D&D General What is each edition BEST at?

Reynard

Legend
Just some low key chatting. No edition warring allowed.

If you had to say which aspect or pillar or style of play each edition of D&D is the best at, how would you break it down?

Note: you can divide editions any way you like.

For my part:
OD&D: I'll leave this one off since I never actually played it.
Basic: For me, this is BECMI. I think it is the best at showing the Changing Game, from dungeons to wilderness to rulership to immortality.
AD&D 1E: For me this is the best version of the gritty resource management treasure hunting exploration oh crap we're dead game that is D&D.
AD&D 2E: If there is a version of D&D good for classic high fantasy storytelling, this is it.
3.x/PF: This is the best crunchy version of the game.
4E: My experience is limited but it is definitely a tightly designed miniatures ruleset.
5E: At attracting new players, apparently!
 

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OD&D: High Gygaxian dungeon-heisting
Basic (and its children/cousins): As you say, changing play. The tone naturally shifts from one set to another.
AD&D1: My experience is likewise limited, but humanocentric hexcrawl seems accurate
AD&D2: Wildly creative settings and extensive lore (though some dislike the bowdlerizing it got as an attempt to dodge the Satanic Panic.) Also, being such a fertile ground for inspiring such great video games as Baldur's Gate and Planescape: Torment.
3e (and its direct children): Options! You get options, and you get options, and you get options, and EVERYONE gets options! Also, actually systematizing the system, and giving us the OGL.
4e (and its indirect children): Balance, tactical combat designed to be enjoyable as its own gameplay experience, high-mythic concepts/lore, and extensible framework rules that work well and then get the hell out of the way. Oh, and DM advice/support/tools.
5e: Compromise, outreach, inclusion. No edition has put as much work into these as 5e has (except maybe the outreach part, but only in terms of DMs.) My first post in the fandom toxicity thread noted this.

My experience with 2e is very limited and anything before that is mostly by word of mouth (though I have played a few sessions of Labyrinth Lord), so naturally my commentary is more extensive for WotC editions.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
OD&D. Never played.

Homles Basic. Never played.

AD&D. Essentially defines D&D for me. Gritty and zero-to-hero, if you're lucky enough to survive that long. Different mechanics worked differently instead of everything being a boring variation of the same roll thousands of times.

Moldvay & Cook B/X. Simplicity, cool optional rules...and the winner...the Known World, aka Mystara. The single greatest setting in D&D's history. The rules are light and super easy to use but also evoke a slightly less gritty version of AD&D.

BECMI. Lots of overlap with B/X. Continued and expanded the Known World and added the Gazetteers and Hollow World. Got weird and didn't hold back. Path to Immortality anyone? Invisible bases on the moon. Samurai cats on the moon. Ka the Preserver in the Hollow World. Nom nom nom. Yes, please.

AD&D2E. Never played, but the settings and supplement books were amazing. Dark Sun. Spelljammer. Al-Qadim. Ravenloft. So many great settings. As much flak as the edition rightfully gets for endless splats, so many of them were amazing. The historical books I loved. Many of the DM's Reference books were wonderful. Such a gold mine of information.

3X. Never played.

4E. Fantastic skirmish-focused game. Monster and encounter design is the killer app of 4E. Stellar advice and design. Really made the PCs feel powerful and finally balanced the fighter and wizard. Gave all the people who say "D&D's just about combat" exactly what they wanted...but apparently that's not actually what most people want from D&D. Utterly fantastic supplements. Beautiful and crisp layout and design. Rules written as if they're rules to a game. Who knew? Points of Light is amazing. Absolutely loved it. And hey, look, it lives on in Critical Role down the the gods.

5E. I'm not really sure. Near as I can tell, 5E is good at being popular. Mechanically it doesn't do anything better than any other edition. Except maybe replacing all those annoying bonuses with dis/advantage. Other editions have better classes. Other editions have better subclasses. Other editions do combat and monsters better. Exploration is handled better in other editions.
 

aco175

Legend
I found 3e was best at character development. I could have a mental image of what I wanted and the multi-class rules allowed it.

I liked 4e combat even though it took longer. I really liked the monster design and ability to make monsters what I wanted and needed.
 

Stalker0

Legend
3e was the "builder" edition, huge variety of options to allow you to build hundreds of concepts. Huge and creative list of magic items.

4e is the "DM edition" to me. Best monster design, added lots of DM focused tools that made encounter design interesting and fun. 4e is still one of my favorite editions to DM.

5e is the "streamline edition". It removed a lot of the baggage that had built up in 3e and 4e, and created a smoother more streamlined version that spoke to the heart of the game. I think this version also caters well to players that want to be creative in their play and work with the DM to craft a resolution rather than look upon and utilize rulesets.
 

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
OD&D: never played
Basic: "Roles." Elmore Red Box version; due to firmly set roles (e.g. only a rogue can do this), everyone gets a chance in spotlight develops.
AD&D 1E, 2E: "Innovation." D&D finds itself by pushing never-before-seen dungeon, monster, and game design that would set the tone for D&D and other game systems in years to come.
3.x/PF: "Builds & Grids." For good or ill, for the first time in D&D, we have guides on how to game the system numerically, and for the first time, everything is designed around grid play (thus increasing the miniature market).
4E: "Tactical." Whether you liked it or not, 4E went all-in on tactical grid play, presumably to compete with the fear the online video game market would end the era of tabletop RPGs.
5E: Simpler is better." A return to innocence, if you will, 5E shaved off excess bloat to make the game more accessible to first-time gamers who were intrigued by phenomena like Stranger Things, Critical Role streaming, and celebrities who played.
 


Art Waring

Redlined Ratrod
AD&D 2E: Honestly the way the game was being played in my area in the Midwest was pretty stiff, the players were all really unkind to new players (i was a kid then), and they had zero interest in teaching new players the ropes. I bounced off this edition hard. Primarily because the community at that time was not at all welcoming. I couldn't tell you what 2e did best because we quickly went to other games at the time.

3.x/PF: The OGL is by far the best thing to happen since 3e, some people knock it for the "glut" of material produced under the license, but often times they forget that 3e had one of the largest homebrewing community on the internet. There is so much material created for 3e that It boggles the mind. Without the OGL i wouldn't still be creating content for dnd.

4E: My playgroups never picked it up, we went with pathfinder at the time because of player preference. Looking back though, the new additions for monsters did well, and obviously some of this passed onto 5e.

5E: Been playtesting my own 5e rpg in the UK and the players love it. One player balked at a 3.5 game i ran for years, but i went over to 5e and no complaints, with minimal changes to the setting. 5e is really good for new players to pick up. It's also really good at simulating the zero to superhero type of game I am designing.
 
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South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
I can't speak directly to Reynard's question because I skipped all the other editions between AD&D and 5e, but I will say one thing in praise of this latest system: it's easy to keep things moving along.
 

payn

Legend
2E Settings variety.
3E/PF intriguing (possibly frustrating) character building mini game. Gonzo Fantasy
4E Tactical play
5E Goldilocks edition. Brings the group together regardless of their thoughts on the above.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
OD&D (incl. Holmes Basic): The rules equivalent of MacGyvering a working computer when given a paperclip, a ball of twine, and some pre-chewed bubblegum.

Basic (Moldvay, Mentzer, etc.):
Propping up the bumper pool table in the basement rec room so it wouldn't wobble.

AD&D: Scoring higher on your SATs because you were forced to learn high Gygaxian.

2e: Reading about settings you won't use, and then reading novels set in the place you aren't playing in.

3e (and PF):
Counting really high.

4e: Arguing, so much arguing.

5e:
Finding youtube videos of people who "explain" simple concepts incorrectly, and then watching videos of people reacting to how stupid the other videos are.
 

Being careful to answer what each IS best at, not WAS best

OD&D, Basic: Nothing springs to mind
AD&D, 2E: Nostalgia and as a reminder of how much D&D has improved
3E: Best worlds: Sandstorm and Arcana being the ones topping my list
4E: Best version for tactical combat encounters
5E: Best for finding people to play with
 

OD&D: High Gygaxian dungeon-heisting
Basic (and its children/cousins): As you say, changing play. The tone naturally shifts from one set to another.
AD&D1: My experience is likewise limited, but humanocentric hexcrawl seems accurate
AD&D2: Wildly creative settings and extensive lore (though some dislike the bowdlerizing it got as an attempt to dodge the Satanic Panic.) Also, being such a fertile ground for inspiring such great video games as Baldur's Gate and Planescape: Torment.
3e (and its direct children): Options! You get options, and you get options, and you get options, and EVERYONE gets options! Also, actually systematizing the system, and giving us the OGL.
4e (and its indirect children): Balance, tactical combat designed to be enjoyable as its own gameplay experience, high-mythic concepts/lore, and extensible framework rules that work well and then get the hell out of the way. Oh, and DM advice/support/tools.
5e: Compromise, outreach, inclusion. No edition has put as much work into these as 5e has (except maybe the outreach part, but only in terms of DMs.) My first post in the fandom toxicity thread noted this.

My experience with 2e is very limited and anything before that is mostly by word of mouth (though I have played a few sessions of Labyrinth Lord), so naturally my commentary is more extensive for WotC editions.
I'd basically second all of this.

4E also has, contrary to all expectations, by far the best rules/suggestions D&D has ever had for "improvising" or doing "stunts" that D&D has ever had. In 3E, stunts and improvisation tended to be a disaster, because of the "a rule for everything, and you're bad at everything unless you took a Feat to make you good at it!". This was maybe my group's biggest problem with 3E - they wanted to play it like 2E and improvise a ton, but 3E had rules for that, and doing a stunt/attack which in 2E might just be "attack at -4", was typically 3+ rolls, and you were for sure going to fail one of them due to the RNG of d20s, even if they were fairly easy DCs. But page 42 + other advice in 4E gave you really solid guidelines for improvising and stunts, and made them worth doing.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
OD&D: It was the first very rough draft, so of course it's not going to be best at anything. Not a dig at the edition, but just a comment on cycle development and refinement.
B/X: to me all the basic systems come down to Moldvay/Cook. This is the best edition to learn the game and play it quickly.
1e: Art and aesthetic. Zero to hero. Individual adventures rather than campaigns.
2e: Setting and lore
3e: PC build options
4e: I've only played a little, but best at tactical combat
5e: Bringing gamers to the table.
 


Reynard

Legend
I'd basically second all of this.

4E also has, contrary to all expectations, by far the best rules/suggestions D&D has ever had for "improvising" or doing "stunts" that D&D has ever had. In 3E, stunts and improvisation tended to be a disaster, because of the "a rule for everything, and you're bad at everything unless you took a Feat to make you good at it!". This was maybe my group's biggest problem with 3E - they wanted to play it like 2E and improvise a ton, but 3E had rules for that, and doing a stunt/attack which in 2E might just be "attack at -4", was typically 3+ rolls, and you were for sure going to fail one of them due to the RNG of d20s, even if they were fairly easy DCs. But page 42 + other advice in 4E gave you really solid guidelines for improvising and stunts, and made them worth doing.
Emphasis mine.

The best, least used rule in 2E.
 

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter
OD&D: Haven't played

Basic: This is BECMI, for me. It was great at onboarding. The first edition where you could read the books and understand how to play even if nobody in your group was previously familiar with the game.

AD&D 1E: Weirdness, narrative flexibility, DIY art and aesthetics

AD&D 2E: I played this for 7 years and honestly I'm struggling to say what it did best. Planescape and Darksun? The Bioware/Black Isle games late in this era were great. Oh, bards were really good in 2E but they're actually better in 5E so not bards.

3E: Character customization

4E: Never played

5E: Accessibility and inclusivity. And, this one will be controversial, but I think 5E has consistently better official adventures than any previous edition.
 


CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Of the editions that I've played more than once, I found that in my opinion:

Basic/Expert D&D was best at telling the story, and is still the best for running a classic 'dungeon crawl' adventure. The rules were light, and most importantly, they stayed in the background. The rules didn't get dragged out and waved around by the people at the table nearly as often as they do these days.

Companion/Masters D&D was best at running mass combat, armies, sieges, etc. Other editions have tried to improve on these rules, and they inevitably ended up making the rules harder to understand (and more complicated than they're worth).

3.X D&D/Pathfinder was best at character and monster customization. I still appreciate the concept of templates, and I miss the way that multiclassing worked.

5E D&D is the best for actually running a modern (ie., not a dungeon crawl or hex crawl) game. The rules are light enough to get out of the way of the story, but they have a little more meat on them for the players to chew on. The rules are a lot more intuitive and robust than the BECM rules I grew up using, too.
 

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