How many actual editions are there?

Author: DHBoggs /

 People talk about D&D editions generally with the idea that an edition reflects a version of the game with substantive rules differences.  By that it is generally meant you couldn't simply port a character over, or an adventure without making changes that would alter a lot of how things work.  Adding rules, such as new character class doesn't count as a new edition, changing core rules does.

When we look at the list of numbered editions people commonly use, we don't really see that however.  Theoretically, 5th edition, for example should be, well, the 5th revision of the D&D core rules, but it plainly isn't.  People have to talk about "zero" edition to refer to OD&D and Basic D&D isn't even in the equation.  

So for fun, and without any of these being hills to die on, I took a stab at what the numbers should be, in my educated opinion, if we went in chronological order and numbered the rulebooks according to having substantive rule differences from previous releases.  Basically, what I mean by substantive is that you can't play adventures from a given era using only a previous rulebook without running into major problems that would need to be addressed during play.

1) Alpha edition - 1974 OD&D

2) Beta edition - Supplements 1-4.  Supplement 1 significantly changes core rules in OD&D, adds new classes, and creates a more complex game.  

3) Gamma edition Basic D&D (Holmes, B/X, BECMI, Rules Cyclopedia, Black Box)

The Holmes Bluebook rulebook largely adheres to "Supplement" D&D and it is tempting to lump them together.  However Holmes notably introduces new movement and time rules that are carried into the rest of the Basic line.  While all these editions of Basic continue to grow the rules base, the core rules are in substantial agreement throughout.

4)  Delta edition AD&D, 1st and 2nd editions.  Many may balk that I have placed the entirety of 1st and 2nd edition under one heading, but the simple fact is that the core rules of both "versions" are nearly identical.  Flavor issues and class tweaks aside the actual rule differences between 1st and 2nd are so minor they rarely even come up in play.  Sure, new rulebooks came into the game throughout both these editions that kept adding things, and 2nd edition had loads of splatbooks and rule variants, such as in Ravenloft and Dark Sun, but those are all in the orbit of the core rules, without which none of the add-ons would function.     These aren't separate editions in the sense of significant rule change.

5) Epsilon edition - 3.0 D&D

6) Zeta edition - 3.5 D&D.  While 3.5 D&D  billed itself as being only a revision, the truth is that the changes between 3.5 and 3.0 were quite substantial - far more than say between AD&D and OD&D + Supplements.

7) Eta edition - 4th edition D&D

8) Theta edition - 5th edition and D&D next.  I've put these two together since "Next" was a free playtest that led to 5th but maybe one could argue otherwise?

Anyway, there you have it.  I see 8 distinctive "editions" of D&D to date.  Let me know what you think.


Baron Greystone said...

That was a fun idea. I think I'd lump beta and gamma together (time and movement seem pretty negligible tweaks to me), as well as epsilon and zeta. But to each their own.

Dick McGee said...

Seems about right if you're restricting yourself to just TSR/WotC products. I certainly wouldn't assign Next to its own edition, it was just an ever-morphing public playtest.

Let's face it though, Pathfinder 1st edition was D&D 3.75, and 13th Age is D&D 4.5. Not sure where to stick Pathfinder 2nd - it still isn't it's own thing by any stretch of the imagination, but it's much more divergent from 3/3.5 than 1st ed was. And that's not even considering the kajillion smaller retroclones and mods using the OGLs. For ex, Old School Essentials is what, a better laid-out version of Gamma edition? Lots and lots and lots of things that are D&D regardless of publisher or trade branding these days, and more coming steadily.

Dennis Laffey said...

I have no problem with lumping 1E and 2E AD&D into the same category. My friends and I did mix and match from the two editions freely in the mid-90s. And it worked.

But were the 3.5 revisions really that extensive? I don't remember having that much trouble running 3.0 stuff (or even d20 Modern stuff) together with 3.5 base rules. Maybe I just never bumped up against the changes?

Corathon said...

If 3.0 & 3.5 are different editions, then 1E & 2E are different IMO.

DHBoggs said...

Corathon, it would be interesting to know your reasons for thinking so. Off-hand the only difference between 1e and 2e core rules I can remember is that the price for hiring a carpenter changed, and priests got spheres for customized spells.

Derek N said...

A couple criticisms:

1) Holmes really should be its own version. It's initiative system and alignment are totally unique to that version. Even your lumping it in with Basic is perhaps suspect because its combat is much closer to OD&D than Moldvay. Things like group initiative, ability modifiers, weapon-specific damage, surprise, morale, critical hits, etc. that are in common between B/X / BECMI are noticeably absent in Holmes. The only things that carry over to B/X and beyond are that some of the monster bonuses/penalties/descriptions in RC are sometimes closer to Holmes than AD&D.

2) It is a bit odd that you gloss over the changes between 1e and 2e, but not between 3.0e and 3.5e. Regardless, even if you make that distinction, then I would argue AD&D 2e becomes its own edition in '95 with the release of the Player's Options books (which some colloquially call "2.5 edition").

DHBoggs said...

Thank you for your thoughts Derek - interesting!
On point 1) I Actually I very nearly lumped Holmes in with Beta (OD&D + Supplements) because some 75% + of the text is lifted verbatim from 3lbb's and Supplement I. The main reason I didn't was the very specific and very new movement rules for combat which play out very differently from the 30' melee distance of OD&D and alter the game in a way that is still felt. Surprise is in Holmes, and I would argue that most of the other things you mention are of no great importance and vary even within editions, except that Morale as introduced in Moldvay, is a good point. I think the "dealbreaker" for me though for setting Holmes on its own is the rather short list of things in the Cook/Marsh expert rulebook (page x4) needed to use it with the Holmes book instead of the Moldvay book. Overall they are pretty compatible.
On point 2), well, again I would simply ask what is the substantive difference between 1e core and 2e core? Anything? If we were going to include additions, suggestions and changes that come out post core rulebooks we could probably claim there are 30 or 40 editions of D&D, maybe. OTOH, while I don't have any personal experience of 3e I've seen various write-ups that claim the changes of 3.5 were quite extensive - but as I said, I wouldn't die on any of these hills. :)

Baron Greystone said...

I sort of hate to get into this but while 2e may seem to be similar to 1e, it was filled with changes that were jarring at the time. Tables were changed, spell details were changed, classes and races cut, clerics and magic-users were somewhat twisted, the whole demons and devils thing, there were just loads of changes that altogether amounted to an avalanche. I remember running an "official" 2e tournament at a convention and when I told the players I would be referring to 1e books instead of 2e, I got quite a bit of outrage. From where we sit all these years later, we might be tempted to say, "Oh they were essentially the same," but then the whole point of your excercise is kind of lost. All D&D, in fact all RPGs, have many common elements. You can create little subsets as much as you like, but they're essentially going to be subjective distinctions as I think these comments bear out.

squeen said...

I play first edition AD&D, but would never consider 2nd. Seems weird to me to lump them together.

Baron Greystone said...

YES! I had lost track of this post, but now that squeen responded it's back! And now I can post THIS 4-page listing of the *differences between 1e and 2 AD&D!* That's a lot of differences!

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