The Old School Renaissance / Revival boasts many retro clones, especially of various D&D editions: from Swords & Wizardry for OD&D, through Blueholme for Holmes Basic, to OSRIC for AD&D 1e. But it seems to me that there are other games which are certainly OSR, but cannot be said to be a clone of any previously existing game, for example Dungeon Crawl Classics. To me the latter seems to be a - pretty awesome - exaggeration of certain features of old school games (funny dice, rolling on tables, high chance of low-level character mortality), without clearly resembling any particular edition of D&D or other rpg from the 70s/80s. My question is: Is there a term used in the OSR movement or elsewhere to refer to games of this type?
Simulacrum has sometimes been used as a synonym for retro-clone and sometimes as a larger category. But the usage isn’t clear.
e.g. In “OSR Resources” from his Howling Tower blog, Steve Winter writes:
The line between retroclone, simulacrum, and old school-evocative is blurry.
Which suggests that retro-clone and simulacrum are not exact synonyms.
Perhaps one of the first people to use “simulacrum” to describe OSR games was James Raggi of Lamentations of the Flame Princess in the title of his Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games and their Modern Simulacra.
In “What system to run? What system to publish for?” on his blog, he writes:
The "retro-clones," or simulacra as I like to call them (it seems more respectful, and doesn't showcase working, living game systems as out of date in any way - I also hate the term "old school"), are out there, and they work.
Which suggests that “retro-clone” and “simulacrum” are synonymous, although he then includes Castles & Crusades.
In the diagram in “Three-fold Guide to the Neo-Retro”, Dan Proctor, who coined “retro-clone”, places C&C outside of the “retro-clone” category. Which makes sense. One of the big reasons that OSRIC and Dan’s own Labyrinth Lord were created was that C&C failed to live up to its billing as “as close to AD&D as legally possible”.
But we can’t be sure that Raggi & Proctor are on the same page here.
In “D&D vs. the Simulacra Analysis - Spell Lists”, Raggi lists Microlite74 under the heading “Spells Comparisons Between the Source and the Simulacra”. Microlite74 is, I will argue, much more clearly outside the scope of “retro-clone” than even C&C.
In “The Old School People's Front vs The People's Old School Front”, Raggi writes:
One thing the "proper" simulacra did that C&C did not is make everything OPEN.
So it would seem that Raggi’s use of “simulacrum” is wider than Proctor’s use of “retro-clone”. Raggi’s “proper simulacrum” would be a narrower term more synonymous with Proctor’s “retro-clone”.
Whew! For all of that, though, I don’t think there is a provable conclusion here. As I said in another answer: Language is messy. You can find plenty of people who use “retro-clone” in a wider sense than Proctor seems to have meant it. With “retro-clone” and “simulacrum” at least, you probably simply want to be clear what you mean by the terms when you use them.
In his blog post “Don’t Call Them Clones”, Joseph Bloch, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, proposed “retro-build”.
Retro-builds have an old-school feel, but either use new mechanics or alter the old mechanics to the point where cross-compatibility is difficult. There can be sub-types, but I'm not going to try to get into that level of detail here.
As far as I know, it hasn’t gotten any traction, but—having turned it up in my research—I figured it was worth noting. Especially as Bloch has published a substantial retro-build, so I consider his proposal worthy of note. Also, the comments on that post may be worth reading for anyone interested in this topic.
Neo-clone is a term that has been used for games that diverge farther from the originals than retro-clones.
Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (ASSH) is a recently released retro clone from North Wind Adventures. I say retro clone, but it's one of those games that is based on old school D&D, but also tries to do its own thing, like Adventurer Conquerer King, Blood & Treasure, Adventures Dark & Deep, or Crypts & Things. The term for these is generally "neo-clone", and while some don't find that adequate, their proposed terms haven't caught on.
It is worth noting that, as with most terminology, terms that were coined to mean similar but different things often get used interchangeably. Language is messy.
In “Three-fold Guide to the Neo-Retro”, Dan Proctor, who coined “retro-clone” classifies DCC as “neo-retro”.
Neo-Retro: This is a broad category under which all relatively recent games claiming a "retro" or "old-school feel" belong. The broad classification is flexible enough to encompass games like DCC RPG and Mazes & Minotaurs, which are very different mechanically but are more about "feel."
He explicitly makes it a broader category that both “retro-clone” and “neo-clone”.
There is no widely-recognized term for this kind of game.
It's important to realize, though, that the OSR doesn't mean "Early-D&D-like games". Rather, it's about finding ways to branch out and advance gaming using any and all games from that era as a starting point. ("That era" means roughly pre-1984, with a lot of wiggle room for special cases.) For instance, someone could publish a new set of rules for dealing with mass combat that is compatible with 1st-edition AD&D. They might have to use circumlocutions like "Compatible with the first Advanced version of the original role-playing game", or just say "OSRIC-compatible", but as long as it doesn't contradict the rules (or, to a lesser degree, the spirit) of 1st edition AD&D, it would qualify, in most people's minds, as an OSR product.
But they could also publish a set of mass combat rules for RuneQuest, or Top Secret, or Villains and Vigilantes, or some other game. They could publish a completely new RPG, for a unique or under-represented genre, and if it hewed closely to the OSR aesthetic, it could be considered an OSR game. What that aesthetic might be is a little harder to pin down, but it's important to realize that there are as-yet unexplored avenues in the OSR oeuvre.
In other words, even though the clones are—by far—the most visible aspect of the OSR, "retro-clone" should be the specific term. The term "OSR" should subsume them, along with non-clones and other content.