One of the things that I love about learning new games are the questions that I find myself asking as a result. For example: one of the major questions I keep asking is why did Dungeons & Dragons change so much from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition (AD&D 2e) to Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition (D&D 3e).
Now it can certainly be argued that some of the changes were simply necessitated by the market of ideas. We had moved towards a different style of gaming as gamers increasingly embraced other systems such as White Wolf’s World of Darkness and Steve Jackson Games’ GURPS. But there are other factors as well that can help explain why the transition was necessary.
When Ryan Dancy wrote about acquiring TSR back in the late 1990s this was the scene he was met with:
I found a dead company.Dancy
In the halls that had produced the stuff of my childhood fantasies, and had fired my imagination and become unalterably intertwined with my own sense of self, I found echoes, empty desks, and the terrible depression of lost purpose.”
He would go on to find that TSR ran on a gut sense of what the market wanted instead of listening to what the customers actaully wanted. As a result, when Wizards of the Coast began doing market research and actually listening to their customers they found that TSR – the company that had once been the market leader – was now considered substandard
Our customers were telling us that 2e was too restrictive, limited their creativity, and wasn’t “fun to play’ . . . [they] were telling us that we produced too many products, and that the stuff we produced was of inferior quality . . . that we spent too much time on our own worlds, and not enough time on theirs . . . that they prefer playing D&D nearly 2:1 over the next most popular game option . . . [that] they wanted a better support organization . . . [and] that they want to create and distribute content based on our game . . .”Dancy
All of what Dancy found when he looked into the consumer landscape was true and the decisions he helped foster in the creation of the d20 system, and the open game license, would revitalize D&D as a game and the industry as a whole. BUT, I think that in changing so much that sometimes we lost something wonderful in the older editions.
D&D 3e is the bridge between what most people would come to know as Classic Dungeon & Dragons (any version before D&D 3e) and Modern Dungeons & Dragons (any version after D&D 3.5). It occupies the briefest era of support for a core version of the game having lasted less than 3 years before major revisions reformed the game and changed many of its key elements.
It’s overlooked, maligned, and incredibly fascinating.
D&D 3e is one of those games that it’s easy to think you know when you first look at it. After all the book looks nearly identical to the revised version of the game. It uses most of the same artwork, same terminology, and many of the core rules are the same. But this is all deceptive.
D&D 3.5 revised and tweaked the combat rules, magic, the way that abilities work, the skill system, the weights for items, and practically every page of the core books saw some change to how things were done. It further expanded its discussions on practically every topic as each of the core books saw their page counts increase substantially.
D&D 3.5 would change how many of us thought about the game and what we were able to do when playing it. We became standardized and thought about things in terms of what the game would allow us to do instead of in what we wanted to do.
D&D 3e straddles the line between what Classic D&D taught us and what Modern D&D would become. It’s something that I plan on exploring more fully in the coming months as I attempt to make D&D my own in ways I’ve never been able to completely do in the past.
Dancy, Ryan S. “Acquiring TSR.” ENWORLD, https://www.enworld.org/threads/ryan-dancey-acquiring-tsr.661632/ Accessed August 4, 2020.