I’ve been a part of the online gamer community for quite a few years now, I’ve been gaming through two edition transitions, and I’ve made a few observations. In my very first post, I mentioned how a gamer’s game and edition preference is a lot like political party affiliation, for better or for worse. Well today I’m expanding that thought.
The edition cycle is a lot like the election cycle. The few months after a new leader takes center stage is a time of intense debate as euphoric supporters duke it out with disgruntled dissidents to define new policies and political dynamics. Then everyone settles into those new policies and life goes on for a few more-or-less quiet years. But inevitably the Man makes decisions that offend some of his constituency — everybody makes mistakes, and you can’t please everyone anyway. Eventually discussions become more prevalent and more heated, as dissent escalates. Some constituents start noticing policy problems, some just want a change of political scenery. And then someone decides it’s time for a big change, and we start all over again.
It’s no wonder that we complete a lap on the edition treadmill every few years. It’s not anyone’s fault; it’s not necessarily even bad. It’s simply a convergence of circumstance and psychology. History is cyclical, and nothing will change that fact short of a drastic change in the communal condition.
This has all happened before, and this will all happen again.
This concept also applies to individual gamers. Most of us started role playing with the edition that was newest when we started, because that’s what was on the shelf at Borders or B&N. Like ducklings, we imprint that edition indelibly upon our minds. We love that edition without really knowing why. When a new edition arrives, many of us refuse to play it. Some of us kick and scream rather than play something new.
But eventually, most of us do try the new edition. Sometimes we go back to our old stand-by, but many of us breath a sigh of relief and think “This isn’t so bad. In fact…I’m having fun!” And then we start talking about different editions, different rules, and the writers who make them. We nitpick and debate everything ever printed under the D&D logo. We start to realize that every game has flaws, and when the next edition comes we try it without kicking or screaming.
We walk the edition treadmill for a few years; sometimes for a single edition, sometimes several. Then something shifts slowly but surely in our hearts, and familiarity becomes more important than playing the latest and greatest edition. We settle into a particular edition and playstyle, happy with its familiarity and content [or blind] to its flaws. We’ve probably adopted a few house rules to smooth out whatever wrinkles there are. When the next edition comes, we can’t be bothered.
It’s not a matter of game tradition, or quality, or anything else. Those are just things we tell ourselves and each other to explain [or defend] our decision to stick with an older edition. It’s a matter of age and taste, pure and simple.
As for me, there’s a good chance I’ll stick with 4e regardless of what 5e looks like. More specifically, I’ll be sticking with the C4 clone. Unless 5e has good tactical rules for stuff like social encounters, domain building and mass combat, I think it’ll be a small improvement on 4e at best. I’m comfortable with 4e, and I have enough material to run it for years!