Friday, July 31, 2009

Another one bites the dust

Not too long ago the OSR community was mourning the death of the term "old-school." Well gentle readers, on this fateful Friday it's with great sorrow that I report the death of another beloved term. Yes, "retro-clone" has finally passed on. It fought a long battle of self identity, but in the end it became associated with too many ideas and has passed gently into meaninglessness.

I started using the term not long after I released Labyrinth Lord, and according to the all-knowing source of modern information (Wikipedia of course) I am responsible for coining the term (was going to post a link but it won't load). So, you can send the nasty letters to me for getting the madness started in the first place.

As the term "retro-clone" started catching on, it wasn't long before people started calling Castles & Crusades a retro-clone. For people new to this discussion, I've tried to talk about what I think a "true" retro-clone is here and here. At first it didn't bother me too much, because at that time, in 2007, there was still a decent amount of "CLONES aRe teh IlLEEgAL!!z!" so I thought if people started to place them in the wider context of other OGL games like C&C it might help usher in their acceptance.

Also, at that time there just weren't very many clones anyway, so it was easier to classify them. There was only OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord for the "true" clones, then BFRPG as a sort of near-clone. Today, only two years later, the entire landscape has changed and it looks like the future will only bring on more change. Interestingly though, in 2009 just as in 2007 there still are only two games that I would call "true" clones. When I set up my threefold model of neo-retro classification it was before I'd had a chance to look some of the other games over more carefully, so here is the model as it would look today (there are now other OGL spinoffs of these, but I am not familiar with them).

Now what we are seeing are games released based on the OGC content of the retro-clones and near-clones. Many of these games hybridize to one degree or another the older style of games with 3e, or take them in different directions altogether. I predict there will be dozens and dozens of these games released over the next 5 years or so. All of these games are being called "retro-clones" out in the wild (that is, forums) even though according to MY model that the world should be paying attention to most of them would be near-clones (I hope you sense my sarcasm, I'm not actually that self-important!). Compound that with the fact that some of these games will claim to be cloning 0e, or Original Edition D&D, or delivering the feel of one version, or another version, etc. and the whole concept of what constitutes a clone has changed. By my usage a "true" retro-clone is a game that attempts to emulate as closely as legally possible the rules of a particular game.

I think in retrospect we can now say that the term retro-clone was doomed from the start. It saddens me to announce its demise at only the age of 2, but that's life.

RETRO-CLONE
May fast wings take you to everlasting peace
RIP
2007-2009

16 comments:

Robert Fisher said...

As soon as I saw “retro-clone”, I took it to mean exactly what you meant it to mean. Personally, I’m not going to stop using it. ^_^

James Maliszewski said...

An excellent and, I think, prescient post.

John Adams said...

Okay, what do we call them now (LL, OSRIC, S&W, etc)?

Badelaire said...

One game that, I think, seems to fall nicely into the category of "retro-clone" as you meant it is ZeFRS. It's about as near-as-can-be a reproduction of the old TSR Conan RPG. It's not a "re-imagining" of the game, or a "near-clone" of it - it's seems to be as much of the game as the author could legally fit in there.

Dan of Earth said...

I have no idea! I suppose we'll go on calling them the same thing. It;s just funny how a term takes on a life of its own. Even the supposed "OSR" has taken on an independent life (I even cringe a little every time I type that). It exists more as an idea of what it is than being any one thing in actuality.

Dan of Earth said...

@Badelaire

True, for some reason I wasn't thinking of the other ones. We could include the 4C system as a true clone also.

Matthew James Stanham said...

I always preferred simulacrum game anyway... :D

Badelaire said...

4C? Not familiar with this one...

Badelaire said...

Never mind - found it! Will have to give it a better look some time.

Matthew Slepin said...

How can a game be both a Retro-Clone and a near Clone (S&W and BFRPG)? They woudl seem mutually exclusive categories to me.

Dan of Earth said...

IMHO there is no perfect way to classify the hybrid/house ruled games. My own reasoning is that games with large portions essentially cloned, but wide enough deviations occupy a sort of gray area. They don't emulate the original closely enough to be a true clone, but do emulate it enough to be fairly closely related. Again, it is a bit subjective.

Akrasia said...

Interesting post. I would've included S&W in the 'retro-clone' category. Sure, S&W deviates from 0e, but then so does LL (cleric spells at level one, different experience charts, etc.) and OSRIC (no monks or bards, etc.). The differences are a matter of degree, but all three systems try to cleave relatively closely to the originals.

BFRPG, in contrast, was never meant to 'clone' anything. It's more like S&S or C&C, IMO.

Dan of Earth said...

In my reasoning I do account for the typical differences necessary for any clone, but IMO S&W deviates significantly. Especially if we are talking about the core rules.

Lord Kilgore said...

Great post. Though I agree with your take on what's a "clone" and what's not really, I also think the cows are out of the barn and they're all "retro-clones" from here on despite the technical accuracy of the term.

I personally feel that it's come to mean "cloning the retro style" rather than "cloning the retro games themselves".

I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing, FWIW.

I do think it's worth knowing which new games stick closely to the original, which ones are similar but noticeably different, and which ones are just plain different.

Robert Fisher said...

To me the word “clone” very definitely excludes merely “in the style”. We use “clone” about living organisms to distinguish a nigh exact copy from, say, an offspring. Even in computer programming “clone” means copying the data, not just the interface.

Not that there isn’t a place for both, because there is. And I agree that it is a useful distinction. Though it is also actually very useful that all words have some degree of imprecision.

Of course, I try to be a descriptivist, but personally I’d rather make an effort to understand a word’s history and try to be congruent with it rather than giving in to complete definitional chaos.

The funny thing to me was that, in the beginning, I really liked the “retro-clone” term, but I never expected it to catch on.

Lord Kilgore said...

I don't mean that retro-clone will come to mean "games in the style of old games", I mean it will come to mean "games that clone the old style of play".

I.e., it isn't the rules that have been cloned, it's the spirit/style that has been cloned.

I'm interested in which games are very close and which aren't, but not everyone will be. Arguing about which games are *really* retro-clones and which ones are just pretenders won't help anyone.