Sorcerers & Sellswords: hacking the rules I

Ray Otus is creating beautiful games. One of them is his weird-fantasy hack of John Harper’s Lasers & Feelings, called “Sorcerers & Sellswords“. You know I’m a total sucker for rules-lite games, but something always kept me from fully embracing the awesomeness that is S&S, or the source, L&L.

It ISN’T the fact that all dice rolls are player-facing. I’ve made my (uneasy, but hey) peace with that. The culprit is the way the character stats are expressed. I really don’t like it.

So how do they work in L&L, and in S&S (and the dozens of other hacks out there)?
It simple. You pick one Skill number between 2 and 5. “A low number means you will be better at Sorcery (weird powers, ancient/alien artifacts, intuition, persuasion, passionate action) and a high number means you will be better at Swords (mundane tools and weapons, logic, diplomacy, calm precise action)”.


I don’t know about you, but Sorcery, to me, SORCERY, does not mean passionate action. That’s definitely, absolutely, and undoubtedly Swords to me. On the other hand, SWORDS, to me, does not mean diplomacy or calm precise action. Not at all.

That’s the first thing that doesn’t sit right with me. And it’s NOT Ray’s fault. It’s the “fault” of the original system that only presented two stats that should represent what the game was all about.

Let’s recap real quick: You pick the Skill number, a number between 2 and 5, and the lower is, the better you are at “Sorcery”, and the higher it is, the better you are at “Swords”. Something comes up, you pick up between one and three d6, and roll them.

And now, it gets… too complex for my tastes: “For Sorcery, count the dice OVER your Skill number. For Swords, count the dice UNDER your Skill number. So I have only one number on my page, but I have to roll under or over, depending on the stat I’m using. But: why? Wouldn’t it be more practical, at the table, to have a stat number for each stat, roll under or equal to, and that’s it? I understand John Harper’s design behind it, it’s pure reduced elegance. But to me, easily amused and easily confused country bum that I am, to me, this is… impractical and a bit confusing.

So, instead, I do two things:

  1. Two new stats: Intuition and Charisma. Sorcery now really means “weird powers, and ancient/alien artifacts”. Swords now really is “weapons, the ability to fight (also unarmed)”. Persuasion? Use Charisma, please. Logic? Use the player’s. 
  2. A new system: Distribute 6 points between Intuition and Charisma, and another 6 points between Sorcery and Swords. No stat higher than a 5. No stat lower than a 1. If you save against a stat, roll under or equal to it. No Insight rolls. Everything else remains just as Ray wrote it.
So, for instance, this is a new S&S character:
Galgad O’Karrt, Shrewd Psion
Intuition 3
Charisma 3
Sorcery 5
Sword 1
Galgad tries to PSI Blast an igorant town guard. Galgad has prepared the attack and rolls 2d6 (1d6 standard, plus 1d6 for the preparation). PSI Blasts are Sorcery, obviously. I roll a 2 and a 6. So, one success (2), and one miss.
Galgad barely manages to PSI Blast the guard. Instead of knocking him out silently, the guard grunts loudly and crashes against the gate with a loud thud. 
Yup. Now I like it. Now I really like it.