On my brief visit to Gateway Games in Cincinnati, I spied a copy of 's Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells so I snatched it up. I had already picked up the PDF, but I had not really dived into the game. I didn't know much about it other than Diogo does wicked art.
A captive in the passenger seat on the drive home, I just started reading and was immediately impressed (while sunlight lasted, anyway). Spoiler alert: this is the best sword & sorcery RPG I have yet encountered. And I haven't even played it.
This is a digest sized 48 page RPG packed with great art and extremely focused, clear writing. I am a fan of games that can deliver their message in as few words as possible, like a good poet delivering the goods. Where I feel that some games do this a bit poorly is that they give you sparse text without enough visuals. The visuals are important, to me, to provide context. SS&SS gives you clear, simple writing plus a healthy heaping helping of art. The art, combined with the words, paints a picture of a world of heroic fantasy in the Conan and Lankhmar vein. Yummie.
Much like Lamentations of the Flame Princess' Rules and Magic book, this book dives right into the meat without any hesitation. We get 2 pages that explain fully how the game works, then we're into chargen with each of the three classes getting 1 page (with art). And that's all we need.
The game is OSR-friendly, but not a clone. Its attribute list includes 4 instead of the classic 6. Physique, Agility, Intellect, and Willpower are all you need in this game. It is a roll-under system that owes a lot of it's mechanics to The Black Hack. It has a clever set of rules for armor and shields wherein the damage die of the attacker is reduced based on your armor. The shield becomes an active tool rather than passive defense. Weapons are divided into size categories that determine their damage die. The encumbrance system is simply that you can carry as many items as you have Physique, which is a method I personally use so I'm happy to see it here.
The magic system is a Willpower test with a difficulty equal to the spell's power. There are 50 spells described in a few pages, and of course you can make up as many more as you like.
I am enchanted by this game. I grokked it immediately and devoured the book in one sitting, which is not something I usually do. Now, I am not necessarily a huge fan of actually using The Black Hack's system to create content or run games. This is NOT a ding against that game, nor this one. It's just that my personal play preference isn't aligned with roll-under as the primary mechanic. Like all RPG and OSR nerds, I'm stupidly picky and pedantic at times. But this game kicks too much ass for me not to use it at some point.
There's a lot more awesome to it, but you can go pick it up for yourself and see. Great game. Great presentation. Get it.
(NOTE: Although I'm a fan of games that deliver the goods in few words, I would not argue that this is the "best" way. I would argue instead that each game deserves the verbiage that best serves the game and sometimes that means more text rather than less.)