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The text of Protection from Evil in my AD&D 2e PHB reads as follows, in part:

This protection ends if the protect character makes a melee attack against or tries to force the barrier against the blocked creature.

However, the D&D 3.5e SRD for Protection from Evil has text that reads as follows, in part:

The protection against contact by summoned creatures ends if the warded creature makes an attack against or tries to force the barrier against the blocked creature.

Why did the text change in 3.5e to cause ranged attacks to dispel Protection from Evil's protection against summoned creatures? It strikes me as strange that they'd take a significant piece of spell functionality away, unless there was a significant balance problem in 3.5e created by allowing ranged attacks to preserve Protection from Evil, or this was an erratum in the 2e PHB that was fixed in a later printing or errata document...

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Short answer: We can't be sure why the Protection from Evil spell wording was changed in 3.0/3.5, but it was probably to do with interoperability of rules (WotC's forte). Neither the 2e nor the 3e versions are mistakes.

Long answer:

The limitation to melee weapons in 2e is almost cerrainly not an erratum. I can give two reasons for this:

  • TSR constantly made minor corrections to the text with each reprint, the most comprehensive of which was in 1995 when all the layout and artwork was also changed. However the Protection from Evil text is as you quote it (TSR 2159, p177).
  • The whole limitation ("The protection ends if...") is a 2e innovation, not found in OD&D or AD&D 1e, so it is not just a mindless carryover from a previous edition, but a deliberate change.

The second point is trivial to check (if you have the books!), the first point might need some supporting evidence. In the preface to the same 1995 reprint of the AD&D 2e PHB ("This is not AD&D 3rd Edition"), we find:

The changes [we've made] are the sorts of minor corrections and clarifications we make every time we reprint, and we've reprinted both the Player's Handbook and DUNGEON MASTER Guide more than 10 times since 1989!

The 3.5 wording is almost certainly not a mistake either - @SevenSidedDie pointed out in a comment that the wording is identical to the 3.0 wording, and so we can take my first argument above again, mutatis mutandis.

The reason why the change happened is a bit thornier, but not impossible to answer.

The great achievement of AD&D 2e from a design point of view was the bringing together of all the rules which had come before, and their presentation in a clear form. (With an index!) However, there was also a strong impetus to keep what had gone before. Relevant excerpts from David "Zeb" Cook's preface to the 1989 AD&D 2e PHB:

Improving the organization and readability was one of the reasons we started this project in the first place

(...)

At the very start, we outlined the goals: to make it easier to find things, to make the rules easier to understand, to fix the things that did not work, to add the best new ideas from the expansions and other sources, and, most important of all, to make sure the game was still the one you knew and enjoyed. Of them all, the last was the hardest and most demanding, conflicting as it did with my basic desire to design things.

What is not mentioned here is any intention to make all the rules interoperable, and AD&D 2e abounds with optional rules and rules subsystems, which only become interoperable at the level of DM fiat or player innovation. This can also be said for spells and their exact effects in game terms, as I argued in my answer to another of @Shalvenay's questions.

As @SevenSidedDie points out in his answer, when Wizards of the Coast took over D&D, the change was cardinal, and the designers seemed unflustered about changing just about everything. Wizards of the Coast had risen to success - and gained their game design experience - with the Magic: The Gathering collectible card game, which is arguably nothing but rules and exceptions to rules interoperating. So we can be quite sure that the change of wording in the Protection from Evil spell was not accidental - it surely is for some sort of 'balance' or other mechanical reason. I'll leave exactly what this reason might be for those better versed in 3e mechanics.

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These two games were written by different development teams at completely different companies (TSR vs. WotC), according to very different design philosophies (Gygax's1 vs. Tweet's).

Many things were changed when D&D 3e was written, not the least of which was abandoning backwards compatibility with previous material, something that had been more or less maintained for a quarter century prior.

That a few spells changed in their particulars is the least of the changes. What is more surprising are the few things that didn't change.

1. Though Cook lead the redesign of AD&D 2e, and this was after Gygax was removed from TSR, a major goal of the redesign was to collect and organise rather than change AD&D. Hence, the game's design philosophy was not part of the redesign, and remains properly attributed to Gygax, rather than to Cook.

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