The Stratagem Equation

Reading internet gaming forums has proven hazardous to my ire many times before, but the newest trends in arguing for 4th Edition D&D have begun to warp logic (though I’m sure it makes perfect sense to those eagerly arguing for their newest favorite game). Namely, if you’ve stopped by a D&D forum lately, you’ve probably seen someone using the “every game has a new edition in around five years” argument. There’s at least one mention in the WotC 4e Complaints board and another at Paizo. The argument follows the logic that every major game has had edition updates approximately every 4-6 years, and thus we shouldn’t complain about 3.X having a measly 8-year print run since that’s pretty damn good in comparison. The facts do back them up:

Deadlands: First Release 1997: 4 Editions: Edition every 2.5 years
Call of Cthulhu: First Release 1981: 6 Editions: Edition every 3.5 Years
Hero System: First Release 1989: 5.5 Editions: Edition every 3.27 Years
White Wolf’s Vampire: First Release 1991: 4 Editions: Edition every 4.25 Years
Shadowrun: First Release 1989: 4 Editions: Edition every 4.75 Years
WEG’s Star Wars d6: First Release 1987: 2 Editions: Edition every 5 Years
GURPS: First Release 1986: 4 Editions: Edition every 5.5 Years
Dungeons and Dragons: First Release 1974: 6 Editions: Edition every 5.7 Years
Rolemaster: First Release 1980: 4 Editions: Edition every 6.75 Years

Therefore, D&D is one of the longest running RPG’s, with extreme longevity in its print runs. So, every game has rules tweaks every few years, and this is a normal part of the gaming circle of life.

I call bullshit.

The big thing everyone ignores is simple compatibility. Most people argue as if these various RPG’s changed so drastically with each edition that they were incompatible, when the reality was that the rules and/or setting stayed primarily intact—intact enough for me to use my Old World of Darkness rules with the New World of Darkness, or for 2nd Edition Shadowrun fluff to be inserted in 4th Edition Shadowrun. I’d like the chalk this one up to lazy D&D players not branching out into more games, but that’s a generalization I’ll make some other day. Most of the games mentioned here continued to use the same base rules set throughout most, if not all, of their editions…

The various Call of Cthulhu editions are essentially errata and bug fixes, as the basic rules have changed only marginally over the years. Likewise, the two editions of Star Wars d6 were mostly errata and gameplay fixes, not total revamps of the systems. The “four” editions of Vampire, once again, mostly fixed errata and binding issues; there are really only two editions of Vampire, and only in terms of setting detail, as the Storyteller system has gone relatively untouched since 1991. Rolemaster has gone through three separate rules variants, the last two of which are (again) primarily the same. The first two editions of Shadowrun were virtually identical, and the three rules systems were made by three different companies as FASA went under and its licenses jumped around like wet potatoes. Still, the story/setting has changed incredibly little over twenty years. Deadlands had a single, incredibly popular run spread over ten years and four systems—though a deeper look shows it used one edition for five years, another few years as it was transcribed to d20, a one-shot GURPS book (the fashion for Steve Jackson), and the past two years under Savage Worlds (which is based off the miniatures rules for the original Deadlands system!). And people continue to leave out Palladium from this equation, partly because the system is much-hated and partly because it’s stayed the same for eighteen years.

The major success for this equation works with minor games that jumped hands a lot or weren’t very popular—in other words, the games no one liked enough to include in the equation. Gamma World has had, what, 6 different editions spanning five separate systems? Metamorphosis Alpha appeared on a different system every time it surfaced. Legend of the Five Rings had three or four editions, including the Oriental Adventures d20 version, over a period of twelve years. But for the big and popular systems, everyone is happy to chant the 4-6 year equation mantra.

Which brings us to D&D, and another failing point: the various editions were meant to be different. OD&D was a miniatures game trying to become an RPG. Basic D&D was a “starting off point” for younger players, while 1st Edition AD&D was a “more advanced” (duh) version of the same world. While 2nd Edition AD&D made a lot of tweaks to 1st Ed, enough so the books weren’t directly compatible, the leveling, XP, and other things were similar enough that you can run Barrier Peaks or Temple of Evil using 2nd Edition. Third Edition and Three-Five were essentially the same game, a fact I hate having to admit given my love of 3.5 and apathy towards 3.0. So, only four editions—BD&D, AD&D 1, AD&D 2, and D&D 3.X, with the first acting as the “introductory game” for the AD&D product (by this logic there were a mere 3 editions of D&D, not six). Now, 4e is about as incompatible as AD&D was with 3.X, which is where part of my ire comes from—D&D is, to my knowledge, the only successful RPG which is totally incompatible with its previous editions.

Obviously companies need to keep making new product to keep customer interest. But at least get your arguments straight, dammit. Now get off my lawn. I’ve got some THAC0’s to calculate.

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