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.


  1. I spend much of my time with my homebrew fantasy system, and that my taking little notice of various game editions.

    There are two exceptions. HERO and Deadlands.

    I picked up what was in effect 2nd Edition Deadlands. Since then there has been a D20 version and now a new SW version. I haven't and won't buy either.

    More important to me is HERO system. I've played this game since it first hit the shelves and didn't have any significant problems going from edition to edition until 5th.

    For the first time, I had to roll back changes in HERO.

    I'm rather dreading a 6th Edition for fear that it will finally break the camel's back. Given Long's direction, it may not be playable.

  2. I did not get the new edition of HERO. What changes were for the worse?

  3. Long made a fair number of minor changes throughout the system. It would take a while to list them all but here are some examples:

    Dive For Cover: Was changed such that it worked against non-area effect attacks, but it was still based upon a DEX roll.

    Yes, that means that the typical man on the street has the same chance to avoid a shot (that has hit) fired from OCV 3 Joe Average as they do OCV 20 Mr. I never miss. It's a 10- for diving to an ajoining hex (or 50%).

    Forcewall lost its 1 hexside per 5 points in the power, it now costs extra points to gain extra hexsides. If you're worried about active point caps on characters, the result is an underwhelming power to say the least.

    Abilities that used to be handled under special effects and/or additional abilities of already defined powers (the old shockwave rules, taking iron bars and bending them around people to bind them, etc) now need to be brought directly with advantages and disadvantages.

    Mental Defense doesn't work against Flash and entangles brought as useable vs. ECV.

    Other changes were just sort of.. why?:

    Instant Change was dropped, you now have to build it as a special case of Transform with limits.

    The skill Survival was split up into various subgroups causing point inflation for little gain.

    Life Support was split up to even more detail, with 50% point inflation for 'Full Life Support'.

    And so on.

    Basically Long brought into the concept that the points in HERO were actually meant to be balanced.

    And that has produced a wave of changes that either serve no point in the end, or are just silly.

    I could go on for some time...

    I chose to live with most of them although I did house rule some away (the first three on the list for example).

    Given that 5th was suppose to be a minor update of 4th, I fear a 6th edition because Long may go hog wild.

  4. I have to agree on the Hero rules, I'm not a fan of 5th for many of the same reasons. One big one that gets me is that you take disadvantages to represent your character instead of powers if they are part of the races abilities. For example a character that is a giant, instead of growth always on it would be a physical disadvantage, huge, cannot fit into small places. They also put out a revised 5th edition, go take a look at it. I have seen phone books that are smaller. If I did not already know the rules there would be no way I would touch it. I have pretty much abandoned Hero after I saw that, and now you say there's a sixth on the way?

    Other than that I'm not to much into the different editions. I do like Mutants and Masterminds second edition. Very cool, and shows you don't need a phone book of rules to have a good supers game.

  5. Anonymous10:31 AM

    I stress a fair bit over Uresia 2nd ... I'm constantly drafting long sections of it, whittling those long sections down to a paragraph, whittling the paragraph down to a tossof line, translating the tossoff line into a joke tossof line, and then removing it entirely.

    Really :)

    That said, it isn't an RPG per se (yet) and I suspect I'm probably one of the only people actually concerned about it.

    - Sjohn

  6. I agree Chris, that was another rather pointless change. Instead of just putting a single power with always on and inherent on the character sheet, you have to buy each little subsection.

    I swear, Long must hate uncrowed character sheets.

    The rumors of a 6th edition are on par with the rumors of D&D 4th. Expected but no one knows when.

  7. S. John, I'm interested in Uresia. It's a great setting. But you've kinda got working against you the fact that I've already bought two versions of it and have yet to use either one. I still have this idea of a con one-shot or minicampaign of Mekton Zeta where all the PCs are Emerald Knights.

  8. Anonymous1:24 PM

    Seriously, if you're not gaming with it don't waste your money buying it all over again ... You'll be able to get the new maps and stuff free via the Mailing List anyway. Most of the new material is aimed at aiding character creation, so it wouldn't be of any use. Mostly the point of the new edition is to give Uresia a final home now that its BESM run is finished ... To let the folks who are gaming with it know that it isn't just vanishing into the night.

    (Alternately, become a Cumberland Fire-Eater and get it for free in exchange for blindtesting, if you need a nudge to run it) :)

    I've been pondering the editions thing ... Only a few have mattered to me. AD&D2 was my excuse to divorce myself forever from AD&D. Our group found several things about AD&D2 sensible and promising, but it was mostly a matter of timing ... Just as we were really heavily exploring into other fantasy systems, AD&D2 came along and dared us to buy another stack of books, and the Complete This-and-Thats felt bloodless for the most part, so that's where I parted ways with the game. I never looked back until d20 came along ... I tried it (ran some D&D, also ran some d20 Star Wars), and found it poor. My last D&D run - a summer ago - used D&D 3rd Revised Edition (the Elmore-cover boxes) and that was satisfyingly good stuff. Great times for all, including a couple of total RPG newbies. Party of 8th-level characters generated from nothing in 45 minutes, and that includes all their equipment and magic items? Suh-weet. Nobody missed having Feats or Kits or anything.

    I still use Call of Cthulhu 3rd (Games Workshop edition). The only thing I bring in from later editions is making Lockpicking a skill distinct from Mechanic. I own the most recent edition ... but it weighs more and is a bit bulkier in my shoulder bag, so I don't carry it to games :)

    I don't have strong feeling about most RPG editions ... I'm only a Traveller dabbler so it's all good to me. I like Hero for the sourcebooks and have never really figured out the system at all (we did blindtest on Sidekick and enjoyed that, though). CoC editions are mostly the same ... It's telling that I basically choose my edition because it weighs less.

    I'm more edition-sensitive when it comes to more competitive games. Car Wars editions have mattered to me. Battletech changes mattered (Clans, double-sinks, etc).

    BESM 2nd Edition was a strange thing for me because I loved the quirky fan-quality simplicity of BESM1 and it was strange seeing it transformed into a full-on-professional David Pulver design. Ultimately I fell in love with it (and Pulver got me to do Uresia, and I'm grateful) but even still I never used the optional systems (most notably the Skills rules) except when playtest required it. Not sure what I'll make of BESM3, but the "vanilla" version sounds promising indeed.

    There's a running joke of mine that when Risus 2nd Edition comes along, it'll only be four pages because it bothers me that games always seem to get fatter as the editions roll on and if any game should be an exception it should be Risus.

    I'm one of those people who think that RuneQuest peaked at 2nd Edition, but I'm not a RQ hardcore so I don't have a _strong_ feeling about it. I just liked RQ back when it was still meant to be enjoyed rather than appreciated.

    When Harn got its own game system, that hurt Harn for me. Apologies for not digging up the diacritical mark thingy.

    And stuff.

  9. Hmm. I can't comment much on the differences in D&D editions, as I remember happily playing AD&D 1st with no idea what we were doing, and I associate 2nd very strongly with a single (excellent) campaign. I've never played 3rd, and haven't read it (or 3.5) in any detail.

    I liked BESM 1st, but prefer 2nd for the sorts of campaigns we play.

    GURPS 3rd was my college group's system of choice for many a campaign. I liked it a lot. It did accumulate a lot of sometimes-incompatible additions over the years, though. I really, really like the looks of 4th, but haven't put it through extensive stress-testing yet.

    I suspect my thoughts will be more coherent after I get some sleep. Anime Central was this weekend, and as a staffer I was pretty busy.