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In Swords & Wizardry Complete, the rulebook states that

[...] a beginning Magic-User’s spellbook contains as many of the eight basic first level spells as the neophyte character can know [based on their Intelligence score.]

Swords & Wizardry Core seems a bit more ambiguous:

[...] a Magic-User owns a book of spells, which does not necessarily include all the spells on the standard lists.

How do you determine the number of spells a Magic-User has in their spellbook in S&W Core? And how do you determine which spells these are?


The discrepancy flagged by this question is based on the 2009 3rd Printing. Answers below indicate that 4th printing has the same procedure mentioned in S&W Complete, which I mentioned above.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center or ask us here in the comments (use @ to ping someone) if you need more guidance. Good Luck and Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Aug 6 '19 at 23:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, @Someone_Evil! "How many" and "which spells" are both relevant to me. S&W Complete answers both questions with the same mechanic, but as far as I can tell, Core has no comparable mechanic. \$\endgroup\$ – Gaptooth Aug 7 '19 at 0:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you also want to include "which spells" you should include that in the body of the question. (The title only serves as a summary of the body.) \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Aug 7 '19 at 0:24
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It depends on your Intelligence score (but work with your GM)

This answer is based on the 4th printing, Swords and Wizardry, Core Rules, 2011.

On page 7, the chance to learn a given spell is laid out in a table. I'll use three examples. Int of 13, Int of 15, and an Int of 17, and only using the columns in that table for the Int score, the % chance to know a spell, and the Min/Max number of spells per level you can know.

\begin{array}{r|lll} \text{Int} & \text{%Chance} & \text{Min/Max} \\ \text{Score} & \text {to know} & \text{Known} \\ \hline 13 & 65 & 5/8 \\ 15 & 75 & 6/10 \\ 17 & 85 & 7/All \end{array}

At first level, you consult the list of first level spells on page 46. There are 8 of them.
Charm Person, Detect Magic, Hold Portal, Light, Magic Missile, Protection from Evil, Read Languages, Read Magic, Shield, Sleep.

  • What we used to do in old school games was start at the top of the list and work down, checking. (It was the simplest way). We did have a GM who had us indicate which spells we wanted, and we'd check spell by spell to see if we knew it or not. Either way works.

You check each spell: roll your percentile dice and each time you roll 65 or less, you know that spell. If all 8 of your rolls are 65 or less, you know all of them. Also, you know No Less Than 5. So if you fail 4 rolls,check again on the spells until you get that fifth one, or choose one: work with your GM on that.

If your Int was 15, you have a 75% chance to know each spell and have no less than 6 in your book.

With a 17, you have no less than seven, and perhaps all, depending on your luck with the percentile dice where the target is 85% or less.

Conversely, if your intelligence score is 11, you can start with at most six of those spells in your book.

As you go up in levels, you'll make those checks again for spells of higher levels. Or you won't. ;)

Working with your GM is an expected part of this game style

You will see on page 7 where it is written that "the author doesn't use that rule."
This means ask your GM: is there a reason to not know all 8? If not, then all 8 are in your book.

See the introduction by Tim Kask on page 4, where he speaks to GM's.

What you hold in your hand are guidelines; this is one set of “rules” that has an internal integrity that makes it work. Is it the only way to play? Certainly not; from the very beginning of role-playing GMs have been encouraged to extrapolate and interpret, to make the game their own. If a given rule does not seem “right” to you, then ignore it! Or, better still, change it! Make your game or campaign your own. All GMs need to worry about is keeping a “logical reality” active in their campaigns; the players rely on that logic to find their way through the perils and puzzles of the adventure.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. I was referring to that table in my question: "[based on their Intelligence score]". That table appears in my copies of S&W Complete. In my copy of Core—3rd Printing, July 2009—the Intelligence table does not include a column for Min-Max spells: cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/350099265806401542/… \$\endgroup\$ – Gaptooth Aug 7 '19 at 3:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gaptooth I have the fourth printing, 2011. I can see how things would be less clear. Did you see that column in the table for the "Complete" rules? (On a historical note, it is nearly the same as the same table in the AD&D 1e PHB, which was derived form a table in Greyhawk OD&D's first supplement). The other two columns are the highest level spell one can cast and the max number of languages known. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 7 '19 at 3:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I was aware how it worked in Complete—exactly as you say! I just didn't know how it was supposed to work in S&W Core without that table: I guess it's up to the referee, which is a fine answer. Now I see that later editions were amended to include the method I was familiar with from S&W Complete. \$\endgroup\$ – Gaptooth Aug 7 '19 at 3:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gaptooth Great. Hope you all have a fun time adventuring. :) This answer may help someone else out later on who runs into the same mismatch. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 7 '19 at 3:27

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