Looking at Microlite74
Microlite20, the ultra slim version of the d20 SRD, has been available for some time now, and it has been modded up and down so many ways that you can find a hundred different games using the same basic ideas, from westerns to space operas. It's nice, I've played it, but it wasn't until I sat down this last weekend and gave a version called Microlite74 a try that I truly appreciated its flexibility.
Designed by Randall Stukey, Microlite74 is a game with the familiar d20 conventions, but with an old-school flavor. Coming in three distinct booklets, each with a small overall page count, you can enjoy Microlite74 Basic, Standard, or Extended, each playing under different assumptions.
In Basic, you can play as Humans or the classic three Demi-Humans (Elves, Dwarves, Halflings) and there are three character classes, the Fighter, Cleric, and Magic-User. That's right, no thief (or rogue for those politically correct 3e players).
Standard increases the player races and classes, adds some extra combat rules (firing into melee, allowing a shield to be destroyed to negate all damage, etc.), and adds a bunch of new spells.
Extended has even more rules for combat, an alignment system, adds even more classes (Warlord? New bestest class ever?) and plays more like a trimmed down 3.5 than a modernized B/X.
And, included with these three rule subsets is a well-written book of variant rules. Optional rules like Vancian magic, a virtue system, a catch-all Adventurer class (recommended for swords and sorcery games), and even a basic Feats system and Psionics rules, each recommended for a different version of M74.
Overall, it's a charming package, well-written and clearly well-tested. The newest revision came out on October 1st and I did my best to scrounge up a quick game as soon as I was able. Gameplay was exceptionally easy to get into, although there was some unease about the idea of Magic-Users employer their HP to cast spells. In practice it worked very well, replacing that severely limiting per-day casting ritual with a more organic flow, yet still retaining most of the tension about whether or not to spend the HP now or later.
I ran Standard with some of the variant rules in the M74 Companion and it was very reminiscent of B/X with more of a modern flair in certain aspects, which my group liked a lot.
It won't be taking over our regular campaigns any time soon, but I might use it for my next play-by-post game, thanks to its availability and ease of use. I'm also thinking of having it replace B/X (through the Labyrinth Lord retroclone) as the game I use to introduce potential new gamers into the hobby.
And if you really enjoyed it, or just have a fondness for TSR-era D&D and a penchant for a decent cause, you might want to consider making a donation to Randall Stukey's cancer drive; he's offering some old TSR-era goodies for the highest donors.