Edition Wars – Does the edition you play really have an impact on the game?
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    Edition Wars – Does the edition you play really have an impact on the game?

    Hi All,

    The below was going to be handed into morrus as a pilot for a weekly article i wanted to start writing that looks into the cliches and myths in gaming but i fear time and my incredibly awful English would stop me from being able to hand one in every week. So i have instead posted it here to see if people enjoy reading my thoughts and see if anyone agrees with the points I raise.

    Hope You enjoy

    Terrya

    For the first 10 years of my gaming experience I was limited to a weekly game with my brother and father, always played with the same rules and does rules were always carried out by the same Dungeon Master. I may look back with rose tinted glasses but I remember us rarely having any issues. Other than the dungeon master none of us even knew what edition we were playing. I didn’t even know how the rules worked. I would just inform my father that I wanted to slash open the goblins guts or swim across the raging river and he would tell me what dice to roll and where to look on my very vague character sheet.

    In around 2008 my interest in role-playing had reached its peak and I begun quite religiously reading the forums here on En-world just in time to arrive for the release of 4th edition and the start of the edition wars, something I hope to take a look at here.

    Coming to these boards opened my mind to a whole new world and encouraged me to decide and go out and buy my own copy of the rulebooks. Normally this would think this a great thing, a young boy so infused by his hobby that he wants to learn more about the game he loves, sadly in my experience this was not the case. The first hurdle I came too was discovering there were 4 different versions of the game I was playing and more splat books than I would have ever imagined. For various reasons, the main being availability in my area, I ended up buying the 3 core books for 3.5, the edition that I very loosely follow to this day.

    I can still remember how exited I was when I got them home. I must of read them all, including the monster manual, cover to cover at least 10 times. As you can imagine by the time it came round to our next weekly game I was buzzing to tell my dad all about the new rules and asked if we could use them. He of course agreed and even spent the time finding an online character generator with me (e-tools) so that we could fit all the new rules on our character sheets.

    I remember the session that followed being the most depressing game of D&D I ever played and until this day wish I could apologise to my dad in some way. I remember telling him he had done every monster wrong, constantly reminded him of my class trait that gave +1 damage and in general arguing with him constantly as I felt I knew the rules better. It became more important for me that we played the game properly and by the book than whether I was enjoying it or if the story line was gripping.

    The next year of gaming for us followed a very similar pattern to that game until my dad finally decided he had had enough of it and our game that had lasted most of a lifetime came to an end. We did eventually sit down to play another game, I had tempted my dad back with the idea of trying out 4E. All 3 of us subscribed to D&D Insider, generated our characters and set out ready for another adventure.

    The one rule my dad had given us for playing was that none of us where to read the rules before playing, as to avoid the issues that had stopped us playing together in the first place.

    At first it worked well, none of us were to fond of the encounter based combat and the default setting of 4ED early modules but my Dad was a strong enough DM to work with these new rules and with slight tweeks to the written material provided us with an amazing adventure that really got us exited about playing again. Unfortunately however it was doomed to not last, with the invention of the internet it was far to easy and tempting for me to get my own copy of 4E and read all of the edition war threads on the internet and discover I was a die hard 3.5 fan – and so the war begun anew in our house. My dad refusing to play 3.5 due to my behavior, me refusing to play 4ED because of the mechanics, ignoring the fact we had already played an amazing adventure using 4ED rules!

    That was the ending of my gaming career until quite recently. A friend of mine approached me asking if I would DM a game for him, his brother and a group of his friends. They are all die hard warhammer fans that had heard of D&D and were interested in giving it a go but had no idea how it all worked! I jumped at the chance and decided to bring my brother along too. The game that has developed out of it has been an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything and has grown to a weekly game of at least 9 people. The simple way I have achieved this is by pretty much removing rules from the game. At no point have I told people what edition were playing and when people level up just talk to them about what they’d like their character to be able to do and then produce their character sheets centrally.

    What I have found doing this has provided is people no longer focus on the rules and whether I’ve remembered their +1 damage from the bard singing but instead they focus on the story and come up with far more imaginative ways of dealing with situations. I find for a game of dungeons and dragons you do not need rules as anything but a guideline, something I’m sure Gary him self would agree with. To many rules do nothing but subtract from a game something I wish wizards of the coast would learn.

    Now to the point, from the above experiences I have really come to learn that to argue which edition is better is entirely pointless. Every gaming table will have its own version of the rules they play any way! By allowing the rules to become so important your doing nothing but subtracting from your game as no system released to date is without glaring faults! I would strongly suggest that any new DM starting should review all 4 editions, find which seems to speak to him more and then move and edit from there. I would also suggest that in gaming we need to get back to the days were players weren’t even allowed to read the rulebooks! It seems silly but rules do nothing but limit the imagination and are there for the DM to worry about.

    I truly believe that a better business model for wizards to follow would be to stop working on another pointless new edition and focus more on the material we actually care about and what made dungeons and dragons so brilliant, the settings! If wizards were to come forward and release completely edition free modules and settings like greyhawk with guidelines of the power levels of certain people I feel it would be a huge step in the right direction. They’d suddenly discover them selves appealing to the entire gaming market instead of trying to pigeon hole is into all playing the same way, something that is an incredibly poorly disguised attempt at turning Dungeons and Dragons into a souly online medium. The fan base just does not transfer in the way their hoping and they need to learn to accept that and stop going against the fan base.

    Apologies for the incredibly long way of making the point but I feel the background helps people to understand where I’m coming from. I truly no longer understand how people can argue about editions when their an irrelevance to table top gaming and live in hope for the day wizards of the coast read this article and learn that lesson themselves. The way to unite the gamers again is not to release the perfect edition we all want to play, it’s to learn that edition and system is simply irrelevant!
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  2. #2
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    Edition has certainly mattered in my games. I lost players due to the broken rules (kits) of 2E. The extreme imbalance of some kits (bladesinger, for example), really turned off some of my players.

    No such issues with 3E/Pathfinder.
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  3. #3
    I can see where you're coming from to some degree; the rules do often get in the way of the story.

    However, many people LOVE the mini-games of character optimization and combat. They would be sadly lost in your game, without anything to optimize or strategize.

    Also, by forcing people to rely entirely on the DM, you put a great burden on yourself. And the players have to trust you a LOT.

    Not that your way is wrong for your group; but my players would not participate. For them, part of the pleasure of playing a GAME is in the level of control they have over their characters. Same here. It's partly why I am almost always the DM; I want greater control. But I want them to have narrative control over, and ownership of, their characters.

    I don't care (much) WHAT edition it is - but I've got to KNOW!

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    Edition matters. It's not the only thing that matters, or even the most important, but it matters.

    I would much rather play 4e with a good group than play 3.5e with a poor group. But I'd rather play 3.5e with a good group than play 4e with that same group.

  5. #5
    You're mixing two questions.

    1: Does system matter?
    2: Should the players know the rules?

    1: I'd argue that the answer is emphatically yes. System matters - but ultimately all D&D versions are close together as far as systems go.

    2: Should the players know the rules? It depends on the players. If I don't have a clear idea of my chance of success I twitch. Badly. I think at my table I and one other player would hate not knowing the rules and would reverse engineer as much as possible - and at least one would be happier without.

    (Should the players know the Monster Manual? No.)

    But I think you need to try is a good narrative ruleset. I'd start with a game or two of Dread and one or two of Dogs in the Vineyard for the extremes in that style. And then move to something like Leverage or Marvel Superheroes. In terms of showing what can be done with a game system to enhance roleplaying, D&D is extremely unambitious. (Mostly because it got to the field first, and the games I'm talking about have built on that foundation whereas D&D hasn't strayed too far).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Neonchameleon View Post
    2: Should the players know the rules? It depends on the players. If I don't have a clear idea of my chance of success I twitch. Badly. I think at my table I and one other player would hate not knowing the rules and would reverse engineer as much as possible - and at least one would be happier without.

    (Should the players know the Monster Manual? No.)
    In a group (my Sunday game for ex) where everyone takes a turn as the DM how would that even work?
    How would that work when I'm just a player in someone else's game? Like say the CoS game at the local shop.

  7. #7
    System Does Not Matter makes sense from a particular perspective. I don't believe it is really an argument that system does not literally matter though. There is a particular vein of role playing game design, popularized by Vampire - The Masquerade that defines role playing games so strictly that there is really only one system that all role playing games fall under. It's pretty much a thin veneer over freeform roleplaying. The basic conceit is fairly simple. The GM has a story in mind before play even begins. During play the GM presents a situation. Players declare actions for their characters. The GM decides what the fallout of those actions will be with an eye towards his plot. The key element here is that players are supposed to pretend that the presented game rules matter. There will be dice involved sometimes, but that is simply to maintain the illusion that players decisions and what's on the character sheet matters. It does not. It might be taken into consideration, but that is ultimately up to the GM. A convenient short hand for the way these games operate is Stat + Skill = Whatever. The Whatever meaning a number the GM pulls from his butt, and can arbitrarily change if it suits his or her purpose before or after the roll.

    The key selling points of Stat + Skill = Whatever games is not the game, but rather copious amounts of setting material that fans can pore over. Actual Play is focused on trying to puzzle out what the GM wants players to do, providing color or characterization, and applying elaborate setting knowledge. Don't get me wrong - these roleplaying games are still games. They just happen to fundamentally be the same game. It's a play style that is pretty close to a tabletop version of Zork.

    Other examples of this philosophy of role playing game design include Numenera, Shadowrun, Legend of the 5 Rings, and AD&D 2e - especially towards the end of its life cycle. Planescape, Dark Sun, and Ravenloft were pretty much TSR aping White Wolf. 5e seems to push this way sometimes, but there is some respect for OSR related play styles.
    Last edited by Campbell; Friday, 10th February, 2017 at 06:39 AM.
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  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Campbell View Post
    System Does Not Matter makes sense from a particular perspective. I don't believe it is really an argument that system does not literally matter though. There is a particular vein of role playing game design, popularized by Vampire - The Masquerade that defines role playing games so strictly that there is really only one system that all role playing games fall under. It's pretty much a thin veneer over freeform roleplaying. The basic conceit is fairly simple. The GM has a story in mind before play even begins. During play the GM presents a situation. Players declare actions for their characters. The GM decides what the fallout of those actions will be with an eye towards his plot. The key element here is that players are supposed to pretend that the presented game rules matter. There will be dice involved sometimes, but that is simply to maintain the illusion that players decisions and what's on the character sheet matters. It does not. It might be taken into consideration, but that is ultimately up to the GM. A convenient short hand for the way these games operate is Stat + Skill = Whatever. The Whatever meaning a number the GM pulls from his butt, and can arbitrarily change if it suits his or her purpose before or after the roll.

    The key selling points of Stat + Skill = Whatever games is not the game, but rather copious amounts of setting material that fans can pore over. Actual Play is focused on trying to puzzle out what the GM wants players to do, providing color or characterization, and applying elaborate setting knowledge. Don't get me wrong - these roleplaying games are still games. They just happen to fundamentally be the same game. It's a play style that is pretty close to a tabletop version of Zork.

    Other examples of this philosophy of role playing game design include Numenera, Shadowrun, Legend of the 5 Rings, and AD&D 2e - especially towards the end of its life cycle. Planescape, Dark Sun, and Ravenloft were pretty much TSR aping White Wolf. 5e seems to push this way sometimes, but there is some respect for OSR related play styles.
    I must say my experiences with OSR play (and my increasingly vague memories of the early 80's) don't indicate any great difference at all. Does it matter if the GM "pulls the number from his butt" during play, days earlier when writing the adventure, or if he gets it from a published adventure designer who pulled it from his butt? I don't feel my experience changes much one way or the other. Is it somehow less of a railroad if the adventure starts at the entrance of a well-defined dungeon? My experiences with "sandbox" GMs (even back in the day) lead me to perceive that "playstyle" as existing mostly in the DM's self-conception of his creative process, not in play from the player's perspective. At best, it is a difference in scale, not character, IMO.

    I tend to think of the trend you seem to be noting mostly as one related to the marketing and audience perception of rpgs, not really any profound change in design. I believe players became enamored of the idea that they were "creating a story together" or whatever else you might find in the introduction section of those game. Heck, for that matter, efforts like the Forge were a response to the disappointment players felt when these games routinely failed to deliver on that promise.

    Now, that being said, I do feel that system matters, but the traditional rpg structure doesn't usually vary in structure enough to stop the kind of effects you seem to be alluding to here. At best, it tweaks the experience one way or another. (Which can be very effective at evoking settings, etc.) My experiences with every edition of D&D (to get back to the original topic) have been relatively similar, with 4e being the outlier (I found the detail/intensity of the tactical game distracting). I have played and ran an (apparently) very wide variety of other rpgs with wildly different structure, so my sense in this regard may be colored by those comparisons. To really "break" the general habit of rpgs (which even my beloved Fate falls very close to) seems to require breaking that basic structure.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Campbell View Post
    System Does Not Matter makes sense from a particular perspective. I don't believe it is really an argument that system does not literally matter though. There is a particular vein of role playing game design, popularized by Vampire - The Masquerade that defines role playing games so strictly that there is really only one system that all role playing games fall under. It's pretty much a thin veneer over freeform roleplaying. The basic conceit is fairly simple. The GM has a story in mind before play even begins. During play the GM presents a situation. Players declare actions for their characters. The GM decides what the fallout of those actions will be with an eye towards his plot. The key element here is that players are supposed to pretend that the presented game rules matter. There will be dice involved sometimes, but that is simply to maintain the illusion that players decisions and what's on the character sheet matters. It does not. It might be taken into consideration, but that is ultimately up to the GM. A convenient short hand for the way these games operate is Stat + Skill = Whatever. The Whatever meaning a number the GM pulls from his butt, and can arbitrarily change if it suits his or her purpose before or after the roll.

    The key selling points of Stat + Skill = Whatever games is not the game, but rather copious amounts of setting material that fans can pore over. Actual Play is focused on trying to puzzle out what the GM wants players to do, providing color or characterization, and applying elaborate setting knowledge. Don't get me wrong - these roleplaying games are still games. They just happen to fundamentally be the same game. It's a play style that is pretty close to a tabletop version of Zork.

    Other examples of this philosophy of role playing game design include Numenera, Shadowrun, Legend of the 5 Rings, and AD&D 2e - especially towards the end of its life cycle. Planescape, Dark Sun, and Ravenloft were pretty much TSR aping White Wolf. 5e seems to push this way sometimes, but there is some respect for OSR related play styles.
    Good post.

    System matters and it matters in very important ways. I think one of the easiest ways to demonstrate this is the following:

    System 1:

    1) Very focused GMing ethos. Very transparent, simple, yet robust procedures of play and resolution mechanics. Well-integrated reward cycle.
    2) A clear directive to “follow the rules” which constrains GM latitude.
    3) The predicate of the game’s design being that the synthesis of 1 and 2 perpetuates genre coherent action and archetypal PC actions as a result of merely playing the game.

    System 2:

    1) Very broad/abstract GMing ethos (“have fun…make an exciting story”). Granular, complex, sometimes-at-tension procedures of play and resolution mechanics that may come with unintended, downstream knock-on effects (mechanically or to genre expectations). Mildly incoherent or somewhat askew reward cycle.
    2) A clear directive to the GM to “ignore the rules or the results of them as you see fit” which emboldens ultimate GM latitude over the action and resultant fiction.
    3) The predicate of the game’s design being that GMs drive games, rules get in the way as often or more often than they help, and players are there to casually soak up a good time no matter how it is derived.

    Those two systems are different in a myriad of ways. The play (and prep) experience for the GMs, for the players, and the actual output of play are quite distinct from one another.
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    Do you remember Animaniacs? "Good Idea, Bad Idea?" I find myself thinking about it, right now, for some reason.

    Quote Originally Posted by Manbearcat View Post
    System 1, System 2 ...

    The play (and prep) experience for the GMs, for the players, and the actual output of play are quite distinct from one another.
    Sure, as a GM, for instance, I could pick up System 1, and deliver a System 2 experience to my players - I won't say 'easily,' my 'prep' experience might be quite different & it depends on what experience the players want, but I could do so with confidence.
    I wouldn't claim the reverse.
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