The City of Fire & Coin

Update: Swords Without Master is now available!

Swords Without Master appears in issue three of Worlds Without Master

You can purchase a PDF of this issue from me for $3.99.

Or you can purchase it at DriveThruRPG.


The City of Fire and Coin Preview Version 1

The City of Fire & Coin” is an introductory adventure for the Swords Without Master tabletop roleplaying game. It contains all the rules you need to play and will appear as the second chapter in the forthcoming Swords Without Master rulebook.

A goal of this preview is to enlist you, my ravening wolves, and your keen vigilance to help mold this adventure into the lean, powerful introduction it will become. As you play the game, if you and your fellow adventurers have any questions or concerns, please share them with me.In particular I’m looking for feedback from people who have played the adventure as it is written and have comments on how the text conveys the rules. The game itself is well out of the playtest stage. I’m merely looking for feedback on the text.In the final book, the formatting will inevitable be different and it will be only one of three chapters that each take a different approach to teaching the same rules.Enjoy and good gaming!P.S. Here are our three rogues–Snorri, Manyara, and Muaphet Raum–all on a separate sheet. This will become part of the next version of “The City of Fire & Coin” PDF.

Update: Swords Without Master is now available!

Swords Without Master appears in issue three of Worlds Without Master


You can purchase a PDF of this issue from me for $3.99.

Or you can purchase it at DriveThruRPG.


  1. woodelf · June 25, 2012

    I really like your idea to teach the rules repeatedly. Will each of them be a different sort of game scenario (sort of like how we came at scenarios from 3 different directions in Dread)? Or is one a just-start-playing scenario, and the others are other teaching methods?

    • Epidiah · June 26, 2012

      Due to the utter simplicity of creating a scenario for Swords Without Master (predicated on the fact that you don’t need a scenario to play the game), the final book will be chock-full of them, including a few different scenario generators.

      “The City of Coin & Fire” will be the only learn as you play scenario. The “Crows at the Crossroads” example of play will be an entire scenario the cast is making up while they play, but that is meant just to be read to yourself. The rest of the teaching methods will about presentation and explanation of the rules and their intent–including advice on how best to present the game to a new group.

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  3. Jesse · June 28, 2012

    Tone dice! Excellent! I’m feeling the paradigm shift you discovered when you guys wrote MonkeyDome (which I also just read). Immediately my mind begins to consider the possibilities of hacking it for other genres…

    Right away I read half of City of Fire and Coin – not TOO closely – and then I went back to your website and quickly read all of MonkeyDome. MonkeyDome is so purely about the tone dice mechanic that I feel like it cleared up the slight – I won’t call it confusion, because I hadn’t finished City of Fire and Coin – the slight ‘not-yet-understanding’ I had of the idea. Also the difference between Zany and Grim is so stark – much moreso than between Jovial and Glum – that it’s very obvious that rolling the dice in MonkeyDome is a big deal. (Not that I would change “Jovial” and “Glum”; this difference is just the difference between the two genres.) Still, somehow, I think the ‘Facing the Storm’ section on page 5 of City of Fire and Coin did not quite nail the explanation of the mechanic as well as MonkeyDome does it. When I read the bit about what ties mean, on page 6, I immediately expected that every result would mean something – ties were failure, high rolls would be one thing, evens or odds something else…but no. I didn’t immediately understand that Jovial/Glum is the real “meat” of the roll. That’s maybe just me.

    When I play this, and I hope I do soon, I’ll let you know how the players experience it. It may be instantly clear to them. I’m sure it would have been clear to me very quickly, even without MonkeyDome. Also: glossary. Love it! I didn’t need it but I expect it would be handy in play.

    I don’t know if any of this is useful, but those are my thoughts on reading. I have some experience with story games, but most of my actual play experience is traditional, and I would feel confident reading this preview to my group, doing it just as you’ve laid out. Thank you!

    Incidentally my wife and I have just started rereading Lieber, and without previously knowing anything about your game (I saw the announcement about this preview on the Story Games forum this morning), when I saw the title, and Jovial and Glum on the first page of the rules, I knew I was in Fafhrd and Mouser territory. Just that and no more. I’m very excited. Thank you again!

    • Epidiah · June 28, 2012

      Excellent! You’ve been very helpful. And I’m so very glad that I’m able to share the paradigm shift.

      I’ll go over the Facing the Storm section and see if I can’t punch it up a little bit. Your slight not-yet-understanding might be something I’ve been blind to in my playtests as well. So in the next version I’ll see what I can do to nail it home. I also want to make sure that people don’t straight up interpret ties as failures, because while they certainly can be seen as such, that’s not really their most important aspect, and I don’t want people overlooking the possibility of opting to fail even if the dice haven’t rolled a tie. Ties are more like “something has gone wrong and now the situation is just that much more dire.” There’s no good word for them, but you are thwarted temporarily and everything escalates. This can be the result of an out and out failure, but it may also mean that you’ve almost got it, if you get just one more shot at it. If that makes any sense.

      And I’m also happy to hear that the Fafhrd-and-Gray-Mouser-ness comes across.

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  5. Mads · July 1, 2012

    Oh, I’ve been looking forward to this. And now I’m hungry to know what these rituals, styles and campaigns are about.

    Am I right in that the primary purpose of this particular chapter/teaching approach is to have a way to run the game completely prep-less for the overplayer, for the lazy or those who prefer learning while playing? Having already played the game (at Fastaval, a game about Cats & Dark Mages!) and read the whole thing, I’m tempted to run it in a more loose, less ready-aloudy way. It’s my experience it’s much more expedient to communicate rules via spoken words from someone who already gets it, than reading.

    A couple of things I think could need clarification based on just having it read it:
    The “Ending the Game” section on page 16 notes that you can only reincorporate when you “have” the dice, which could refer to any part of your “turn” during the perilous phase. It’s only if you dig into the glossary it’s clarified it’s only after the bones are cast.

    With the fairly structured flow of play/read via the swords, it’s a bit jarring there isn’t any indication of when to read the “The Unknown Made Known” section. It’s all non-essential stuff that’s still good to know, that I figure everyone should read before the second session, as a reference during or the overplayer before the first.

    Consequently, the “Can Rogues Die” section is a bit confusing. I’m not sure if this text is still supposed to be read aloud at this point, and thus whether “you” is a player or the guy owning the book who is probably also the overplayer. Who decides if death is a viable outcome, and who decides if it happens or not? Perhaps the second sentence should be “However, you may only kill YOUR rogue if death is offered to the rogue”, to make it perfectly kill you can only kill your own rogue (and the overplayer can’t kill anybody), and they can only do so when death is on the table to begin with.

    On a different topic, do you have any tips for playing the game online? I think you’ve mentioned playing it over google hangout, and while docs is ideal for Threads, I wonder if there’s any effective way to compensate for the very tactile way the game makes use of the dice.

    • Epidiah · July 2, 2012

      Hey there Mads! Good to hear from you!

      Yes, indeed. If you already know how to play the game, and feel comfortable teaching the rules, you need not stick strictly to the structure and format of “The City of Fire & Coin.” All I ask is if you do run it this way and you send me feedback, clearly mention that you didn’t run it the read-aloud way. I’m primarily interested in how the read-aloud instructions work, and I need to organize all the feedback I accordingly.

      Good catch with the reincorporation rules and the clarification about the rogue’s death. The first is definitely something you need to roll the dice for and the latter is as you describe. I’ll make sure those are fixed in the next revision.

      When we played, I had half my screen dedicated to a shared Google doc in which we wrote our threads and the other half dedicated to the Google hangout. In the Google hangout, everyone kept open the text-chat window. In the text-chat we put any important information that wasn’t a thread: write ups of the rogues, the names and brief descriptions of non-rogue characters and locations, etc. Also in that window, we indicating the passing of the dice by typing “>.” So if I wanted to hand you the dice while I’d type “> Mads.” As the Overplayer, I’d write the Overtone in the text-chat in bold characters: Overtone – Glum. And every time I offered the thunder, I typed in “Thunder!” This worked out quite well for us. Having the threads in your face all the time made it very easy to remember to add to the motif, which led to a swift, but punchy and totally enjoyable game. The first Overtone was rolled at 19:05 and the last dice were passed at 20:38, just over an hour and a half later.

  6. Josh W · July 3, 2012

    Ok, take this with a pinch of salt, as although I really like the game, I never really liked “read this” boxed text in modules:

    Have you considered formatting it like a poem?

    If it’s designed to be read
    perhaps you could spread it out
    by intonation
    and by the grouping of ideas?

    This would
    (among other things)
    focus your attention on what it is like to read
    where the stresses are
    and how it flows.

    Naturally, this involves an expansion of space
    you’re looking at a lot more pages
    even as a design exercise
    it could work pretty well!

    On the other hand, maybe this is an opportunity to get someone else to run a game who does like boxed text..

    • Epidiah · July 3, 2012

      I see what you did there, sir. Very clever.

      Formatting as a poem is indeed an interesting idea. When I find some leisure time, I may give it a shot.

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  8. mechanteanemone · July 9, 2012

    So what do you think is an optimal number of players for this, 2-4 plus Overplayer?

    • Epidiah · July 9, 2012

      “The City of Fire & Coin” works best with three rogue players and one Overplayer, though you could work a fourth rogue player in if you made up a fourth rogue. Here’s one Joe Beason worked up for just that very purpose:

      The last remaining assassin-priestess of Ku-Aya
      Glum: Coolly announcing the exact way she will destroy her enemies
      Jovial: Rushing heedlessly to the heart of crisis
      Trick: Keeper of the Faith – Though all others fall away, Aminata remains steadfast. Once during the game, before a phase begins, you may make the next phase a Rogue Phase & the Overplayer must start it by demanding you demonstrate your devotion.


      The basic structure of Swords Without Master works best with three or four rogue players. More or less than that and you’ll have to adopt some special rules, which will be in the book, but aren’t appropriate for “The City of Fire & Coin.”

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  10. Pingback: Check out the intro adventure to ‘Swords Without Master’ from @epidiah – A very nice looking game of sword and sorcery storytelling
  11. Paper&Plastic · August 2, 2012

    WOW! I can’t wait to try this…

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