I often see updates from my gaming pals on Twitter or Facebook talking about “Strikers”, “Controllers”, “shift square”, “healing surges”, and so on in regards to D&D 4th Edition. I, as someone with minimal 4e experience who early on decided it wasn’t for him, often can’t make heads or tails of what they’re talking about, especially when it’s in regards to monster design and the like. It makes a bit harder to casually follow their game plans and recaps, even though I usually muddle through.
This reminds me a bit of the differences in British English, American English, Australian English, and so on. The dialects share a common heritage, but separation in the form of time and geography have rendered differences in each, so that slang in one dialect may be incomprehensible to another. Though they may share some of the same words, each dialect has its own internal references that may be hard for outsiders to comprehend. To an extent, it’s happened with every edition, though my not playing 4e much is likely the cause of my disconnect here.
With D&D 4e, though most things are understandable to fans of previous editions (hit points, etc.), there’s a bit of static in there that I find interesting. Casual and slang references to 4e can often go right over my head. I’m used to being able to speak in either sort of a generic Old School Vernacular—the nature of those systems generally means that you can understand the underpinnings of the systems without much trouble, be it OSRIC, Castles & Crusades, or Swords & Wizardry. There are fewer specialized terms and abilties, fewer concepts to grasp, and that’s probably half of it right there. D20/3.5/Pathfinder is its own language cluster, largely interchangeable thanks to the unifying aspects of the Open Gaming License. Both seem a bit closer to the gaming lingua franca I employ.
Please understand, this isn’t a slam on 4e; the edition wars are largely over, the armistice long since signed (or so we hope). Every edition is a different than the ones that precede it. But if I was looking for additional proof the game has strayed further from how I think of D&D, I would look at the language barrier, I suppose.
What will be interesting to see is how the game’s language changes when the next edition hits in the next 2-3 years or so.