Friday, August 28, 2009

The difference between 1st through 3rd Edition, and 4th Edition D&D

Original D&D (1st through 3rd Edition) was designed for the way most people wanted to play. 4th Edition was designed for the way most people actually play.

Consider the Vancian magic system, or basically the way spells were handled in OD&D. It was fun! It added a real level of realism to the magical system. We could see how it worked, and it was filled with life.

It also played poorly in any traditional dungeon crawl setting. Consider every dungeon, with encounter after encounter. You end up facing dangerous foes, but you blow all your spells early. Low level spells are hindered by high saving throws and spell resistance, and high level spells are limited. Fail a high level spell, and it's done with. It's over, you can't use it again. The fighter? Sure, he can attack yet again and it will be just fine. He can just try again next round.

But we want to play with the Vancian magic system. And we want to use it dungeon crawling. The problem is that Vancian magic system was pulled from fiction. This doesn't mean Vancian magic is bad, just the way the rules work with it are poorly done. But that's the basic idea: Vancian magic is what we want, but not how we play. 3rd Edition was plagued with the 15-minute work day. Players would run a single encounter, and then rest until the next day. That is how Vancian magic works. That's how OD&D worked.

Why is this? Think of many of the popular fantasy stories out there. Think of Wheel of Time, or even better, Lord of the Rings! LotR is popular and what most people think of when they first think of fantasy. Now, how many combat encounters did the fellowship face on their journey during the first book? Not many. They had a "skill challenge" when trying for the pass. They had one at the entrance to Moria (along with a "skill challenge). They went through Moria (which was probably a "skill challenge" as well) and had 1, maybe 2 encounters (depending on how you look at it), and then they were out.

Not many encounters. In a traditional D&D game, they would have faced many more encounters than that. But the Vancian style magic is built more toward LotR style adventures.

4th Edition allows people to play the games they were playing in earlier editions with greater ease. And that's the issue. OD&D was designed for an intended way to play. 4E was designed around the way people played.

Now, I love 4E. I also love what Pathfinder did for 3rd Edition. I love the feel of earlier editions. I love the design of 4E. Unfortunately, Pathfinder didn't solve any of the problems that 4E set out to solve, and 4E didn't keep the same feel of OD&D that Pathfinder attempted to keep. They both went about it wrong. You can't look at 4E and dismiss it as pure rules. Doing so ignores what they did with the game: make it less cumbersome for the way most people play the game. And they succeeded! Paizo set out to republish the 3.5 rules so people wouldn't have to rely on finding old D&D 3.5 books. And they succeeded!

However, neither really try to combine the two above points: creating a game the is what most people want to play based around how they actually play. I'm not all talk, either. I'll be presenting some ideas soon that will demonstrate how to go about this. The goals will be simple:

  • 3/3.5/Pathfinder (whatever you want to call it) compatibility. You should be able to use all your books without any conversions (or very minimal conversions).
  • Adapt the system so that it let's players play the way they want (4E design).
  • Keep that OD&D feeling with a Vancian magic system.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Make it fun!


Anonymous said...

The only "right" way to play D&D is 2nd Edition :D

Jason said...

Spent a lot of time with 2nd Edition. It was fun, up until the Black Death series of books came in and ripped it up.

Steve Black said...

Hi there,

I have just decided to move from 2nd edition and unfortunately, I am upset (well disturbed) that they (WoTC) managed to throw out the baby with the Bathwater. In 2nd edition you had optional rules, bu with 4th ed you have none. I, like you, would like to keep the Vancian magic system (I am thinking of keeping the Vancian Mage as a different class so everyone can choose!) but it is quite daunting but I think we on the net can do a good job together to alter all the spells, etc to a compatible system and eventually we shall have a good combat system couple with differing magical systems and perhaps topped off with a decent skill system.

Well everyone can hope!!!


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