Hey, adventurers! So today the starters, region, release date, and legendaries for Pokemon Sun and Moon were confirmed! Because today is Tabletop Tuesday, I’m going to be discussing my thoughts on that news in more detail tomorrow instead of today. If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, you should absolutely head to the official Pokemon Youtube channel and check it out! Enjoy today’s post, and get hyped for tomorrow when we talk about Sun and Moon in more detail!
Before I picked up tabletop gaming as a hobby in college, I only knew about Dungeons and Dragons. I was aware that it had “versions” or “editions,” but didn’t really know what that meant. I figured it was like buying a new game console. The Gamecube comes out, you buy it and start playing games on that instead of the Nintendo 64. It seemed pretty straightforward and I never really thought in depth about it, because I didn’t play D&D.
Fast forward through a few years of enjoying a number of different tabletop games. I now understand that versions are like game consoles, especially in the fact that some people refuse to believe that the Gamecube and the Wii and the Wii U exist and they will continue to play nothing but Nintendo 64 games for the rest of their lives. Versions of games are intended as updates, but they take on a life beyond that, with some folks clinging so tightly to a specific version that it becomes the only “real” way to play their preferred tabletop game. Add that to the fact that some games don’t even HAVE versions, and things get pretty confusing.
My first tabletop RPG was Mutants and Masterminds. “Geez Ian, how many times are you gonna tell us that like it’s new information?” Pretty much every time I write a Tabletop Tuesday post, thank you for asking. Anyway, when I played it for the first time, the game was only in its second edition. By the time I ran the game as a GM one year later, the third edition had hit the shelves. I got a firsthand look at what it felt like to switch editions, and it was pretty awesome.
Second edition had a lot of features that felt familiar to me as someone who played games like Neverwinter Nights and KOTOR. It had the classic six stats of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, complete with the one number that you pretty much never use and then the second number called a “modifier” that you use for absolutely everything. But then third edition changed the names of stats, splitting some of them up into multiple features and adding new ones like “Fighting,” and now there was only one number to write down beside each one. The game still ran on a points system, but what used to be a list limiting what powers you could select had become a massive set of generic descriptors that could be shoved together into almost any conceivable ability if you had the imagination to do it. Adjusting to third edition took the group some time, but once we got the hang of it we felt great and there was no reason to step back to second edition.
Once I played D&D for the first time, 4th edition had already been out for quite some time, and 5th edition was in production just about to hit the market. Maybe it already had, I don’t quite remember. Either way, all I knew was that REAL tabletop gamers knew to ONLY play D&D 3.5. That edition is THE edition, the only one that is valid and worth anybody’s time.
In case you can’t tell, I HATED playing D&D 3.5. The game felt stagnant and archaic. I didn’t understand why my Wizard couldn’t be both smart and charismatic, a smooth-tongued mastermind able to manipulate others to do his will. Even if I chose a sorcerer instead of a wizard (and therefore needed Charisma rather than Intelligence), I still wouldn’t be able to take key skills that are required for eloquent speech. Plus, sorcerer didn’t fit my idea of what the character should be. Wizard made more sense. I hated that when I rolled to cast a spell, there were multiple times that a low roll would mean that I completely wasted my time. I sometimes had entire sessions go by where my character appeared to have done nothing just because my dice rolls were so bad. It wasn’t even like I was being punished and going through hardship because of these rolls – it felt more like I didn’t exist, that I shouldn’t even be there. Every time we played we had to keep delving into a rulebook – multiple rulebooks – because there were SO MANY rules to have to pay attention to. After playing Mutants and Masterminds, where character creation was so free-spirited and customizable and where the gameplay was fun and didn’t require constant rule-checking, I had expectations for a tabletop game that absolutely were not met by D&D.
As a knee-jerk response to my D&D experience, I found games like Dread and Dungeon World. Games with a focus on the fiction instead of the rules, games where a failed roll or pull doesn’t mean nothing happens – in fact, it means that something DEFINITELY happens. As you probably know, I love both of these games and playing them has really opened my mind to what a tabletop RPG can be. Neither one of these games have editions, either, so there was definitely a part of me that wanted to embrace the idea that a game shouldn’t NEED editions. Who wanted to pay for all those updates and new books? Why not just have one perfect book that you can count on forever?
Then I played both of those games for an extended period of time, and here’s what I learned: there’s no such thing as the perfect book.
Every RPG has flaws. Some of these “flaws” are not strictly mechanical. It may be that they don’t work for a certain group of gamers. Or perhaps they simply resemble another game you’ve been playing for a year and you really need something fresh in that aspect of the game or you’re going to go crazy. Some flaws are mechanical – over time, faults are revealed that create an imbalanced or unfun experience. They limit players in some way or prevent them from enjoying the game as it was intended to be. Maybe the game doesn’t have flaws as it is, but those who love the game and enjoy it for a long period of time need new content to make their experience fresh again. At some point, even the most brilliantly-written game needs an upgrade, or it’s going to become irrelevant.
I love Dread, and I love Dungeon World. But the fact is, they aren’t releasing 2nd editions, at least not any time soon, and as they are right now I probably won’t want to play them again for a long time. Not because they aren’t good, but because they aren’t getting better. There’s no growth, and they’re becoming stagnant and archaic in my mind, just as D&D 3.5 felt to me when I played that.
When I converse with people about tabletop games, D&D inevitably comes up. And I always say that I hate that game. But realistically, I don’t know that anymore. Yeah, I didn’t enjoy my experiences with 3.5. But now there’s a 5th edition out on the market. That’s an edition and a half of improvements to work with. Maybe 5th edition fixes a lot of the issues I had with 3.5. Maybe delving into that edition would improve my overall experience with the game. I don’t know that for sure, but what I do know is this: it may be worth a try. I know that when I go back to Mutants and Masterminds 3rd edition, nothing is going to be different than it was back when I played a few years ago. But D&D will be different. Those designers took the time to improve upon the mechanics they’d built, to develop something new based on feedback and on their own instincts.
For a brief period, I thought editions weren’t a necessary part of the tabletop experience, just a money-grab from evil corporate wizards who want us to drown in rules – and poverty. But editions are really just updates. They’re new. They take the potential flaws in a game and work them to make them into something new. They expand your options and help you to have fresh enjoyment of a game that you might otherwise not want to go back to for awhile.
So what do you think, adventurers? Are editions a positive aspect of the tabletop genre that you anticipate? Or do you prefer to find one game or one edition of a game and stick with that? Feel free to comment with your own opinion on editions and updates!