D&D 101: Game Versions

Dice 800600

The previous 101 post was about the six ability scores.

The 101 series is for listeners who are new to the game or don’t play themselves.

Dungeons & Dragons has been around since 1974 with the same concept of gameplay, dice and basic mechanics. If you look it up or look into buying it, you’ll quickly see there are more than one version. Here’s the quick guide to the versions:

1974 – Version Zero
Gary Gygax and friends invent the game in a Wisconsin basement, self publish it and make it available through mail-order via hobby magazine ads. This is now called version zero and has been given a nostalgia release by Wizards of the Coast as the “White Box.” It has a few pop names. Some enthusiasts call it OD&D: Original Dungeons & Dragons.

1977 – First Edition
Gygax and friends official publish the game under their company TSR. They make two parallel versions “basic” and “advanced.” Basic was a simplified version released in five boxed sets. Advanced was the full version, released in the now familiar three core books format. The game now goes on to be an international hit.

1989 – Second Edition
D&D came under intense scrutiny during the ‘satanic panic.’ TSR release an update of the game, with all the devils, demons and other planes removed. They also improve all the artwork and presentation, and tighten things up generally. Lot of cool resource books come out too, helping players to write their own material on limited free time. Important point, even after international success, TSR never had any concept of limiting use. The game was there to be customized and developed by the players.

2000 – Third Edition
Oh oh. TSR screwed up doing Hollywood development and lost all its money. They had to sell to a Hasbro owned corporate operation – Wizards of the Coast, famous for Magic the Gathering. Wizards started off pretty smart. The game was streamlined back to a single version, the THACO table went, and the books were well laid out. In 2003, the settled version – 3.5 – came out. ┬áBut, they also tried to ‘own’ the dice and a bunch of stuff. It didn’t work out. This set them on the path to a new, more own-able version, despite 3.5 being pretty good actually.

2008 – Fourth Edition
Wizards put out this new edition solely to be able to upgrade its license. They also made it into a video game on paper. Don’t take my word for this. Prior to 4th edition, D&D took over 90% of all money spent in the table-top RPG market. Savvy publisher Paizo, made Pathfinder, a clone of 3.5, and took 50% of that share. Yup, half of all players went over to Pathfinder rather than play 4th. Ouch. Better re-continue 3.5 at the double, right? Nope …

2014 – Fifth Edition
Because products have to keep coming out. Now we have 5th ed. to replace 4th and win back people who like the traditional style of play. It’s pretty good and their starter kit is a good option for new players.

There you have it, six versions of the game. On our show we play 3.5. As a DM, I like the old TSR versions because I like simple rules and greater player input. However, some of those rule glitches and problems are tough to overlook once you’ve played the ‘fixed’ version. Version 3.5 is good, I own the original books and the cast had mainly played Pathfinder before joining the show.

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