Would anyone be willing to post a quick synopsis of each version of DSA that has been published? I'm very interested in what major changes each version brought to the game, and how the game was accepted by the German public with each release. Good or bad I want to hear it all.
I would also like to know which languages each version appeared in, and how well the game was accepted in the areas it was published in.
From my very incomplete memory:
DSA1 was released in the 80s to popularise the idea of role-playing games in Germany. One of the earliest descriptions foregrounded the importance of European tales, myths and legends for the background against which the DSA adventures would be set. This first established the "low fantasy" feel of DSA in contrast to more gung-ho American publications. However, the stories used in the adventures seem banal in retrospect: discovering secret cave systems, rescuing fair maidens and finding valuable artefacts were scenarios suitable for an introduction to the suspense and general idea of RPGs, but appear cliched today. The overarching world history was not developed yet; future publications merely did a good job of including characters from the early adventures (such as the notorious Count of Ridgesrock) in the meta-campaign.
The basic rule system, however, was already in place: the basic game familiarised the reader with the concept of attributes and vitality points, attribute checks, attacks and parries, and hit points. A solo adventure centring on Alrik, a rogue from Havena armed with a cudgel and searching the home of a deceased seafarer, provided an easy start. A group adventure provided in the same game box allowed players to take this new hobby to a group of friends. Overall, DSA1 was a well-orchestrated introduction of the German public to the idea of role-playing and formed a sound basis for the development of the complex and nuanced game we all love.
DSA2 aimed to add complexity to this system and ended up going completely overboard with it. Page upon page of densely packed type introduced rules and tables for almost everything, including early versions of a hit-zone system. Many positive developments were set in motion: a refinement of the "adventurer" class laid the foundations of the multitude of professions we know today; the talent system was introduced; magic was refined; and sometime around the adventure "Die Seelen der Magier" ("The Souls of the Magicians"), the idea of a continuously developing game world was introduced. On this occasion, heroes participating in the adventure bumped into a column of Imperial soldiers led by the soon-to-be-famous Leomar vom Berg - an encounter that had no bearing on the adventure, but signalled the final departure from an old-style dungeon-crawl RPG towards a more sophisticated style of gaming in a meaningfully political and social fantasy world.
The rules of DSA2, however, were my least favourite rule set of the lot: too many tables, poor game flow, and no clear idea of the system of "optional" rules that was to follow in later editions. Talent start values and advancement were hugely complex even in comparison to today's demanding system. These problems were addressed later on in the much more playable expansion "Mit Mantel, Schwert und Zauberstab" ("With cloak, sword, and magic wand"), which heralded the DSA3 revision of rules. The new basic game box, as far as I remember, chronologically actually followed this rule set.
DSA3 was basically an attempt to take the ideas from DSA2 and make the system more playable again. The rules for talent use and magic (using three d20) were already in place, intuition and dexterity were added to the list of attributes. I can't remember whether negative attributes (including greed and superstition) were introduced in DSA2 or DSA3, but they were definitely around by the time the latter was published. Much attention was paid to the refinement of the battle system - an expansion (semi-official to begin with) on Aventurian weaponry had been released and opened up all sorts of possibilities. The idea of combat manoeuvres was born here, initially in the form of rallies and feints. Also, there was an early version of weapon modifiers - each weapon had a fixed attack and parry potential, which had to be compared crosswise with those of the opponent's weapon before battle, and thus modified the actual attack and parry values.
DSA3 was fun to play, and some people who don't like DSA4 still use the old rules today. The world of Aventuria was developed very much as it is now, an enormous corpus of adventures and regional sourcebooks existed, the Aventurian Herold chronicled the meta-campaign, and everyone was quite happy. The system had its weaknesses - characters became extremely hard and battles could last for ages, and the weapon modifier system was cumbersome - but not broken enough to bother most gaming groups.
DSA4 was an attempt to clarify the rule system and bring it into line with the latest "fashion" in role-playing games, which had moved on considerably. The introduction of a point-based (rather than dice-based) character generation system, the genesis of personal advantages and disadvantages, the de-emphasis of experience levels, and the move towards a fully modular system of rules are all to be seen in this light. But DSA didn't just blindly follow fashion, it also affirmed its unique character: in contrast to other, more action-based games, DSA actually made characters weaker, not harder, and decided to make the low-fantasy approach of "fantastic realism", which had always been implicit, a proper manifesto item. A wealth of combat moves was introduced to add variety to increasingly deadly battles, the weapon modifier system was simplified, initiative rules were added, negative attributes were subsumed under the disadvantage system, and several other systematic changes - mostly in terms of character generation and combat - were introduced.
Not very much changed in terms of the tradition of publishing adventures and sourcebooks - a general increase in quality and depth had taken place quite independently of the rule set revisions, and in a more or less linear fashion. Some recent adventures are too high-fantasy and high-powered for many players, but these are very much against the general trend of the rule system towards more "realistic" and, even among non-human characters, "human" protagonists with personal weaknesses as well as strengths. Generally, today's adventures are well written, well edited and carefully tied in with the meta-plot and the Aventurian context.
Personally, I must say that DSA4 is my favourite DSA. The changes all make sense to me and make the system coherent as a low-fantasy game for grown-ups, who place more value on ambience, intrigue and plot than in the ability just to "do stuff" with the heroes. DSA3 successfully repaired many of its predecessor's flaws, but it was only DSA4 that gave me the same sense of excitement and interest that I felt when I first opened my DSA1 box as a young teenager. And, given that it satisfies my more refined taste as an adult, it is probably fair to say that DSA4 is the objectively better game! B) It's only a shame that I'm all grown-up and busy now, and no longer have much time to spend with this great game.
Wow! Thanks so much Arthag!
I recently acquired the DSA1 Basic Rules boxed set, and I'm enjoying my halting attempts at translation. The set in is very good shape, but the paper within the books is very thin and weak "feeling". Are all the earlier products like this?
The paper quality in many of the early publications wasn't great. I remember the original Havena local box, where pages were practically falling out of the books the moment you opened them. But poor paper and binding were common in those days, not limited to DSA publications.
Oh, and I would only recommend spending the time on translating DSA1 if you are either into dungeon-crawl adventure or interested in the history of the game. For more complex adventuring, DSA4 (translated as TDE) is the better system by far.