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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?

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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

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I honestly think the 1E initiative system is better in some ways, though it's confusing and can use a few house rules.

The Bard revision was great, the specialist Wizards are a cool concept (though a whole additional spell slot per level is BIG; and I rarely remember seeing generalist mages played), and the overall cleanup and clarification of the mechanics was nice. In several places they really got too conservative, though. Speciality Priests had cool flavor but were almost always weak compared to a Cleric and kind of a poor choice. Forbidding elves and half elves from casting in armor was a pretty brutal change. And switching to 3d6 for ability scores as the default while retaining 1E style ability score bonus charts rather than the B/X or BECMI ones made no sense at all. Look at the character generation example- how uninspiring was that to kids hoping to play heroes like in the fiction?

But in retrospect, IMO, 2E didn't really change enough to merit a whole new edition. The mandate to make it as reverse-compatible as possible limited the scope of change too much. And the xp system was fundamentally broken. They made gold for xp an optional rule without giving adequate guidance on how to replace it. In practice, from what I saw, most DMs relied heavily on monster xp, which slowed advancement greatly and changed the focus of play in a bad way, more toward hack and slash. I think the intent was to move more toward quest awards, but little guidance or direction was given on how to award those, how much to give, how fast advancement should be, etc.

2E was really stuck in a hard spot trying to retain the loyalty of the older 1E players but also service the players being drawn in by Dragonlance and other fantasy fiction, who wanted to play like the heroes of a fantasy novel. And IMO the 2E DMG really dropped the ball trying to be all things to all people. While I started with BECMI and 1E, I was around 14 when 2E came out and that was the first edition I could really wrap my head around the rules and try to run. ...but the 2E DMG was full of "you could do it this way, or you could do it that way" vagueness that made me despair of figuring out one functional way to make it work. The good DMs I played with (my first serious, multi-month and multi-year campaigns were in 2E) were ones with strong authorial visions and design sensibilities, willing to come up with their own ways of awarding XP, for example.

Yep xp leveling on 2E was very slow without gold for xp.

Using 2E base plugging in some missing 1E bits seems the best way imho.

1E more lenient on MCing.


So, D&D... We started with the original game in 1974. Added 1E stuff when it came out and 2E when it came out. I had been homebrewing it the whole time anyway. If a new edition had a better rule I adopted it, otherwise I stayed with what I had already developed / used. Often it was based on my players preference (grumble). The first time I had to look at major changes was 3E. I kept with my homebrewed 2E plus until just before 3.5. I had done the rather large amount of work moving to a (slightly) homebrewed 3E and then 3.5E came out. That didn't take too much work really. I was satisfied with my game at that point. When 4E came out I bought it, read it, and decided against moving to it. OK game, but too many changes needed to my campaign world and not a lot of things I wanted to use. I was still updating things from 0/1//2E to 3.5X in some campaign areas anyway. It's an old campaign. So Pathfinder was useful, and homebrewed :) I like aspects of 5E but recently I've started codifying my old homebrewed 0/1/2 D&D and, as we open up and get back to in person gaming. I want to try that out. For now :)

The habit of using what I like, borrowing ideas, and adding my own has been a habit in every RPG I've run. I have run some games largely "pure", but the desire (and often necessity) of tinkering with some aspects of a game is always there... :D

Olaf the Stout

I went from AD&D to 3E as soon as it came out and switched to 3.5E as soon as that came out. However, I skipped 4E completely (although a player in my group DM's a couple of 4E campaigns for other players in my group - I didn't play in it as I couldn't fit a second game into my schedule).

For me switching or not depends on where I think the rules system is at. When 4E came out my group was still perfectly happy with the 3.5E rules set, so we saw no reason to change. All the books I owned for 3.5E also meant I had quite a sunk cost that I was in no hurry to give up. However, when 5E came around in 2014, we'd played 3.5E for long enough to see where the cracks were in the rule set were, knew where the system struggled and where it excelled and were ready for a change.

Whether we switch over to 6E when it comes out at some unknown point in the future will depend on how much we're enjoying the rule set at the time. For now we're still really enjoying 5E and would be happy to play it for a few more years to come.


I kind of look at it like this. Each iteration of a game has the benefit of many, many hours of experience with the game to build on. To me, each iteration is an improvement on the previous for the simple fact that each iteration is an attempt to fix the issues of the last based on the experience with the previous game.

Which doesn't make the previous iteration "unfun" or invalidate anything. It just means that yes, we are capable of learning from experience and make changes based on the hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of hours of experience with the system. It's when people invest their personal ego with game elements that problems occur.


Will most often switch to a new version, but sometimes continue with the old.

So for example in D&D, I started playing 1e -> 2e -> 3.x -> 4e (for a very brief time. It was a computer game without the computer) -> Pathfinder 1e -> 5e. One of the GMs in the group will run a 3.x campaign, and another friend ran 2 adventures in 2e recently (because that was what we used to play in the old group).

For shadowrun: I gm'd 1e -> 2e -> 3e. Played 4e briefly. Wasn't sold on this edition. Played 5e (really didn't like it). 6e will not be touched with a 10' pole if I can avoid it. For me, I think the perfect combo would be 3e char gen for more rounded characters, 2e rules for everything but the karma pool. Would then use the Karma-rules from 1e.

But I will most of the time play whichever version of a game that the GM wants to run. I might say there are better versions, but I would rather take a short game in a bad version than no game.
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When I switched from 2E to 3E, it made playing the game so much more enjoyable for me.

But ever since I've stuck with 3.5, because newer editions have not given me enough of an improvement to want to switch. I would have to put aside a ton of 3E books to play 5E, and I would get a slightly quicker game in return, but with less crunch and less character options. So I weigh the positives against the negatives. Right now, having more books for the edition I'm currently playing, and having more crunch and character options, outweigh the light rules of 5E.

That said however, I am not against playing in a 5E game, and I look forward to Level Up with great interest. Because who knows? Maybe it will eventually tip the scales enough in 5E's favor?


I make the transition at the point at which it becomes more fun to play the new edition than the previous one.

I’ve found fun usually improves because of one or more of the following…

  • The new edition resolved issues with the earlier edition (e.g feat bloat (3e), homogenized options (4e), or esoteric rules (2e))
  • The new edition is better supported with products that make us want to play - e.g Adventure Paths (Pathfinder) or Campaign Books (5e), or Dungeon Magazine adventures (3e)
  • The style or writing of the new edition captures the imagination (eg WFRP 4e)
  • Difficulty of finding a game. Though this isn’t really an issue for us as transitioning an edition is usually a group decision. It could affect spin off groups though.

What I have found is that converting adventures is usually very easy within systems. 3e was probably the hardest due to the rules complexity but even that wasn’t difficult. Therefore old books keep giving on and on, with adventures, NPCs, locations, and monster ideas.

Its a great time to be a DM.
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I played a lot of Original and 1E as a teenager.
I took a bit of a hiatus from around 1986, largely due to a combination of commitment to sport, career building, relationships and then family and daughter.
When I returned, 2E had arrived and I learnt it from fresh. I enjoyed it a lot, playing with a great group, though I did find Skills and Powers a bit bloat-y in nature.
3E was great and the amount of support products from WOTC and 3PPs made it great as a DM who had time to adapt adventures, but not to create from scratch.
I skipped 4E and played Pathfinder, which transitioned easily from 3.5, but the whole group became disenchanted by the amount of bloat that came to swamp the game ( in my opinion).
5E is great. Works smoothly and has enough nostalgia to remind me of all the good bits about early D&D.


This was a lot less of a question when it went from AD&D 1e to 2e. While there were many changes, and some for the better, they were largely cross compatible with each other and even with basic due to common terms, the implementation varied but only slightly and with adventures it was less of an issue. Most other games like CoC and early traveller editions they were implementations or clarifications of rules that weren’t clear before. White wolf, in WoD 1-revised of their games barely touched the character sheets and introduced new ways to use the rule set by introducing new terms to provide lore granularity but you could pick up older stuff and still use it without the stats needing converted. WOTC largely changed that with each edition they’ve produced being a different game with ground up rebuilds of the core rules. With 3e it was a drive to a more cohesive system and made D&D a less arcane, incoherent game.

Then with 4e they… did that again. Whole rebuild for no real reason on a game that didn’t REALLY need a new edition just yet. The success of Pathfinder 2 years later and the market split caused by that proved that 3.x era rules had legs. 5e? Rebuild.

what I am getting at is not edition warring and shouldn’t be used to invite edition wars. It’s that with D&D in particular that it has been increasingly less reason to move on to the next edition. If 6e winds up being another ground up rebuild I won’t buy into it because that’s 4 different games I’d had to learn to be able to play modern D&D. It’s part of why I now have three PHB and will probably get another one and another DMG and MM. I’m too old to keep buying new stuff and will totally grognard to 5e.


I started playing in the AD&D 1E days, switched to AD&D 2E when it came out, and then did likewise for 3.0/3.5. But when they came out with 4E there was really nothing I liked about it and since by that time I had amassed so many 3.X books that I literally have more material than I'll be able to use in the rest of my lifetime, I saw no need to switch from a system I liked to a system I did not. My players all agreed, so we've stuck with 3.5 since.

When 5E came out I gave it a look and its seemed like a step back in the right direction, but we still saw no need to abandon our 3.5 campaigns. So here we are. When 6E comes out I'll probably give it a look as well, either nod in approval or frown in dislike, and then go back to my 3.5 campaigns. Honestly, short of losing my current gaming group and not being able to find any new 3.5 players, I don't see myself moving on.



A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I wonder who much you play factors into how you answer the poll. For me, I have so much material for 5e that I have not played yet, that I would see no point in buying a new system. This pertains to me being a DM. As a DM, I only have time for one campaign, about 8-10 hours per month and the rare one-shot. So I only buy 5e-compatible material or completely different systems for one-shots or mini-campaigns.

Now, as a PLAYER, I would buy the necessary player materials for whatever systems I've agreed to play in. Unfortunately, I don't have much time to play other than one shots, usually at on-line or local conventions. For those, I generally don't have to own anything as when I join a game to try a new system it is a more introductory game and the DM doesn't expect the players to own the materials for, or have experience with, the system.


Hmm.. never really had to answer this question. I never took up 1e or 2e. I thought about 2e but got put off by all the setting and splat books. Played Palladium and Warhammer instead with a bit of MERP/Rolemaster. Move to 3e near the end of its life before the introduction of 3.5 but I was never happy DM'ing 3.x. Switched to 4e immediately and loved but it fell out of favour with my players. Was casting about for an alternative (was thinking about Savage Worlds) when 5e started playtesting. Loved the new material and have not looked back since. At this point in time I would no see myself switching. I probably would not switch in the middle of an adventure path and might never if the new edition was too different.
I personally might prefer something lighter then the current ed if I was to be persuaded to switch.

Li Shenron

So far I have always tried the new edition but went back or went away half of the times.

I played BECMI in the 90s. Near the end of the decade after we had stopped, I got interested in AD&D but before I could run some games 3ed came. Bought it, loved it and played it for almost a decade. 1-0

When 3.5 came out, I switched immediately but used the SRD instead of buying new books. I DMed it for at least a year, during which the more we played the more it felt inferior to 3.0, so we eventually switched back. 1-1

Then 4ed: tried it using whatever preview was available, for maybe a month. Hated it with a passion, saw that it was becoming so mainstream as to be almost mandatory, and quit the hobby completely rather than complying. 1-2

Finally I noticed DnDNext almost by chance since I was normally staying away even from these forums. Got into playtesting from the 1st package, and here I am. 2-2

Honestly I think I am probably done with editions. I am not the kind of gamer that needs new rules or stuff to stay happy, I only need to PLAY MORE. There is practically nothing in 5e that bothers me (except Druids armor restrictions and Guidance, both already tamed anyway). I do not see how a new edition could improve the game for me, it can only make it worse or at best equal.


The EN World kitten
I used to like moving from one edition to another, as it seemed like an exciting chance to see how a game was getting better. Nowadays, I take a markedly different view. Part of that is because I no longer see new editions as "better," so much as just "different," without any sort of qualitative judgment inherent therein.

A larger part, however, is that it's simply not economical for me to invest time, money, and energy to learn a new system that's pursuing the same goals as the previous edition. To my mind, if I was already playing the previous edition, then it was sufficiently successful in whatever goals it set for itself that it kept me coming back. The idea that a new edition will be (typically only slightly) more successful in reaching those goals doesn't justify the costs involved with learning it.
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Usually I make the jump to a new edition because usually a new edition is an iteration on the previous edition that attempts to address the problem areas the community has identified. Certainly, a new edition will have new flaws, but the thrill of discovery is nice and it's satisfying to have the old flaws that have been bugging me for years finally gone.

Note the disclaimer of "usually" there. It's possible for a new edition to lose my interest, either by trying to go in a different direction I don't care for or through poor design work producing a shoddy product. Like many people in this thread, D&D 4e is a prime example of the former for me. It's just not what I want out of my D&D. It's also the main example I can personally offer because I haven't stuck with most other systems long enough to hit multiple edition changes. Other systems I'll dip in and out, often based on word of mouth, so I probably naturally avoid the bad editions without even meaning to.


Usually I make the jump to a new edition because usually a new edition is an iteration on the previous edition that attempts to address the problem areas the community has identified. Certainly, a new edition will have new flaws, but the thrill of discovery is nice and it's satisfying to have the old flaws that have been bugging me for years finally gone.

Note the disclaimer of "usually" there. It's possible for a new edition to lose my interest, either by trying to go in a different direction I don't care for or through poor design work producing a shoddy product. Like many people in this thread, D&D 4e is a prime example of the former for me. It's just not what I want out of my D&D. It's also the main example I can personally offer because I haven't stuck with most other systems long enough to hit multiple edition changes. Other systems I'll dip in and out, often based on word of mouth, so I probably naturally avoid the bad editions without even meaning to.
Y'know, I'd just like to hold this up as the right way to do this. You didn't feel the need to claim that the game was bad or wrong, just not to your taste. Kudos sir and edition warring would have been much less acrimonious if folks were more like this.

I keep having to bite my tongue when I see claims of 4e is a video game or 4e is teh suxxors or whatever folks feel the need to justify why they didn't like it. You sir, win the Internet today.


I always switch to the new one, usually as soon as I can (with playtest material) and I never go back, even if I don't like the new one as much as the old. Usually if that's the case (and it rarely is) I'd just more likely play something else entirely than drop back an edition. I'm not quite sure why I do it that way, but it's how I do.


There isn't one simple answer to a question like this. It depends what I think of the changes. I picked the second, "sometimes new sometimes old" option but that's just the most common answer. I certainly don't have the need some people do to always be using the latest and ostensibly greatest (and very few people here seem to, or at least they aren't admitting it :p ).

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