Mastering Swords Without Master

I have run Epidiah Ravachol‘s sword-and-sorcery masterpiece Swords Without Master dozens of times. Doing so, I’ve developed a very specific way to introduce newcomers to the game. This is how I do it.



  • Character sheets
  • Eidolons
  • Two obviously differently colored d6, one glum and one jovial
  • Neophyte’s List of Tricks
  • Glum/Jovial indicators
  • Ritual of the Neophyte cards (optional)


Teaching Points


  • This game is different than other RPGs you’ve played. It may be helpful to think of it as a fiction simulator for Sword & Sorcery. You will get to narrate more than usual in an RPG, both for your character and the world.
  • We’ll be focusing on the big picture; Characters will have a chance to move to the forefront, but always keep story in mind.
  • Cool things are actually how the game moves forward and how we pace it. More on than later (see motifs)
  • Game is told in tones, glum & jovial
    • Show & read tone card
    • Dice decide tones, as well as give us some other indicators (more later)
    • Show glum die, jovial die


Character Creation

    • Characters are rogues in the classic sense, not the D&D sense of thief.
      • Don’t need to be good people, just interesting
      • Untethered, exciting and dangerous
    • As it’s a fiction simulator, we take a bit of Sword & Sorcery fiction to base our characters on Eidolons
      • Display Eidolons


  • All that deserves a name, this is your way of telling us what’s important to and about your rogue


    • Hand out character sheets
  • Feats – a stereotypical way your rogue would respond to danger, one glum, one jovial
  • Three phases, each with different rules
    • Perilous, our rogues are in immediate peril
    • Discovery, our rogues discover facts about the world
    • Rogues, our rogues show why they are exciting and interesting
  • Tricks allow you to bend the rules
    • Hand out Neophyte’s List of Tricks


Before we begin

  • Motifs
    • As soon as you hear something cool, write it down here (note to Overplayer, you may want to write the first one down to show it can be done)
    • Second card should echo the first, third should echo first or second
    • When all three are full we enter the end game
  • Privilege of holding dice
    • Before rolling, cannot take definitive action
    • After rolling, total narrative authority
    • (Importance of slipping and struggling, especially in a 4+ player game)


Save for when it comes up

  • Actual rules for phases
    • When to roll
    • How they end
  • Special dice results
    • Stymies
    • Mysteries
    • Morals



2 thoughts on “Mastering Swords Without Master

  1. Nicolas 'Gulix' Ronvel says:

    Thanks for that ! That will come handy for my conv’ games, and how to present the game. Can I translate it to provide french players with a gaming aid ?

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