Friday, January 21, 2011

Do We Need Another Retro-Clone? (A Postmortem)

TLDNR: yes, but not from me.

Some bemoan the burgeoning number of clone rules. It's not something I worry about. The OSR isn't susceptible to damage from market fragmentation or brand diffusion or whatever. Until recently, in fact, I was writing my own near clone of the 1974 books (more on that later).

Whatever your opinion about the proper number of retro-clones, none of the existing ones closely replicate the original three booklets. Labyrinth Lord OEC and S&W Whitebox are great, but they're still mashups of the LBB's, the Supplements, Moldvay Basic, and other ingredients. That's fine. I could be happy playing LL. However, a true clone of the LBB's needs to embrace the following:

  1. Constraints: stick to only the monsters and spells found in the three booklets, for example.
  2. Omissions: the LBB's implicitly or explicitly reference rules found in Chainmail, for example, while other topics are nowhere to be found. (I'm looking at you, Initiative.) The authors of a close clone would need to decide whether to leave those things out, include the Chainmail material (which isn't always an exact fit), or to suggest solutions from later editions as sidebars or appendices.
  3. Ambiguities: must be preserved. Let individual referees rule on when elves can swap classes.
  4. Obsolescences: a number of rules didn't survive edition zero, and don't appear in the existing retro-clones. Many are minor. Some of them deserve to be forgotten, others are interesting. For example, I haven't seen cloned anywhere the rules for stocking guards/retainers into the "castles" marked on the Outdoor Survival board.

Those were some of the considerations I had in mind when I started work on my clone of the 1974 rules. I never thought my clone would be profitable, or even see wide use. I took on the project as a way to enrich my games by getting back to the roots of the hobby, and to satisfy my curiosity. I also wanted to give people who had never seen them access to the first rules, particularly since WotC stopped selling the PDF's.

I finished writing a rough draft of the rules from the first two volumes, and made notes on the third. Last night, I decided to abandon the project.

There are several reasons.* I pushed hard to finish volume 2 over the holidays, so I'm a little burned-out. The recent shouts of too many retroclones made me less motivated to release something that would be received with hostility rather than indifference. Finally, although I learned a lot about the early rules, I realize I'll never be able to resist tinkering with the rules long enough to get an authentic early gameplay experience (particularly in light of my growing fondness for the LoFP rules).

So, the only goal I haven't accomplished with this project is to share what I learned. I have a few ideas about how to repurpose and distribute the work. It might be a series of monographs, things like Initiative Through the Ages or The Evolution of the Cleric. I can even imagine a web app and database that would let referees select the rules they want, then spit out a custom PDF. (That's something I have the expertise to make, but probably not the time.) Whatever form this stuff eventually takes, I'll allow myself more editorial creativity than the "strict preservationism" of my abortive clone attempt. I'll also make sure that it's easy to loot for kitbashing.

I hope someone releases a close clone of the 1974 rules. I also recommend attempting to write a clone as an educational experience for anyone with some curiosity about it. It taught me more about he game than I would have suspected—historical rules trivia, sure, but also how damn elegant the thing is under the hood. As an experience, it made me realize what an enormous amount of work people like Dan Proctor put into their projects; there's a hell of a lot more involved that simply paraphrasing someone else's text.

* I should also add that it's really, really hard to resist clarifying or filling lacunae when trying to recreate these rules. If you want something that's faithful to the LBB's as historical documents and is also a playable game, you must trust referees to make their own rulings.

5 comments:

  1. I'll definitely be interested to see how you decide to disseminate what you've put together Paul! :)

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  2. I'm sorry to hear that you feel burned out on this, I was looking forward to your translation / interpretation. Props for trying to tackle it in the first place! Maybe you just need a break?

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  3. Maybe. After a few months of having fun playing the game, I might feel like coming back to the project.

    By that time, however, there may be a new close clone of the 1974 rules available, if the email I received today proves accurate. Fingers crossed.

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  4. 'It's not something I worry about. The OSR isn't susceptible to damage from market fragmentation or brand diffusion or whatever. ':
    Totally agree 110%!

    'I never thought my clone would be profitable, or even see wide use. I took on the project as a way to enrich my games by getting back to the roots of the hobby, and to satisfy my curiosity. I also wanted to give people who had never seen them access to the first rules, particularly since WotC stopped selling the PDF's.':
    This is what I think most cloners have in mind, but not everyone agrees, unfortunately. :-(

    'recent shouts of too many retroclones made me less motivated to release something that would be received with hostility':
    I hope you reconsider, I'd hate to see negativity triumph in this instance. I also enjoy seeing new takes on classics, so....

    'I also recommend attempting to write a clone as an educational experience for anyone with some curiosity about it. It taught me more about he game than I would have suspected—historical rules trivia, sure, but also how damn elegant the thing is under the hood. As an experience, it made me realize what an enormous amount of work people like Dan Proctor put into their projects; there's a hell of a lot more involved that simply paraphrasing someone else's text.':
    Sound advice, I think. I believe more people should give it a go, whether they publish(in any form[i.e. blog post, books, PDF]) the results or not.

    'I'll never be able to resist tinkering with the rules long enough to get an authentic early gameplay experience:':
    Surprising how fun that is. I built my own rules-set from the bottom-up 26 years ago, and I'm still playing with it. And not just to get things right, either.

    'share what I learned':
    Looking forward to it!

    A very trenchant post on cloning I think most people concerned about it should read.

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  5. Well, Mal's game should be here any day now I suppose. ;)

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