Friday, August 17, 2012

D&D and Retro-clones: the Big Reboot arrives

The result of the recent WotC good-bombshell is going to be far-reaching. Anyone who doesn't know what I mean by the bombshell, it's the announcement that all of the TSR catalog will eventually be released in electronic format. While there are a couple of questions about this (what's meant by electronic format being the main one), it is a dramatic return to an earlier, more open approach in terms of keeping WotC intellectual property available for people to use, rather than keeping it squirreled away.

There's no question that this is a great boon to old school gamers, no matter what mistakes they make in terms of format, timing, or other details of the roll-out itself.

I have already had a couple of people contact me with the question about whether I think this will cause the decline, or even the fall, of the retro-clones. I think it will ultimately cause a massive change to the way retro-clones interact with the gaming community, and I think it's a change that some people will, indeed, see as a decline. I also think the result will be that more people actually put copies of some retro-clone onto the gaming table and use it in actual play. In other words I think there is going to be a quantitative increase, but there will also be a qualitative change that many people will see as negative.

Here is what I think is going to happen, and where we are right now.

The retro-clones are about to disappear, each into a community that also includes the pdfs of the original games, and for the first time we are going to see a relatively tolerant relationship develop between those who are playing with the original rulebooks and those who are playing using the retro-clone versions.

This sounds very Pollyanna-ish, especially since the same situation (legal pdfs, legal retro-clones) has existed in the past without any real joining-up of the original-vs-clone players of the same game. Why would the fact that this is WotC bringing us back to an earlier structure of what's available have any different result from the last time we were there?

In particular this changes the role of the Swords & Wizardry Kickstarter midstream. All of a sudden what's happening is more (or less) than the marketing of a rulebook and monster book. It's about building a community that can use both S&W and OD&D now that both are available. If I'd know about this in advance, the Kickstarter would probably have been organized in a different fashion (although I don't know what that would have been, off the top of my head). As it is, I think it works well -- by accident I beat myself to the punch in terms of having a re-boot of Swords & Wizardry going right at the moment that WotC did this. On the downside, it means that there is some real thinking to be done about the role of Swords & Wizardry -- and that thinking has to be done in realtime, on the fly.

Stay tuned -- some interesting times are starting. (or restarting)


  1. Another thing to consider is that it might take a while for these digital resources to come online. It's easier to promise than it is to deliver. Also, the clones will continue to have free versions available, something that seems unlikely in the case of WotC products (though you never know). Free versions of rules that you can point players towards is a big plus.

  2. The pendulum will swing more towards the retro-interpretation (LOTFP, DCC, ACKS, etc.) but really, that has already started. Given that all these systems can use each other's material with little trouble I see it only as a boost.

  3. WotC claims these will not be scanned PDFs like last time. It's going to take time to convert their catalogue and release it to the public.

    2013 is 4 months away and 12 months long - I suspect we will see dribs and drabs. If they are smart, they will convert the modules first, as that will have a ready audience.

  4. I'm not sure of how it will affect people. Personally, my first ever D&D rules were Mentzer's Basic boxed set but that was in the time of AD&D 2e, so I quickly jumped to those books. Now, these days I mostly play S&W and LL but I have no nostalgia or special fondness for the 3 LBBs, Holmes or Moldvay/Cook/Marsh's B/X. To me, the clones are cleaner, better organized, with better art and available in print and PDF for a decent price. I'll surely grab a PDF copy of all those originals and probably some classic modules too, but I doubt that the original rulebooks will dethrone the clones at the table.

    1. I agree with Dom completely.

      I appreciate the material the clones were based on, but I'll take the clean organization of S&W over the chaotic mess of the LBBs. Clones are just more useful at the table.

  5. Swords & Wizardry will definitely maintain it's audience through this. First off, as gamers many of us like to have a hard copy on hand to play with, WOTC currently offers none. Secondly, I tend to agree with Dom here as well.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Sorry about that, my comment seems to be in totally wrong place for some reason and looks like pure dadaism.

  8. Even though I'm a little slow off the mark I have shelved my own design in favor of supporting S&W. I have a ton of material to work on and publish but it will be aimed squarely at those who support S&W and the other systems that it can be adapted to.

    I won't be taking apples from the little old lady on the side of the road again.

    So you have my support 100%.

    (I made this decision months ago when I could see where things were headed-my plate is just a little full and I have had 7 computers die on me this year-new one comes in tomorrow)

  9. Just to let everyone know, a new SRD (rules) site is now available for the Swords & Wizardry game (created using the Complete Rules book.) The site is available at both and I'm hoping to get a bunch of people helping contribute to the site to help build a great community of resources for the game. If interested just shoot me an email at!

  10. Perhaps this will see a trend towards more adventures and setting material being published by the retro-clone community? It's a lot easier to make an OGL module effectively compatible with the original rules, in terms of copyright - which is probably what WotC had in mind when they came up with it in the first place.

  11. Am I the only one who bounces back and forth between OD&D and S&W, and who usually winds up running a combination of both?