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D&D (2024) What the 1e-2e Transition Can Tell Us About 5.5e

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Can you stand the rain? That's right, it's time to talk about a NEW EDITION!

So I've previously written about the past edition changes, and what they might mean for 5.5e. And the interoperability of TSR-era D&D. But after looking at some of the thoughts, and vitriol, in a few of the threads, I thought I'd really discuss the change that 5.5e must reminds me of- the switch from 1e to 2e. As I always like to say, history doesn't repeat, but it often rhymes, like mystery. Or blistery. Or zistery.

Before doing the deep dive, I wanted to explain why that particular transition is so reminiscent of the one we are currently facing. In broad strokes, you had a design team that had a mandate to keep the game compatible, and in this, they succeeded- even when there were strong design reasons to move to something different (such as ascending AC). There was an extensive player survey done to get feedback. There was a lot of controversy about the process; one of the most controversial articles ever released by Dragon Magazine was Zeb Cook's infamous article extolling what he might do with some of the classes. There was further controversy about the results- even today, you can get a good grognard fight started by confusing 1e and 2e. And yet, despite all of that, the majority of people neither know, nor care, about the differences between the systems, because they are largely the same. In other words, a lot of sound and fury, signifying noting. Sound somewhat familiar? So, let's take a deep dive into the difference between AD&D and AD&D ... sorry, between 1e and 2e, and why that might help us understand what we're looking at today.

1. Setting the Stage- Why Did TSR Want a New Edition?
When you look annoyed all the time, people think that you’re busy.

The story has been told many times before, but the early story of TSR from a creative standpoint is intertwined with the story of Gary Gygax, while the story from a business standpoint is intertwined with the Family Blume. For a multitude of reasons, but mostly dealing with not understanding that (1) projections of growth are just projections, and (2) really really bad management, TSR was in a terrible place in 1985-86, all of which led to massive financial retrenchment and the ouster of Gygax and the elevation of Lorraine Williams.

It's important to note that prior to his ouster, Gygax had made claims about possibilities for a revised or second edition of AD&D. A lot of people look at Dragon #103 (published Nov. 1985) to ascertain what Gygax would have had in mind for a second edition in the article called, um, What the Second Edition books will be like. Can't say he's hiding the ball with that title. One of the most entertaining things is the timeline- he expected to start in mid-1986, and for it to take 2-3 years to complete. Of course, the real 2e started in 1987 and was released in 1989. But mostly, he's spitballing ideas- combining the PHB and UA and OA, but moving monks to the "oriental-themed campaign section." Letting people start as a bard (UGH!) and adding a jester subclass. Adding a mystic subclass to cleric. Adding a savant subclass to magic-users. Those sorts of things.

These proposed changes never came out, because Gygax was forced out and a new design team, headed up by David "Zeb" Cook, came in to make a new Second Edition. And he hit the ground with a bang. In February of 1987, Dragon Magazine published a short, yet insanely controversial, article- Who Dies? In two short pages, Zeb did his best to anger pretty much every single person currently playing D&D. Good times!

The basic gist of the article was this- My name is Zeb. I'm designing 2e. And I'm going to be changing and killing off a bunch of those classes you like. Because books have limited space. And because I can. How you like dem apples?

Anyway, we already see the genesis of some ideas that make it into 2e- you have to keep the core four classes. Probably. Maybe change the cleric a lot, make them more bespoke, because clerics suck and no one knows how to play them correctly. Then he says that there are too many subclasses- the assassin will be toast. The monk will be toast. The bard doesn't work, and will be either be gone or heavily re-designed. Cavaliers and barbarians are unbalanced and unplayable. Paladins should stay because they are ... good role models because they are the ultimate heroes (huh). The illusionist is "little more than magic-user with different spells ... he could be become an example of a school of magic-users..." The jury is still out on the druid. Don't know what to do about the druid.

TSR later followed up with a survey in Dragon Magazine 124 as well as Dungeon Magazine, and apparently also handed out the survey to retailers. So there was substantial work, controversy, and feedback involved in making 2e. But the question is ... why? Why 2e? What were the design reasons behind 2e, and the need for it?

There are a few answers to this. All of them are partly correct, none of them fully explains it.
a. Money. This is the biggest motivating factor, of course. TSR was emerging from dire financial straits, and a new edition means selling all those core books ... again.
b. Gygax. After Gygax's ouster, TSR began systemically ensuring that they were no longer beholden to his influence. Forgotten Realms was released as a campaign setting in 1987. And re-doing the core books in a way that made them more rule book, and less "Gygax pontificating on issues while also giving a few rules" would help lessen his singular influence on the game.
c. Reducing Sprawl. AD&D started as an expansion of the original OD&D rules and supplements, but the release of more rulebooks (OA and UA) and the flood of optional rules and supplements made it imperative to make some attempt to consolidate the game.
d. Satanic Panic. While TSR massively benefitted from the early Satanic panic and the Egbert controversy, and talked a big game, they were working to make the game more palatable and less offensive ... and more importantly, more friendly to teens, who were the target market for the new edition. 1e had been designed with adults in mind but had been played be teens- the new product would be designed to be accessible to teens and not to be offensive to parents.

2. What Did 2e Change?
Hunger will make people do amazing things. The proof of that is cannibalism.

The most important thing to know about 2e is that the game is essentially the same, as it had to be, in order to maintain backwards compatibility with 1e. In fact, many of the changes that the designers wanted to improve the game, such as the use of ascending armor class, were not incorporated into 2e specifically because it would break that compatibility. But what were those changes?

Well, largely you can divide the changes into three groups- the mechanical changes (truly new mechanics or systems ways of doing things), the housekeeping changes (streamlining or improving things that already exist), and the PG changes (the changes to make D&D less of a target for the various groups that get all riled up about stuff). This is putting aside the general changes to formatting and readability and replacing Gygaxian purplish prose with something approaching comprehensibility.

The actual mechanical changes were ... small. There is a real "skill" system (non-weapon proficiencies). Surprise and initiative are simplified ... BECAUSE YOU COULDN'T POSSIBLY HAVE COMPLICATED THEM! Weapon specialization (from UA) was added but toned done. Silver pieces went from 1/20 of a GP to 1/10 of a GP. Critical hits were introduced into the rules. Instead of tables, THAC0 is now standard. There's a lot of small changes- ability scores, by default, are listed and (in)famously XP points are handled differently. But while there are numerous tiny changes, especially to subsystems, the fundamentals of the game are the same.

The housekeeping issues are entirely different. Psionics was removed from the base PHB. Bards are no longer a "prestige" class. Magic Users become Mages, and Illusionists are now just a school. Rangers are completely different. The classes are placed into groupings- warrior, priest, wizard, and rogue and sub-classes are eliminated. And so on.

Finally, there were the PG changes. Orcs were removed. Assassins were removed. Demons and Devils were given new names. The emphasis of the game shifted from backstabbing mercenaries looting tombs for money to groups collaborating for heroic adventure!

But while there were numerous small changes throughout, the main thrust of 2e ... the design principle that they held to ... remained. 2e was backwards compatible with 1e. People with 2e characters could, and did, run them in the 1e modules. And while you can find detailed lists of all the changes, and people (such as, ahem, me) have written about the change in playing style that occurred with 2e, it still true that for the vast majority of people, the differences between 1e and 2e looking back today are the same as someone explaining coriander and cilantro ... okay, we got it, but we don't care.

3. Why U Mad Brah? Understanding the Reaction Against 2e.
I can't be with someone like me. I hate myself!

Given that 2e was backwards compatible with 1e, and that it really wasn't a major rule change, it might surprise you to learn that there were people, D&D fans, who weren't happy with the new edition. I know, I know. It is shocking, shocking I say to find out that D&D fans might be angry with a new edition of D&D! But it happened. The question is, why? After all, later edition changes (2e - 3e, 3e - 4e, 4e - 5e) all involved changing the rules in ways that were no backwards compatible. So why were people angry?

I cannot speak for every single angry person, of course, but generally I would say that most of the resistance came down to some of the following factors:
a. Anger over the PG direction. This might shock you, but the idea that "D&D isn't for kids," has been around since, well, almost forever. the combination of the specific choice to make it more teen-friendly as well as the acknowledged capitulation to the forces behind the Satanic Panic weren't great for a lot of people.
b. Anger over Gygax. Gygax was, for many people, D&D. He was the "voice" in the PHB and the DMG, and he was the person behind Greyhawk, as well as writing some of the best-known modules and having regular columns in Dragon Magazine. Some people just weren't keen on the Gygax-free D&D.
c. Anger over sacred cows. In addition to axing the half-orc and assassin, they got rid of beloved sub-classes like the illusionist. And classes people liked from UA (barbarian, cavalier) weren't included. And the monk? The monk was gone. And the bard, the bard became a real class ... guess who HATED THAT.
d. Anger over change. This is always a catch-all, but if you've devoted years of your life to mastering a system, perhaps even going so far as to write your own dense packet of additional rules, you probably didn't think much of the changes that TSR chose to make. Why fix something that ain't broke?

So it went- there was a visceral and emotional reaction to the introduction of 1e, and to this day, you will still find older players that swear by 1e and swear at 2e.

4. What Does this mean for 5.5e?
There’s more to life than making shallow, fairly obvious observations.

Whew. What does it all mean? Well, in essence ... people gonna git mad. 5e is in a similar situation to what 1e AD&D was in back in 1987- been around for a decade. Had major rules expansions (XGTE, Tasha's). Starting to feel a little unwieldy at times. It could certainly use a fresh coat of paint, at a minimum. So a new edition, which is different enough to have people interested in it (ooh, weapon mastery?) but close enough to use your old material seems like a no-brainer.

But what we know is that this won't sit well with everyone. Sure, some of the things might be a little different. We're not dealing with the Ghost of Gygax anymore. But in many ways, the issues are the same- replace "half-orc" and "assassin" with "species" and you can see some of the same visceral passions- I don't want my D&D changed. Or, for that matter, the idea that they are dumbing down D&D for a younger market.

In the end, 5.5e, or 50th Anniversary D&D, or OneD&D to Rule them All, or whatever it's called? It will be fine. And it will be backwards compatible. And people? Some people will be mad. Same as it ever was.

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Your posts are always a bit intimidating to comment on, because I feel like I need to raise my game.

I have vague memories of our furious nerd debates about the Zeb Cook article and the direction of 2e. It makes me nostalgic now, but we were mad. As teenagers, we obviously knew everything, and it was clear to us that he wanted to wreck D&D. We thought TSR was backing down to the Christian Right by banning the words "demon" and "devil" and by no longer illustrating the Gynosphinx with naked bewbs. And obviously, we were sure that Lorraine Williams done did Gary Gygax wrong (this was long before the rumours about his Hollywood adventures made the rounds, at least to our tender ears).

I don't see OneD&D exciting the same rage. To begin with, the changes are less significant. No classes are going away. Replacing the word "race" with "species" has generated plenty of commentary on this forum, but does anyone deeply care? For real? The tone of the game isn't changing: we get to keep our devils and demons, and our Gynosphinxes remain safely demure. No one is getting rid out of town on a rail, and there isn't a powerful woman taking charge that we can focus hateful rhetoric upon. There's just a lot of argument about fairly petty details, which will cause more drama than it should, but nothing like 2e did, IMO.
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5ever, or until 2024
I managed to read the whole OP! I feel proud.

There are certainly similarities. There has also been initial waves of anger with One. Those may fade.

But there is the real danger. 2024 D&D will just be ignored by a lot of current gamers. Many people I know who staid with 1e weren't really mad, they just didn't feel the need. When they did look at (core) 2e books, they found them kind of boring (because they were).

With 5e, people are stilling getting in to it. New groups are still forming--which is crazy, but its happening. If you are part of that big wave who started playing in recent years, it may just not be worth it to switch.


It's been so long since I've played either 1st or 2nd edition that I really can't tell you the difference between the two. I had even forgotten about the Monk and Bard not being playable in the PHB. The only thing I remembered is there weren't as many polearms, there was no awesome harlot table, and the demons were no longer demons.

There are a few things I don't like about 5th edition, like the abandonment of alignment, the description of Charm Person, and the lack of decent setting material, but it's still the best edition in my opinion. For the upcoming totally not-a-new-edition-of-the-game, I'm not mad about species or the decoupling of ability scores from species, but I'm a little miffed by the lie that it's not a new edition. I just find it insulting. Don't pee on my leg and tell me its raining.
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But you just may not buy. Thats the point.
How is that a point at all? If WotC can only release a new version if no one sticks with the old books, then they will never be able to. This happened every single time, it will happen this time too.

If they get the compatibility right, then it won't matter however. If you stick with 5e you can still play the new adventures. If you switch to 1DD, you can bring the old ones over.


5ever, or until 2024
How is that a point at all? If WotC can only release a new version if no one sticks with the old books, then they will never be able to. This happened every single time, it will happen this time too.
Sure. The issue is how many sticks. With 2e and 4e, it was a lot that stuck.

Fortunately, they are not calling this 6e, so that may solve the problem.


Sure. The issue is how many sticks. With 2e and 4e, it was a lot that stuck.
Whether they stick with 5e or not only matters if 5e is being replaced by a new, incompatible edition. If the players sticking with 5e still buy WotC's new adventures, then they can stay on 5e without any impact on WotC (apart from them not buying the 1DD books) or the players.

Would WotC want them to migrate, sure, but they are not being forced off 5e by their edition being discontinued.


@TerraDave Well, that and the fact that they are not making any significant changes. At least, not thus far, and they claim they won’t.

The point isn’t to sell a new PHB to someone who already has one. The point is to update the game and keep the currently strong sales rolling along.

If they make you feel you have to replace your existing books to still play the current edition, then they have failed at their stated primary design goal. This is a key distinction from 2e, which needed to generate fast sales to keep TSR afloat.

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