The evolution of D&D

Classic D&D: Designed to be fun

AD&D: Designed to be fun for everyone (spawning a multitude of conflicting and contradictory rules as a result)

3e D&D: Designed to be fun for the player (but a planning and preparation headache for the GM)

4e D&D: Designed to be fun for the GM (but players now feel restricted after all that 3e freedom, by-the-nose combat Powers and final transition into being a boardgame)

5e D&D: Screw it. Let’s play Mutants & Masterminds instead

That’s my experience. In short: GMs love 4e D&D because of the much shortened prep-time, simple NPC and monster creation and easy Monster and Encounter creation rules, but players are less than enthused.

Discuss.

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17 Comments on “The evolution of D&D”

  1. My players were also spoiled by the lack of options in 4e compared to 3e. But I disagree that it’s more of a boardgame. In both 3e and 4e, if I didn’t want to take the time to prep, all adventures would basically be combat after combat. If a DM wants to prep, they can make 4e into an in-depth, non-restricting game that the players and DM love to play.

  2. @Bob It comes highly recommended :D

    @Tony Surely if you’re just running combat after combat, then that’s when you end up with the boardgame effect? Just asking, I’m curious.

    @Stuart Good points. Whether 2e AD&D managed to make more or less sense to the game is open to debate :) That’s where the design goal and end result differed, methinks.

  3. I think players had more fun *creating* characters in 3rd edition. More players have fun *playing* 4th Edition, in my experience.

    In 3rd edition, I had several players frustrated because their characters either weren’t useful in combat, or were only useful in combat. My players seem more engaged during the entire session in 4th edition.

    Brent P. Newhalls last blog post..The Importance of Review

  4. @Tony Agreed! My players are finding they dislike the boardy gamey elements of 4e much to their taste though, regardless. I didn’t expect to like 4e, but love it; the problem is that the more they play it, the less they want to. What’s a poor DM to do? :D

    @Brent We’re still feeling the shift between out-of-combat and in-combat gaming, and none of the players like the “hang on a mo while I set up the battlemat” aspect of the game. In 3e (or any other system at all, for that matter) combat was a part of the role-playing experience. In 4e, it’s….. not. And therein, I think, lays the core of the problem.

  5. @Tony 4e is our first foray into battlemat use, and feeling the pain :( I much preferred 3e’s “it’s up to you” approach. 4e says you don’t need ’em, but….. you do. A battlemat and some form of counters is intrinsic to the rules.

    Unless anyone knows any different, of course……….

  6. Yes, whole heartedly with summary. Let’s bring back the fun. Isn’t that what D&D and RPGing is all about. Friends hanging out, wasting time(others opinion), having fun. DM’s, not GM’s, having the bulk of the prep time. That’s why we did it, we love world building (i.e.dungeon crawls) and the rest. Maybe I’m an old timer, we fear change, or I haven’t given 4e much of a chance. Show me the way, if I’ve lost it.

  7. Yeah. My comments on the versions:

    OD&D: Wargamer alternative.

    1e AD&D: The original, with all its weird complexity, that still somehow captured the imagination of the time. Everyone had house rules cobbled from Dragon and their own minds and everyone’s character was waving Blackrazor around.

    Basic D&D: a greatly cleaned up, “staged” version made very noob-friendly. We played this in parallel with AD&D. Very few house rules were used, strangely. As it had less rules and those rules were more streamlined there were less loose ends and gaps where you had to house rule. My third favorite version.

    2e: Retaining the options of 1e, but trying to clean the mechanics up some, adding real skills, etc. 2e gets a bad rap, it is close to my favorite version. Had only a couple house rules, some of which (like Perception) refigured changes coming down the line. Had options for players and prep wasn’t hard for DMs. Seemed to me to be a happy medium.

    3e: I was very excited about 3e when it first came out. Core mechanics cleaned up even more. Feats! More modern “roll against a DC” mechanic. The ability to have a 20th level orc fighter. True multiclassing. Yay simulation! When it came out, it was my favorite version. The problem here isn’t in the 3e core books vs the 2e core books, it came as the millions of additional books with their feats and p-classes and sub levels came out, making it both insanely complicated and hard to balance. (People who complain about the “unbalanced kits” in 2e apparently have never read 3e/3.5e, or are idiots.) As a result there were very few house rules used by 3e groups. Also, the tactical map focus became more and more mandatory, which shifted combat from a more free-wheeling thing to a hardcore tactical exercise. DM prep didn’t have to be hard, but there was a tendency to make every bad guy a half-dragon half-ghost necromancer 10/dark adept 2/monkey spanker 3, which of course is way more work.

    3.5e: Magnified the worst parts of 3e as described above. It wasn’t all that different at its core except for getting more and more legalistic as the new tactical-heavy combat required more and more fine differentiations of action types and move types. DM prep now officially a nightmare. All the books that came out were all about more complexity. Along the line, the game became player driven not DM driven. in 1e it was understood that the DM set the rules. In 3e it became the default assumption that any WotC book at least was by default fair game and the DM needed to intervene if he specifically wanted to outlaw one of the more “fringe” things.

    4e. I think they were trying to hearken back to Basic, but the way reduced set of player options was too much. And though they continued to clean up the very core of the mechanics, the heavy tactical focus and the zillions of fiddly auras, one round bonuses, etc. combined with the culmination of the long crawl of player hit points becoming huge means combat is actually quite time consuming. Sadly, it’s my least favorite version.

    My favorite campaigns, especially from a DM point of view, came in mature 2e (not counting Player’s Option) and early 3e. Prep was easy, and player choice had a good bit of variety – not so much that it was unmanageable, but no obviously arbitrary barriers either. As a player, it’s about the same – except I’ll note that higher level play has been getting *less* fun over time due to complexity.

    mxyzplks last blog post..Second Curse of the Crimson Throne “Edge of Anarchy” Session Summary Posted

  8. I think you just need to get used to the battlemat… it’s not the game.

    When I switched from 2e to 3e, I had the same experience you’re reporting, because I wasn’t used to using a mat. (And 3e pretty much did need them. Yes, it paid lip service to the “do without” style, but doing without meant giving up on attacks of opportunity, bull rushes, and various other elements of combat. 4e is only slightly worse, once you translate “square” to “5′”.)

    The cynic in me wants to add:

    Classic D&D: Designed to be fun for wargamers.

    AD&D: Designed to be fun for wargamers who wanted more complexity.

    2e: Designed to be fun for roleplayers who wanted less wargameyness.

    3e: Designed to be fun for people who really like building characters.

    4e: Designed to be fun for GMs who really like building scenarios.

    You can skew any edition of the game if you look at it from the right mindset. Me, I’m still loving 4e, despite its flaws. So are my players. Looking forward to the PHB2 next year.

  9. @Kevin Thanks :) I love world- and campaign-building too. That’s the easy part, and possible to do in any version of D&D just the same. Ironically it’s Classic D&D (especially the Rules Cyclopedia) that has the best support for campaign building with built in rules for building Strongholds, controlling Domains and running entire wars, but there you go.

    @mxyzplk I know what you mean. While we bypassed 1e/2e AD&D entirely out of general dislike (much preferring Rolemaster at the time), our experiences are much the same. In the 3e era we bought, but didn’t use, a load of supplements. I’d say 80-90% of all characters were generated using just the Core Rules, with the rest being unusual races from the pages of Dragon, Savage Species or Mythic Races. Very few new classes were played, and next to no Prestige Classes at all (I count 3 in total, if memory serves).

    What we got the most use out of was Ptolus and the World’s Largest Dungeon. They’d rate as my most used non-Core purchases, definitely.

    But prepping my own 3e/3.5e adventures was far too time consuming, even when using just the Core. If I wanted a Wizard-5/Rogue-5 as the protagonist, even using tools like PCGen it takes a while to create – and that’s not a complex character! Adding templates to monsters takes time, and creating new ones from scratch was not for the faint hearted. Then there’s building encounters with the terrible CR/EL mechanic….. I don’t want to go back to any of that.

    These are all problems that 4e has fixed, beautifully. All I’ve got to do now is convince my players to keep playing and learn to love the new edition.

    Time will tell.

  10. @Scott A little cynicism is good thing :) For 3e we did just what you said – didn’t play using battlemats and ignored Attacks of Opportunity (hate those rules with a passion anyhow), and the game plays just fine. Visualizing ranges is simple enough when you’ve got a decent imagination.

    That’s harder to do when you’re juggling multiple Auras, marked creatures, Close, Burst and other area effects as well as the rules for Pushing, Pulling, Shifting and Sliding.

    Heck, 4e is more like a wargame than any previous edition of D&D ever was!

  11. Well, but saying that 4e has “fixed” the prep problem is like saying the Republicans have “fixed” the economy by eliminating most of it. In 4e you don’t have the ability to generate the wide range of characters and opponents you can in 3e. In 3e, if you just plumped in creatures unmodified from the monster manual, you’re just as good to go. But since you had the option to do more than that, people got tempted into spending that extra time. I find the stock monsters, treasure parcels, and similar things from 4e to be among the most distasteful aspects, very board gamey.

    Yeah, on the battlemats – we didn’t feel like we needed to use them in early 3e, except for major events. (We used them on rare occasion even in 2e, for major setpiece battles, and never ever in Basic and 1e). Once 3.5e came around, it was all mat all the time. It lacks a lot of the dynamism and innovation there was earlier. It’s removed a lot of DM fudge knobs. Can the fighter get there in one round? Well, if it’s close, as the DM I would always make a judgement call based on what was dramatically appropriate. Now, the DM’s role in combat has basically been reduced to “enemy AI.”

    mxyzplks last blog post..Second Curse of the Crimson Throne “Edge of Anarchy” Session Summary Posted

  12. I’ve recently started two new campaigns. In the new D&D 3.5 campaign I spent a boring 2.5 hours going through character creation with Claudia because I doesn’t like to do it, and neither do. In the new M20 playtest we had good fun at the table but two players are complaining about all characters being mechanically equivalent and there being next to no rules-talk between games.

    Can’t please everybody all the time. :(

    Alex Schröders last blog post..Google Custom Search Engine

  13. i quit buying core books and option books and all the other stuff long ago except FR Region Books and now they have gone and jacked that up to comply with new magic rules.

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