D&D General Some Thoughts on Historical Edition Changes, and What that Portends for OneD&D

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Zeno: History doesn't always repeat, but it sometimes rhymes.

Achilles: Wait ... wistery? Mistery? BLISTERY! IT'S BLISTERY, ISN'T IT??

Zeno: ........ you make me cry like Prohibition, Achilles.


Anyway, I think that when we are peering into the crystal ball of nonsensical youtube conspiracy theories to determine what One D&D (5.5e, 6e, The One Edition to Rule Them All, etc.), it might be helpful to not look to the future, but instead ..... THE PAST. Specifically, what happened with prior edition changes and the transitions? The reason for this is revealed at the end of the post ... but a quick examination will provide some helpful clues as to the likely One Direction of One D&D (apologies to Harry Styles).

First, the EDITIONS. Note- I am not including the B/X and BECMI lines.
OD&D Original D&D, the 1974 rules (and supplements and other materials) until the released of AD&D. (1974-1979)
1e First Edition. (1979 - 1989)
2e Second Edition. (1989 - 2000)
3e & 3.5e Third Edition. (2000-2008)
4e Fourth Edition (2008-2014)
5e Fifth, or current, Edition (2014-?)

Briefly looking at the transitions between editions, we see the following.

1. OD&D to AD&D (1e).
The very first transition occurred relatively seamlessly. 1e was, essentially, late-period OD&D with all the bells, whistles, and house rules from Gygax included. It was OD&D turned up to 11, with additional material culled from, inter alia, Dragon Magazine. In essence, if you were keeping up with current play in D&D, AD&D was pretty much what you were already playing.

2. 1e to 2e.
Again, 2e was just 1e that had been cleaned up and had certain late-period (UA, OA, DSG, WSG) materials added in the materials (weapon specialization, NWPs).


3. 2e to 3e.
If you were playing late-period 2e, you were probably familiar with the all the various player-facing splat books (including the Player Options, which provided, inter alia, the ability to point-buy and more advanced combat & tactic options). While 3e substantially modernized the creaky-TSR era base, it also built on many of the ideas of late-period 2e.

4. 3e to 4e.
While this was a divisive change, it certainly wasn't unexpected to people who were following late-period 3.5e. After all, the designers that were responsible for such tomes like the Book of Nine Swords were also the same designers who brought you 4e.

5. 4e to 5e.
This might be a little less obvious; but again, a certain retrenchment and refinement in the form of Essentials was seen in 4e prior to the playtesting of 5e.


So what am I saying? Past is prologue; as a general rule, people act shocked with each edition (or ... non-edition change as the case may be for One D&D) but generally there is some amount of carryover between the design elements that began to pop up toward the end of the design's lifecycle and the new edition's (BOBBY BROWN!) design elements.

So for One D&D, you should expect that it will carry forth the design decision from Tasha's forward- and this will be completely unsurprising.
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
You specifically left out the B/X and BECMI lines, but they still had an influence in that they made the 0e-1e and 1e-2e transitions much smoother and less jarring; as all three of those editions borrowed from, lent to, and-or overlapped with B/X and BECMI in their design, adventures, etc.

WotC-era transitions haven't had this softening influence.
 

Dausuul

Legend
I think you are rather understating the magnitude of some of these transitions. You are certainly correct that each edition change is foreshadowed by the late releases of the previous edition; but the late releases can't anticipate the biggest, most fundamental changes, because those changes are fundamental and can only be made in the context of a new edition.

None of late 2E's experiments with a la carte PC options could do more than hint at the grand overhaul of absolutely everything that came with 3E. The Book of Nine Swords signaled the movement of 4E toward discrete, "spell-like" martial powers and its tactical focus; but not the changes in approach -- the near-total split between fiction and mechanics, the rigid requirement for minis and battlemat, the standardized class structure, the sweeping revisions to the lore -- that made 4E so divisive. Likewise, Essentials signaled the return to varied class designs, but could not indicate the plan to roll back a lot of 4E's changes and return to a 3E chassis.

Now, 1D&D is not going to be anywhere near as drastic as all that. Pretty much everything we've seen in the playtest so far -- standardized subclass progressions, 1st-level feats, all regular feats getting a built-in +1 stat, floating stat mods -- was either introduced or at least hinted at in the last few years. Even so, the difference is substantial when these changes are integrated into the core rather than bolted on post hoc.
 


Voadam

Legend
1. OD&D to AD&D (1e).
The very first transition occurred relatively seamlessly. 1e was, essentially, late-period OD&D with all the bells, whistles, and house rules from Gygax included. It was OD&D turned up to 11, with additional material culled from, inter alia, Dragon Magazine. In essence, if you were keeping up with current play in D&D, AD&D was pretty much what you were already playing.

2. 1e to 2e.
Again, 2e was just 1e that had been cleaned up and had certain late-period (UA, OA, DSG, WSG) materials added in the materials (weapon specialization, NWPs).
On these two I mostly agree, modest changes as you go from late stage prior edition to new edition. 0e in particular has huge changes as you go from 0D&D boxed set alone to supplements (thieves, percentile strength, increasing highest level spells).
3. 2e to 3e.
If you were playing late-period 2e, you were probably familiar with the all the various player-facing splat books (including the Player Options, which provided, inter alia, the ability to point-buy and more advanced combat & tactic options). While 3e substantially modernized the creaky-TSR era base, it also built on many of the ideas of late-period 2e.

4. 3e to 4e.
While this was a divisive change, it certainly wasn't unexpected to people who were following late-period 3.5e. After all, the designers that were responsible for such tomes like the Book of Nine Swords were also the same designers who brought you 4e.

5. 4e to 5e.
This might be a little less obvious; but again, a certain retrenchment and refinement in the form of Essentials was seen in 4e prior to the playtesting of 5e.
Here I think you can tell more generally that changes are coming based on dissatisfaction with the prior edition, but not what they will be by looking at past editions.

I had the late 2e Dragon Fist which had ascending AC and the higher HD bases of 3e, but the design of classes as balanced each level for combat, everyone advancing the same, the skill system, the three saves were all big innovations and unexpected changes in going from 2e to 3e even though they addressed big known problems of AD&D.

3e to 4e the changes to magic, the default cosmology, the development of PC and monster roles, and the fairly succesful execution of class balance, were all innovations beyond the book of nine swords making martial classes that were mechanically engaging and not bottom of the barrel on the power curve.

Late 4e essentials refinements of better tuning monster math, solo monster mechanics, and essentials class things like the fantastically easier to use defender auras was less of a predictor of 5e than the continuing popularity of d20 based Pathfinder 1e IMO. 5e seems 3e/pathfinder with concentration, slightly better class balance (though not nearly 4e levels of balance) and making monsters mechanically easier (though dropping the 4e developments of monster roles and finely tuned monster math).
 



Jack Daniel

dice-universe.blogspot.com
If we just look at WotC — and I think that's fair, WotC is around and TSR isn't — then every new numbered edition has been accompanied by new saving throw mechanics, new XP tables, a new action economy, and a complete rebuild of the core mechanics from the ground up that makes it totally incompatible with its predecessor. You cannot even attempt to play an AD&D character in 3e/3.5, a 3e/3.5 character in 4e, or a 4e character in 5e. Won't work. You run into immediate, deal-breaking incompatibilities.

I've seen nothing in the "One D&D" playtests to indicate this kind of massive mechanical paradigm-shift. So it's not a new numbered edition in the WotC-established sense; it's just 5.5.

Kind of disappointing if you ask me.
 

Voadam

Legend
new XP tables,
Have they? I haven't paid attention to xp charts since I dropped xp costs for crafting items in 3e and switched to milestone advancement for my games. When running level based modules, particularly adventure paths, it is easy to ignore those charts and often functionally better to do so to match expected adventure challenge measures.
 

Or will 5e to OneDnD be more comparable to the half editions? 2e to 2.5 (skills and powers et al.), 3.0 to 3.5, 4e to Essentials? B/X to BECMI to RC?
I mean, I'm a major critic of 5e and that's exactly what I've said we should expect, other than the 4e-to-Essentials jump because, as I have to say every friggin' time, Essentials WAS NOT AN EDITION CHANGE. It was not a "revision." It was not, in any way whatsoever, different from just publishing a new splatbook that has new options for existing classes.

There is no "jump" between 4e and Essentials. 4e is Essentials. Essentials is 4e. If SCAG is 5e, then Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms is 4e.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
I mean, I'm a major critic of 5e and that's exactly what I've said we should expect, other than the 4e-to-Essentials jump because, as I have to say every friggin' time, Essentials WAS NOT AN EDITION CHANGE. It was not a "revision." It was not, in any way whatsoever, different from just publishing a new splatbook that has new options for existing classes.

There is no "jump" between 4e and Essentials. 4e is Essentials. Essentials is 4e. If SCAG is 5e, then Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms is 4e.
Yep. Or to try to make it as general as possible, a change in design philosophy does not constitute a rules revision. The PHB2 wasn't a rules revision because they switched to A-class only design from V-class. Likewise with Essentials when they moved away from strict AEDU structure. And likewise with 5e when they started publishing races without fixed stat bonuses. Now, when they explicitly change previously existing rules to conform to the new design philosophy, like they did later on with the stat bonus change, that's when a change in philosophy actually becomes a revision.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Yep. Or to try to make it as general as possible, a change in design philosophy does not constitute a rules revision. The PHB2 wasn't a rules revision because they switched to A-class only design from V-class. Likewise with Essentials when they moved away from strict AEDU structure. And likewise with 5e when they started publishing races without fixed stat bonuses. Now, when they explicitly change previously existing rules to conform to the new design philosophy, like they did later on with the stat bonus change, that's when a change in philosophy actually becomes a revision.

Hmmm. So what you're saying is that late-edition changes in design philosophy can portend the rules changes in the next edition?

I like this theory!
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Almost certainly, given everything they've said thus far. But will it be closer to 3e -> 3.5e (which wasn't as compatible as claimed), or 4e -> Essentials (which was)?
It depends so much on what people think of when they hear “compatible.” For many, the changes we’re seeing in the playtest packets already break compatibility. On the other end of the spectrum, WotC has said that their compatibility goal is for adventures published prior to 2024 to still be playable with the post-2024 rules, and many will consider anything that meets that bar to be compatible.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I mean, I'm a major critic of 5e and that's exactly what I've said we should expect, other than the 4e-to-Essentials jump because, as I have to say every friggin' time, Essentials WAS NOT AN EDITION CHANGE. It was not a "revision." It was not, in any way whatsoever, different from just publishing a new splatbook that has new options for existing classes.

There is no "jump" between 4e and Essentials. 4e is Essentials. Essentials is 4e. If SCAG is 5e, then Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms is 4e.
I mean, Essentials was fully playable with vanilla 4e, but it did introduce a LOT of errata, and was obviously a significant change in design direction. I agree that it couldn’t accurately be described as another edition, but I think saying there was no transition is overstating the case a bit.
 

Voadam

Legend
Or will 5e to OneDnD be more comparable to the half editions? 2e to 2.5 (skills and powers et al.), 3.0 to 3.5, 4e to Essentials? B/X to BECMI to RC?

I mean, I'm a major critic of 5e and that's exactly what I've said we should expect, other than the 4e-to-Essentials jump because, as I have to say every friggin' time, Essentials WAS NOT AN EDITION CHANGE. It was not a "revision." It was not, in any way whatsoever, different from just publishing a new splatbook that has new options for existing classes.

There is no "jump" between 4e and Essentials. 4e is Essentials. Essentials is 4e. If SCAG is 5e, then Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms is 4e.
Except for 3.5 all the "half editions" are not significant changes that create incompatible mechanics issues.

3.5 to 3.0 was the exception though, more like AD&D to B/X. You could mix and match elements (and I did in both sets) but it took some conversion. I used 3.0, 3.5, d20 modern, Arcana Evolved, and Pathfinder 1e stuff in my d20 games with minimal conversions. I used B/X stuff in my AD&D games similarly.

You can use classes from the 2e PH and classes designed by 2e skills and powers side by side though directly even though the S&P ones could be designed to be way more powerful. They were mechanically compatible.

The incompatible differences between B/X and BECMI or RC are that thieves skills advance slower (there might be specific other differences like xp charts or whatever, but I never checked and used material from BECMI and RC era basic in my AD&D games as I had B/X stuff). I would expect to use a Merchant Prince or shaman class from the later Gazetteer series directly in a B/X game without mechanical conversion issues.

Changing the AEDU power structure was a big deal for a lot of people, changing a fundamental aspect of 4e. For others not so much. In either case you could use the mechanics side by side without mechanical incompatibility issues.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Hmmm. So what you're saying is that late-edition changes in design philosophy can portend the rules changes in the next edition?

I like this theory!
Oh, I definitely agree with your theory. As a side note, you can also notice that each edition update, and the changes presaging them, are strongly influenced by the overall game trends within their greater game ecosystem. D&D edition changes seem more responsive, rather than trendsetting.

2e was influenced by the mid-to-late 80s trend towards greater narrative and the desire to see the game tell a story. 3e was influenced by the crunchier games in the 90s (most especially the White Wolf line) that gave more players more authority over character building. 4e was influenced by story game design that was brought forth by internet discussion in the early to mid 00s. And 5e was influenced by the OSR forces of the early 10s.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
2e was influenced by the mid-to-late 80s trend towards greater narrative and the desire to see the game tell a story. 3e was influenced by the crunchier games in the 90s (most especially the White Wolf line) that gave more players more authority over character building. 4e was influenced by story game design that was brought forth by internet discussion in the early to mid 00s. And 5e was influenced by the OSR forces of the early 10s.
I hope that the next edition will be influenced by the FKR. I highly doubt that will happen though. What we're seeing of the "play test" so far is more indicative of the pendulum swinging back to a more closed, rule for everything style system. More's the pity.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
So for One D&D, you should expect that it will carry forth the design decision from Tasha's forward- and this will be completely unsurprising.
The only constant is change. Accept it. Change is neither good nor bad, it just is.

It's a good thing the WotC commando squads don't have my address so can't come to my house and take my old books.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
I hope that the next edition will be influenced by the FKR. I highly doubt that will happen though. What we're seeing of the "play test" so far is more indicative of the pendulum swinging back to a more closed, rule for everything style system. More's the pity.
Yea, I'm not really sure where the intellectual energy is focused on right now that D&D might copy. Most of the new stuff I see are focused, specific games on itch.io or NSR-type stuff with focus on diegetic, randomized play, neither of which really fit into what D&D does.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Yea, I'm not really sure where the intellectual energy is focused on right now that D&D might copy. Most of the new stuff I see are focused, specific games on itch.io or NSR-type stuff with focus on diegetic, randomized play, neither of which really fit into what D&D does.
Which is funny because D&D used to only be that diegetic, randomized play...which is exactly what the OSR and NSR crowds are trying to recapture. The last edition of D&D to have any kind of focused opinion or specific goal/drive was 4E. And it think that's the last time WotC will ever do that. Focused games tend to not have big-tent audiences WotC wants. What I'm seeing is a return to overblown rules which will shrink the audience.
 

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