Behind the Curtain: Default System Choice

PSE1_Kajaks_Kave_Cover_ThumbIn the week following the debut of Iron Tavern Press and our first product, Kajak’s Kave, I suspect some folks are wondering why I chose Swords & Wizardry for the “default” system. There is a plethora of well-written OSR systems available today and to choose one seems a very difficult task.

I wanted to take a little time and explain why that choice was made, specifically for the Pocket-Sized Encounters series I launched Iron Tavern Press with.


I got my start in the role-playing world with D&D Basic, the Moldvay version. Even today the cover of that boxed set is etched into my mind. That set is what launched me on what has proven to be a lifetime hobby. From playing games, to running games, to blogging, to starting Iron Tavern Press. The roots can be traced back to that system.

Of course over the years I drifted away from that initial edition. 1st Edition AD&D, then on to 2nd Edition, and even to D&D 3.x. From there I drifted to Pathfinder and in recent years even more dabbling in various systems. Some just picked up and read through and others taken for more extensive test drives.

Regardless of system I will hold a fondness for the OSR. Especially as my available time diminishes and I need to work the hobby into a fuller and fuller schedule. The light nature of many of the OSR systems allow me to spend more time on the creative and less time on the “crunch”.

System Choice

When I first wrote Kajak’s Kave and the idea of Pocket-Sized Encounters percolated the adventure was written to be systemless. The creatures were simply referenced by name and how many were present with directions to look up the actual creature stats in your rule system of choice. While this led to great versatility it did push work off on the GM.

Around this same time I was doing on the fly conversions of some Dungeon Crawl Classics and Labyrinth Lord adventures to Swords & Wizardry. Converting on the fly was pretty easy, but I was glad I had at least some stats to work off of. Even the inclusion of basic stats for a different system gave me the ballpark of what I would use in Swords & Wizardry.

This experience had me second guessing my choice to go completely systemless for this series. But what system should I use as the default assumption?

It came down to three top contenders for choice of system that I felt were good fits for the series and still adaptable for people to convert to their system of choice. OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, and Swords & Wizardry.

Each of these systems have their strengths, but in the end I chose Swords & Wizardry for the default system for the Pocket-Sized Encounters line. Let’s take a closer look as to why.

Swords & Wizardry

I’ve posted before about why I like Swords & Wizardry as a foundation system. But there are some factors that also influenced my decision from a publisher’s point of view.

Swords & WizardryThe biggest factor? Swords & Wizardry stat blocks include both ascending and descending AC. To me this is huge. Yes – one can convert even AC on the fly, but to some that seems a mystery or at the very least, not something they feel like doing at the table. Swords & Wizardry includes both a number for ascending and descending AC in the same stat block which removes what I consider one of the larger hurdles for at the table conversion. It also lends itself well to conversion to more complex rule systems such as Pathfinder as well.

Another major reason I like Swords & Wizardry is that the ruleset is available online at It is easily searchable and very handy for a rule lookup when you are away from your books. I find online resources such as these invaluable. Having the ruleset online in such a clean format simply lowers the bar to entry that much more. It even makes things easier for me as I write to be able to look things up quickly.

Though the decision was made after I had chosen Swords & Wizardry as the default assumption for Pocket-Sized Encounters, the fact the Swords & Wizardry Complete PDF is now free to the public doesn’t hurt! Yet another step to keep the barrier to S&W low.

In general I find S&W a very solid foundation for people that like OSR gaming. It is easy to build upon by “borrowing” rules from other places or layering your own house rules on.

All of these factors contributed to why I chose Swords & Wizardry as my default system for this line of products.

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