What types of retroclones do people really *want*?

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.


Well, I’m already starting some games (but not in the discord realm, alas). For me, running games doesn’t really make the “making games” itch go away. And if I’m going to make stuff, I might as well make useful stuff.

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I think the wiki suggestion is apt. Looking at the sample above discussing different task resolution procedures, I’m already thinking of ways I’d like to see them phrased differently :wink: (Target20 gets kind of undersold, for example; and I think a little more on the pros/cons of different approaches could help). That’s not me trying to quibble-storm this thread, but just to note that making the descriptions open to community input would allow the advocates of each different houserule to offer their own perspective on what makes it work (for them).

Like some here, I see this idea as an OUTSTANDING way to help new O/NSR-designers figure out their options, but of limited utility past a certain point.

This thread did make me think about an interesting problem I see with some ‘new’ rulesets…we often praise new rulesets for their amazing layout (or criticize them for shabby layout) but the fact is that so few of use actually run RAW, that the amazing layout becomes kind of irrelevant if we’re just going to patch our own aberrations into everything anyway! In that light, a modular library of rule options would prevent unified layout but might be more realistic for use anyway.



I wish I could tell you what kind of “OSR” game I’d really want to see, then. I think I’ve settled into a phase where FKR, Electric Bastionland, or 5E can cover all my needs.

I guess everyone else’s enthusiasm for an “OSR rules wiki” shows that some people want to see that (again, I swear such a thing already exists, but I can’t recall where). I do think formatting it as a wiki or an online how-to guide would be more useful than as a printed book.

(If you’re really asking what “retroclones” I want to see, I agree with @JustinH: I want to see clones of non-D&D games. But, again, that doesn’t seem to be what you mean.)

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I like all of your ideas. In particular, the point you make that ‘new’ rulesets are not run as written, but are beautifully designed, brings me to another point. I sometimes think that the rulebooks work like talismans that authorize play, that say, “We are playing this game,” and that is consoling and exciting to players (who may not be aware of the rules as written). Having a rulebook suggests that we are not just sitting around making stuff up (even though we are!), and that there is an ultimate recourse of order. In this way, the beautiful OSE books are perfect for the job.

@JustinH has mentioned a number of times how he runs OD&D and the books are mostly ignored, but they are inspiring to have around. They say, “Hey, this is the real D&D!” Which is cool, even if he is actually running it more freeform (as the authors originally prescribed, in fact)!

I have the OSE Classic Rules Tome in the fancy cover. This is the only retroclone I bought. I just like looking at it. I find it inspiring. I know that is silly, because I have my '81 copy of Moldvay’s Basic.

All that art, the books, the design–they work together to induce a consciousness of playing something specific. That’s not anything that a rules Wiki can capture, even though you and I agree that it would be nice to have such a thing.

More musings! :slight_smile: :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:


I didn’t hear @JustinH talking about wanting to see clones of non-D&D, but I’m all for it. (My home rules are an offshoot of Fighting Fantasy, so of course I would be all for it.) I think it’s a great idea, but there’s one catch. Most old rules don’t have an equivalent of the OGL, and somebody out there has the rights to most of those old sets. Rules can’t be copyrighted, but an OGL sure helps to facilitate clones, doesn’t it?

Tim, if you can find that cache of house rules, let us know! Not that you should spend a lot of time searching for it–and if we found it, we’d only want to make it bigger.

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Hmm… I do recall seeing some kind of wiki once… and being terribly disappointed at the dearth of content. Anyways, the wiki seems like the way to go, since I am not very well acquainted with a lot of these systems.

Going back to @Gundobad_Games’ very good point about these beautiful retroclones nearly always being remade by the user and @VanWinkle’s very good point about the value of books like the OSE tomes as talismans (I relate to both!):

I would actually really like to see a well (graphically) designed and well curated toolkit, that didn’t propose a single unified system, but did do work towards clarifying and nicely presenting a select collection of related old school approaches.

In other words a rules tome that acknowledged that it was going to be used as a set of modular elements to build your own game, but didn’t entirely abandon its tome-ness - either aesthetically or conceptually: A beautiful object that makes an effort to present things more clearly than it’s sources and choose those tools/rules/etc the authors find most valuable.

A tome that recognized how its readers would actually use it.

(All that being said, I agree that wiki would also be super useful, just a different thing)

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I’ll top that: Print-on-demand rules tome. You select the rules you want included from a long series of drop-down menus, then your custom ruleset is printed and shipped directly to you in beautiful hardcover. We’ll put every other indie RPG retailer out of business!

(The above has been my first attempt to make a joke in the forum format.)


The programming would be… Quite tricky :thinking:

more than programming the website, it requires an extremely well made modularity in the rules themselves

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I’ve tried to do a similar thing with BRP, given the modularity of that family of systems, and even hunting down the second reference you have to thread through when one rule changes becomes a bit of spaghetti.

Since I usually play these games with kids I’d like to see some hacks or reworks that put emphasis on cuteness and being clever/non-confrontational. I don’t have money to spend on games right now, but I’m intrigued by games like that recent Neverland game and I have a copy of Ryuutama. But still, some storybook kid-friendly (so not as dark as they usually go) rules or system would work well for me.

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Just as an FYI: Neverland is an “adventure” not a game system. So you can run it with most anything.


Oh, I know, but I am mostly interested in how it uses childlike fairy tale flavor in an osr game. To make it about wonder and social interactions and combat as a last resort.