D&D Version Wars: A Prequel

Got an interesting email (quoted as is) the other day about AD&D (the old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons), but the most pertinent section is:

So here is my first question..What happened? why did TSR etc feel the need to update the game? Was it all about the cash with TSR? After all, once you had a few books and a set of dice, AD&D was a very cheap game to play. Later non-Gygax publications from TSR are a bit weak (in my opinion) and Dragonlance fails because each module must come to definite conclusion for the next one, and being told what to do, is not what role playing is about.

Okay, Dragonlance was great fiction – but an awful campaign if you believed in free will, I’ll agree! However, the Forgotten Realms was a great idea.

I think TSR were losing money. The RPG industry was in decline. TSR was taken over by Collectable Card Game (CCG) manufacturers, Wizards of the Coast. At that time they were riding high on the success of Magic: the Gathering. As with all things geeky, that gravy train ended when the fickle gaming public got bored. AD&D had so many supplements by then that the Monstrous Manual ran into two 2-inch binders. It was getting impossible to keep track of everything, without yet another supplement.

I guess Hasbro, the new owners (after the many corporate acquisitions of the ’90s) of Wizards of the Coast, decided that their new property needed something of a revamp. D&D Players wanted to play heroes straight away – they no longer wanted to be level-3 wusses with a few spells or weapon specialisation: they were now the bad-ass good guys. Computer RPGs and MUDS (and MMORPGS) also came into their own at this time – Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights proved hugely popular, thus paving the way for the future World of Warcraft setting.

The other aspect was that the core rulebooks were showing their age a bit. The rules weren’t as crunchy as players then would like (interesting that Wizards have rolled back to a more simplified rules system) – there were no proper skills – D&D was still two games: AD&D and D&D.

In the end, I guess it is something that needs done every 10 years, to keep the product alive. Considering the effects, it’s well worth it! You can still pick up AD&D 2nd edition copies of the Players Handbook, Monstrous Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide on eBay for a £5 each.

I think 3rd edition and the d20 license fired off something of a gaming renaissance. It also backfired on occasion – with so many publishers producing d20 content, there were often quality control issues, not least with the writing! it was also very difficult to convert your 2nd Edition PC to 3.0. Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 was yet another revision. 4th Edition D&D has really got back to basis, streamlining many of the rules and making it accessible to a younger audience.

One of the best things to come out of AD&D 2nd Edition, was the Core rules CD-ROM and the expansion CD-ROM. This allowed you to have the core books and others on your laptop, along with encounters, monsters, amps and a fully customisable character database. You could add new equipment, spells, monsters, maps – in essence, anything! In D&D 3.5, the e-tools suite proved to be way too clunky for use – it would have been better if they had converted the Core Rules code.

Hmm. That’s got me a little nostalgic…

Published by Bill Heron

Wannabe game designer and would-be author. I've been playing RPGs for over 25 years and have recently started creating my own RPG called Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom. I also run a number of RPGs: Cthulhutech, Call of Cthulhu, WFRP, and D&D. I'm active in the Edinburgh RPG community at http://orcedinburgh.co.uk and regularly play RPGs.