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Hot Button: New Editions

Posted By Walt Ciechanowski On May 4, 2009 @ 8:01 am In GMing Advice,Hot Buttons | 16 Comments

No, this article is not about Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and Mike…

Any successful roleplaying game will eventually have a new edition. No matter how well-written an RPG is, there will always be room for improvement. Broken rules, unanticipated needs, rules expansions, errata, clunky systems, etc. can make a new edition attractive to fans of the game.

However, a question always accompanies a new edition; namely, how closely should a new edition resemble its predecessor? This is a very important question, especially when there’s a significant financial investment involved. How easily can supplements of the previous edition be used with the new edition?

Let’s look at two extremes:

Call of Cthulhu is currently in its 6th edition (officially; there’s been a few intermediate editions as well). The rules, however, have changed very little since the game was first released in 1981. I can pull an adventure created for, say 3rd edition, and run it with the current rules with little trouble. I’ll call this the “Mr. Fix-It” approach. This approach generally appeals to new players, as old players can often get by with a free errata (or simply ignore the minor changes).

Dungeons & Dragons (oh, don’t look so shocked; you knew that I was getting here eventually) is currently in its 4th edition. It’s almost impossible to pluck a 3rd edition adventure off the shelf and run it using 4th edition without significant modifications (just as it was difficult to run an AD&D 2e adventure using the D&D 3.0 rules). I’ll call this the “Burton” approach (after Tim Burton, who called his version of Planet of the Apes a “re-imagining”). This approach appeals to both old and new players, as the new rules are incompatible with the old.

Obviously, there’s also a gray area in-between, but most games tend to fall on one side or the other of the “I can use my old stuff with little trouble” line.

In addition to the obvious economic interests, the reason behind a new edition often dictates the approach. Let’s look at a few:

New Print Run
The previous edition sold out and it’s time for a new printing. The publisher decides to take this opportunity to create a new edition. As the motivation for a new printing is generally to ensure that every player has a copy of the rules, most publishers will want the new printing to be as close to the old edition as possible. Thus, the new edition is guided more by the Mr. Fix-It approach; cleaning up editorial mistakes and minor errata. The changes are usually summarized in a couple of pages in the New Edition and/or as a free download.

New Publisher
The new edition is being published by a new publisher eager to put its own stamp on the game (rather than directly reprint the old game). New publishers trend toward the Burton approach, as they are more prone to tinker with the rules and want their version of the game to sell well.

Streamlining
The previous edition has been so cluttered with rules supplements and optional rules that playing a “complete” game has become unwieldy. In addition, many of the newer rules are more innovative or intuitive than the original. Thus, a new edition promises, at least initially, to get the rules back in a single core book. Streamling often leads to somewhere in the middle of the two approaches, depending on the nature of the changes.

Broken
Sometimes the previous edition has a rule that is so broken or the book is so littered with editorial mistakes that the publisher feels that a new edition is necessary. Unless the broken rules constitute a major part of the game, then the new edition will follow the Mr. Fix-It approach.

New System
For whatever reason, the publisher wants to dump the core rules system and replace it with a new one (during the d20 heyday, quite a few games dumped their house systems to jump on the d20 bandwagon). This reason definitely edges closer to the Burton approach.

Parallel System
The old edition is still available and supported, but an edition using a different rules set is published concurrently. As an example, prior to the new, more balanced World of Darkness, there was a point-balanced GURPS version published alongside the original. To take another example, the original BRP line of Call of Cthulhu is still going strong, but that hasn’t stopped versions being put out for GURPS, GUMSHOE, d20, and True20. Parallel systems generally follow the Burton model.

Obviously, a new edition of any stripe will have an impact on a particular gaming group, and individual GMs sometimes feel that the publisher should have gone in the opposite direction. I’ve seen groups swear off a new edition sight unseen and I’ve seen groups declare an end to the campaign with a new one starting up just as soon as the new edition is in their hands (in both cases, it didn’t matter whether the new system was touted as a Mr. Fix-It or a Burton).

Similarly, some GMs will ignore Mr. Fix-It editions and only purchase a Burton edition, while other GMs will only purchase Mr. Fix-It editions and ignore a Burton.

So today’s hot button is this: You’re currently running a campaign that shows no signs of losing steam and a new edition is on the horizon. Would you prefer a Mr. Fix-It or Burton edition?

Walt Ciechanowski

About  Walt Ciechanowski

Walt’s been a game master ever since he accidentally picked up the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set in 1982. He became a freelance RPG writer in 2005 and is currently the Victoriana Line Developer for Cubicle 7. Walt lives in Springfield, PA with his wife Helena and their three children, Leianna, Stephen, and Zoe.




16 Comments (Open | Close)

16 Comments To "Hot Button: New Editions"

#1 Comment By drow On May 4, 2009 @ 8:52 am

i don’t think i automatically prefer one over the other, it depends on how the new edition compares to the old one. if its substantially better in significant ways, i don’t care if it got there by a tuneup or a complete tear-down to the chassis and rebuild with aftermarket parts.

#2 Comment By xinpheld On May 4, 2009 @ 9:34 am

Generally, I wouldn’t try to force a change into a new system, unless it’s mutually agreed to make the change. However, making a change into a new version can make for interesting roleplaying.

I remember being in a long-term campaign back in 1989, when 2nd Ed D&D came out. We not only made the transition from 1st ed to 2nd ed, but also into the Forgotten Realms setting. The mechanics were easy to deal with, but playing through the changes were another thing. I played a human cleric, and actually went through a few game sessions without any spell power, because my god was gone. Eventually he transitioned into Lathander, and all was happy again. If players are up for it, and the DM can weather the mechanical changes, it an be a fun and wild ride.

#3 Comment By NeonElf On May 4, 2009 @ 9:51 am

I think you’ve got it wrong when you said the D&D (Burton style) editions appeal to new and old gamers. Gamers generally like the system they’re playing or they wouldn’t be playing it. If you revamp the rules there are many who won’t want to upgrade.

My group is an example. We still play 3.5e. No one wants to invest the money in the new books, or the time to learn a whole new system when we were just getting good at the 3.5 system. Particularly not in the middle of a campaign! With a major re-write of the rules, you may be losing a core contingent of your audience.

Many of the people who play RPGs are also the people who get in epic flame wars over their choice of text editor. This type of loyalty may carry over into their RPG edition as well. Just like the “new” Star Wars movies (1, 2, & 3) angered some of the core fans, but brought in a whole new generation of fans, so too did 4e with D&D. I’ve heard of people rejecting it, and switching to Swords & Sorcery for a more authentic 1st edition play style. I’ve also heard of people selling their first born to get advanced copies of 4e. (ok not really but you get my drift.)

So your unsupported statement of Burton-esque rewrites appealing to the old/current players strikes me as wrong.

#4 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On May 4, 2009 @ 10:12 am

@Neon-elf – “Appeal” implies an interest. Whether that appeal is successful is the question that you’re really asking. Also, it’s not a zero-sum statement: “appeals to old gamers” doesn’t mean “appeals to all old gamers.”

Mr. Fix-Its aren’t generally marketed to old players and a publisher often takes pains to emphasize this. The assumption is that old players won’t need to buy a new Mr. Fix-It to keep current; an errata/update sheet will enable them to use their old book with new material.

Burtons are marketed to both old and new players. The changes are significant enough that the old material is obsolete. Old players now have a choice; stick with what they have (with no new support) or purchase the new edition.

So, to take D&D 4e as an example, there’s ample evidence that 4e appealed to gamers that already owned 3.5. There’s also ample evidence that WOTC hoped 3.5 gamers would purchase 4e. There’s also ample evidence that some 3.5 players didn’t purchase 4e.

#5 Comment By Scott Martin On May 4, 2009 @ 11:11 am

You’re currently running a campaign that shows no signs of losing steam and a new edition is on the horizon. Would you prefer a Mr. Fix-It or Burton edition?
It all depends on my opinion of the current system. If I’m enjoying the current game, but there are some flaws that Mr. Fixit will mend, I’ll but it and make the change over.

A Burton style change will encourage me to ignore it while my ongoing game continues, since “upgrading” or changing over would dilute the current game too much. I’ll finish out the current campaign as is (and without any pesky new books to change everything mid-stream!), and look at the new Edition when we’re picking our next game. [At least, that’s how we handled the WoD and D&D 2->3 and 3->4 changes.]

#6 Comment By Scott Martin On May 4, 2009 @ 11:12 am

er, “If I’m enjoying the current game, but there are some flaws that Mr. Fixit will mend, I’ll buy it and make the change over.”

#7 Comment By rekenner On May 4, 2009 @ 11:16 am

3e -> 4e. Very much a Burton, very much ‘So broken we can’t change minor things to fix this crap’.

Really? Publishers do what they think is right, I look at the rules and decide if I want to sink my money into the books. I bought 4e books as my first D&D books after having played smatterings of 3e over the years, not playing more or buying because 3e was *bad*. Worse than what I was playing at the time, anyway. No matter which they do, it’s up to rules quality. Make me want a system, however you do it, and you’ve done good.

#8 Comment By Ace Logan On May 4, 2009 @ 11:57 am

My group NEVER changes editions mid-game. We don’t even really bother with errata either.

But if we can all get the new books cheap enough, or enough copies to make it worthwhile, we’re willing to start the next game with new rules. Unfortunately, having to shell out major cash for a new system keeps us tied to old rules more often then not.

#9 Comment By Rafe On May 4, 2009 @ 11:58 am

As I’m playing Burning Wheel and am really enjoying the system, I’d definitely go with Mr. Fix-It (which seems to be the plan). In terms of D&D, I was really hoping they’d go with the Star Wars Saga Edition style of change from 3.5e to 4e. I don’t despise 4e as it is, but I’m not a huge fan of it. In my opinion, combat is both better and worse, but everything else has lessened.

#10 Comment By hattymchappy On May 4, 2009 @ 5:40 pm

I would have definitely gone with Mr. Fix-it last year. Something involving this subject happened to my group when DnD 4e first came out. We had been playing a 3.5 campaign for a few months and the DM asked everyone to come up with extensive backgrounds for it. Everyone was really into it, and we were only building up more steam.

Then all of a sudden 4e came out, and the DM and one other player decided that we should abandon our 3.5 campaign and play 4e. We all made generic characters, with which we had no stake in. A few of us were quite upset about how the whole thing went down, but we’re all good friends so we didn’t make much of a fuss about it.

I have played a little 4e since then, and am about to start playing in a new 4e campaign which will alternate with the 3.5 campaign that I DM. I’m really looking forward to getting to play, even if it’s not 3.5.

I guess what I’m saying is that Mr. Fix-it and Burton are both fine with me, as long as they don’t completely derail an ongoing campaign.

#11 Comment By Swordgleam On May 4, 2009 @ 7:25 pm

I wouldn’t change games in the middle of a campaign unless something were going horribly wrong. I think that’s a big problem people have with 4e: they assume it will make their 3.5 books combust.

When I start a new campaign, I either have a story or a system already in mind. If a system looks fun, I’ll choose it. If it looks like it’ll fit the story I want, I’ll choose it. I don’t care when it came out.

#12 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On May 4, 2009 @ 7:42 pm

I’ll vote “present” and say that it really depends.

If the old rules system is good enough, then (by definition) it’s good enough. I’ll take a look at what’s in the new hotness, and if it’s that much better, I’ll go with it. Even in a Fix-It update, I’d be curious to see what they tweaked. (Note to game developers: I also want to see WHY it was tweaked.)

There are a few other factors as well. If everyone in my game is mesmerized by the New Hotness, then I’d better buy a book and start reading. If our campaign is going strong, and the consensus is to hold off, then I’d better keep away from the “Selling” page on eBay…

#13 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On May 5, 2009 @ 8:29 am

My thought is that even given a Burton RPG, there’s nothing saying you can’t finish your campaign or go back and play the old edition later. I’ve been longingly looking at my Basic Edition Redbox set recently, and wondering if I could get my players interested in playing a few games of it.

So, really I couldn’t care less. If we get a Burton, we’ll decide if we like the new edition and if we like it enough to disrupt the current campaign, then move forwards from there.

#14 Comment By deadlytoque On May 5, 2009 @ 9:34 am

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider(Note to game developers: I also want to see WHY it was tweaked.)

Ditto.

I’m a bit of a revision whore, but mostly it stems from this. I want to see what has been changed and why. If there are changes made to address problems that I haven’t encountered, then I’m not interested.

I have always had a soft spot for D&D as the grand old man of the hobby, and also as the most mainstream RPG, and therefore the easiest to find new players for. That said, I have had major problems with every edition I’ve played (AD&D, 3E, 3.5), but I was able to get excited about each subsequent edition because I could see that the developers were making changes to things that bothered me. THAC0 made me insane; 3E did away with it. 3E classes were often insane and sloppy; 3.5 cleaned them up a bit. I won’t get into the 3.5 ->4E issue, since it’s still too hot, but suffice it to say 4E addressed a lot of the problems I had with 3.5, and now I am very much enjoying D&D in a way I was only able to before if I shut my mind off completely.

Similarly with White Wolf. I owned Vampire and Mage 2E, then Revised, then happily switched to NWoD because I could see why the changes were being made, and I liked how they addressed my complaints about the previous edition.

I hadn’t heard there was a Burning Wheel revision coming down the pipe! Honestly, I love BW; I would just have liked a re-write to put the book in a more user-friendly condition. I’m excited to see what Crane comes up with.

#15 Comment By Lee Hanna On May 5, 2009 @ 11:47 am

“So today’s hot button is this: You’re currently running a campaign that shows no signs of losing steam and a new edition is on the horizon. Would you prefer a Mr. Fix-It or Burton edition?”

Absolutely, a Mr Fix-It. Having said that, when D&D went from 2e to 3e, I did switch mid-campaign. 1e to 2e was no sweat; 3.0 to 3.5 wasn’t, either. I was greatly interested in Skills & powers when that came out, and tinkered with most of it. Dragon ran that year of articles showing what was going to change in 3e, and I bought in to the concepts. I liked what I was seeing.

4th edition? Not even close. I felt ignored by WotC, and tried to stay away from the hate. Now that it’s out, the group that I am in feels too invested in 3.5 to switch now. We only just started another of the Adventure Paths we bought years ago, and we have piles more 3.5 campaign-plans to play/run.

I do run/play lots of other games, but they seem to die off rather than achieve later editions. Twilight:2000 and Traveller:2300 spawned a Burton and a Mr. Fix-it, respectively, and *then* died out. Space:1889 needed a Mr. Fix-It, but died too young.

#16 Comment By Rhamphoryncus On May 5, 2009 @ 4:44 pm

Pathfinder tries to do the best of both. It rearranges the core a fair bit (which does require new rule books), but has only minimal impact on all the other books.

Our group immediately started cherry picking rules, then switched entirely. Same characters, same campaigns, same adventures, but calculating skill points is much less painful. ;)


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