3E and the Feel of D&D

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 intentionally brought players back to a shared experience after 2E had sent them off in different directions.

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To keep the focus on adventuring, we eliminated several elements from 2E that, we thought, tended to take players off course. In particular, we removed evil PCs, individual XP awards, strongholds, and the class name “thief.”

Thieves were renamed “rogues” to take the emphasis off of them going off on their own to steal random items from NPCs. Doing so usually amounted to stealing spotlight time and the DM’s attention away from the other players. If thieves stole from other PCs in order to be “in character,” that was even worse.

Starting in original D&D, top-level fighters and clerics could build strongholds, and we dropped that. If you have had fun playing your character as an adventurer for level after level, why would you suddenly want to take on non-adventuring duties at 9th level? These strongholds were styled as benefits, so if you didn’t start one, you were losing a bonus that you’d apparently earned. Running a stronghold was also an individual activity, not something a party did. Worse, if players wanted their characters to run strongholds for fun, why force them to adventure until they reached 9th level first? In my personal 3E campaign, I gave the party the option to rule from a fort on the frontier when the characters were 6th level, and they took it. It was a project that they undertook as a party, like the rest of their adventuring careers.

We got rid of individual XP awards, which rewarded different classes for doing different things. Fighters got bonus experience for killing monsters, for example, and thieves got experience for stealing things. It looked good on paper, but it rewarded characters for pursuing different goals. We were trying to get players to pursue the same goals, especially those that involved kicking open doors and fighting what was on the other side.

Evil characters in D&D can be traced back to Chainmail, a miniatures game in which playing an evil army was routine. Having good and evil characters together in a party led to problems and sometimes hard feelings. In a lunchtime 2E campaign at Wizards, an evil character sold fake magic items to other characters; the players who got scammed were not amused. During a playtest of 3E, one of the designers secretly created an evil character who, at the end of the session, turned on the rest of us. It was a test of sorts, and the result of the test was that evil characters didn’t make the experience better. 3E established the expectation that PCs would be neutral or good, one of the rare instances of us narrowing the players’ options instead of expanding them.

Personally, one part of the process I enjoyed was describing the world of D&D in its own terms, rather than referring to real-world history and mythology. When writing roleplaying games, I enjoy helping the player get immersed in the setting, and I always found these references to the real world to be distractions. In the Player’s Handbook, the text and art focused the readers’ imaginations on the D&D experiences, starting with an in-world paragraph to introduce each chapter.

In 2nd Ed, the rules referred to history and to historical legends to describe the game, such as referring to Merlin to explain what a wizard was or to Hiawatha as an archetype for a fighter. But by the time we were working on 3rd Ed, D&D had had such a big impact on fantasy that we basically used D&D as its own source. For example, 2E took monks out of the Player’s Handbook, in part because martial artist monks have no real place in medieval fantasy. We put them back in because monks sure have a place in D&D fantasy. The same goes for gnomes. The 3E gnome is there because the gnome was well-established in D&D lore, not in order to represent real-world mythology.

We also emphasized adventuring by creating a standard or “iconic” adventurer for each class. In the rule examples, in the illustrations, and in the in-world prose, we referred to these adventurers, especially Tordek (dwarf fighter), Mialee (elf wizard), Jozan (human cleric), and Lidda (halfling rogue). While AD&D used proper names to identify supremely powerful wizards, such as Bigby of the spell Bigby’s crushing hand, we used proper names to keep the attention on adventurers, even down to a typical 1st-level fighter.

For the art in 3E, we took pains to have it seem to illustrate not fantasy characters in general but D&D adventurers in particular. For one thing, lots of them wore backpacks. For the iconic characters, we wrote up the sort of gear that a 1st-level character might start with, and the illustrations showed them with that gear. The illustrations in the 2E Player’s Handbook feature lots of human fighters, human wizards, and castles. Those images reflect standard fantasy tropes, while the art in 3E reflects what you see in your mind’s eye when you play D&D.

Descriptions of weapons in 2E referred to historical precedents, such as whether a weapon was use in the European Renaissance or in Egypt. With almost 20 different polearms, the weapon list reflected soldiers on a medieval battlefield more than a heterogenous party of adventurers delving into a dungeon. We dropped the historical references, such as the Lucerne hammer, and gave dwarves the dwarven warax. And if the dwarven warax isn’t cool enough, how would you like a double sword or maybe a spiked chain?

The gods in 2E were generic, such as the god of strength. We pulled in the Greyhawk deities so we could use proper names and specific holy symbols that were part of the D&D heritage. We knew that plenty of Dungeon Masters would create their own worlds and deities, as I did for my home campaign, but the Greyhawk deities made the game feel more connected to its own roots. They also helped us give players a unified starting point, which was part of Ryan Dancey’s plan to bring the D&D audience back to a shared experience.

Fans were enthusiastic about the way 3E validated adventuring, the core experience that D&D does best and that appeals most broadly. We were fortunate that by 2000 D&D had such a strong legacy that it could stand on its own without reference to Earth history or mythology. One reason that fans were willing to accept sweeping changes to the rules was that 3E felt more like D&D than 2nd Edition had. Sometimes I wonder what 4E could have accomplished if it had likewise tried to reinforce the D&D experience rather than trying to redesign it.
 
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Jonathan Tweet

Comments

Zardnaar

Hero
Rogue name change is good in theory but people still steal. We have banned theft from other PCs it's get you kicked from game behavior.

At the time ended up preferring 2E art early in 3.0 run around 2002? 3E art hasn't aged as well IMHO.

Exotic weapons ended up being annoying. Most weren't worth the feat.

Less polearms was good, barely got used anyway without optional add on rules.

Evil PCs are for themed games IMHO. Not something you really want everyday. Didn't really notice the Gnome thing since they were in phb 2E.

Did you guys over value strength as a racial ability a'la the half orc? +1 was huge in AD&D but without percentile strength a bonus to strength lost a lot of oomph.
 

Jiggawatts

Explorer
Personally I love the feel of 2nd Edition, at least what 2nd Edition became. To my mind the difference in tone and style between what 1E and 2E is that in 1E was very much gritty dungeon crawls, characters who are out to kill monsters and take their stuff, whereas 2E feels much more like heroic adventuring, save the city/kingdom from the monstrous horde, stop the evil tyrant, defeat the necromancer who is sacrificing townsfolk, etc. And I much prefer heroic style adventuring.

2E was also amazing campaign settings and deep lore. The worlds and products of 2E were crafted with love and care, with depth and purpose, and with a quality that has still gone unmatched. Anytime I flip through Faiths & Avatars/Demihuman Deities, or the Planescape Campaign Setting box set I am reminded of what has been lost by many of the modern products.

Regarding strongholds, one of my biggest draws to playing D&D is being immersed in a living world, seeing the world grow, seeing the changes I and my companions have invoked in the setting, and leaving a mark upon it. Strongholds are a great way to do this, they give a sense of expanding scope and let you feel a natural progression for the character.

You did give us the unified XP chart, flipped AC and attack rolls, expanded divine casters to 9th level spells to match wizards, more logical stat modifiers, and started the path for interesting character progression of abilities, so kudos for all those.
 

Catolias

Villager
3e brought me back to D&D. It’s complexity and apparent infinite variations for me. I still play it with friends on a regular basis and have graduated from a player to running a long campaign as DM. So thank you to Jonathan and his colleagues for a system that I still play and love to play. Yes, there are issues here and there, but I can look past those niggles and look at those bits that work really well.
 

QuentinGeorge

Explorer
Personally I love the feel of 2nd Edition, at least what 2nd Edition became. To my mind the difference in tone and style between what 1E and 2E is that in 1E was very much gritty dungeon crawls, characters who are out to kill monsters and take their stuff, whereas 2E feels much more like heroic adventuring, save the city/kingdom from the monstrous horde, stop the evil tyrant, defeat the necromancer who is sacrificing townsfolk, etc. And I much prefer heroic style adventuring.

2E was also amazing campaign settings and deep lore. The worlds and products of 2E were crafted with love and care, with depth and purpose, and with a quality that has still gone unmatched. Anytime I flip through Faiths & Avatars/Demihuman Deities, or the Planescape Campaign Setting box set I am reminded of what has been lost by many of the modern products.

Regarding strongholds, one of my biggest draws to playing D&D is being immersed in a living world, seeing the world grow, seeing the changes I and my companions have invoked in the setting, and leaving a mark upon it. Strongholds are a great way to do this, they give a sense of expanding scope and let you feel a natural progression for the character.

You did give us the unified XP chart, flipped AC and attack rolls, expanded divine casters to 9th level spells to match wizards, more logical stat modifiers, and started the path for interesting character progression of abilities, so kudos for all those.
I'm not reading Tweet's article as being "anti-stronghold", as such. Merely that it shouldn't be part of the "progression". It should be entered into the campaign when the DM and players want it to, (if ever).
 

LuisCarlos17f

Adventurer
My house rule about alignments is allowing spells and other powers with align. key can hurt enemies with same align but different allegiance (country, race, religion, tribe, brotherhood, guild, family), for example drow cleric vs orc shaman. And I allow characters with opposite allegiance and align, for example good allegiance with evil align would be a zealot who tries to do the right, servin celestial powers but forgetting mercy or law allegiance with chaotic align would be a sheriff who breaks the rules to defend the order.

Other house rule is to be faster doesn't mean to be the first to attack if the enemy has got a longer weapon than yours.

I discovered D&D as TTRPG since 93-94, and the look of the pictures from these years had got a strong impact. How to explain it? It is how when after some decades you see old Hanna-Barbera 60's, 70's cartoons and you notice they weren't... perfect but there is still a space for them in your memory and your heart.

3rd Ed was very, very different, I felt this was a work with a lot of love for the franchise. My collection of books are my treasure. I advice young players if they love a book, then you should buy like a future piece for your collection, and or later you will regret. I have bought some tiles of World of Darkness 20 Anniversary because now I regret not have bought some titles in the past for my personal collection. Do you understand what I trying to mean?

About gods, I miss other pantheons from real world (Sumerian and other pre-islamic Middle Orient). And about Hindu gods we should take care to avoid controversies as that Xena's episode. If king Arthur's legend is public domain, why not a "pantheon" of "patron heroes" with the knights of the round table?
 

Takei

Explorer
3e brought me back to D&D. It’s complexity and apparent infinite variations for me. I still play it with friends on a regular basis and have graduated from a player to running a long campaign as DM. So thank you to Jonathan and his colleagues for a system that I still play and love to play. Yes, there are issues here and there, but I can look past those niggles and look at those bits that work really well.
I'm the same. My group got back into D&D with 3E, then moved to Pathfinder when 4E came out. We're still playing Pathfinder 1E when the whole group can get together but have recently been dipping our toes into 5E via the Arcanis setting. D&D 3.x and its offspring have been the major part of my gaming since 2000, so thanks to Jonathan and the team for developing it.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Double Sword. Aka, we rip off the red Jedi from the star wars movie. Spiked chain had to be from anime or kung Fu theatre.

Strongholds were only a thing for a well-established group. Every time someone wanted a stronghold the paper work would start and either me, or they would be moving. Everyone I met who move frequently thought of strongholds as an option for those who were totally established in their field.

All my group did love iconic pcs. There was giggles about some of the armour, but we dismissed as fantasy armour.

3E One Chart to bring them, and one die to rule them all, and in the play bind them.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
I don't know that I'd agree that 3e felt more like D&D than 2e did. 2e never felt unlike D&D. But I do appreciate the point of emphasizing the game's roots in the development and marketing of 3e. That Back to the Dungeon emphasis meant that 3e was going to fit right in and feeling just like D&D even though it had some substantially different mechanics.
 

PMárk

Explorer
Strangely, I never felt 3.x restricting evil PCs. Yes, the core book encouraged good and neutral ones, but for me, that was normal and expected, due to the fantasy genre. We're not playing vampires in a cutthroat setting, or morally ambiguous freelancers in a distopian world (which I also like both), but heroes in a fantasy world. For me, that was always the base assumption and I never felt that 3e restricted deviation from that, if I wanted that.

As for the art: the 3e core book was cool as hell back then, in the early 2000s, when I was a teen. Now... let's say Paizo and others raised the standard for me a lot. They are not horrible though and I think the later 3.5 books are quite good even now.

Also, Dragons. I LOVE the 3e dragon illustrations, they are among the best even now in my eyes and no wonder they became THE iconic D&D dragons.
 
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Celebrim

Legend
At the time ended up preferring 2E art early in 3.0 run around 2002? 3E art hasn't aged as well IMHO.
Say what you will about 2e, I think it must be admitted that it represented at high water mark in D&D artwork. If you were going to put a gallery of D&D artwork into a fine art gallery, I think the early 2e era would dominate the collection and standout from the rest. Indeed, I consider the period beginning with Parkinson and Elmore's work in 1e and extending through to the mid-90's (is the death of Parkinson basically the end of that golden era) to be the best collection of high fantasy artwork ever commissioned by any source.

Probably a big part of the reason that TSR was shedding money, but wow was the art amazing.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Strangely, I never felt 3.x restricting evil PCs. Yes, the core book encouraged good and neutral ones, but for me, that was normal and expected, due to the fantasy genre. We're not playing vampires in a cutthroat setting, or morally ambiguous freelancers in a distopian world (which I also like both), but heroes in a fantasy world. For me, that was always the base assumption and I never felt that 3e restricted deviation from that, if I wanted that.

As for the art: the 3e core book was cool as hell back then, in the early 2000s, when I was a teen. Now... let's say Paizo and others raised the standard for me a lot. They are not horrible though and I think the later 3.5 books are quite good even now.

Also, Dragons. I LOVE the 3e dragon illustrations, they are among the best even now in my eyes and no wonder they became THE iconic D&D dragons.
Yeah, WotC to this day emphasizes and supports non-Evil play, suxha switch the Adventures, and this hardly seems limiting: people play D&D to be the Good Guy, Capital G's.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Say what you will about 2e, I think it must be admitted that it represented at high water mark in D&D artwork. If you were going to put a gallery of D&D artwork into a fine art gallery, I think the early 2e era would dominate the collection and standout from the rest. Indeed, I consider the period beginning with Parkinson and Elmore's work in 1e and extending through to the mid-90's (is the death of Parkinson basically the end of that golden era) to be the best collection of high fantasy artwork ever commissioned by any source.

Probably a big part of the reason that TSR was shedding money, but wow was the art amazing.
On the other hand, it probably brought them a lot of money back in.

For my own tastes, we are currently in the Golden Age of D&D art, but 2E is up there. At least now they can draw women well.
 

Celebrim

Legend
For my own tastes, we are currently in the Golden Age of D&D art, but 2E is up there. At least now they can draw women well.
I'd be more inclined to describe it as rebirth or renaissance. One of the best things about 5e has been it went away from the more comic book style of 3e and 4e and has harkened back to the style of the earlier era. There are still too much influences of that from my taste, and the current artwork looks rushed and unrefined compared to the late 1e and early 2e era, but it's a definite improvement.

As for "now they can draw women well", I feel it's more like men and women are now equally unrealistic. They are both drawn rough enough, to a more animated movie standard, that they fall outside of the uncanny valley. I think we might have a little less overt male gaze in every picture featuring a woman, but the quality of the drawing itself isn't so much the issue with that.
 

Mr. Patient

Explorer
I generally preferred 3e art to 2e art, for some of the reasons Tweet mentions. I often found 2e art too high-fantasy for the swords-and-sorcery type game I preferred. That said, early 3e art really emphasized static, individual portrait of PCs, which were quite boring. Later on they started creating more dynamic scenes.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I generally preferred 3e art to 2e art, for some of the reasons Tweet mentions. I often found 2e art too high-fantasy for the swords-and-sorcery type game I preferred. That said, early 3e art really emphasized static, individual portrait of PCs, which were quite boring. Later on they started creating more dynamic scenes.
I'm not a huge fan of Brom, but his work for Dark Sun was exceptional, and managed to be both fine art and swords-and-sorcery at the same time. (Granted, he can be faulted for pictures that look posed and static.)

See also Dragon magazine 119, 126, 140, 166, 184, 189 and many others.

Edit: Even though 3e is by far my favorite edition, I'm struggling to think of a piece of artwork from it I really admire. Perhaps point me in the right direction?
 

JeffB

Adventurer
Looking back and also in reading this article I can say I agree even less with many of the philosophical changes that were made by the 3E team, and appreciate 2e even more. The whole "shared experience" and desire for WOTC to have everyone on the same page, for me, is not a good thing. Creativity, variation, and individual stamp on the game/gameplay are hallmarks and strengths of the game from it's inception.
 
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