Backswords & Bucklers Revised and Compleat Preview: Character Creation

Backswords & Bucklers Revised and Compleat Preview: Character Creation

As announced earlier, we are working on a new edition of Backswords & Bucklers that will be based on a new core system no longer tied to an existing license; and containing all the expansion material that was intended for the original game in one volume. Over time we will be previewing this new edition section by section, beginning here with character creation.


The original game was based on the Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox license. The entire purpose of the game at the time was to show that the OSR could be about more than just re-treading old ground. I think we succeeded at that pretty well. Unfortunately at around the time that we would have been releasing further expansion content there was some confusion over the ownership of the Whitebox license and it made it a little difficult to continue. Nonetheless, Backswords & Bucklers has remained one of my favourite games to run and so I felt it time to revise and repackage the game without relying on another license.

The way the game flows remains the same and so I hope it will remain of interest to players of the original; however the characteristics, the way tests are made and the way combat is resolved have all changed. There are also no levels, as honestly they don’t make a lot of sense with this setup. Instead you will directly improve characteristics or gain new abilities every few sessions; the exact number depending on how often you fulfil the conditions of your Character Class.

New content will also include rules for Clergy characters and the use of magic, Noble characters and Courtly Intrigue campaigns, Warres on the Continent, Terra Incognita exploration, hex based city exploration, random dungeon generators for exploring the walls of Gloriana’s palace and more; making it the most complete game of Early Modern adventure available.

Even with all this additional content, the book should clock in at a fairly low page count for easy digestion.


So, to character creation. The first thing to note is that the original Whitebox based primary attributes of Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity and Charisma have been replaced with more period appropriate ones:

  • Heart – How capable of decisive action a character is. A character with high heart will fight better and take action before others.
  • Stomach – How tough and strong-willed the character is. A character with high Stomach will survive longer in combat without taking grievous injury, will survive wounds and poisons better and will resist outside influence and fear better.
  • Arm – How strong and capable a character is with their arms. A character with high Arm is better at using weapons and other tools, as well as fighting.
  • Tongue – How charismatic the character is. A character with high Tongue is better at talking their way out of trouble and can lead more effectively.
  • Mind – How intelligent the character is. A character with high Mind is more likely to be able to learn new things, to solve puzzles or research information.
  • Eye – How perceptive a character is. A character with high Eye is more likely to spot a hidden foe, hit their target with a missile weapon or be able to hear a conversation through a door.

As before, these are generated by throwing three six sided dice in order. However, if you are creating characters away from the table or don’t like the idea of random generation you can instead choose to assign a pre-determined ‘array’ of scores as you choose: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.

From these primary attributes a few secondary attributes will be determined: Stamina, Fortune and Combat Rating.

Stamina is the equivalent of your hit points, and is simply equal to your Stomach rating.

Fortune represents how lucky a character is. It begins at 10. For each Primary Attribute a character has below 10 it is increased by 1. For each Primary Attribute they have above 10 it is decreased by 1.

Combat Rating is calculated based on a character’s Heart and Arm; a character has 1 point of Combat Rating for each point above 10 they have in each of those ratings. This Combat Rating will improve a character’s Combat Totals when it comes to a fight.


After determining characteristics, the player then selects a Class. There are 7 classes available to choose from; Bravo, Scoundrel, Wise Woman/Cunning Man, Clergy, Yeoman, Labourer and Noble. Not all of these will be suitable for every campaign type; Nobles in particular are primarily used in the Courtly Intrigue style of campaign.

Each of these classes describes a way in which a character of that class earns their Bene token during a session. A Bene token can be expended to re-roll any dice during the course of the game, and earning it also allows a character to check off an additional experience dot. The Bravo earns their Bene for starting or not backing down from a fight, for example. The Scoundrel earns one for spending someone else’s money. And so on.

Each class also has a number of Skills available to them. Each Skill provides a bonus of some kind (for example, a +2 when fighting with daggers) or a new ability that they could not before (for example, constructing intricate clockwork devices).

At the start of a character’s career they begin with three Skills. Two of these must be from their own class, but one may be from another. As they develop and learn new Skills they may choose to learn them from their own class or from another one. However, a character may only ever know a number of Skills equal to their Mind attribute, with skills from another class using up two of these ‘slots’.

As before, characters will begin with a small amount of starting equipment with a couple of choices based on their class and then let loose on the nearest tavern to begin their adventures!

7 Comments on “Backswords & Bucklers Revised and Compleat Preview: Character Creation

  1. Mr. Cale, I am thrilled by this! I’m sorry I only just heard of this, and hope that recent industry events haven’t thrown your plans off.

    B&B is my favorite OSE, and I frankly like it better than 5e. I am partial to the setting to begin with, being a researcher and practitioner of HEMA (particularly a student of Silver) and Elizabethan/ Jacobian culture. I have adopted your combat mechanics into other such games I have run, your approach to combat proficiency in particular.

    I am looking forward to your game’s newest incarnation!

    • Hello Mr Keller. I am glad to hear that you have been enjoying Backswords & Bucklers and have found it useful in other games.

      The current furore has certainly thrown things a little bit, and I am still uncertain whether we may have to remove the original Backswords & Bucklers from distribution. Though it is looking more likely that I can leave it up now.

      Fortunately I was not writing the new edition with any SRD text in it since it is now fairly divorced from it’s Swords & Wizardry genesis, and was not planning on using the OGL. It is likely that I will place the game under the ORC license as I strongly agree with the objectives there.

      It is taking a while to finish the document. I have been trying to make sure there is enough useful setting information in there to help Referee’s build a believable world, whilst trying to make sure that each area of information is kept to a single page or two so as to be a useful reference without overwhelming the reader. Fortunately the actual game content has already been fairly well tested so it’s just a case of finishing it off now.

  2. Splendid news! Not sure how I missed this last year, but definitely looking forward to seeing your progress!

  3. Just saw this and am very excited. I have long been a fan of the game but never got a chance to run it. Just last weekend I did run a one-shot Elizabethan game where I used the mission generator in the tavern supplement, which is one part of the game I’ve found useful in a variety of games.

  4. Looking forward to this… incase previously very interested in the proposed dealing with the various schools of fence…
    It’s a fascinating aspect of the era.

    Any rough idea when the release might occur?

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