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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.

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Keep in mind that RPG rules, like your aunt's fruitcakes, don't really expire. You can buy the core rules for 1e (A)D&D for probably less than you'd pay for a new game set, and you get to enjoy all that beautiful Gygaxian prose firsthand. –  Robotman Mar 2 at 14:07
Many would consider the Gygaxian prose ugly and a pain to read. One of the more common comments about OSRIC is that it's AD&D without Gygax's superfluous verbiage. "AD&D in Plain English." –  aramis Mar 12 at 18:30
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10 Answers

up vote 38 down vote accepted

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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Mazes & Monsters is the only game that seems significantly different from D&D to be worth looking at (unless one wants 0e with different art). Great list! –  Matt Joiner Dec 11 '10 at 4:16
@Matt: You might want to look at the Free RPG day stuff for C&C... It's mechanically quite different. So is Redbox Hack. –  aramis Dec 11 '10 at 5:42
@MattJoiner Thinking about the various entries, no, you're wrong. Several have elements worth looking at. DCC uses the funkier extra sizes of dice; HM4E has a number of major rules additions not in AD&D, despite being essentially AD&D 3 at the core (Honor, stat improvement); Dark Dungeons is essentially Mentzer/Alston D&D rather than OE based and so is worth a look if not familiar with those eds; S&WWB is actually Whitebox sans Supplements; LotFP does some interesting stuff with Experience; C&C and SotU do interesting mechanical stuff while being character compatible. (continued) –  aramis Apr 30 '12 at 9:41
FtA, Darker Dungeons, and Basic Fantasy are various "D20 system meets old-school approach" with signficant differences - FtA even pulls in some ideas from T&T. –  aramis Apr 30 '12 at 9:43
@MattJoiner - Also, ACKS puts heavy emphasis on workable economic principles, too. Which really helps scratch my realm-management itch. –  gomad Apr 30 '12 at 18:24
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Swords & Wizardry is an OGL port of the original, 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons. It also includes select rules and classes from the three official OD&D supplements. There is also the "White Box" version which is a strict implementation of the original core box. There are various commercial versions of S&W and S&W White Box, as well as good quality free PDFs. The main publisher recently merged with Frog God Games, a descendant of Necromancer.

Labyrinth Lord is a OGL port of Moldvay/Cook box set D&D by Goblinoid Games. There is also a supplement for it which adds systems akin to some found in AD&D first edition. As an OGL game, there is a free edition as well as commercial, prettied up editions.

OSRIC is an OGL port of AD&D first edition. Again, the rules are available free and in commercial versions.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a new, copyrighted game from the company of the same name based loosely on the Mentzer edition of D&D (with significant influence from OD&D), but with many significant, original, rules changes and a heavy emphasis on "weird" fantasy play.

Shadow, Sword and Spell is an original "old school" system co-designed by Grognardia's James Maliszewski and published by Rogue Games of Colonial Gothic and Thousand Suns (which is Travelleresque) fame. I don't know much about the game, although I think it runs on the same engine as Rogue Games' previous releases.

Mutant Future is an OGL game designed (by Goblinoid Games) to emulate Gamma World play, but not its system. Instead, it uses the same rules engine as Labyrinth Lord. Goblinoid also makes Starships & Spacemen which is a Travelleresque game that they also plan to port to the Labyrinth Lord engine soon.

There are many more, but those are the most popular games.

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Mutant Future has a chapter that makes it more compatible with Labyrinth Lord, but the base engine (hit points, powers, experience) is more similar to Gamma World. –  Lynn Mar 24 '11 at 7:05
What exactly is an "OGL Port"? –  Sean McMillan Oct 11 '11 at 12:30
@SeanMcMillan it's a game based on the Open Gaming Licence –  Pureferret Jan 11 '12 at 17:17
AFAIK Starships & Spacemen is not a Traveller game, it's a Star Trek game. –  cr0m May 1 '12 at 23:17
-1 for multiple inaccuracies. S&S is a trek game. LotFP is much more closely AD&D derived than Mentzer, at least from the free materials –  aramis May 10 '12 at 16:33
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If it makes a difference, I would point out that there are two Retro-Clone versions that have print editions available:

Dark Dungeons - This is essentially a Rules Cyclopedia version of the BXCMI (Basic / Expert / Companion / Master / Immortal rules, which were the various boxed sets back in the day). I've looked over the PDF, and the bound edition is surprisingly affordable for as large as it is.

Basic Fantasy 2nd Edition - This is a rules light version of the D20 SRD, but it claims inspiration from the old editions. The website claims that it is simple enough for children to learn and play, so take that as you will.

I add these simply because I far prefer to have decent print copies on hand to run their games from. I've monkeyed with PDF's enough in the past that I've come to like having them for reading purposes, but I need a physical book to be able to run a game properly.

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Actually most mentioned to date have print-on-demand versions available. Only Mazes and Minotaurs has no print version available. –  aramis Sep 11 '10 at 22:00
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From Bat in the Attic's Old School Survey. Games based on...

Original D&D (1974):

"Moldvay" D&D (1980-81):

"Mentzer" D&D (1983-86):

Advanced D&D 1st Ed. (1979-87):

New variations on Advanced D&D 1st Ed.:

Hybrid of various:

Also of note:

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There's a comprehensive list here. It hasn't been updated to include Lamentations of the Flame Princess yet, but otherwise looks OK.

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That list is so jargon-ladden that it´s next to useless for me, unfortunately. –  olajostein Aug 29 '10 at 14:07
There is no jargon in that list that isn't explained in the list or by the links on each game - if you don't know what B/X is click on it and you get a whole paragraph telling you. –  mxyzplk Aug 29 '10 at 14:17
mxyzplk that is an insulting comment on the lines of RTFM (Read the F*** Manual) tone it down please. –  RS Conley Aug 29 '10 at 15:08
Obviously I disagree; he complained that link had too much jargon so clearly he didn't notice the linked definitions on that site. Not "RTFM," but "if you peruse that link a little more closely and click on some more of the links I think you'll find it addresses your concern." –  mxyzplk Aug 29 '10 at 15:43
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A fun little "What if?" game that fits in the retro-clone category is Mazes and Minotaurs, a re-imagining of D&D if it took it's inspiration from Greek Mythology instead of European Mythology/wargaming. It's available as a free download.

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The only one I could add to this list is Myth & Magic. It is a 'retro-remake' of the 1989 2nd Edition rules.

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with ascending AC. –  aramis Dec 10 '10 at 3:54
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I found many of the other answers really informative and had a great time reading all about the various systems that were named. In doing so, I found the Wikipedia list of Dungeons & Dragons simulacra, which provides some interesting history and links, and will presumably be continually updated over time.

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Labyrinth Lord and the Advanced Edition Companion are both available in softcover and hardcover printings on-demand from Lulu. I have copies of the hardcover editions, and they're quite nice: the art choices are evocative and reminiscent of the feel of the original inspirations, the cover art for the books in particular is attractive. The rules are clearly written and laid out. The game is wonderfully playable straight from the get-go. I'm using it currently to introduce gaming to a "fathers and sons" group, running them through "The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh": so far, so good.

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A couple more:

Corruption: a comic book dark clone along the lines of S&W Complete or Advanced Labyrinth Lord with extra dark and campaign building content. Renegade: Free - a streamline version of Corruption - similar to S&W Complete or Advanced Labyrinth Lord with extra campaign building content.

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