(post for my own amusement)
To me different DnD editions are also different ages of "typical fantasy world" relatively mapped on the traditionally-viewed historical development of what is considered to be / possible to be for Western civilization; this progression is considering both how different editions implemented certain rules and sub-systems, and on meta-level, with how general process around "Dungeons and Dragons" developed. It is also a perspective that views everything through very narrow scope, and if I was to do a detailed scholarly comparison it probably won't hold any water, but, as I said, it is a personal amusement of the thought.
I always imagined "Dndworld" as having dark (pre-)medieval times with 0Ed in all its first iterations: times where the previous, ancient world of big armies and known histories (wargames) collapsed and was transforming into much smaller world of much more personal scope (of tabletop RPGs), with the world itself largely unknown (no official settings yet but Blackmoor/Mystara as the first Known World, eventually), magic is underdeveloped and rare (only a few levels of spells in initial DnD, very limited casting abilities), focus is on survival (count your torches), and death comes quickly (death at 0HP); industry, especially metallurgy are rudimentary (short equipment lists). Civilization sort of exists in small oases (various DnD enthusiasts creating their own campaign worlds and starting to connect).
By the time of 1st-2nd Ed ADnD it is Renaissance going eventually into so-called Age of Discovery. There are noticeable improvements in medicine (Death Gates HP safety) although the novelties of such achievements are still not widely know or stable (Death Gates is still optional rule). Magic is much more common, although not systematized in any meaningful way and treated, including magical items, more like commission of luxury artwork (number of magic-related classes and kits jumped up significantly, but there is no rhyme or systemic reason to all these powers yet and there are no official magical shopping); new lands are discovered at mass (official DnD settings – Planescape, Dark Sun, Greyhawk, etc – released) and civilization is vastly interconnected (first really big cons); royal crowns are suppressing lower classes, and former collaborators of regime become fierce privateers under the pressure (TSR anti-fan policy, Mayfair case) but it doesn't really stop much anybody from brewing their own revolutions (big names alternative to DnD RPG systems, in my perceptions, really had their bloom around this time); first guns (and settings with some guns). Even prejudices of the time can be mapped at the exclusion of orcs and barbarians out of all core DnD supplements. Later supplements of Player's Option, such as "Skills and Powers", are more systematic and can be likened to natural sciences emerging in about Enlightenment-time to pave the way to future changes and new edition.
4th Ed is high-tech, iPhone future, going into pre-apocalypse ('points of light' assumed setting as archologies with unlivable land around them), magic and magic-like abilities are ubiquitous and commonplace, food/torches/base survival is no longer a concern whatsoever, everybody can heal (healing surges), and everything is extremely streamlined and also developed to the point that the difference in magic and non-magic abilities is rather nominal. The world is fully explored (no new settings, except again, maybe counting Eberron) and only gets re-visited (often badly). First exodus into space colonies after ruling classes tighten the screws way too much to bear (first OGL licensing fiasco and Pathfinder as a result, OSR / DIY movement – at least personally for me it started about here).
Then there is an apocalypse somewhere and 5th Ed is (post-)post-apocalypse pastoral: back to simpler, more rustic times, where some achievements of past are here, such as medicine and standards of living (such as healing surges and elevated HP rolls, rather easy survival rules) and magic is more understood and integrated (many non-magic classes have magic-related subclasses), but in general magic is back to sort of unknown and rare (no official magical shopping or formulas), and lands (=official settings) are rediscovered and re-exploited (re-issued, rebooted). It all "back to simpler" times look and attempted wholeheartedness, but just dig a little and you'd find a working 3D printer somewhere (all businesses feeding from 5th Ed. popularity), and oh yes, these immortal royals are back and as immoral as ever under slogans for the better future (second OGL fiasco).
And all such and so on.
So if I would be doing time travel in some 'typical DnD' land which has its history mappable to that of history of one corner of Earth, I'd probably be switching the systems in this approximate way.
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