Saturday, September 25, 2010

OD&D Cloning

After my recent lament for a close clone of OD&D, I was remiss in not drawing everyone's attention to John Laviolette's excellent "Clone Project" series of posts, in which he presents a very insightful analysis of OD&D's underlying mechanics. There's some excellent food for thought in there, particularly for anyone interested, as I am, in seeing a close clone of OD&D made available to gamers, old and new. I've been catching up on some of John's posts that I'd missed and it's pretty clear to me he's on to something.


  1. I'll confess that I still don't understand what you're looking for. Maybe it is only because I've played OD&D twice, I've only seen the books once, and I've never read them...but I just don't grasp why you think S&W isn't a close clone and why some go so far as to accuse Matt Finch of having invented a new game rather than cloned OD&D.


  2. but I just don't grasp why you think S&W isn't a close clone

    Here are just a few of the areas where S&W deviates significantly from OD&D:

    - unified saving throw
    - ability scores bonuses are very different
    - prime requisite calculated differently
    - no dungeoneering or wilderness rules
    - treasure system is very different
    - ascending AC

    Any one of these alone might not be an issue, but, taken together, the result is a game that, to me anyway, feels more inspired by OD&D than as something I would call a "clone." OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord are models for what I look for in a clone, whereas games like Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Castles & Crusades are games inspired by those that came before without actually cloning them.

  3. It's nice to see the process of building something like this.

  4. Ascending AC is an option -- I don't use it. Descending AC is still right there.

    When we played OD&D with Philotomy the ability score bonuses were identical, IIRC.

    Since I've never actually read the LBBs, I can't speak to questions of Saving Throws, Dungeoneering or Wilderness rules, or Treasure system treatment.

    I think this is one I'm just not going to understand.

  5. A reasonably fast typist can blow through the 3LB pretty damned quick if textual fidelity is the issue. The only time-consuming part is keying the tables, and even that doesn't take very long. I did it a couple years ago, and have been adding and editing ever since.

    I think there are enough ambiguities in the text that it's nearly impossible to do an OD&D clone that accurately represents anything other than one's own interpretations. Any individual OD&D clone is likely to have a third eye, antlers, and a vestigial tail as far as any other Referee is concerned.

    Just my opinion, but a "uniform OD&D clone" strikes me as a chimera.

  6. Just my opinion, but a "uniform OD&D clone" strikes me as a chimera.

    That's a perfectly defensible position; I just happen to disagree with it. :)

    (And, to be fair, what I'm dreaming of isn't a "uniform" clone at all, but rather one that better preserves the rules structure and, yes, ambiguities of the original text)

  7. Since I've never actually read the LBBs, I can't speak to questions of Saving Throws, Dungeoneering or Wilderness rules, or Treasure system treatment.

    And that's part of the issue for me. S&W is a fun and flexible little game, but it's no more OD&D -- or "0e," to borrow its terminology -- than C&C is AD&D. This won't bother a lot of people (nor should it), but I hope I can be forgiven, as an OD&D partisan, for hoping for something a lot closer to the original that an interested gamer can pick up in order to get a sense of what the game was like back in 1974.

  8. @James:

    Thanks for the mention! And yeah, a lot of those same issues about S&W bugged me, too. I know that some of them are minor: I shouldn't be bothered by dual AC listings, but I am, and why don't I just ignore the way S&W handles attributes? But the total number of differences just somehow turns me off a little, even though I think S&W is a fine product.


    There's a lot more to it than just typing. At each stage, you have to ask yourself "How can I explain this differently? What can I include? What has to be changed drastically?" Even when I come up with answers, I'm not completely satisfied that those answers are "safe" yet, and I continue mulling over (for example) how to handle the experience charts.

    One of the choices I've made that will perhaps wind up being controversial is to avoid copying equipment, monster and spell lists, but instead concentrate on production rules to build these things, plus a few samples of each. I will probably not have an entry for dragons, although I will mention them, but I'll have an entry for breath weapons. I feel somewhat good about this decision because either the LL OEC or S&W spell, monster, and equipment lists are close enough to the originals that they could be dropped in by those who don't want to build their own lists using my rules.

  9. There's a lot more to it than just typing. At each stage, you have to ask yourself "How can I explain this differently? What can I include? What has to be changed drastically?"

    I agree wholeheartedly, but I feel like the answers are so different for each Referee that it becomes like herding cats. The process of doing all this stuff myself actually helped me a lot with getting my head around OD&D, but I'm 100% sure I arrived at different conclusions than most other Refs.

  10. I think S&W is closer to OD&D than C&C is to AD&D. I just wish it had some damn wilderness and dungeoneering mechanics. I know that I can just look in my copy of LL or Mentzer's red box, but why don't I just run those instead.

    I must say that I'm one of the blasphemers who uses ascending AC. If I didn't I'd probably switch to Target 20 which would eliminate what few rules S&W already has anyway. It is upsetting.

  11. Evan, if you would email me at mythmere @ yahoo dot com, and let me know exactly what wilderness and dungeoneering mechanics you need in there. I'm checking the contents of the new "Complete" rules, and your list would be good as a checklist to make sure I have what people are looking for.

    Heh, tailor-made game for you! :)

  12. 1. With the amount of house ruling I do, I wonder if there would be, in the end, much difference in my personal game if I built it on a foundation of S&W WB or OD&D.

    2. Could someone please give at least a hint of what the oft mentioned "wilderness and dungeoneering" rules entailed, and roughly where they are to be found I would be appreciative.

  13. The wilderness and dungeoneering books are entailed in the conveniently labeled The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures. Half the book is about the randomized occupants of scattered castles, rules on getting lost, naval combat, aerial combat, the cost to build strongholds, monster evasion, wandering monsters, and the like.

  14. Thanks, I assumed that was the case, but I also once assumed that the Greyhawk supplement was predominantly about Greyhawk.

  15. Cloning a game is a serious project, and anyone who does it has my respect. Although I'm confused as to why you'd WANT to preserve ambiguities in the rules, I'm sure you have your reasons. I'm cloning 4e as we speak, and I actually wish I liked OD&D better, because I think it has a LOT less material to copy. (Jeez, just one class covers 60 - 100 pages!)

    Also, OD&D probably has a lot less red tape to get around. Are pre-3e editions even covered in the GSL? Would WotC bother taking legal action against the clone of an out-of-print game? (Not a knock on earlier editions, just thinking about this from a logistical standpoint.)

    Anyway, best of luck!

  16. @Tequila Sunrise: The reason to keep the rules intact, flaws and all, is preservation. Would you alter the Mona Lisa to make her smile more or less ambiguous :D

    "Retro-remakes" like Basic Fantasy RPG and HackMaster have their place but a product should exist that keeps these slowly dying rulebooks alive as clearly Wizards doesn't care about them anymore. Besides, the rules confusion from older edition often comes from different standards in format. The rules are there they're just hidden in a pile of text or located in a place you'd never choose to look.

    The GSL is entirely different from the OGL. I haven't read the entire GSL but it appears even more restrictive. You have to place Wizards' logo on your work and have to use specific terminology when discussing things. No older material is covered under the OGL but there are a lot of common terms. I find 0e easier to convert because about 80% of the material are charts and tables while the other 20% are Gygax/Arneson's humorous ramblings like how to distract monsters (drop some treasure on the ground) or the reward for winning a random joust which I can ignore or rewrite and truncate in my own words. Even the majority of Chainmail is tables upon tables with a few paragraphs inbetween on what to make of them.

  17. I'm cloning 4e as we speak

    Surely you are being facetious.

  18. @Twitt: I never thought I'd hear the Mona Lisa be compared to the rule base of a game. :)

    @Alexander: No, true story.

  19. @TS: What's your goal? Simply to allow people to play 4e for free?

  20. @Tequila Sunrise: Perhaps a better analogy would be "Would you appreciate it if Han was edited to shoot first?"

  21. @Alexander: My 4e clone is for myself and my group. For myself, because I'm part of that 4e-fan minority that doesn't like the character builder. I like to have pdfs with consolidated info; for example when I level up my ranger, I like to just pop open my ranger pdf and pick from all the powers I copied from the PHB, Martial Power and Martial Power 2. It's much more convenient than looking through three books, and then checking a pdf for errata. For my group, because I DM with a few house rules, and it'll be nice to simply point my players to my [imperfect] clone and say "Them's the rules."

    @Twitt: Sorry, all I know about the Han thing is that it's some kind of controversy among fans. (They're fun movies, but I've seen each of them exactly once.) I've no clue what the shoot-first-second issue is, or why it's such a big to-do.


    Educate yourself on nerdology! The scene was pivotal in defining the character but Lucas changed it for whatever reason. It's a small, seemingly meaningless change but it drew a lot of criticism.

    It's how I view retro-clones. You might not like races as classes, or races being limited in progression, or decreasing AC but what YOU like isn't the point. In preserving something for future audiences the original should be kept as intact as possible. I regularly play retro-remakes like Castles & Crusades but if someone asks "Show me what AD&D was really like" I'm going to show them OSRIC, not C&C.

  23. Thanks for the link! If I were a fan, I probably wouldn't like the edit, just because of the plausibility issue. (Yeah, never mind the storm-troopers-can't-hit-the-broad-side-of-a-barn issue. :D)

    To use an ambiguous D&D term, I guess I'm just not Lawful enough to really understand the impulse to preserve something in its authentic state solely for the sake of posterity. If I don't like playing a game in its authentic state, why preserve it that way? I guess that's why my 4e clone isn't actually a perfect clone.

    Well, clone and let clone, as my grandpappy always said!