My Favorite Clone

Which clone is your favorite clone? Do you need a clone at all? Obviously, “clone wars” can become the OSR version of “edition” wars – and it’s not an entirely unrelated set of subjects. Some people, I know, actually prefer the Holmes’ “Basic” to the OD&D (Oe) “White Box” rules. Others champion the “Red Box” or “B/X” (Basic/Expert). As each clone represents a different attempt to mimic one of the iconic rules sets, it’s natural to find partisans drifting to one clone or the other. Me, I dig “Swords & Wizardy: Whitebox” (S&W:WB).

Here’s why…

1) It’s the one version I’ve found that’s the closest to the original rules that came in the… white box. That’s the first version I bought when I was a kid, and that’s the version I first learned to play with. If I want to play that game with rules I can find cheaply, easily, and legally, online, then S&W:WB is the clone for me. As I moved away from those rules, I have seen, the game got worse. As I moved closer back to those original rules, the game got better. Therefore, I want the clone that’s the closest. S&W:WB is the closest.

2) S&W:WB is, in some critical respects, superior to OD&D. Heresy? Well, when it comes to organization, there is no beating that paperback from Lulu. As the GM, I don’t want to have to hunt around for a rule or a table – and from simple play testing I’ve found that it’s ridiculously easy to find what you need while you are playing with S&W:WB. It’s almost as if there’s a magic spell in the book that speeds you to the information you want. In this manner, you get the best of both worlds – the flavor of the original, without the bad organization and the difficulty of trying to find the information you want as you play.

3) While recognizing and praising its faithfulness to OD&D, S&W:WB is not without its innovations. Everyone laughs at the 1D6 damage each and every non-magical weapon causes in the original rules. Dagger? 1D6 in damage. Two-handed broadsword? 1D6. Crossbow bolt? 1D6. No variation. No changes. Doesn’t matter what weapon you buy, it’s only going to do 1D6 when it hits. Do you still want to play this way? Well, if you do, S&W:WB is perfectly ready to accommodate you. Have at it! But if you want some variations without crossing over into Greyhawk’s rules (in the first supplement), S&W:WB offers some up. My opinion? An utterly fantastic compromise! I love these suggestions. They are just enough to get beyond the 1D6 rule for each weapon, but don’t start you down the road to AD&D.

4) Some have complained that – for various legal reasons – the “dungeon crawling” emphasis in OD&D has been omitted from S&W:WB. There’s a mind numbingly simple trick to solve this “problem.” Take all the stuff – specific monsters, treasure, and all dungeon rules – you like from OD&D and just smush it back into your S&W:WB game. After all, S&W:WB is all about “house rules” and the GMs having the final say. Well, my solution to every problem like this is to make everything I like in OD&D, and which couldn’t be included in S&W:WB, a “house rule” in my S&W:WB game. This, as should be obvious, is a utterly noiseless and seamless process. It’s like sticking a jigsaw puzzle piece back into the puzzle. Of course it’s going to fit. You can see where it was taken out and you can see where it goes. Looking at what’s been changed, or not included in the clone, forces you to go back to the original rules. I’ve found that the very process of adding back the missing pieces actually helped me understand and appreciate the OD&D rules more.

5) Awhile back I posted a panel from a b&w Druillet comic and tiled it “My Swords & Wizardry Campaign.” This kind of “cut and paste” scrapbook posting is lame, I know, but as I thought about what promoted me to do it, I realized that one of S&W:WB’s virtues is that it is so simple, I makes me think it can be applied to any kind of campaign, and can accommodate any kind of idea or milieu I could come up.

For example, I sometimes have a hankering to just play a totally straight-forward original Judges Guild “Wilderlands” campaign. That’s right – Ghinor, the Silver Skein Isles, the Glow-Worm Steppes, etc. I could easily do this with S&W:WB. As someone said on some other D&D blog or forum, “There will be goblins and there will +1 swords!” I get this. I completely understand the deep pull that prompts such a declaration. Pick up your copy of S&W:WB and you are good to go. You’re all set.

But, on the other hand, I’d also like to run a campaign that’s more like a Zak S. scenario – set in Vornheim and with that dark, noirish, LotFP feel to it. No standard goblins, no +1 swords. No “new” rules need be applied. Again, pick up S&W:WB and you’re all ready. bring it on. A combination? Same deal. A return to a kind of Dave Arenson-style campaign with turnstiles at the dungeon and fire-hoses full of holy water? Sure thing. Carcosa? Yes. Arduin? No problem. S&W:WB can fit anything you want to do. And if you use it, things will zip merrily along and no one will get stuck having to learn some complex sequence of new rules that will only slow down the play. Less really is more.

6) Some will point to the way that S&W:WB doesn’t have the “support” the other clones do. There’s a ton of stuff out there for OSRIC, of course, and the LL people are pumping modules and aides out all the time. The original, fancy, boxed edition of S&W:WB is already OOP.

None of this matters.


a) S&W:WB is still up on Lulu or free on pdf. It doesn’t need any more than that. Once you start agonizing over the formats and availability, you are already deviating from what this should be all about. A good Lulu book is all we should ever need to start with. Let’s stop the consumerism and the collector-fetishism before it even starts – and the fact that there’s the free pdf online is the axe in the beast’s heart at the onset.

b) Anything you find being produced for these other games can be taken and used in S&W:WB immediately. It’s like a skeleton key. It fits all the locks.

c) The past it littered with great stuff made for OD&D. I have two words for people who can’t grasp this: “Judges Guild.” When you start to think about it this way, one could argue that S&W:WB is more than “supported” enough already. I’d rather have Ready Ref Sheets up at my table – and it’s good to go with S&W:WB, since it was made for OD&D – than any new aide or module. Being utterly versatile, this clone never needs any specific “support” since everything else – even with just a little tweaking – already supports it.

7) I will readily admit that I simply adore the art in S&W:WB. The glorious Mullen cover is my wallpaper on my cell phone and if I could buy the iconic original, I certainly would. For me, the art in this game represents the way S&W:WB carries the best of the past into the future:

“The art of progress is to keep intact the Eternal; yet to adopt an advance-guard – perhaps in some cases almost revolutionary – position in time in respect of such accidents as are subject to the empire of Time.”

– Aleister Crowley


6 responses to “My Favorite Clone”

  1. philip says :

    right on, i love s&w white box!

  2. Brendan says :

    I also adore pretty much everything Mullen has done. I think he is my favorite of the current crop of OSR artists. Check out all his work in the (free) DCC RPG beta if you have not already:

    (I know nothing about that system, I’ve only had time to look at the art.)

    To me, D&D and all the clones are one big toolbox. One thing I like about S&W:WB is that it emphasizes the idea of optional and house rules.

  3. The Fall of '76 says :

    I just ran across your blog today. An awesome job you’re doing. I love S&W:WB too. I have the LBBs, but I am constantly on the fence between the two. Somehow, S&W:WB managed to capture lightning in a bottle the same way D&D White Box did. I get the same thrill of limitless adventure when I look at the Mullen cover as I did in 1976 when I first layed eyes on the D&D White Box.

    My primary “missing piece” is the intelligent sword rules, but your post has encouraged me to simply “smush them back in”. Thanks for reminding me of the malleable joy of S&W:WB.

    • citycrawl says :

      Thank you for your kind comments. Yes, any rule from the original can be stuck back in. I also like the fact that rules and ideas from other games and editions can be included. I like the dragon rules from Arneson’s AIF. Bingo – they are back in.

  4. Ron Anderson says :

    If you’ve got a copy of whit box and Judges guild’s Ready Reference Sheets you’re playing oe.

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