Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Behind the Edition Wars (AD&D 2e Apologetics--Part 2)

First, have you checked out my "Win a Reaper Miniature Contest" in celebration of d20 Dark Ages's 200th post?

Wizards of the Coast is both the cause of, and solution to, the Edition Wars.

By "The Weem"

During the last AD&D 2e Apologetics we covered why rules bloat and Thac0 are the deal-breakers when it comes to promoting AD&D Second Edition. We refuted the accusations that Thac0 and rules bloat are inherently bad, or at least if a gamer dislikes them, they can be easily circumvented for the enjoyment of AD&D 2e (use ascending AC/BAB, and just say "no.") 

Then we ended with the question:

Where do you think these arguments against Thac0 and rules bloat originate? 

I enjoyed reading your responses on that post. A lot of you were dead-on with your answers: Wizards of the Coast.

Now, I'm not branding WotC as an evil corporation bent on wrecking the hobby. What amazes me, though, is that even today I harbors feelings toward WotC's acquisition of TSR. On the upside, it lead to the OGL, and without the OGL there would probably be no OSR On the downside, AD&D 2e got kicked to the curb and we're all told it was a good thing.

To paraphrase something Ryan Dancey, the creator of the OGL, once said in the early 2000s: The greatest competition to the current edition of D&D is a previous edition D&D. (If anybody can find this quote, I'd be grateful. I believe I remember reading it on EnWorld.)

The original goal of the Open Gaming License was to prevent another financial disaster like TSR happen. Let third party companies vie for niche markets like Planescape or their own homebrew settings. "Rules Bloat" became associated with TSR, and by default AD&D Second Edition. You can read all about Ryan Dancey's visit to TSR during the company's final days at insaneangel.com. (which was copied from the original site). Dancey blames TSR death on "deafness" and inability to listen to its customers.

Just beyond the middle of that letter, Dancey blew 2e out of the water:

"Our customers were telling us that 2e was too restrictive, limited their creativity, and wasn't 'fun to play.' We can fix that. We can update the core rules to enable the expression of that creativity. We can demonstrate a commitment to supporting >your< stories. >Your< worlds. And we can make the game fun again."

And by "we," I'm certain he means WotC.  He goes on to talk about cutting back on the number of products they (TSR/WotC) produced because customers wanted it that way. Apparently the jargon in Planescape was too confusing. He keeps saying that he, along with WotC, will somehow "fix" D&D. 

AD&D Second Edition was somehow broken. He blamed the rules themselves, as if they were the cause of TSR's bad business practices. Rules bloat didn't sink AD&D 2e; rules bloat sank TSR. There's a difference. We all know the rules in all of those supplements were optional. The core rules themselves were fine, and if you didn't like it, you can alter it.

In this light, the argument against Thac0 comes as no surprise.

In July 1998, in Dragon #249, about a year after the acquisition, Peter Adkinson revealed that he had replaced the Thac0 system. Instead, a character would have Attack Values (ATV) and Defense Values (DFV). You just had to use a formula once to find the ATV and DFV for your character (see right). "When a character rolls 1d20 to hit, he or she simply adds (which is more easier and intuitive than subtracts) the d20 roll to the character's ATV. If this total equals or exceeds the DFV of the target, it's a hit."

The whole d20 System was supposed to be more intuitive--that word keep appearing again and again in the WotC marketing of 3e at the time.

So there you have it: Rules Bloat + Thac0 = AD&D 2e bad. 3e would "fix."

Of course, hindsight being 20/20. We all know what followed. If you thought 2e was rules bloated, then 3e was even more so. Just look at the stat-blocks, just look at all of the supplements WotC cranked out for 3e, before turning it around and doing it for 3.5e. I found 3e/3.5e to be more restrictive believe it or not, especially as a DM.

And hence, the Edition Wars burned ever forward as WotC marketed that their current edition of D&D was the best, while many resisted these claims.

I get it though. WotC's acquisition of TSR happened about 15 years. Ancient history, right? Why should I be talking about it?

Well... AD&D Second Edition is back. You can buy the core books on Amazon. WotC has allowed the sale of older edition pdfs on dndclassics.com, including those infamous 2e splatbooks.

WotC is really piling on the good will. D&D Next/5e/whatever you want to call it is supposed to appeal players from all editions of D&D. The question is: can they do it?

This is why I asked in an earlier post,  "Do other games have edition wars?"

With all of these earlier edition products released and the announcement of 5e, the Edition Wars have cooled.

At first I thought this was a good thing. Maybe we can all get back to just playing games we enjoy in whatever edition, retroclone, or variant.

For those who've been reading this blog, you know I have my reservations on this.

 Believe it or not, I'd rather have people arguing about the qualities of various editions than silence. I just won't participate as much as possible (though sometimes it can be hard, I'll tell you about the "Boiling Water on an Ant Hill" story sometime).

I'll cover "Why the Edition Wars matter: in an upcoming post in the next few days.

Further Reading:
1. The Death of TSR, Ryan Dancey's letter formerly posted on atlasofadventure.net (Scroll Down to view)
2. Most Dangerous Column in Gaming, by Ryan Dancey
3. "Simplifying Thac0 and Armor Class," Dragon #249, by Peter Adkison


  1. I think the problem is two fold: 1) getting people to dismiss 2e and adopt 3e for WotC so they could... sell more books; and 2) those who hated 2e because they associated it with the betrayal of EGG. This second group I find is the one most eager to jump into the edition wars, and most 2e players who came into the game without knowing anything about the power plays at TSR either A) don't give a crap, or B) didn't know and still don't give a crap.

    However, as much as this group probably hates 3.X, they have no problem using the straight out lies by WotC in order to have more justifications for bombing the edition they hate.

    Essentially it is a classic case of projection. I could be wrong, but my experiences online show that the primary source of hatred for a set of rules that is not to different from 1e is "EGG wasn't in charge."

    Okay... and you are that upset about it almost 30 years later why?

  2. If i buy a new edition of an academic book it usualy is an improvement in research or new data but game editions dont really do this much. If i was a traveller fan i wold have hated megatraveller but i liked it. I played RQ3 and dislike later editions - sadly over unnecessary changes like weapon damage - halberds and polearms getting weaker in many games editions which is crazy - a naginata beats a katana any day. Gammaworld is saddest because it has gone from being very dnd to having multiple systems mechanics till now its dnd compatible again but has taken a lightweight wacky game feel. What made old gammaworld work like 2000AD comics is that no matter how silly it was played straight. The real killer of editions is greed and update for no good reason but for cash - churn out crap to keep people employed. Warhammer very guilty of this too. One reason i still prefer older books is minimalist design - i find easier to find stuff. I dont want a boo to make me look clever or look pretty - i want it to last and be able to find stuff. I used to find stuff in adnd books by the white space around text. Some new editions had me going back for this alone. Id rather read a idea in a blog and use it if i like it or inspire me than get another overly designed book. Some design is just bloat and padding to waste surface of pages and another thing that drives me away. I have never liked wizards layouts or art choices and have only had one pre-tsr-grab product which i dumped. Piazo better but also just something i never found appealing and i stopped looking at the mags they did foe wizards too. I guess the 70s style had a kind of gritty historical realism where as everything now seems more cartoony an final fantasy or even superheroic. Jim holloway was funny but the hardware like armour and weapons looks semi historic and plausible. When I read how elves have dropped in popularity as player race in modern dnd it demonstrated how they have broken the game.

  3. I remember edition wars when AD&D was released and when 2e was released. Also, it was pretty bad with RQ3 and WFRPG 2 -> 3 as well. Things seem worse today because of the internet. I think you'll find edition wars whenever a game changes companies or authors (unless the game is essentially dead, then a new version is seen as better than nothing such as WFRPG 2e or d20 Star Wars).

  4. I personally felt that 2e empowered me to do whatever I wanted more so than 3e, mostly because I felt like I could take a hacksaw to it whenever I wanted.


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