Retro-Clone Games: Bringing Back the Awesome of Yesteryear

I don’t know if this was an expected development of the Open Gaming License way back when it was created, but I have to admit that it has been an interesting one to witness, and a fun one to benefit from and partake of. I’m talking about so-called retro-clone games. These are games created using the open content in the SRD/MSRD to recreate the rules of old roleplaying games from the 80’s and before. These games are built on the premise that rules cannot be copyrighted, only the particular expression of those rules can. So these games grab the original rules, strip them down to the essential mechanics, and rewrite them using legally open existing material. So far these games have been garnering a steady following, especially as people learn to identify the new name with the old equivalent they recreate/are compatible with.

Here is a list of the retro-clones I am aware of, as well as the general description of the game they recreate:

  1. OSRIC (Old School Reference & Index Compilation) – This game recreates 1st Edition fantasy rules. It was the first of the retro-clones, and when it came out it created a flurry of activity as people tried to figure out if it was legal. Once it was determined it was, it became, and remains, the most widely supported of the retro-clones. OSRIC opened the door for the rest of the games created in the same spirit. OSRIC is published via the OGL.
  2. LABYRINTH LORD – This game recreates Basic fantasy rules, the kind that came in a box (whether with art or of a solid color). From what I’m told, this one clones more the Moldvay version of the Basic game; I grew up with the rec box version and LL seems to be compatible with that as well, so no problem there. There has been some support for LL so far, but it hasn’t reached the level of it’s advanced companion. Labyrinth Lord is published via the OGL.
  3. GORE (Generic Old-School Roleplaying Engine) – This game recreates basic percentile-based rules, the kind used for a game about Things Man Was Not Meant to Know. I hardly played with these basic roleplaying rules growing up, but I know they have been the go-to rules for a whole lot of gamers (including Ken Hite, who spoke about it in a recent podcast). There are two adventures out for this game, one highlighting the fantasy application of these rules and one more on the horror side. GORE is published via the OGL.
  4. 4C SYSTEM – This game recreates marvelous superheroics rules from the 80’s. Developed by Phil Reed and Michael Hammes of Ronin Arts, and funded by a number of fan patrons, this game showed a lot of support and promise when it was first announced – and then it languished in oblivion. The development coincided with Phil’s return to SJG, so it took a lot longer to complete than originally anticipated. By the time it came out, the fickle internet had all but forgotten it. The game has now apparently been rediscovered, and new products are coming out for it (some published by me, though I’ll talk more about that in a separate post). 4C has been released into the public domain, and you can get an at-cost print version as well as the PDF.

If you know of another retro-clone out there, let me know and I’ll add it here. So, what do you think of these retro-clones?

One comment

  1. Here’s a list of the ones I know of. Surely not complete.

    Basic Fantasy (Basic D&D)
    Labyrinth Lord
    ZeFRS (Conan RPG)
    Four Color
    Double 0 (James Bond 007)
    Mutant Future (Gamma World by way of Labyrinth Lord)
    Legends of the Ancient World (The Fantasy Trip)
    Swords & Wizardry (White box/original D&D)
    Warrior & Wizard (The Fantasy Trip, written by me)

    Not-quite retro clones:

    Red Box Hack

    I was going to linkify them, but I realized it would just appear to be comment spam. They’re all easily findable via Google.


Comments are closed.