D&D General What if D&D 5E Was Released in 1974?

Do you think D&D 5E in 1974 would have been more, even or less successful?

  • More successful

    Votes: 8 13.6%
  • About the same

    Votes: 16 27.1%
  • Less successful

    Votes: 38 64.4%

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
Following the News Piece 1981 thread, it got me thinking, taken the huge success that D&D had when it was released, in the shape or form it was published back then, what do you think its success would have been if 5E had been instead, with all the differences both mechanically and esthetically, that exist between it and the early editions of the game?
 

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Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Less. A lot less.

A lot of 5e's success is due to the priming and cultivation of the fantasy genre in tv, movies, cartoons, anime, video games, and book into the mainstream.

Especially video games and cartoons/anime. 5e is too complex for a first edition. 5e's success is primed on millennials and zoomers being gamers who watched fantasy cartoons and anime.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
1974 feels way too early -- there it was still trying to get the war gamers on board, and wouldn't have had the money to do anything like the AD&D core books for production values yet.

I wonder if they broke it up by level like the Basic, B/X, or BECMI sets, snuck it past EGG, and put it out in 1981 instead of Moldvay or 1983 instead of Mentzer, if it might have eaten AD&D's lunch.
 


DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
Less. As @Minigiant stated, the current game is built upon the shoulders of everything that came before it and would be much too much for an entire new game to gain any traction. Maybe if we were talking ONLY the Basic Rules it might be a better argument... but even just seeing dragonborn, tieflings, gnomes and drow as racial options in 1974 would make people question just what this thing was. The basic D&D of '74 was very much a product of the Tolkien times, which is why it had a more solid foundation and doorway into gameplay for fantasy enthusiasts of the mid 70s.
 

Less. As @Minigiant stated, the current game is built upon the shoulders of everything that came before it and would be much too much for an entire new game to gain any traction. Maybe if we were talking ONLY the Basic Rules it might be a better argument... but even just seeing dragonborn, tieflings, gnomes and drow as racial options in 1974 would make people question just what this thing was. The basic D&D of '74 was very much a product of the Tolkien times, which is why it had a more solid foundation and doorway into gameplay for fantasy enthusiasts of the mid 70s.
what about hard mechanics with different fluff that fits more than what we would could expect from the 70's?
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
5e as is in 1974? It would have been a LOT less successful because holy cow those books would have cost like a hundred dollars a pop in 1974 money. 300 some pages each all with full color? I feel like even textbooks didn't have those kind of production values yet and those are typically the most expensive books you find since institutions buy them. :)

Speaking more seriously - I think there are a lot of directions that D&D could have taken right out of the gate. I don't think anything like 5e could have been one of them because 5e is the result of a lot of iterative design over a roughly 40 year timespan. The process of building 5e is the result of many iterations of people playing the game, people feeling the game is lacking something, people adding or removing something to the game, rinse and repeat.

For example - you don't get the 5e skill system out of the gate because nobody would have thought a skill system was needed until you'd played the game long enough to "feel like something was lacking". It came fairly quickly - I think the thief was added in Greyhawk which was the first supplement to the original booklets. And even then it took other games to blaze the trail to lead D&D to adopt a skill system for all PCs instead of just specialzed skills for certain classes. The first decade or so of D&D was about it defining the parameters of what roleplaying actually was - and with other games in "conversation" with it to push those boundaries.

And even if it could have emerged fully formed like Athena springing from the skull of Zeus, I don't think something like 5e would have been of interest to the folks who were interested in D&D back when it first emerged from the wargaming scene - it looks nothing like wargaming anymore. Part of the appeal of D&D originally was to wargaming nerds who liked fantasy. The wargame has been mostly stripped out of D&D over the years, or if not stripped hidden away behind layers that make it harder to see as a wargame.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
what about hard mechanics with different fluff that fits more than what we would could expect from the 70's?

Going less drastic than 5e, I wonder if they had just taken Moldvay basic and:
  • Had everyone start with an extra 4 hit points.
  • Push best 3 out of 4d6 in any order.
  • Let everyone heal more each night (say half their level in hit dice?)
  • Added death saves
  • Push the d20 rolls for trying things more than just having them mentioned briefly at the end of the book and have Thieves abilities not suck so much.
  • No demi-human level limits.
  • Maybe one more spell for the casters at 1st level?
  • Sold it as the "High Fantasy & Heroic" D&D version
how it would have done. On the down side it wouldn't have been cross-compatible with OD&D and AD&D in terms of playing characters from all three at the same table, like it was for some groups. On the other, I wonder if the AD&D players would have grabbed some of those rules (while simultaneously describing the basic one as the version with training wheels).
 
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wicked cool

Adventurer
a lot less

1) early 80's they had to remove all demons etc due to political pressure. Not sure how much due to Maze and monsters
2) the landscape was just different. no internet/no cable/no cordless phones
3) agreed on the budgets. look at the maps in the books etc back then. you need WOTC/magic the gathering to create the money to jump start what was a dead entity
4) the culture back then. Its so different now then it was then-the acceptance of 5e. i see so many people now with D20 shirts etc on and for me its like owning a jeep (people who own jeeps almost have this secret club message to each other when they see each other). I will give/get compliments on a sweatshirt from total strangers
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
Much less, as others have said.

5E's success is due to two primary factors:

1. the acceptance of games (video leading the way) as mainstream and not "just for nerds, geeks, and losers" anymore.
2. the Internet.

Another point is that its more "politically correct" views wouldn't have been as accepted 50 years ago.
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Well this is an interesting thought experiment, but I can't think of any reasonable assertions to make me think it would be more (or even as) successful as it is now. The biggest reason for this is exposure and accessibility, and nothing to do with the rules or aesthetics.

In 1974, the internet was not available to everyone; it was mostly limited as intranet at some colleges and some private or government institutions. So there was no streaming, no youtube, no podcasts, etc. Even television was limited to 3 major broadcast companies and some public broadcasts. Starting out, it would rely mostly by word of mouth.

Regardless if it were the best rpg ever invented, it would still be the first of it's kind. Thus, everything that followed or imitated would have evolved and improved on 5e as the genesis of origination.

Assuming word of mouth led to the expected rise and success of the game for being what it is, it would still flourish. By today's standards, the rules for 1e and basic D&D are considered archaic, but still enjoyable for many. To me, that suggests the idea of what a fantasy roleplaying game represents at the time was at least as interesting as the rules themselves, if not more.

But D&D would still need to face the controversies of the time. Religious conservative groups made their protests, and as expected, it just made everyone else want to do the exact thing they were protesting about. Funny how some things never change, am I right? 😉

I think the important thing to understand is that 5e wouldn't be what it is if D&D hadn't gone through everything that it did. 5e evolved from mistakes learned and trials faced. And even if it had the internet and all the other tools to help get the exposure it has now, it would still rely on its fanbase to promote it further than it could on it's own. That requires one more thing that didn't really exist at the time: an open license.

There's a lot more to this, I'm sure. I am looking forward to reading more thoughts in this thread!
 

Less. As @Minigiant stated, the current game is built upon the shoulders of everything that came before it and would be much too much for an entire new game to gain any traction. Maybe if we were talking ONLY the Basic Rules it might be a better argument... but even just seeing dragonborn, tieflings, gnomes and drow as racial options in 1974 would make people question just what this thing was. The basic D&D of '74 was very much a product of the Tolkien times, which is why it had a more solid foundation and doorway into gameplay for fantasy enthusiasts of the mid 70s.
1974 feels way too early -- there it was still trying to get the war gamers on board, and wouldn't have had the money to do anything like the AD&D core books for production values yet.

I wonder if they broke it up by level like the Basic, B/X, or BECMI sets, snuck it past EGG, and put it out in 1981 instead of Moldvay or 1983 instead of Mentzer, if it might have eaten AD&D's lunch.
I think what would work fine would be a game set that ostensibly looked like B/X, but included a lot of the stuff in 5e (point buy or 3BestOf4d6 for attributes, max hp at L1, unified experience table, no racial level limits, proficiency bonus, skills system) instead of the rules that oD&D had. Even then, you'd have to start out with some simplifications ('why does my fighter get/need these extra abilities like action surge and second wind?'), a few re-names (5e use of hit dice), and bring things back to mostly Tolkien-based races and the more obvious-role classes.

And yes, this would all have to be in a world where someone other than Gary was running the show (or, as Cadence suggests, slipped past him in the basic game once he'd turned his attention to AD&D).
 



aco175

Legend
Would have made this scene in E.T. a lot better.
1643896401040.png


Think about all those kids that would have been saved from lead poisoning if we were not forced into the wargaming aspect.
 

Oofta

Legend
You'd probably need to release the current free PDF version using dead trees as a "basic" version, but after that I don't see that it would make that much of a difference. There's nothing magical about any edition. Of course it would take a while to gain steam and recognition - just like the original versions of D&D did.

But maybe I'm reading the poll wrong. Would it be as successful or more successful than the original brown box? Yes. Would it be as popular as 5E today? That's a different question altogether.
 

About the same is my opinion, regardless of the version released in 1974. At its lowest common denominator, 5E is still a TTRPG so it most likely would have still attracted the same initial following it did, the game would progress/digress with trends and technology as the years went on. 5E is a more complex game than the original release, but the concept was new so those wouldn't be a barrier for entry into the hobby for those that were interested. I'm sure there would have been lows in highs like those seen from 1974-2022. Basically, I don't see anything really different taking place other than the current version of the game being a lot different simply because the starting baseline would have been a more advanced and complete game.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
Following the News Piece 1981 thread, it got me thinking, taken the huge success that D&D had when it was released, in the shape or form it was published back then, what do you think its success would have been if 5E had been instead, with all the differences both mechanically and esthetically, that exist between it and the early editions of the game?
The success you see in that video is after seven years on the market and 2-3 years into the pop-culture behemoth that was AD&D. The D&D cartoon is two years away from hitting national TV, but it’s already being planned, written, cast, etc at this point.

Compared to what? OD&D as it was published in 1974 or 5E today? I suspect more popular than OD&D but wildly less popular than 5E today.
 

HammerMan

Legend
Following the News Piece 1981 thread, it got me thinking, taken the huge success that D&D had when it was released, in the shape or form it was published back then, what do you think its success would have been if 5E had been instead, with all the differences both mechanically and esthetically, that exist between it and the early editions of the game?
I said it in another thread. IF you took 5e back to 197X it would flop. If you brought 1e forward it would flop.

The exact scenero I imagined was taking an adventure book from this year... Witch light of Strixhaven and changed mechanics to 1e mechanics and put it back in 1981 and no one would know what to make of it.
 

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