Coming to gaming as late and haphazardly as I did, I can’t share in the glowing nostalgia factor of those roleplayers who look back on the wild, halcyon days of their youth, when the goal was to clear the dungeon and buy a keep. By extension, I find myself missing out on the fervor of the retro-clone movement, where the algorithms of early roleplaying games are recreated and, sometimes, modified in texts like OSRIC and 4C. As rule systems go, to me they’re yet more ways to do things I can cheerfully do with the ones I already know, whereas to others, they’re a way of recapturing or customizing their first roleplaying experiences.
What I do dig very much about retro-clone games — in addition to the fact many are published open, under the Open Gaming License or similar licenses — is the gung-ho embodiment of the do-it-yourself ethic. While starting from an established platform, some retro-clone authors take the opportunity to modify and customize to create the system they’ve been looking for. Sometimes it’s altering the experience chart, other time it’s lifting combat rules from another game entirely.
The best part is the “go forth and do it” attitude. Roleplaying shines when it encourages people to take advantage of their own creative drives and put something out there. Even stuff like you find on B. J. Zanzibar’s site deserves credit for the creators getting it down in written form and published for people to fold, spindle and mutilate to suit their needs. At the other end of the time line, we have Eclipse Phase, the transhumanist game released under the Creative Commons license allowing others to remix and publish new content. A thread on RPG.net went from a poster asking for something to doing it themselves and giving it back to the community.
I’d like to wax further on retro-clones, but I’m relatively ignorant on the topic through lack of experience and specific knowledge of the offerings around. Instead, check out Stephen Reid’s breakdown of Dungeons & Dragons-derived games, most of them emulating the game’s early editions.