D&D Edition Timeline

In the comments accompanying my previous post about the prospect of 5E being on the horizon, the question of whether or not such a thing would be historically atypical came up. Well, I’m a numbers man, so here are some numbers. I’m deliberately omitting the basic/expert/etc. pathway in the interests of clarity; including them doesn’t materially alter the point.

  • 1974: 0E (White box edition)
  • 1977: 1E (Monster Manual first published)
  • 1989: 2E (Core Rulebooks first published)
  • 2000: 3E (Core Rulebooks first published)
  • 2003: 3.5E (Core Rulebooks first published)
  • 2008: 4E (Core Rulebooks first published)

And here’s what those dates end up giving us in terms of intervals:

  • 0E – 1E: 3 years
  • 1E – 2E: 12 years
  • 2E – 3E: 11 years
  • 3E – 3.5E: 3 years
  • 3.5E – 4E: 5 years
  • (3E – 4E: 8 years)
  • 4E – now: 3 years

I’ve got to say, I was pretty shocked by the interval between 3.5 and 4E. I thought it was a LOT longer. 3.5 was only around for 5 years before they came out with 4E? Considering its enormous shadow, that’s pretty impressive. First Edition was on top of the heap for the longest period, 12 years, but 2nd edition wasn’t too far behind at 11 years.

The average interval between major releases is 6 years or so. A release of 5E in 2012 wouldn’t be unheard-of fast*. A 2013 release would be more reasonable, and from a marketing standpoint possibly easier to sell, given that it would tie 3.5’s record. That’s where I’m placing my bet. Will we see it before Christmas 2014? I think that’s a lock.

* Super-duper conspiracy theory: Monte Cook was working on 5E all the time, and was brought on board to polish the design after presenting it to the WotC brass nearly fully-formed, like Athena from the brow of Zeus. Seeing the writing on the wall re: the white elephant that is 4E, they jumped at the chance. Complete speculation on my part. Complete.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

27 thoughts on “D&D Edition Timeline

  1. 2014 is where I'd put it too.

    now I am going to say if you include 3.0 and 3.5 as separate editions you should include a data-point for Unearthed Aracan/and the Survival Guides. They included more changes to the AD&D 1e ruleset than the jump between 3.0 and 3.5.

    You could also include the 2nd ed to the Skills and Power books, but that is a bit of a stretch.

    Remember there was another factor affecting the bottom line at this time. TSR also was still publishing a seperate "Basic" line that included the BECMI boxed sets, a black introduction to D&D boardish like game and the Rules Compendium. If core books are the key to sales, then TSR had enough in the 1st to 2nd ed era to keep the cash coming and push back dates.

  2. I'd say it was more reasonable to date 1E to 1978 (since nobody could actually play AD&D until a rulebook was actually published).

    And if you're going to count 3.5 as a separate edition, you almost certainly need to count the PO books and revised trio for 2E. (And a case could be made for Unearthed Arcana for 1E. In both cases you had supplemental products assuming ownership of the revised rules had become standard.)

    The reigning champ, of course, is BECMI: 1983 to 1999.

  3. I wouldn't include UA, but would the 3.0 to 3.5 change.

    Why? UA changed stuff, but they didn't reprint all the changes in the PHB and DMG. They just left UA as an optional add-on.

    3.5 they redid the core books, meaning anyone buying the books for the first time after they came out likely bought them. After UA came out, new players were still starting with the tried and true 1E PHB.

    Did the 2E books change much between the switch to the black covers, rules wise? I've got those black border covers, and there's nothing of the Skills and Powers stuff in them. Again, unless there were some major changes to the core, I wouldn't count it as a new generation of the game.

  4. I'd wager that we'll see 5E in late 2012 / early 2013. The reason being that Mike Mearls' Legends & Lore was clearly setting the stage for a new edition for a year now.

    Since I suspect radical changes more in line with the design philosophies of the OSR crowd, it was important that Mearls laid the groundwork early, and he has done a masterful job presenting those concepts. With Monte Cook being handed the job of taking over the L&L column, I suspect he is being brought in as co-designer, along with Mearls.

    It certainly presents a hopeful future for WotC. While the 'escalating complexity' model sounds like the worst of both worlds, I have a lot of respect for both Mearls and Cook. They may just be able to pull off 'one edition to rule them all.'

    We'll see.

  5. Sorry man, as commented in the other post, no 'one ring' theory working here.

    And MM has come out and said he is no longer involved in the day to day design work on D&D. He is purely a faceman at this point.

    Legends & Lore Archive | 8/9/2011

    I have a confession to make: I’m no longer a game designer at Wizards of the Coast. In my new role, I’m a manager. I guide the teams, but I don’t do the actual design work. So what you’re about to see is work done by a guy who’s a little out of practice. I’m going to show you some of our previously discussed concepts on (virtual) paper. They might be terrible, they might be great. Most likely, they’ll be somewhere in the middle.

    -Mike Mearls

    So I would say this is Monte's show at this point…they fired everybody else…right? 🙂

  6. You could add the Essential Line as edition 4.5, too.

    Skills & Power plus follow ups was allways optional material so I don't think this counts as a 2.5.
    The sevisioned PHB, DMG and MM included only errata and new designs, nearly no rule changes.

  7. You really need to lump 3.0/3.5 together. 3rd edition is 3rd edition, many of the books didn't even get republished as they were still completely usable.

  8. Re Yesterday's blog:

    Well Paizo's 10th anniversary as a company is next year and its Pathfinder's (thier flagship brand) 5th anniversary. Now if I was a jerk who happened to be working in PR who happened to be working for Hasbro or one of its subsidiaries… well maybe releasing 5 Ed at the same time may just take some of the steam away from the competition's choo choo train.

    Just saying …

  9. Well remember there are two primary motivations to creating a new set of core rules. 1. to clean up the rules as written. 2. to make money.

    For 1st ed I'd argue that the newer Orange spine covers did that for a few. I know I bought them to be a completist.

    The black border 2nd ed books did both (which I didn't buy because I was so burned out on D&D at that point).

    2014 still works as the best looking date.

    I seem to recall that 3e was in design and development for a yeah and a half. I only got in on it in February of 2000 and then is was published in September.

  10. I agree with a lot of the other posters that 3-3.5 is really one edition and I think you have to roll Pathfinder into that as well, making it now the longest actively published edition of the game ever.

    I also think it's pretty obvious Hasbro has to do something to stop the Pathfinder juggernaut. They really only have two arrows left in the quiver: Greyhawk and the Old School D&Ders. Whatever Hasbro releases for D&D next year it will seek to capitalize on these two markets with one product, you can count on it. My guess is a new "OD&D" type game with a newly launched Greyhawk as it's default setting.

    As another poster already said, this will come at the same time as Paizos 5th anniversary (deliberately).

    Get ready for the Monte bashing coming from the Paizo fans as well. I would not be surprised to see the Pathfinder fan base reject Monte and the old-schoolers embrace him. A role reversal to be sure!

  11. Not that it is the final authority but wikipedia lists the following as editions of D&D.
    1974 (original); 1977 (D&D Basic Set 1st revision); 1977–1979 (AD&D); 1981 (D&D Basic Set 2nd revision); 1983–1986 (D&D Basic Set 3rd revision); 1989 (AD&D 2nd Edition); 1991 (D&D Rules Cyclopedia); 2000 (D&D 3rd edition); 2003 (D&D v3.5); 2008 (D&D 4th edition)


    I do find it interesting that even what constitutes an "edition" of D&D is still subjective and changes from person to person.

  12. Personally I think that they just had a rounding error when they published 2nd edition. It felt more like a 1.5 to me. But that plays to the "editions are subjective" argument.

    I doubt that 5th edition will be the OSR dream that some people are setting themselves up for. I think that the Old School crowd will find 5e more to their liking than 4e, but I don't see an Old School style game selling well.

    The "One game" idea is a dream. No one game can meet the needs of the rules light and rules heavy crowd. Even the idea of modular complexity is going to be hard to acheive. Every supplement will need to support every optional system. If they don't, then they might as well not bother because few people will use it. If they do, they are asking people who don't use that system to pay for a chunk of stuff they don't use. I think that if they try this it will settle on a core set of options that the majority use, with limited support for stuff outside of this. They did have a lot of optional systems in 3.x, but they weren't for core concepts. Psionics, incarnum, weapons of legend, book of magic, book of nine swords. If you played a character using them, you didn't have as much expansion room as somebody using more traditional rules. And other people would be reading a book and suddenly come across something for one of these subsystems and it would often feel odd how it was tacked on.

    I would be surprised if it's released before 2014, just because of the development cycles.

  13. And that is the root of the problem. No two people can agree on what D&D is even supposed to be.

    Between the edition changes and the concept of 'house ruling' I don't know, outside of organized play, if any two groups played alike ever.

    I read about AD&D 1e and think 'Wow, what game are they talking about? That's not how we played' and it seems everybody does that.

    Paizo has two winning Q's under their belt and are about to release an MMO. This could be the only true threat to WoW and if so then they have captured two flags. I feel that if they maintain their fan base and keep their sales numbers by this time next year they will have wrapped it up.

    Speaking purely from a business perspective, Paizo fans are rabid. They LOVE that company. Listen to some of the podcasts when they get these people all together in a room. It's like an Apple meeting. Pathfinder falls into the 'too many rules coffee table book' category for me but for folks raised on the 3x they are the pinnacle. It's literally called 'the other D&D' or 'the real D&D' all over the web.

    I think if all they have up their sleeve is a '40th Anniversary Edition' card then this is going to turn into the Rocky and Bullwinkle show very quickly.

  14. "This could be the only true threat to WoW"

    Uh…slow down there. I don't think Pathfinder Online will be dethroning WoW any time soon. First off, Paizo IS NOT developing the game, they are just licensing the brand. Second off, Ryan Dancey is leading the effort and despite his claim to be the "Steve Jobs of MMO marketing" (?) I don't know how he is qualified to pull this off. It seems like since he was instrumental in creating the OGL, which in itself was instrumental in Paizos success, they threw him a bone by letting him license the "Pathfinder" name and a start up check for the MMO.

  15. The reason 3.5 felt longer is because culturally, 3.0 and 3.5 are the same game. Mechanically there are a few differences, but the feel and goal of the game is the same. So when the d20 core rules came out and the OGL redefined the RPG landscape it had a major impact. The fact that Pathfinder is doing so well speaks to that impact.

    Of course, I think that 1E and 2E are more or less the same game. I will admit that my memory of 2E is a bit fuzzy, as I never really played it. But I played a lot of AD&D and I remember 2E being essentially the same feel. And AD&D created the RPG cultural landscape.

    As to a 5E, it still feels too soon. If you count 3E and 3.5 as the same basic edition, you get an average of a decade between releases. The gap between 0E and 1E is small just because that is the leap from a small print run to a mainstream offering.

  16. I'm actually eager to see 5E since 4E was such a non-starter for me.

    2014 does seem the right timing to me both in terms of what it takes to produce a professional publication and in terms of marketing the 40th anniversary.

  17. I'll buy the 5e core books (or box set), but I doubt I'll switch over as Pathfinder does it for me.

    I have a feeling that a lot of gamers will pretty much do the same thing which will make the core books a success, but nothing else for the supplement splurge that will follow afterwards.

    From what I read on other blogs, D&D Essentials is "D&D 4.5". I picked up the Basic Set, but haven't picked up anything else. Think it should be added to the list? I won't offer an opinion since I've never played a 4e game though I own three sets of the core rulebooks (one of them in Chinese!)

  18. Keep in mind I said 'This could be the only true threat to WoW'.

    Paizo IS NOT developing the game, they are just licensing the brand.

    Yes and no on that:

    From Icv2:


    Paizo has licensed the Pathfinder MMORPG rights to Goblinworks, a new company formed for the purpose. Goblinworks was founded by Paizo Publishing CEO and co-owner Lisa Stevens (Ryan Dancey & Mark Kalmes)…

    So its not like they are throwing this out to some unknown untested company…it's just an offshoot of Paizo.

    Second off, Ryan Dancey is leading the effort and despite his claim to be the "Steve Jobs of MMO marketing" (?) I don't know how he is qualified to pull this off..

    As I recall this is the man responsible for us having this conversation in the first place. RPGs were dead when the OGL came out. Without him none of what is happening in gaming, including the company who is now leading the pack, would be going on. His reviews as an MMO marketer have been fairly favorable and he's not the go to guy for MMO, Mark Kalmes is.

    And he isn't the owner…he is one of three partners (refer back up to Lisa Stevens and MMO developer Mark Kalmes (Microsoft, Cryptic Studios, CCP).

    WotC have fell on their ass so many times at this point that I think it will be very hard to compete with Paizo in these areas in the years to come.

    As I said, I will never purchase another D&D product as long as it is in WotC/Hasbro hands and I'm not the only person who feels this way. The majority actual could care less what WotC/Hasbro do at this point as they have since moved on to either Pathfinder or OSR, etc.

  19. Paizo (including Lisa) has been very vocal about this being a hands off effort. Goblinworks is most certainly unproven, they haven't built anything yet. Ryan Dancey (while instrumental in the OGL world) is not just leading the marketing effort of PFO he is the CEO, thats quite a jump from a "marketing expert". I'm not even sure he's done anything with MMOs before let alone CEO of a company that is building it's first. We'll see what the future holds though, I hope Paizo is more involved then they have said, otherwise I fear this effort failing and being thier first misstep (albeit indirectly).

  20. I dunno. For you guys who think that 3.0 and 3.5 are essentially the same thing, my impression has always been that they're pretty different. And when they made the change, WotC put out a 40 page booklet summarizing the (most significant) changes.

    40 pages of differences, tightly packed like that, seems pretty substantial. I mean, you can summarize the differences between Old Norse and Modern Icelandic in 4 pages, and those are two different languages separated by a thousand years.

    Then again, I never played 3.x in any version.

  21. I don't remember a 40 page booklet on the differences between 3.0 and 3.5. Was there one? I remember a PDF that was maybe 5 pages, same with Pathfinder and 3.5.

  22. Yup. That's 8 pages for the core rulebook. That's what I remember, far short of 40 pages. I think the Pathfinder to 3.5 was even shorter.

  23. If you take 3.0 and 3.5 as the same, then you're looking at about 10 year lifespans so the move from 4.0 to 5.0 would be really quick in comparison.

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