A Review of the Role Playing Game Supplement Sword of Air – Swords and Wizardry

Sword of Air – Swords and Wizardry by Bill Webb is a role playing game supplement published by Frog God Games for use with the Swords & Wizardry system. It is also available for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. The supplement is covered by the Open Game License and, as such, some of it is considered to be Open Game Content. The Sword of Air was mentioned in Rappan Athuk from Necromancer Games but was not published by them, probably due to the d20 crash. Instead, Frog God Games – set up by Bill Webb, one of the cofounders of Necromancer – released it more recently, but for Pathfinder and Swords & Wizardry rather than the original D&D 3.5 planned. The adventure, which is a full campaign aimed at characters starting at level 1 and taking them up to level 20, is part of the Lost Lands series, in which many of Necromancer’s D&D 3.x products were set; the original products and new ones have been republished or published for the Pathfinder, Swords & Wizardry and Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition game systems.

The supplement is available from RPGNow as a PDF for $39.99 but was purchased at the reduced price of $12. It is also available as a printed book from sites such as Amazon. The PDF is the version reviewed and it is a 431 page bookmarked PDF. Two pages are the front and rear covers, one page is the front matter, one page the Table of Contents and one page the Open Game License.

Chapter 1: Wizard’s Feud gives an overview of the entire adventure, the titular Sword of Air, the manipulations of the demonic Steve the Cat to destroy the world and the feud between the two wizards, both of whom believe they are acting out of good intentions. The various important places, items and characters and briefly covered and there is an overview of each of the major wilderness areas.

It then starts with the characters being recruited by one of the wizards, with options for if they refuse the initial request to get them involved in other ways. The adventure itself starts in the city of Bard’s Gate and characters are ambushed at a graveyard outside the city and taken to one of the two wizards. Other options include venturing there themselves. Geas is mentioned, but more as a last option.

Sword of Air - Swords and WizardryChapter 2: The Wilderness of the Gulf of Akados. This is essentially a wilderness hex crawl. There are some rules on travel and getting lost, and on food and water. Various different areas of the wilderness that surrounds the local area is then detailed. Each has random encounters and events and there are hex maps of the different areas. There are also some fixed encounters; these include settlements, including humanoid, as well as monster and other encounters. Within the wilderness are the encounter areas from The Slumbering Tsar Saga, which aren’t reproduced, and The Sorcerer’s Citadel from Necromancer’s Demons & Devils. The encounters range from fairly simple (but dangerous) single-monster encounters to a couple of large locations that are short adventures in their own right.

Chapter 3: Kayden’s Swamp is the location of one of the two wizards, the one whose associates originally approached the characters in order to hire them. It starts with another wilderness area, although a smaller one and on a smaller scale, and not a hex crawl. There are random encounters, a number of encounter areas and Kayden’s Mansion, the residence of the archmage himself and a dangerous place to assault, but one that is also full of a lot of valuable items. The true manipulator of events, the Herald of Tsathogga himself, Steve the Cat is also detailed (actually a disguised demon), as is Kayden.

Chapter 4: Sorten’s Tower is the base of the other of the two archmages, the one that players will initially believe is evil but hopefully will discover is an ally before they accidentally destroy the world. It is described in detail and is also a dangerous place filled with valuable items, and Sorten himself is described as well. Quite a few of the occupants are Chaotic (this being Swords & Wizardry, there are only three alignments, Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic) in nature, but have been charmed or geased by Sorten.

Chapter 5: Into the Plane of Shadow starts with an overview of the area covered in the adventure and the effects of the plane itself, complete with maps. There are various set encounters, different areas with random encounters and some highly dangerous locations. Only a few places actually need visiting for this adventure; some of the others are provided so a GM can run a higher-level adventure if needed.

Chapter 6: The Hidden Tomb of Aka Bakar is one of the primary locations for the quest, and is a deathtrap dungeon, designed by Aka Bakar to kill those entering it. According to the author, after 35 years of playing and 20 different adventuring parties, only four have managed to succeed (and, in at least some of those cases, they didn’t actually accomplish what they thought they had). This section begins with overviews of Aka Bakar and his and the dungeon’s history, as well as overviews of a couple of deities, as well as how to find the tomb and learn about it. The dungeon is comprised of two main parts, the latter comprises of five levels, and there aren’t many treasures, as there is a specific item that needs recovering, but there are a few large ones. Each area and level has an overview giving its difficulty level and details on such as standard features, entrances and exits and wandering monsters.

An interior image from Sword of Air - Swords and WizardryChapter 7: The Wasteland of Tsen is a dangerous area (which frankly sounds like a radioactive wasteland) surrounding the site of the former city of Tsen. Travelling in the area can cause mutations; some beneficial but most not. Any creatures encountered are stated as always having beneficial mutations, as creatures suffering detrimental ones wouldn’t have survived to breed. The area gets more dangerous, with the ground, water and air becoming more poisonous the closer the city is approached. Drinking from most of the water sources or eating animals killed can cause mutations. There are descriptions of mutations and it is suggested that copies of Gamma World (or probably retro-clones such as Mutant Future) could be consulted instead. There are many minor locations throughout the wasteland and some rather larger ones as well. Useful information regarding the overall adventure can be found in a number of places. Inside the city itself are many buildings that can be explored.

Chapter 8: The Lead Mine of Tsen is reached from the Wasteland of Tsen and is a dungeon complex guarded by some rather dangerous priests. Here, the players have the opportunity to completely mess up the entire adventure, if they have missed a host of clues, and put the entire world at risk. More clues are provided in the complex to help reduce the chance of this.

The Appendix is the final section. There are around six and a half pages of new magical items, 66 in all, including some that are effectively artefacts. Most of these are new, with some unique items, but there are a few that are found in other D&D based systems. This is followed by just under ten pages of 38 new monsters. Again, most of these are new and there are a couple of unique ones, but again a few are from other D&D systems. Around one and a half pages are 13 spells, again mostly new but again with a few from other systems.

Finally in the Appendix are 95 pages of full colour player maps. These are the same as the GM’s maps found throughout the text, but larger in size and, naturally, lacking GM-only material.

Sword of Air – Swords and Wizardry in Review

A map from Sword of Air - Swords and WizardryThe PDF is very well bookmarked, with, by the looks of it, possibly every section and encounter included. The Table of Contents is much less thorough, with only the chapters included. Navigation is therefore, in the PDF version, very good, although it may not be as easy in a printed book. The text maintains a two column layout, in the same style as Necromancer Games’ supplements used to be, and would appear to have been almost entirely free of errors; quite impressive for a supplement of this size. There are quite a lot of full colour images of different sizes, some of which feature the same characters in situations in the book. The images would all appear to be custom; it’s just a shame that the monsters and magic items are lacking images. There are also many full colour maps, those for the GM within the text and those for players at the end.

There are quite a few references to other books. These include bestiaries, namely Swords & Wizardry Monstrosities, The Tome of Horrors 4 and The Tome of Horrors Complete, as well as future Frog God Games products, which includes both new supplements and conversions of former Necromancer Games supplements (as the latter were all written for D&D 3.0 and 3.5). How easy it will be to run the adventures without access to the bestiaries is a bit debateable; stats and abilities of monsters are provided but full descriptions are definitely preferred.

According to the author, this adventure contains some of the oldest material he has written, dating back to his original games. There are also rather more elements of humour, such as in encounter names, and it is written in a more conversational tone than is usual.

As well as some direct references to other supplements – there are a few references to Rappan Athuk, including a specific one to Level 13B, which does not appear to be in Rappan Athuk Reloaded, instead looking to be in the more recent, expanded, Swords & Wizardry and Pathfinder versions – there are some more indirect ones, such as to The Tome of Horrors and City of Brass; the authors’ names are the first names of the actual authors, but reversed.

This is definitely not a linear campaign; players will not go from Chapter 2 to Chapter 8. Even though Chapter 8 can be the final one, if the players mess up, it is more likely they will then proceed back to an earlier chapter – or they may even miss it out completely. What this is is a sandbox campaign spread across a fairly extensive area. Even though there are plenty of encounters detailed, although some are simply stated as being intended to be developed in future supplements, a GM can easily add more of their own to the wilderness areas. The Wasteland of Tsen has plenty of places, including in the ruined city itself – and there are areas of Tsen that characters are unlikely to visit because they are simply too dangerous (and this isn’t the only place). There are places where potential development is pointed out, and some of the material is unlikely to be used in the adventure.

It could be possible to transfer the adventure to another setting, with some work. This is easiest with the lairs of the two wizards, the Plane of Shadow, the tomb and the Lead Mine of Tsen. Placing the Wilderness of Tsen is harder to do, but the biggest problem will come with the wilderness areas from Chapter 2. Placing the entire wilderness in another campaign will likely be tricky and will require, and will probably be best done by adding any important or fairly generic encounters to a GM’s own world.

This is definitely not going to be the easiest type of adventure to run, as players can go all over the map, so extensive preparation is definitely recommended. This is unlike the more linear – often railroaded – adventures seen in Pathfinder Adventure Paths. It is also an extremely dangerous one, just as all the Necromancer adventures in the same setting are, so players will find it a challenge as well. The challenge isn’t just combat and deadly areas; there’s the additional challenge of working out which side is the correct one for one thing.

Sword of Air – Swords and Wizardry is a difficult adventure to run and a difficult and dangerous one to complete, but victory should be quite satisfying, if it is achieved.

 

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