Sunday, February 23, 2014

T Minus 4 Days & Rechristening the Editions

Four days left till the March Madness Obscure RPG Blog Challenge! I feel like a kid counting down to Christmas a bit. I am sure some of you feel the same.

Today I’d like to suggest a way to put the Edition Wars behind us and appreciate each edition for its own merits. Words are not innocent, and the simple step of re-naming the editions would do much to clear away the cobwebs of edition snobbery that still cling to the OSR.

Another issue is that numbering editions is soulless, doesn’t capture the charm of the game, and is offputting gibberish to newcomers to the hobby. I still remember being confused by the acronyms BX, BECMI, LBB etc when I started reading OSR blogs back in the day. With this in mind, I’d like to propose a re-naming of the various editions to reflect their natures and merits.

OD&D = D&D Origins
The original edition of the Little Brown (or white) Books were all about beginnings: beginning of the hobby, beginning of a game, beginnings for the character and the saga they are in. What better name, then, than Origins to represent the ancestor of all RPGs?

BX, BECMI = D&D Heroes
Holmes, Basic Redbox and its additions all fleshed out the characters so that the Fighting Man became the Fighter, Clerics of basic pantheons were detailed, Magic Users gained a wider selection of spells, and the Thief crept into the mix. With these additions, all the heroes of fantasy fiction were truly represented – you could have Conan, Friar Tuck, Gandalf, and finally the Grey Mouser in your party. The increase in advancement details for all classes also put the hero’s journey front and center, and so ‘Heroes’ is a fitting name for this edition.

AD&D = D&D Journeys
Although this edition further extended the flexibility and range of character choices, it focused more on journeys to exotic locales than the characters themselves. Adventure titles began to reflect this tendency - Descent into the Depths of the Earth, In Search of Adventure, the Hidden Shrine of Tomoachan and other AD&D era titles focus on the journey and not merely the heroes who undertake it, and thus provide the perfect moniker for this edition.

AD&D 2e = D&D Worlds
Here character abilities and rules had stabilized and, with the plethora of splatbooks, been fully fleshed out. This completion of character lead to the creation of entire worlds for exploration – make no wonder that this edition saw the greatest increase in gameworlds, both the good (Ravenloft, Al Qadim), the Badass (Dark Sun, Spelljammer), and the Ugly (Mazatlan, anyone?).

3e = D&D Heroics
The third edition of D&D went back to characters and upped the ante, adding a plethora of Feats and Powers that codified heroics, giving the perfect title for this game (besides Pathfinder). The only anomaly here was the Midnight setting, whose grimdark nature was a poor fit for a game of heroic feats and was better suited to the always lethal BRP (Age of Shadows RPG anyone?). Granted, I never played a full session of this edition, so if anyone with experience can suggest a better moniker I am all ears.

4e = D&D Battle Masters
I did, however, play some 4e, and although the length and intricacy of chargen made me cry a little, setting out the battlemat and moving figures across the board seemed a great strategic addition to the game. As many have noted, it plays like a video game, which is a feature not a bug when it comes to combat. If the ‘theatre of the mind’ of earlier editions and the lack of power choices left you cold, and if you liked playing in front of a PC screen as much as a DM screen, then this was the edition for you.

D&D Next = ?
If WoC is smart at all, they will add some sort of moniker to their new game instead of just a number. Although fans may be excited by the 5 behind the name, the average person is hesitant to start watching a movie or reading a book starting from the 5th in the series, and so it is with games.

As Zak S and others have noted, you can have fun with any edition if you get into it. My intention with these re-namings is to promote that sense of enjoyment with all editions, and I hope I have succeeded a little bit.


  1. I'll throw my hat in as a proponent of this. The inclusion of edition numbers creates an implication that each iteration is an improvement on a basic ruleset (a la software updates), rather than a new, standalone release.

    Call of Cthulhu can call their next edition 7th, because it hasn't really changed its formula over the course of its revisions, but when your new edition requires scrapping all your old material, you need to alter the base name, not the number.

  2. Good points David! The expectation of improvement and redundancy of numeration is something I hadn't thought of. Although with Cthulhu, some of the new bells and whistles that have leaked (i.e. cards and fate-style points) may hint that a metamorphosis in the same direction as D&D or at least Warhammer might be on the horizon. Since the last iteration I bought was overly artsy and somewhat drab compared to older editions, it remains to be seen whether this is a good thing or not...