• Welcome to this new upgrade of the site. We are now on a totally different software platform. Many things will be different, and bugs are expected. Certain areas (like downloads and reviews) will take longer to import. As always, please use the Meta Forum for site queries or bug reports. Note that we (the mods and admins) are also learning the new software.
  • The RSS feed for the news page has changed. Use this link. The old one displays the forums, not the news.

When did mixing editions become unusual?

One thing that I remember about 1st edition era AD&D is that people really didn't see the rule set as something sacred and set in stone; people would pick and choose which rules to use, and casually would mix and match rules from Dragon Magazine, OD&D, BECMI, 2nd edition, and other games without thinking too much of it. Even crossing game systems was not frowned upon, the DMG rules for crossing over with Gamma World or Boot Hill were not an aberration, and doing things like running a D&D campaign but switching to a miniatures game for epic battles was not unheard of (TSR's Battlesystem was built for that, but people did it with other rule sets).


Someone might not like a particular additional rule because it was overpowered (especially things like optional classes), because it didn't fit the story of the campaign (extra races especially), or was too complicated, and it was consistently 'the DM decides what is valid in his campaign world(s)', but there wasn't an attitude of 'you're not REALLY playing AD&D because your campaign started off in the basic set' or 'That's not 1st edition because you used the psionics class from the 2e psionics guide' or 'your game doesn't count because you used a spell points system instead of Vancian magic'. And you wouldn't really expect to be able to just show up at a new group's game and drop in an existing character (or roll a new one by the rules), you'd need to check what all of their house rules and optional rules were before you could do that.


People also didn't feel the need to use the entire ruleset. For example, I never actually encountered anyone who used the full speed factor rules for 1e, where if two weapon-using combatants fought you compared speed factors and one could get 2-3 extra attacks depending on the ratio of speed factors, but also compared weapon lengths and the longer weapon would always hit first. The psionics rules were usually ignored and if someone did want psionics 'if you roll a small % chance, you basically get an extra class grafted onto your character for free'. The demi-human level limits were often just chucked out if a campaign got to the level where they became relevant.


So my question is: when did this change? My experience is that 3rd edition is when the game really went through a shift from 'jumble together whatever rules you want to use' to 'these are the real rules, and you're probably going to use them while maybe tacking on some specific variants'. I think part of it is that 3e (and later 4e and 5e) was mechanically different enough from 1e and 2e that you couldn't casually mix and match bits with the older editions - there were radical changes to ability scores, hit tables, core combat mechanics, and other areas that made this infeasable. The internet also really took off between the release of 2e and 3e, which made it much easier for players around the world to talk about rules and interpretations, instead of being limited to a local group that had an occasional person go to a convention.


What prompted this is that in a recent thread, some people accused me of lying about having played 1e because I used the term THAC0 when doing a quick 'how would this work' combat. Aside from the many logical flaws of the argument, I looked and found that THACO was used in TSR products going back to 1981, and that it wasn't actually coined in 1989 with 2nd edition like they claimed. This got me thinking about how casually (at least in my experience) people mixed rules back in the day, and how someone using monsters straight from 2e sources for a 1e campaign or running a 1e module for 2e characters didn't seem the least bit odd.
 
I think it's just rules mechanics.

I read a few 1e products years ago, and literally could not tell it was the familiar AD&D 2e that I had played before until I wondered why these monsters were being given slightly unusual XP awards. "Oh, that's why" I thought, as palm of hand reached forehead.

But 3e was such a dramatic change from 2e (and 4e such a dramatic change from 3e, and 5e such a dramatic change from 4e) that you have to convert the rules from one to the other. The ability score system alone made for a huge change (and was the first reason I jumped ship from 2e to 3e).

I could convert a 1e version of Conan into any edition of D&D (except 5e, but only due to a lack of familiarity) and could convert him into d20 Modern and Mutants & Masterminds, and Alternity, and several non-TSR/WotC game rules as well. But that's a conversion, which would take a lot of work.

I wouldn't worry too much about the accusation of lying. Years ago I participated in a thread with a poster named Power Munchkin, and several other posters. I mentioned that Power Munchkin said so and so, and was accused of insulting another poster, calling them a munchkin. They forgot the name of the poster I was quoting! The internet is a funny place sometimes, except when it's not funny. (Also, I wonder if that 1981 product was obscure. It certainly would not have been available online in 1981!)
 
To clarify the bit I forgot to say: I distinctly remember that in the 90s or early 2000s, I'd look for a "D&D" game as opposed to WHFRP, GURPS, Fantasy HERO, or the like, without specifying any specific edition. I'd expect to figure out exactly which AD&D rules (or if someone was using BECMI) once I talked to them about the game, but whether it was 1e or 2e was less important than things like the campaign world, which optional rules, and so on. Today I would definitely distinguish 5e from 4e from pathfinder/3.5 from 1e/2e (though I might look for a '1e or 2e game') as much as I would distinguish looking for a game in GURPS vs FATE vs Hero.

Also, I'm not really losing sleep over a couple of people on a message board accusing me of lying about my own history, especially since I turned up documentation that were factually wrong in what they said I was lying about. I mentioned it as context for discussing different editions, because while their attitude (at least somewhat) makes sense now, I really can't imagine someone back in the 80s or 90s deciding that I must not have played 1st edition because I used something from 2nd edition. FYI the 1981 use was the RPGA series of modules published by TSR, so not really obscure. The Battlesystem game in 1985 also used THAC0, and that's not exactly an obscure system.
 

Saelorn

Explorer
I read a few 1e products years ago, and literally could not tell it was the familiar AD&D 2e that I had played before until I wondered why these monsters were being given slightly unusual XP awards. "Oh, that's why" I thought, as palm of hand reached forehead.
I think that's pretty much it. Early editions were such a kludge of mish-mashed mechanics that it was hard to consider the whole as a cohesive system. When it was clearly already a patchwork design, it didn't seem weird to patch more bits into it or out of it.

Third edition was a cohesive system, with clear and consistent mechanics. Patching in something from AD&D would seem out of place.

It's also worth noting that 3E coincided with the widespread adoption of the internet. The internet was around for the tail end of 2E, but by then, 2E players were used to the idea of rulesets being a local phenomenon. When 3E was new and popular, there were online message boards where players met to discuss the game, and a unified ruleset makes communication easier. If you did try to patch a sub-system from AD&D into your 3E game, then you'd have to stop and explain that to anyone online before you could talk about what's going on in your game, and it was easier for other people to simply dismiss your experiences as irrelevant.
 
Last edited:
I’d agree that edition-mixing really began to die out in 3e, and 4e was so dramatically different that it delivered the deathblow to it.

I think that with 2e, though, my groups at least began to be more likely to play the rules in total, rather than the pick-and-choose kludge of 1e.
 

Jer

Explorer
3e. 3e absolutely is the point where rules mixing stopped. I suspect because 3e is the first edition where mixing in different subsystems is actually harder than just playing the rules as written. 3e had a single mechanic - roll a d20 and add a bonus, compare to a difficulty number. The rules are tightly coupled to that unified mechanic, and it's not obvious how to include other systems even if you wanted to use them.

Conversely AD&D and BECMI were both built on a lot of different subsystems that were loosely coupled together mechanically. Saving throws were different from hit rolls were different from thief skill rolls etc. Swapping out one of those loosely coupled subsystems for a different subsystem was fairly easily done - you could replace the whole combat engine with different rules if you wanted (in fact if you go back to OD&D the combat rules there were just an "alternative system" for using Chainmail rules for miniatures). And sometimes it was easier to just swap in a system that you knew instead of dealing with the rules as written - a number of 1e AD&D games I played in back in the day basically used B/X rules for most of the at the table play and were "AD&D" games in the sense that players used classes/races from the PHB and the DM used monsters and treasure from the MM and DMG.

It's interesting that RPG design overall has trended towards tightly coupled systems - I suspect largely because it seems to be easier to teach people how to play the game when you have a single resolution system. Also because games are now designed to fulfill certain expectations about RPGs right out of the gate rather than organically grown over time to meet those expectations.
 
A lot of people have already hit on what I think is the problem. It's fashionable now to produce systems that have a single pervasive resolution mechanic that pervades the entire system. This produces a tightly coupled system where it is difficult to make modifications or to move subsystems in or out of the game.

Personally, I think this is a huge mistake. No one resolution mechanic elegantly models all the challenges that you may wish to include in your story. Since all RPGs are actually a collection of mini-games, game designers would do well IMO to consider their game to be a platform for joining together disparate mini-games right from the start, privileging the outcome of resolution over the mechanical elegance thereof.

A good example is how 3e does a decent job of being a tactical skirmish game, but a lousy job of simulating chases out of the box. However, consider something like the system outlined in 'Hot Pursuit: The Definitive D20 Guide to Chases' as an example of what I consider good design. While neither 3e combat nor Hot Pursuit are in any way perfect mechanical systems for what they simulate, the combination of both of them is vastly more powerful than either one is alone and a good GM will not be bothered in the slightest (IMO, obviously) to declare by fiat that one set of rules applies in this situation, and not in another, and transition between them as the needs of the scene demands.

The same would be true of needing to incorporate a Mass Combat scenario or complex role-playing scenario into your game. Adopting a new mechanical framework is generally vastly superior than trying to kludge a mechanical framework that does something well into a situation that doesn't share the primary features of the circumstances the framework handles. A good example of this is just how badly most systems that try to simulate social conflict using the same rules that they use for physical combat fall on their faces and fail to actually achieve their primary goals in having a social combat system in the first place.
 
I generally also concur with the overarching description of the history of the game.

Early on, almost no two tables were using the same rules. Not only did different tables ignore wide swaths of the rules or use variant resolution systems knowingly or unknowingly, but many systems borrowed from BECMI knowingly or unknowingly as well. Almost every table had a list of Dragon articles with variant rules they accepted as canon in their game, and once 2e showed up tables as often as not continued to play 1e AD&D as they knew it if they preferred it, while borrowing select ideas like new rules for Bards or Dragons if they preferred those and adding spells as the DM felt inspired to do so. Or conversely, they might switch to mostly 2e while holding over rules for Paladins, Barbarians and the like if they preferred the older characters.

3e was much more uniform, with most groups playing the core rules in some fashion. However, modularity was still a major feature of 3e, as there was an enormous amount of published material produced both by WotC and third party, and different groups accepted different books to different degrees.

4e was almost entirely monoculture, with the only variation being subtle procedures of play that most tables don't even recognize as being a part of the game.

I can't speak of 5e with a lot of confidence. While there is a lot of talk of "rulings not rules", my suspicion is that the tables nearly as monocultural as 4e with respect to mechanics, as there is simply not a lot of material out there, and 5e I think so far has very much focused on a single very popular style of play and appeals mainly to groups that play in that manner. I see nothing like the recognition that a system that works well for combat might not work so well for chases/evasion, mass combat, or what have you and I don't think that many 5e tables have yet focused on dynastic play or any of the other sorts of things that 5e simply hasn't mentioned much in the thus far published rules. However, that's all just a guess.
 
Last edited:
Early on, almost no two tables were using the same rules. Not only did different tables ignore wide swaths of the rules or use variant resolution systems knowingly or unknowingly, but many systems borrowed from BECMI knowingly or unknowingly as well. Almost every table had a list of Dragon articles with variant rules they accepted as canon in their game, and once 2e showed up tables as often as not continued to play 1e AD&D as they knew it if they preferred it, while borrowing select ideas like new rules for Bards or Dragons if they preferred those and adding spells as the DM felt inspired to do so. Or conversely, they might switch to mostly 2e while holding over rules for Paladins, Barbarians and the like if they preferred the older characters.
This was definitely my experience as well - which is why it really stood out to me when someone made a big deal about how True 1e players would use the pure system, and definitely would keep AD&D distinct from OD&D or BECMI. I saw a good number of of 1e games mostly stuck to 1e but added the 2e bard since the 1e bard was rather impractical, or that ditched whatever initiative system they were using to go to the simple 'roll a die, add speed factor or casting time, go then' that 2e used. I ran a game for a while using the weapon mastery rules from BECMI but most of the rest as standard AD&D. And sometimes people would just grab whole chunks of rules from another game entirely - critical hit/fumble tables were popular, as was taking an entire set of non-combat skill rules instead of NWPs.


However, modularity was still a major feature of 3e, as there was an enormous amount of published material produced both by WotC and third party, and different groups accepted different books to different degrees.
I think another factor other than the game being less uniform was that 1e rules were just bad in a lot of places, and often were written as suggestions for the DM instead of formal rules. The combat rules, as a prime example, were spread around in multiple places between the DMG and PHB, and had a lot of really complicated and inconsistent stuff that didn't flow well like the weapon speed factor comparisons that only happened between weapon using opponents and weapon vs armor type that only happened when fighting certain armor wearers. I don't think I ever encountered two games that agreed exactly on the basic flow of combat, and none of them matched the PHB/DMG setup. Once 3e rolled around, the basic flow of combat was pretty consistent, and 4e and 5e continued that. While there are certainly issues in 3e, 3.5e, 4e, and 5e, the core game rules are solid enough that they get used basically the same from table to table. It's easier to justify ripping and replacing chunks of the game if no one is even quite sure what the base combat rules are!
 

Legatus_Legionis

< BLAH HA Ha ha >
Oh those where that days.

Between OD&D, AD&D and AD&D2, and Dragon Magazine, we would call our "house rules" as ED&D (Expanded Dungeons And Dragons), were the officially published rules were always "A guide" on Role Playing.

Games now are so fixated on having to use "their official rules", so we have to purchase their "official" products, etc.

This is why RPG's are so fragmented today, IMO.

I recall when the industry tried to make a uniform base game (ie. open source), based on the d20 system.

I don't think it lasted too long.

Now if you wanted to try a new game, it is a whole new learning curve for you.

I have also found that once a group finds an edition/game system they like, most times they will not want to try with another. Or having tried another, they vowed to never use that edition/system again as it did not meet they gaming satisfaction.
 

pming

Explorer
Hiya!

THAC0 = Back of the 1e DMG where you can see a list, in 'landscape' page mode, of all the MM monsters for quick access so the DM didn't have to open the MM if he was familiar enough with the monster.

Anyway...

I also started my RPG journey back in '80 (B/X) and we moved onto mostly 1e by about '83 or so (but still played B/X about 30% of the time I'd guess). I've been DM'ing 1e ever since...not constantly, but I would happily state "very VERY often" and not feel guilty. When Kenzer & Co got the "license settlement" to make Hackmaster based on 1e/2e/BECMI, we started playing that. My 1e games now frequently use bits and bobs from HM, and my HM games do likewise. Hell, I even used my HM GMG in yesterdays game...we were playing 5e. Used the Encounter tables and pulled out my GM Screen to use with, well, pretty much everything I needed really.

This, mixing 1e, HM, BECMI, and even 5e or even completely other games (like the Masterbook "Drama Deck" and "Plot Deck" for example) is pretty much par for the course. Using Dragon magazine articles WAS part of the "1e AD&D experience" in every 1e AD&D (and even 2e) game I ever DM'ed or had the pleasure of playing in. First session with a new group saw everyone holding between 3 and 10 photocopied/printed pages of all the "house rules" for the campaign. These were homebrew and Dragon articles, as well as tweaks to common things like how Initiative was going to be handled, how easy/hard it was to get healed or raised from the dead by a cleric, if there were any special rules regarding material components for spells, etc.

I agree with others here that 3e was the downfall (?) of the encouragement of "DIY D&D". In stead it fostered the idea of "Don't create it, buy it". Now, some may/will contest my statement, but that is not only my opinion, but many of my friends and other gamers I've chatted with both online and in person. The system of 3e is so tight (not 4e tight, but still), that if you want to add something, you have to do some SERIOUS work to try and account for so-o many variables that it would take dozens of hours...so it was often a better option to wait for someone else to do the work and they hand them $10. That, to me, "killed" the whole desire and idea of "DIY D&D"....it was now "BIY DYD" (Buy It Yourself).

I LOVE 1e! My go-to game system for "D&D" is my 1e/HM4 hybrid. Pretty much 1e 'serious tone', but with a lot of HM4 sub-rule sets (the Drinking and Getting Drunk rules are PLATINUM!).

Gods...now I have to go stock a Dyson dungeon map using my "Monsters & Treasure" book... ;)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 
THAC0 = Back of the 1e DMG where you can see a list, in 'landscape' page mode, of all the MM monsters for quick access so the DM didn't have to open the MM if he was familiar enough with the monster.
Actually, the argument of the people claiming no THAC0 before 1989 was that the table in the 1e DMG had a "To Hit A.C. 0" column, and that it would be impossible for anyone to abbreviate that to THAC0 before TSR published THAC0 in 2e in 1989, that I must be lying about having used the term myself. While it's more than silly to think that no one but TSR could create acronyms, the fact that TSR did actually use the acronym as early as 1981 caused one of them to put me on ignore and the other to stop posting entirely.
 

Jester David

Villager
I think there's a few reasons.

The first is that in AD&D and 2e, the rules were so similar, you could mix-and-match pretty easily.
And each rule did exist in its own little vacuum from other rules elements, so you could bring in variants without affecting anything else.
Plus, the 1e rules were such a scattershot mess organised in no particular order that looking up rules was time inefficient. If you could even understand it (looking at you initiative); it was often easier to play how you assumed the rules worked.

But then 3e came along, and made all the rules largely work the same. And the books were organised in such a way that encouraged you to look up the rules, and there were so many side options and interactions that it was hard to bring in a variant rule without affecting someone's feats or expectations.
Plus, 3e was so radically different, it caused nothing but confusion when trying to keep that in your head and 1e. It doubled the mental workload.
 
The first is that in AD&D and 2e, the rules were so similar, you could mix-and-match pretty easily.
And each rule did exist in its own little vacuum from other rules elements, so you could bring in variants without affecting anything else.

Plus, 3e was so radically different, it caused nothing but confusion when trying to keep that in your head and 1e. It doubled the mental workload.

I wonder what would have happened if someone dropped 5e back in time and the progression went 1e, 2e, then 5e, skipping 3e, Pathfinder, and 4e entirely. 5e feels a lot more like a 'modern 2e' to me than 3e did, and certainly is closer to old D&D than 4e, I wonder if that would have led to more people using 2e splat books or using Battlesystem mostly intact (other than tweaking THAC0/AC)
 
Hard to say, but it’s interesting to speculate. For my part, I think much would depend on what form the OGL took. The impact of 3e’s OGL was massive. In a lesser or nonexistent state, that could have had massive repercussions – no Pathfinder, certainly, possibly no OSR, not to mention Green Ronin and all the other companies that really came to prominence with their 3rd party products for 3e.

I wonder what would have happened if someone dropped 5e back in time and the progression went 1e, 2e, then 5e, skipping 3e, Pathfinder, and 4e entirely. 5e feels a lot more like a 'modern 2e' to me than 3e did, and certainly is closer to old D&D than 4e, I wonder if that would have led to more people using 2e splat books or using Battlesystem mostly intact (other than tweaking THAC0/AC)
 

Jester David

Villager
I wonder what would have happened if someone dropped 5e back in time and the progression went 1e, 2e, then 5e, skipping 3e, Pathfinder, and 4e entirely. 5e feels a lot more like a 'modern 2e' to me than 3e did, and certainly is closer to old D&D than 4e, I wonder if that would have led to more people using 2e splat books or using Battlesystem mostly intact (other than tweaking THAC0/AC)
Interesting question.
I don’t think it would have done as well following 2e. There’s just so many changes to elements like spellcasting, the addition of formal subclasses, and concessions to balance that might not have worked as well if not for 3e prior. Let alone to the WotC of the era, who wanted monthly books.
 
Hard to say, but it’s interesting to speculate. For my part, I think much would depend on what form the OGL took. The impact of 3e’s OGL was massive. In a lesser or nonexistent state, that could have had massive repercussions – no Pathfinder, certainly, possibly no OSR, not to mention Green Ronin and all the other companies that really came to prominence with their 3rd party products for 3e.

Pathfinder required a pretty specific set of circumstances - it needed the really open OGL to allow making a game that was basically "D&D 3.75 but we can't call it that" and the release of 4e to prompt demand for "more of D&D 3x but not calling it that because Wizards owns the trademark". I think just about any change to D&D history in the early 2000s would butterfly away Pathfinder.
 

KenNYC

Villager
when I DM I mix 5e with 1e now. To keep the flow moving I sometimes just ask players to roll a d20 and see if it is under their stat. Its easier and done in 2 seconds. I also try to bring classes back into the game, and will impose auto disadvantage on any thievy type endeavor to anyone who isn't a rogue, and sometimes just ask "and where in your wizard background did you learn how to crack a safe?" and then just rule their character wouldn't know such a thing no matter what their dex is.

If the 5e version of a monster is weak I just go back to the 1e monster manual. Yellow Mold is save or die when I DM. If a spell is used against a party and I feel like one class should have a leg up on the others (like a fighter used to tumbing about would be quicker to notice a death ray coming their way and dodging while drawing a sword) I will break out the old 1e save table that gives the different classes different save thresholds. Same thing if an enemy wizard was whipping out a component to cast a spell, it stands to reason a PC wizard would instinctively know to dodge a moment sooner than a barbarian, so will use the 1e save vs spell tables.

Basically, I try to go with rulings, not rules, and the old way of just ignoring any rule you can't wrap your mind around, while emphasizing classes and ignoring background and stats. The goal is to keep the game moving and have no discussions with rules lawyers.
 
Last edited:

Shasarak

Villager
I think 4e was the definite break point that finally separated the editions.

The process probably can be tracked back to the beginning of 2e but even then it was pretty easy to mix and match and even play your 1e Assassin if you wanted to. 3e and the d20 system tidied up things a lot but the final nail came with 4e.
 

Advertisement

Top