Retroclones and Older D&D Editions




Retroclones and Older D&D Editions

There are many out there who enjoy the style and feel of older editions of D&D. While it's certainly possible to find these products on eBay and the like, you may not be aware of the concept of a retroclone. Retroclones and the OSR (Old School Revival or Rennaissance depending on who you ask) movement are heavily linked.



A retroclone is a game that is compatible with, and heavily based on, an unsupported game or unsupported edition of a game. For example, OSRIC is a retroclone of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1E. These games take advantage of the fact that game rules are not covered by US copyright law and many use the Open Game License to take advantage of terms and text released under the 3.5 System Reference Document.

Some retroclones are very faithful to the original rules; others attempt to capture the look or feel of the game while tweaking or modernising it. There are also games that are inspired by old school roleplaying in general rather than a particular game or edition. These might be called 'retro' games rather than retroclones. An example of a retro game that is not a retroclone is Old School Hack, a free download that won an ENnie this year.

This article lists some retroclones and retro games. There's a lot of them out there, and so the article is not intended to be exhaustive; although free to add any others—it is a wiki page, after all. The point of the article is to show you ways to obtain and play old versions of D&D or games very similar to it. Thus I include Pathfinder as a current updated version of D&D 3.5, and the d20 SRD as a resource for d20/3E rules.

I've marked the "cloniest of the clones" (i.e. the ones closest to the original systems) with little graphical tags, below. This doesn't mean they're better than the others, just that they are the most "clony".

Original and Basic D&D


  • Swords & Wizardry Whitebox and Swords & Wizardry Core Rules (both from Mythmere Games) clone the original 1974 rules and the 1974 rules with some additional content, respectively. Both are covered by the Open Game License and are available as free PDFs and cheap soft and hardcover books from the Mythmere Games website. A collection of adventures, sourcebooks, and the like is also available from that site. Swords & Wizardry won a silver ENnie when it came out! Also, there is an S&W SRD here.
  • Corruption focuses on challenge-based gameplay and support for step-by-step adventure- and campaign-building. The game is a Swords and Wizardry variant, but contains lots of new/ extra content that's useable with any Old School RPG system. Corruption also sets out options for rapidly shaping gameplay to offer gritty, heroic adventures – with a comic book ‘dark’ flavour. It's suitable for teenagers and adults - and very inexpensive.
  • Renegade is a slimmed-down but full version of Corruption. The game is free to download and offers a straightforward take on the original rules, which is ideal for introducing new players to RPGs and delivering open-ended gameplay. Renegade adds to the basic clone recipe with a wide range of character classes, items and monsters drawn from many OGL sources. The content has been edited to keep the game family-friendly. This editing removes a few monsters and more destructive options that can cause some parents concern.
  • Labyrinth Lord (Goblinoid Games) clones the 1981 (Moldvay) edition of D&D. It is covered by the Open Game License and is available as a free art-free PDF and cheap PDF and hardcopy with art from the Goblinoid Games website. Two additional supplements, Original Edition Characters and Advanced Edition Companion, replicate part of the original D&D and Advanced D&D 1E play experience.
  • Adventurer Conquerer King System (Autarch) clones the 1981 Basic and Expert editions of D&D with expanded rules for the "end game," including domain management and spell research, and character customization via a lightweight skill system. It is 100% open game content (except for some terms relating to its implied campaign setting). The PDF is free with purchase of the hardcover (available at your FLGS or online through Game Salute); buying the PDF includes a coupon allowing its price to be deducted from the cost of the hardback.
  • Dark Dungeons (Gratis Games) clones the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (which was itself a compilation of the BECMI (Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, Immortal) sets. It is covered by the Open Game License and partially released into the public domain and is available as a free PDF and cheap hardcopy from the Gratis Games website. Two other games, Darker Dungeons and Darkest Dungeons are based on Dark Dungeons but are less faithful clones of the Rules Cyclopedia.

1st Edition AD&D


  • OSRIC (Knights & Knaves) clones 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It is very faithful to the original and was perhaps the first retroclone. It is covered by the Open Game License and is available free of charge as a PDF, or you can buy a big thick hardcover version or one with more art and better paper here. There are also dozens of adventures available for it, including a whole slew of them at RPGNow.

2nd Edition D&D

  • For Gold & Glory (Lulu) is a clone of 2E; it's a "close adaption" of the Player's Handbook and the Dungeon Master's Guide combined into one single book with errors corrected and minor updates. It is covered by the Open Game License. The current file is not yet a finished product. An update which includes a bestiary is forthcoming, and more artwork will be added as it is created.
  • Myth & Magic (New Haven Games) is a less 'clony' version which is built from the core of 2E but advances the mechanics. It is covered by the Open Game License, but the player's and GM's starter guides (taking you to 10th level) are available only to members of of the website.

3rd Edition D&D


  • The Revised System Reference Document collects most of the rules of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 and is available as RTFs, PDFs and on the Hypertext SRD.
  • The Original System Reference Document collects most of the rules of Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 and is available as RTFs.

  • Pathfinder (Paizo Publishing) is, of course, a major player in the RPG scene. You've probably heard of it! It's pretty much D&D 3.75 and is also covered by the Open Game License. It's well supported with sourcebooks and adventures, as well as a thriving third-party industry of smaller publishers. The Pathfinder Reference Document is maintained by Paizo Publishing; a more extensive Pathfinder System Reference Document is maintained by fans.
  • Trailblazer (Bad Axe Games) is kind of a "fixed" 3.5 ruleset which addresses "most common 3.5 complaints" and adds stuff while streamlining other stuff. It is covered by the Open Game License.

4th Edition D&D


With the announcement of 5th edition, fans have begun to clone 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons. These clones can't be described as 'retro', since 4E is still the supported edition. All are either covered by the Open Game License or intended to be covered by the licence in the future.
  • 4SRD is an RPG.net wiki project to clone 4E.
  • D&D4.5 is a partial clone of 4E on Google Docs.
  • Magic Sword is a project to improve upon 4E. The creator has left, and the project is now on infinite hold.
  • Open4E is an RPG.net wiki project to clone 4E as a base for other projects.

Retro Games


One way of looking at retroclones is the classification suggested by Dan Proctor and codified on the There's Dungeons Down Under blog: a broad category of neo-retro games which includes all games in the OSR, then two sub-categories of near clones (like Mutant Future) and retro-clones (like OSRIC). The two sub-categories overlap for games like Swords & Wizardry which are not faithful reproductions of the original game, but can be made faithful fairly easily.
  • Old School Hack: It's definitely worth checking out Old School Hack, a free ENnie-winning game inspired by OD&D. It's not so much a clone as retooled system, and is a version of Eric Provst's Red Box Hack, itself a re-imagining of Basic D&D and can be obtained from the same site. Old School Hack is covered by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licence.
  • Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game brands itself as an "old-school roleplaying game in the style of Moldvay and Cook" and can be found here. Free to download or with print versions for purchase, it's based loosely on the d20 rules, but rewritten in the style of older systems, it's largely compatible with the Basic and Expert sets from the early 80s, although with some notable differences. It is covered by the Open Game License.
  • Castles & Crusades (Troll Lord Games) is 1E reimagined with 3E rules, but it feels very similar. It is covered by the Open Game License and is well supported. There are free quick-start rules, or you can buy the actual game.
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess is compatible with many of the above clones and is a kinda fantasy-horror standalone game (think Wells, Poe, Lovecraft). It is covered by the Open Game License.
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game (Goodman Games): DCC RPG hails itself as "...an OGL system that cross-breeds Appendix N with a streamlined version of 3E." Although personally, I think it feels more like a streamlined version of AD&D with a focus on magic being mysterious, and rare and the adventures focusing on the weirder concepts in the Appendix N literature.

Others

  • Mutant Future is a retroclone inspired by Gamma World but using the rules of Labyrinth Lord. It is covered by the Open Game License.
  • Stars Without Number from Sine Nomine Publishing is more inspired by or influenced by old-school games, and is a sci-fi game.
  • Monsters & Magic is written by Sarah Newton of Mindjammer Press. It's an OSR (Old School Rennaissance) game "specifically designed to be used with classic fantasy supplements and adventures with little or no conversion... Pick up your favourite old school campaigns, adventures, wilderness maps and encounter tables, those bestiaries, spellbooks, and gazetteers, and revisit them with this new set of rules."
There are more. If you're interested in a more detailed list, I'd suggest checking out this web page which seems fairly comprehensive. You could also check out websites such as OSR Gaming, or Dragonsfoot. A list of retroclones under public copyright licences is available at FOSsil Bank.
"Cloniest of the clones", a phrase too cool to pass up, coined by @JeffB .

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Current Discussion: Main discussion

  1. A decent roundup of OSR RPGs, although I question the inclusion of 3rd and 4th edition clones...

    VS
    My old school gaming blog: http://vengersatanis.blogspot.com/
  2. Quote Originally Posted by VengerSatanis View Post
    A decent roundup of OSR RPGs, although I question the inclusion of 3rd and 4th edition clones...

    VS
    I found the inclusion of 4E to be useful if only because without this thread, I would have never have known people were bothering since the game is easily available.