I was thinking about this recently, comparing the release of 3rd Edition D&D with the upcoming release of 4th. It occurred to me that when 3rd Edition dropped, I didn’t know of anyone who was going to keep playing AD&D after they read the book and got their head around it. I admit that there are always some grognards who are going to keep with what they know, but the vast majority of D&D-dom made the change, followed by a massive flood of new settings, third-party products and so on. Almost no one kept writing modules for AD&D or for anything before 3rd Edition.
I’m not counting 3.5 at all because…well, it wasn’t really a new edition, so its not what I want to talk about.
What I find interesting is that 4th Edition is different form 3rd in that a lot of people don’t seem to be interested in making the change. 3.5 isn’t a broken game, and Paizo is doing a lot to improve it with their Pathfinder rules , adventure paths and modules. They’re also not making the change, and blithely continue to put out high-quality materials for 3.5. Other companies are equally leery, not the least because of problems which swarm around the 4th Edition manifestation of the open gaming license (more complicated, not as open).
In talking to gamers, I get a definite split between 3.5 loyalists and 4E enthusiasts. A few, like me, frankly are cool with both editions. At the store where I’ve started working, I’m happy to tell D&D players that there is no reason not to take up either 4th Edition or Pathfinder from Paizo. Either one looks like it’ll be a lot of fun.
Its just interesting that the general consensus seems to be that a new edition of D&D isn’t needed. It might be fun, it might be cool, but it isn’t necessary in the way that I felt that 3rd Edition was a necessary move, given AD&D and the tremendous problems with that system. I had frankly stopped playing D&D entirely for a few years when 3rd Edition came out, and 3rd Edition is what made me want to play D&D again. My whole gaming group felt the same way, so we waited until our Vampire game came to an end and put together a 3E game, and it was a lot of fun.
Personally, I think this is interesting. I don’t want the rpg industry to be a leviathan dragging smaller games along in its heaving wake. I want it to have mongrel vitality, and room for all kinds of gamers with all kinds of interests. I personally see 3E continuing to appeal to older gamers, while 4E I think has a chance to pull in at least some younger people whose first rpg might have been an MMO. We’ll see.