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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

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I have to ask...what did you like about 4e?
Oh, there’s a ton that I love about 4e. The tactical combat, the formatting of power cards, the fact that every character has access to hard-coded abilities, the fact that you get to make a character build decision at every level-up but you don’t have to plan your character’s whole progression in advance to make sure you meet the right prerequisites, combat roles and power sources, non-AC defenses, short and long rests, healing surges, monster design… Just… So much great stuff. The main things that makes 5e edge it out for me are faster combats, bounded accuracy, and the way the basic pattern of play is structured (which ironically is something I think most 5e DMs don’t even really observe).

I think 4e is the most designed edition of D&D, which is both its greatest strength, and the main reason it didn’t connect for a lot of long-time players, who were attached to the DIY style of pre-WotC D&D.
 

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Mercurius

Legend
What I hope is that they turn to new settings for big books before feeling the financial need to do 6e (and yet more core rulebooks)...Dark Sun...Gamma World....more Eastern...more Ravenloft (given that has only just made it into 5e now!)....
It isn't either/or, and new core rulebooks don't have to be a new edition, just a revision with new art and such.

10 years is a long time. I'd be surprised if they didn't offer revised versions, especially with the way the game is changing the last couple years.
 

Mercurius

Legend
Oh, there’s a ton that I love about 4e. The tactical combat, the formatting of power cards, the fact that every character has access to hard-coded abilities, the fact that you get to make a character build decision at every level-up but you don’t have to plan your character’s whole progression in advance to make sure you meet the right prerequisites, combat roles and power sources, non-AC defenses, short and long rests, healing surges, monster design… Just… So much great stuff. The main things that makes 5e edge it out for me are faster combats, bounded accuracy, and the way the basic pattern of play is structured (which ironically is something I think most 5e DMs don’t even really observe).

I think 4e is the most designed edition of D&D, which is both its greatest strength, and the main reason it didn’t connect for a lot of long-time players, who were attached to the DIY style of pre-WotC D&D.
100% agree with the above. Healing surges were brilliant and fixed a long-time issue with D&D (HP being, in actuality, closer to endurance points than body points), although HD are good enough (though I'm not sure why they didn't just keep surges, which I like a bit better, other than to distance themselves from 4E).

The only thing that I would add to the above, as far as 5E is concerned, is that I feel that it better facilitates theater of mind. I'm not saying that this is true for everyone, but definitely for myself, my group, and many that I have spoken with or read. With 4E, I felt like I was playing a very fun tactical board game during combat, with an almost jarring quality when going in and out of combat. Meaning, it felt like playing "classic D&D story time" until combat began, when it became more of a tactical combat game.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
The only thing that I would add to the above, as far as 5E is concerned, is that I feel that it better facilitates theater of mind. I'm not saying that this is true for everyone, but definitely for myself, my group, and many that I have spoken with or read. With 4E, I felt like I was playing a very fun tactical board game during combat, with an almost jarring quality when going in and out of combat. Meaning, it felt like playing "classic D&D story time" until combat began, when it became more of a tactical combat game.
That’s definitely true. 4e was very much written with the battle grid in mind, and a uses a lot of tactical positioning and movement abilities that would be hard to keep track of in your head. But I usually use a grid anyway so that never bothered me. I don’t think 5e is especially well-suited to TotM, what with its precise measurements rather than abstract distance ranges and such, but it’s much easier to use that way than 4e is.
 

Mercurius

Legend
That’s definitely true. 4e was very much written with the battle grid in mind, and a uses a lot of tactical positioning and movement abilities that would be hard to keep track of in your head. But I usually use a grid anyway so that never bothered me. I don’t think 5e is especially well-suited to TotM, what with its precise measurements rather than abstract distance ranges and such, but it’s much easier to use that way than 4e is.
I don't know, I find that it works pretty well, especially if you're willing to play a bit fast-and-loose with measurements.
 


Joe Pilkus

Villager
While I've played 5th Edition and certainly appreciate what the writers and designers have created, I'll stick with 3.5 as it has the "crunch" which I absolutely love and it incorporated many of the ideas which we house ruled, a few decades before, including pushing bonuses down to 12s and 13s; additional spells for Clerics with a high Wisdom score; a variety of weapon-types (not individual weapons) for Fighters; and Healing for Paladins based on their Charisma score.
 

Casimir Liber

Explorer
Oh, there’s a ton that I love about 4e. The tactical combat, the formatting of power cards, the fact that every character has access to hard-coded abilities, the fact that you get to make a character build decision at every level-up but you don’t have to plan your character’s whole progression in advance to make sure you meet the right prerequisites, combat roles and power sources, non-AC defenses, short and long rests, healing surges, monster design… Just… So much great stuff. The main things that makes 5e edge it out for me are faster combats, bounded accuracy, and the way the basic pattern of play is structured (which ironically is something I think most 5e DMs don’t even really observe).

I think 4e is the most designed edition of D&D, which is both its greatest strength, and the main reason it didn’t connect for a lot of long-time players, who were attached to the DIY style of pre-WotC D&D.
Ha - I forgot about all these - yeah can see the benefits, though the excruciatingly long combats really killed it for me
 

Casimir Liber

Explorer
Heh, I'm not @Charlaquin but, for me? Pretty much every good part of 5e has its origins in 4e. From two step resource recovery (short/long rest) to the powers set up, to the standardization of classes (although 5e backed off on that somewhat), to the simplification of monsters and the separation of monsters and PC rules. There's a shopping list of "great ideas in 5e" that had their genesis in 4e.
Cool - given I only played 3.5e once and forgot it I hadn't realised how novel this stuff was
 

RoughCoronet0

Dragon Lover
Honestly, I'd only really ever move to a new edition if my group decided to move on. Truth be told I'd still be playing 4th edition if the official builder was still available, as I don't have any of the physical books or supplements to work with.

I do like 5e a lot, but I really miss the lore and mechanics of 4e sometimes.
 

I like 5e very well but like more survival, risk of death and treasure for xp. The solution? If 5e. Is otherwise brilliant don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

my friend and I are going to play BECMI on the side of our 5e campaign. Will scratch the itch and keep 5e going.

I preferred the vibe of 1e to all editions but to invest effort I need some incentive and real contrasting I am going to do a side game.

becmi is quick and straightforward so it has advantages that way as a side campaign…
 
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I like 5e very well but like more survival, risk of death and treasure for xp. The solution? If 5e. Is otherwise brilliant don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

my friend and I are going to play BECMI on the side of our 5e campaign. Will scratch the itch and keep 5e going.

I preferred the vibe of 1e to all editions but to invest effort I need some incentive and real contrasting I am going to do a side game.

becmi is quick and straightforward so it has advantages that way as a side campaign…
Yup. Real life has started to once more impinge on the gaming schedule as all my friends have gotten vaxxed and Summer has arrived, but I've been playing 5E, OSE, and OD&D, and running a 5TD / B/X mashup, and I've loved having both old school and new school experiences.

BECM is a solid choice; it has IMO one design choice Moldvay & Cook got wrong- allowing M-Us and Elves to acquire more spells to add to their books beyond JUST the one they learn each time they level. Losing the cool spell acquisition fun for those classes was a rare misstep in B/X.
 

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