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KRyan's answer to "How would a group get from Toril to Ravenloft and back?" mentions that:

Only two characters have ever managed to free themselves from Ravenloft, and the only one to actually manage to stay free, Vecna, broke reality so hard in the process that it changed the AD&D 2e rules into D&D 3e rules.

This made me wonder what other lore events have caused editions to change.

What events in official D&D lore have "caused" the in-universe changes that the mechanical changes between editions reflect/imply?

My question is not limited to any specific setting; I'm interested in all official settings that may have had events that resulted in an edition change.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Closely related (it seems like a subset of your own question): What events in Forgotten Realms lore marked transitions from one edition to another? If you want to avoid partially repeating the same information from the answers there, you may want to edit your question to specifically focus on all settings besides FR. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 22 '20 at 4:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Looking at some of the answers, I'm also wondering: Are you just talking about mechanical changes between editions (e.g. no spells above 9th level)? Or are you talking about lore/continuity changes (whether errors or intentional changes) that are then given an in-universe explanation? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 22 '20 at 5:04
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The following answer summarises the events from the Forgotten Realms lore that coincide with the edition transitions: Edition transitions in the Forgotten Realms. It also mentions Die Vecna Die! (which takes place in Greyhawk, Ravenloft and Planescape), ie. the event that you describe in your question as the in-game cause for the transition from the 2e to 3e.

For the other settings, there are a couple of events described, for most, no explanations are given at all. For quite a few of the settings, the mechanical edition updates were done only through articles in the Dragon magazine articles, and did not attract long enough story arcs and hence no transition stories (as discussed in the answer by KRyan). Yet, I will try to list those that I know:

  • For the Greyhawk setting, the transition from 1e to 2e is described in a series of adventures called the Fate of Istus. This series describes a plague that ravages Oerth and the goddess Istus's re-evaluation of its inhabitants, putting every character class through a Test of Fate, with those classes failing (monks and assassins) disappearing.
  • Chaos War, also known as the Second Cataclysm, of the Dragonlance setting coincides with the introduction of the SAGA system transitioning from the 2e AD&D (though later modules gave the option to keep on playing with 2e rules as well, since SAGA was vastly different). It is a war between the people of Ansalon along with the gods and Chaos, an ancient entity and the father of gods. At the end of the war, the gods leave Krynn.
  • The transition of Dragonlance from the SAGA system to 3e follows the events described in the War of the Souls trilogy.
  • One could argue that the adventure in the Wrath of the Immortals boxed set is also a transition between different sets of Immortals rules.

Honorable mention:

  • The set of six modules that start with RA1: Feast of Goblyns describe the Grand Conjuction, which moves the Ravenloft setting from its initial 2e description in Ravenloft: Realm of Terror boxed set (1990, "the black box") to its revised 2e form in the Ravenloft Campaign Setting (1994, "the red box").
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Really, Die, Vecna, Die! is the only case of this in D&D that is generic to all settings. Otherwise, only the Forgotten Realms has undergone such events—see our existing question here. The edition changes have gone unexplained in other settings—which is to say that other settings have just basically been second-class citizens for most of D&D’s existence. In some cases, the events of the Forgotten Realms are stated to have caused ripple effects that propagate to other worlds, but this is, to be blunt, nonsense—the local powers of the Realms don’t have that kind of power over the broader multiverse.

Moreover, very few campaign settings have actually experienced an edition change:

  • Blackmoor, the very first D&D setting by Dave Arneson, never really got published properly in any edition.

  • Greyhawk, Gygax’s original setting, existed in 1e and 2e, and ZwiQ’s answer covers the transition better than I can. Thereafter, while 3e kind of treated it as the default setting, it did so “with the serial numbers filed off,” so to speak—it wasn’t named as such, and to read the 3e books you’d have no idea that there was earlier material to even worry about continuity with. Any contitinuity errors were thus ignored.

  • Mystara, the setting of the BECMI edition, has basically gone unused since.

  • Forgotten Realms, of course, has been the flagship setting for a long time, and as discussed above, gets all the love.

  • Dragonlance started in 1e and was a big deal in 2e, and got a fair few books in 3e—but ZwiQ’s answer covers it better than I can.

  • 2e had several one-off campaign settings that have seen almost no support beyond their initial books. This includes Birthright, Council of Wyrms, Spelljammer, and so on.

  • Planescape was developed in 2e and Die, Vecna, Die! covers its transition to 3e, but 5e hasn’t really gone into any kind of detail on the wider multiverse.

  • Dark Sun was another 2e setting, that hasn’t really been used since. In 3e, Wizards of the Coast licensed the setting to Athas.org, which created a fair amount of 3e material for the setting, but it mostly just tried to explain the 2e version of the setting in terms of 3.5e rules; I don’t recall any “transition event.” In any event, the Athas.org material has not been considered canon since.

  • Ravenloft is... weird. In the original Ravenloft adventure for AD&D 1e, Ravenloft wasn’t a separate plane or setting, it was just “Castle Ravenloft,” in the country Barovia, “somewhere” with the rest of the world undefined. The Ravenloft adventure has been remade in AD&D 2e (House of Strahd), D&D 3.5e (Expedition to Castle Ravenloft), and D&D 5e (Curse of Strahd). (There was also a board game, Castle Ravenloft.) Expedition to Castle Ravenloft included thoughts on dropping Barovia into other campaign settings, even.

    But Ravenloft also got expanded into a larger setting, “the Demiplane of Dread,” for 2e. Wizards of the Coast licensed the name to somebody for 3e, similar to how Dark Sun was handled, but it wasn’t really “canon.” Die, Vecna, Die!, of course, has Ravenloft as a major focus, since it was a key part of Vecna’s overall scheme, so any transition from 2e to 3e is easily explained by that adventure, anyway. But as far as I know, there has been no canonical material for the Demiplane of Dread version of Ravenloft since Die, Vecna, Die!.

  • Rokugan, which was the setting of 3e’s Oriental Adventures (but not the setting of previous editions’ books by that title, which were set in a non-Faerûn continent, Kara-Tur, within the Forgotten Realms), only appeared in D&D’s third edition. It has also appeared in a whole bunch of entirely separate game franchises, most notably the Legend of the Five Rings RPG and trading card game systems. Each time, it basically just tries to describe the same world in the terms of the game/edition in question, without any particular reference to the other ones (though as I understand things, the L5R RPG and TCG have some interesting tie-ins with one another—I know little about either). Legend of the Five Rings has a ton of history that has gone largely unmentioned in the Dungeons & Dragons incarnation of the setting, for example.

  • Ghostwalk was a campaign setting found only in one book—Ghostwalk Campaign Setting—for 3e.

  • Eberron debuted in 3e (specifically the “v.3.5 revised edition”), and it has one book in 5e, which has not bothered to justify or explain how or why anything changed between the two. Ultimately, the two aren’t that different for the most part.

  • Nentir Vale, or “Points of Light,” was the default setting for 4e, and the only time I’m going to mention 4e in this list. It has not seen any update for 5e.

  • Exandria, Matt Mercer’s custom setting for the Critical Role D&D stream, was developed (or, at least, made available to the wider world beyond Mercer’s own table) for 5e.

The reason I have left 4e out is because, although 4e did in fact update both Dark Sun and Eberron, as well as the Forgotten Realms, it did so terribly, and I say that as a big fan of the system. 4e’s treatment of the canon was atrocious, unexplained and unjustified, and has been roundly ignored since—FR basically had cosmic events undo everything that supposedly caused 4e in the first place, while Eberron has just ignored it ever happening. Dark Sun hasn’t had a 5e treatment, but since 4e’s Dark Sun included such details as an adventure set on a lakeside, I’m sure that it, too, would be ignored. So there just isn’t really anything to say about 4e, as aside from FR, there were no events like this question asks for, and it’s mostly all been ret-conned anyway.

Anyway, my point is, most of these settings only really experienced one edition—mostly 2e. As a result, there is a lot less call for such transition events than there are in, say, the Forgotten Realms.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Dragonlance came out in AD&D 1e. I was around for that. Well before 2e happened. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 20 '20 at 20:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I still have the original 4 modules, three of them shrink wrapped. And a few of the books. I am not sure I got any 2e Dragonlance stuff, will check the attic in a few days. MY most commonly used 2e supplement was Thieves World. The other thing I recall about DL when it came out was the fusion between the modules and the books (TSR was trying to get more sales out of the concept ... and it worked for a while) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 20 '20 at 20:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ I understand the rationale for not going into the 4e versions, but I think an answer going into what they were (possibly including why people disliked them) might be worthwhile. I don't have the knowledge to go into detail on it myself, but I think it's useful context. Notably, I think some of the 4e additions to Eberron stuck - I'm fairly sure the Feyspires are mentioned in the 5e book, and that they were a 4e addition - so it's not a completely universal 'all 4e changes were bad and got reverted.' \$\endgroup\$ – LizWeir Apr 21 '20 at 7:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LizWeir Additions, no, not always. But changes? Pretty sure they got most of ’em. Anyway, since 4e made no effort to explain or justify its changes (or even acknowledge that there were changes in a lot of cases), it seems kind of tangential here. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 21 '20 at 12:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jetpack Only FR’s Spellplague, which was already covered by the link at the beginning of the answer. This seems to be confusing several readers, so I’ll improve that paragraph to be clearer that I’m also ignoring 4e because most 5e settings didn’t provide any explanation for it and therefore there’s nothing specific to this question to discuss. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 21 '20 at 17:38

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