Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Things to Remember About Retro-Clones

There are a number of things to remember about Retro-Clones. One is that they are based on the Open Game License (OGL) which refers to the System Reference Document (SRD) published by Wizards of the Coast in 2000, of which there are two versions - one based on 3rd Ed Dungeons & Dragons and one based on 3.5 Ed Dungeons & Dragons. This means for instance that when a writer wants to recreate the Original Dungeons and Dragons game as closely as legally possible there are a number of steps they have to take. 

One of course is getting legal advice from an experienced copyright attorney to help them stay within the letter of the law. 

A second is to go through the SRD and delete everything that is not present at all in OD&D. 

A third step is take all the remaining material that is in OD&D in some form and simplify that information into your own words, but as close to OD&D as you can legally go. This is a time consuming and difficult step and is fraught with some peril in more than one way. OD&D is intentionally vague in some areas and has things that can be interpreted in more than one way. Unfortunately when writing your clone those passages are some of the most difficult to work with since you cannot just quote them. So do you use your preferred interpretation or list more than one interpretation or  do you attempt to recreate the original indeterminacy with a different wording. 

Another consequence of this step is that extreme care must be taken to avoid editing out the things that made OD&D a special game to begin with and these are the same things that by and large are missing from all later versions of D&D.

Another pitfall is that there are iconic monsters and other things that were present in OD&D that are not present in the SRD. This means that you cannot put in a Beholder since it is not in the SRD. That means if you want a Beholder you have to call it something else and have a description that is somewhat different. In addition, you have another decision to make - are you using some or all of the material from one or more supplements?

Then there are Balrogs, Hobbits and Ents. All were present in the first few printings of OD&D, but were pulled from later printings due to legal threats. In addition, there are tables that use Banths, Tharks and other creatures from the John Carter of Mars (Barsoom) books. How do you handle these?

Once you have done all that you can do and have written the best possible Retro-Clone that you could write, you will be criticized for every deviation from the original rules even though you had to create your own presentation of the rules to be completely legal and to comply with the OGL.


  1. Your last para reflects the inevitable comparison a set of OGL based rules must endure. An author requires a certain amount of detachment for once they publish there is no going back, You also need a thick skin as the internet is far from kind and critique is inevitable. As you correctly point out the SRD is not OD&D and can never be so. In this respect the clones are their own games. The idea of the clones being 1:1 with previous versions of D&D is a ridiculous and pernicious notion which does a great dis-service to subsequent authors. It should be remembered that the SRD was designed to further the market share of WoC's 3rd edition of the rules (via network externalities) not to make new games based on it. The intent was to allow a narrow quotation of proprietary content in publications compatible with the third edition. I would note that if you closely follow the manner in which the Open Game Content in the SRD is actually to be used any OGC from the SRD must be set apart in a way that it can be identified as separate from an authors own content (either in a separate typeface, bold, italic, or whatever), your content is your product identity, This is a very significant and common failing in SRD based publications. Also, the product identity statements in the licence must be properly used or all of an authors content becomes OGC as well. Properly used I think the OGL and SRD are useful to the hobbyist but only up to a point. Certainly it's spawned a lot of interest in the RPG hobby, hence the OSR. However, I can't really have very much sympathy for any critic who can't see why an OGL game is not D&D and then complains about it. A simple examination of the combat matrices, and character progressions, used in the various OGL games should provide ample evidence that the clones are not 1:1 with the original and therefore cannot play out the same way as a result. There's no substitute for the original game in this respect. An OGL game though does serve a purpose, but not the one you'd expect. I'll leave that mystery for people to solve for themselves. ;)

  2. @erroneousgrog, it is great to have you comment on one of my posts and I invite everyone to check out your blog at I agree with everything that you posted above and I hope in light of that that my reviews are different than the usual type of review. I can think of several purposes that an OGL serves and I am curious to know if any of them match what you are thinking of. We shall see. :)

    1. Hi Halenar, thanks for the kind words, I'm looking forward to your posts on the clones. They serve many useful purposes among which is to create and further interest in the hobby whether one plays old games or new ones, and certainly the entry cost is very reasonable compared to the current official game. I should you a couple of scribbles I wrote, some notes about OD&D, musings really, about the original combat matrices. It was a bit of personal discovery really but I think you might find them interesting reading nonetheless.

  3. I look forward to reading anything you would like to send. theperilousdreamer at g mail dot com