Saturday, January 28, 2017

Why Play a Retroclone When You Can Get the Original Rules via Print on Demand?

Its a valid question now that the AD&D 1e rules are available via POD - why play retroclones when you can play the originals?

I'm sure everyone has their own answer to this question but I'll give mine for what little it is worth:

Twice a month, on Thursday Night's, I play in a very wacky, drop in - drop out, AD&D 1e campaign. The group consists of grogs that have their original rulebooks right through to Pathfinder players who have grabbed copies of the rules from eBay.

AD&D 1e is so ingrained in my brain's synapses that if there is a rules question, our DM Tim often just calls out to me for the answer, which I usually know off the top of my head. I played it from 1980 to 1989, when 2e released (being a new edition, 2e HAD to be better, right?). I never memorized the 2e rules like I did the 1e rules. I guess you first love when it comes to RPGs makes a real impression in your mind.

Anyway, a few years ago, I ran my first AD&D 1e / OSRIC game in 25 some odd years. I found I didn't enjoy running 1e as much as I used to.

See, I had found Swords & Wizardry, a ruleset that ran almost exactly as we ran our AD&D 1e games back in the day (fudging "segments" and interrupted spell-casting, ignoring weapon vs armor type adjustments, ignoring reaction rolls, total confusion about weapon speed and so much more). So, S&W ran like we houseruled our 1e rules (we didnt call it houseruling back then) without all the extras that we literally didn't need and never used.

These days, I can run a S&W session without opening a book. My players? Pretty much the same. Its better written, better organized and simply easier to learn than the source material. 468 pages for the AD&D 1e core trio of rulebooks vs 144 pages for the Swords & Wizardry Complete 3rd Printing.

Could I have tweaked 1e or BX down to a playable 4 pages? I highly doubt it.

Are retroclones for everyone who has played the originals? Hell no! Nostalgia is a strong force to recon with. Retroclones are a viable alternative to the originals for many of us, and there is no rule that says you can't enjoy both the originals and the clones they inspired.


  1. This reminds me that I'm stoked for your upcoming S&W adventures at the FLGS, by the way.

  2. Hate to say it but.....sometimes the retro-clones improve on the originals. Besides, we use to house rule the hell outta the original rules anyway, S&W plays like a house-ruled system.

  3. S&W Complete is a much easier book to throw at new players than AD&D 1e. As much as I love 1e, I can't imagine giving it to a new player now.

  4. What? clones? Your fun is wrong! Anyway, agree with those that the clones oftentimes improve on the awkward wording of the originals. I play in a Wednesday night AD&D 1e game and love it. I also run S&W and 5e games and love both as well. If it is fun, go with it. There isn't a wrong type of fun when it comes to TTRPGs.

  5. The layout looks too old for most folks these days. Small print; Very few illustrations, many of them very plain; Gygaxian text. I love all of this stuff, even though I started playing in 93 with black box/red dragon D&D, but most of my friends think "my" D&D of old looks too old already...

  6. As mentioned in the post, there is a lot of stuff in those editions we either heavily modified (level limits) or just plain tossed (weapon speed). Besides, what I love about all these clones is the sheer variety of new and streamlined rules I can mix and match to create the game I want to play. Playing 1e again would be like going to a high school reunion, and I don't do reunions.

  7. Excellently said! Shared this on Facebook and my blog. Struggled with this same issue myself.

  8. There are a couple of good reasons for all this. The first is that those early editions of all of those games that came out in the first days of RPGs were apprentice works. From the layout, to the writing, and many of the individual rules, few, if any, really knew what they were doing. Not just D&D, either. Traveller, Runequest, even Tunnels and Trolls needed to go through a period of shakedown and revision. Find out what parts people actually use, what they don't, and why. Retro Clones have almost all gone through this from an actual players prospective, rather than the publishers "how little can we get away with".

    Second, the original rules were written with a whole different mindset than we have now. The original game expected you to have two or three different, out of print, games that "everyone" had. (No one had them.) Your ability scores had almost no impact on the game, except for a few narrow things. (Combat bonuses excepted, of course.) The books were filled with hidden knowledge. The DMG was all hidden knowledge, in fact! Little funky mini games for all most everything, with no connection with each other. Each edition of D&D carried many of these things forward, because that was how it was done, and they figured that it was expected by everyone to have those things, because they never really asked if people used them. Retro Clones were all written from the ground up, to recreate the feel of those old games, without the burden of all that. With the idea of universal mechanics simplifying play, and reducing confusions over almost everything.

  9. Whether you play the original or a retroclone, it is still all D&D. Retroclones allow for improved codified houserules that have the advantage of both time and experience. The primary problem with the originals is they have junk that needs to be houseruled. Of course, that doesn't mean that retroclones didn't add unnecessary junk as well.

    The reality is that it is difficult for any new RPG player to embrace any version of classic D&D along with their retroclones. For experienced players. the retroclone is little more than repository of houserules to refine a D&D game. The other value of the retroclone is as a marketing and publishing model for adventures. Many are greatly diminished especially the ones without any recent supporting adventures,

    In other words, S&W's primary value is in the FGG adventures. The rules themselves? Not so much. Maybe the single saving throw is the only unique rule in it. At least, it is the only one that I haven't identified a prior source. There is value in its rules presentation; however, that can vary with the audience,

    1. Ah, but the retroclones are evergreen, as they are pretty much all PoD or at least, free in PDF. There is no need for a new player to concern themselves with the classic rules As for the classic modules / adventures convert easily to S&W / LL / BFRPG and the like.

      As for currently produced OSR adventures, they are easily swapped between systems. I could run any of the FGGs releases with LL or BFRPG without effort.

      Adventures are less system dependent than the systems themselves.

    2. There is nothing in your reply that I disagree with. However, will new players come to the retroclones or even know they exist? With the current WoTC policy of availability, the classic editions are just as evergreen but have greater reach due to the brand.

      Just because the retroclones are free doesn't necessarily mean that players would actually ever play them exclusively. I would never say that I play S&W, LL, or OSRIC even if I was using elements from these games and using adventures written for them. It is always going to be 0e, B/X, or 1e/2e respectively.

  10. I played a lot of the clones over the years but they just do not do it for me. My experience and nostalgia is so tied up in 1e it is hard to settle on something else.

  11. Why is it an either-or question?

    I purchased the first AD&D reprints when they came out, mostly to give WotC the head's up there is an AD&D market. [didn't seem to make any difference.] Those three books sit right next to the Black Blade printing of OSRIC -- all beautiful books.

    Available as references when I write or play are my original AD&D books from 1983 and a copy of OSRIC 2.0 that I printed (double-sided) and 3-hole punched. AD&D has great rules and flavor, while OSRIC has better layout and makes more sense, even if it lacks the flavor.

    I follow S&W groups for the conversation ... but haven't really looked at it. This may spur me to do so. :-)


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