Adapt Or Start Over? What To Do When The Rules All Change

There’s not much in life that’s immune to change. Our favorite RPGs are no exception. With the excitement that comes with each new edition, there’s also some trepidation for its fans, especially if you’re still in the midst of a campaign when the change happens. There you are, all settled into playing your AD&D cleric, and BOOM! Here comes 3rd edition with all these domains and stuff. (Yeah, I’m old school, I know.)

With the 3rd edition of Green Ronin’s Mutants and Masterminds RPG coming out around the same time our game group decided to revive our on-hiatus 2nd-edition game, our GM wrestled for a little while on how to go about it. We were all agreed that the new rules looked good enough to try, but how to get our existing characters and story reworked for the new rules? There are several different roads you can take.

Convert/Rebuild

If you all still really love your characters, the best option is to simply convert them to the new ruleset. Sometimes this relatively easy – Green Ronin issued conversion rules with their new edition – but other times it’s not that straight-forward (like going from 3.5 D&D to 4e). If conversion is too hard, you have the technology to rebuild them. Use your old character as a template to build your new one. You know what your character could do in the old rules, so it’s just a matter of finding similar skills, powers, and talents in the new rules.

Sometimes the characters don’t change much in a new ruleset, but other times the changes are significant. The characters can suddenly do things they couldn’t before, or there may be things they can’t do anymore. You can explain this away in-game with a little roleplay (the cleric feels a deeper connection with her deity, one that has granted her new healing powers), but if the changes are big, you may want to…

Reboot

When J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek, it was arguably one of the best things to happen in recent geeky history. Same thing for Battlestar Galactica (IMO, anyway). The original characters were still there, but they were…different.

You can do the same in your game. If the changes to your characters are just too great to reasonably account for with a little poetic waxing, reboot the whole dang thing. Maybe the world has just changed, and the people within it have changed as well, but the past events of their existences are still valid. Or make it a true reboot where little is the same except for the names of the characters and a few of their traits.

Start Over

Sometimes, even with the smoothest of conversions, the best thing to do is just start anew. New characters, new campaign, new everything to go with the new rules. Since I hate leaving things unfinished, I would probably never abandon an ongoing game in favor of a new one, no matter how shiny the new rules were. If you really can’t wait until the current game is done (or reaches a pausing point), if everyone has the time and inclination, you could certainly start the new game and play both concurrently.

Houserule

While too much cherry-picking of rules from multiple editions can make a game unrecognizable and cumbersome, if there are a few things you really liked better about the older edition, houserule them in. Or, if you really prefer the old edition, but the new version improved some things, make those your new houserules.

Ignore

If you don’t want to play with the latest edition of rules, no one is making you. Whether you like the new rules, but still enjoy the old ones enough to keep playing them, or the time just isn’t right to make the switch, or the new rules really don’t do anything for you, you can just turn a blind eye to that shiny new edition and keep doing what you’re doing. I know some gamers do panic over the loss of support for older editions, but there’s usually plenty of material already in print to keep a gaming group busy for years – and that’s assuming you don’t delve into your own imagination for more.

What Did We Do?

In making the switch from 2nd to 3rd edition Mutants and Masterminds, we’re doing a conversion/reboot. Only one other player and myself decided to stick with our old characters, who we rebuilt with the new rules. Three other players took advantage of the opportunity to create new characters entirely – their original characters will be phased out or play background roles, as will the characters of the two players not rejoining us. And we have one brand new player who of course isn’t affected by anything that happened before.

As for everything that happened before in the game, none of that is erased or changed. It’s things now that have changed, and the GM has already told us that Adanya and Tundra (the two returning characters) will often feel like something in the world is just…off. What could be the reason? We can’t wait to find out!

Change can be a scary thing, but you have a lot of options available for how to adapt to it. Take some time to look over the new edition with your players and decide what path will work best for you. It’s a decision only you and your group can make.

Do you automatically play the newest edition of your favorite RPGs? What methods for switching editions have worked best for you?

About c

By day, Connie Thomson (aka Ariel Manx) is a mild-mannered shoe salesgirl, geeking out about insoles, outsoles, and shanks. But when night falls, she takes her turn at the helm of 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, where she writes, edits, and does layout for table-top RPG products. Regardless of her persona, C is always a fangirl, bookworm, and craft diva. (Email C or follow @arielmanx on Twitter.)

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