“DM Rhys, Which Edition Should I Play?”

In my five years of playing, I’ve managed to make my way through most of the Editions of the game. I’ve played AD&D 2nd Edition, 3.5, 4e, and a singular session of 5. Out of those, it’s 4e by quite a landslide, although that isn’t a popular opinion held by many other DMs online. I personally enjoy this Edition so much because of the sheer amount of resources available online for free, the ease of encounters (for the DM), as well as it was the Edition I was introduced to the Dungeons and Dragons franchise with.

However, due to not playing the Original D&D, as well as various expansions, 3.0, and more of 5 than I have; I had to do a little investigating amongst my friends, and online. Something to remember while reading this is that these games do not exist in a vacuum – the only way to choose which one is truly “the best” is to play it and experience it for yourself.

The Rundown

Original D&D [OD&D]

  • Solely three Classes (Cleric, Fighter, Magic User)
  • Cleric magic has five levels, Magic Users have six
  • All attacks – except a select few monster’s abilities – do 1d6 damage (if hit)
  • Very scarce characteristics modifiers
  • Almost no difference between each Player Character’s combat abilities

Advanced D&D 1st Edition [AD&D]

  • Supplements and Strategic Review articles are combined, rewritten, and organized into three books
  • Characteristics bonus ascends by +4, the cap is 18 for Exceptional Strength
  • New Races, Classes, and weapons added
  • Multiclassing is introduced for non-human Player Characters

AD&D 2nd Edition

  • Rules rewritten again (basically a rehash of AD&D)
  • Content such as half-orcs, demons, and assassins are removed
  • Character customization is improved on further, expanded by using non-weapon proficiencies as a skill system and allowing PCs to take “kits” that add various benefits
  • Combat is completely redesigned (overcame issues with initiative and unarmed combat)

D&D 3rd Edition

  • Cleaner system of character customization by designing a Class level that is stackable
  • A single level chart is now introduced for Classes (Humans now able to multiclass freely)
  • Feats are now added, furthering character customization
  • “True skill system” is introduced and integrated, this is where the most recognizable aspect of the game comes in – the twenty-sided dice.

D&D 3.5 Edition

  • Small changes to core rules (mostly compatible with 3e)
  • Has its own extensive list of supplements which magnify the role of feats, Prestige Class, and Multiclassing in character customization

This edition is the baseline for many D20 games, most notably Pathfinder

D&D 4th Edition

  • This is a completely new game from any of the other Editions
  • There’s an easy to follow set of core rules that defines all character and monster abilities as exceptions in standard terms.
  • Higher level combat is simplified
  • Class is designed to have specific roles during combat
  • Each Class has a diverse set of combat options
  • The use of a battle grid, miniatures, and maps are now implemented in the core rules
  • Multiple ways to heal are added (ex. “Healing Surges”)
  • Combat takes noticeably longer than any prior edition

Wizards of the Coast intended to make an “Online Tabletop” but the project was never completed

D&D 5th Edition

  • Draws on mechanics from OD&D to AD&D2, and D&D3e
  • Allows for very customizable character but less so than 3e
  • Bounded accuracy is introduced
  • Simple core rules, as well as several options that allow DM to make their game feel more like a particular edition
  • Allows feats, tactical combat, multiclassing, and backgrounds – things that were missed from previous editions

This is the current edition of D&D


Okay, so if you’ve stuck around long enough to read through the brief synopses up there, get ready for a little more in-depth into each edition. I’m going to be talking about the pros and cons of each edition, as well as some “other” facts that may sway your opinion on which to choose.

This or That?

AD&D 1st Edition


  • Easy to House Rule – few rules are interconnected
  • Combat is simple
  • No miniatures, grids, or maps


  • Unforgiving combat; you can run as often as you’d like
  • Non-combat skills are poor, skill checks are obsolete
  • DM creates their own rules by what they think is fair, not everything has rules at this point
  • Cumbersome matrix for attacking based on PCs level and monster’s level, unnecessary amounts of mathematics


  • All members of a side act together, including PCs
  • Save or Die scenarios are not restricted to god-tier enemies
  • Most XP is gained through looting rather than killing, and engaging in combat is less of a priority

AD&D 2nd Edition


  • Polished non-combative skills
  • Class kits allow for wider customization aspects
  • Compatible with 1e – rules, weapons, and items are interchangeable


  • Combat is still very harsh; it’s short and easy to die


  • Less combat centric
  • Lower HP
  • Life is often cut short for PCs who choose to explore
  • THAC0 “To Hit AC 0” – much unneeded mathematics to figure out when a low roll was good, when a high one wasn’t; and vice versa
  • Gold is once again the biggest source of XP

D&D 3.5


  • Highly customizable
  • Detailed skill system
  • Huge variety of unique Classes and Races
  • Spells allow for range of creativity
  • Customizable magic weapons, armour, and shields
  • Increased number of Prestige Classes


  • Balance issues between spell casting and non-spell casting classes in the higher levels
  • Save or Die scenarios making a comeback, PCs and monsters die due to a single bad roll
  • Spell casters quickly use their highest level spells, and many parties rest after only a couple of brief encounters
  • Combat rules are sometimes difficult and slow to use (ex. moves such as Grapple)
  • “Dead Levels” : Classes have many rungs where PCs will only receive a numerical increase to one or more of their characteristics stats
  • Very numbers heavy, not for people who aren’t mathematically inclined
  • Prestige Classes can derail the game
  • Adding stock monsters are cumbersome and boring

D&D 4th Edition


  • Encounter simplification for DMs
  • Ensures player survivability over stupidity
  • Possibility to make monster encounters tailored to players’ level
  • All PCs are interesting and have many abilities
  • Hardy any “Dead Levels”
  • Characters are well balanced; bad choices are rarely ever made
  • No more “active defence”, Fortitude / Will / Reflex are static just like AC
  • Writing encounters is simplified for the DM
  • “Minions” (1HP) make encounters fun
  • Gentle learning curve, and the Red Box Starter is an excellent introduction to 4e and D&D as a whole


  • Harder to focus on roleplaying because it’s so combat-based
  • The Cleric Class is basically useless, sacred word does nothing, and Healing Surges have already stolen the need for a healer on the party
  • Every Class has the same Powers but with very minor flavour text differences
  • Only a handful of spells to choose from initially
  • There’s a real damper on spell versatility
  • Skill challenges are hard to complete, happen often, and don’t warrant much XP; thus being “broken”

D&D 5th Edition


  • Basic rules are available for free from the Wizards of the Coast website
  • Rules are very simple and easy to follow
  • Fast character creation with optional complexity, and a shallow power curve
  • Optional magic items


  • Low power cap (maximum bonus to skills is usually +11, which is +6 proficiency, +5 ability)
  • Wizards must memorize monster stats in order to achieve a kill, or successful spell
  • Non-buffing spells are all identical and boring, the same as every version prior
  • Multiclassing and Feats serve no real purpose
  • Melee is superfluous in combat, it’s harder to land hits


After cycling through all the choices one has as a new adventurer (or perhaps a youngling DM), you can start to collect resources and likeminded people to start a party with! And thus, the adventure begins. I can’t tell you which edition is the best, all I can say is that it’s up to you to try things out and have fun while doing it.

Happy Trails, Adventurer.

  • (A Resource Guide) Choosing an Edition. TheTechnocrat. 2013. Web. 28/4/16
  • The Vacuum of Reason. CaptainFatbody. 2010. Web. 28/4/16
  • Big Differences between D&D Editions. RS Conley. 2012. Web. 28/4/16



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