'The Big Announcement' 3rd Edition D&D?
by Ken Lipka


Editor's Preface:
When I asked Planescape Mailing-List Moderator Ken Lipka to handle the coverage of the Big Announcement from TSR, he was quick to the task. Ken's experience can certainly lend some perspective on this subject. Like Ken, I too have seen the change from 1st to 2nd editions, and also anticipate another change in the air. We will be sure to give you the chant hours after we hear confirmation of it!


THE FUTURE   IS TOLDThis coming Friday, August 6 1999, TSR is going to be making "the Big Announcement" at GenCon. Based on the text in the registration booklet ("This is your chance to say `I was there when...` "), the company is implying that is going to be some earthshaking event in the history of the company, if not the gaming industry. I suspect that is safe to say that it won`t be something along the lines of TSR closing its doors forever, nor simply ending the D&D series of products.

Both of these would have a lot more somber press surrounding them as well as most likely be announced before GenCon in order draw more people in to buy up the final run of products. It`s pretty safe to say that it is going to be something new; but whether it`ll be something brand new, or just a major revamping is hard to say at this point. (Although, the registration book has a green "family" seal printed next to the announcement. This implies that the announcement is going to be something of general interest to everyone.)


The most popular rumor is that this announcement will deal with the official and impending release of a third edition for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game system. However, there is no real way to confirm these rumors short of either kidnapping those who are holding the forum, or else breaking in and stealing the press kits. So, a few days before the fact, I`m going to speculate on the possibility of a third edition, and then I`ll attend this forum and see how close I was to the mark.

he first thing to do would to look and see if it would be feasible for a new edition from a business standpoint. The number one issue to look at would be the cost of investing in the printing of a whole new line of products.

The setup at a printer`s for brand new art, typeface, text, binding, paper, etc. can be pretty large. However, TSR essentially does this cost every time it publishes a new adventure or source book anyway. From a pure cash output perspective, a third edition is nothing different from, say, another Player`s Option book. But the cost is also measured in the long run; that is, will TSR get back enough money from sales of a third edition to make it worth the cost of printing a whole new run of core materials? The answer to this seems a bit more chancy that my first question of cost.

A third edition would have to be something really spectacular in order for us members of the "old guard" to buy it. Heck, second edition has been out for about a decade (maybe less) and there are STILL people who are staunchly sticking to first edition rules. Unless it`s a complete revamping, a third edition would not be aimed at those of us who are already fans and players of the game. A third edition would have to be aimed at new people, those who are not currently players of D&D. In my opinion, the gaming market is so flooded with systems as it is that a third edition of D&D isn`t going to gather enough new members (or converts from other systems) to make it truly feasible from a cost standpoint.

In spite of the possible cost issue, TSR has done a few things which could be considered testing the waters for a third edition. The most obvious of these would be the Player`s Option series of books. The concept of a point-based system for character creation is a fairly radical one given the past history of D&D. The introduction of character points went a long way towards putting D&D a step towards competing with nearly every other game system out there. (A vast majority use a point-based system.)

Another hint could be the introduction of the Fast Play rules and supplements; products designed for those who have never played the game before. (Essentially, just the latest reincarnation of Basic D&D from all those years ago.) This could the way towards a new edition simply because those of us who`ve played the game for any length of time know just how hard it is to trim down the rules for newbies. (Admittedly, I haven`t actually read any of these supplements, so I don`t exactly what they`ve done to make D&D into a fast play game.)

A third hint is how the company itself refers to the product. If you`ve noticed, I`ve been saying D&D throughout this article when referring to what all of us have been calling AD&D for years. I`m doing this because I just noticed that TSR itself has done this in its online catalog. By dropping the "Advanced" label, the company has subtly positioned itself such that it could release a new edition without too much trouble. Sure, its mainly mental semantics, but I`ve seen stranger things.

Another implication towards a third edition and what it might be like is the relative success of TSR`s newest system - ALTERNITY for modern and sci-fi games. I`m fairly big fan of this system as well as D&D. In reading the ALTERNITY rules, I can see that it does have D&D at its core, but it`s much evolved, improved, and more consistent than its inspiration.

The ALTERNITY system is a point-based system that is very well done - somewhat surprising given the long history of D&D. It also lends itself very well to being a much more "modular" system than D&D - that is, it is a lot easier to ignore the presence of certain rules if you don`t want to use them in your game. The rules aren`t quite as tied into each other as in D&D. This system would be a good model to use if a third edition was going to be a radical departure from the first and second ones.

A final hint could be the recent marketing/packaging trend for the settings of D&D. Specifically, the marketing of some of the separate systems as just another part of the core material. The first system to see this treatment was the third edition of Ravenloft. Instead of being in a boxed set, the core rules for this system were printed as a hard cover book. The book also did not have the specific Ravenloft banner printed on the cover. Instead, it followed the "black border" cover scheme of core books such as the PHB and DMG. Planescape is also starting to receive such treatment with the release of the "Warriors of Heaven" supplement - something many fans of the setting consider a bad move as the new format will lack much of the signature Planescape flavor. Also along these lines is the re-release of older settings in a book format. The first of these is going to be a revamped version of the Council of Wyrms setting. The addition of such alternate settings to the core of the system is a pretty big change all on its own.

But, there are also a couple hints AGAINST a third edition coming out. These being the recently completed Wizard`s Spell Compendium series and the recently started Priest`s Spell Compendium series. It would seem to be a great waste of time and effort to get all of these spells in one place, updated and balanced for second edition, when a third edition is right around the corner. Of course, all this really does is imply that a third edition would see no major changes to the mechanics of magic.

nswering this question is about as hard as answering the question if a new version of the game is going to exist in the first place. All that I can do at this point is offer my opinion of what I`d like to see in a new edition after playing the system for about fifteen years.

For most people, their views on the subject are firmly in one of two camps. Either the "Oh no, not again!" group, who actively oppose anything new, or else the "It`s about time!" group, who feel that the system is badly in need of an upgrade. I`m definitely not in the first group, but I don`t think I quite fit into the second group either. (Hey, it`s my article - I can do that.) Actually, about the only thing I`d care to see in the D&D system is a lot more consistency. One main thing would be a consistent system of rolling dice to determine success. For example, when rolling attack rolls or saving throws high is a good number. On the other hand, ability and proficiency checks call for low numbers. It`d be much simpler to say that one number or the other is always good.

It might be a good thing if the character point system from the PO books was made core and official. There`s a lot more flexibility in creating characters, and it`s a touch more understandable to the newbie than flipping through a lot of archaic tables like we currently do. Of course, the present implementation of the CP system has wide, gaping holes through which major amounts of abusing the system can be performed. Some refinement in this area is needed. A third edition might also be good from the standpoint of TSR being once more able to compile all of its rules in one (or two) places again. The prime example of this is all of the proficiencies that are available for the game.

And, just to keep with the Rule of Threes, I should state something that I would not like to see in a third edition. I`m going to sound like an old fart by saying this, but I don`t really want to see anything that is truly a major and radical overhaul of the system. Somehow, that feels like it would no longer be D&D. Sure, there`s nothing stopping me from continuing to play with my old second edition materials - look at all those first edition holdouts. Of course, all of the above is simply speculation and opinion. I could be completely wrong about what the Big Announcement is. We`ll just have to wait and see. I`ll be writing a second half of this article once the time has come and gone. Until then...




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  Copyright 1999, Nathan Letsinger and Ken "a distinguished gentalman of letters" Lipka. Graphics by Jeremiah Golden.