Friday, May 05, 2006

random thoughts on new editions

The advent of 2nd edition AD&D was the first time I really cared about various editions of a role-playing game.  I avidly followed the discussions of what 2nd Ed might contain in the pages of Dragon and Polyhedron.  I think I'm going to have to go back and read those issues, because I think the game as eventually published looked precious little like the concepts they were trying to sell to the Dragon readership.  Before all the talk about revising the Big Game, me and my game gang barely understood that games went through multiple editions.  Sure, we had both the Moldvay/Cook and Mentzer iterations of Basic/Expert D&D, but we treated them as the exact same game.  And when I got my 4th edition Call of Cthulhu book, it looked like little more than a repackaging of my 3rd edition boxed set.  But then I feel that way about my 5th edition CoC rulebook, too.
It probably wasn't until I got to college that I fully realized the fact that some games seem to be constantly under revision.  The HERO System players I hung out with were always whinging about the new 4th edition, when they weren't too busy complaining about the changes in the Captain's edition of Star Fleet Battles.  I heard rumors that the folks behind Shadowrun had actually managed to create a workable game in some edition after the trainwreck that was the original.  Gothic clove-smokers could be attracted or repelled with the single word 'Revised'.  I didn't take most of these Edition Wars seriously.  Heck, my one sustained 2nd edition AD&D campaign made almost as much use of first material as it did the new stuff.  In recent years I've gotten finicky enough that I can discuss the merits of the various editions of many older games at length.  But, to paraphrase Billy Joel, it's still D&D to me.  I'm not going to turn my nose up at the prospect of playing in a D&D campaign simply because the DM uses what I consider to be an inferior incarnation of the game.
But there are a few games where I do care about the edition.  I'd give a fair shot to playing any edition of Gamma World, but as a GM and collector I've never seen much that interests me past the 2nd edition of the game.  For all practical purposes Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space was the second edition rules for Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn.  I like some of the setting fluff in Zeb's Guide, but the new skills rules and resolution chart leave me cold.  And then there's Traveller.  There's no Edition War quite like a Traveller Edition War.  Each version of the game radically altered both the setting and the system.  Over a decade later there are still grognards stinging over Traveller: The New Era, which destroyed the Imperium of Classic Traveller and replaced the core game mechanics with the system from Twilight: 2000.  Outright flamewars over Trav editions have died down over the years, largely due to the fanbase growing up and settling down, I think.  But I don't really have a horse in that race, since I started playing Traveller around 1999.  I favor the original game, but I'm more than happy to cherry pick stuff from later editions.
Some folks are bitterly disappointed or alienated by a new edition of their favorite game.  My group glommed onto 2nd Ed AD&D eagerly, but plenty of other people stuck to the original version of Advanced.  D&D 3E left some longtime fans feeling the game was no longer the same.  Sometimes I agree with them.  At times over the past seven or eight years I've felt like Dungeons & Dragons has become a brandname attached to a set of mechanics only incidentally related to the game I started playing in the 80's.  The introduction of the 3.5 edition only heightened this sensitivity.  Still, this latest version is the game all the kids are playing, so I feel I have to give it the old college try.  And while I'm not happy with every design decision made in the 3E/3.5 upgrades, you can still sword orcs for dollars.  And isn't that what's most important?
For a while I tried to follow all the 4th edition rumour mongering that started like the day after 3.5 was announced.  But I quickly got Idle Speculation Fatigue.  With Mike Mearls on the staff of Wizards these days, I have hope that he will be given a key role in 4E, whenever they decide to do it.  If Mr. Mearls can make prepping for a session feel less like doing homework, I will gleefully buy yet another 3 corebooks.  Even if the interior art is full of rejects from Goth Night at the local gay bar.  Marc Miller, Traveller's Lord and Saviour, is working on a new edition of Trav.  That's the only other rpg with a new edition on the horizon that I can be bothered to give a crap about right now.  T5, as they are calling it, is one of the few games I intend to buy and run even though right now no one really knows what it's going to end up looking like.  Heck, all the pissing around I do with a Trav setting is basically driven by my desire to have a T5 game up and running within days of getting my hands on the books.
Any new edition of a game save your soul or break your heart?  Looking forward to a new edition coming down the pipe?  Tell me all about it.