Evolve or die… or, A diatribe on my feelings about new editions!

Because what the internet needs is another person griping about new or revised editions of the games they love!

But gentle reader, that’s not my intention today; I’ll try not to grumble, much. Although I’ve played many games, my go to game through all these years has been D&D in all its different incarnations, so I will speak from this perspective.

Way back when, when I started playing D&D and then migrated to AD&D I loved the game I played. It was fun, if a little hard to read in some instance and had some rules I just ignored. Then AD&D 2nd edition came along and I was thrilled, a cleaned up version of the game, easier to play and read, count me in. I was not part of a larger gaming community; I played with a few friends and had no idea of the controversy this new edition might cause beyond the occasional letter in Dragon Magazine.

It wasn’t until sometime later when I began working at a comic book/gaming store that I came in contact with the larger gaming community around me and discovered that people looked down on AD&D 2nd edition as the bastard step child of AD&D 1st edition (not everybody but enough people anyhow) and for a while there in the 90’s when the gloomy, edgy, humanized monster games were all the rage I felt like playing AD&D was akin to riding the tricycle when others had Harleys. That never stopped me mind you and I kept on having fun with AD&D, to the point that even when TSR stopped publishing Dragon and gaming supplements I didn’t even notice.

By then I had a job and a family and again my gaming was limited to my group and our campaign with little contact beyond that. I eventually became interested in WotC purchasing of TSR and the upcoming D&D 3rd edition and I can say that was when I really became interested in the online gaming community.

I was thrilled by the idea of a new edition! I had invested a lot of time and money in AD&D 2nd edition but I understood that for the game to continue existing it needed to evolve, the company that put out the game needed to make money and if I enjoyed the game I needed to support it, and the best way to support it was buying the books. I buy books by the authors I enjoy reading, pay to see the movies I like so by the same token I spend my money on the games I like to play.

To me D&D 3rd edition was an improvement on the game I played. I had to learn new rules and it had tactical aspects I did not enjoy before, and for a while I considered going back to AD&D 2nd edition. But I persevered, I wanted the thrill of new books, new material and I wanted to evolve as a player and GM. I stuck with it and eventually loved it, playing D&D 3rd edition for seven years. And I never understood the people that stuck to the older editions and refused to try the new game by saying, such or such edition is good enough for me I don’t need a new edition. I respected their opinions, I just never got “it”.

When D&D 4th edition came along many in my immediate circle bemoaned the greed of WotC, the unnecessary changes, the money grubbing, but I was a new edition apologist. Recognizing WotC had a right to reinvent the game and make a profit. I was excited by the new game got it as soon as it came out and gave it a try. We played for months and at the end of the day the game wasn’t for me, so I gave up on D&D and switched to Pathfinder, and all of a sudden I was on the other side. I was one of those refusing to let go of a previous edition and not evolving with the game. True it was easier, Paizo continued to support the game I liked, tweaked it and (in my opinion) improved it, so I began supporting the company that provided what I enjoyed with my money.

In a way it is the best of times for all because there is support for whatever game you like, retro clones of older editions, electronic books supporting 3rd edition, Pathfinder, 4th edition, et al. It is also the worst of times, because we have a smaller player base (we grow old and not as many new players are joining the ranks I think we can agree on that) and a fracturing market supporting many different games. In a way, a hegemonic game like D&D keeps games in the public eyes, present in traditional places like books stores and comic book stores and is a gateway to other games. If it disappears, will other games emerge to fill the void?

I realize I may be contradicting myself when I wrote so recently about trying to keep a positive outlook and not be distracted by doom and gloom. I don’t want to be a prophet of disaster, or say the game industry will die. The market and how games are distributed will change, as will most publishing over the next years, but my main purpose was simply to wax on the change new editions bring and how one day you feel like part of the new wave of gaming and another you feel like a grognard yearning for the games of old.

The point is to remember that what you love may not be what other like, so keep an open mind and be respectful about it. Support the companies you enjoy, they do need to make money. No matter what you’ve heard, game designers DO need to eat. And lastly, change is good, but these are games so no one is forcing you to change. Just because they came out with a new package and game board for the Clue board game you don’t run to the store to buy the new version, the one sitting on your closet shelf is still just as good. No one is forcing you to change, just don’t piss on those who decide to do it.

This rant is officially over… Thanks for reading!

7 thoughts on “Evolve or die… or, A diatribe on my feelings about new editions!”

  1. My experience is similar to yours. I started with the boxed sets of "Dungeons & Dragons" in high school in the early 1980s; moved to AD&D2 during college, grad school, and the rise of White Wolf's "Storyteller: World of Darkness" in the 1990s; and eagerly adopted D&D3.x/D20 in the early 2000s. (I've also tried numerous games in various genres, but that's another topic.)

    I tried running D&D4e last year but have since moved to "Pathfinder" for one of my weekly games (I'm using FATE 3e for the other). While I've rarely had difficulty recruiting role-players, it's true that tabletop, pen-and-paper, dice-and-pizza groups are aging, as are fans of print comic books, 8-bit video games, and classic rock music.

    There's nothing wrong with having a hobby that mostly appeals to one generation. However, Game Masters have a responsibility to make their campaigns accessible and appealing to people regardless of age and to defend role-playing from those who still disparage it. As long as you find the system and setting that works best for you and your group and have fun, RPGs will continue! I hope to be gaming in the nursing home…

  2. Great job! I think you did a good job of not making it much of a rant. I too started about the same time you did and went through all the versions (as well as some of the other great RPG games produced over those years that are still mentioned in reverence).

    I think you mentioned probably the greatest threat to the hobby….the lack of newer players entering the hobby. In that manner I have to give it to WotC for making huge attempts to bring in new players with their programs and other marketing. I try but my nephews find playing Halo 3 much easier than setting up to play a boardgame or RPG.

  3. I definitely was one of these "Boo 2nd Edition, Yeah 3rd Edition" people. But that is because I was always exploring different RPG systems. When 2nd came out, I moved into rule heavy RPGs like Hero System. So 3rd appeared like an awesome streamlined system to me. I have also been very heavy into house rules.

    The thing to pay attention to in change is not the fact that systems change, but that they reflect major changes in design philosophy. With d20 we saw the rise of "one system for every style of play". But this made the system very cumbersome. In an attempt to streamline the rules, we are fragmenting back into a bunch of niche systems tailored to different genres and styles of play.

    Want fast, efficient combat? 4e is for you. Want tactical stealth and infiltration gaming? Play a computer RPG. Want story-telling focused gaming? Look at the indies.

  4. "I think you mentioned probably the greatest threat to the hobby….the lack of newer players entering the hobby."

    There are plenty of people playing RPGs — provided you include computer RPGs. Bethesda just sold 5 million copies of Fallout: New Vegas. And WoW continues to have 10s of millions of active users.

    The problem is product differentiation. What are the new pen-and-paper RPGs doing to convince the newer generation that they have added value over the computer RPGs? Sure, you have "adaptive storytelling", but in my experience that his highly variable on the quality of the game master. I believe that mediocre-to-bad game masters have driven more people out of the hobby than any industry decision.

    To survive, pen-and-paper designers need to figure out (1) what they can do that the computer RPGs do not and (2) how to structure this advantage so that the average (not necessarily super creative) game master can take advantage of it.

  5. I used to agree with the sentiment that gaming was dying and that it would disappear with my generation; now I'm not so sure.

    More and more I am reading about parents gaming with their kids. I think the future of gaming will be from kids who learned from their parents; that's what will keep it alive. (which is kind of ironic considering how many kids in our day had to hide D&D from their parents)

  6. Good rant! And I also think that while the RPG industry will never be what it once was, that it isn't dying. There are too many people playing games still, too many people writing new things for it to be going away.

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