What types of retroclones do people really *want*?

The answer, of course, is “my specific retroclone”. But let’s ignore that for a second.

A few days ago I started Blackletter Fantasy, my take on a medium sized ruleset. Tim, as always, got right to the point and said that they didn’t feel there was anything specifically worth commenting on, which got me thinking because (thanks Tim by the way) they’re right. It’s got some new ideas, but nothing that would be drastically out of the norm. Nobody needs yet another OSR ruleset.

Now today I ran into this. This has sparked my interest, because it seems like something genuinely useful (i.e. something new GMs could find invaluable when faced with the Blank Map Conundrum). So here’s my question:

Would people appreciate a DIY RPG toolkit? There’s a guide to making your own campaign setting, bestiary, character levels etc. Maybe with a system attached, maybe with guidelines for making your own. Sort of a mini-crawford.


I think I’m most interested in things that sort of pre-customize the game to a certain “look & feel”. I’m working on something I called “Gothica Principia” which is basically “How to do Ravenloft from first principles instead of buying a complete setting.” So there’s a WHOLE BUNCH of highly “my preferences” in the customized ruleset that laser focuses things on doing that, the way I would do it.

Obviously, anyone can then make whatever adjustments THEY prefer but as a package it’s a lean mean machine for doing a thing.

Which is to say, I want to see your vision: bold, clear, loud and unapologetic.


A toolset that drew from [edit: older editions and old school texts], but was focused less on recreating an older system and more on providing a full suite of tools to play with whatever system (or lack thereof) the reader chooses would, I think, be very cool and helpful to a lot of people.

From your description, I’m imagining lots of procedures, tables, methods for resolving various solutions, and, perhaps, also advice. Given that all of that material is modular, I feel like it will always have a home and a use in someone’s game.

Are you thinking of doing something this as a kind DIY retroclone toolkit? Systematizing and expanding the kinds of resources offered in OD&D/BX/etc? Or are you aiming for a different kind of approach/vibe/theme/setting?

I like the sound of a Ravenlot toolkit @jburneko . I’m and working on something a bit like this now, specifically for weirder, science-fantasy play.

In short: “Would people appreciate a DIY RPG toolkit?” - Yes


Basically yeah. I’m imagining almost a Do-It-Yourself OSR game, so one that lists roll-under resolution, roll-over resolution, advantage, disadvantage, boons and banes etc. all as tools for the prospective GM to pick and choose. Different ways of doing magic, different ways of handling social encounters…

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This is such a great idea that I think I’ve heard a few people toss around but it would be a lot of work for something you might not really use yourself which is why I don’t think anyone has made it yet.

I really dig this idea!

When I imagine a kind of compiling and OSE-style clarification of, a well curated, but wide range of old school procedures, tables, methods and the like - it sounds very exciting

Also, because it would not be a ‘systematic’ clone you could draw from much more varied sources, earlier editions of d&d for sure, but then also contemporaneous things from Judges Guild, Midkemia, Flying Buffalo, zines even.

A very different approach to retrocloning…

Along these lines what I think what I’d love to see is basically a website that let you pick and choose from a bunch of different options and then at the end would output a pdf of “your” ruleset. Roll under/roll over/ target 20/etc. would all be choices, which would then inform further choices.


The toolkit and blank map filling was my intent with Eldritch Gambit.

I even have fill in the blanks setting sheets for collaborative worldbuilding. In EG you kind of start small and work outwards though.

The site was useful because I am now considering ways to fill out my campaign/setting creation guide a little more.



That’s a very cool idea. But a lot of work to program xD

Ohhhh that’s basically what I was gonna do!

Probably it is the direction that the community will take – I guess.

Retroclones are made to replicate a certain experience of a game, in particular any edition of D&D, but without the rough edges. There is already the philosophy of GLOG, but it provides a toolkit-philosophy and not a sort of LEGO box for the rules. And it is not a retro-clone in the strict sense. Most of the people end building their own Frankenstein by ripping pieces of different retro-clones. (I’ve done this for the rules in my actual campaign of OD&D.) At this point, it would be more useful an OGL based toolkit that let you build your own retro-clone or neoclone of D&D.

Besides this, we’d see simply another slightly different clone of OD&D or B/X: it is nice, but there are plenty that already cover the same niche or need. I like to collect and read them indeed to steal ideas for my Frankenstein.

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Always room for more!

Ah! Yeah, I see what you’re saying - see my edit above. Just made a mistake in my text, meant to say, works that drew from the same sources as other retroclones - I.e. older dnd editions/other old school texts, not the retroclones themselves.

An OGL toolkit that drew from a wider range of old school sources, not just various editions of dnd, is more-or-less what I was envisioning


Here’s what I’m imagining the “Resolution Methods” section might look like:

Resolution Methods


The most common resolution method, this describes rolling a single d20 and then adding modifiers of various kinds. The goal is usually to roll higher or lower than a specific target number (Roll-over vs Roll-under). With roll-over resolution, the target is usually set by the GM or some fixed value (i.e. 12 or 15). With roll-under resolution the target is usually a character ability score or other innate value.

Roll-under resolution is used in Into the Odd by Chris McDowall. In that game, to make a Save players roll 1d20 under their STR, DEX, or WIL score (generated by rolling 3d6). Tom wants to succeed on a DEX save to avoid a falling boulder. He rolls a 14, which is higher than his DEX score of 12. He fails.

Modifiers can be simple or complex. The classic form is converting ability scores into a numerical modifier i.e. a score of 10 is +0, a score of 8 is -1, a score of 12 is +1 etc.). More complex modifiers include advantage and disadvantage (rolling another number of d20s and taking the highest/lowest result) or boons and banes (rolling an additional number of d6s and adding/subtracting the highest).

Boons and banes were introduced in Shadow of the Demon Lord by Robert Schwalb. For example, if Tabitha were to make a d20 roll with 2 boons, she might roll 1d20 (17) + 2d6 (4 and 2). She then takes the highest d6 result (4) and adds it to the d20 result (17) for a final result of 21.

One interesting note to consider is that static modifiers change the probability range of the d20 roll. For example, a d20 ruleset with +1 modifiers means that on some rolls characters cannot have a final result of 1 with their roll and can only receive results between 2-21. The boons and banes system adds further complication by expanding the probability range from between -5 (1-6) to 26 (20+6). In contrast, advantage based systems do not share this characteristic: even if you roll with 5x advantage, the highest score you can achieve is still 20.

Target 20

Target 20 is an extreme version of roll-over 1d20 resolution where only rolls over 20 indicate success (hence the name). This higher target number is usually justified by adding character level to the roll.


2d6 rolls, sometimes known as skill rolls, are a common alternative to 1d20 rolls. The 2d6 roll introduces a bell curve between the probability range of 2 and 12, making results in the range 7-9 much more likely than a 2 or a 12. This means that results are much more predictable and a small bonus of +1 matters much more. Advantage and disadvantage in 2d6 systems usually requires rolling 3 or more d6 and picking the highest/lowest 2.

2d6 rolls are used in Stars without Number by Kevin Crawford. To make a skill check with a bonus of +1, Wenqian rolls 2d6 (8) and adds +1, giving a final result of 9.

It should be noted that, besides using 2d6, the same questions of roll-over/roll-under resolution from 1d20 resolution still apply.


Possibly the simplest resolution system, the player rolls 1d6 and compares the result to a number. If the result is less than or equal to the number, they succeed. This is roll-under resolution with a d6.


Opposed resolution means that the GM and the player both roll some amount of dice and the highest result wins, usually with some negotiation on a tie. In Free Kriegspiel Roleplay circles this is customarily 2d6, enough to be regular without too much predictability. In other games, the dice both sides roll may be imbalanced to symbolise advantages or disadvantages on the part of the player.

Jeff and the orc are wrestling for a magical goblet. Jeff and the GM both roll 2d6, with Jeff rolling 12 and the GM rolling 7. Jeff wins, grabbing the goblet.


The most basic resolution method, this method of resolution relies on the GM and player coming to an agreement without consulting dice or oracles. This can be the most unfair-seeming resolution method given the imbalance of power between player and GM, but can also (in a setting with a high level of trust) produce the most realistic or satisfying results.

Some common types of discussion include Matrix arguments, where the party forwarding an argument must give three justifications, which if challenged themselves must have three justifications etc. Others include pro/con lists as well as simple plain language establishment of fictional positioning.

Mark is attacking a dragon. He states that he should be able to harm it (using a Matrix argument) because:

  • His sword is sharp and can cut dragonscale
  • He is small and can attack the dragon’s weak belly (Halfling)
  • He can run quickly and dodge the dragon’s blows (DEX 18)

The referee challenges Mark on the first count. He then provides three justifications for the sword:

  • The sword has been well-polished
  • I’ve fought dragons before and know how to attack them
  • The sword is Grimfang, the Dragon’s Bane, slayer of 10 dragons before this generation

Satisfied, the ref allows Mark to proceed with their attack.


The thing I am working on, and am always looking for more examples of, is generating social situations with a lot of kinetic energy. Relationship maps, secret grudges, affairs, byzantine oaths, that sort of thing.

I’m much more of a “world first” kind of player. I have found the tools for generating characters are pretty exhaustive, and while you can communicate a great deal of setting through characters, its the situations going on in the world that hooks me in as a player.

That said, if we’re talking true retroclones, I would love more clones/explanations of 1st editions of games contemporary with D&D so its easier to sell players on than a hand-typed cheat sheet of a decades old game.


A compilation of all known house rules (which is what all variants are, in practice) would be great. It could be organized following the table of contents of any selected and beloved D&D edition.

If that compilation could be added to, like a wiki, it could remain comprehensive.


I swear someone, somewhere, runs a blog that does exactly that, but I can’t remember the name or URL and I can’t seem to find it in my bookmarks anywhere.

I’m not sure why you’re using the word “retroclone,” I thought that word meant “it’s B/X or AD&D or something with almost none of the rules changed.” Old-School Essentials is a retroclone, the Black Hack is not, for example.

Anyway, I’m not sure any “DIY RPG” kit could really cover the sheer number of options available to a designer. It would be a little like the whole “videogame about making videogames” genre, like Dreams or Game Maker Garage—good for beginners, maybe, but pretty limiting if you want to do something complicated.

You wrote in your Blackletter Fantasy thread that you’re trying to exorcise the “OSR design demon.” In my experience, as soon as I started planning a real campaign for a friend a while back, I stopped messing with design pretty much immediately—all I did was throw together a quick FKR thing and I haven’t looked back.

So… if you’re just trying to put an end to all these projects of yours… maybe just start running a game?


Tim, you make a good point. It’s true that just running a game is probably the solution to the wants of many. On the other hand, game rule design is itself a kind of game or metagame. Game design can be its own solo fun. The path can be the goal.

As for the DIY RPG rule-kit, the risk is in how far you want experimentation to go. DIY experimentation created, in effect, the entire panoply of all role-playing games. All rules for all games could be made to fit in such a rule kit, and at that point it defeats its own purpose. For example, specialized rules drastically divergent from D&D, such as the magic system of Ars Magica, can be ported into a version of D&D. This way lies the GLOG phenomenon, perhaps. Yet I still think that a census of variations under the guise of house rules would be interesting and useful to referees, whether it consists of simple, popular variants like ability score checks or “All Shields Must Be Broken” or rules for helmets, or the most popular early D&D variants like spell point systems and SIZ stats, or the thousands of pages of tables generated over the years to customize every detail of your character randomly.

In theory, there’s no limit to this metagame.