The Addition of Editions: A Brief Look

The release of Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition is right around the corner and if you have been paying attention at all you’ll know I am pretty excited about it. When I first heard about it I shrugged it off but then curiosity got the better of me and I did some research and posted the results of that research. Since that time I have been reading the Wizards posts and poking around for opinions from people with advanced copies while I eagerly await the arrival of my copies of the books.

The opinions about the new edition seem to be fairly split, with an edge given to positive impressions. While there are many different complaints (no gnomes, no half-orcs, no sorcerers, multi-class changes, alignment changes, etc.) the most amusing complaint I have seen is “3.5 is fine, don’t let Wizards trick you into spending more money!”

Why Does Wizards of the Coast Exist?

Not to get all preachy or anything but this is why I don’t download copies of games (or anything else for that matter).

My wife and I got into a discussion about this last night because she is a little less stringent about this than I am. As a writer myself (admittedly one that does not expect to get paid – well maybe someday I will expect… or at least hope to get paid for something) I feel that the people that have done this work deserve to have it respected and in this case respect means you pay for the right to own it.

Obviously everyone must make their own moral choice on this matter but I sometimes get odd looks when I take a stand against pirating things and I simply wanted to say why I feel the way I do. I could get into the economic reasons as well – the fact that some people not paying means those that pay, pay more – but I won’t.

Let’s face facts, companies exist to make money. Wizards of the Coast is a hobby company and, while I assume most of the people that work there love what they do, that fact doesn’t change the reality that the Wizards exists to make money. Anyone that pretends that there is another reason is deluding themselves and anyone that acts as though they are pretending to exist for some other reason is making things up. I even saw someone suggest that if Wizards was “a good company” they would release the new edition for free because it is so soon after 3.5’s release. This idea is, of course, absurd since without the incentive of making money they would not have begun work on the new edition to begin with.

The artists, the designers, the testers and publishers are people and they need to get paid for the work they are doing. While it is a very cool job, it is still a job.

Why do Companies Make New Editions?

In truth there are a lot of reasons for making new editions to role-playing games. One reason is to fix problems that have arisen in previous editions. After some amount of play gamers often discover issues with a version of the game and look to the company to officially fix these problems. Yes, they could just house rule it or the company could offer errata, but after a point it is generally considered better to make a new edition since the company is probably working on another print run for their game anyway.

In truth this point could be broken up into two reasons. One being small fixes and additions and the other being grand sweeping changes (possibly even a new system).

Another reason for new editions is to get new players into the game. For the larger games that end up with a lot of extra books it becomes daunting for new players to pick up and start playing. However when a new edition comes out players are more likely to take the opportunity to begin playing. Game companies know this and it has been stated as an important factor in their decision to release new editions.

There are other reasons as well of course but I think that these two are likely the most common.

But Why a 4th Edition, We Already Have so Many?

Do we really? First of all Fourth Edition is slightly misleading since the original D&D that came out in 1974 was not counted as an edition and the First Edition didn’t come out until 1977. Then of course 3.5 could have been counted as a new edition if they had wanted it to. However even with all of that the game has been around for almost 35 years and only has four (or possibly depending on how you want to count it six) editions. In truth this really isn’t all that many. I did a little poking around and this is what I discovered.

  • Vampire: The Masquerade had three editions released while it was being produced and if you count the new Vampire: The Requiem as a new edition then it is on its fourth edition. Vampire first came out in 1991 so it has only been around for 17 years, as opposed to the 34 for Dungeons and Dragons. Similarly the Werewolf and Mage games by White Wolf have each had four versions, counting their new version in the so-called New World of Darkness. The other White Wolf games only had two versions or less but still that’s three WW games with four versions each in a maximum of 17 years.
  • I commented in another post about Paranoia. Paranoia has had four editions since its original release in 1984. While it has taken a bit longer to get to four then Vampire has, it is also a less popular game.
  • The Hero System and its Champions super hero game originally came out it 1989. It actually reached its 5th Edition in 2002.
  • Likewise Ars Magica (a game I have heard about for years but never played) is on its 5th Edition. The original came out in 1987 and the newest version was published in 2004.
  • GURPS has all sorts of different game genres attached to it. GURPS first appeared in 1986 and is now on its 4th Edition which, like Ars Magica, came out in 2004.
  • Earthdawn has only made it to three editions but did it in a span from 1993 to 2005, a mere 12 years.
  • Likewise Cyberpunk only has three editions released from 1988 to 2005.
  • Shadowrun was first published in 1989 and like so many others is on its 4th Edition. The 4th Edition having been released in 2005.
  • Twilight 2000, which came out in 1984, currently only has three editions. A new edition has been announced for release later this year making it yet another RPG on its 4th Edition.
  • A real prize winner is Battlelords of the Twenty-Third Century. The first edition came out in 1990 and the 6th Edition was published just ten years later in 2000.
  • Last but not least we have Call of Cthulhu which came out in 1981. I feel that the full list is worth taking a look at for this one:
    1. Call of Cthulhu, 1st Edition (1981)
    2. Call of Cthulhu, Designer’s Edition (1982)
    3. Call of Cthulhu, 2nd Edition (1983)
    4. Call of Cthulhu, 3rd Edition (1986)
    5. Call of Cthulhu, 4th Edition (1989)
    6. Call of Cthulhu, 5th Edition (1992)
    7. Call of Cthulhu, 5.5 (1998)
    8. Call of Cthulhu, 5.6 (2000)
    9. Call of Cthulhu, 20th anniversary edition (2001)
    10. Call of Cthulhu, Miskatonic University edition (2001)
    11. Call of Cthulhu, 6th Edition (2004)
    12. Call of Cthulhu, 25th anniversary edition (2006)

I am certain there are other games on their third, fourth, or even fifth editions but I think that this gives you an idea and hopefully makes my point. Most role-playing games come out with new editions fairly frequently and the uproar over Dungeons and Dragons 4th is a little silly.

But That Doesn’t Make Me Want to Buy the New Edition of D&D!

Fine, then don’t buy it. If you are happy with 3.5 (or even 3.0, 2.0 or 1.0) keep it. It’s not as if there isn’t enough material out there. Heck, how much more could you really hope to be released?

Role-playing games are fairly personal things. It’s not like a war game that you plan to play with other people outside of your group and thus need to make sure you are all using the same rules. The DM can pick whatever version he/she wants and then the players can decide if they want to be in the game or not.

As for me, I didn’t like 3.5 all that much and thus I am looking forward to getting the new version. It’s possible it won’t be as good as I am hoping and it’s likely I will have some problems with it, but I plan to pick it up and try it out.

Until game companies start coming out with new Subtractions, Multiplications and Divisions I am pretty okay with games coming out with new Editions. Feel free to sound off and disagree with me!

    Matt Says:

    Think there are a lot of underlining reasons for the uproar that people have for a new edition. First of all lets be honest, the gamer crowd tend to not fair change at all when it comes to games. It’s a sterotype of course, but it’s one that is a definite trend. But there are reasons for this, especially when it comes to the tabletop RPG experience.

    After buying book after book it’s difficult to want to buy the next one that will make all the previous ones obsolete or forgotten. If you make the move to the new version, chances are the old books won’t see the light of day. That in itself a hard pill to swallow especially for the hardcore fans that picked up most if not all the books.

    Then you have people who have been playing the old version for years. When you spend a lot of time doing something with your life its typical human nature to resist a change to that. After years of playing 3.0 and 3.5 it difficult to let go of that and try something new, especially if you still like those systems. Which as Josh put you don’t have to get the new version if you still like the old stuff. But I’m not getting into that part, just why people are resistant to the change.

    Of course there is the do-over factor. In order to play the new system you have to learn the new system. When you have the rules down the game takes on a different feel. It becomes less about the rules and more about the experiences because you don’t have to think about the rules. This is where the game starts to really take hold. With a new system, comes learning new rules and thus you have that time period learning new rules rather then just existing in the game.

    Then along the same lines is the laziness factor. I don’t want to take the time to learn the new system, so I’m not going to.

    I’m sure a good chunck of the naysayers fit in those categories or similar ones. I doubt that most people are resistant purely because it was too soon or design issues. But those are easier targets to complain about and as we all know we love to complain about things especially about things other then ourselves 🙂


    Matt- people, including gamers, may resist change. Understandably so when they’re faced with the potential of “needing” to buy new copies of all their D&D books (albeit spaced along a release schedule).

    Yet this is often necessary if the company producing the game deems it time for a set of bugfixes and new features, in the form of a new “edition”. Backward compatibility in pen-and-paper RPGs is not really feasible.

    I know you were going after the resistance to change, but I feel that is something of an aside to the adoption of a new edition. Those who don’t like it will stick with 3.5 (or something earlier) and the rest will probably take the upgrade plunge.

    I suspect that a certain amount of general whining with respect to the new edition stems from the fact that most D&D fans realize they’ll want to upgrade, in order to get the bugfixes and new features of course, yet balk at the perception of dropping a load of cash, annexing a new bookshelf, learning new rules, etc., despite the fact that those things are basically happening each time they buy a new rulebook for any edition (okay maybe not getting new bookshelves).

    That is, assuming the gamers in question buy in to the new direction the company’s taking with the new edition; those who don’t would have perfectly reasonable grounds to stick with their older books as long as they like.


    It has been said that 3.0 and 4.0 are essentially different directions that were taken from 2.0. I guess I can understand this reasoning since 4.0 does not really feel like an upgrade from 3.5 but basically a completely new game.

    I mostly get sick of people dissing on 4.0 simply because they liked 3.5. But then, I guess they would not love to hear about my 3.5 complaints and I could just stop reading their forums. Heh.