Wish 90: System Updates

In Wish 90 (Internet Archive), Ginger asks:

What do you think about system updates (Paranoia XP, Amber 2.0, DnD 3.0/3.5) and conversions (d20 Silver Age Sentinels, GURPS Traveller)? What about world/setting updates that result in system reboots (the end of the Age of Darkness)? Do you buy them, run them, or use them for resources? Why or why not?

It’s natural and healthy for game systems to evolve over time. Problems are found and fixed, new ideas are implemented, and intentions change. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition was fun, but its not something I’d want to spend 20 years playing. As my friends and I grew up, we came to want more from our games than the simple archetypes of original D&D and while 3rd edition still has its archetypes, they are now flexible — playing that crafty, capable rouge-wizard is far easier to do under 3E than under the earlier editions.

Similarly, with a game like GURPs, with a huge number of supplements being published, you need new additions to provide a baseline for new and continuing players. It’s frustrating for current players when supplements refer to previous rule books and publications that are long out of print; I can only imagine how difficult it would be for newbies in a similar situation.

I also think that new editions of the rules can reinvigorate old games. Amber and Paranoia are two good examples of this. In the case of Amber, we’ve been limited to two rule books and no adventures for just about forever, which is a real shame because I know there’s good stuff going on out there in fandom. The new edition could serve as a rallying point for Amber fans, and could see a surge in the amount of material available for the game. With Paranoia, you’ve got a game that everyone’s heard of, and many people have played at cons, but which hasn’t been in print for a while. A new version will give present-day gamers a chance to experience the game, and old-hands the opportunity to relive old misadventures.

As far as conversions go, d20 gets a lot of crap for being the “Microsoft Windows” of the gaming world, but truth be told, my d20-based gaming group is far more likely to play a d20 conversion than the original game. It’s much easier to get players up and running with rules they already know than to start over from scratch, and as a bunch of thirtysomethings, several of whom have kids, anything that saves time is good.

So generally speaking, I’m not against conversions, especially when they’re needed. But I am against conversions that exist “just because”, which is the case with D&D 3.5. There was absolutely no reason for Wizards of the Coast to release D&D 3.5 — yes, there was a need for clarifications and corrections with the original core rules, but creating new rules, modifying spells and re-structuring classes was something that should have waited until D&D 4.0.

Now I know some gamers who say that all WotC cares about is making money. As someone who’d rather see his favorite games stay in print, I want to see WotC make money, and make lots of it! My problem with 3.5 isn’t that its an obvious ploy to make some quick cash. No, my concerns are focused more on the damage that WotC is doing to their “installed base” of users. Back during the days of 2nd Edition, you never knew exactly which versions of the rules people were going to be using. Some used the straight-up 2E core rules. Others mixed in optional rules from the various “guide books”. And then there were those who used the Player’s Option rulebooks. It was a mishmash of rules, and it caused no end to problems within my campaign. I also think it made more difficult for players to join existing campaigns — with every campaign, you had to re-learn the rules you thought you already knew.

This hodgepodge was the main reason my group was eager to convert to D&D 3.0 when it came out … and it’s one of the reasons we haven’t converted to 3.5. Our campaign has been fully converted to 3.0, and we’re fairly comfortable with the rules. Converting to 3.5 would require updating many NPCs, and would send us all back to rules school. That’s not something I’m eager to do, especially if “3.5” means we’re halfway through the D&D life cycle, and we can expect to see 4.0 in three years.

Ultimately, when it comes to converting, my primary concern is whether or not the new rules improve the overall game, as well as my own campaign. If they will, then I’ll gladly upgrade. If not, I’ll wait for the next update to come along.

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