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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?


  • Total voters
    273
Many tabletop RPGs besides D&D have multiple editions. How many people stick with older editions rather than move to the new one?

newedition.jpg

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

JustinCase

the magical equivalent to the number zero
A new edition brings excitement about what it can do, and a fresh start after so many books (looking at you, 3.5 and PF1) where I give up trying to master a previous edition. But the love for older editions is not gone, and...

...when your players want to play this edition (whether old or new), that's what you play. Usually it's not up to one person.

So yeah, both old and new for me. :)
 

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DEFCON 1

Legend
As I am mostly ambivalent towards D&D game mechanics on the whole and find myself growing bored with them after playing them for many years... I always welcome a new edition and the new evolutions to the way we play D&D. I have not yet once had an edition of D&D that I didn't want to move to. If and when "5.5" or "6E" gets released, I'm pretty sure I will move to those as well.
 


What does the new edition do that the old doesn't? I treat them as different but related games.

Because they all do different things well I have all of the Rules Cyclopaedia, 4e, and 5e in my range of RPGs. WFRP 1e was dismissed for 2e however much I prefer Old Bretonnia as an RPG setting because the 2e magic system is so much better - and I also have 3e in my collection because it's very different. But not 4e.
 

Marc_C

Solitary Role Playing
I only switch editions after a campaign is completed. I played D&D from Basic Moldvay to 5e. Some of my first rpg friends still play 1e. They never switched to 2e or any other edition.

At this juncture I'm no longer sure I want to invest into new editions of games I already have. I really don't see myself buying 5.5e (or 6e). I'm might not even buy Fantasy AGE Revised coming out in late 2021.
 

jsaving

Adventurer
I find the OP's question to be a bit strange. If I conclude after a fair shot that the new edition is better, like 3e, then I adopt and use it. If I conclude after a fair shot that the new edition is worse, like 4e, then I stick with the previous edition. It isn't more complicated than that and this would describe most of the players and DMs I know, though of course we would not always completely agree on what it means to be "better".

Automatically sticking to the old system because we're used to it, or automatically moving to the new one because someone said we should, wouldn't be high on my list of things to do.
 

payn

Hero
In my groups adopting a new edition or not depends entirely on the GM. My players have never asked to move to a new edition. They get a little curious, but mostly its the GM and hard core members that drive the change, if it happens.

As a GM most of the time, I am always curious about new editions. I' jump in and learn as much as I can. The last few edition changes havent been too exciting, and thus I havent really fully converted over. Guess im getting old.
 

Zaukrie

New Publisher
Most of the people I play with switch, so I switch, so I have someone to play with........and I've pretty much moved onto every new edition of D&D right when it was introduced......but I still use a lot of the adventures or monsters or whatnot from older editions.....
 

univoxs

That's my dog, Walter
Supporter
New editions are like Microsoft Windows versions. I let everyone else jump first and get beat up while I hold back to see if it is worth getting into, or possibly skipping.

If it weren't for wanting to get into gaming at my local shop, I would probably never have touched 5e but I will be running my first game of D&D 5e this week actually. Some games needed new editions badly to fix rules. Vampire was like this. While I prefer the setting of oWoD, nWoD vastly improved the rules of the game and was much needed. I ran a hexcrawl D&D 3.5 for the last year and have vowed to never use that system again. It made me remember why Pathfinder was so exciting with how many things it fixed.

I would think publishers need new editions more than the players do. Did Pathfinder players need a 2e or did Paizo need it? I have no problem with a publisher wanting to make money. People gotta eat and I wish anyone designing a game all the success in the world.

We hear Hasbro leaves WotC alone but the moment sales slump, they are going to make WotC do something to drive numbers back up and a new edition will be that thing. We would see a D&D 6e pretty quick if PF 2e had made a real impact.

What new editions need most in content, not settings, but adventures to get players and GMs going quickly. This is a tangent but something that holds back a lot of these beautiful licensed games that are coming out is the lack of adventure materials. Some of these games set up some elaborate systems but without examples of how to use them at the table. The best way for a GM to understand how to design an adventure or campaign for a paticular game is to read a pre-written one. I think the history of magazines for D&D have gone a long way in developing GMs ability to design adventures just based on reading so many, even if they don't use them.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Some games needed new editions badly to fix rules. Vampire was like this. While I prefer the setting of oWoD, nWoD vastly improved the rules of the game and was much needed. I ran a hexcrawl D&D 3.5 for the last year and have vowed to never use that system again. It made me remember why Pathfinder was so exciting with how many things it fixed.
I definitely agree with this as a motive for some edition changes. Another good example is the Villains and Vigilantes game. Version 1 was relatively primitive compared to version 2 - the edition that was the main workhorse of the game line.
It's not necessarily surprising for games that are new to need a revision relatively soon - there are simply things that are missed in the original design, issues that looked OK to design and playtest that were troublesome in the public, lots of things like that. I'd even argue D&D's evolution from the initial booklets and box through the Holmes edition and to either the AD&D line or the D&D line fits this mold too. LOTS of stuff was being revised and added to the big, new, shiny game. Same with Champions.
I would think publishers need new editions more than the players do. Did Pathfinder players need a 2e or did Paizo need it? I have no problem with a publisher wanting to make money. People gotta eat and I wish anyone designing a game all the success in the world.
I think this is an issue for more mature game lines. Eventually, the sales will slump and/or the system has had about as much accreted to it as it can handle and it's showing its age. At that point, I don't necessarily have a problem with a new edition but this is also a moment of substantial risk - are they going to review, revise, and incorporate the stuff that accreted but leave the system working mostly the same (like Call of Cthulhu or AD&D 1e to 2e), or are they going to redesign the whole thing and go in a substantially different direction (like 3e to 4e, MegaTraveller to Traveller: New Era, Top Secret to Top Secret SI).
Paizo may have gone in a substantially new direction for Pathfinder 2, but at least they ran the clock out on Pathfinder 1 for a pretty good run.

What new editions need most in content, not settings, but adventures to get players and GMs going quickly. This is a tangent but something that holds back a lot of these beautiful licensed games that are coming out is the lack of adventure materials. Some of these games set up some elaborate systems but without examples of how to use them at the table. The best way for a GM to understand how to design an adventure or campaign for a paticular game is to read a pre-written one. I think the history of magazines for D&D have gone a long way in developing GMs ability to design adventures just based on reading so many, even if they don't use them.
Totally agree. The last thing a new edition of anything needs is lack of examples of what can be done with it or lack of a tool for new GMs/players to interact with as soon as they can.
 

Hex08

Explorer
I have played D&D in Basic, Expert, 1st, 2nd, 3.0 and 3.5 editions (plus Pathfinder 1st ed and Castles & Crusades) and don't see myself buying anymore D&D editions or variants. I have owned two or three editions of Gamma World, two of Vampire and two of Savage Worlds. Most other games I have only owned one. As time goes on I am less likely to buy new editions, if I run out of material I am more likely to move on to a different game.

At this point I have owned so many games and have enough material to run adventures in them that it really doesn't make sense to keep investing in new editions. I am also buying fewer new games.
 

Scarlet.Knight

Explorer
The biggest problem with new editions are when they are driven by Capitalist greed.

For example, I have many of the 5e Adventures in Middle-earth from Brutish Cubicle7.

Now, the Swedish Fria Ligan own the rights and plan a 2nd Edition of Adventure in Middle-earth this Fall, with new core rule books. Now, if this new edition does not invalidate what I already have, I am more than happy to purchase more books.
I hear ya! AiME is a thing of beauty as it is. If they adopt the same approach to the 2nd edition as TOR 2nd edition, the focus will probably shift to different regions and another timeline. Hoping the sourcebooks at least can be reused. 5th edition rules are still 5th edition rules. I would welcome different character options, as I feel the range of choice is fairly limited, despite it being one of the best ports of the 5th edition rules imho.

As a side note, did you mean British or Brutish lol? Too bad Cubicle 7 seems only focused on Warhammer now. This thing is too crunchy for me.
 

Mercurius

Legend
I almost always move to the new edition, mostly because after however many years of playing the old, it is fun to try something new.

I see new editions as part of the ecology of roleplaying games: they keep things moving and novel, and also allow for innovation and evolution. I would even argue that they're a necessity, at least with complex and popular games like D&D. There is no way to create "One Edition to End All Editions."

This is also why I think the notion of an "evergreen D&D"--while good in principle--is unrealistic. It may be that new editions of D&D going forward will hew closely to 5E, but I think we'll still see new editions, if only "revised" (e.g. "5.2 or 5.3"). Meaning, what "evergreen" really means is A) Less frequent edition changes (say, every 10 years), and B) Smaller editions changes ala 1E->2E or 3->3.5E, not 2E->3E or 3E->4E or 4E->5E.

My reasoning is this: New core rulebooks are cash cows and WotC would be foolish (economically) not to exploit them. If you're going to publish new books, you might as well make adjustments from 10 years of experiencing the edition, both addressing "warts" and incorporating new ideas, and once you start tweaking things there's a bit of a domino effect and you end up with a new edition.

This is why I don't think we'll merely see "5.1" or even "5.2" but more likely 5.3 or 5.4...they'll cut as closely to 5.5 as they can get, without damaging backwards compatibility too much. Or so I believe.
 

univoxs

That's my dog, Walter
Supporter
Totally agree. The last thing a new edition of anything needs is lack of examples of what can be done with it or lack of a tool for new GMs/players to interact with as soon as they can.

Alien is an example right? The campaign book for Space Marines is finally coming out but I would be much more interested in space truckers. And what about this new Dune game. Looks great but am I going to get an adventure? While The One Ring was a neat game with a few cool tricks there wasn't a lot of adventures for it and left people not quite sure how to use some of the mechanics. WFRP 4e is still not caught up with its promises of adventures. I think D&D falls into this trap too by making unsupported settings. I don't need a fluff book for Sword Coast, there has been decades of that stuff, people need adventure material for the Dalelands or Yhaunn. I have way too much time on my hands and can make adventures myself but most gamers I know don't have the time to write content any more. I think this is why Paizo's AP system was such a draw. To put a point on it, and this is totally my opinion, some publishers think their players are more creative than they really are.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
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.
This analogy doesn’t track at all. Magic doesn’t have “editions” in the same way RPGs like D&D do. They used to call the annual core set “Xth edition,” but they haven’t done so for over a decade because of this sort of confusion (and more recently they stopped even making core sets). While the “standard” tournament format does have set rotation, where cards periodically age out of legality, there are several non-rotating formats. The closest thing Magic has to an edition change in the RPG sense are the two major sets of revisions to the core rules - one that occurred in 1999 and a smaller one that occurred in 2010.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
To answer the question, I’ve been playing D&D through two edition changes: 3.5 to 4e and 4e to 5e. The former I eagerly embraced because I had a lot of issues with 3.5, and the latter I was disappointed with because I loved 4e, but also excited for because of the open playtest process. I enthusiastically jumped on the opportunity to help shape the next edition, and found myself liking the direction they were going in more than 4e, though I still think a lot of great design ideas got thrown out simply for being associated with 4e.

I think we’re closer now to the end of 5e’s lifespan than we are to the beginning. Hard to predict when 6e will come, but I think it is coming. I also think it will be a far smaller, more incremental change than the two past edition changes. I imagine I will probably switch over to 6e when that happens, but I’ll have to wait and see.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Slight tangent: I will never for the life of me understand the refusal to move from 1e to 2e. During it's run, 2e was an over-done, bloated mess but with the benefit of hindsight, it's a well done revision of the core AD&D mechanics. It fixes the initiative system from whatever they was in 1e, makes bards a playable class, adds some consistency to class design, gives options to priests and wizards for specialists, and adds the better parts of UA without the broken parts.
All of which are changes that anyone who DMed through 1e's run would - in some form or other - have probably long since made via houserule.

And if you'd already done all the work to sort the 1e system to your liking there was no real reason to jump to 2e on its release; and even some built-in discouragements from doing so including - as someone mentioned upthread - the unnecessary sanitization.
 

It just depends. If there's actually enough useful changes to an edition turnover, I'll usually move on, even if I dislike some changes.

Or occasionally hybrid the two together like I'm doing with Fragged Empire right now.
 

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