Friday, February 29, 2008

Jeff's Incomplete Guide to the new Retro Stupid

In case you haven't heard, we live in a new golden age of old-fashioned orc-mugging and tomb-robbing. There are now, in print, more good options for dungeoning and dragoning than we've seen since the eighties. For reals. As self-appointed guardian of face-rocking hack-n-slashery, I have decided to provide an easy-to-use overview of the field as it stands today. You're welcome.

Basic Fantasy

The Basic Deal: Basic/Expert D&D tweaked for an AD&D audience.
Where You Can Get It: The rulebook is a free download at the publisher's website or you can get a print rulebook at lulu.
Why pick this one? Perfect for the AD&D player who appreciates the simplicity of Basic D&D, but dislikes some of the stupider parts of the Basic game. Race and class are split, as per AD&D, no funky elf class. And clerics get a spell at first level.

Labyrinth Lord

The Basic Deal: Pretty much a clone of the Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert rules.
Where You Can Get It: Free download here or print edition at lulu.
Why pick this one? The 1981 Basic/Expert set is pretty much the perfect iteration of D&D. Seriously, I was just discussing on an old school forum that these rules are so good that they discourage homebrewing and tinkering. Labyrinth Lord takes those two books and seemlessly integrates them into a single text, arguably making this game the Best RPG Ever Written.


The Basic Deal: An Open Game License version of 1st edition AD&D.
Where You Can Get It: Free download at the official webpage.
Why pick this one? If 1st ed. AD&D is your thing, but you don't own the books, OSRIC is a supercheap way to get back into the game. Or if you still dream of publishing a 1st edition module, here's the OGL way to get it done. Does your game group think playing out-of-print games is retarded? Go to Kinko's, get a hardcopy of this printed out, and then beat them with it.


The Basic Deal: The World's Easiest D20 Fantasy System.
Where You Can Get It: The official homepage.
Why pick this one? If you got a smaller rulebook you'd need a magnifying glass to play. The rules will fit in your wallet! Next time one of the indie fans in your group starts nattering on about rules-light gaming pull this puppy out. And you won't cry when you spill soda on your copy, 'cause the little sucker is just one sheet of paper.

Castles & Crusades

The Basic Deal: The love child of 1st edition AD&D and the new d20 stuff.
Where You Can Get It: Your local FLGS or favorite online store or direct from the publisher.
Why pick this one? If you miss most of the fiddly bits of 1st edition chargen but also like the clean resolution mechanics of more modern games, then this might be the right choice. Well-supported with modules, too.


The Basic Deal: AD&D, only more so. More dice charts, more violence, more ridiculousness.
Where You Can Get It: This ones a little trickier, as the print runs on the core books are drying up. You may need to do some online hunting to get everything you need. I'm still putting together my set. Amazon has a bunch of this stuff, so I'd recommend starting there.
Why pick this one? This is the first game I've seen since RoleMaster that takes AD&D's formula of crunchy violence and makes something even better with it. If you've ever been deep into either edition of AD&D and thought "Man, this isn't hardcore enough" then, bing!, you just found your new favorite system.

Encounter Critical

The Basic Deal: You remember that chapter in the DMG that gave the rules for combining AD&D and Gamma World? This game is like that, only sexier.
Where You Can Get It: Click this link now. Enlightenment will follow.
Why pick this one? Of all the Retro Stupid games out there, this one is the retro stupidest. In all seriousness, if you are a regular Gameblog reader, do yourself a favor: Get the free PDF version of the rules and sit down somewhere and read them. Do not skim. You'll miss much of the awesome.

Mazes & Minotaurs

The Basic Deal: What if Gygax and Arneson liked Jason and the Argonauts type movies more than The Lord of the Rings?
Where You Can Get It: Free downloads here.
Why pick this one? If you dig the old school dungeon scene but want a change of pace from medieval times, this is your huckleberry. And the mechanics are super-tight. Also, you can pitch the game to newbies as "like Xena".

Advanced Holmes

The Basic Deal: One man's house rules that elegantly expand the original basic set.
Where You Can Get It: Direct link. You'll also need a 'blue book' Basic D&D (pictured left).
Why pick this one? In four pages the author manages to capture the essence of the Advanced experience without a lot of the cruft. I'm going to go ahead and write the inexplicable words Rules-Light AD&D.

Why not just play the old stuff?

An excellent question! If you're already rocking an older game, please don't stop on my account. I just wanted to bring together all the various links I had to some of the crazy new stuff that supports dungeoncrawling.


  1. Anonymous11:57 AM

    That's a great summary Jeff - and it's good to see my own Microlite20 getting some love too :)

  2. Perhaps not shockingly, I have most of these already.

    What does that mean? It means that this's a great list.

  3. Also worth mentioning -- there's now an explicit GURPS treatment of "kill the orcs, take their stuff" gaming, in a two-book set, called Dungeon Fantasy 1 and 2 (the players' and GM's books, respectively).

    Available as PDFs; each one is eight bucks.

    I'll stick to my Cyclopedia, I think (or possibly Shadowrun, second edition).

  4. Anonymous1:03 PM

    Hey Jeff, do you have any experience with Mr. Gygax's Lejendary Adventure rpg? I'm curious how it stacks up with these other new school old school games.

  5. wulfgar, I don't really know anything about LJ, but I bet you over at the Troll Lords board they could hook you up.

  6. Uhhh, that should be LA, not LJ.

  7. Anonymous1:27 PM

    Thanks Jeff, I'll have to go over there and check it out.

    A few other fantasy RPGs that are out there today:

    Broadsword 1PG rpg. A swords and sorcery game by the Evil DM (including several excellent adventures!) sold as a PDF at

    Dungeon Squad a super rules lite Hack and slash game. Downloadable for free at

    Barbarians of Lemuria- another swords and sorcery game available free here:

    Not to mention there's a trimmed down version of Tunnels and Trolls available for free at

  8. Wulfgar,

    Lejendary Adventure is unlike any of the level-based classic D&D-style games. The best comparison would be to a rules-light Runequest or an extremely rules-light version of Dangerous Journeys: Mythus, as characters are skill-package based rather than class-based. Essentially, Gary designed it to be the polar opposite of the D&D game type system-wise, though it still has the a lot of the "kill the monsters, steal their treasure" play style.

    Your "avatar" (character) can still have an "order" (class), but the "ranks" (levels) in the class are based on increases in important skills... the higher the skill levels, the higher in your order you can rise, and the more social, training, and material benefits you gain. Ranks actually go backward, starting from 12th being the most inexperienced and lowest-ranking to 1st, the highest; the orders are really more like classic guilds. But if you don't want to be in an order if you don't have to, though you gain fewer benefits that way.

    Combat is all percentile based, and weapon damage is all based on the d20 (kinda like the original "all damage is 1d6" in OD&D). Combt can be fast, furious, and deadly. Monsters are often non-traditional and unusual, though the basic types are all there in some form.

    The default campaign setting, Lejendary Earth (or "Learth") is cut from the same cloth as Aerth, Gary's setting for DJ: Mythus, being another Earth alternate, though it is more "fantastic" and less "mundane" in structure, and has a lot more wide-open space.

    I can't recommend the game more; for fantasy, when I want to get out of the D&D/C&C/HackMaster style of game, LA is the way to go.

  9. Man, what a groovy list. I hadn't heard of a third of these, and am now busy checking them out ...

    (And many thanks for the "don't skim") :)

  10. Rereading this list just now reminded me that what I really want to do is hack the magic system from Ars Magica onto True20. That would be fun.

  11. Anonymous1:40 PM

    Does Palladium Fantasy count?

    I don´t see any "pretentious" in it, so it must be retro stupid, no?

  12. I agree that Palladium Fantasy is nearly-pure Retro Stupid. That said, it isn't _new_ Retro Stupid, so it would belong in a theoretical "Jeff's Incomplete Guide to the classics of Retro Stupid." :)

  13. That is a great list! I already have Basic Fantasy, so I didn't think I'd need Labyrinth Lord. But damn, an even more authentic homage to Moldvay, with that cover and reminding me that I still haven't bought a copy of EC? My wallet's gonna hurt!

  14. Anonymous8:02 AM

    Nice list. I've read/skimmed them all already but it's nice to have them all in one spot.

    Wulfgar's additions are sweet too. Barbarians of Lemuria is great for a Conan style game. I have most of Simon Washbourne's games and really like his simple style.

    I need to pick up Broadsword - I keep hearing about it. Most likely, this week.

    I'm gonna start a new game with my 8 year old, Labyrinth Lord is high on my list.


  15. Anonymous5:42 AM

    Great list. BFRPG clerics DON'T get a spell at first level though!

  16. This is a great list. You should check out my game ZWEIHÄNDER Grim and Perilous RPG. It's a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay retroclone designed like GURPS, and can be used with any game campaign.