09 August 2010

The Best Retroclones

Since my other post was extremely (excessively) negative and it didn't let me stretch my writing wings hardly at all, here's another post to tide you over, one with a little more positivity. Yes, it's time to write about the Best Retroclone.

It's a distinction with highly subjective statements that may or may not apply to you, my gentle, well-mannered, and undoubtedly attractive reader. You may howl in rage at my gross miscalculations, and scream in impotent rage at my idiocy. Bear with me, as my opinions are not without reasons.

4th Best Retroclone: Basic Fantasy
Basic Fantasy: Old-School, redesigned
I'm not a big fan of Basic Fantasy. It's an old-school game bolted onto the chassis of 3rd edition gaming, and it shows. It's better than 3rd edition, but it diverges in order to make efforts to "improve" the game and make it more "modern" while still having the spirit of old-school. The spirit is admirable, and it's a good effort, make no mistake. But there's something about it that just isn't for me. I wish I could articulate it. Maybe a greater mind than myself will be able to do so?

I suppose it might be the way that it takes the trappings of all editions and bundles them together which throws me off a bit. I may be in the minority, but there are distinct flavors of gaming between AD&D, oD&D, BECMI, and the like, and each flavor is delicious in its own right. But some things aren't meant to be mixed together?

3rd Best Retroclone: OSRIC

OSRIC, the AD&D retroclone

OSRIC almost got chosen as my favorite Retroclone. This is from a man who has played almost no AD&D, who is notorious for ignoring vast swaths of rules he doesn't like. But it was the first retroclone I discovered.

I can't remember how or why I discovered it, but I do remember why I liked it so much: It has half orcs, and assassins, and rangers. Half-Orcs are awesome; they have a mixture of sadness and raw power, a sort of sullen majesty. They're men of mixed descent, looked down on in most "civilized" society for faults which are not their own. They didn't ask to be born of the mixture of man and orc any more than other men asked to be born of two men, or of two dwarves. But still they are sneered at, mocked, and unwelcome. This sort of pathos appeals to me, and ensures that half-orcs get a spot at my gaming table where few other demihuman races do.

But as a game, OSRIC suffers from the same faults that AD&D does as a whole. It's a little clunkier, a little more obtuse. It has non-weapon proficiencies, secondary skills, sub-classes, and the like. Much like AD&D proper, it simply feels like it's been cobbled together from bits and peices.

Still, it's a good game. A very solid choice for anyone, though my heart lies elsewhere.

2nd Best Retroclone: Swords and Wizardry
Swords and Wizardry: A 0e D&D retroclone.
Swords and Wizardry is a fantastic game, and always draws me nearer and nearer to its clutch every time I read about it. It's simple, eloquent, and easy to modify, which is the whole point of old-school games.

You'll notice that the image is of the S&W Whitebox, rather than the S&W proper. That's because of the two, I prefer the Whitebox for its open-canvas feel. Both of the editions are spectacular, and are covered in evocative art, excellent writing, and clear statements. It has "optional rules" that have become standard features in other games, such as Strength increasing your damage scores, or Dexterity improving your Armor Class. It also features a single Saving Throw, which is nice and easy to remember, and still allows for plenty of customization (by, for example, allowing Dwarves a bonus against saving throws for poison). Swords and Wizardry is a beautiful, beautiful game, and the Knockspell magazine published by the same company is a great companion.

Best Retroclone: Labyrinth Lord
This writer's favorite retroclone.
If you didn't know I was going to say this, welcome to Lawful Indifferent. This is a blog about retroclones, old-school games, and wargaming.

Bad humor aside, this is my favorite retroclone. Not only does it emulate one of the most popular editions of old-school D&D, it does it well. Beautifully, I might add. It retains the race-as-class feature, multiple saving throws, and easy to digest and understand formatting. The layout is heavenly and the interior art is awesome.

I prefer the purple and black cover of the older edition, but I also supported getting the full-with-art interiors for free, so what do I know? Despite the new free to get edition not having any interior art, this version is still my favorite. It just plain plays well!

In addition, it has the extremely useful and very well received Advanced Edition Characters, or AEC that adds the Ranger, Druid, Assassin, and other classes into the game. It's like taking the best of AD&D and sticking it directly into basic D&D. Not to mention the Original Edition Characters, another "expansion" of the core rules that emulates the "Little Brown Books" of oD&D. I don't have much experience with them myself, but they seem to have gotten fairly high marks from those that have used it.

There's just something about Labyrinth Lord that really gets my creative juices flowing, and the spark in my belly fired. It makes me want to create endless campaigns and design stuff until my fingers wear grooves into my keyboard. You really need to try it if you haven't already.


  1. I, too am a LL fan, but no love for the AEC? Not a dig, I usually play mostly core myself. Just curious.

  2. Oh, I was just mentioning the "core systems", if you will. I think the AEC is a fabulous resource, but I'm not sure where to put it. It seems more like Basic Fantasy's multiple expansions, or a supplement like Carcosa. I'll edit the LL post and give it a mention, though. Good catch :)