Doing It Yourself: The Best Part of the Retro-Clone Movement

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 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.

Down and Dirty Magery

A few weeks back, Malcolm Sheppard began posting a revised take on Mage: The Ascension, calling it Mage: The Dirty Version. As Malcolm phrased it in his introductory post,

It isn’t quite an Ascension reboot, but it leans closer to it. It’s not New World of Darkness or Old. And it’s probably foolish of me to bother with — barring a surprising email from Georgia, there’s sure as hell no money in it.

I’ll be posting about factions, systems, stuff. Not sure about the order. Eight cults. Seven Spheres. Expressions, spells and rites. Maybe some fiction.

Most recently, he posted a write-up of the Eumenides tradition. Click through to discover just what that might mean.

Using Aeon / Exalted Style Target Numbers in the Original World of Darkness

This post was going to be in response to a request on for help using the Aeon / Exalted Storyteller target number variation with original World of Darkness games. It brought to mind something I ran across many moons ago — May 17, 2003, according to the creation date of the HTML file — a table that allows one to convert task difficulties from the oWoD system of variable target numbers and successes to Aeon Storyteller by way of a quick table.

Fortunately, someone with sharper recall than remembered where on the web the original was located, so I saved myself the agony of reposting someone’s work without permission or credit. You can find Bruce Baugh’s charts for converting oWoD difficulty ratings to the fixed target number system used by the Aeon Universe* and Exalted games on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. I myself used them to great success in a short Changeling: The Dreaming game I ran in 2003 — mostly it was the sample adventure in the back of the first edition corebook, as I recall.

* Yeah, I know it’s officially called the Trinity Universe. It’s a habit I don’t really want to break.

Unisystem Mage

Flashback! A couple years ago, Mage: The Ascension was the game for me, in terms of headspace. I thought about it a lot and I read a lot about it and how others liked to play it. It basically dominated my mental field of view. At the same time, I really wanted to embark on some kind of project, but wasn’t sure what to do — that happens to me a lot, as a matter of fact. Eventually, I hit upon something. So many criticized Mage and the Storyteller system in general for wonky mechanics. I would convert it to something universally beloved1: Unisystem!

First I worked with a partner from, but his interest waned as it became apparent we approached the task from different perspectives. I wanted to do a very simple, meat and potatoes conversion, bringing Mage‘s Sphere magic into Unisystem with as little fuss and actual conversion work as possible. In retrospect, this really meant leaving in a lot of the vagary and indeterminacy about which some people were very vocal about disliking with prejudice.

The most in-depth thing I did was try to establish an equivalency between how Sphere magic inflicts damage in Storyteller and Unisystem’s Life Points, which involved averaging damage done by firearms, as I recall. I have no idea if it was accurate or the right way to do it, but it seemed like a fair guide at the time.

Unisystem Mage languished as a plain HTML document for a year and a half after that. Then I hit upon the idea of making it a PDF, as surely that would make it more easily circulated. For whatever bizarre reason, doing it up in Open Office wasn’t good enough. Instead, I wound up using it as a way to learn LaTeX, an open-source program for laying out academic books and papers, usually in scientific fields like mathematics. It was an interesting experiment and one I don’t think I’ll repeat. So that’s why the PDF looks so much like a scientific journal article; that’s the template I used to lay it out.

Once complete, I uploaded it to, a repository of Unisystem-related content, where it has since garnered 357 downloads. Which, I think, is kind of impressive. Although I wonder how many of those eager downloaders thought it would lay out the full panoply of Sphere magic in Unisystem for their delectation, instead of being, essentially, a bunch of page references to the Mage corebook.

So, here it is, the final version of Unisystem Mage, as I left it over a year ago, now. Let me know if you find it at all interesting or useful.

[Download unisystemmage.pdf – 140 kb]

1 Stop laughing.