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The Road to 3E

The creation of D&D 3E was a pivotal point in the TTRPG industry, and game designer Jonathan Tweet looks back at its development along with other pivotal elements of his career.
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Years before I worked on D&D 3rd Ed, Wizards of the Coast hired me not to work on D&D but to compete with it. The result, my 1995 RPG EVERWAY, a daring artistic innovation that, for various reasons, never got off the ground. Now EVERWAY is back from a new publisher with a new format selling on a new platform and playing to a changed audience. The Kickstarter for the Silver Anniversary Edition...
On the Third Edition design team, we were tasked with rationalizing the game system, but there were some big elements of the system that we didn’t question. We inherited a system in which spellcasters get better in three ways at a time as they level up; they get more spells per day, higher-level spells, and more damage with spells of a given level. In retrospect, that problem is easy to see...
What do you call a D&D cleric who can’t heal? A 1st-level 1970s cleric. The original first-level cleric could turn undead but had no spells. Skip Williams says that the original conception of the cleric was sort of a Van Helsing figure, someone who bought the wolvesbane, belladonna, and garlic on the equipment list and who contended with the undead. The original cleric couldn’t cast cure light...
With 3rd Ed, our main goal was to return D&D to its roots, such as with Greyhawk deities and the return of half-orcs. By staying true to the feel of D&D, we helped the gaming audience accept the sweeping changes that we made to the rules system.
For 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, the big picture was to return the game to its roots, reversing the direction that 2nd Edition had taken in making the game more generic. The plan was to strongly support the idea that the characters were D&D characters in a D&D world. We emphasized adventuring and in particular dungeoneering, both with the rules and with the adventure path modules. We...
The D&D 3rd Ed project was part big-picture vision and part a collection of individual decisions about rules, terms, and characters. In terms of rules, a lot of what we did amounted to streamlining.
Ars Magica had an obscure origin, but it had long-lasting effects. We did a number of influential support products that influenced 1990s game design, and it launched the careers of five of us who were part of the Ars Magica crew. Over the years, I had bought a ton of roleplaying games, and I was almost universally disappointed by how difficult it was to get a new roleplaying game off the...
By the time I started college in 1987, I was a die-hard Chaosium fan, and I taught my new college friends RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu. These friends and I talked a lot about roleplaying games and game design, and we tried to figure out how to create the best possible games.
In 1978 at age 12, I bought my second roleplaying game, Metamorphosis Alpha (MA) by Jim Ward. That’s the day I became a fan of the Open Gaming License and the d20 logo. Or at least I would have been a fan if someone had gone back in time and told me about them.
The story of Third Edition D&D starts, perhaps, with Peter Adkison reading 2nd Edition AD&D (1989) and being sorely disappointed. For one thing, he felt the new system left several underlying problems in place, so players didn’t get much benefit from the effort it took to switch to a new system. For another, 2nd Ed stripped away all the charm and character of 1st Ed. No more half-orcs, arcane sigils, monks, or assassins. Demons and devils were renamed to avoid the ire of superstitious parents. The new AD&D was tamed and genericized.

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