Looking back at the early days of Dungeons & Dragons, Unearthed Arcana was a harbinger of how the game would be sold in the future. While there had been different versions of the game published over the years (e.g., Basic D&D, Advanced D&D, etc.), once the “core” rules were established for a version they remained relatively unchanged. Most D&D products were aimed at the DM, like adventure modules or the occasional monster book.
Unearthed Arcana, expanded the game with new races, classes and spells. Unlike the majority of D&D products up to that point, it targeted the players as well as the Dungeon Master. Since the number of D&D players outnumbers the number of Dungeon Masters, this was a brilliant marketing decision. Not surprisingly, Unearthed Arcana was a harbinger of things to come.
It was also full of errors.
Back in the early days of D&D, errata was rare and wondrous thing. As a result, I remember how shocked I was at age 13 when Dragon Magazine presented a full four pages of errata for the recently released Unearthed Arcana supplement!
(Of course, in those days you were expected to cut the errata out of the magazine and paste it into your book. I admit that I did so dutifully.)
While many of the errors in Unearthed Arcana were a result of poor editing, there was also a decent amount of rule clarification in the mix. I think this is part and parcel of expanding and updating an existing rule set. The more you add to the rules, the more likely it is that one of these additions will react poorly with previously existing rules.
In this way it is sort of like the potion miscibility table.
Fast-forwarding twenty-five years, it is not surprising that rule updates are increasingly common. Many people have noted that there have been so many rules updates to the original 4E Player’s Handbook that it is now functionally obsolete.
For fun I decided to use random.org to pick 5 pages out of the Player’s Handbook and see how many had been updated according to the D&D Compendium. Here are my results:
p. 85 – The power Warriors Urging has been revised twice.
p. 102 – The power Healing Font has been revised.
p. 202 – The feat Action Recovery has been revised.
p. 290 – No revisions
p. 304 – No revisions
That is 3 out of 5 pages chosen randomly out of a 320 page book. I know this is hardly scientific, but that seems a bit much. Of course, this situation is only going to get worse when all the upcoming slew of updates related to D&D Essentials come out.
(I can just imagine how much glue I would have to go through if I still was cutting and pasting out of Dragon)
So I guess the entire furor over whether D&D Essentials is a stealth edition or whether Wizards of the Coast is going to stop printing the core rule books is a bit of a tempest in a teapot-- The new edition is already here!