Tag Archives: Swords & Wizardry

Assassins & poison

Max Klinger, Rivals (source)

Max Klinger, Rivals (source)

Recently, when compiling a document of Finchbox classes, I noticed that, especially after basic house-rule adjustments, the assassin and thief classes seemed awfully similar. Both had d6 HD, light armor skill, backstab, low attack bonus, and a (slightly different) collection of skills. The only significant contrast was that assassins had disguise and poison-craft whereas thieves had the troubleshooting skills (search, find/remove traps, open locks, etc).

This is not enough to justify two separate classes for me, so the choice is to either reformulate the assassin or drop it. Another approach, I suppose, would be to replace both classes with something like the LotFP specialist, which can be customized, but I already know I don’t want to do that. For these rules, I prefer to have more focused, atmospheric classes. And I do want to keep the assassin as an option. So here is a modified S&W assassin, focused more on the ideal of single-shot kills (compared to the opportunism and utility that comprises the essence of the thief). Both classes still have backstab, but the increased martial focus of this assassin, along with the added poison-craft subsystem (described below), and lack of dungeon utility skills, distinguish the two classes. Max level in this game is 10.

The poison-craft description is still somewhat wordy, and I hope to tighten it up in the future, but for now this should be good enough to communicate the rules. I, of course, reserve the right to modify the poison rules if they don’t satisfy me in play. More poison recipes will be added later to bring the total above 10, so that high-level assassins don’t converge in poison knowledge.

Edit: added PDF version.


  • Hit die and weapon damage: d8
  • Starting saving throw: 15
  • Armor training: medium
  • Attack bonus: medium

Special abilities & restrictions:

  • Backstab: +4 to attack from surprise, +HD damage (5th: +2HD, 9th: +3HD)
  • Poison recipes, one per level (odd: random, even: pick)
  • Ambusher: a party with an assassin is more likely to surprise enemies (usually, 4 in 6)
  • Skills: disguise, poison-craft, stealth (as thief of same level)
  • Optional: vow of guild loyalty and guild connections


A flask of poison may be concocted as a downtime action for 100 SP. Applying poison to a weapon requires a poison kit (which is a significant item), an exploration turn, and a poison-craft check to see if the poison is used up. Each time the assassin hits with a poisoned weapon, another poison-craft check should be made to see if the poison application has worn off. In any case, a poison application will not last longer than a single excursion. Poison may also be extracted from a poisonous slain creature with a successful poison-craft check (this requires a downtime action, but doesn’t involve any expense). Any number of poisons may be carried in a poison kit without consuming further encumbrance slots.


  1. Affliction: +1d6 damage
  2. Anticoagulant: if further wounded, takes 1d6 bleed damage per round (save ends)
  3. Blindness: target is struck blind (new save allowed 1/day)
  4. Debilitation: -2 physical penalty, +1 damage from any attacks
  5. Delirium: unable to focus, hallucinations, actions have random targets
  6. Doom: death after one exploration turn
  7. Mage-bane: unable to cast spells (new save allowed 1/day)
  8. Paralysis: unable to move (new save allowed 1/exploration turn)
  9. Sleep: slumber for 8 hours (new save allowed if damaged)
  10. Suggestion: groggy, will obey general commands (charisma check needed)

All poisons allow a save to avoid the effect, and generally work only on living creatures approximately human-sized or less. Effects on other creatures are by referee ruling.




As part of the recent Swords & Wizardry Complete reissue Kickstarter, the S&W Monster Book was also replaced by the new Monstrosities. The basic format is one page per monster, each with a picture, somewhat reminiscent of the second edition Monstrous Manual. It is a relatively large book (slightly over 550 pages), though not so large that it is unpleasant to use. The interior is all black and white.

First, the positives. The cover image is evocative and unique. The rich color is gorgeous, and it avoids the looking like a cliche fantasy picture. It actually looks like a painting. I could see how the cover might not be to all tastes, but I like it. The binding is sturdy (and signature sewn). Overall, the physical artifact feels like a well-made book, and is up to the (high) bookbinding standards of Frog God Games. Each monster also includes an encounter sketch, which is a great idea.

Monstrosities further shines as an OGL reference work for module writers that want to reference classic monsters. The entire text (not the images) is OGL, and each monster has stats in single line form (convenient for copying & pasting) in addition to the AD&D multi-line key/value standard. This is actually a useful form of redundancy. The Tome of Horrors Complete included a short tutorial about how to reuse OGL monsters legally too, which would have been a nice sort of thing to include in Monstrosities.

There are plenty of good monsters contained within. Malizsewski’s HP-draining “redcap” version of the goblin has creepy fairytale atmosphere and uncommon, interesting mechanics. Sean Wills contributed an adventurer-trapping worm that lures explorers into its stomach creatively. Or Random’s parasitic spectre (it does more or less what you would expect, but it’s still a good idea, and well implemented). Just for three examples.

Can you tell what this smear is supposed to be?

Can you tell what this smear is supposed to be?

That said, there are also quite a few negatives. First, the interior art is mostly uninspired. It ranges from okay to downright bad (with obvious computer shading). There are a few good pieces by Jason Sholtis, though even those are often reused from other products. In the age of plentiful, inspired talent on sites like DeviantArt, this seems to be a huge shortcoming, especially in a bestiary. More samples are provided at the bottom of this post.

Page space use

Page space use

Second, and most glaring, is that many of the pages are between 25 and 50 percent blank. Some are more than half blank. While the encounter sketches are welcome, the total absence any maps was also a lost opportunity. Consider how good a book like this could have been if filled with Dyson-style lair maps? That is an as yet unfilled market niche.

Third, many pages are spent on classic monsters such as goblins. Pretty much all trad rule sets (including all three versions of Swords & Wizardry) include a good portion of these monsters. To be fair, some of these retreads are somewhat redeemed by the included encounter sketches, but I still wonder about the intended audience. There already exist good, free references of classic monsters for the original game (see every retro-clone with a free version), and of course the original Monster Manual is not hard to find. This also means that the creative, community-created monsters mentioned above are mixed in with old standbys like rocs, sahuagin, and shadows. While this is not a huge problem, it does dilute what could otherwise have been a unique bestiary with a very strong personality, like the Fiend Folio (which is now back in print!). Basically, same-old creatures feel a bit like padding (and probably inflate the price).

Some pages are almost a total wash. For example, the entirety of the useful information content on the zombie raven page are the words “zombie” and “raven.” Now, I like zombie ravens just as much as the next necromancer, but I don’t need a page of text to tell me that they can fly, that they have 1 HD, that they have undead immunities, and that an encounter with them might entail a flock. Does anybody? I can’t imagine that being useful to even a total newcomer.

Overall, there are some good ideas in the text part of the book, but the illustrations are hugely disappointing and the layout is a bad use of space. I don’t want to sound too negative–as Wayne R. writes, the encounters in Monstrosities could, strung together, make an reasonable hex crawl, and it would be interesting to see such an implied setting come into focus.


This is a “pyre” zombie, so I think that is supposed to be flame

Hey, this one is good!

Hey, this one is good! …

... but it is also an example of terrible layout.

…but it also is an example of terrible layout.



Sholtis' shroom is good, but also in Demonspore

Sholtis’ shroom has a goofy majesty, but it’s also in Demonspore

Hello, smudge tool

Too much smudge tool