Perfect Edition

I started playing D&D in 1983, later to the hobby than some, but certainly early enough that I can refer to things as “back in the day.”  We started with the Moldvay basic rules (Red Box!), but quickly moved to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons because, well, we wanted to be Advanced.

First Edition was the perfect rules set for us.  We were just learning the game, and at the same time, the game was just learning itself.  Having already come a long way from the Little Brown Book version – the original pamphlet-style game – it was still expanding and defining the system.  I remember buying Dragon Magazine and reading about new rules and new classes, and I definately remember when Unearthed Arcana came out, which added a barbarian to our adventuring group.  Everything about the game was new to me, and exploring the rulebooks was as much fun as exploring dungeons with our characters.  With Gygax’s writing style and recommendations, I was increasing my vocabulary and my ability to express myself even as my gnome thief was improving his ability to pick pockets.  The hunt for subsystems and rules direction was as rewarding as the hunt for treasure and the quest for long lost artifacts.  The experience of learning the game mirrored the play of the game itself – it was wide-open, evolving as we went, challenging and rewarding.

Second Edition was the perfect rules set for us.  We had been playing the game for more than five years, and had a stack of Dragon Magazine articles and hardcover manuals that we referenced whenever we played.  We had found our path, and appreciated the guidelines and suggestions, but weren’t quite ready to run the game without having something to consult on a regular basis.  Second Edition gathered the stuff that we thought was important, edited it together, and presented it in a unified work.  We were also interested in more than exploring dungeons, we wanted to know what else our characters could do besides swinging swords and casting spells – and Second Edition had non-weapon proficiencies and secondary skillsets, so we could have rules that said we were good at disguise or tightrope walking or tracking.  Sure, we could have written that on character sheets in First Edition, but here it was part of the rules and that made it official.  We were interested in expanding our fictional world, and Second Edition, though similar enough to the earlier edition, was at least presented as being all about the fantasy world and the shared story.  Our characters came alive as they hadn’t before, and grew and developed even as we did so in real life.  I’m surprised to look back and see that this book came out in 1989, as I could have sworn that we played Second Edition for years in highschool instead of just our final year (this was back when there was a Grade 13).  I was part of a few attempts to get a gaming group going in University, but it never quite took off.  Still, I loved creating the characters and back stories for these attempts with my Second Edition handbook.

Third Edition was the perfect rules set for us.  It had been years since we’d played D&D with any regularity, but as we hit the end of our 20s, we were feeling nostalgic and finding ourselves in need of a creative outlet, since that part of our lives wasn’ t being fulfilled by our jobs, which were becoming careers.  Third Edition came just as we were getting renewed interest in the hobby and presented a new option – starting our own company to publish adventures and accessories for the game that had given us so much fun in our youth.  Third Edition was an organized system, not filled with diverse subsystems, but a logical structure built around a single resolution mechanic.  Third Edition allowed us to build characters and explore the game as adults, and allowed us to get in touch with the wonder and excitement we had as children.  Third Edition allowed us to create rules and charcters, and build stories and adventures to share with new friends.   Third Edition gave me something to think about and work on and obsess over on my long train ride to and from work.Third Edition brought me to GenCon and introduced me to some of my favourite people.  Third Edition rekindled a passion about gaming in general, and broadened my interest to include boardgames, card games, minis games, and other roleplaying games.

3.5 Edition was all that, and a cool faux-leather cover.

Fourth Edition was the perfect rules set for us.  When 3.5 hit and knocked the momentum out of the d20 movement, it certainly slowed down our adventure and accessory business.  Work and family life had become more complicated and required more attention and effort, and we just didn’t have the time to devote to the game as we had before.  My creative needs were also being met by board, card and miniatures games, which were easier to breakout at our infrequent social gatherings.  We couldn’t provide the continuity needed to keep a 3rd Edition campaign going week to week, but we could remember who had won the last game of Heroclix or what deck had beaten my Rat deck in our last Magic: The Gathering duel.  Fourth Edition allowed us to get back to Dungeons and Dragons and start exploring dungeons again, without spending hours and days preparing backstories and building campaign worlds.  Fourth Edition allowed us to bring in friends who had little or no previous experience with roleplaying games, but who certaily knew their way around dice-rolling and tabletop competition.  Fourth Edition allowed us to build special one-shot action packed widescreen movie scenarios that could be played on those infrequent game days.  Fourth Edition was more complex than risk or heroclix, but allowed us to build and tinker and plan like we would with a Magic deck.  Fourth Edition allowed us to use strategy and heroics and satisfied my boardgame passion, which had slowly taken me away from roleplaying games in the first place.  Fourth Edition was the perfect social activity for my friends at that stage of our lives where we have a little more time to enjoy our hobby – but not a lot of time; a little more spending money, but not a lot more; a little more time to daydream, but not a lot more.  Fourth Edition was complex and rewarding fun to be had over pizza and beer every three weeks, or every other month, or three times a year without trying to remember arcane plots or complex histories.

I am looking forward to Fifth Edition.  I am curious to see what changes and challenges it brings, and how it might fit into my life and meet my gaming needs in 2013.  And, if it turns out that it’s not 100% perfect for me, I still have four (and a half?) previous editions that I can play that are still just as valid today as they were when I first played them.  When you ask my friends and I what we play, we don’t answer with an Edition number; we say D&D.


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