character to spread their XP out too much and fall behind other, more specialized heroes. Players need to consult with one another when they level up to make sure the whole party stays in tune.

Some supplements add new classes and races, so the players and GM need to stay up on what everyone else has access to. If someone comes in wanting to play a Soleil Druid/Tactician, a GM with only the core books will either have to educate themselves quick or be ready to say no. It’s not quite splatbook-level but it’s reminiscent.

(I love the Soleil, by the way. They’re a race of big bronze himbos who are possibly direct mortal descendants of the Sun God.)

You’re welcome

The game plays quickly once the players and GM have their feet under them. It’s not as crufty as OSR but not as loose as 5e either. The structure of combat reminds me of Pathfinder a bit, but not quite as clockwork-regimented. The rules are mostly unambiguous. Monsters aren’t just bags of HP, and often take actual strategies to defeat. Side initiative makes every fight feel like a slugfest.

It’s fun despite its peccadilloes, is what I’m saying.


It is finished

Sword World 2.5 is a very robust game. The GM should definitely take the time to skim all three volumes before playing, and you should expect some minor jank in your first session or two until everybody can internalize the basics. Once everyone gets it, it’s pretty easy.

It’s also a surprisingly social game which emphasizes teamwork and synergy. As long as players make sure their characters cover everyone else’s gaps, the game works great. It’s also possible to make silly characters that don’t contribute, so some level of GM counsel may be needed. This is a difficult game to bring your one weird character to a new table and fit right in. The GM can find Fellows to bridge the gaps, but there’s a danger of them overshadowing the players and/or becoming a crutch for bad party structure, and that’s no fun.

The rudimentary tactical combat rules are a bummer. That may change in the future but there hasn’t been any indication of that from the publisher. The tactical systems it does have range from ehh to okay. If you love your miniatures and maps, prepare either to put in some elbow grease, or move along.

Sword World 2.5 has had nearly 40 years of refinement, and it shows. I wouldn’t write so much about it if I didn’t recommend it. It’s good and you should play it.

Review Index

Part 1: Intro to Sword World/Thumbnail History of Raxia
Part 2: Races and Classes
Part 3: Combat
Part 4: Gods and Spells
Part 5: Fellows
Part 6: Guilds and Monsters
Part 7: Conclusion

Sword World 2.5: An Overview, Part Six

June 23rd, 2023
Sword World 2.5

(Number six with a bullet in my persnickety series of Sword World 2.5 articles, as I obsess over the English version by the Sword World Translation Project. Download their translationjoin their Discord, or peruse their sub-Reddit. This is your penultimate warning.)

Guilds in Alframe

The Guilded Age

Adventurer’s Guild: Originally a network of Daemon-fighting warriors which formed after the Abyss disaster 3,000 years ago, this has evolved into a general-purpose troubleshooting group which responds to local emergencies. It receives requests for help, pays out rewards, and provides small loans, rescue and body recovery, and resurrection services to its members. Local branches often run taverns or dining halls with attached lodging.

The AG maintains an adventurer’s Reputation, a numeric approximation of an adventurer’s public fame as a hero. Characters can spend Reputation to gain access to exotic weapons and artifacts, but they always retain their cumulative score to get nifty titles as they ascend the Guild ladder.

Yeah, my level is Flamberge, I’m kind of a big deal

Magician’s Guild: Where the cool mages hang out. This guild provides training for sorcerers and conjurers. It’s also your best bet to find some of the more obscure magic items for sale. Most people think they’re mysterious and spooky. They do little to change that impression.

Temples: The go-to for all your priestly needs. Nearly all humanoid towns have temples to Lyphos of the First Sword and the sun god Tidan. Lesser gods’ representation may depend on the region. Barbarous cities have temples to Dhalkrem and his dark ilk. Grendal, god of fire, is worshiped by both sides.

Institute of Magitechnology: After the Diabolic Triumph destroyed the Magitech civilization, the Institute was formed to keep Magitech knowledge alive. They’re also a major financial backer of the Adventurer’s Guild and co-office with them sometimes. Artificers and alchemists often get their training here.

Rider’s Guild: Long-range transportation of goods is at a premium since the Diabolic Triumph, so these guys popped up to assist caravans. Riders can rent all kinds of mounts through this guild, from horses to giant lizards to flying bikes. You can be blacklisted if you get a lot of mounts lost or killed.

Ruins Guild: When you find interesting antiquities in forgotten ruins, the Ruins Guild is where you go to get them appraised by… okay, this is actually the Thieves Guild. Besides the usual shady rackets, they provide security in poor areas and have an extensive information-gathering network. The Ruins Guild sometimes works alongside the Adventurer’s Guild. Quietly, of course.


What do you want from us? We’re evil! EVIL!

Each book contains over a hundred monster listings of appropriate levels, divided into categories.

Barbarous: The OG and the most ubiquitous. Most every adventurer on Raxia will first wet their swords with Barbarous blood. Since Barbarous were humanoids many millennia ago, they will either be your usual bipedal monster (kobolds, goblins, ogres, minotaurs, giants, trolls, etc.) or are monstrous with an alternate human form (drakes and basilisks). Barbarous only respect strength, so drakes lord over ogres who lord over goblins who lord over kobolds.

Okay, maybe they’re not all bad

There are no orcs in this setting. Roughly in their place are bolgs, heavily muscled blue-skinned creatures with white fur. Any resemblance to Japanese oni is completely within your imagination.

Animals: Animals. Not a lot of oddities here besides the occasional giant bug or sea monster. Dinosaurs appear here and there. At higher levels you’ll find animals with inborn magic, like the Blazing Mammoth.

ice burn

Plants: Gotta have your carnivorous plants and poisoned vines. A few species specifically target other plants, like Meria Mistletoe, which is a bit like cordyceps but for Meria. Ents, here called “Entlets” and “Living Trees,” show up as well.

Undead: Creatures gain soulscars in various ways. Barbarous are monsters partly because of their heavy soulscarring. Nightmares are born with them. Adventurers who get repeatedly resurrected can also gain soulscars, which will cause increasing physical changes. But after five soulscars, anyone who gets resurrected becomes an undead.

Undead range from skeletons to nosferatu to zombie dragons. Pretty much anything that can die can return as an undead. Here we also find our old pal the Dullahan, staple of Japanese Western fantasy.

He’ll never get ahead in death

Conjurers of level 3 and up can create undead using any Humanoid or Barbarous corpse. This is generally frowned upon in polite society.

Constructs: Back during the Magic Civilization, wizards loved to create magical servants to guard their stuff, or trap intruders, or torture their enemies, or just because screw you, they’re wizards.

Anyway, a lot of these constructs continue to patrol their old haunts. In some cases they’ve taken on a life of their own and have figured out how to multiply themselves, and have to be hunted down.

A Conjurer’s golems count as constructs, though they only last a day instead of, you know, three thousand years. Modern-day wizards are still trying to figure out how the old guys did that.

Magitech: The Magitech Civilization left behind a lot of artifacts. Some of those artifacts will kill you. Magitech monsters are usually robot-like minions that roam the halls of ruined factories and storehouses. They all have techy sci-fi-ish names like “Zerlays” and “Kagners.”

Bonk bonk on the head

Magitech also has the best mounts, which are listed in this section. You haven’t lived until you’ve gone tearing across the plains on a magic motorcycle.


Mythical Beasts: Before humans, these were the Swords of Genesis’ best efforts to create someone to use them. Unfortunately they didn’t have the ambition necessary to take up the power and change the world.

I mean, look at this creampuff

These are your typical monsters from legend, like thunderbirds and gryphons and true dragons and stuff. Most humanoid monsters from Earth myth, like minotaurs and werewolves, are Barbarous instead.

Fairies: Whimsical beings from an alternate dimension of magic. Typical fairies are tiny Tinkerbell-like things, but more powerful fairy types have more diverse forms, like Cait Sith and nymphs. Efreet and titans also count as “fairies” in this cosmology (though SW’s “titans” are giant anime girls; not complaining, mind you, just pointing that out). Fairy Tamers can summon a significant percentage of these guys to do their dirty work for them.

Daemons: Eeeeevil beings from another dimension which were summoned by the Magic Civilization and ultimately caused its downfall. They have an “alternative” sense of morality which makes them see humanoids as things to corrupt, exploit, devour, and forget. They range from tiny imps to big ol’ horned monsters, with lots of variety in between.


The Warlock class, described in the Monstrous Lore supplement, has daemon summoning as its core ability. Considering the history humanoids have with daemons, this is EXTREMELY frowned upon in polite society. Like, “get strung up by a mob” frowned upon.

Humanoids: Bandits and such, yawn.

Next time: Wrapping it up

Part 1: Intro to Sword World/Thumbnail History of Raxia
Part 2: Races and Classes
Part 3: Combat
Part 4: Gods and Spells
Part 5: Fellows
Part 6: Guilds and Monsters
Part 7: Conclusion

Sword World 2.5: An Overview, Part Five

June 16th, 2023
Sword World 2.5

(Fifth of its name in my janky series of Sword World 2.5 articles, dissembling upon the English version by the Sword World Translation Project. Download their translationjoin their Discord, or peruse their sub-Reddit. Your life, and theirs, do not depend upon in it any way.)


“I think that enemy got … the point!”

Look, we get it. Sometimes the sorcerer has to go to his stupid sister’s wedding, or your best fighter finally wheedled a date out of that girl in Class 2-A, or maybe you have a party of clumsy numbskulls who want to plunder the Razor-Filled Labyrinth of Mirrors and Tripwires and could use a hand. Where will you scare up another player at this time of night?

With Fellows, you don’t have to.

Fellows turns PCs into simplified, semi-autonomous NPCs that the party can use even if the player isn’t around. They also let you introduce helper characters into your own game, and send your own characters out into the world to be NPCs in other games around the world.

To make a Fellow, you must first create the Universe a PC. Then grab a Fellow sheet and fill in the character’s basic information: name, race, gender, age, Adventurer Level, classes, languages known, and MP.

Nothing unusual so far …

Next, choose four actions which you consider either the most useful, or most iconic, actions that your character might perform. They don’t all have to be combat actions, and the rules suggest that they probably shouldn’t be, lest playgroups think your character is a dull, one-note combat monster.

In Saffron’s case, I’m thinking of an interesting spread of her class talents, like a couple of Fairy Tamer spells, something Ranger-y like noticing things are amiss in the forest, and maybe her Bard spellsong.

Once per combat turn, or whenever the party thinks the Fellow’s skills would be useful, someone can roll 1d and check the action list to see what the Fellow tries to do. If it’s nonsensical or dumb, the Fellow instead does nothing of consequence that turn.

The “Result” column is the presumptive skill check roll for that action. Add that number to the Fellow’s skill and enter the total in the Value column. The GM will compare this Value to the difficulty of the action and tell the party if it succeeded.

Example: Your character has a big sword and you want to create an action for him smacking someone with it. The character’s Accuracy with the sword is +5. You put the action in the second row, which has 8 in the Result column. That gives the action a Value of 8 + 5, or 13. The Fellow will now automatically hit any enemy with an Evasion of 12 or less.

Generally you’ll want to put your most effective skills in the bottom two rows for the higher Results, with the understanding that those rows will be rolled less often.

If an action has a target, the party chooses the target after the roll. The party can also cancel an action if it’s not really needed, like if the Fellow rolls to heal someone who’s only slightly banged up.

To make your Fellow even more convenient to use, you should include the Effect of the roll (if there is one) in the last column. Continuing the big sword example, you’d include the weapon’s Power, Extra Damage, and Crit values, plus any other effects from either the weapon itself or any combat feats that you want to apply.

Best of all is the Dialogue column. Whenever the Fellow succeeds with an action, this is a little quip that the character says aloud. Every. Single. Time. This will make the Fellow either a charming temporary team mascot, or the most annoying being to ever exist. Probably both. Hopefully both.

“Wolves hunt in packs, Arisen.”

And now, finally, we can write our Fellow’s Introduction, a one- or two-liner that your character would say to an adventuring group at their initial meeting. If a GM grabs your Fellow sheet off the internet, the Introduction is what they’ll use to help sell your character to the group. The example Fellow in the book, a fighter/scout named Wolfe, has this Introduction: “I’m a hot-blooded guy who loves a good adventure. Nice to meet you!” I mean, like, yes, hello, Action Man, come hit things with us, let’s go.

The Introduction is both a brilliant way to encapsulate your character for new groups, and extremely Japanese. I half-expected the rules to tell the Fellow to bow while presenting their business card with both hands.

Hajime mashite

You might notice that our Fellow has no HP, armor, or equipment. That’s because a Fellow can never be harmed. They’re never targeted by enemies, and any calamity that affects the entire party somehow misses them by miraculous circumstance. In the event of a TPK, the Fellow is assumed to survive and return to civilization.

But immortality has its price: a Fellow must always be in the same area as one of the PCs (so no sending them down a deep dark hole to report back what they find) and can take no action* except what’s on their action chart. They will flatly refuse to do anything that takes advantage of their meta-invulnerability. Any consumables they use (healing herbs, potions, etc., but not ammo) must be provided by the party. They can’t be captured by enemies without their PC companion, and vice versa.

* They can perform other small actions if their companion PC does it too; the example given is crouching behind some rocks. But they can’t do anything unique.

After a group finishes a session with a Fellow, the rules encourage them to provide an after-action report back to the player. The book goes to great lengths to urge them to make their feedback positive, because they and we all know what people are like on the internet. It’s a fine sentiment but also has a bit of a CYA feel.

Nice try, grandpa

Players can also ask that their Fellow receive a share of in-game loot or XP. It’s entirely up to your GM to decide whether any percentage of that translates back to your campaign, but it can be a nice little bonus.

There’s no official Fellow repository mentioned in the books. Even a scan of the publisher’s website doesn’t find any mention of them. There are a couple of Japanese-language fansites with Fellow databases, though, and probably more on the handful of SW2.5 message boards. For English speakers, the Sword World Translation Project’s Discord has a Fellows channel with several entries already.

A Fellow is a way to offer more muscle and/or skills to a party when needed, plus a role-playing prompt, plus a way to feel like you’re contributing to the larger community. I enjoy this concept a lot, as you might expect considering how long I’ve gone on about it. It’s quick, simple, and a bit silly. Just how I like ‘em.

Next time: Guilds and Monsters

Part 1: Intro to Sword World/Thumbnail History of Raxia
Part 2: Races and Classes
Part 3: Combat
Part 4: Gods and Spells
Part 5: Fellows
Part 6: Guilds and Monsters
Part 7: Conclusion

Sword World 2.5: An Overview, Part Four

May 27th, 2023
Sword World 2.5

(Number four in my dorky series of Sword World 2.5 articles, examining the English version churned out by the Sword World Translation Project. Download their translationjoin their Discord, or peruse their sub-Reddit. And like I always say, lay down that boogie and play that funky music ’til you die.)

The Gods of Raxia

Gods & ends

After the War of the Gods many thousands of years ago, the divinities of Raxia retreated to a distant realm which is essentially Heaven. There they wait and heal until a distant day of reckoning, when they will arise again and finish their business with each other once and for all. A CthulhuRagnarok, if you will.

Despite their recuperation, the gods remain aware of the world and provide assistance to their true believers. The collective thoughts and good will of humanoids will sometimes draw the gods’ attention to certain mortals. In extreme cases they will offer apotheosis to these mortals, creating latter-day godlings who may or may not gain enough power to become major gods themselves.

Gods are broadly categorized as Ancient, Major, and Minor. Ancient gods are worshiped worldwide. Major gods have a continental scope. Minor gods are usually local to a region. If a priest travels away from a god’s sphere of influence, they may incur spell penalties unless they can find a way to beef up the local worship of that god. It’s all rather fuzzy.

Worshiping a god isn’t just window dressing for a Priest. Though everyone’s spell lists are largely similar, each god has their own unique spells at levels 2, 4, 7, 10, and 13. Also, Priests of the First Sword gods tend to have spells that specifically target Barbarous (Banish, Detect, etc.). Priests of the Second Sword gods have similar spells that specifically target humanoids. The priests of Kilhia, God of Wisdom and wielder of the Third Sword, generally align with the First Sword guys.

The following gods are described in all three rulebooks, plus the Epic Treasury and Magus Arts supplements.

Ancient gods

Lyphos the Divine Ancestor: The first one. Mild-mannered, more inclined to talk than fight. His spells do things like make all hostiles non-hostile and give humanoids the special abilities of other humanoids for a while.

Tidan, God of the Sun: Lyphos’ best friend. All about fairness. Really hates undead. His spells are mostly light-based. He also has one that can clear up bad weather instantly.

Asteria, Goddess of Fairies: Creator of Elves and progenitor of fairy magic. Her spells are charm- and emotion-based.

Grendal, Blazing Emperor: God of fire, creator of Dwarves. Unique in that he’s as popular with Barbarous as he is with humanoids. His spells are all about … aww you guessed.

Gamel, God of Money: Given godhood by Lyphos for inventing capital, ensuring that he’ll be first against the wall when the revolution comes, comrades. His spells are mostly about finding the true value of things. He also has the spell [Life Insurance], which lets you sacrifice cash to get a bonus on your death check roll.

Kilhia, God of Wisdom: Found the Third Sword, Cardia, before it exploded. His spells inspire insight and knowledge. His highest-level unique spell allows a priest to cast a spell of any other tradition (Truespeech, Fairy Magic, etc.).

Dhalkrem, God of War: Wielder of the Sword of Freedom, Ignis, and starter of the god war. Boo this man. The creator and main god of the Barbarous, he’s sometimes worshiped by humanoid brigands and soldiers as well. His spells all have names like [Frenzy] and [Berserk].

Major gods

Sien, Goddess of the Moon: Tidan’s sweetheart in life. Supporter of people who work and worry at night, including wives, tavern keepers, and sex workers. Her spells are all about vision, darkness, and fortitude.

Mirtabar, the Divine Hand: God of thieves and adventurers. Scouts tend to whisper prayers to him while trying to disarm traps. His spells emphasize quick hands and accurate movement.

Eve, Shield Against the Abyss: Goddess of the Tiens and other guardians of the Wall of the Abyss. Her followers are always expected to defend the weak. Spells are mostly tuned against daemons.

Harula, the Guiding Star: Eve’s sister, who is all about finding your place in the world and bringing the lost back home. Her spells are generally designed to make Shallow Abysses easier to navigate.

Dalion, God of the Trees: The Lorax writ large. Worshiped by hunters and loggers. His spells get you through the forest easier and/or trip up pursuers.

Miritsa, Goddess of Love and Vengeance: Two-in-one special! Originally a Barbarous who learned compassion and got godmoded by Lyphos. Her priests are all women. Spells involve redirecting damage and turning public opinion.

Myles, Divine Chef: God of cooking and craftsmanship. Supposedly the first human to make food for more than survival. Spells have names like [Enticing Aroma] and [Adiposity], which makes your target super fat.

Aurmata, Armored Goddess: A latecomer divinity who gained fame for building Magitech Iron Man armor. Worshiped by soldiers, Artificers, and blacksmiths. Her spells give priests magi-mechanical body enhancements like wings and cannons.

Paro, Divine Herald: One of the few other people deified by the power of the Third Sword, Paro is the messenger god (and god of messengers). His spells mostly help Tacticians, a new class from the Magus Arts supplement.

Adeni, Weaver of Threads: Goddess of clothing, and by extension cleanliness and disease prevention. Her spells keep people clean and tidy, and cure or repel sickness.

Nivaceps, the Blood-Bathing Goddess: A former nosferatu who gained godhood. Mutilates maidens and bathes in their blood, so it’s not just a clever name. Not a nice lady. Spells are all “us against them” discord creators.

Eiryak, Sea Snatcher: A former Barbarous pirate. Hates the act of creation and espouses just taking what you want without mercy. Lots of water-based spells.

Zeides, Immortal Queen: Her quest for immortality made her the progenitor of the nosferatu. Her spells make vampiric life easier, like [Sunshade] and [Spirit Domination].

Laris, the Mad God: Nobody really knows where this guy came from or got his powers. Some speculate he’s from a different dimension entirely. Worshiped by daemons, which is kind of a giveaway. His spells summon insects and daemons.

Gurvazo, Trap God: Formerly a humanoid who really, really liked traps. Got so into it that he was committing war crimes, so Dhalkrem called him up. Really into EDM. Guess what his spells are about.

Zoras-Valles, Earth Storm: Zoras is an earth goddess and her twin brother Valles is a sky god. Though Barbarous gods, they’re more about forethought and preparation than hitting things. Worshiped by the architects of the Diabolic Triumph. Their spells involve prognostication and confusion.

Minor gods

Furusil, Goddess of Wind and Rain: Daughter of Tidan and Sien. Outwardly cool but secretly affectionate (y’know, kuudere). Worshiped in the southern part of the continent. Spells are all storm-based.

Strasford, God of Railroads: He’s the god. Of railroads. Who cares about anything else, there’s a friggin’ god of railroads in this game. A former Dwarf tinkerer in the Dorden Region, where trains still run today. Spells maintain and extend the capabilities of vehicles.

Sadur, Wandering God: Formerly an Elf noble in the Aurelm Region who spent his time walking around solving people’s problems. His spells involve travel, hiding, and enemy detection.

Meigal, Fraud God: Home of the fraud god. The first swindler, who appeared in the world almost the instant Gamel invented money. His spells are all misdirection and deceit.


We have such sights to show you

I’ve talked about spells a lot, so let’s see how they’re presented in the books.

Again, most of this is self-explanatory. The ⏭ symbol in the [Blink] spell means it can be cast as a minor action, and the △ means it can be cast during the combat prep phase. Occasionally you’ll see a ⭘, which indicates a permanent effect.

Most spells that cause damage will have the Power Table entry right in the description.

Resistance shows what happens on a successful Willpower roll to shake a spell off. This can be “Can’t,” “n/a”, “Neg,” “Half,” and “Optional.” Optional spells are usually meant to be beneficial for an ally, but if the target doesn’t want it on them for some reason, they can roll to negate it.

The little witch-hat icon indicates that these are level 8 Truespeech (Sorcerer) spells. Each tradition has its own icon. There are more in supplements for Geomancers and Druids, but these are the OG:

Spells for major classes cap out at level 15. Minor classes that let you pick and choose an effect every level (a Bard’s spellsongs, for instance, or an Alchemist’s Evocations) have a dozen or so that can be learned at level 1, another group with a minimum level of 5, and a third group at level 10.

Next time: Suppose they gave an adventure and nobody came?

Part 1: Intro to Sword World/Thumbnail History of Raxia
Part 2: Races and Classes
Part 3: Combat
Part 4: Gods and Spells
Part 5: Fellows
Part 6: Guilds and Monsters
Part 7: Conclusion

Sword World 2.5: An Overview, Part Three

May 24th, 2023
Sword World 2.5

(Third in my idiotic series of Sword World 2.5 articles based on the English version churned out by the Sword World Translation Project, of which I am only a humble fanboy. Download their translationjoin their Discord, or peruse their sub-Reddit. Or don’t, I ain’t ya mama.)


I shall smite him roundly

The most succinct explanation of how SW2.5 combat works comes straight out of Book I:

It’s all pretty straightforward. The two sides are identified, characters pop off any feats or non-attack actions that may give their side an advantage, Sages roll to identify the weak points of the enemies, then players roll for Initiative. You’ll notice that SW2.5 uses side initiative instead of individual initiative; everyone from the winning side acts, in any order, then the other side does the same. Once everyone knows who goes first, combatants line up and away you go.

To hit an opponent with a weapon, roll 2d6 + your Dexterity modifier + your Warrior-type Class Level + the weapon’s Accuracy versus the enemy’s 2d6 + Evasion. (Monsters have an optional fixed Evasion value if the GM doesn’t want to roll so much.) If you beat the enemy’s Evasion or roll double 6’s, you hit!

Every weapon has a Power score. To determine the damage done, roll 2d6 on the corresponding line of the Power Table. If you roll equal to or higher than the weapon’s Crit Value, roll again and add. Keep rolling until you stop critting. Then add your weapon’s Extra Damage score + your Strength modifier + your Warrior-Type Class Level to find the total damage done. Subtract the enemy’s Defense, and voila!

I’ve got the power

In practice, this isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Your weapons’ total Accuracy and Extra Damage can be added up beforehand, and only change when you raise your stats or class level. There’s a spot on the character sheet for the full Power Table entry of every weapon you own.

Right there.

After a few rolls, once you know where to look, the process feels surprisingly quick and smooth. It is a bit roll-y if the GM wants to roll attacks and Evasion checks for players and enemies both. With the optional fixed scores for monsters, you can get through almost any attack with one to two rolls, plus crits.

Weirdly enough, most monsters don’t use the Power Table; their attacks all do 2d + (some number) damage. PCs have a somewhat larger pool of HP to compensate.

After combat ends, all that’s left is to go through your enemies’ pockets. Most all monsters have loot tables to simplify this process. If the GM enhanced any of the boss monsters with sword shards, those will also emerge from their bodies for the players to grab.

A brief and indulgent Power Table rant: The full Power Table, which appears in a Book III appendix, is 100 rows long and tops out at 30 damage (Power 100, roll 12). The increase between each level is so gradual as to be almost subliminal; going up 10 full levels is usually between +1 and +3 damage, depending on your roll. A lot of the time, the character’s own Extra Damage will be a bigger factor than their weapon’s Power score. Most bizarrely, power levels don’t progress by a formula; apparently the designer created the entire table by what feels right. IMHO, this table could be a fifth its length and readjusted for consistency and I doubt anyone would notice. It’s a cute bit of legacy design that kinda drags things down.

Marching Orders

The front lines are no place for a rabbit

SW2.5 has three different methods of managing battles, from “You’re either in melee or you’re not” all the way up to maps. Gosh.

Simplified Combat reduces every battle to three zones: the allied rearguard, the frontline, and the enemy rearguard. You start combat in your choice of the allied rearguard or the frontline. It takes one full action to move to an adjacent zone. Characters can’t move into their enemy’s rearguard as long as there are active enemy combatants on the frontline, unless they overwhelm the enemy’s numbers by at least double. Ranged characters (Marksmen, Sorcerers, etc.) can shoot from their zone to an adjacent zone, but can’t shoot from their rearguard through to the enemy rearguard unless they have the Hawk Eye combat feat.

Standard Combat puts all the characters on a single line and uses their movement scores to determine their distances from one another. If a party member enters the combat range of an enemy, a “skirmish” breaks out, and nobody can move freely through the skirmish zone. Skirmishes block line of sight for ranged characters unless, again, they have the Hawk Eye feat.

Gonna be honest, Standard Combat is a pain to manage. In a way it reminds me of “range bands” from old-school Traveller, but granular down to the meter. The GM would need a whiteboard or a ruler or something to keep everyone’s relative location straight, especially when you have skirmishes and areas of effect and blocking movement and ugh. If you want to try this, consider at least breaking the battlefield into 3-meter strips rather than nickel-and-diming every meter.

Do you see this shit Applejack

Advanced Combat … doesn’t appear in the core rulebooks. For that, you’ll need to pick up the Epic Treasury supplement. Advanced Combat is essentially a 2D version of Standard Combat with new rules about blocking and line-of-sight. For something called “Advanced,” it still feels simplified and abstract compared to the tactical rules of most RPGs these days. The rules even say straight out that vertical distance doesn’t matter “unless the GM thinks it should.” Well I think it should!

These abstracted battlefields may have cultural origins. Japanese living spaces are famously … let’s say “efficient,” and sitting with a bunch of friends around what is essentially an end table tends to limit your gaming options. A big surface with enough space for miniatures and a map is often a luxury for poor college-age people. SW2.5 came out right before the proliferation of VTTs, so it’ll be interesting to see if they take advantage of that in future supplements.

I will say that Simplified Combat provides more than enough detail when you have a small party mixing it up with goblins in a cave somewhere. But the more combatants you add, the more your players may long for some tactical variety. I’d skip right to Advanced Combat in that case.

Next time: Gods and ends

Part 1: Intro to Sword World/Thumbnail History of Raxia
Part 2: Races and Classes
Part 3: Combat
Part 4: Gods and Spells
Part 5: Fellows
Part 6: Guilds and Monsters
Part 7: Conclusion

Sword World 2.5: An Overview, Part Two

May 22nd, 2023
Sword World 2.5

(Second in my dumb series of Sword World 2.5 articles based on the efforts of the Sword World Translation Project, which has nothing to do with me besides my voracious appetite for their work. Download their translation here, join their Discord there, or peruse their sub-Reddit over yonder.)

Monsters, Dungeons, and Even More Swords

A wild Dungeon approaches! Command?

Swords of Protection: These nth-generation copies of Lumiere give off long-range emanations which cause pain and paralysis in soulscarred creatures; the more scarred their souls, the worse the pain.

Any town with a Sword of Protection is kept mostly safe from Barbarous incursions. Swords of Protection also make any PC with several soulscars (for instance, a resurrected character) feel anywhere from vaguely unwelcome to bleeding eyeballs.

Swords of Protection slowly lose power over time. To keep them running, the town must use sword shards, small chunks of metal which sometimes appear out of the corpses of powerful boss monsters. This creates an ongoing bounty situation, as towns will pay for shards to keep their people safe, making it lucrative for adventurers to hunt monsters. (But it’s okay! They’re evil!)

Adventurers can also turn in sword shards for free, which helps increase their Reputations. In the game, Reputation is another type of currency, which gives characters access to unique items and perks that money alone can’t buy.

Sword Labyrinths: Even though magic swords have a desire to be wielded, they don’t want just any schmoe to swing them around willy-nilly. So the more powerful ones will transform the area around them, creating underground structures with twisting corridors and traps to test anyone who dares try to reach them. Many will summon nearby monsters to populate their ersatz dungeons. If an adventurer manages to make it to the bottom, only then will the sword deem them worthy.

Highly magical swords, left alone for a long time, can create gigantic dungeons dozens of levels deep. Often whole towns will spring up near the entrances of these dungeons to support parties of adventurers competing to get to the prize first.

Shallow Abysses: Even though the main Abyss is contained behind the Wall, swirls and eddies from that disaster still wander the continent of Alframe, occasionally settling in one place as a Shallow Abyss.

Shallow Abysses are basically open-air sword dungeons without the sword. They alter the surroundings until the characters find themselves someplace totally nonsensical and have no recourse but to fight or puzzle their way to the core. The concept is reminiscent of a witch labyrinth from Puella Magi Madoka Magica. If a Shallow Abyss is allowed to exist for too long, it will even begin summoning daemons who will screw with the heads of anyone trapped inside.

Once you’re in, the only way out is to find the core. The core of a Shallow Abyss is a chunk of darkness shaped like a sword (naturally). If the PCs touch it, a portal opens that allows them to escape. A solved Abyss will soon collapse into interdimensional space, with the PCs still inside if they don’t get a move on.

The Races of Raxia

Hey, Tab-biiit!

This is Runefolk erasure and I won't stand for it
This is Runefolk erasure and I won’t stand for it

Human: Your standard “good at everything, not amazing at any one thing” RPG human. Their special ability is Change Fate: once per day, any time you roll 2d6, you can flip both your dice over and take the numbers on the opposite side. So a 1 becomes a 6, a 2 becomes a 5, etc. You have to flip both dice, though.

Elf: Tall, willowy, dexterous, magically inclined. They have thin pointed ears. Their special abilities are Darkvision and Gentle Water: they can move underwater without penalty and can hold their breath underwater for an hour. They also get a bonus against disease and poison.

Dwarf: Short, stocky, bearded. They have metallic-sheen hair in a variety of colors. Special abilities are Darkvision and Flame Body: immunity to fire and fire-based attacks. Like, completely. You can’t even set anything they carry on fire unless they allow it.

Tabbit: Now things get interesting. Tabbits are short, furry rabbit-people (think the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland). Awkward of body, but very intelligent and good at magic. Their special ability is Sixth Sense, a bonus to Danger Sense checks equal to their level. Tabbits claim that their origin dates back to the whims of a dead god; whatever the truth of the matter is, they can’t take the Priest class.

Runefolk: Quasi-artificial humanoids decanted fully grown from technomagical clone vats. Created during the Magitech Civilization as servants, but have their own culture nowadays. Very good at Magitech. Special abilities are Darkvision and HP Conversion, allowing them to trade HP for MP once per day. Runefolk can’t perceive spirits, so they can’t take the Priest or Fairy Tamer classes.

Nightmare: Humans, elves, dwarves, or lildraken born with soulscars. This makes them feared and shunned by polite society, though they’re no more evil than anyone else. Nightmares are pale, with small horns and/or odd markings on their bodies. Their special ability is Alternate Form: any time they wish, they can embrace their Nightmare-ness, ignore magical penalties for armor, and cast spells without verbal or somatic components. In this form their skin turns chalk white and their horns grow more pronounced. Either form is weak to silver weapons and various elemental damage types, depending on their parentage.

Lykant: Lykants (or sometimes “Lykans,” inconsistently) are humanoids with fur, tails, and animal ears. You knew they had to be in here somewhere. The original indigenous people of Alframe. Their special ability is Beast Form, which turns their head entirely into an animal’s and strengthens their muscles. While in this form, they also have Darkvision and can’t speak any language but Lykant.

Lildraken: Dragonborn with wings and no breath weapon. Count as “humanoids” because Lumiere said so during the god war. Special abilities include Scaly Hide, Tail Whip, and Wings of the Wind, which gives them one minute of flight per day.

Grassrunner: Store-brand halflings, with a little kender thrown in. May not actually be from Raxia; first appeared right around the time the Abyss opened. Bit sus if you ask me. Special abilities are Mana Interference (don’t have MP at all, and spells cast on them can be completely negated with a Willpower check) and Natural Communication (ability to read the local vibe from plants). They have no explicit class restrictions, but magic classes would require a steady supply of mako stones.

Meria: Plant people. Leaves and/or flowers grow out of their heads or shoulders. Divided between short-lived flower-based and long-lived tree-based varieties. Good at fairy magic. Their special ability is Thriving Life: Meria don’t need to sleep, but every sunrise they heal 20% of their HP and all of their MP, just like, ping!

Tiens: Larger-than-usual humanoids with gemstones in their heads and chests. Created during the Magic Civilization by magically fusing humans with daemons. Tiens live about 50 years, but can enter indefinite suspended animation, making them able to function over millennia. Their ability is Intercommunication: they can communicate with anyone within 10 meters even if they don’t have a language in common.

Leprechaun: Short, and the males have beards, but that’s where the similarities end from what you’re picturing. Leprechauns have huge furry ears and live underground, often in ruins of the Magitech Civilization. They have Darkvision, can equip more magical items than usual, and can turn invisible at will.

There are no half-elves etc. on Raxia. Any two humanoid races gettin’ it on will have children fully one type or the other, essentially at random. Tabbits, Lildraken, Meria, etc. can’t cross-breed with other humanoids. Runefolk can’t breed at all (though they are still, ahem, fully functional).


No. Class. (laugh track)

Classes in SW2.5 are more like skill packages, bought with XP. None of them are a be-all end-all, and characters are generally expected to have multiple classes as a matter of course. As characters gain XP, they spend them to increase levels in their existing classes, or buy new classes at level 1.

“Adventurer Level” is the highest class level a character has. Someone with Fighter 1, Scout 3 is Adventurer Level 3, for instance.

Classes are classified as “major” or “minor.” Major classes generally have more utility, and consequently cost more XP, than minor classes. You can make a character with only minor classes but you might have gaps in your effectiveness.

Classes are further split into Warrior-type, Wizard-type, and Other-type.


Fighter: I hit it with my axe (and can wield any weapon, wear any armor, and use any shield). Major class.

Grappler: Punchy-kicky, good at fighting multiple targets. The automatic Chain Attack feat is particularly nice if you want to just wail on a guy. Major class.

Fencer: Finesse fighters specializing in light weapons. Have a higher chance to inflict crits, making them potential one-shot powerhouses. Minor class.

Marksman: Ranged attackers, be it with bow or gun. Good for backrow characters, awful up close. Minor class.


Sorcerer: Master of Truespeech Magic, the sort of magic most familiar to D&D players. More damage output than other magic types. Major class.

Conjurer: Spiritualism Magic user. Has summoning and minion-creating shticks, including the ability to animate dolls and spy through them. Freaky. Major class.

Priest: Your basic Divine Magic class. Heal, keep monsters at bay, turn undead, that kind of thing. Utility is highly changeable depending on which god you worship. Major class.

Artificer: Magitech superuser, transforming magispheres into fun things like rocket boots and manabikes. Also able to fire guns with magic bullets. Major class.

Fairy Tamer: Uses magical gems to summon tiny spirits. Magical middle-men, in other words. Fairy magic is subdivided into multiple types (earth, fire, light, dark, etc.). Major class.


Scout: All the sneaking and trap-finding skills of a D&D rogue for a fraction of the cost. Scouts are the only class with the ability to increase your side’s Initiative roll. Minor class.

Ranger: Partial overlap with Scout, mostly in outdoor areas, but with added herbalism and first aid skills. Minor class.

Sage: Know-it-all. Has the extremely useful ability to identify the weak points of any monsters you’re fighting. For that alone, you should have at least one character with Sage in your party. It’s not even funny. Minor class.

Enhancer: Channels the magic in their bodies to enhance their physical abilities. Combine with the Grappler class to become Goku. Minor class.

Bard: Singer of spellsongs, which have minor ongoing effects, but also accrue different types of Rhythm which you expend to create spell-like Finales. Bards can have their pets sing along to increase the effect. Bit complicated but unique. Minor class.

Rider: Allows stunts and specialized fighting skills while on horseback or manabike. Jockeys can also ride exotic mounts and rent mounts from riding guilds. Minor class.

Alchemist: Breaks elemental essences down into easy-to-carry material cards, then recombines them using a portable alchemy kit to create new items or effects. Minor class.

Every time you advance a level in a Wizard-type class, you instantly learn every spell at that level. No pesky spell books or learning rolls. On the downside, there are only around four spells per level. But by the time you’re level 3-4, you’ll have plenty of options and it only gets better from there.

Casting spells costs Magic Points (MP), so your real limitation is the size of your magical gas tank. You can augment this with mako stones, which have their own small store of MP. If you totally drain a mako stone, it shatters.

Some Other-type classes (Bard, Enhancer, Rider, Alchemist) get one new “thing” per level. Bards get Spellsongs or Finales, Enhancers get Techniques, Riders get Stunts, and Alchemists get Evocations. Scouts, Rangers, and Sages get nothing except higher bonuses to skill checks. (Which is plenty, TBH.)

Next time: Can love bloom on the battlefield? (answer: no)

Part 1: Intro to Sword World/Thumbnail History of Raxia
Part 2: Races and Classes
Part 3: Combat
Part 4: Gods and Spells
Part 5: Fellows
Part 6: Guilds and Monsters
Part 7: Conclusion

Sword World 2.5: An Overview, Part One

May 10th, 2023

Sword World 2.5
You have come to a World of Swords! ::swordcrack::

This is a review (more of an “opinionated overview,” really) of the Japanese role-playing game Sword World 2.5 (aka ソード・ワールド2.5). This review is based on the heroic work of the Sword World Translation Project who can be found on Reddit and Discord, if you so desire. I’m not any part of their project, but they’re pretty cool.

I thought when I started this that I was just gonna do a quick skim, since the full fan translation is already available for free online (Google Drive link). But the more I dug into it, the more I found to write about. Sigh. Please enjoy the following word salad, and I hope it makes you want to look at the real thing.

Chief translator Auquid’s YouTube channel has a lot of good beginner information about how to play, so check it out if you’re not put off by text-to-speech narration.

Beware! If you’re the sort of person who bounces off of anything with manga- or anime-style art, this one will springboard you into low orbit. Please read advisedly.

Game History

Flashback time! ::waving hands:: Deedlit Deedlit Deedlit

Sword World traces its lineage all the way back to the original Japanese printing of BECMI D&D in 1985. A Japanese gaming group called Syntax Error played a D&D campaign and transcribed their sessions, to demonstrate how those newfangled role-playing games work. These transcripts were serialized in a computer magazine from 1986 to 1988, proving that nerds know nerds.

The DM, a writer named Ryo Mizuno, thought, hey, this could work as a novel. So he wrote a fictionalized account of his games titled War Chronicles of Lodoss Island. Poor English translation turned this into Record of Lodoss War.

It was a giant hit. Western-style fantasy had never really gotten much popular traction in Japan before, so it hit Japanese culture in the late 80’s the way Tolkein hit the English-speaking world in the 60’s. The Lodoss series became a phenomenon, and many more successful novels, movies, manga, anime, video games, spinoffs, etc. followed.

Syntax Error, now Group SNE, pitched an official RoLW setting for D&D. TSR laughed them out of the room. Group SNE made up their own rules system with blackjack and hookers and published the Record of Lodoss War Companion in 1988. This version felt like a weird union of D&D and RuneQuest, with a stodgy percentile dice mechanic. Later, they invented a more streamlined 2d6 system and released Sword World TTRPG, still set in the world of RoLW, in 1989. It’s been the #1 Japanese-made fantasy role-playing game ever since.

In 2008, Group SNE threw out the aging RoLW-related setting for a new world called Raxia, added a whole slew of new races and abilities, and published Sword World 2.0. A decade later they released Sword World 2.5, which is mostly backward compatible with 2.0 but smooths out various exploits and power bumps.

The setting of SW2+ feels more whimsical and varied than SW1.0. I’ve seen SW2.0 described in tone as Final Fantasy to SW1.0’s DragonQuest.

The Books

The game as she is (dis)played

Sword World 2.5 Rulebooks
The Three Nakama

SW2.5 has three core rulebooks. Book I introduces the basics and gives enough info to play up to level 6. Book II eases in some more complex game concepts, adds new races and classes, and includes spells/techniques/feats/etc. up to level 10. Book III does the same up to level 15. Anyone who ever played BECMI D&D will immediately see parallels.

The physical books are published in bunko format, which is A6 size (about 4″ by 6″) and softcover, and cost 990 yen (about $7.50) apiece. All three books run over 400 pages each. Interior art is black-and-white and rather sparse. This lies in stark contrast to most Western publishers’ tendency to make core books big, slick, flashy, and expensive. The low economic bar to entry probably contributes to the game’s continued popularity.

Each book is divided into five parts: Characters, Game Rules, Data (spell lists, combat feats, weapons lists, etc.), World, and Game Mastery. There’s no separate MM/Bestiary or GM’s Handbook or anything like that. Books I and II complement each other very well, and together feel like a complete game. Book III, while still packed, feels more like a higher-level appendix.

The World part of each book deepens the lore with history and descriptions of the regions of the continent of Alframe. Book I highlights the Burlight Region, which is pretty fantasy-generic. Book II introduces the Dorden Region, a prairie criss-crossed by magic-punk railroads. Book III adds several northern territories that were ravaged by a joint monster-daemon invasion called the Diabolic Triumph.

Game Mastery sections include a mini-adventure that highlights the new concepts introduced in that book, and a whole bunch of monster listings. There are over 280 monsters described across all three books, which doesn’t even include “bossified” versions the GM can create by infusing them with sword shards.

While it’s nice that a group can just grab the first book to get started, in practice there are problems. Some classes have gaps in Book I that only get backfilled when they introduce more advanced rules in later books. The most egregious example is the Conjurer class, which, if you only go by the information in Book I, is way underpowered compared to other magical traditions. When you get to Book II, only then do you discover that Conjurers can create golems and undead minions. Just, y’know, oh HERE’s the big deal with that class. Hope you haven’t been struggling to be useful!

The books do cram a lot of information in a small space, with plenty of examples and flowcharts. They also tend to explain everything very, very precisely. Every description feels like someone’s trying to head off rules lawyers at the pass. If you prefer loose, broad-stroke game systems, this one may not resonate with you.

The System

Pull out the Yahtzee box, it’s time to play Sword World

Characters have six ability scores: Dexterity, Agility, Strength, Vitality, Intelligence, and Spirit, on a roughly D&D-esque scaling. Each race generates scores in different ways, which we’ll get to later. For now, just know that some scores can go way above 18. Each ability score also has a Modifier, found by dividing by 6 and rounding down.

SW2.5 uses a super simple system for skill resolution: 2d6 + relevant Class Level + relevant Ability Modifier versus a Target Number provided by the GM. Ties always go to the passive side. Rolling 12 is an automatic success and 2 is an automatic failure. Anyone who rolls a 2 gains 50 XP instantly.

I just said that

Most skill checks are class-based. For instance, a Pickpocket check adds your Scout Class Level plus your Dexterity Modifier. You can attempt skill checks if you don’t have the requisite class, but you make the roll “flat,” with no modifiers at all. So even if you have a high Dexterity, you can’t add that modifier to Pickpocketing if you don’t also have the Scout class.

In some cases, even if you have the right class, you’ll still incur a penalty if you don’t have the right tools. A non-Scout trying to pick a lock without scout’s tools might as well just go ahead and hope to roll a 12. (At which point I as GM would probably say, “Oh hey, it wasn’t even latched! Whaddaya know!”)

NB: There are no social skills (negotiation, intimidation, etc.). Interactions of this nature are expected to be role-played at the table. The closest thing to a social skill is the Detect skill check, which can help identify if someone’s lying or faking a condition.

Intro to Raxia 101

Yo dawg, I heard you like swords

Reportedly, when Group SNE started working on SW2.0, they asked themselves, “So why is it called ‘Sword World’ anyway?” then went totally ham on the answer.

The personification of Lumiere looking out at the reader
What’re you lookin’ at?

Raxia was carved out of nothingness by the three Swords of Genesis. Who or what did this is lost to legend, but they must not have been too keen on the final product, because they dumped the swords in the barren world and skedaddled. These swords, which were of course intelligent and immensely magical, still longed to be wielded. They seeded the world with life, in hopes that eventually something might pick them up and make them useful again.

After creating plants, animals, and various mythical beings, they eventually hit on the bizarre combination of thoughts, senses, and limbs called “humans.” One of these humans, a dude named Lyphos, found Lumiere, the Genesis Sword of Harmony, and received enormous world-shaping powers like unto a god for his trouble.

Luckily for everyone, Lyphos was a good guy who used his powers to help turn the world into a paradise. He discovered he could make copies of Lumiere, which were less powerful than the original but still had enough oomph to turn their wielders into gods themselves. Even third- and fourth-generation copies were powerful enough to trigger apotheosis. Eventually there were several gods running around, each with powers over various aspects of the world, working together toward a better future. The God of Fairies turned her human followers into elves, the God of Fire did the same for dwarves, and everything was harmonious and happy.

So you can pretty much imagine what happened next: a human with the totally-not-evil name Dalkhrem found the Sword of Freedom, Ignis. Dalkhrem was a petty and greedy person, wanted to gain all the power in the world, etc. etc. villainous backstory. Thus began the War of the Gods. Dalkhrem managed to sway many humanoids to his side and used his evil powers to taint them with soulscars. In this world, scarring someone’s soul also causes physical mutations, turning them into goblins and ogres and the like. These became the Barbarous, who harried the humanoids, or “small people,” while the gods were busy fighting among themselves.

During the war, someone stumbled across Cardia, the Sword of Wisdom. Rather than allow itself to be wielded against its siblings, Cardia exploded and all its mana flowed out into Raxia. In some places the mana crystallized into mako stones, which wizards can use as mana batteries.

After who knows how many thousands of years, the god war petered out. The Swords of Genesis went lost again, and the remaining gods either died, withdrew from the world, or entered a deep slumber to heal their wounds. A dark age followed for humanity, who still had to deal with the Barbarous without divine help.

Then humanity discovered how to manipulate the magic that Cardia left behind. Only a small percentage of people could actually cast spells, but it was enough to force the Barbarous back. Mages became sorcerer-kings who built grand empires all across Raxia.

About 3,000 years ago, the Magic Civilization abruptly ended at its height. Nobody is certain why, though this ending coincides with the appearance of the Abyss: a botched summoning opened a portal to another plane, and Daemons came pouring out. The magic kingdoms worked together to create the Wall in the North Wall of the Abyss, which (mostly) contains the Abyss and the daemons within. The Wall is tended by Tiens, a nearly immortal race created by infusing humans with Astrayed powers.

Another thousand-year dark age ensued, until someone invented technology that could control magic. This so-called “Magitech” allowed anyone to use magic through a device called a magisphere. The proliferation of Magitech forced the Barbarous underground. Humanoids created a civilization with magical trains and airships and huge shining cities and all sorts of cool magipunk/Buck Rogers stuff.

Alas, this was not to last. 300 years before the game begins, gigantic earthquakes suddenly toppled the Magitech cities. A Barbarous horde exploded out from underground and nearly wiped humanoids off the face of the planet. The huge, organized invasion of the surface became known as the Diabolic Triumph. Barbarous invaders also breached the Wall of the Abyss in several places, and much of northern Alframe fell before a flood of Daemons.

Things looked grim until a small adventuring party defeated the Beast King of the Barbarous in single combat, decapitating their leadership (not to mention the Beast King). Rumors say the party was either welding Lumiere, the First Sword, or a previously unknown fourth sword.

The invasion may be over, but the world remains in chaos. Most understanding of Magitech died with the cities, towns were isolated, and the countryside is still lousy with monsters. The world now needs explorers, researchers, and warriors, good people willing to beat back the darkness, despoil ruins, fight monsters, save princesses, and restore the world for humanoids everywhere.

But who, I wonder, would dare enter the dangerous wilds for gold and glory?

:: looks directly at the PCs ::


Next time: Who are we? Why are we here?

Part 1: Intro to Sword World/Thumbnail History of Raxia
Part 2: Races and Classes
Part 3: Combat
Part 4: Gods and Spells
Part 5: Fellows
Part 6: Guilds and Monsters
Part 7: Conclusion

Not an update

March 9th, 2022

Hey, I wonder if the Ruby tag works in this here word (some) processor (gizmo).

Edit: Ha ha! Furigana (weeb crap) in English!