Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Do I Need that New Edition?

Seems like everyone’s releasing a new edition of our favorite games these days through regular hobby distribution channels, online, or Kickstarter campaigns. Some are genuinely updated and overhauled, others are classic games in spiffy looking refurbished packages with enhanced contents. Each time I see one of these I mentally undergo a quick evaluation – did I enjoy an earlier edition, do I like the setting and mechanics, will I play it, can I afford it? – and almost as quickly dismiss it. (Exceptions exist: see below.) I expect most gamers employ a similar cognitive subroutine whenever the prospect of any game purchase arises; but new editions often add an extra factor, that we already have a version of the game, one we most likely enjoy. Can it rekindle the love we once felt for this game? Can this new edition encourage and enhance additional gameplay? Is it simply a money pit to cash in on our nostalgia?

The question remains broad and has many angles. Certainly the overall adventure gaming hobby’s going to get new editions whether we like it or not. Professional game companies rely on new editions to drive sales, implement improvements, and keep a game fresh in the public eye. (I say this as I’m busy revising my solitaire adventure Trapped in the Museum for a 20th anniversary release, though I’m completely overhauling the game system it uses, for what that’s worth.) The preponderance of subsequent editions to roleplaying games goes back well beyond the dawn of the internet, self-publishing, and PDF distribution, well before the emergence of the Old School Renaissance (OSR) whose adherents often rework classic games with new and sometimes innovative adjustments and presentations. It’s probably more accurate to ask, “Do gamers need new editions?” And specifically do gamers need the particular new edition of the moment given the seeming flood of revised games of all kinds at every level of the hobby (not to mention the deluge of brand new product, professional and hobbyist, print and PDF).

Looking at my own experience offers one example how individual gamers might approach this issue (consciously or otherwise). To get onto my radar a new edition must emerge from a game whose setting and mechanics I once truly enjoyed (I’ve discussed the relationship of setting and mechanics before). I’m wary of new adjustments to both these elements, believing advances in the game system more likely to improve my experience than changes in an established setting. I rarely consider a new edition of a game I’ve never tried before; in most cases I’d prefer the original edition rather than something up to modern, gaudy standards (though original editions can go out of print...). Getting a game to the table doesn’t matter too much to me. I enjoy reading and immersing myself in roleplaying game books and don’t mind exploring a setting and mechanics through solo play. Bringing a game to the table – with my limited time, focus, and friends – remains a well-savored but rare luxury. Price point tops all these concerns (as it does with most any game purchase, whether at the store, online, or through a Kickstarter). These criteria often lead me to pass on purchasing most new editions.

Yet I’ll admit I’ve backed or purchased a few in my time, even recently. Some were reprints of beloved games with some new material (and an old, deteriorating earlier edition on my shelves). Others are completely new editions with lots of additional resources:

Call of Cthulhu: I have the first-edition boxed set, but at some point in my late college or early professional years (probably the very early 1990s) I picked up a copy of the fourth edition. This made sense since the system hadn’t changed very much but the physical format had. Fourth edition combined all the booklets that seemed standard for early boxed roleplaying games like the first edition, along with the contents of the Cthulhu Companion and Fragments of Fear all in one paperback volume.

Cyberpunk 2020: I bought the original Cyberpunk black boxed set shortly before the new edition released (I had no idea a new edition was upcoming). I still keep it for sentimental reasons and because the box holds a host of Cyberpunk ephemera (fanzines, character sheets, and scenario notes). The 2020 version came in one volume and continued to produce high-quality supplements.

Dungeons & Dragons: Despite passing on second edition D&D I invested in the third edition partly because it seemed Wizards of the Coast was infusing it with innovative yet appropriate mechanics and partly because I wanted to freelance for the numerous companies suddenly producing compatible material thanks to the Open Game License (even though the OGL keys specifically to a stripped down “System Reference Document” available free online – besides, the books were beautiful at a very affordable price, even in my “Desperate Freelance Years”). I still have my third edition D&D books, more for archiving reference than anything else.

Star Wars RPG: I love the classic first edition of West End’s Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. I recall seeing the second edition in a game store months before the company hired me to establish and edit the Star Wars Adventure Journal, but it didn’t impress me enough to buy. Obviously I later got a reference copy when I joined West End and had to adjust both my writing and play style to reflect the rules changes (not all of which I liked, particularly the Wild Die...). I later helped develop the second edition, revised and expanded full-color hardcover (also known among the staff as “Super Mondo” edition), which in presentation and mechanics proved the better new edition. Though I have all editions of the game, I prefer first edition when I sit down to play.

Prince Valiant: The Storytelling Game: I got excellent mileage out of the original edition, so when the Kickstarter campaign promised not only a hardcover, full-color revised version of the rulebook but additional scenarios (that ultimately came as its own hardbound, full-color “episode book”) I couldn’t resist. It’s one of my favorite ways to introduce newcomers to roleplaying games. For me Prince Valiant was a hybrid “new edition,” part high-quality reprint, and part supplement chock full of adventures.

Mercenaries Spies & Private Eyes: Flying Buffalo recently ran a Kickstarter campaign to reprint its classic pulp game (which spawned a couple of fun solitaire adventures I enjoyed long ago). The “reprint” includes bits added to a subsequent edition and a few other goodies. My backing the MSPE reprint was pure nostalgia coupled with a nice price-point and no-nonsense shipping (included in the pledge). Besides, the copy on my shelf is showing its age and on the verge of falling apart.

Tékumel: My addiction to that setting is well-documented (“Tékumel: The Lands of Joyful Addiction”), but the subsequent reboots ran the gamut of revised editions or compilations of previous editions and brand-new games with the same setting. I have both early editions of some of the material, early reprints/repackagings, and the three most recent endeavors that update the setting and mechanics to the conventions of the times.

During more than 35 years of adventure gaming I’ve also passed on many opportunities to buy into new editions or given up on some I acquired. These acquisitions included Top Secret S/I and at least two editions of Traveller (MegaTraveller and T4: Marc Miller’s Traveller, for which I wrote a short story that appeared in the resurrected Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society #25). Having started on Basic/Expert D&D as well as Advanced D&D, I felt I had a decent enough collection when D&D second edition released, so I passed on it; besides, I was in college and my roleplaying interests had wandered away from D&D. At one point at West End Games I acquired the second edition core books, but have long since sold them. I was wary about 5th edition D&D. Ultimately I bought the starter set, which didn’t inspire me (though it looked great) and decided to pass on the traditional triumvirate of rulebooks that would have cost me a pretty penny, sat on the shelf mostly unread, and most likely not seen action at the game table. (Alas, I’m stuck in the 1980s, as my preferred D&D flavor is a heroically house-ruled B/X.) I’m sure I’m forgetting a number that came, made no impression, and went. Most I perused, shelved, and later sold. I’ve passed on several that came down the Kickstarter pipeline – games I’d wanted to try in my youth but never found or bought – such as Metamorphosis Alpha and The Fantasy Trip.

Everyone’s mileage will vary. Each gamer has their preferences for settings and mechanics, tempered by acceptable price point and whether they’re just getting it to enjoy for the reading or bring it to the table (group or solo), or some degree in between. Each gamer has their own evolution that influences this decision: a history of games – from their first taste of roleplaying to those most amazing campaigns they ran – that fixes in their minds their favorite game systems and settings. Some folks invest in a game’s latest edition in the hopes of finding fellow players using the most up-to-date version that, coincidentally, happens to remain available in stores and online. It’s all one of those aspects of gaming we sometimes face, one that, like gamers themselves, has a multitude of creative and practical approaches.

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