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?”
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?
- 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.