Dungeon Master Assistance

Where anyone over 18 can share thoughts and ideas on RPGs.

D&D 5E vs. Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells

Comparing D&D 5e to Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells

This is one of several reviews I am doing this year of various table top roll playing games. I am specifically comparing them to D&D 5e. I am doing this with the assumption that my readers are already familiar with D&D 5e. The following review is based only upon my reading of the rulebook. I haven’t played this yet, but I will be posting my opinion after I get a chance to play test it.

I am referring here to the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons as 5E and to Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells as SS&SS. This information is for evaluation purposes, it should not be considered official rules of the game. You can assume things that I don’t list here are basically like 5E with only minor differences.

In SS&SS the Dungeon Master is called the Referee.

Summary of the game system

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells is a rules light sword & sorcery role playing game with an old school spirit created by Diogo Nogueira and published by Old Skull Publishing. As you can see form the character sheet (above) the player has little to keep track of and it should be easy to learn. As is true for most OSR clones it has a lot more in common with early editions than it does with 5e. It was published under the Open Game License (OGL 1.0a).

Primary differences between Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells and D&D 5e

The Core Mechanics

D20 – roll on/under: For Attribute tests, you roll a d20 and must roll your Attribute score or lower.

Positive and Negative Dice: Similar to Advantage/Disadvantage in 5e. You roll 2 die and take the higher or lower result.

Usage Die: When you use a resource you roll a d20. On a 1 or 2, the next time you use that same resource you roll a d12. Next time you roll a d10, then a d8, d6 and finally a d4. If you fail on a d4 the resource id depleted.

Luck Roll: When the Referee calls for a luck roll, you roll a die based on your Architype. If you roll a 1 or 2 you fail and something bad happens – also your luck die is downgraded the same way it does for your Usage Die.

Characters/Opponents: In the SS&SS rule book he refers to player characters as “characters” and to the ones they are fighting as “opponents”. For clarification, in this post I will sometimes refer to player characters as “you” and to the ones they are fighting as “Monsters”.

Character Creation

  • Roll Abilities: Roll 3d6 for each in order. There are 4 attributes:
    • Physique (PHY) determines toughness, physical strength and resistance to substances.
    • Agility (AGI) represents manual dexterity, hand-eye coordination and reflexes.
    • Intellect (INT) reflects knowledge, awareness and ability to memorize information.
    • Willpower (WIL) represents force of will, presence and the ability to impose oneself.
  • Choose an Archetype [Class in 5e]: There are 3 – Warrior, Specialist, and Magic User
  • Determine a Vocation [Subclass in 5e]: There’s no defined list of Vocations. When you perform an action related to your Vocation, you benefits from a Positive Die.
    • A Warrior might be a Barbarian, a Knight, a Soldier, a Mercenary or any other thing you can imagine.
    • A Specialist might be an Assassin, a Thief, a Pirate or a Spy.
    • A Magic User might be a Warlock, a Witch, an Astronomer, a Necromancer or a Shaman.
  • Determine Complication: Roll 2d6 on the complications table. For instance, if you were to roll a 2 and a 6 you might have a gambling addiction, or a 4 and a 2 you and you have an enemy that is a blood thirsty pirate
  • Buy Equipment: You start with 3d6x10 silver coins (sc) to buy equipment. You also own a set of clothes and one weapon appropriate to your Vocation.


  • All player characters are Human


  • Weapons: are all either Small, Medium, or Large
    • Small: Damage Die: d4 Cost 5 sc
    • Medium: Damage Die: d6 Cost 10 sc
    • Large: Damage Die: d8 Cost 20 sc
  • Armor: doesn’t make you harder to hit, It reduces damage. You get to roll a degrading die that lets you soak damage per hit until your armor is destroyed or needs repairing.
  • Shields: Shields make you harder to hit by giving your attacker a Negative Dice a number of times each round based on the shield’s size.
    • Small: once per round
    • Medium: twice per round
    • Large: 3 times per round, but you also add a Negative Die to all actions requiring reflexes.
  • Encumbrance: You can carry a number of items equal to your Physique score without penalty.

Character level advancement

  • No Experience Points: You level up after a number of adventures.
  • Leveling Up
    • You advance to the next level after each adventure up to level 6.
    • To advance to level 7 and beyond requires completing 2 adventures each level.
    • At each new level, you add another HD and, for your prime abilities and one other of your choice, roll a d20. If your roll is higher than your ability score increase it by 1 point. No Attribute can be improved above 18.
    • There is no upper character level limit.


Each round of combat (10 seconds of game time.):

  1. Initiative: Unless surprised, Initiative is by HD order, highest going first. If 2 characters have the same HD, the one with the highest Agility score goes first. If your HD is the same as a monster’s, you make an Agility test, and go first on a success.
  2. Movement:
    1. There are four basic ranges in the game: close, nearby, far and distant.
    2. In one round, you can perform any feasible action such as attack or cast a spell and move near. If you don’t take an action, you can move far. To move to a distant location requires 3 rounds.
  3. Attacks:
    1. When you make an attack, roll equal to or lower than your Physique score for melee attacks or Agility score for ranged attacks.
    2. Melee attacks must be made in close range.
    3. Ranged attacks against targets in close and distant range receive a Negative Die.
    4. Monster attacks: need to roll above your Agility score.
  • Critical Hits and Fumbles:
    • When you roll your exact Attribute score or when a monster rolls a 20, a Critical hit is made. When this happens, the attacked will suffer maximum damage plus additional damage determined by the damage roll.
    • When you roll a 20 or when a monster rolls a 1, a Fumble occurs. The attacker will usually either get Negative Dice or the attacked will get Positive Dice on their next roll.
  • Damage:
    • You deal damage based on the weapon you use or the spells you cast.
    • Monsters do damage based on their HD.
    • Damage is subtracted from the target’s Hit Points.
    • Attributes may also be reduced, though usually temporary.

Healing and Death

  • Healing: Magical healing is almost nonexistent in SS&SS.
    • Short Rests: take about 10 minutes. Make a Physique test (with a Difficulty equal to the number of Short Rests already taken that day) to regain 1d4 HP.
    • Long Rests: take a full day at a safe haven. Recover one Hit Die in HP and recover 1 point of a random Attribute that has been damaged.
  • Dying:
    • Monsters: When they reach 0 HP, they are usually dead.
    • Player Characters: You have a chance to survive.
      • When you reach 0 HP you fall unconscious and are dying.
      • If you receive help within 1 hour, you can make a Luck Roll to stay alive.
        • If successful, you regain 1d4 HP but receive a Negative Die to all actions for an hour and lose 1 point of either Physique or Agility permanently.
        • If you fail the Luck Roll, you are dead.

Magic and spell casting

  • Spells Known: A Magic User begins knowing 3 spells and learns an additional spell each time they level up. The max number of spells a Magic User can know is equal to his Intellect. To learn a spell, the Magic User must make an Intellect test. If he fails, he may try again when he gains another level.
  • To cast a spell: The Power Level (PL) of the spell is determined by the Magic User at the time he is casting the spell. Then the Magic User must make a Willpower test. The Difficulty equal to the Power Level. If the Magic User fails, the spell does not work and he has to choose between 2 options:
    • Lose the ability to cast the spell for that day.
    • Keep the ability to cast the spell and allow the referee to introduce a complication based on the spell.
  • Casting Spells in Armor: Casting spells in armor heavier than Light Armor imposes a Negative Die to all Willpower tests.
  • Spell Catastrophe: If you roll a 20 on your Willpower test to cast a spell, the spell fails and you roll a d6 + Power Level and consult the Spell Catastrophe table. Results range from “The Difficulty to cast spells increases by 2 for 1 turn.” to “The Magic User accidentally summons a monster with a number of HD equal to the Power Level of the spell.”
  • Spell List: There are 50 listed spells. There are no spell levels. Here is an example.
    • Arcane Blast: Blasts a point within far range, affecting targets within close distance, inflicting 1d6 points of damage per PL. Can be resisted for half damage. The caster must specify what kind of damage this is (fire, lightning, force, acid or another element).

Opponents (Monsters)

  • Stat blocks: are very simple containing only HD and Special Abilities.
  • HD (Hit Dice): determines the monster’s Hit Points (rolled with a d8), its strength and hardness, as well as its damage die (which ranges from 1d4 to 2d12).
  • Special Abilities: This can be anything and can have its own damage die.
  • Here is an example.
    • Rotting Zombie: HD: 2  Special Abilities: After hitting a target, target must make a Physique test or acquire the Rotting Disease, losing 1 Physique per day until healed.

What you need to get started

All you need is the 48 page core book “Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells” available at DriveThruRPG in print and PDF. There is also “Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells – Addendum” which brings a variety of additions and options that can be implemented in your games.

Final Thoughts

  • No Alignments
  • No Backgrounds
  • No Ability Modifiers
  • No Races
  • No Armor Class
  • No proficiency bonus
  • No feats
  • No cantrips
  • No spell slots
  • No spell levels
  • No spell components
  • No skill system – no ranks or skill points
  • No opportunity attacks
  • No inspiration
  • This is not much like any of the versions of D&D. It is its own system and could be a lot of fun to play. If you are looking for an easy game to play, more like “Conan the barbarian” than “Lord of the Rings”, this might be the game for you. I haven’t read the “Addendum”, but with the core rules, everyone plays a human.
  • What I like: Simple character sheet. Easy to play. I like critical hits doing rolled damage + the maximum damage you could roll (in 5e you double the damage rolled which is disappointing if you roll really low). The PDF file has bookmarks – I wish all RPG rule books had them.
  • What I don’t like: There isn’t enough variety – no Races, only 3 Archetypes (Class in 5e) and the Vocations (Subclasses in 5e) have no specific features or abilities, only 3 weapon types and you always have the same chance to hit (you roll against your ability score, there is no AC). Someone that is new to fantasy role playing games might have a hard time running this game because it is so rules light the “Referee” will have to make rulings all the time without much guidance. I also don’t like that monsters and PCs have different rules for attacking during combat. I think that if I had never played D&D before, I would love this game. As it is, I prefer a little more “crunch” in the rules.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: