Thursday, February 24, 2022

Mechanically Faithful Clones of Dungeons and Dragons

In the name of keeping on creating content while Cthulhu is trying to hatch out of my face (COVID sucks), I wanted to follow up last week's piece on some popular D&D Clones that Modify Dungeons & Dragons to a different genre or for a tailored experience with a roundup of clones that more or less accurately reproduce old editions of D&D.

After all, sometimes, you just want to play the original games without modern hacks. Or you want to hack it yourself.

This is likely not a perfect list of faithful retro-clones; only the ones I have personally had a chance to read and make some notes on.

Almost all of these are re-written, reorganized, and in order to avoid copyright infringement, have deliberately altered some numerical values or table structures.

OD&D Clones

Swords and Wizardry Complete

Swords & Wizardry Complete is a recreation of the 1974-1978 rules and expansions that is pretty faithful, although it tends to pick and choose between alternative systems to create a single, unified game, and imports initiative systems from later game editions. It also includes some optional modernization rules, such as an ascending AC and Challenge system. My review is here. The corebook is available free from Frog God Games or for $1 on Drtivethru RPG. Hardcopies can be purchased on Amazon.

Swords & Wizardry also offers only the original 1974 rules without the supplemental material as the Swords & Wizardry Core and Swords & Wizardry Whitebox as POD on Lulu.

Whitebox Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game

Whitebox Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game from Seattle Hill Games is a tidied up and streamlined version of the 1974 rules of Dungeons & Dragons with a few optional rules cribbed from Holmes Basic presented in a pretty elegant layout. It was a continuation of the original Swords & Wizardry project after it was seemingly abandoned for a few years. Aside from some corrections and refinement from the 3rd edition of S&W, it has simplified thief rules, as well as systems for overland travel and jousting by Doug from Smoldering Wizard. Hardcopies are sold at cost on Amazon or in pdf or premium hard copy on DrivethruRPG

Basic D&D Clones


Blueholme, a.k.a. Blueholme Prenice Rules from Dreamscape Design is a reproduction of the original 1978 "Holmes" version of Basic Dungeons & Dragons using a cleaner presentation. The expanded Blueholme Journeymanne Rules includes character advancement to level 20 and includes its own take on wilderness survival and dominion rules, along with level-appropriate monsters and treasures. The Journeymanne rules use the later Moldvay Basic Dungeons & Dragons as a source, but tries its best to keep to Holmes' vision, and incorporates a lot of Holmes content. Blueholme is sold through Lulu and DrivethruRPG

Labyrinth Lord

Labyrinth Lord from Goblinoid Games includes the Modvay/Cook era (1981) version of Basic and Expert Dungeons & Dragons. An art free version is available free online, while a beautifully illustrated version can be bought in pdf or pod through DrivethruRPG.

Goblinoid also offers an "Advanced Labyrinth Lord" that adapts and resolves many AD&D rules to be used with a Basic framework. Goblinoid also a clone of  TSR's D&D based Post-apocalyptic Gamma World.

Old School Essentials Classic Fantasy Adventure Game

Old School Essentials from Necrotic Gnome, This is another Moldvay Basic/Expert clone that includes some optional rules for modernization, such as Ascending AC. OSE is incredibly popular due to Gavin Norman's flare for excellent presentation and organization, making this the easiest B/X clone to learn and reference on the market. OSE has a downloadable basic ruleset for free and an online SRD, but otherwise must be ordered online through Exalted Funeral for hardcopy or DrivethruRPG for digital.

The Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy Adventure Game rules sourcebooks, much like Advanced Labyrinth Lord has guidelines for incorporating some of the innovations of AD&D into a B/X framework, including reimagined AD&D classes, both separate race-as-class options, and additional racial classes. This is split across a player's and a referee's rules tome.

Dark Dungeons

Dark Dungeons by Gurbintroll Games is a complete compendium of the Mentzer/Heard/Allston era of BECMI Dungeons & Dragons from 1983-1991. So it includes everything you will find in the Rules Cyclopedia and some abbreviated rules. This game is free as a PDF on DrivethruRPG. A newer version entitled Darker Dungeons was later released by Gurbintroll that simplified and unified BECMI into a less-faithful but simpler game, which was later combined with Dark Dungeons into a new Dark Dungeons X.

Advanced D&D Clones


One of the first retroclones, Old School Reference and Index Compilation is an accurate compilation of the three core rulebooks of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons' mechanics, although it does not include much of Gygax's non-mechanical campaigning advice. OSRIC is free to download, and can be purchased in softcover from Lulu, or hardcover brim Black Blade.

For Gold and Glory

For Gold and Glory from God Emperor Games is a very faithful reproduction of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition, This is a fairly striaghtforward reproduction of the content of the original AD&D2e core manuals, although it excluded some of the optional rules from AD&D2e for brevity. Its own sourcebooks add new twists and options. For Gold and Glory is free to download on DrivethruRPG. And may be printed POD as well.

D&D3e Clones


Pathfinder (1st edition) is a reproduction of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition, with a few simplifications, for example taking the formulae for grappling, tripping, disarming, etc., and abbreviating them into fixed Combat Maneuver bonuses and defense numbers. There are only a couple of minor changes to actual mechanics, many of them streamlining feat trees and tweaks to how 0-level spells work. Pathfinder excludes prestige classes. It is often referred to as "D&D 3.75e" for these minor modifications. Pathfinder has a huge following, as there was a massive migration of D&D fans to it when Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition was released.

The newer Pathfinder 2e has changed substantially from Pathfinder, and is not fully backwards-compatible. It might be considered a Parallel evolutionary branch of Dungeons & Dragons.

Pathfinder is sold in most brick-and-mortar book and hobby stores and can be readily ordered online through marketplaces like Amazon. All rules are available for free, even from expansions, by using the Pathfinder SRD.