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

MGibster

Legend
But overall this is about keeping sales strong for another 10 years, not reselling to all existing players. They only need to get a percentage of existing who either want the Anniversary edition for their collection or who like 2024 enough to upgrade.
I think they're in for a rude awakening. I'll be very surprised if the number of D&D players don't drop off within the next few years. Not because anyone is angry or any of that "go woke go broke" baloney, but because the resurgance of popularity will have run its course.
 

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FitzTheRuke

Legend
Yeah, I know they won't object to selling new books to players who already have the old ones. What I mean is that that is not a primary goal, unlike with previous editions. They don't want you to feel pressured to have to update, so that you feel like now you have to choose a side, and potentially retire your entire investment. Because in the past, that created a jumping off point for a lot of players.

Like, if you were playing a cavalier or barbarian when 2e came out, you had a pretty good incentive to stick with 1e.

This will still be a jumping off point, but probably not as much.

You are absolutely right, and it IS worth noting. This is an attitude that I can get behind, too, because I believe that it results in greater sales long-term. And if it doesn't, well, at least it keeps the world a better place.

I'm referring to doing business like I do at my comic and game store. The goal is not to sell you something. The goal is to get the things that you want and have you buy them. The difference is in excising the idea that it's better to sell you something you don't want or need in order to make the sale. Forget that. If I present you only with things that I think you might like and leave it up to you if you want to buy them, IMO, you ultimately come back for more, far more often.

Maybe it doesn't work that way (usually) in Big Business, and I recognize that my business counts as micro business. But I like it that way, and I've been doing it for 30 years, so I must be doing something right. I like to see WotC using just the tiniest slice of that attitude.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
I think they're in for a rude awakening. I'll be very surprised if the number of D&D players don't drop off within the next few years. Not because anyone is angry or any of that "go woke go broke" baloney, but because the resurgance of popularity will have run its course.
We'll have to see, but I heartily doubt it. I think we're only at the tip of the iceberg.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Anecdotally, the anger I saw was almost exclusively about making it teen rated. Nothing about Gygax being ousted. Then again, I was a teen at the time, so all of us teens (I think I was 16 when it came out?) were upset that TSR thought we weren't mature enough for devils and boobs lol.

Another difference I think is important that I didn't see called out was the role of social media and influencers. Those didn't exist back in 1989. They do now, and many players and almost all new players will play what Critical Role and others are playing because that's the version they will know about.

So I think 5.5 has an advantage in that regard that 2e didn't.
 

Clint_L

Legend
One thing that I think is new is the generational aspect to the way this issue is viewed. There were always grognards, but back in those days the true grognards looked at D&D itself with a sneer (they were OG wargamers), so they weren't that fussed about the 1e-2e changes. Most of the anger was coming from all of us whippersnappers who got onboard with AD&D - it was the beginning of our grognard-dom.

This time, the game has many editions of grognards behind it and a lot of the fuss about changes has a distinct flavour of generational angst.
 

Warpiglet-7

Satan’s Echo Chamber! Muhahahaha
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.
Interesting read! And I think you got some things right.

I was an ‘a’ and ‘b’ person. We did not switch to 2e. It came out before college but even as teens, we did not like the perceived decrease in danger!

Here I mean getting rid of demons and devils at least in name. Or being rid of half orcs and assassins.

We LIKED the bad stuff! D&D was like listening to Slayer and watching Conan the Barbarian!

I did not know the controversies or politics but D&D without Gygax seemed generic to me—off brand, not legit. I got over it—-played 3e a bit and now 5e…but back then, I was not having it.

And the more things change…I still like the controversial bits and still get mad at extragame issues being a driving force in design choices. I too felt D&D was a grown up game and still do not like any dumbing down or restriction of rated ‘R’ content!
 

TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
Yeah, I know they won't object to selling new books to players who already have the old ones. What I mean is that that is not a primary goal, unlike with previous editions. They don't want you to feel pressured to have to update, so that you feel like now you have to choose a side, and potentially retire your entire investment. Because in the past, that created a jumping off point for a lot of players.

Like, if you were playing a cavalier or barbarian when 2e came out, you had a pretty good incentive to stick with 1e.

This will still be a jumping off point, but probably not as much.
I don't think they care much if you actually use the new books. They care if you choose to access them via the D&D Beyond infrastructure. Getting D&D Beyond subscriptions and turning D&D into a service rather than a product is the real goal.
 


FitzTheRuke

Legend
If anything fans will move sideways.

As in maybe not play D&D as much (or at all) but try other games and genres. D&D is just the first step to a larger RPG universe.

Yup. And that goes around and comes back to D&D, too. I think we're only at about 20% of the potential TTRPG market, give or take. As geek continues to become the new cool, it will keep going, and then settle down for a bit. (Still bigger than it is today, in my expectation, even after the boom drops). But I'm basing that mostly on gut. Gut that has served me well. Gut that is formed on 30 years of buying & selling, and 38 of playing TTRPGs.
 

Clint_L

Legend
Anecdotally, the anger I saw was almost exclusively about making it teen rated. Nothing about Gygax being ousted. Then again, I was a teen at the time, so all of us teens (I think I was 16 when it came out?) were upset that TSR thought we weren't mature enough for devils and boobs lol.

Another difference I think is important that I didn't see called out was the role of social media and influencers. Those didn't exist back in 1989. They do now, and many players and almost all new players will play what Critical Role and others are playing because that's the version they will know about.

So I think 5.5 has an advantage in that regard that 2e didn't.
True words, though I was certainly upset about Gygax being pushed out. I grew up on Marvel comics and Stan's soapbox, so I was perfectly primed for St. Gary's essays and observations delivered throughout the AD&D books, and especially Dragon magazine, which I read and re-read voraciously. Not that I always agreed with him - I'm a liberal Canadian at heart - but I believed in him, if you get my drift. So the idea of TSR without Gygax personally offended me at an almost visceral level.

It's funny, but the older I get the more open-minded I am becoming. I think it's because I have just been wrong so many times, that I have finally learned a tiny bit of humility. Reading Game Wizards (5/5, hugely recommend) really made me reassess a lot of my ideas about what TSR was. I've gone from idolizing Gygax as a teen, to kind of vilifying him when some of the less savoury stuff about him came out, to seeing all those guys as just people, warts and all, who still gave us something great, and for which I am thankful.

I feel the same way about the folks working at WotC now, and about everyone else working on these games that we love. Morris, and the other folks behind this site. All of you (even the ones I have on ignore for both of our sakes). Gratitude. So I am optimistic about OneD&D, and about the wider proliferation of RPGs. I think these kinds of games are a net good, and the reason we argue about them so passionately is that we all love them so much.

Right now, I feel particularly thankful for Snarf. I stated it before, but this is 5 star writing that I would pay for, and you give it to us for free.
 
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