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TSR A New Taxonomy for TSR-Era D&D

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
I started with BECMI then AD&D 1st and 2nd edition after that and i remember we ended up using a mismash melting pot of bagel everything! 2E races, 1E Barbarian, OA, THAC0, RC, Proficiencies, Kits, high mastery rules from 2.5 etc . At the end we were ready for a more unified ruleset and finally moved to 3E in 2000!
 

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I'm always confused by the terminology of pre-WoTC editions. In my mind there is classic D&D where elves dwarves and halflings are classes and AD&D where they aren't but there still is THAC0. 🤷‍♀️
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I'm always confused by the terminology of pre-WoTC editions. In my mind there is classic D&D where elves dwarves and halflings are classes and AD&D where they aren't but there still is THAC0. 🤷‍♀️

So, that's the weird distinction.

OD&D did not have race as class. That was entirely Moldvay (and the Basic line).

It gets confusing because OD&D had such severe restrictions for classes for demi-humans, that people often conflated that with the later "race as class."
 

So, that's the weird distinction.

OD&D did not have race as class. That was entirely Moldvay (and the Basic line).

It gets confusing because OD&D had such severe restrictions for classes for demi-humans, that people often conflated that with the later "race as class."
Yeah, I think my confusion comes from never being exposed to OD&D.
 

So, that's the weird distinction.

OD&D did not have race as class. That was entirely Moldvay (and the Basic line).

It gets confusing because OD&D had such severe restrictions for classes for demi-humans, that people often conflated that with the later "race as class."
It's funny how that has changed. In OD&D, if you wanted to play even mid-level, you almost by necessity had to be a human (unless you were playing a thief, or, as was often the case, playing with modified or ignored level limit rules). Whole parties would be nothing but humans. These days, there might not be a single human in a party!
 

Big picture, if we take the text at face value and treat D&D and AD&D as two separate games, each can be broadly divided into two eras: AD&D obviously has its 1st Edition (or as the text of 2nd Edition was wont to call it instead, "Original Edition") and its 2nd Edition. While D&D has its own Original Edition (the LBBs, the supplements, the Holmes Basic Set), and its "2nd Edition," what's commonly called Classic D&D (the Moldvay/Cook, Mentzer, and Denning/Allston revisions).

I personally see no problem with treating D&D and AD&D as separate games, while at the same time recognizing that AD&D is little more than a clarification and reorganization of original (LBB + Supplements) D&D.

But it does highlight another way to look at the "eras" of the game, not as discrete blocks, but as overlapping trends on a grand (and, for a time, branching and reconverging) continuum. When we set aside editions and revisions as a marker of delineation, we can still see some general developments that cut across edition lines. I've argued in the past that there's an era devoted to challenge-based play (1974~1984), an era that sees the rise of focus on character and setting (1985~1994), an era that codifies character customization (1995~2003), an era that focuses on tactics and balance (2004~2010), and a modern era (since 2011, and mostly marked by D&D flailing about to find its identity again).

The half-editions and midpoint course-corrections, in other words, can often tell us something interesting about the culture of play at the time (while also demonstrating how new editions and revisions of the mainline, Advanced and Advanced-descended D&D game have always gone about overcorrecting for perceived mistakes of the past).

Modlvay is not based off of Holmes (race as class, etc.).

Which is exactly why Holmes Basic hobbits have six-sided hit dice and Moldvay Basic describes the first three experience levels of play. :rolleyes:

I'd say the current connections of D&D are closer to the BX and BECMI versions than AD&D. Many feel that D&D 3e was the next version of AD&D, but in my opinion, it heralded a LOT MORE from BECMI and BX.
Saying that 3rd edition is an evolution of RC rather than AD&D second edition is weird. All the races, classes, and spells have continuity between 2nd edition and 3rd.

3rd edition shares some actual verbatim text with 2nd edition.
 

Rabulias

Hero
I'd say the current connections of D&D are closer to the BX and BECMI versions than AD&D. Many feel that D&D 3e was the next version of AD&D, but in my opinion, it heralded a LOT MORE from BECMI and BX.
Strong disagreement here. Exhibit A: When D&D 3e was released, Wizards released a free conversion booklet to convert characters from AD&D 2e to D&D 3e. They did not release a similar book for BECMI or BX.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Which is exactly why Holmes Basic hobbits have six-sided hit dice and Moldvay Basic describes the first three experience levels of play. :rolleyes:

Just stop. You are using a singly similarity despite the manifest differences. This is the worst type of post.

Moldvay is "race as class."

Holmes (and OD&D) is not race as class.

Holmes does include specific rules about halflings as fighting men- they get d6 (instead of d8) hit points, and they can't use "regular" human sized weapons and armor. The reason for this (and the elf rules as well) is because Holmes was creating a compendium and simplification of the OD&D rules.

Importantly, these rules were considered a bridge between OD&D and AD&D - this is why Holmes had inserts put into that specifically say that rules for advancing beyond 3rd level are to be found in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons; that was the entire point of the split nomenclature. It also had the more advanced proto-AD&D system (the seven-point system).

Then there are the contemporaneous references:
"Organizational work was in progress when correspondence with J. Eric Holmes, professor, author and incidentally a respected neurologist, disclosed that the Good Doctor was interested in undertaking the first stage of the project — the rewriting and editing necessary to extract a beginner’s set of D&D from the basic set and its supplements. The result of his labors is the “Basic Set” of D&D." -Gygax, May 1978 (written earlier)

"As we realized that “Original” D&D (the first three booklets and the supplements) wasn’t anywhere near adequate for the needs of the readership it was attracting, it was decided that a simplified, clarified, introductory piece was needed. Shortly after this was decided, as if by divine inspiration, J. Eric Holmes got in touch with us and actually volunteered his services for just such an undertaking. All of you know the result, of course.”

"By the time the final manuscript from Eric was in our hands, the rough of the Monster Manual was also finished, rough outlines of Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide were typed up, and several portions of both works were likewise in manuscript form. We had two choices to consider with the new Basic Set: As it took players only through three experience levels, they could thereafter be directed to the “original” works, or we could refer them to AD&D ... Faced with a choice between chaos and a clean slate, we opted for the latter.

"Pieces and parts of the various components of AD&D were grafted into the Basic Set rules manuscript so that D&D would be more compatible with the Advanced game. Readers were directed to AD&D throughout the Basic Set ... our production people had no idea then just how well it would all work out in the end, because much of the AD&D system was still on rough notes or in my head at the time. It turned out to be relatively acceptable as an interim measure, too." Gygax, March 1980 (written earlier)


It's pretty simple- Holmes Basic is OD&D. More specifically, I will quote @zenopus (probably one of the best people to ask about Holmes Basic) who said this on a different forum:
Personally I love the simplicity of the Original D&D rules for running games, and consider Holmes Basic to be his take on OD&D.

So if you agree with what is the most uncontroversial point of all time, that Holmes Basic is a reiteration of OD&D, then you have to ask yourself-
Is AD&D, which is essentially an expansion of OD&D by including the many supplements and rules that Gygax had come up with, the inheritor of the OD&D line, or is Moldvay Basic (and BECMI, RC).

Given that AD&D and the AD&D PHB (and the other books, Deities and Demigods, the DMG, etc.) explicitly include the materials from the supplements (!!!!) and the Dragon Magazine articles, while Moldvay is a simplified and re-imagined system (which is excellent, but different than where OD&D ended up going), then it's pretty obvious that AD&D, from race-as-class to everything else is the OD&D line.

But whatever, man. If it's super important for you to reiterate your points, why don't you create your own thread where you can say, yet again, that Holmes's halfling fighters only had d6 hit points? Thanks!
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
In the immortal words of me, "Never use 100 words when a 10,000 word post with multiple digressions and nonsensical quotes would suffice."
Man, you weren't kidding :D :D
Just stop. You are using a singly similarity despite the manifest differences. This is the worst type of post.

Moldvay is "race as class."

Holmes (and OD&D) is not race as class.

Holmes does include specific rules about halflings as fighting men- they get d6 (instead of d8) hit points, and they can't use "regular" human sized weapons and armor. The reason for this (and the elf rules as well) is because Holmes was creating a compendium and simplification of the OD&D rules.

Importantly, these rules were considered a bridge between OD&D and AD&D - this is why Holmes had inserts put into that specifically say that rules for advancing beyond 3rd level are to be found in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons; that was the entire point of the split nomenclature. It also had the more advanced proto-AD&D system (the seven-point system).

Then there are the contemporaneous references:
"Organizational work was in progress when correspondence with J. Eric Holmes, professor, author and incidentally a respected neurologist, disclosed that the Good Doctor was interested in undertaking the first stage of the project — the rewriting and editing necessary to extract a beginner’s set of D&D from the basic set and its supplements. The result of his labors is the “Basic Set” of D&D." -Gygax, May 1978 (written earlier)

"As we realized that “Original” D&D (the first three booklets and the supplements) wasn’t anywhere near adequate for the needs of the readership it was attracting, it was decided that a simplified, clarified, introductory piece was needed. Shortly after this was decided, as if by divine inspiration, J. Eric Holmes got in touch with us and actually volunteered his services for just such an undertaking. All of you know the result, of course.”

"By the time the final manuscript from Eric was in our hands, the rough of the Monster Manual was also finished, rough outlines of Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide were typed up, and several portions of both works were likewise in manuscript form. We had two choices to consider with the new Basic Set: As it took players only through three experience levels, they could thereafter be directed to the “original” works, or we could refer them to AD&D ... Faced with a choice between chaos and a clean slate, we opted for the latter.

"Pieces and parts of the various components of AD&D were grafted into the Basic Set rules manuscript so that D&D would be more compatible with the Advanced game. Readers were directed to AD&D throughout the Basic Set ... our production people had no idea then just how well it would all work out in the end, because much of the AD&D system was still on rough notes or in my head at the time. It turned out to be relatively acceptable as an interim measure, too." Gygax, March 1980 (written earlier)


It's pretty simple- Holmes Basic is OD&D. More specifically, I will quote @zenopus (probably one of the best people to ask about Holmes Basic) who said this on a different forum:
Personally I love the simplicity of the Original D&D rules for running games, and consider Holmes Basic to be his take on OD&D.

So if you agree with what is the most uncontroversial point of all time, that Holmes Basic is a reiteration of OD&D, then you have to ask yourself-
Is AD&D, which is essentially an expansion of OD&D by including the many supplements and rules that Gygax had come up with, the inheritor of the OD&D line, or is Moldvay Basic (and BECMI, RC).

Given that AD&D and the AD&D PHB (and the other books, Deities and Demigods, the DMG, etc.) explicitly include the materials from the supplements (!!!!) and the Dragon Magazine articles, while Moldvay is a simplified and re-imagined system (which is excellent, but different than where OD&D ended up going), then it's pretty obvious that AD&D, from race-as-class to everything else is the OD&D line.

But whatever, man. If it's super important for you to reiterate your points, why don't you create your own thread? Thanks!
 


@Snarf Zagyg — Your wall of quotations (all of which I was already quite familiar with, TYVM) does not justify your outlandish claim that Moldvay Basic is somehow not a revision of Holmes Basic. What would you have us believe: that Moldvay Basic sprang into being ex nihilo? That the Cook/Marsh Expert Set isn't likewise a direct revision of the white box (as if the clerical spell progression wasn't evidence enough of that)?

Is AD&D, which is essentially an expansion of OD&D by including the many supplements and rules that Gygax had come up with, the inheritor of the OD&D line, or is Moldvay Basic (and BECMI, RC).

Obviously Moldvay/Cook, Mentzer, and Denning/Allston are the games that directly inherited original D&D's title and position within TSR's publishing catalog. (That it's so because of Arneson-related legal matters isn't relevant.) That doesn't take away from Holmes being the introduction to OD&D or AD&D being an expansion and codification of OD&D, but it's nevertheless a fact—at least as far as the texts themselves are concerned.

TakeThat.png


Feel free to block me again in another fit of pique if you must, but it won't change what's right there in black and white (or fugly sky blue and white, as the case may be).
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
The issue at hand is so basic (ahem) it's not even worth making a separate long thread. And I do those at the drop of a hat. As I wrote in the OP-

Holmes (1977) Strangely, Holmes Basic is NOT "Basic" D&D like Moldvay and Mentzer, but is OD&D. Specifically, it was supposed to be a codification, for beginners (a "basic" ruleset) of the OD&D rules, and ended up having a tacked-on introduction to 1e.

None of this is, or should be, in dispute. This is what Holmes was tasked with (re-doing OD&D into a basic set) and the published version explicitly references the upcoming AD&D. It was akin to what we would now call a "starter set."

Moreover, the version of OD&D that was being played when Holmes and the MM/PHB were released was pretty advanced; those advances were codified in many ways in the PHB. The core PHB AD&D classes were ... OD&D classes.
Assassin? Blackmoor supplement.
Bard? Strategic Review v. 2 #1.
Cleric? Men & Magic.
Druid? Eldritch Wizardry.
Illusionist? Strategic Review v. 1 #4.
Fighter? Chainmail, Men & Magic.
Magic User? Chainmail, Men & Magic.
Monk? Blackmoor.
Paladin? Greyhawk.
Ranger? Strategic Review, v. 1 #2.
Thief? Great Plains Newsletter #9, Greyhawk.

Everything, from race-is-not-class, to the artifacts and relics, to the psionics- that was all OD&D. AD&D is (re-written, advanced, codified) OD&D. It's not that hard. And since Holmes is OD&D (that is what he was supposed to write), it's all part of the same lineage.

Which brings up the question- what is the Moldvay line? How is it that it resembles D&D so closely? Well, um ... BECAUSE IT'S D&D???? I mean, it's pretty hard to get more ... basic ... than that!

Of course, underlying all of this is the lawsuit between Arneson and TSR. This timeline is confirmed by just looking at the dates.

In 1980, Gygax confirmed in Dragon that there would be an upcoming expansion of the Holmes' basic rules into expert rules. At the same time, B2 began to be packaged with the Holmes set (notably, B2 was written with OD&D rules- not B/X).

At some time between that notification and 1981, the story changed, and Moldvay wrote the "new" basic set. Importantly, and this is for background- the whole concept behind "basic sets" was explicated; that they were to introduce players to playing D&D (AD&D). So, if this was the case, then why did Moldvay/Cook (and later Mentzer with BECMI) have a completely separate route than the earlier OD&D/AD&D line?

EDIT- just checked and confirmed; the settlement was in March 1981. Given the amount of time these negotiations would take to finalize, and the amount of time between the initial filing and the settlement, the timeline fits that the switch from the original plan of just having an expansion to Holmes to having Moldvay rush out a new Basic set in 1981 that credited both Gygax and Arneson was part of the settlement negotiations.

Well, the settlement regarding royalties arguably played the major part. It is generally accepted that Arneson received 2.5% of the AD&D royalties (from 5% of the OD&D royalties), but TSR was required to keep a separate version in print with the original royalties; hence, the sudden need for a forked version. Therefore, the basic line.

Which is why you end up with the confusion; AD&D is the OD&D line, as the additional supplements and articles during the 70s shows. It's pretty simple. The Moldvay/Cook line developed into a separate system (BECMI, RC) because the entire purpose was to look back to the LBBs (the Arneson originals), simplify them (race as class, etc.), and from that starting point ... the game eventually branched off even further.

(Final side note- @Rob Kuntz once remarked here that Arneson made much more from his royalties than did Gygax, so there's that)
 
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GreyLord

Hero
Strong disagreement here. Exhibit A: When D&D 3e was released, Wizards released a free conversion booklet to convert characters from AD&D 2e to D&D 3e. They did not release a similar book for BECMI or BX.

If we go by that logic, the Rules Compendium was based on AD&D 2e as they released a free conversion for RC characters to AD&D. (edit: just for the record, I don't believe this, just pointing out that a conversion does not mean that it's necessarily what something is based off of...but more along what it is percieved the be the more popular...and ironically, converting a character from BECMI/BX to 3e is probably going to be truer to the actual character than converting one from AD&D).

3e had a LOT of things that are FAR closer to BX/BECMI/RC than it does to AD&D. For example, just starting at the basics...

If we go by the basics...AD&D had bonuses that started at 16 for most ability scores, and 15 for two for many things. It restricted numbers of spells known, and percentages to know spells as well as number of henchmen based on ability scores. It had percentile strength.

BX/BECMI/RC had ability score bonuses start at 13. They went up by +1 every division (from +1 to +3 at 18). They were universal in where the bonuses started in their tiers (13-15, 16-17, 18) for all scores.

3e also has bonuses start lower, one lower than BECMI. It starts at 12. It goes up a +1 for ever division (12-13, 14-15, 16-17, 18-18). They are universal in where the bonuses start in their tiers for all scores.

And that's just the starters, but it's a pretty major basic foundation to have in a closer similarity to BX/BECMI/RC than AD&D.
 

Orius

Adventurer
With those editions in mind, many people roughly separate the editions of D&D, and thus the eras of TSR, into:
Main Line
OD&D & Holmes Basic (1974-1978)
1e (1978-1989)
2e (1989 - 2000)

Basic Line
Moldvay (1981 - 1983)
Mentzer (1983 - 1994)
RC (1994 - 2000)

That's fairly typical, though I usually count OD&D and Holmes as separate from AD&D. AD&D did grow out of OD&D to be sure, but I see AD&D and the classic D&D game as two separate forks from the original. Holmes is mostly an introductory product for OD&D regardless of the occasional references to AD&D, and some of that's probably the result of Gary and Dave's legal disputes.

1e and 2e are both AD&D. Some 1e aficionados refuse to accept any part of 2e, but they're both AD&D anyway. Every single one of my 2e books says AD&D on the cover, no matter what the grognards like or dislike.

I refer to the Basic game as Classic D&D to differentiate it from 3e and onward which I group together as Modern D&D. All of them had more than just the Basic set, though Mentzer saw the most development more or less. The RC had its own Basic set in the form of the Black Box which was meant as a new starting point for the game at the time, and there were a few introductory products that were marketed as expansions for the Black Box. After a while, players were encouraged to move up to the RC and the Challenger level products that were being marketed to the more experienced players of D&D. That stuff only lasted about 2 years though because by then, 2e had grown far more popular.

And that's definitely one way of looking at it! But the more conversations I have, the more I think about it, the more I hear about the experiences of other players, and the more I look at the products and the ethos of different times of TSR, the more I think that this isn't the best, or easiest, way to think about it.
...
2. Snarf's Stupendous Sorting System.

I propose sorting the TSR era into three separate times as follows:

1. 1974- 1984 Early D&D (aka, the Gygax Era)
This is the founding era, when the game evolved from OD&D to 1e. We have a certain unity of art, and it was the "classic" era look (Otus, Trampier, Dee). Moldvay and Cook still was more widespread than Mentzer (which was coming on strong, as it was published in 1983). The majority of the classic modules were pumped out, as well as some deeply weird stuff for the time (Barrier Peaks, the Wonderland modules, and so on).

2. 1985 - 1994 Modern 1e (aka, the Zeb era)
I would actually say that the real beginning of 2e started with a good book and a bad book (my judgment, not fact). OA by Zeb Cook, despite not aging well in many ways, introduced a lot of game concepts that would make their way into 2e, such as NWPs and dex-based melee characters (the 2e ranger). UA, by Gygax, was a cash-grab consisting of Dragon Magazine articles, that seriously unbalanced the game (this is a trend in the history of D&D). That said, concepts from it also continued on throughout D&D. Most importantly, this is the time period that we saw the ouster of Gygax from TSR, and a completely new direction in the art department- this is the time of Elmore, Easley, Parkinson, Caldwell, and so on. We began to see increased emphasis on settings (first with hardcover rulebooks, like GHA and DLA, and later with boxed sets). The expansive character options in UA later saw light again as player-facing kits, in various handbooks. Continued support of the Mentzer line and Gazetteers. Not to mention Planescape.

3. 1995 - 2000 The Decline (Emptying the Cupboard)
Finally, there's the end. How about reprinting all of the BECMI stuff as the RC? How about reprinting the PHB and DMG? People like those kits, right? How about we just give them all sorts of player options-combat, spells, whatever? I don't mean to demean the products that good people were producing (Birthright, for example, came out in 1995) but by this point, we are looking at 20 years of roughly the same mechanics, and a company that was circling the drain.
I actually agree with that to some degree, though I have a somewhat different take on things. But the shifts in D&D generally don't take place at the start of a new edition, but rather about halfway through them. Also, the breaks aren't quite so clean either, since there's a bit of overlap.

So yeah, there's this:

1974-1985: Gary's game. Well Dave was involved in the early stuff too, but a lot of the direction came from Gary. Anyway, this is the original game which still had a lot of wargaming influences and was pretty strongly gamist in nature. A lot of the development came in the form of modules more than anything else.

1985-1995: This era is influenced by primarily by Zeb Cook and Tracy Hickman. This was D&D's narrative phase which got its start through the Dragonlance modules and influenced some of the development of 2e. This reached its nadir with metaplot heavy adventures like the Avatar trilogy and Wrath of the Immortals where the players get to sit back and watch powerful NPCs do allegedly cool stuff. TSR put less emphasis on modules and more emphasis on campaign settings, both with 2e's heavy amount of setting material as well as D&D's Gazetteers.

1995-2000: Some people see this as a dork age for the game, which makes me bristle a bit because it's when I started getting into the game in earnest, so it's the era that has the strongest influence over my gaming. Yes, at this point TSR was pretty much crumbling, and was no longer a driving force in hobby gaming, but was mostly reacting to stuff like WoD and MtG. But after TSR's bankrupcy, WotC did make some efforts to shore up the game. There were actually some signs of this happening before WotC took over, but WoTC was much better at handling D&D than TSR did in the later days. This period has two developments of note. First, this is the period where TSR started compiling older material. The first was the Encyclopedia Magica which came early in 1994, and was followed up with the Spell Compendiums later and those were mostly published under WotC. the first Wizard's Compendium was published by TSR, and they had the other volumes on their schedule before going bankrupt, but I'm pretty sure WotC decided to keep things going with the Priest's Compendium. Secondly, after WotC took over, and published TSR's backlog for 1997, they generally seemed to shift towards more low level and introductory products while TSR was sort of neglecting that stuff for a while, making the game's barrier to entry higher. The other stuff WotC large tended to do was nostalgia products for the established players and possibly to attract back parts of the player base TSR lost.

Some grognards seem to think that WotC cancelled all the older stuff immediately after buying TSR. That's absolutely not true. Yes, WotC did start looking at doing 3e not long after cleaning up TSR's various messes, but they spent 1997 and a good part of 1998 getting the last of TSR's backlog into print, and they published about 2 years worth of stuff until the release of 3e.

Like I said above, the editions shifts generally seem to happen about halfway through an edition cycle. 3e, 4e, and 5e all were the result of reacting to problems that had popped up in previous editions to some degree. There were other reasons to release a new edition than that though.
 
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Rabulias

Hero
And that's just the starters, but it's a pretty major basic foundation to have in a closer similarity to BX/BECMI/RC than AD&D.
I'm not saying there was no influence from BX/BECMI on D&D 3e (ability score bonuses being a strong possibility here, as you explain). Instead, I (and others) am pointing out that the major portion of D&D 3e grew directly from AD&D 2e (or was carried over almost verbatim in many cases, as Jack Daniel points out in the post before mine).
 


If we go by that logic, the Rules Compendium was based on AD&D 2e as they released a free conversion for RC characters to AD&D. (edit: just for the record, I don't believe this, just pointing out that a conversion does not mean that it's necessarily what something is based off of...but more along what it is percieved the be the more popular...and ironically, converting a character from BECMI/BX to 3e is probably going to be truer to the actual character than converting one from AD&D).

That logic doesn't follow at all. The conversion guide in the RC is explicitly for converting between two extant, parallel games. It has guidelines for converting games both ways, from D&D to AD&D and from AD&D to D&D.

The conversion guide WotC released for 2e-to-3e is much like the one TSR released for 1e-to-2e: a one-way update from a prior edition to its immediate successor.

And that's just the starters, but it's a pretty major basic foundation to have in a closer similarity to BX/BECMI/RC than AD&D.

People always bring up the bonuses. It's frankly quite a stretch. There aren't many other similarities that I can think of. The removal of Large weapon damage, maybe? But the selection of weapons and armor is still a closer match for 2nd Edition than Basic.

Basic D&DAD&D 2nd EditionD&D 3rd Edition
Three alignmentsNine alignmentsNine alignments
Fighter, magic-user, cleric, thiefFighter, paladin, ranger, mage, specialist wizard, thief, bard, cleric, druidFighter, paladin, ranger, barbarian, wizard, sorcerer, rogue, bard, cleric, druid, monk
Race-as-classElves, half-elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflingsElves, half-elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, half-orcs
Eight clerical spells and twelve magical spells per spell levelLarge spell lists of unlimited scopeLarge spell lists of unlimited scope
Lacks many monsters and magic items unique to AD&DIncludes large list of AD&D monsters and magic itemsIncludes large list of monsters and magic items from AD&D
36 experience levels, with fully fleshed-out rules for domain play, and fully fleshed-out rules for Immortal level play20 levels in the core rules, hard cap at 30 levels with High-Level Campaigns, vague hints of rules for ascending to godhood20 levels in the core rules, Epic Level Handbook describes ten more levels in detail but explicitly has no cap on mortal advancement
Spell levels cap at 7th for clerics, 9th for magic-usersIf you don't count the Dark Sun setting, spell levels cap at 7th for clerics and 9th for mages, but both can learn True Dweomers after 20th levelSpell levels go up to 9th for all the main caster classes, and in epic levels they can create and cast Epic Spells
Rule booklets (Basic, Expert, etc.) eventually collected into a single-volume Cyclopedia; supplemented with Gazetteers.PHB, DMG, MM, many other hardcovers and splatbooks.PHB, DMG, MM, many other hardcovers and splatbooks.
No multi-classing (except elf)Multi- and dual-classingMulti-classing and favored classes

I could go on.
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Excellent question - I think the framework you lay out is a good one for talking about history and the business of RPGs, but it isn't a good one for discussing gameplay.

Maybe!

But the genesis of this classification system wasn't either the history or business of RPGs, but my personal experiences discussing TSR-era gameplay with other players.

I found that the traditional classifications of gameplay (either through editions, or through jargon that had not yet been invented) was not particularly helpful. Specifically, what I kept returning to was a specific divide in 1e gameplay-

1. Those who played and sparingly used the materials from UA on; and
2. Those who extensively adopted the UA materials and other hardcover books.

In other words, it was often less useful to think about OD&D/1e/2e styles, that it was to think about the taxonomy as I listed above. As weird as it might seem, '83 AD&D and '75 OD&D share a sensibility (playing style), and '88 AD&D and '94 2e share a sensibility, that '83 and '88 AD&D lack.
 

3. 1995 - 2000 The Decline (Emptying the Cupboard)
Finally, there's the end. How about reprinting all of the BECMI stuff as the RC? How about reprinting the PHB and DMG? People like those kits, right? How about we just give them all sorts of player options-combat, spells, whatever? I don't mean to demean the products that good people were producing (Birthright, for example, came out in 1995) but by this point, we are looking at 20 years of roughly the same mechanics, and a company that was circling the drain.
Like so many historical claims of "declines", this doesn't really make sense.

Most historical "declines" don't exist, or rather the culture/quality of culture doesn't "decline", but some sort of outside force completely screws the culture over. What the force is varies - tribes migrating/invading is a common one, as is localized climate change - but I'm struggling to think of a case where a culture actually "declined" in the sense that Victorian (and really up the 1970s) historians used to be so found of, and pop-history buffs often like to cite.

I don't see much evidence of a "decline" in the period you state. Indeed, some of TSR's very best products come out of these era, and many of their worst and weakest products come from the 1985-1994 era (the early 2E "Complete" books are a trashfire compared to later ones, for example).

What screwed WotC over wasn't a decline in quality of output, it was a number of bad decisions, including the magnificently dumb "Dragon Dice" fiasco, as Ryan Dancey and others have discussed at some length.

So I think it's unhelpful to either understanding what is going on, or to just accuracy in general to call this period a "decline". On the contrary, you might call it an experimental period, where TSR started trying to find their way into the future, but where poor management decisions re: that future - most not directly related to D&D, ensured they were in a position to be bought up by the very company they were trying to ape the success of.
In other words, it was often less useful to think about OD&D/1e/2e styles, that it was to think about the taxonomy as I listed above. As weird as it might seem, '83 AD&D and '75 OD&D share a sensibility (playing style), and '88 AD&D and '94 2e share a sensibility, that '83 and '88 AD&D lack.
I would broadly agree with this. All the people I knew who liked and used a lot of UA stuff from 1E adapted pretty well to 2E, whereas those who hated all that basically rejected 2E and many of them seemed to leave RPGs entirely (I dunno if they really did, but they didn't seem to stick around).
 


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