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Uniting the Editions, Part 1
Legends and Lore
Monte Cook

I n an earlier column, I mentioned that one of the goals of the new iteration of Dungeons & Dragons was to unite the editions. Judging by the reaction, this is a contentious topic, and an important one. So let's delve into it more deeply.

First off, why is that our goal? There are many reasons. First and foremost, however, is that if you're playing any version of Dungeons & Dragons, you're a D&D player and a "part of the fold." The days of edition wars and divided factions among D&D fans are over. Or at least, they should be. (In fact, they should have never started.) I'll be frank: the fracturing of the D&D community, no matter what the cause, is just foolish. We all have far more in common than we have differences.

So a rules system that allows people to play in the style that they like, rather than a style that a game designer or game company wants them to like, makes a lot more sense. As a designer myself, I know that it's not my job to convince you to play D&D in a particular way. It's my job to give you the tools you need to play the way you want and then get out of your way. And that's what the new iteration of Dungeons & Dragons is meant to be about. There is no wrong way to play D&D.

But what does it mean to play in the "style" of various editions? That's a complex issue. It has involved, for me and my fellow designers, looking at the different editions and trying to distill down the essence of each one. For example, is it important that "elf" remains a class to someone who enjoyed Original D&D (1974) or Basic D&D? I'd argue, no. What's far more important for that player is an open-ended system with a lot of emphasis on the Dungeon Master, lots of exploration, and simple mechanics that enable fast combat, to name just a few things.

As a contrast, AD&D (that is to say, 1E) involved more specific mechanics to create a more unified play experience from table to table. This included a more careful eye toward "realism," or perhaps more accurately, "simulation." But by modern standards, the game was still fairly simple, and things moved quickly. There were options for miniatures and tactical play, but most 1E fans did not use them. (Likewise, there were options for very high simulation, such as weapon speeds and the weapons vs. armor table, but most people didn't use them either.) 1E fans—and I'm of course overgeneralizing here—want many of the same things that BD&D lovers want, but with a few more options and a bit more simulation.

Then 2E came along and made only minor changes to the rules, but it made important changes to the style of gameplay. The Player's Handbook was not significantly different, but the Dungeon Master's Guide was. We started reading phrases such as "it's all about the story." Worldbuilding became more important than adventure design. If in OD&D one DM might say to another, "let me tell you about my dungeon," in the 2E era, a DM might say to another, "let me tell you about my world." As the system developed with many supplements, simulation and game balance took a back seat to story, setting, and interesting characters. Kits and nonweapon proficiencies, some of the major new(-ish) changes, showcased character development in interesting ways. This suggests that, broadly speaking, 2E players enjoy epic storylines and tools to create well-developed characters.

With the advent of 3E, which brought along many significant rules changes, the game's design once again embraced simulation, and balance became more important. Character development became even more of a focus, and all flavor was backed up with mechanics. Less responsibility was put upon the Dungeon Master as various actions and options were specifically mechanically defined and standardized. Combat became far more complex, and while it was also more interesting, it moved more slowly. Miniatures became an important focus. Fans of 3E want even more options for their character customization—skills, feats, and so on—and the ability to play interesting, tactical combats with a high level of detail.

When 4E debuted, the game once again underwent a radical change. This time, the most significant change was the way character classes were expressed. Balance and standardization became even more important, combat more complex, and cinematic action and heroic power levels were the focus. Character powers ensured that everyone always had something interesting and dynamic to do every round. The DM had even less responsibility, and her job was made easier with interesting innovations to NPC and monster design. Miniatures and a grid were absolutely required. 4E players like even more balance and tactical play, and they want even more interesting and straightforward options for their characters. In addition, simple and quick preparation for the DM is a must.

A lot of sweeping generalizations? Sure. I was/am a fan of all of those versions of the game, so some or all of those descriptions apply to me, and not all of them are compatible in a straightforward manner. Still, it's useful to begin to realize the various kinds of needs and desires different players and DMs have. To truly unite all the editions, the game needs to cater to all of them. In short, people need to be able to play the game that they want to play.



Last Week's Polls

Class
1 495 12.2%
2 156 3.8%
3 235 5.8%
4 645 15.9%
5 2532 62.3%
Total 4063 100.0%

Race
1 149 3.9%
2 453 12.0%
3 1100 29.1%
4 1245 32.9%
5 834 22.1%
Total 3781 100.0%

Ability Scores
1 183 4.9%
2 582 15.4%
3 1258 33.4%
4 1144 30.4%
5 600 15.9%
Total 3767 100.0%

Customizable Elements (skills, feats, etc.)Customizable Elements (skills, feats, etc.)
1 257 6.3%
2 664 16.4%
3 1083 26.7%
4 979 24.2%
5 1068 26.4%
Total 4051 100.0%

This Week's Poll

What's your favorite play style for your D&D games? Rate each of these on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being "not at all important" and 5 being "vital to the game."

 Fast and simple  
1
2
3
4
5

 Story-based  
1
2
3
4
5

 Tactical combat  
1
2
3
4
5

 Simulationist  
1
2
3
4
5

 Heroic and high action  
1
2
3
4
5



 If you could have only one of the following, which would you choose?  
Fast and simple
Story-based
Tactical combat
Simulationist
Heroic and high action

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