Thursday, January 6, 2011

Moving Away From Retro-Clones

The recent announcement that Goodman Games's Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is now available for pre-order (see also here and here) has led me (and a few others, it seems) to ruminate on the future of retro-clones and the OSR in general.

Let me state at the outset that I think DCC sounds like a really neat game, and I'm personally very much looking forward to owning a copy. In fact, if it wasn't for my own ADD game, I might consider it a candidate for a standard go-to game myself.

It does make me believe, however, that the era of the retro-clones has pretty much run its course. By this I do not mean that people will stop playing games like OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, LotFP RPG, or Swords & Wizardry. Far from it. But I mean that we are much less likely to see any new retro-clones (aka simluacrum games), for the simple reason that all the likely candidates have pretty much been done already. While the 2E fans are finally represented by Myth and Magic and For Gold & Glory, it seems that these are going to be closing the door on true simulacra. I'm in agreement with the camp that says that there probably isn't any need for yet-another-retelling of the 0E rules.

Instead, I think you're going to see a flourishing of "concept games" like DCC, Dragons at Dawn, Mazes and MinotaursAstonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, and my own Adventures Dark and Deep.

That is, games which don't just take the old rules and re-state them and/or reorganize them, but which either take the underlying concepts and take them in a new direction (DCC, M&M, AS&SoH) or attempt recreations of versions of the game which were either lost to the sands of time (DaD) or which never actually existed but could have (ADD, the Holmes Treasury, AD&D 3rd Edition, etc.). In the latter category, I think potential exists for something like the long-lost "Kalibruhn" supplement to see print, and there are doubtless others that afficinados of particular editions and related games have been pining for for years. 

In the former category, the options are much more open of course, and there's where I fully expect to see the next big burst of creativity and activity. These are games which take the spirit of the original and run with it in new directions. We've already started to see it in the games mentioned above, plus games like Stars Without Number. I'm very much looking forward to this "next era" of the OSR, which I think will bring us a lot of material both solid and imaginative. The one thing I lament is that it will most likely not be as easily cross-compatible as the various simulacra are, but if I can have a surfeit of new games with the old school aesthetic, that's a price I'm willing to pay.

UPDATE: See? I thought there were 2E clones out there! Changed the text to include them.

New cantrip: Flourish

One of the things that's tucked away in the Players Manual for ADD is a new cantrip called Flourish. This was actually created in response to one of the players in my own campaign who wanted to jazz up how his character's magic missiles looked. Essentially, it allows superficial customization of spells, with a minimal impact on their utility in combat. So, without further ado, I give you...


Mage cantrip (alteration)
Requires: incantation, gestures
Casting time: see below

The flourish cantrip is one of the few cantrips than can be cast in the same round as a regular spell, for that is its purpose. The cantrip is cast immediately before the spell in question, requiring 6 seconds (1 segment) per level of the spell it is to affect (thus it takes 6 seconds (1 segment) to add a flourish to a 1st level spell, 12 seconds (2 segments) to add a flourish to a 2nd level spell, etc.). Flourish then allows the caster to change the visible effect of the spell in question in some subtle way; a fireball might be purple, magic missiles may have the appearance of golden bees, a grasping hand could look like a dragon’s claw, etc. Under no circumstances can flourish be used to change the actual effect of a spell. Mages and sub-classes of mage will be able to recognize a flourish.