Changes afoot with Swords and Wizardy

In case you haven’t heard, Mythmere Games (makers of Swords & Wizardry) has now partnered up with Frog God Games (an offshoot of the company formerly known as Necromancer Games). Earlier today there was a bit of a brou-ha-ha over the wording of an annoucement with comments that vary from critical of to supportive of the promises of new “professionalism” in production values that Frog God Games has sworn to deliver.

In case you don’t know (and I can’t imagine you don’t), Swords & Wizardry is orginally the brain child of Matt Finch, a fan of the older editions of D&D who used the “Open Game License” and “System Reference Document” issued by Wizards of the Coast during the 3e and 3.5e heyday to make a game that plays so much like the original D&D (with just product identity and copyrighted names and terms stripped away) that one could barely notice the difference between the two games. Read more about it here.

As is usual with the OSR community, this latest announcement has stirred up some controversy. I’ll let you follow the links above and figure it out for yourself.

The thing that I find regrettable is that apparently they have decided to reissue the Swords & Wizardry rule book with some new content and a new cover. The original cover, by Peter Mullen, is above at left. You have your group of crazy adventurers, dressed in outlandish armor, hoisting the halfling up into the lap of a dead giant’s skeleton so he can steal the gem from the pommel of the giant’s sword. Not only is it a great, evocative illustration, but it also has a unique character and ‘look’ that hearkens back to TSR artists like Dave Trampier and Erol Otus without slavishly copying them. As an artist myself, I love Mullen’s work.

According to their press release
, Frog God Games is going to release a new copy of the rules with a new cover (see at right). I’m not sure who the new artist is (Rick Sardinha?), but I find the decision disappointing. I know that the new cover looks more ‘current’ and ‘contemporary’ — more like the cover of a mass market paperback than Mullens’ weird, indie-looking picture, but, despite the great technique and cool, computer generated painted look, the new cover doesn’t scream “pick me up and play me” like Mullen’s cover does. Mullen’s cover recalls the spirit of the art on the Dave Trampier AD&D players handbook that featured a group of adventurers in a temple with a pot-bellied demon statue where two adventurers were prying a gem as big as a human head out of the eye socket — at least for me. The new cover? It looks professional — but also looks a little bland — like this cover could be on just about any 4e era or 3.5e era WOTC product. The new cover is technically and artistically very accomplished… and is much better than anything I could ever do. But since I think the main strength of a game like ‘Swords & Wizardry’ is that the D&D player who last played 30 years ago will be perfectly at home with this rules set, making this “retro clone” game look more like another post-Gary Gygax/Dave Arneson modern RPG game is, in my opinion, a step in the wrong direction.

I don’t pretend to know dick about how you successfully market a game. But I know what I like. Peter Mullen’s cover rocks. I wish I had a ton of money so I could buy the original artwork from it and hang it in my house.

3 Comments on “Changes afoot with Swords and Wizardy”

  1. Blair says:

    I quite like Rick Sardinha, but if I ever was in a position to publish a “dream project” it would be Mullen & Poag all the way!

  2. Telecanter says:

    I really like the original white box cover by Mullen as well. I'm thinking of scraping together my meager funds and asking if he'll paint me something, even if I don't publish a product.

  3. limpey says:

    The Mullen cover possessed a certain mood of dread and imminent danger, like the giant skeleton would come alive should the gem be taken from the sword pommel.

    Absolutely. It is a picture that makes me just want to make up stories about what is about to happen — and that sense of implied narrative is what I love about it (plus I just love the funky way Mullen draws, period).

    B. Portly, I am honored to be included in a list with such luminaries.

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