Dungeons and Dragons Editions

Often you may read on this website the difference in editions in Dungeons and Dragons. This article is to help guide you through them and what was good and bad about them. Since this is one of my favorite systems to play I will be looking forward to hearing your comments below.

History

As I wrote in “What is an RPG” post,  role-playing games are one of my passions. They have been tracked down through our history as a way to reenact the past (albeit with some flourishes), it wasn’t until the 1970s that fantasy RPGs started to take flight. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson took war games and role-play to a whole new level by creating Dungeons and Dragons. This game, in turn, generated a plethora of interest and created worlds for generations and generations of gamers to play in.

The game that started it all, at least in my mind, was Dungeons and Dragons. Through history, it has had it controversies both with the gamers and the public alike.

1E (First Edition)1st Edition

AKA: Original Dungeons and Dragons, Dungeons and Dragons

Start Company: TSR

End Company: TSR

Years Active: 1974 – 1977

Number of Books Published from Company: 8

Brief Overview:

Based on the war game chain mail, the creators introduced 3 classes and 3 races (note these are separate and they played separately for PCs) utilizing the combat system from chain mail. Originally was a supplement to the Chain mail game and added a better way of playing.

The Good:

It was the beginning of a great change and introduction to a new style of gameplay. Started the core rule books set (Player’s Hand Book called Men and Magic, Dungeon Masters Guide called  The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, and Monster Manual called Monsters & Treasure) Keep in mind these books were not as organized as we see today.

The Bad:

Required you to be familiar with the Chain Mail rules and have Chain mail rule set and miniatures.

The Ugly:

Mechanics were clunky and needed constant interpretation. Books often overlapped in content, so there were no clear books just for rules.

 

2E (Second Edition)2nd Edition

AKA: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Basic/Expert Set

Start Company: TSR

End Company: Wizards of the Coast

Years Active: 1977 to 2000

Number of Books Published from Company: 513

Brief Overview:

This is a bit confusing but you have to remember Dave and Gary were still refining their magic in Dungeons and Dragons. The Advanced Dungeons and Dragons books were meant to be a supplement to the Basic Set and eventually would turn into an expert set. So technically we are looking at Basic Set (D&D 2.0), Expert Set (2.5), and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (2.75). This was a stand-alone system that didn’t require any other books but those created for the game. Which was a major step up from Original Dungeons and Dragons. This is also the system I started to play in. TSR was acquired by Wizards of the coast in 1997. Which was acquired by Hasbro, Inc. in 1999. Wizards of the Coast is now a subsidiary of Hasbro and is the reason why we still have D&D today.

The Good:

Refined gameplay, plenty of options for character generation, no more separate class and race characters. The most books published for the Dungeons and Dragons systems to date. Up until 3rd Edition (read further) this system was the game system to play. TSR/WotC did an excellent job of incorporating every genre into their main game system.

The Bad:

Thatc0 (To hit armor class 0) caused many a confusion in players coming into the Dungeons and Dragons world.

The Ugly:

Mass calculations were needed when leveling up, cheat sheats where created to help ease the combat system, and a DM better have had time to create a campaign 3 weeks ago or they would be using a module.

3E (Third Edition)3rd Edition

AKA: Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition

Start Company: Wizards of the Coast

End Company: Wizards of the Coast

Years Active: 2000 to 2008

Number of Books Published from Company: 107

Brief Overview:

This system is my favorite for a couple of reasons, a simplified ruleset being one. No longer needing 62 books to generate a character was very nice. The second reason is that Wizards of the Coast implemented an Open Gaming License (OGL) that allowed other companies to create material for 3E. This opened the flood gates of systems being D20 usable and incorporated into the current campaigns. Which turned the available books from a 107 to thousands.

The third reason is it refined the core rule books, that meant you only need 3 books to run a custom game and it took mere days or hours to create a campaign instead of weeks.

The Good:

The refinement of rules and the OGL system allowed an impressive amount of resources into gameplay and character creation. The change from Thatc0 to a standard Attack vs Defense roll made the combat system simple and easy.

The Bad:

The OGL system allowed for new creations to come in but the balancing system quickly went awry. Where in the WotC books the game is balance based on CR (Challenge Rating) which means a group of 4 PCs at that level could take the monster with relative ease, the OGL systems often did not either playtest or just overpowered the monsters causing a new kind of havoc amongst players.

The Ugly:

Although they eliminated a lot of the calculations with leveling up, there were now more dealing with combat. Not to mention XP (Experience Points) where now a shifting scale which caused the DM to have to calculate on the fly.

 

4E (Fourth Edition)4th Edition

AKA: Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, [The Edition that will not be named]

Start Company: Wizards of the Coast

End Company: Wizards of the Coast

Years Active: 2008 to 2014

Number of Books Published from Company: 79

Brief Overview:

I will be fair, when I first heard about 4E I was excited. The system was sound on paper, it simplified classes down to “powers”  and a roll of a d20. Gone where the mass calculations to hit something. Gameplay and balancing were done exceptionally well. The problem, you had to roll to hit on even the simplest spells (Looking at Magic Missle) which meant the randomness of the roll of a d20 could tank your party. This made gameplay very frustrating if your die did not behave. On the side though, Gameplay was fun because there was no more digging for rules on your powers, they were there in the base handbook. It also meant that you could focus more on play once you got past character creation (for a PC that is). The game system was designed for a battle grid system and miniatures, which meant pre-planning combat could take some time.

The Good:

Balanced gameplay.  Fun PCs to play.

The Bad:

Roll a d20 to determine almost all results.  Battle grid-based play, that meant you need to get graph paper and miniatures. It also meant if you want more of the imagination play that D&D was known for, you had to grid it out ahead of time. This was a headache for DMs.

The Ugly:

Character generation is hard, like Dark Souls hard. You calculated your stats, then in the process to preemptively applying your stats to your powers you had to flip through multiple pages. Often times we had to have scrap paper and cheat sheets just to make a character. For a veteran, it was bad, for a newbie it was hell.

As a DM it was even worse because now your monsters could have the same variations as your PCs which meant even more work on getting your campaign ready. Gone where the few days to create a custom campaign, now we were back to weeks. Not to mention most of the modules, at the time I played, required some pre-emptive work before you could run them.

 

5E (Fifth Edition)5th Edition

AKA: Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition

Start Company: Wizards of the Coast

End Company: Wizards of the Coast

Years Active: 2014 to Current

Number of Books Published from Company:  29 (not counting playtest releases) and growing

Brief Overview:

So here is how I view 5E, take the best parts of 3E and the best parts of [The Edition that will not be further named] and put them together. Add in some very awesome game balancing. Suddenly you have a system that is vying for my attention over 3E. Not to mention the Module Books takes 1E and 2E adventures systems and rolls them into an easy to use reference. Overall, the system is designed to be a newbie and veteran-friendly.

The Good:

Incorporates a lot of the 3E system that made the game system easy to use but uses some of the [The Edition that will not be named] gameplay and balancing. This makes character generation easy, like Doom on “Don’t Hurt me” Setting easy. DMs can now create a campaign in a manner of hours or days again. If they did not have anything set up, they can grab a module book and read through it and make some notes and begin playing almost immediately.

Characters have plenty of options through the archetype system to vary themselves from others. The OGL is still in play so that means more variations and monsters are coming from other companies.

The Bad:

The only bad thing I see is that in character generation we lose a lot of simplicity when it comes to calculating skills. You really can not “specialize” in one skill to give your group a boost. Also from a DM’s point of view, there is just not enough material when it comes to creating or converting monsters. More books are on the way so that may have a solution.

The Ugly:

The only really bad thing I see, is the module books seem a bit rushed. Often times I have to go through and make notes and put posted notes in the books to mark pages to refer to when running.

 

Summoning it All Up

Whatever version of Dungeons and Dragons you are playing, they are worth it. Even [The Edition that will not be named] has some good points. So keep it up and have fun, after all this your game we are talking about here.

As always if you have questions, suggestions, or concerns leave a comment below.

-Archon Del Noche

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