Revised Editions – Good or Bad?

Lately, as I scour around for new RPG’s to buy, I’ve been bombarded by a ton of products that have either been revised (typically for the 3.5 rules) or have had a new edition put out. Just off the top of my head, I can think of Mutants and Masterminds 2nd Edition, Shadowrun 4th Edition, Everquest II, Spycraft 2.0, World of Warcraft 2nd Edition, and the Tome of Horrors Revised book (only released as a PDF, no less!). I’m sure I missed several in there.

If you’re big into role-playing games, this is a serious blow. At $30 – 40 a book (if not more), that puts a big dent in the pocketbook. The general feeling that I’ve seen among RPG fans, and I tend to agree with this sentiment, is that they don’t like paying for the same thing twice. I’m sure that the die-hard fans of each of these books are more willing to shell out a few extra dollars for the improvements made in the new editions and revisions, but casual fans get hit a little harder.

Revisions and new editions have been around since RPG’s began, but the intensity of them seems to have increased in recent years. Wizards of the Coast’s 3.5 revision to the D&D rules is largely to blame for this. By changing the core rules to the 3.5 version, they caused a backlash wave. Many publishers put out revised editions of old products to match the new rules, which again disenfranchised the public by “forcing them to buy the same product twice.”

I know, I know. Nobody is holding a gun to your head. You’re still capable of running a game with the outdated version. Yet we, as RPG fans, are an obsessive lot who want the most current materials so that they work with the most current materials without having to do conversions. Many fans, self included, don’t like to make the conversions, and they want something in print (rather than the SRD).

At this point, we come to another major point in the whole mix from the other end of the spectrum – relevance. If an RPG company’s product is not relevant (i.e. compatible with the 3.5 rules), then it simply won’t sell. Many publishers revised their products to keep their products relevant so that they can continue to bring in revenue from them.

The 3.5 revision, like any edition change, has its good and bad points. While it improved the rules dramatically, it also had an adverse effect on publishers (who had to revise their own products to remain relevant) and fans (both in terms of cash flow and trust).

New editions allow for companies to take already good products, and make them better. The new World of Warcraft RPG stands as a means to appeal to the core Warcraft computer game audience, rather than a D&D audience. Mutants and Masterminds, an already great game, is reportedly even better now.

All of these revisions and editions bring to mind a few questions.

How can we trust that the products we buy will be the final version? Quite simply, we can’t. We don’t know what the industry will do, and when a new revision or edition might come down the pike. People have been predicting 4th Edition D&D since 3rd Edition came out. Do not doubt that it will happen eventually. It’s just a matter of when. It might be next year, it may be ten years down the line.

How can RPG companies, who have been forced to make tough decisions, maintain an audience when they’re doing what they need to in order to survive? Some may have solely been motivated by profit, but there are some who truly need to make the revisions in order to be able to sell a product. Do they get too greedy with new editions? Do RPG companies make revisions just for the sake of making a revision and profiting off of it?

All of this being said, this is an editorial, so let me editorialize.

Though I can see all sides to this, and sometimes people make the hard choices that don’t necessarily make them popular, I think it gets to be too much after a while. RPG fans could use a sense of security. I’d like to know that, if I bought a product, it won’t become irrelevant in two years’ time. I’d like to know that I won’t have to relearn the rules.

Though substantial profits are made, the market does suffer for it. How many RPG companies didn’t last through the 3.5 revision? How many companies find that their revisions split the fan base?

Don’t get me wrong. I think RPG companies have the right to make their products better and to make a profit. At the same time, they should consider all the effects that a revision or new edition might make, including on their fan base. For fans, I recommend voting with your dollar. If you feel the product is worth getting, then by all means buy it! If you’re a little strapped for cash or don’t feel you should “have to buy it again,” then don’t worry about it and spend your money elsewhere. Be sure to communicate with your RPG company (on boards, through e-mail or snail mail, etc.) and let them know what you think.

Also, ask yourself if you would even use such a product. For example, I played Shadowrun in college with the 1st edition rules (right when 2nd edition was released). Most of my Shadowrun products are 2nd edition. I haven’t played in probably 10 years, so it doesn’t make sense for me to buy the 4th edition book. Yes, we sometimes get attached to those worlds and our instincts tell us to get the latest and greatest.

It’s a tough road to walk down, for fans and RPG companies alike. The choice of making a new edition will always cause some sort of backlash in the fan base. Companies should look to make sure that the revised editions are necessary, and that they’re not making a revision for revision’s sake. Know when to say when, and look towards the internet as a way to accomplish some of the same goals. Fans should vote with their dollar, using their head to temper their heart. Don’t buy a revised edition just because it is there. Buy it because you want it. Or don’t, if you don’t feel it is worth it to buy a new edition. Above all, though, it should be fun. If a new edition isn’t fun, don’t buy it. If it is, more power to you.

Happy gaming!

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