my first post on the subject, I'm starting backward with the most recent edition and working my way back to the beginning. I should point out, though, that I haven't played (and don't really have any intention to play) the D&D Essentials line, which seems basically like a poor-man's D&D 4.5.
So, having covered 4th Edition, we'll move onto D&D 3.5. I remember this edition made a lot of people upset because it came out so quickly after 3rd Edition and made enough changes that it was difficult to use a lot of the product that came out from both WotC and the various third-party publishers for 3rd Edition. And, there was A LOT of product back then. I know because I bought a ton of it.
As both a player and a DM of 3rd Edition D&D, though, I welcomed 3.5 because it did "fix" some things that I thought could use some tweaking, but as time went on, it did seem that a lot of it was an excuse for WotC to basically remake all of their 3rd Edition product line under the "Revised Edition" logo. But that's a topic for another post.
As a gamer, my favorite 3.5 session ever was, oddly enough, another one-shot (my favorite 4th Edition experience was also a one-shot), also coincidentally enough DM'd by the same guy, my friend Cal. This particular one-shot was an "evil" one-shot.
This was back before the majority of us had kids, so we all picked a date that worked with our spouses/significant others, and set aside an entire day to hang out at Cal's house to play D&D. This means we showed up around 11am and began drinking Guinness, had a great lunch (I honestly don't remember what we had, but I want to say it might have been homemade burgers with fancy fixings like blue cheese, sauteed mushrooms, bacon, etc.), moving on to wine (Syrah, mostly, if memory serves), another home-cooked meal for dinner (I'm thinking either spaghetti or vegetable lasagna), homemade chocolate fudge cake, port, and then (here's where things get really bad) Irish Whiskey, served neat.
Cal made all of our characters for us and sent them to us ahead of time. This was the first time I'd played in a game where the DM not only created a character for me, but also gave me a history that included my character's perceptions of the other characters. It's something I actually really liked, but I've recently learned pretty much only works as a one-shot idea.
There were, I believe, six players for this game (it's possible I'm forgetting a few people, because not everybody stayed the entire time).
In terms of 3.5 rules, Cal made full use of all of the very detailed information in 3.5, and this also helped make this session particularly fun and crazy - he really went over the top in terms of multi-classing, prestige classes, templates, etc.
One player was a basic Rogue/Wizard/Arcane Trickster - a gnome, I believe. Another was a straight-up Cleric (aka "CoDzilla", in 3.5 terminology) - human, I think.
Then things start to get strange.
Another guy played a Sun-Elf Were-Jaguar Assassin (I can't remember if he had a base class, or if he qualified for the Prestige class based on a combination of feats and racial abilities).
Another guy was a "human" Druid named Polly. Basic enough. We found out at the end of the session that Polly was actually a polymorphed awakened parrot who had been the pet of an evil pirate at one point, and learned druidic magic after he was awakened.
My guy was a Githyanki Psion - again, pretty basic, but it was the first time any of us had used the psionics rules in either 3E or 3.5, so it was new to us.
The last guy ended up being the "main character" - a Human Vampire Fallen Paladin Blackguard.
We were... I don't remember. On some sort of quest to do some evil stuff on behalf of some Forgotten Realms god. I've never played in the Forgotten Realms before or since, so I don't remember who I was. I do remember that we were all very high level (the highest I've ever played, if I'm remembering right), and my guy was totally min-maxed to the gills with a massive intelligence that was augmented by various magic items and some super cool psionic powers that made him very deadly - much more so that I'm used to as a player.
I also remember just being fascinated by all of the different race/template/class combinations my friend Cal put together. He put a lot of work into designing those characters, so it made a lot of sense to me years later when Cal (who I think is stellar DM) told me that he'd much rather play D&D instead of DM. I think he got a lot of enjoyment out of designing those characters and using the rules to their maximum ability to create a bunch of really different, unique characters that, under ordinary circumstances, you'd never get to play in an on-going D&D campaign.
That's part of the fun of one-shot games - you can try different things that don't have bad long-term effects on a long campaign.
The 3.5 rules were perfect for this, because they had some many of these different feats, templates, classes, races, etc.
In 4th Edition, everything would've just been turned into a series of "powers" that basically all ended up saying "You do 1d6 + [STAT] damage and push an opponent one square." (Okay, I'm being facetious. But those of you who have played or looked at 4E know what I'm talking about).
In earlier editions of the game, you could have had characters like this, but they wouldn't have been "customized" to the extend they were in 3.5. The vampire fallen paladin blackguard would have been, for the most part, a vampire fighter. And fighters back then didn't have any class abilities to distinguish one from the other. The Sun Elf Were Jaguar Assassin... I'm not sure how you would do that in an earlier edition. I mean, sure, you could probably do it, but the thing is, for all of its "rules heavy" issues, 3.5 made it, dare I say, easy to create characters like this. It's built into the DNA of the system, whereas in other versions, you'd be making it up.
I'm not saying that making it up is a bad thing, by any means. But, there's something to be said for having all of that information codified. I'm a firm believer that it actually helped with my creativity during that era.
What about you all? What kind of fun games did you have with the revised 3rd Edition rules?