Worlds of Design: To Move or Not to a New Edition?

When the RPG ruleset you use is replaced by a new edition, what do you do?

Many tabletop RPGs besides D&D have multiple editions. How many people stick with older editions rather than move to the new one?


Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

Flipping & Turning Through New Rules​

I was reading an issue of Flipping & Turning (an online magazine for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, free through DriveThruRPG). A contributor to that magazine mentioned that years ago he thought no one played AD&D (First Edition, 1E) anymore, not once the Second Edition (2E) was released, but discovered many years later that Old Schoolers often play 1E.

My own experience is that I moved to AD&D from the original booklets, ignored 2E, played 3E along with 1E, played but did not game master 4E, and appreciate many virtues in 5E but don’t play it, still playing 1E.

New Editions, Other Games​

Thinking about other kinds of tabletop games, I suspect everyone moves to each new edition (there have been many) of Magic: the Gathering, because of “organized play” tournaments and the annual replacement of cards with new ones.

When an expansion for a board game is published, most people play with the expansion(s) if they can. New editions of board games are uncommon. I cite my own Britannia. In the UK people played the original H.P. Gibsons (1986) edition, in the USA gamers played the slightly different and later Avalon Hill (AH) edition (1987). When I revised the game to fix some errors introduced by publishers, in 2006, it replaced the AH edition at the World Boardgaming Championships (WBC) tournament, though a few people still prefer the AH edition. The 2020 reissue of the game does not change the rules, but uses plastic pieces (and new board artwork). Many long-time players don’t like the idea of plastic figures, and I think we’ll see a mix of sets when WBC next meets. But because the rules haven’t changed, though the interface has, it’s not comparable to a new edition of an RPG where the rules do change.

The Pros & Cons of a New Edition​

If you stick with the old you don’t have to worry about official updates to the rules. Updates can vary in quality and reception; some provide new ways for players to get something in a way that seems "easier" to players, which can cause friction at the table when those players want to use the new rules, and the game master doesn't. This may not be a problem for strong personalities, but can be a problem for a GM who isn’t clearly the leader of the group. That GM will be constantly bombarded with requests to use new rules. Forty years ago I advised GMs to avoid letting players gain unearned advantages through new rules (I banned all additions to my 3E game); but that only applies to RPGs as games, not as storytelling mechanisms.

A new edition can fix problems, but can introduce new ones. I’m not sure where the advantage lies. Another consequence of staying with the old is that new players who have bought the new edition may prefer to play what they’ve bought.

By the time a new edition is released, there’s so much material available for the older edition (often free or quite cheap) that there may not be an obvious need to switch. Those sticking with older RPG editions may be more likely to make up their own material, and thus depend less on updates. Gamers sometimes accuse publishers of releasing a new edition simply to make more money rather than actually improve the game, but a company’s motivation can certainly be both (See The Dilemma of the Simple RPG).

Finally, there is the belief that new is always better, predicated on the notion that a new edition is always an improvement on the older one. That’s certainly how publishers position their new editions, but it’s not true for every player. It wasn’t true for me with D&D, but with an historian’s perspective I also see that new often isn’t better, it’s just new.

Your Turn: How many people stick with older editions of RPGs? After all, many tabletop role-playing games have multiple editions, not just D&D. So we have a poll!
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Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio


I do not play that many other games than D&D, but a new edition comes out after several years traditionally and my table finds that there is an excitement period where the new stuff is cool and worth trying. A new campaign may last a year and at that point there is no reason to go back (even 4e). There also seems to be a reason that a new edition was thought to be needed. There has been enough change to warrant going from say, THAC0 to d20 in 3e that it helped streamlined everything and made me say "Why did they not think of this before".


I have been playing since 1e but normally move to a new edition because I am looking for a new experience and new innovations. After 5-6 years I am ready to move on. I only tend to buy the core books so I dont mind buying new books after this time and converting old adventures if need be.
I have over 20 books from 4e, and my 5e books have passed that already, though more than half are from 3rd party Kickstarters, the most recent being Ruins of Symbaroum 5e.

I tend to move on to new editions, basically for lack of official support on the older one. In the majority of the cases I'm ok with the switch, or at the very least I found new mechanics to implement in older editions.


Generally go to new edition 4E being the exception.

Still happy to play older editions on occasion or run them.

Normally get sick of an edition after 5 years or so.

Depends mostly on the game/on how radical the changes are between editions:
E.g. for Call of Cthulhu, new editions mostly mean a steady evolution, so I'm unlikely to pick up an old edition if I want to play. For Shadowrun, 4e felt like a huge break and I would rather go back to 2e than play any of the newer editions. For D&D it's a mixed bag - each edition feels a bit like its own game, but a common core is also still recognizable.

However, these days I also tend to play a lot of systems, so new editions of an existing game generally have a reduced appeal, since there's so much other stuff to choose from.


Depends on the nature of the changes to the game for me. I started with 1e/2e (right around the transition). When 3e released, I was eager to switch, as I felt 1e/2e had a lot of pretty silly rules after having played it for a decade. Chief among them was the limitation of what race could be what class. The wholly backwards nature of multiclassing/dual classing. Various other "just because" rules or some variety of "because balance". We also felt a certain same-yness within the classes. There was little to differentiate Bob Fighter from Jane Fighter from Steve Fighter.

3e was quite welcome in that you could play what you wanted and there was nice ways to differentiate yourself within a class. Elf paladin? Done. Dwarf sorcerer? Go for it. Sure, some were better mechanically suited than others in certain classes, but it didn't matter, you could play what you wanted. It offered a more reasoned explanation for why certain rules and/or limitations existed (not perfectly of course, but far better than 1e/2e's approach of "just because"). This was all welcome to me, as I had yet to really understand that had I wanted to, I could have houseruled all those (what I call) nonsense rules in 1e/2e.

Shortly after the 3.5 release, I started to become far less enamoured with the 3.x ruleset. We kept playing it, as it was D&D (and my players did NOT miss THAC0 and had no desire to go backwards), but we quickly began to realize 3.x was math porn, replete with pointless bonuses and far too "build-y". We still loved playing whatever you wanted to play, but even there, it was evident if you did not go down a very specific path (i.e. selecting optimal feats/skills, etc) were essentially nerfing your character. That latter, "build-y" bit bothered us far less though than the absolute insanity of the math of the game. Adding and subtracting is easy, sure, but when you have so many bonuses/penalties being applied (and keeping track of them all) became un-fun.

Then 4e happened. We took one look, played a bit, said "Hell nope" and went to Pathfinder (which only exacerbated the math porn/build-y nature of 3.x, but it was a far better option for us than 4e). We kept playing, but we did notice we played less overall. Of course we all wrote it off as just we're a lot older now, have families/more responsibilities, etc...but I sometimes wonder if the nature of the 3.x game also turned us a little off of it.

During that time I was tinkering with the 2e rules on my own, working towards houseruling away the nonsense rules and such...and then 5e hit. We love it. It has its problems and is far from perfect, but it works very well. It's a compromise of 1e/2e and 3.x I find (with a sprinkle of 4e that is easily ignored, should you desire to).

So, I'll switch editions if it offers something new enough and appeals, but not necessarily right away.

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