[RPG] Overview of D&D retro-clones


I'm getting more and more interested in the D&D retro-clones. I keep seeing various names thrown around, like Labyrinth Lords, Swords and Wizardry, Lycanthropes &… something else starting with an L. There must be dozens of these floating around the internet.

What I would like is a list of what games exist, along with a few lines explaining what each of them specializes in or sets them apart from the others.

I'm specifically not asking which is "the best one".

Bonus points for providing links to the games.

Best Answer

Reprising and revising a list I originally posted on RPGGeek:

Swords and Wizardry - White Box is rules compatible (mostly) with classic D&D whitebox with some nods to Moldvay compatibility (namely, racial classes as options);
S&W Core is actually AD&D 1E mostly compatible. Both have an "BAB & ascending AC" option. Knockspell is the house organ for it.
Blog: http://www.swordsandwizardry.com/

Castles and Crusades (C&C) is a new engine with the same classes and levels supported as either white box (the Collector Box) or AD&D 1E PH (Hardcover), and roughly similar abilities.
Mechanically, very different from AD&D.
http://www.trolllord.com/cnc/index.html PDF and print editions for sale commercially.

Spellcraft and Swordplay is yet another different engine with AD&D comparability but not true compatibility. It uses 2d6 for checks for 11+, DM from stats and difficulties... and ascending AC (from 0), with magic bonuses not going to AC but penalizing opponents' attempts to hit.
Company Website: http://www.grey-elf.com/

Dark Dungeons is Alston's D&D Cyclopedia retrocloned, including Wrath of the Immortals' rules. A huge tome, it includes the War Machine, Immortals, general skills, weapon mastery... it lacks the Gaz and HWR classes, but otherwise, this is as close to a D&D Rules Cyclopedia as one can find new.
Old Blog: http://darkdungeonsblog.wordpress.com/
new site: http://www.gratisgames.webspace.virginmedia.com/
"Get It Now" Print and Free PDF: http://darkdungeonsblog.wordpress.com/get-it-now/

Darker Dungeons is thematically the same as Dark Dungeons, but uses the d20-System mode of 1d20+mods for TN or more. It uses the same core classes, plus a couple are added. Some other changes are also in there.
Website: http://www.gratisgames.webspace.virginmedia.com/
free PDF, links to PoD for print. Printer-friendly PDF available.

Darkest Dungeons is a warped and twisted set of rules based upon adding Cthulu Mythos to Darker Dungeons. Not yet available, but annouced.

Labyrinth Lord is essentially Moldvay style B/X D&D. LL Advanced Edition Companion is essentially "AD&D as if Moldvay had redone it"
Company site: http://www.goblinoidgames.com/labyrinthlord.html
Print: http://stores.lulu.com/goblinoidgames
Ebook: http://www.rpgnow.com/index.php?filters=0_0_0_0&manufacturers_id=760

Osric is almost identical to AD&D1E PH and DMG mechanics, but reworded. Monks are missing due to the difficulty of rewording them...
Knights and Knaves Company and free PDF: http://www.knights-n-knaves.com/osric/
First Edition Society Print and free PDF: http://stores.lulu.com/firsteditionsociety

Forward To Adventure is a T&T influenced D20 stripdown with minimal compatibility (but monsters can be used pretty easily from D&D/AD&D/3E sources. Surprisingly well done, but its past the "No Longer D&D" stage. D&D modules, however, can easily be used with it.
Website, with obvious purchase links: http://www.flyingmice.com/FTA.html

Redbox Hack is unrelated mechanically, and is just old school in tone.
Blog and downloads: http://redboxhack.blogspot.com/

Searchers of the Unknown -"Another minimal way to play D&D" is D&D as if PC should have the same info as a monster stat block. Single page rules. Any D&D, AD&D, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, or Dark Dungeons module should be directly compatible.
free PDF: http://sites.google.com/site/wizardinabottle/searchers-of-the-unknown

Basic Fantasy is D20 D&D stripped down to Moldvay/Mentzer complexity.
website: http://www.basicfantasy.org/
free Open Office files (.odf) and PDF: http://www.basicfantasy.org/downloads.html
Print: http://stores.lulu.com/basicfantasy

Mazes and Minotaurs is a mostly D&D white box inspired set of mechanics, but has streamlined, then folded, spindled, and mutilated them into something fun, simple, but not D&D anymore. It is of similar complexity to Moldvay.
Revised Mazes and Minotaurs is a slightly more detailed version, with some mechanical changes.
D&D modules can be run with minimal changes
Website and free PDF: http://storygame.free.fr/MAZES.htm

Lamentations of the Flame Princess is an AD&D-ish ruleset. I've not read it in detail, but it's pretty straight-forward.
Blog, Free partial PDF: http://lotfp.blogspot.com/ note that a content warning may block access.
Paid full PDF: http://www.indiepressrevolution.com/xcart/product.php?productid=17286

Hackmaster 4E is an AD&D 1E expanded and modified. Print only, out of print.
Hackmaster Basic is a new engine with the same tone as HM4E, but isn't mechanically compatible. Commercial release. Out of print.
Publisher Website: http://www.kenzerco.com/
note: Hackmaster 5E (including HM Basic) is a wholly different engine from HM4E

Myth and Magic is an AD&D 2E retroclone, but with 3E style Armor Class. Open playtest.
Publisher's Page: http://www.newhavengames.com/?page_id=23

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is an OGL system by Goodman Games that cross-breeds Appendix N with a streamlined version of 3E. It's also described as pre-D&D swords & sorcery. It uses the d20 mechanism and save system of 3E, with classes from basic D&D, and combines other ideas such as random magic effects, Zocchi dice, a luck system, and 0-level character development.
Publisher Page: http://www.goodmangames.com/dccrpg.html

Adventurer Conqueror King System (also known as ACKS) is less of a retro clone and more of a Basic D&D tribute. ACKS takes the "D&D endgame" of strongholds and kingdoms, and uses it as the basis for the tier system that’s explicit in the game’s title. Adventurers are the typical dungeon-crawlers of most D&D systems. Conquerors earn lands and titles, shaping the wilderness into civilization. Kings are the rulers of kingdoms.
Publisher Page: http://www.autarch.co/

Torchbearer is an homage game... it is mechanically derived from the not very D&D like Mouse Guard, but is adapted for running D&D type dungeon crawls.
publisher's page: http://burningwheel.com

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