Yeah, I can't bear to finish that post title.
So, being that I'm blogging about tabletop games and I read other blogs about the same, I am hip deep in retro-clonage.
Castles & Crusades is the first one I heard about, though it's not really a clone per se. Rather, it has the intentions that it's test tube brethren have, but without the insistence on reproduction. I was going to buy a copy, until I heard about OSRIC. From the OSRIC page, I heard about Labyrinth Lord, then Basic FRP, then Microlite 74 (which is also not technically a clone but you get the idea...)
I have downloaded every free retro clone that I have heard about. I won't lie to you; I haven't read them all, and none of them have I read in entirety except OSRIC 2.0. (Which actually inspired my earlier post on level limits) I juggled them half-heartedly, half-confused, wondering why I should even bother with any of this since I have a copy of the Rules Cyclopedia on my bookshelf. (Well, OSRIC would still be worth a look, as I don't have AD&D1e) People started tossing around names like Moldvay and Cook and Mentzer and Holmes. Holmes I recognized, having read his book on frpgs, but who where these other guys? What happened to Gary and Dave?! What the hell is BECMI?!
Time, Google, and several websites revealed all to me. As I read about these clones and which clone was aping which rule set, I started to wonder, in that paranoid way that I wonder, if the Rules Cyclopedia was "real" D&D, or if Weapon Mastery and the mystic and thieves checking for noise with percentile dice had really somehow corrupted the game. Hell, were thieves themselves inherently a corruption? Thief doesn't seem to have many friends in the grog-blogosphere lately.
When I came across Swords & Wizardry, I downloaded it and filed it away in that little folder on my desktop that is packed with free retro-clones. I wondered how different it would be from the others sitting on my hard drive. Perhaps a better way to say it would be, what does it have that all the others don't have? (Since they're all a little, or in some cases a lot, different from one another) Then I heard some talk of a "white box" version of Swords & Wizardy, which peeled the rules back even further.
My first reaction, honestly was "oh, for fuck's sake." I started reading through it. Using Strength as a bonus to hit and damage was an optional rule. Again, I thought, "what the fuck?" But as I read on, I kept noticing all these little side bars and suggestions. Critical Hits. Hybrid elf fighter/magic-users. Dexterity modifiers to missile combat and AC. Changing the basic assumptions of alignment. Elves were presented as being one of many origins decided by the DM, rather than the default Tolkien-esque stand-ins. I read further. Banshees were presented as fey or undead but not definitively either.
Dang. A light bulb went off.
In this Old School Renaissance, everyone is publishing his idea of old school D&D. Sometimes thieves hear noise with a d6, sometimes with percentile dice. Sometimes the thief isn't even a class at all. Elves switch between magic-user and fighter, or alternatively are both at once. Clerics get a spell at first level. Clerics don't get a spell at first level. To crit or not to crit, ditto with fumbles.
Swords & Wizardy White Box is the barest of the bare bones (as far as I know), but it provides bits you can "snap on" to flavor the game to your taste. Hell, there was even a suggestion for ascending armor class, which some grognards consider tantamount to heresy. S&WWB seems to somehow encompass everybody's D&D. I can't express how much I liked the "add on" feel of S&WWB. I feel like it really espouses what the Old School Renaissance is trying to do.
Of course, should I run it, I will be pasting in the thief, with percentile Hear Noise, right out of the Rules Cyclopedia. (I might use Weapon Mastery, too...so nyah.)
In the end, I think it honestly doesn't matter what retro-clone you pick. Your D&D probably varied drastically from any of the retro-clones, each representing someone's idea of D&D from basement memories of yesteryear. Even the thief started off as a house rule. I guess that no version of D&D is "pure", unless someone manages to find Dave or Gary's moldering old notebook and publish a simulacrum of that, complete with coffee stains or whatnot. Some of the clones reproduce the rules, and some like Micro and Basic and C&C are chasing an intent rather than trying to resurrect the Rules As Written(or whatever version of the whole White Box/BECMI/Moldvay etc etc etc you consider to be the real deal) There is no "authentic" version of D&D, and there is no One True Way. Hell, the idea of there being no true path is one of the pillars that traditional gaming was founded on.
By the way, I have nothing but respect for the writers of every game I mentioned here, just so we're clear. This post was less of a "who produced the best clone" and more of a thought exercise where I free myself of the need to feel that I need to discover the holy grail of "authentic" OD&D, which I now believe does not really exist.