This was originally posted on EN World – another of a sequence of essays I seem to be writing about 4e and reactions to it – well, mostly my own reactions!
I have observed a belief by some forum members that the upcoming edition of D&D will leave them behind, relegating them to grognard status whether they want to or not.
The previous sentence just displays what a witty and observant fellow I am, for certainly no-one else on these boards could have come up with such a statement of clarity and erudition. Now, where was I?
Ah yes, contemplating the soon-to-be-grognards. This is an unfortunate fact of life: things change, and things don’t always change the way you want them to. I was a grognard once, during the horrible years of Talisman 3rd edition. Thankfully, the 4th edition of the game goes back to the tried and trusted methods of 1st & 2nd edition, so the aberration can be ignored – a little like Star Trek V.
So, why isn’t D&D going back to the tried and trusted ways of 1e & 2e, like Talisman did? Well, mainly because the old rules are a bit like a short-necked Galapagos tortoise – not quite suitable for today’s drier climate. Oh, and the 3e D&D rules are actually not that bad – certainly a lot better than Talisman 3e! (Mind you, I’m not convinced that Talisman works quite as well in 2007 as it did in 1982, either…)
However, there’s also another factor that is here: lapsed players.
Most of the people on this board are current players of 3e. At least, I think they are. However, there are quite a few people who really enjoyed 3e when it first came out, and then slowly drifted away as the problems with the rules became apparent to them. They liked a lot of things about 3e, but after a while the problems were too much for them to continue.
You can also see this with the previous editions of D&D. Not everyone who bought the books during the early 80s stayed with the game. There are plenty of people who got the books, played for a while, and then wandered off.
Now, here’s the big thing about a new edition: it can get those people back. It was certainly true of 3rd edition. There are countless people on these boards that can tell that story: they played AD&D, got sick of it, but returned for 3e. I hasten to add that I use “countless” in the personal sense; i.e. I haven’t counted them!
A new edition can also take with it people who have stayed with the old edition, because there’s something quite astounding about roleplaying and works of the imagination:
People’s tastes change.
The game that was 100% right for 2000 is very unlikely to be 100% right for 2008. Between 1974 and 2008? You’re talking about a generation gap. Just look at the difference in popular music and films. Even if you look at what you enjoyed back when you were a young teenager, is that the same as what you enjoy now?
When I was at university, I played in campaigns that met once per week, if not more frequently. Some of my friends have trouble making even one session per fortnight these days! Real Life takes its toll.
So, the understanding that experience of a game that was designed by some genius who got to play it every day of the week isn’t quite the same game experience that us once per fortnighters get. Once per monthers? You have my sympathy.
Any game of the imagination must mainly draw upon the imaginative themes of the day. This is not to say that the themes of the past cannot inform the themes of the present, for clearly this does occur. However, to assume that the new player has (say) read J. Bellair’s “The Face in the Frost” rather than Harry Potter is foolish. Rather, you write the game of 2008 for those who have read Harry Potter, and inform the game with the best of what has come before.
That this leaves some behind is inevitable. Not everyone changes the same way, and, that you or another does not like a new edition of D&D does not make your taste in games wrong – just different from where the game is moving to.
Conversely, that the game is pitched to the tastes of today rather than yesterday does not make it wrong.
My hope is, as always, that the designers get it right, as much as possible, for the people who will play D&D for the years to come.