By Hemlock (Jose Otero)
You know how people say that they don’t like reading Shakespeare because it’s “Old English”? But in actuality Old English sounds more like “Hwät! We Gâr-Dena in geâr-dagum þeód-cyninga þrym gefrunon, hû þâ äðelingas ellen fremedon. Oft Scyld Scêfing sceaðena þreátum.” (From Beowulf) and Shakespeare wrote more like “Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene, from ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”? Yeah, that’s the usual misconception of how DnD rules work. You want to see complicated rules? I suggest you open a BattleTech book for 5 minutes and try not to get dizzy. DnD rules are pretty simple though some editions are more complicated than others. Before you go ask your buddies to join you for a rousing night of goblin slaying, you need to pick what rules you’re going to run your game in.
First thing’s first: there are 6 distinct rule sets for DnD distributed in 4 editions. First edition, advanced first edition, second edition, third edition, 3.5th edition and fourth edition. If I had more time and space here I’d walk your through all the important aspects and differences between these categories and explain some others that exist out there. Instead, I’m just going to give you the gist of these editions and what you should be aware of before investing a substantial amount of cash in them. First off, of course, is First edition and advanced First edition, sometimes referred to as Advanced DnD or just ADnD. These are the early rule sets and have… flaws. Some classes are overpowered, other classes aren’t worth playing and the more modules you get the more complex and nonsensical it becomes. Despite the fact that rules in both editions are complicated they aren’t impossible to learn but it’s going to take you some significant reading time.
Second edition is in my opinion the most convoluted system of any DnD game. For example: let’s say you’re holding a shield. Now you have to declare which way you’re facing. After that you need to know in what hand you hold the shield and what hand you hold your weapon. You get full defense bonus on the shield side, some bonus from the front, very little on your non-shielded side and you actually get penalties for being attacked from behind. And that’s just shields, wait until you get to complicated things like climbing walls and throwing spears. Yeah… Second edition is for experienced players with a need for more of a challenge and a tighter rule set. Do not be mistaken! These aren’t bad rules and it’s not a bad edition but it is not for new players. Back in my day it was a rite of passage to play through a second edition game. And it was not easy.
So then comes third edition and 3.5. I have to admit these are my favorites. The rules are simpler but not too simple and there is a lot of fun mythos to work with. Lots of types of dragons, weird monsters, demons, gods, angels, locales and the cosmology are all a lot of fun to play with. There are very big differences between third and 3.5 but, again, I can’t spend too much time on them. If you want to play one of these I suggest you look up the differences and pick the one right for your group.
Finally there’s fourth edition. Now fourth edition gets a lot of flak (A LOT of flak) for being very simple. Everything is streamlined, it’s more forgiving on the players and even the big sprawling mythos in past editions is simplified for new players eliminating some really cool stuff that was around in earlier editions. But I have to say teaching new players how to play fourth edition is a breeze. The DM does most of the work and the math is simple and easy with bonuses and penalties that don’t take hours to make sure you’re doing them right (second edition I’m looking at you). Learning the gist of the rules can take maybe an hour or two without getting into the really complex stuff which you can introduce slowly as the team becomes more accustomed to the rules. Is it the best? Probably not but it’s definitely the best was to introduce someone to the game.
Before parting I have to point out there’s this new edition called DnD NEXT. I don’t know, I haven’t played it, I can’t tell you much about it except people tell me it’s… weird. Not as simple as fourth edition but not as complex as second with some oddball additions and bringing some old rules back that either make me happy or scratch my head. Once again I apologize for this very general description of the editions but it’s all about what’s right for you and your group and, of course, having fun.
Follow Hemlock and his crazy adventures in writing and DMing games on Twitter! @WritingOnHemlok