Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
 
The difference between Dungeons & Dragons editions

Yesterday a reader asked: "As a Pathfinder player (which I've read was based on Edition 3.5), I often wonder how much of a difference there is between these various editions. Is it powers that classes have? Strength of NPCs?". I couldn't resist that question, could I? Let's start the discussion by saying that of course there are myriad of small differences in the details between all editions. I once saw a "video review" on YouTube in which the reviewer spent most of the time ranting about how he didn't like what sub-races of elves the new edition offered. This is not the level of detail I am going to concern myself with in this post. Sub-races of elves would be something that I'd just house-rule in as needed. What I am going to talk about is major game systems.

So if you look at the editions of Dungeons & Dragons from this rather zoomed out view, looking at how the major game systems work, the first thing you realize is that 1st edition, 2nd edition, 3rd edition, edition 3.5, and Pathfinder are very much an evolutionary continuum. 4th edition is a break in that continuum, a revolution rather than evolution, with many major game systems completely changed. D&D Next to some extent goes back trying to be an evolution of 3.5 with some elements of 4E thrown in. The major break in how basic rules work between 4th edition and the editions before and after it explain much of the edition wars.

So how did Dungeons & Dragons work before 4th edition? I think the main point is that in earlier editions (and D&D Next), different classes worked using very different rules systems. The example that is always cited is the difference between a fighter and a wizard, but of course you could make similar comparisons between a rogue and a druid or another pair of non-spellcaster and spellcaster. The difference is that the fighter gets a rather basic rule system which consists of a few numbers: How many times per round he can hit something with his weapon, what his chance to hit something with his weapon is, and how much damage he will deal. Thus when standing in front of a monster, when the DM asks the fighter of these earlier editions what he is going to do, the fighter will most likely answer that he tries to hit that monster with his weapon. Now of course the player can always invent stuff of how he tries to swing from the candelabra to jump on the monster's back, but that is role-playing. The rules system by itself doesn't offer the fighter of 1st to 3rd edition D&D many options other than swinging his weapon. A wizard in the same previous editions works fundamentally different: While he could use the same rules system as the fighter to swing a weapon, his stats are such that this wouldn't do much. But he gets a completely separate rules system for casting spells. So the wizard, when asked what to do, will most likely respond that he wants to cast a spell.

Now let's have a look at the same fighter and the same wizard in 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons. The major difference is that now both of them work with exactly the same rules system. Both the fighter and the wizard are unlikely to make a basic attack, because they BOTH have spells. Only that they aren't called spells. They both have "powers". At the same level they both have exactly the same number of powers, for example at level 1 they both have 2 at-will powers, 1 encounter power, and 1 daily power. The "at-will", "encounter", and "daily" part is what is known to MMORPG players as a cooldown. The description of the different powers will be different, the fighter will have powers that involve weapon swinging, while the wizard will have powers that work like spells, for example magic missile. But the important difference between 4th edition and other editions of Dungeons & Dragons is that in 4E every class works with that same basic rules system for powers. Different classes have different sets of powers, making them play differently. But they have the same number of options. And MMORPG players will recognize that this is how pretty much every fantasy MMORPG works as well: Different classes have different powers, but the same number of them at the same level.

Whether that is good or bad is a matter of opinion. Having played different editions of Dungeons & Dragons, I did consider wizards to be problematic in earlier editions of the game: Their power progression is so very different from that of a fighter. That is known as the "linear fighter, quadratic wizard" problem: The fighter gets linearly better with level, by improving the numbers that determine how much damage he can deal with his weapon every round. The wizard with each level gets not only more spells, but also spells of a higher level. So at level 1 a wizard is extremely weak, in some systems can only cast a single minor spell per day, and is killed by a single stray arrow. At the highest level a wizard can cast spells like Wish or instant death spells, and has a huge variety of spells to choose from. Meanwhile the life of the fighter doesn't change much over the levels, he just hits more often for more damage. The wizard also causes problems with other classes, for example a rogue who has the ability to sneak or open locks is overshadowed by a wizard with fly, invisibility, and knock spells. There is an argument to be made that the advantage of these earlier editions is that it offered players the choice between "easier" and "more complicated" classes. But if you play repeatedly with the same people, sooner or later nobody wants to play the "easy" classes any more, because they offer so much less options and less fun than the spellcasters. Furthermore, because in the earlier systems the different classes work on different rules systems, they also work on different resources. The fighter never runs out of the ability to hit things, so as long as he has hitpoints his performance is constant. The wizard has a limited number of spells, and will want to "rest" after they have been used up. In 4th edition you still get players wanting to rest after each fight, but that isn't necessarily the spellcasters any more, everybody uses and regains resources the same way.

While I consider the use of different or the same basic rule system for each class to be the major difference between the different editions of Dungeons & Dragons, it of course is not the only one. I once joked that you could learn a lot about an edition by asking "how many arrows does it take to kill a level 1 wizard?". All role-playing combat systems work fundamentally the same way: Each side has a pool of "health", and each side deals "damage" to the other side, subtracting from that pool of health. The length of combat thus depends on the balance between damage and health. In a turn-based combat system like Dungeons & Dragons, assuming a combat which the players win, the number of turns that each combat will take is equal to the total amount of health of the monsters divided by the average amount of damage the players deal each round. This average number of turns per standard combat is different for each edition of Dungeons & Dragons, and covers a wide range. But 4th edition clearly stands out for having the most turns per combat. Which is by design, and a direct consequence of each player in 4E having more options, more powers, than in the other editions. 4E combat having more turns enables each player to use a wider range of his options, and results in more tactical movement. Again, whether that is good or bad is a matter of opinion, some people like fights to be over in a turn or two and not needing a tactical map, others enjoy the tactical options of 4E. But one thing that has to be remarked is that even if each combat takes more turns and thus longer, it does not follow that in each adventure more time is spent in combat. If combat is shorter, you can simply have more fights and end up with the same ratio of time spent in combat and out of combat.

And that touches on something very important with which I would like to conclude this post: We need to distinguish between the difference between the rules systems of the various editions of Dungeons & Dragons, and the difference between different people applying those rule systems. A game of Dungeons & Dragons is only partially determined by the rules system; another big part of it comes from how the DM and the players run the game, how the adventure is designed, and how the players around the table interact with each other. If you take a group of fans of tactical wargaming to play with the same edition of Dungeons & Dragons as another group of fans of improvised theater, you will get two very different games. It would be fair to say that 4th edition supports the tactical wargaming crowd better, while maybe the shorter fights of other editions are better for a group that wants to spend most of its time role-playing. But if you want a balanced mix of combat and role-playing, you can in fact arrive there from any edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

Comments:
And that is the whole reason why I think 4E is far better.

ALL classes have options. When I DM'ed 3.5? Yeah the casters were extremely weak. They caught up when the wizard got Fireball more or less. A few levels later? The Druid and the Sorcerer (the wizard died and rerolled a Sorc at some point) just dominated completely. The Monk and the Barbarian? Might as well not have been there...

Plus there were way too many fights where the party would get better initiative (and of course they all took improved init) and slaughter half the enemies before they even got a turn.

Roll in 4E and all of a sudden every battle is interesting, every player has interesting choices to make every turn.

I know which I like...
 
"1st edition, 2nd edition, 3rd edition, edition 3.5, and Pathfinder are very much an evolutionary continuum"

I disagree with your premise. 2nd edition and 3rd edition are not part of an evolutionary continuum.
 
1ED, best choice for hardcore dungeon crawling. Good luck finding a DM old enough to even know what that means is and is still playing. Weakest choice for RP. My personal favourite.

4ED best choice for spamming really cool fights with whatever context you like. Remarkably close in intent to 1ED but with more flexible context and no logistics. I like it less because I'm old. Poor choice for RP.

2ED and 3ED. If you like pretending to be a wizard and pretending you are talking to goblins ,or whatever, play these. Combat is not as fast, tense and brutal as 1ED and not as cool pew-pew lasers as 4ED. So we all RP'd instead. Dark days for me lol.




 
I disagree with your premise. 2nd edition and 3rd edition are not part of an evolutionary continuum.

Why do you think that? Let me explain what I mean with an example:

In 1st edition AD&D a level 1 wizard has 1d4 + constitution bonus (max. +2) hit points and can cast 1 level 1 spell. That spell could be for example magic missile, which at level 1 deals 1d4+1 damage without needing a roll whether the missile hits.

In 2nd edition AD&D a level 1 wizard has 1d4 + constitution bonus (max. +2) hit points and can cast 1 level 1 spell. That spell could be for example magic missile, which at level 1 deals 1d4+1 damage without needing a roll whether the missile hits.

In 3rd edition D&D a level 1 wizard has 1d4 + constitution bonus (no max) hit points and can cast 1 or 2 level 1 spells. One spell could be for example magic missile, which at level 1 deals 1d4+1 damage without needing a roll whether the missile hits.

In 4th edition D&D a level 1 wizard has 10 + constitution bonus (no max) hit points and can cast 2 level 1 at-will spells, 1 level 1 encounter spell, and 1 level 1 daily spell. One at-will spell could be for example magic missile, which at level 1 deals 2d4 + intelligence bonus damage, but needs a roll intelligence vs. reflex to hit.

There are a lot of examples like that where the rules of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd edition are rather similar, while being different in 4th edition.
 
"In 3rd edition D&D a level 1 wizard has 1d4 + constitution bonus (no max) hit points and can cast 1 or 2 level 1 spells. One spell could be for example magic missile, which at level 1 deals 1d4+1 damage without needing a roll whether the missile hits."

So where does that put Pathfinder?

In pathfinder a level 1 wizard has 1d6 + 1 (favored class bonus) + constitution bonus (no max) hit points and can cast three zero level spells and up to 4 first level spells (extra spells for arcane bound, high intelligence modifier and spell school specialization.) In addition he gets a magic power from his spell school. (One example is flame jet for the fire school that lets you do 1d6 point os damage plus 1 for every two levels. You can do this a number of times per day equal to 3 plus your intelligence modifier). He also gets three zero level spells that be cast any number of times per day.

Therefore, in Pathfinder a first level wizard gets:
Between 1 and 4 first level spells usable once per day.
A spell school power that can be used in some cases between 4 and 6 times per day depending on intelligence score.
And up to three cantrip spells that may be cast any number of times. (similar to at will powers in 4e). Incidentally, one cantrip available to wizards is acid splash which gives them an unlimited range attack that requires a roll to hit and is similar to the 4e magic missile.

It seems to me that Pathfinder is on a separate evolutionary path base don your wizard example.
 
While I didn't play Pathfinder, I do have to say that I like the part with "In addition he gets a magic power from his spell school. (One example is flame jet for the fire school that lets you do 1d6 point os damage plus 1 for every two levels. You can do this a number of times per day equal to 3 plus your intelligence modifier)." While edition 3.5 did have zero level spells (that don't do much) and spell schools, it certainly didn't have that sort of magic power. At level 1 this would be a significant part of the wizard's power.
 
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"Why do you think that? Let me explain what I mean with an example:"

I am not sure how to respond without a wall of text that would in the end sound like edition flame wars.

The move from 2nd edition to 3rd added the idea of feats, class choices each level, prestige classes, clerics could convert their spells into healing energy.

To say that the progression from 2nd to 3rd was somehow different than the progression from 3rd to 4th...

Each new edition has seemed like a completely new game to those who were brought in the fold in the previous generation.

I personally know several people who stocked up on 2nd edition books right before 3rd came out because "it wasn't the same game" to them.

Personally I like 3rd, but saying 2nd and 3rd are the same... its like gasoline for the edition flame wars....
 
I wanted to point out a few things.

First, I don't think the "linear fighter, quadratic wizard" problem has to be tied to the system. You could easily go the other way, and in fact I think you could use League of Legends as an example. The basic attack damage based champions function quadratically. You can increase your base damage, increase your attack speed, and increase your critical strike. Obviously this all multiplies together, and by the end game you do much more damage, attacking several times as often, for all or nearly all critical strikes.

The point is, there's nothing about earlier systems that requires starting wizards off with 1 weak spell per day, or giving them "wish" at higher levels. They could be perfectly balanced, just with a different system.

Second, this leads to one of the biggest problems with 4E in my opinion. Aside from "melee vs ranged," every class is fundamentally the same. They all have 2 at-will powers doing 1W+modifier damage, the same number of encounter powers doing 2W+modifier damage, and the same number of daily powers doing 3W+modifier damage (mages use standardized dice rolls which are the same as typical weapon damage). The difference in classes is 90% role play.

Third, I would say one thing you didn't mention is how much "effects" were downplayed in 4E. It is pretty nice that they eliminated the "save or die" rolls, but other effects have very little impact. The effect might give you -2 or +2 to your d20 attack roll, certainly not game changing. This adds to the lack of variety as basically all classes are focused on damage (and as previously stated, all do basically the same damage).

This also impacts enemies, and I don't feel like monsters have much variety. Fights only vary because the DM sets up a unique encounter scenario, not because the monsters themselves function any differently.
 
You do me great honour, Tobold.

That is a great answer to my question. One thing I am intrigued about is the relative strengths of Paladins (as a sort of hybrid spell caster/warrior) in both forms.

My level 4 Pally tank in Pathfinders feels really uber to me - doesn't feel linear at all.
 
@Electrolux

I really have to ask this, how does 4E's combat system make Role Play less appealing or functional?

I just fail to understand how people repeatedly claim 4E is worse for role playing then other games or editions.
 
Your last paragraph reads pretty well and tends to be overlooked in the edition-wars that crop up.

Maybe focussing less on the editions and more on the playstyle would mean we could have two concurrent versions of D&D out there at the same time, 2 "advanced" games branching off from a base rule system perhaps.
 
Personally I like 3rd, but saying 2nd and 3rd are the same... its like gasoline for the edition flame wars....

They certainly aren't the same, and I said there are lots of differences. My point is that they are based on the same basic rules system, while 4E isn't.

One thing I am intrigued about is the relative strengths of Paladins (as a sort of hybrid spell caster/warrior) in both forms.

As Samus pointed out (and I like it, but he doesn't) 4E clearly balances classes more than other editions. That isn't to say that the balance is perfect, for example the paladin in 4E is clearly better than the warlord. But the classes are much closer together than in other editions. As I mentioned before, in previous editions it also depended at which level you played: I liked playing earlier editions between levels 3 and 10, but then they just broke down.

I really have to ask this, how does 4E's combat system make Role Play less appealing or functional?

Very much a function of the people you play with. But with people who either don't like role-playing or don't know it well, you can get into situations where everybody looks at all those powers and skills and feats he has and always tries to use those instead of coming up with something not written in the rules.

Personally I wouldn't call an absence of rules that forces people to role-play more a "feature". You sure can role-play in rules-heavy systems like 4E if you like. Personally I even think that having many different powers, each with its own description and flavor text, can help new players to role-play instead of just rolling dice to attack.
 
@Dathi 48

This of course is my opinion, but I think that the fact that in 4e your combat resources are so much more superior to the previous editions, you are more drawn into solving every possible situation with combat. In 2E for instance, if your mage and cleric had ran out of spells and the fighters were at 20% health, everyone would be more inclined to avoid combat and approach encounters in a more RPish way. I found that in 4E that was hardly the case.

Also, the ruleset of 4E relies heavily on playing with maps and figures on a grid. I personally found that this limits the DM significantly since if players stray from the planned path, coming up with improvised settings is much harder. On the other hand, on 2E the rules never called for precise measurements of movement/range/blast radious etc. so it was much easier to make things up on the fly.
 
@Dathi48
I know what you mean, I've heard all the arguments. I've played and ran 4ED and I can't really my finger on it.

There is no obvious reason for it. 4ED doesn't stop you RPing. It just didn't really happen when we played. Combat is a big focus of the system and while I could dream up all sorts of RP fun at the table we tended to rush from fight to fight.

Committed RP groups won't be prevented from RPing, just substituting one combat system for another as you would expect. Everyone else will just want to get to the next fight. We did anyway and it seems we were not alone. I imagine it would be very frustrating for hardcore RP fans in mixed groups.
 
"even if each combat takes more turns and thus longer, it does not follow that in each adventure more time is spent in combat. If combat is shorter, you can simply have more fights and end up with the same ratio of time spent in combat and out of combat."

That is a really unusual way of looking at the combat:RP time ratio. Another way to look at it is like this: you have a scenario, in which there are twelve expected combats and twelve expected role play encounters or story events. Each role-play encounter or story event will take an average of 1 hour of time to resolve, depending on group, so you have 12 hours of play there, roughly. Then you have the combat. In 1st and 2nd edition it might take 30 minutes to resolve each combat, so you have a game which takes a grand total of 6 hours combat and 12 hours roleplay time, for 18 hours of gaming (about 4 sessions for my group).

Then you have 3rd and 4th edition. In 3rd edition those combats might take 1 hour now, and in 4E they each take 2 hours. So what you now have is a scenario that takes 24 hours to finish in 3E, and 36 hours to finish in 4E.....but the roleplay/story encounters still take the same amount of time.

This has been my experience with 4E, and it's the main reason I ended up dropping it. I'm having a similar issue, interestingly, with 4E's indie clone 13th Age. It doesn't mean that 4E is a poor choice for everyone by any stretch, but it means that 2/3rds of the game time with 4E will be in combat, and 1/3rd in the "meat" of the game (by the standards I and my local groups tend to have, anyway). My compromise is to stick with Pathfinder and do all I can to get people locally to embrace 5E when it releases, as my playtest experiences have indicated it will rest somewhere on the difficulty curve below 3rd edition but above 2nd edition.
 
A quick note on the Linear Fighter/Quadratic Wizard problem: this problem didn't really exist in 1st and 2nd edition if you played the rules as intended; spell components, casting times, the limits of interruption through damage in combat and other factors were actually stellar at keeping PCs in check. However, so many people house-modded those limits out that it was an issue anyway (for some groups). 3rd edition dispensed with a large number of these controls on spell casters, which led to the LF/QW issue taking the forefront in that edition....for those groups where playing the chargen minigame was an all consuming goal. In groups where rules mastery was not a factor this did not generally exist (I only ever saw it on one occasion, for example, from a player who was obsessed with the CoDzilla build and also abusing the magic item creation rules).

4th edition's balanced approach was a huge welcome to people who had experienced that issue before, or people who were just tired of the nitty gritty "death by a thousand +1 modifiers" like myself. It killed the LF/QW problem dead, too. Ironically, it also meant that anyone who thought that the chargen minigame of 3rd edition was great....and the possibility of a quadratic wizard was cool....people who liked that built-on system mastery were also very likely to dislike 4E.

Whether or not the issue will repeat in 5E is open to debate. Based on the last playtest on record I feel it's going to play a bit more like 2E, but with some limitations reminiscent of (but only tangentially) to 4E as control elements. We'll have to wait and see what the final product looks like.
 
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you have a scenario, in which there are twelve expected combats and twelve expected role play encounters or story events

While I could imagine that happening if you made a multi-edition adventure, I don't think this happens otherwise. Look at it that way:

In an old school or D&D Next edition of the Caves of Chaos you have 50 small rooms with fights. In a 4E edition you would have 12 big fights. Although the 4E fights might take 4 times as long, overall you end up with the same amount of time spent in combat.

You would not, and I'd even say could not, play the Caves of Chaos as is in 4th edition.
 
"My point is that they are based on the same basic rules system, while 4E isn't."

Again I disagree with your premise.

In both 3rd and 4th edition you roll a d20 and add or subtract a number to hit a difficulty rating. Higher is always better.

In 2nd edition you roll a number and consult a chart or another statistic to see the results of your roll. While there could be modifiers to these rolls higher was not always better.

From that perspective 2nd edition is the special one that shouldn't be compared to 3rd and 4th.

One can argue that any edition is somehow special and not to be added in the continuum of those "other" editions, but down that road only lay editionism and flame wars.

 
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Imagine a matrix with all editions of Dungeons & Dragons as both rows and columns. In each square of the matrix you write down the number of differences between the two editions in question. Having played all editions, I am absolutely certain that on that matrix 4th edition would stand out as having the most differences between it and the other editions.

If all editions were similarily different from each other, why has 4E caused so much harsher edition wars? Why has WotC officially said that they are going back to the style of previous editions with D&D Next?
 
"You would not, and I'd even say could not, play the Caves of Chaos as is in 4th edition."

I think that is a very compelling argument for why 4E should be seen as a different game, not just a different edition. And also why so many people found it wasn't "D&D enough" for them. And...also, why Caves of Chaos was the first play test module for 5E, specifically to demonstrate that D&D once again could handle something indellibly aligned with D&D in many minds (of grognards anyway).
 
Caves of Chaos has 64 rooms, most of which contain a combat encounter. If that is the epitome of classic Dungeons & Dragons to you, then how can you complain about 4E having too much combat?

I'm not saying you *can't* roleplay in the Caves of Chaos, but the default mode for an adventure like this is a dungeon crawl, hack'n'slash, open door - kill monsters - open next door mode. You'd spend at least 80% of your time in or around combat playing that.
 
@Tobold

You asked why there was more consternation for 4e than 3e. I think martket conditions were different at those junctures. By the time of 3e, 2e was whithering on the vine with TSRs' bankrupcty so 3e was seen as saving the brand.

4e happened at a time when 3.5 was still robust and had many fans. Most of whom just stayed with 3.5 before moving on to Pathfinder.

That being said, I agree that 4e was the biggest evolution. But I think that ironically Pathfinder adopted many of the fixes of 4e without radically changing the underpinnings of the game.

If Wizards had created Pathfinder instead of 4e Im pretty sure we'd all have been happy with it. I am also pretty sure that there would be no need for 5e.
 
"Again I disagree with your premise.

In both 3rd and 4th edition you roll a d20 and add or subtract a number to hit a difficulty rating. Higher is always better.

In 2nd edition you roll a number and consult a chart or another statistic to see the results of your roll. While there could be modifiers to these rolls higher was not always better.

From that perspective 2nd edition is the special one that shouldn't be compared to 3rd and 4th."

In every version of D&D, the to-hit roll has been roll 1d20 and add/subtract modifiers to hit a target number or higher. (I'm starting with this because to-hit rolls and saving throws are the large majority of success rolls made in play.) The major change over time has been how that target number has been determined.

In D&D and AD&D (1st edition), the target number is taken from a table depending on the attacker's class and level (or hit dice) and the defender's armor class, but essentially boiled down to a specific number (derived from class and level) minus the target's AC.

2nd edition replaces the to-hit tables with a single number, THAC0 (to hit AC 0), which is determined by your class and level. The target number is THAC0 minus AC.

3rd edition replaces THAC0 with base attack bonus (which is still determined by class and level), and the target number is just the target's AC. Since it's now AC instead of something minus AC, AC is rescaled so that better protection increases AC rather than decreasing it - this means in-game bonuses now are always positive numbers.

Saving throws function similarly - roll 1d20 and add/subtract modifiers to hit a target number, rolling higher is better.

At the beginning, the target number is determined by class, level, and type of saving throw. This doesn't really change until 3rd edition, where the target number is determined by the ability and the caster, and instead there is a bonus to the roll (similar the base attack bonus) that is determined by class, level, and type of saving throw.

The big change over time has been in non-combat interactions. In D&D, these are pretty much limited to thief skills, where you roll 1d100 to hit a target number or lower (except one skill, where 1d6 is rolled instead).

1st edition adds a few more similar abilities, like bend bars/lift gates (1d100, and open doors (1d6).

2nd edition adds a proficiency system, where you roll 1d20 plus modifiers to hit a target number or lower, and the target number is a character attribute determined by the proficiency.

Here, 3rd edition is a major change, making all such skills function the same way to-hit rolls and saving throws already did - i.e. it made all success rolls function the same way.
 
I started playing first edition and recently I have been getting into 4E. I created a vid series about this same topic on youtube, maybe I should complete it. Thanks for the inspiration Tobold!
 
I created a vid series about this same topic on youtube

Couldn't find it, care to give us a link?
 
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