Kids These Days, Mixing Editions of D&D

A little while ago I met with the winners of my D&D birthday party auction to start talking about how we wanted it to go. One thing I wanted to be clear on was what we were going to be playing! I knew that if I asked it that way the answer would be “Dungeons and Dragons”, and I didn’t want to get into a discussion about editions. So what I said was, “What books do you guys have at the table when you play?”


I suspect, but can't yet confirm, that this is the set that got these kids into D&D.


Quoth our soon-to-be 12-year-old, “We have lots of books! We have two copies of the 3.5 Players’ Handbook, and three of the 4th Edition one, and…” some other stuff that I couldn’t process because my mind was blown.

One often hears people talk about how, back in the day, what they used in play was a mish-mosh of Basic Sets and AD&D and Dragon Magazines and Arduin supplements and whatever else came to hand. The White Sandbox campaign tends to do the same thing, and it makes sense to me because TSR editions of D&D are all pretty much alike; you might find the way it’s explained over here easier to follow, and prefer the slightly different rules variant over there, but it’s not radically different.

That doesn’t at all seem to me to be the case with WotC versions of D&D; Fourth Edition was more or less designed not to be compatible with 3.5-era stuff. So what’s going on here?

Some thoughts:

  • I am likely to be much more aware of the rules than a third grader, and maybe this makes rules differences seem much more important to me. If your understanding of what hit points means is just barely enough to make play happen, maybe details like whether you get all of your hit points back after a night’s rest aren’t on your radar at all.
  • I also have a much deeper familiarity with the fantasy milieu of D&D. Without that familiarity, perhaps the virtue of having both a 3.5 and a 4E Player’s Handbook is that they both tell you stuff about what a paladin is and what kinds of things would be appropriate for a holy warrior to do. If you’re just starting to establish the boundaries of that territory, maybe you’d see differences in how each book defines it as complementary perspectives instead of contradictions.
  • Two edition’s worth of books means twice as many pictures to daydream about. I think this was a primary use of D&D materials when I was 11, and Lord knows it’s still the #1 virtue of many of the Rifts books I just picked up on Paperback Swap in preparation for the game at Recess.
  • Probably the least important aspect of a group’s play is what the books in front of them say. James’ classic post what game were we playing? reminds me that I’ll probably never know exactly what kind of sense these kids managed to make of the Starter Set whose tantalizing appearance on a mass-market bookstore shelf got them started down this road of glomming onto D&Dness wherever they can find it. For better or worse, my presence as an observer will change the way they approach things, and I fully intend to add my own old-school influences to the mix in the form of wandering monster tables and the like.

11 Responses to “Kids These Days, Mixing Editions of D&D”

  1. 1 N.
    May 13, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    post-gender, post-racial, post-human, post-d&d edition.

    get with it, oldy.

  2. May 13, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Funny you mention this now. I made a post a few days ago showing my teenage niece mixing 2e and 3.5:
    You can see the 2e screen and the 3.5e books and character sheets. I wasn’t at the session, so I don’t know exactly what she’s doing – I need to ask her about it! I know she has played some 4e, but has turned away from it because of the tedious combat and minis-focus.

  3. 3 N.
    May 13, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Holy crap, cyclopeatron, an all-girl D&D group??? Myself at 16 would have died of uncontrollable physiology.

  4. 4 1d30
    May 13, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    ^ That wasn’t a typo, I suspect. His physiology would have initiated processes that, once begun, were impossible to recall. And much like a self-destruct device with no override, it would snuff him out like a match in a firehose.

    But anyway, perhaps she didn’t have a 3E screen and just needed to use something?

    Also: there are more snacks on that table than books! Just the way it should be ;P

  5. 5 JB
    May 19, 2010 at 1:52 pm


    Edition mixing may be inevitable amongst young folks just figuring out how to play, but I can definitely recall some frustration even back from my childhood (25+ years ago) in trying to reconcile differences between B/X and AD&D…and pre-D20 editions were INCREDIBLY similar to each other. Trying to mix-n-match 2E and D20 or 4th Edition with anything else seems pretty damn strange. But maybe the point is the same (kids don’t distinguish as much and/or will use a grab-bag of everything stamped “D&D” in order to “get their game on”).

    At its base, D&D provides a rule system to facilitate adventures of imagination…that’s what RPGs do. My objections over the years have been the additions of heaped on rules, effectively stifling imagination. But perhaps kids (as your example shows, and as my own experience bears out) already have ample imagination, and the rules are helpful in setting boundaries and discipline…not to mention jump-starting ideas they never thought of (especially in kids today, who don’t appear to read as much as they once did…I got most of MY ideas from books, back in the day).

    Definitely food for thought.

  6. November 2, 2010 at 9:59 am

    I don’t think that this is strange at all. First, adults often give kids too little credit when it comes to making “smart” choices; generally speaking when we come at this based purely on brain power, kids are smarter than we are. We have to realize that freed from all of the generational/edition based baggage that many of us carry around, they are totally free to create their own D&D/FRP experience. They can pick and choose what makes most sense for them… maybe even changing rules/rulesets from gaming session to gaming session. Second, why can’t we as adults give these kids the credit we give each other and ourselves for adding/creating our own houserules, which is exactly what they are doing… even if it is in an extreme manner. In my own D&D 4e game I am starting to bring many AD&D elements back into my games. e.g. I will be using the saving throw tables from Labyrinth Lord Advanced in lieu of the weak 4e saving throw system: on a d20, an 11+ succeeds. I am starting to mix editions, and I have been playing in one form or another since the Red Box; am I too inexperienced to realize what I am doing, or am I making a sensible/functioning D&D experience for me and my PCs?

  7. November 2, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Hi Hedgey,

    Without knowing you, my default assumption is that you know what you’re doing – that you make houserules based on an understanding of what the rules are for, and where they don’t support the experience you want to have. I’m totally in favor of that!

    I also assume that what you want to do is to make the game more fun for everyone – you’re sensitive to the differing experience levels and ability to deal with complex rules in your group; you want rules that will be applied fairly to all; you’re not interested in catering to players who want their characters to be better than everyone else’s in every way; and the level of ‘let’s follow the rules to make this game proceed’ in your group is not at the ‘roll the dice where everyone can see it, and no you don’t get to argue that you should get to re-roll because the dice touched a pencil or you think the DM is unfair’ stage.

    The kids I’m writing about here are awesome and I love doing the afterschool class with them. But the experience is, for me, pointing out how much gamer advice boils down to ‘don’t be childish’, and how much hard-won maturity it takes to be able to follow that advice.

  8. November 2, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    I do like to think I know what I am doing (I have been playing for over 20 years). I am sorry if I came off sounding a bit polarizing, and I do love reading Mule Abides. I work with kids professionally and I often find that adults discount the intelligence of kids, just because they are kids, lacking experience and wisdom. But these can also be strengths; coming at gaming with a fresh/uncluttered viewpoint is awesome. Remember how amazig it was when you first played? I hate the way we adult/serious gamers often get into edition wars. To me, and the guys/girls I play with, the goal is to roll some dice, explore a dungeon, and get some loot while killing a few beasties every know and then. Whether you play ODD, ADD, 3/3.5, or 4e, you still get to do the “important” things mentioned above.

    A little story might illustrate my point a little better:
    The gang I play with is spread all over the world; some (me included) are in Europe and the rest are scattered about the US. Other than contact with the 2 groups with which I play and the Blogoverse, I have little contact with other gamers. So… when I was in VT over the summer picking up my MA, I was sitting at Barnes and Nobles and I decided to check out the SF/Fantasy aisle. In doing so, I took a look at some of the 4e stuff (the campaign I am currently running is a 4e game). I was confronted by 2 gamers while doing so. They were sitting on the floor checking out some paperbacks as I approached. They saw me looking at the books. The older, more “old school” type asked my how I could even be interested in 4e and told me that if I wasn’t playing ADD, I was doing it “wrong”. The younger gamer, a girl in her early 20s (?) told me that I should never have moved on from 3/3.5 and that it was certainly the best version of the game… hands down. The real problem, for me, with this encounter was that it wasn’t as though they were trying to talk with me about a game we all loved; they wanted to make sure that I knew I was wrong and that they were right. My response was short and it allowed me to escape back to my family. I told them that no matter what edition you play you are still playing a great game in which you can do some great stuff.

    I am just trying to say that gaming is about having fun. Why fight other gamers, when you can fight a minotaur?

    I also want to say that though I am currently playing 4e and 3/3.5, the OSG revolution has become my gaming inspiration and that I am currently, after having played 4e for a while, reevaluating how it “works” in my new campaign and that over the next few months I will be addressing the conclusions I have come to. One conclusion I have come to is that in 4e making a saving throw is not flavorful/interesting/serious enough for my tastes. I will be bringing the LL Advanced saving throws into my game. I hope that they bring a bit more spice and action to the act of making a save.

    Please take a quick look at my blog and tell me what you think. I am just getting started with my new blog and campaign and I would appreciate some advice on how to get my blog out there for others to see.



  9. November 3, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    Thanks for the link to your blog! I’ll add it to our blogroll when I’m using a less tiny keyboard.

    We agree that playing with kids can open your eyes to a fresh sense of wonder and possibility: c.f. James’ post super-awesome-let’s-pretend-time and my Legend of Cherry Pie. The other thing it makes me appreciate more, though, is the virtue of maturity!

    I believe that an essential cause of jerk behavior in all domains is the drive to show that you’re better than someone else. Within RPGs, kids are more likely to do this as “my character can beat up your character”: adults are more likely to imply “my preferred way to play demonstrates my superiority over you & what you like” and I think your reply to this attitude was spot-on. (I do think some rules systems facilitate optimization more than others & that this is frequently a way to say “I’m better than you,” but I see that as a problem with individual jerks and not a reason to be a jerk about anyone’s gaming preferences.)

  10. November 4, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    Yea. That’s so true… the roll-player versus the role-player.

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Past Adventures of the Mule

May 2010

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