Sword World 2.0 Starter Set

Sword World Starter Set Box
Sword World Starter Set Box

It seems appropriate that the first Japanese RPG I write about was also one of the first made in Japanー Sword World (ソード・ワールド). Sword World first caught my eye a few years ago, but I never had a chance to play it until I mentioned my interest to a friend and he offered to run a session.

My friend hadn’t played it in a long time, so he graciously picked up the Sword World 2.0 Starter Set (Japanese) and gathered together four additional players. We ran through the entire box set in an afternoon at a games play space in Ikebukuro called Naruneko House (Japanese).

A World of Swords

The original Sword World takes place in Forcelia, the same world as Record of Lodoss War, but Sword World 2 takes place in Raxia. It’s a world that was formed by three magical swords (corresponding roughly to good, evil, and neutrality) long ago. These sword created the world and people, some of whom became gods by taking on the power of the swords.

The Starter Set

The start set contains a number of cardboard game pieces; cards; health and mana counters; six sided dice; a GM screen; and two short books (one for rules, one for the story). The quality was quite high, and one thing that surprised me is that the starter set is made to be play without pencil or paper. I found the artwork a nice anime style that fit the game well. The box itself is heavy duty cardboard similar to a board game box.

The front of the included DM Screen
The front of the included DM Screen

The back of the screen is packed with useful information
The back of the screen is packed with useful information

All bookkeeping is abstracted away through cards or counters, and characters are leveled up by choosing one of two new character sheets for each level. Overall, I was very impressed by the contents and their quality. The character sheets and equipment, for example, are designed so that the attributes they affect line up, which makes calculating the current value easy.

Ranger with bow and soft leather armor
Ranger with bow and soft leather armor
The story itself was written so that it could be played in multiple short sessions or one continuous one, with each section briefly exploring a different aspect of the game. We started off exploring a small dungeon and fighting some goblins. Another adventure involved search for some Magi-tech related items.

The pre-made characters are a mix of common fantasy tropes along with those unique to Sword World characters as well. Each character has one or two plot hooks and a background to tie them to the others. For example, I played an Elven ranger who had amnesia and is looking for a lost fiend. All of the character’s stats, skills, abilities, equipment, and background are printed on the two-sided character card, with the mechanical values being on the front and the character details on the back.

The playable characters
The playable characters
Each character started with basic equipment and an amount of gold, which went to a pot shared by the group. As we found new loot, it too went to the communal pot and we later decided how to spend it as a group.

Cardboard character and monster tokens are provided with stands that can be used on the battle map. There is also a party token that is used on the overland and dungeon tiles. Monsters are also provided with illustrated cards and tokens, with their stats printed on the backside.

Goblins, everyone's favorite fodder
Goblins, everyone’s favorite fodder

The System

The rules used in the starter set are a simplified version of those in the core rulebook, and I found them to flow fairly smoothly. As one of the players described, the system is a mix of D&D and RuneQuest, and it had an immediate feeling of nostalgia for me despite having never played it before. It definitely felt like a modernized take on a classic system.

Sword World is a hybrid class-skill system. Character level, which brings increased health and magic, is determined by the highest level skill. This has the nice effect of enabling both generalist and specialist characters to coexist. Skills are fairly broad, being closer to professions in other RPGs. For example, the ranger-like character I played had shooter, scout, and sage skills. The six attributes (agility, dexterity, strength, life, intelligence, and spirit) are combined with skills depending upon the action being performed. Covering one’s tracks uses the agility attribute with the scout or ranger skill, while moving stealthily uses dexterity with one of those skills.

At its core, it uses 2D6 to resolve all actions. Characters with a relevant skill will add their attribute and skill to the roll. Characters without the required skill use the unmodified roll. If the resulting number is equal to or greater than the target number, the check succeeds. Rolling two sixes is an automatic success and rolling two ones is an automatic failure, but an automatic failure nets the player 50 experience points. Resources used during the check are consumed regardless of the result.

For opposed rolls, the player with the highest result wins. Draws are resolved so that the success is shared fairly (such as a race resulting in a dead heat) unless a clear winner is required. In that case, the players that tied make the same check again until there is a clear winner.

Combat

Players often roll against tables, specifically for damage, healing, and casting spells to determine how effective their action was. An interesting aspect is that the to-hit role and damage rolls are separate, with the possibility of a hit not dealing damage. Additionally, the game simulates evasion and absorption by giving each character and piece of armor evasion and protection values. For example, a shield gives 1 evasion, while soft leathers give 3 protection. When rolling to defend, the evasion value is added to the roll, and if hit, the protection value is subtracted from the damage. Damage itself is determined by rolling 2d6 and comparing the result to the damage table for the weapon being used.

Each weapon has a different table of values and a different target for a critical. If a critical is scored, damage is rolled again and added to the previous damage. The weapon and spell cards that come in the starter set made it easy to calculate damage. Healing is likewise determined by rolling on the table listed on the spell card.

The battle map (left) and dungeon tiles (right). Three characters are in the player rear and two characters are in melee with a monster. The plastic miniature is not part of the starter set. The red health counters on the battle map are the enemy’s health.
The battle map (left) and dungeon tiles (right). Three characters are in the player rear and two characters are in melee with a monster. The plastic miniature is not part of the starter set. The red health counters on the battle map are the enemy’s health.

Combat evoked the feeling of early Final Fantasy games. Combat takes place on a large tile divided into three sections: player rear, melee area, and enemy line. There is a set distance between each line, and characters can move between them if the enemy is not in their current section. When players and enemies are in the same area, it becomes a melee battle and ranged attacks have a chance of hitting allies. Certain abilities, such as one of the Elven perks, allows them to fire into the melee without penalty and at higher levels the ability to fire upon the enemy backline. Characters in the same space can attack any other character in that space. I found this simplified range system an elegant mix between theatre of the mind and full on miniature combat.

When combat begins, each side rolls to see if the players or the enemies have initiative. Once decided, the players can decide the order they go in, which can change each round. Once one side is finished, the other side goes. Attacks use an opposed roll system, with both the attacker and defender comparing their rolls to see if the attack hits. Boss monsters always make these rolls, but minions have a static target number to help speed combat along.

Both health and mana are point systems tracked by the red and yellow counters, respectively. Mana is easier to restore than health.

Language

It’s hard for me to objectively grade the difficulty of the Japanese, but the text was clear and fairly easy to understand. In terms of formatting, the text was nicely spaced and not cramped. The copious use of diagrams and charts also made it easy to confirm one’s understanding.

The rules book
The rules book

I generally find flavor text harder to read than rules, so am including both types of excerpts to show the type of language used:

Sample Rules Text
弓矢などの、射程距離を持つ攻撃は射撃攻撃と総称されます。その射程距離で、攻撃できる対象(エリア)が規定されます。 – Rule Book, page 21
Attacks that have a range, such as bows and arrows, are collectively called shooting attacks. The area that can be attacked is determined by the attack’s range.

Sample Flavor Text
フィリッツは冒険好きで、友人とよく遺跡探索をしていました。ところがある魔剣の迷宮に挑んだ時、魔法の罠にかかって気絶してしまいます。目覚めると迷宮はもぬけの殻。魔剣も友人も見当たりません。 – Ranger Character Card
Fritz loved adventuring and often explored ruins with his friend. They delved into a Magic Sword’s labyrinth, but were caught in a magical trap. When he awoke, the labyrinth was deserted. Neither the magical sword nor his friend were to be found.

Conclusion

The starter set was of impressive quality and the tiles and counters could easily be used in continued games. Coming in as an old hand to RPGs, but a first time Sword World player, I found it easy to get my bearings and learn the system as new aspects came up.

The system itself has a modernized crunch to it that was really quite fun. I would definitely play again if I have the chance.

Sword World 2.0 Starter Set
Publisher Group SNE
Product Page Publisher Site
Online Retailer Amazon JP
Released 2015-8-8

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