Reversing the Idea: Older Editions as Prequels

After four editions, we’ve seen way too often: A post where someone discusses the success, plight, or just sheer contemplation of moving their campaign to the newer editions.

In the case of campaign settings we’ve known and love all these years, watching them get shoe-horned into the newer Dungeons & Dragons games sometimes feels painful, forced, or simply “not how I would have done it.” Especially during the leap from d20/3.x to 4e….magic is no longer pure vancian, strange races pop up (while others didn’t emerge again until later) and the paradigm of how we view classes like Assassins or Monks suddenly get drastically altered along the way. But right now, I’m thinking of pulling a reversal on this idea…..what about using earlier AD&D rules to run a game in a 4E campaign’s past?

It might depend on the world…..

The 4E campaign I ran was fortunate for being completely home brewed by me, with most of its history written when I was first getting into 4th Edition. This means a lot of ideas, concepts and views of the cosmology were still old-fashioned. Looking through a lot of my notes on the history, I’ve realized that aside from using a few 4E-based things (like deity lists, and the involvement of the Dragonborn race) it was pretty standard, any edition kind of fantasy setting. Heck, the Gods are a mix-match of old deities and concepts thrown together from previous editions and settings. The other big advantage was that I was broad in a lot of back history spanning several ages, and where I got specific….let’s just the players never really fully delved into those portions of the lore, so things could be tailored without ruining the epic that was their saga.

Getting the style and feel of the 1st edition rules really didn’t require any shoe-horning at all.

  • Magic: The  largest difference in terms of both system mechanics and flavor of the settings is, in my opinion, the magic systems. 4E magic comes off more prevalent, flashier, and a starting wizard packs a lot more firepower than a starting Magic-User. I’m fortunate enough to have in my setting notes a lot of implications that ages ago, the Empire and main areas the players adventured in went through a sort of “Dark Ages” that is typically cliche’d in fantasy these days. But still, it works: An oppressive religious organization attempts to drive out and eradicate arcane forces it doesn’t understand, or deems a threat to the populace at large (or their authority over them.) In these “Dark Ages”, magic simply worked differently because they didn’t have the lore, study and practice the Wizards and Sorcerers had. Just the sheer act of using magic required the same amount of will and discipline “modern” practitioners expend for their powerful daily spells.
  • Races: I got lucky; I think the Dragonborn are the only common race in my world that doesn’t have some kind of direct analog in AD&D 1e. Tieflings in the earlier eras are easily explained for both the rarity of Infernal lines in those days mixed with the enforcement of the Church’s laws against them. Eladrin we all know are “high elves”; and during that time in my setting’s history they were away in their separate kingdoms from Man. Their existence was known, but very few traveled to their island nations. Regular elves, however, were common in the woods to the south and often traded and mixed with humans.  So what to do about the Dragonborn? In my setting, they were the spartan protectors of the Empire, with their own society and upbringings and teachings handed down by the cults of Bahamut. During the Dark Ages, it’s extremely rare to see them away from their guardian and monastic duties. Congrats, Dragonborn are now Lizardmen or Draconian NPC’s with lawful alignments (mostly.) Speaking of which…
  • Alignments & Gods: Even though we played with the broader 4E alignments, I still found myself using the old 9-alignment system from previous editions as a reference tool.  As for the Deities, I also think anything foreign to 1E can still work fine. I mean hell, looking Deities & Demigods and seeing the plethora of pantheons there….I may feel obligated to bring in ancient, long forgotten cults and sects of Gods they never encountered.

So just curious…..has anyone ever made the leap backwards? Both in timeline AND editions? I’m not talking “We tried 4E, hated it and went back.”  I mean, actually using an older rules sets to sort of define “how things were” in previous eras? I’m kinda grooving this thought. It’s both a way to explore the past of our setting, as well as the past of the game we play it in.

3 thoughts on “Reversing the Idea: Older Editions as Prequels”

  1. My Spirits of Eden campaign setting has a few backstory hints that the Pre-Cataclysm world (the world that is acknowledged to have existed before the present timeline) was D&D 3.5. Powerful mages ruled it, using incredible sorcerous power to twist the land however they wanted, until the planet’s natural processes were stunted and saturated with power, and the world basically vomited humanity dead. Now people’s power is greatly diminished, because the strange magic all lies with the Spirits.

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