This is something I've been thinking about quite a bit the past few weeks, ever since reading this post on Uhluht'c Awakens, commenting on John Adams' announcement that Delving Deeper will become part of the Labyrinth Lord extended family.
The announcement appears to have been met with widespread approval and I've read plenty of suggestions that the OSR needs a 'Rosetta Clone' but, honestly, I don't see the point. The main thrust of the arguments in favour of One Clone to Rule Them All seems to be that all subsequent old school supplements and adventures will speak the same language and be fully compatible.
Why is this important? Every older edition of D&D and its retroclones already speaks the same language. I don't recall anyone ever having any difficulty with using a B/X adventure in their AD&D game. Heck, even when I was running Castles & Crusades I could use old D&D products and adventures 'out of the box' and compared to that, the mechanical differences between any two retroclones are minuscule. Are people really finding cross-compatibility between existing games so insurmountable that we need to consolidate our games into a single rule set? Really?
The very idea of consolidating our hobby into a single rule set makes me shudder in dread. Such a thing is utterly antithetical to my concept of the old school movement. To me, the OSR is a return to the way we played during golden age of gaming, when new games burst onto the market like a popped zit. I've seen a lot people sneer at the profusion of old school games that are currently being published, dismissing them as 'somebody's D&D house rules.' Yeah, so what? Most roleplaying games ever published started out as someone's house rules and many of them were someone's D&D house rules. In the early days of the hobby, due to the vagueness of the original D&D books, everyone's house rules diverged from the source - many of them morphing into entirely different games. I love that. I love that we're seeing it happen again, and I love that today, thanks to the internet and the ease of home publishing, we can share it and revel in the glorious orgy of creative output within the old school community.
This is not to say that I think its useful to have multiple clones that contribute nothing new - and here I wonder if Delving Deeper may be nothing more than a version of Swords and Wizardry that is owned by Brave Halfling. I haven't been following this game's development so I may be way off base here, but ultimately, as far as D&D retroclones are concerned, I would like to see one hi-fidelity clone for each of OD&D, Basic D&D, and AD&D, that reproduce these rules as closely as possible. From there, though, folks should go nuts with their house-rule-derived games based on these touchstone publishing tools. Viva la difference!
I worry that the push for a Rosetta Clone will result in Labyrinth Lord coming to dominate the OSR in the same way that the D20 system dominated roleplaying for nearly decade. Those were the bad old days as far as the health of the hobby was concerned, and I have no desire to see a return to it, even if only in our own small community. This is particularly worrisome as folks start to publish games that diverge from the retroclones. Attempting to shoe-horn a concept into an existing rule set can very quickly ruin the concept (anyone for some D20 Call of Cthulhu?). Instead, rules should be developed to support the concept. This is why TSR produced a whole suite of largely incompatible roleplaying games (Boot Hill, Gamma World, Top Secret, Gang Busters, etc.) instead of trying to fit them all into the D&D mechanics.
Universal systems, like GURPS can work very well, but you have to remember that GURPS was designed as a universal system from the outset. D&D was not, nor is any retroclone based on D&D. Yet we're already seeing other old school games, like Mutant Future that use the Labyrinth Lord rules. I certainly can't fault Goblinoid Games for producing a game based on their own retroclone rule set, but I'd hate for everyone else to start doing it, too.
Consider this, then, a sober second thought about the need, and even the advisability, of jumping on the Rosetta Clone bandwagon. We might just end up killing the spirit of creativity and individuality upon which the OSR was founded.
Welcome Back to the Labyrinth
"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."
"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."
"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"
"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"