Dungeons & Dragons retro-clones

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Dungeons & Dragons retro-clones are restatements of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) editions no longer supported by Wizards of the Coast. They are mostly made possible by the terms of the Open Game License and System Reference Document, which allows the use of much of the proprietary terminology of D&D that might otherwise collectively constitute a copyright infringement. While these rules lack the name D&D or any of the associated trademarks, their intent is to have a playable experience similar to those older editions.


A portion of long-time D&D fans prefer earlier editions to the current one and continue to play them. In addition, new games have been published which address the perceived inability of newer editions to preserve the tone of classic D&D while still fixing some of the faulty rules of older versions. Castles & Crusades is one such example, utilizing the unified D20 mechanic of Third Edition while dropping what are often perceived as complications (Feats, Skills, Prestige Classes, etc.). Another alternative is HackMaster, which started as a direct revision of the 1st and 2nd editions of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons with some added parody elements.

Role-playing game publisher Matthew Finch was involved in the development of Castles & Crusades, serving as editor of the Player's Handbook, and was the initial author of OSRIC, which was afterward taken up by Stuart Marshall and released to the public in 2006 as a retro-clone of the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1977–1989). The release was met with minor online controversy, and served to prompt another game designer, Daniel Proctor, to write and release Labyrinth Lord in 2007, a more complete retro-clone of the 1981 version of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set and its accompanying Expert Set. The following year, Finch announced the release of Swords & Wizardry, ostensibly a retro-clone of the original Dungeons & Dragons game.

Many variants have appeared since the original release of OSRIC, as well as restatements of other editions of D&D and other adventure role-playing games. The games are fostered and supported online by various forums and blogs, sometimes collectively referred to as the Old School Renaissance (OSR), but are also increasingly finding their way into brick and mortar game stores.


Main article: OSRIC

OSRIC, short for Old School Reference and Index Compilation, describes itself as "a compilation of rules for old school-style fantasy gaming...intended to reproduce underlying rules used in the late 1970s to early 1980s".[1] Although OSRIC never refers to this directly for legal reasons, it is intended to reproduce the rules of the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

The purpose of OSRIC is to provide publishers with a tool to legally produce gaming materials compatible with the non-copyrightable aspects of the underlying rules set. Gaming materials described as OSRIC-compatible alert potential users those materials may be compatible with the rules of late 1970s and early 1980s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.[2]

The initial version of OSRIC was released in 2006. The latest version, OSRIC v. 2.0, was released in 2008.[3]

As of 2009, more than seventy-five products describe themselves as "OSRIC-compatible".[4]

Labyrinth Lord[edit]

Main article: Labyrinth Lord

Labyrinth Lord (LL) is a retro-clone written and edited by Daniel Proctor and published by Goblinoid Games. LL takes its inspiration from the 1981 Basic Set edited by Tom Moldvay and the accompanying Expert Set by David "Zeb" Cook.[5]

Any adventure written to be played with classic D&D can be run using LL with little or no adjustment. However, there are a few differences between the two games. Rather than being released in separate Basic and Expert sets like the version of D&D that it emulates, all of LL‍ '​s rules are contained in a single volume. Another deviation from the source material is that characters can advance to 20th level (the 1981 Expert Set only included levels up to 14). In addition, in a nod to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, clerics receive spells at first level. LL includes most of the same monsters, spells, and magic items as classic D&D, except for those designated as "product identity" by Wizards of the Coast.

Basic Fantasy RPG[edit]

Main article: Basic Fantasy RPG

Basic Fantasy RPG is a retro-clone written by Chris Gonnerman that emulates the 1981 Basic and Expert sets. It was first released in 2007,[6] and updated in 2008.[7] The game has been positively received.[8][9]

Spellcraft & Swordplay[edit]

Spellcraft & Swordplay
Designer(s) Jason Vey
Publisher(s) Elf Lair Games
Publication date 2008, Basic Game 2011
Years active 2008-present
Genre(s) Fantasy
Playing time Varies
Random chance Dice rolling
Skill(s) required Role-playing, improvisation, tactics, arithmetic
Website www.elflair.com/products.html

Spellcraft & Swordplay (S&S) was published by Elf Lair Games and developed by game designer Jason Vey, who had previously worked on All Flesh Must Be Eaten, Nightbane and Castles & Crusades. S&S is a re-imagining of the original edition Dungeons & Dragons with the original Chainmail combat rules based upon the 2d6 Man-to-Man table retained and expanded, and has been described as a What If style of game.[10] Advances in the game above other retro-clones include a unified task resolution mechanic and ability based skills and saving throws. Along with combat, all tasks are resolved with two 6-sided dice (2d6), adding minimal bonuses, and attempting to hit a static target number.[11] The game also introduced Elite Paths to classes for characters to specialize in some aspect of their chosen class.

The Basic Game was released in 2011 with rules to play to 3rd level.[12]

Swords & Wizardry[edit]

Swords & Wizardry
Designer(s) Matthew Finch
Publisher(s) Mythmere Games via Black Blade Publishing and Brave Halfling Publishing
Publication date 2008
Years active 2008-present
Genre(s) Fantasy
Playing time Varies
Random chance Dice rolling
Skill(s) required Role-playing, improvisation, tactics, arithmetic
Website www.swordsandwizardry.com

Swords & Wizardry (S&W), developed by Mythmere Games, emulates the original 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Swords & Wizardry won the Silver for the 2009 ENnie Award for Best Free Product.[13]

Mazes & Perils RPG[edit]

Mazes & Perils
Designer(s) Vincent Florio
Publisher(s) WG Productions, LLC
Publication date 2011 (1.0); 2012 (2.0)
Years active 2011-present
Genre(s) Fantasy
Playing time Varies
Random chance Dice rolling
Skill(s) required Role-playing, improvisation, tactics, arithmetic
Website www.wildgamesproductions.com

Mazes & Perils RPG (M&P), which won the 2013 ENnie Award for Best Free Game[14] is a retro-clone developed by WG Productions, LLC, emulating the 1977 version of the Basic Set edited by John Eric Holmes.

M&P expands the game from its original level limit of level 3 up to level 12.


Designer(s) Michael Thomas
Publisher(s) Dreamscape Design
Publication date 2013 (Prentice Rules 1.1)
Years active 2013-present
Genre(s) Fantasy
Playing time Varies
Random chance Dice rolling
Skill(s) required Role-playing, improvisation, tactics, arithmetic
Website dreamscapedesign.net

BLUEHOLME Prentice Rules were developed by Dreamscape Design as a retro-clone of the original 1977 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set edited by John Eric Holmes. An expanded version called BLUEHOLME Compleat Rules is in production. Because the Prentice Rules are a close-to-original simulacrum they only cover character levels 1 through 3. The promised Compleat Rules is planned to cover levels 1 through 20.

Dark Dungeons[edit]

Dark Dungeons
Designer(s) "Blacky the Blackball"
Publisher(s) Self-published
Publication date 2010
Years active 2010-present
Genre(s) Fantasy
Playing time Varies
Random chance Dice rolling
Skill(s) required Role-playing, improvisation, tactics, arithmetic
Website www.gratisgames.webspace.virginmedia.com

Dark Dungeons has as its primary inspiration the 1991 Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia, with secondary inspiration (particularly for the cosmology of the default game setting) coming from the 1989 Spelljammer campaign setting. The name Dark Dungeons and the names of the sample characters (and their players) found in examples throughout the text are used in parody of the Chick Tract of the same name.

Because Dark Dungeons emulates the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia, which itself contains collected and edited rules from the Basic, Expert, Companion, and Master sets published from 1983–1985, it is strongly compatible with most adventures and supplements designed for those sets. However, while Dark Dungeons does include rules for immortal level play, those rules are primarily inspired by the 1993 Wrath of the Immortals supplement to the Rules Cyclopedia and are therefore not readily compatible with adventures and supplements designed for the 1985 Immortals Set.


The following periodicals include retro-clone-compatible content:

  • Classic Fantasy Review by Goblinoid Games
  • Fight On! by Fight On! Publications
  • Knockspell Magazine by Swords & Wizardry
  • Old-School Gazzette by XRP
  • Oubliette Magazine by Gold Piece Publication
  • Scribe of Orcus by Goblinoid Games
  • Zor Draxtau by Usherwood Adventures
  • Gygax Magazines by TSR Games

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About OSRIC". Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  2. ^ Yourgamesnow.com, retrieved 14 June 2010.
  3. ^ "RPGNet Info on OSRIC". Retrieved 2008-01-03. 
  4. ^ "OSRIC-Compatible Products". Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  5. ^ Varney, Allen. "Retro-clones". The Escapist. Retrieved 27 July 2010. 
  6. ^ "Core Rules 1st Edition (Release 62) – February 17, 2007". Retrieved on 2008-08-09.
  7. ^ "Core Rules 2nd Edition (Release 75) – July 15, 2008". Retrieved on 2008-08-09.
  8. ^ "Labyrinth Lord vs. Basic Fantasy << The Dwarf and the Basilisk". Retrieved on 2008-08-16.
  9. ^ "Random Acts: The Basic Fantasy Game". Retrieved on 2008-08-09.
  10. ^ James Maliszewski. "REVIEW: Spellcraft & Swordplay". Retrieved July 5, 2012. 
  11. ^ Matt Slepin (2008), Review of Spellcraft & Swordplay -- Fantasy Role-Playing Game, RPGNet, retrieved July 5, 2012 
  12. ^ "Spellcraft & Swordplay Basic Game". Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  13. ^ ENWorld (2009), 2009 Nominees and Winners, ENWorld, retrieved July 9, 2012 
  14. ^ 2013 ENnie Award Winners

External links[edit]