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

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
As one example of what the system fails to account for, it fails to account for the fact that spells have different duration so converting spells with short duration to items which have long duration, is a massive benefit compared converting a spell that already has a long duration into an item.
Also casting times.

The only common stat-buff spell in 1e is Strength, which took 10 minutes to cast. Putting that in a quick-to-use item with lots of charges is incredibly powerful.

3e made buff spells for each stat (OK, I can live with that) and reduced the casting time to a round (making the casting of these far too easy IMO), as well as allowing each to be put into a fast-use lots-of-charges item.
 

PMárk

Explorer
That's wonderful to hear, thanks. 3E let me run the D&D campaign that I'd always dreamed of, and I'm glad it works for you, too.
We're playing it currently (the 3.5 version to be fair), with some extensions homebrewed, or lifted/conversed from Pathfinder 1e (like how ranger combat styles work, bringing in sorcerer bloodlines, tweaking/adding a couple of feats, that sort of stuff), but overall, I realized again, that it is still my favorite edition of D&D so far and I'm enjoying it quite a lot, so thank you and all the team for it in retrospect! :)
 
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PMárk

Explorer
What I especially like, is that it's a conscise system, where everything works along the same lines (PCs-NPCs-Monsters) and has rules for creating virtually anything. Yes, others might find it stiffling and too much, but I appreciate highly that inner consistency and that after understadning the rules, I can create virtually anything that's still works well within that framework. I never find that supressing my imagination, or creativity, but it helps a lot keeping everything to fit without taking away the depth of the system, which I also like a lot. Also, I actually like that 3e put the item creation on the PCs side. I always thought that it's illogical that PCs can't reliably create things on their own (but can cast spells of high power) and it goes better with high-fantasy settings, like FR, or golarion, IMO. I never felt it's making magic less magical, since it's still needs a lot of resource and time, so in average, high-power items are still rare.

Overall, anyone could say anything about 3/3.5e, but the fact, that it's still among the most played systems (it's still high ranked on the virtual tabletop reports here on EnWorld, for example) and the success of Pathfinder proves it's worth.
 
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PMárk

Explorer
The strategy to refocus the audience on a shared experience was an important part of turning the game around, but I agree that we lost something in the process.
Still, you gave support for multiple setting, among them the FRCSG, which is still a benchmark for setting guides. Also, the outsourcing of Ravenloft to WW was, IMO, a good thing, I like those books, with all their warts a lot.

Overall, I can understand the desire for an unified player base and that the core product line targets that. That makes sense from a business stadnpoint. I just, as a fan of those settings and niche material, want them to be supported too. If from a 3pp, that's not a problem. What I highly dislike about WotC at the moment is that they aren1t doing even the thing you've done back then. :(
 

Sepulchrave II

Adventurer
As one example of what the system fails to account for, it fails to account for the fact that spells have different duration so converting spells with short duration to items which have long duration, is a massive benefit compared converting a spell that already has a long duration into an item.
To be fair, 3.5 addressed this an obscure footnote to table 7-33 - I can't find it in the 3.0 DMG. But I agree that there were all kinds of holes in the item creation system.

I think item creation - like devising spells - was always intended to be a collaborative exercise between the player and DM. The problem is that as soon as you make rules for a thing, you take it partly out of the DM's hands - and they are the best person to know what "balance" means in the context of their own campaign.
 
The one dice fit all mechanic to shoe horn every mechanic into.
Speeds up the pace of play, simplifies learning and is a game design shared by nearly all modern games, even those that don't use a D20.

Having multiple resolution systems might have its shaggy nostalgic charm, but it's not generally a better experience or design. I've played since 1979, and having to keep track of what scores went up, what scores went down and having to dig out charts to resolve common rolls didn't make the game better.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
Huh, I found having the characters announce what AC they hit to be the fastest. Made things very simple. Write down your bonuses with that weapon, WITH that weapon and then just roll. Easy peasy. So, my longsword+1 with specs and Str bonus had a +4 attack bonus, so, just compare to Thac0. Means that the DM doesn't have to do anything.
That's what I always did, and indeed still do, as I still run 2E. I just know what AC the target is and call it a day.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
I think item creation - like devising spells - was always intended to be a collaborative exercise between the player and DM. The problem is that as soon as you make rules for a thing, you take it partly out of the DM's hands - and they are the best person to know what "balance" means in the context of their own campaign.
Right, this is a problem with pushing everything to being player-facing. Of course in 5E they went the other way in a lot of areas, which was back to the way things were in 1E and 2E, but with even less guidance for what things might cost or how to make items. (1E and 2E had some guidance, just not much.) In a loose and more narrative game where the DM hands out everything that's fine, but in other kinds of games it's very helpful to have more system there, particularly ones where the DM wants there to be a bit more of a "living world". Having some values also helps deal with unwanted items (sell them?) or trading among PCs. Of course, the numbers on potion brewing and scroll writing were just daft, assuming one took them seriously.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
Having multiple resolution systems might have its shaggy nostalgic charm, but it's not generally a better experience or design. I've played since 1979, and having to keep track of what scores went up, what scores went down and having to dig out charts to resolve common rolls didn't make the game better.
I totally agree. "Shaggy nostalgic charm" nails it. Secret door detection was different than thieves' Find Traps, etc. Bizarre.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Why? Because saying it that way adds a degree of complication for the DM, who instead needs to know what number you added up to; so she can then apply any unknown bonuses/penalties (very common) before even getting to the target's AC.

Put another way: I don't care what AC you think you hit, I only want to know what your roll adds up to. I'll do the rest myself. (this is also why we've never ever used THAC0 - it adds an unnecessary layer of complication as the DM then has to unpack the AC you say you hit into actual numbers before doing the normal arithmetic on it)
Honestly, I don't see why it would be much of an issue. The DM is already going to be dealing with those unknown bonuses/penalties - what's the difference if he's applying them to the target AC and then looking up whether or not the PC hit based on his roll vs applying them to the target AC and comparing with the AC the player says his PC hit?

Also, the combat matrix isn't player-side information.
That may have been the case in 1e, but it wasn't as of 2e. The THAC0 table may not have included info based on the monster HD, but it was right there in the 2e PH. It even included the rate of advancement for the different class groupings. There was just no significant reason to hide it from the players. Might as well recruit them to carry some of the mechanical load.
 

Bacon Bits

Adventurer
That's exactly what we don't do.

Why? Because saying it that way adds a degree of complication for the DM, who instead needs to know what number you added up to; so she can then apply any unknown bonuses/penalties (very common) before even getting to the target's AC.
Wait, why is that more complicated? If I know that the Fighter's "+1" sword is really a cursed -1 sword, I'm going to adjust everything by 2. Whether I know the AC hit or the total roll, I have to do the same math and adjust by 2. The only difference with THAC0 is that you might have to flip the sign on the bonus or penalty because descending armor class is stupid like that.

Like I am fine with you saying you prefer getting the total roll instead of the AC hit. I know DMs who preferred that and it was about 50/50 versus DMs who wanted the AC hit. However, I don't see why one is more complicated than the other.

I also never remember this issue coming up once 3e hit. It's solely a THAC0 and descending armor class issue.
 

PMárk

Explorer
Oh, another thing! Since we've talked about artworks a lot, I must say, the 3/3.5 corebook covers might be my favorite among D&D editions, including PF. I especially love the 3.5 DMG cover and the MMs and the FRCSG of course. The 4e books had some astounding artworks as covers, but I guess, I'm just not the biggest fan of the trend of action scenes as covers in place of the "arcane tome"-ish style. That doesn't mean I think those are bad though, it's just my preference. I just like that the books themselves look somewhat as artifacts from the game world and not as actionc-comics at first glance. The 5e covers just don't "click" for me, at all.

I was even okay with the internal page layouts. The colors were fine, I liked the brown lineworks and the overall look. The red-brown-marble-ish borders are a tad unrefined by today's standards, but it's okay.
 

Hussar

Legend
/snip

I was even okay with the internal page layouts. The colors were fine, I liked the brown lineworks and the overall look. The red-brown-marble-ish borders are a tad unrefined by today's standards, but it's okay.
I went back and took a look at my 3.5 books recently, looking for something else, and, I have to say, the internal pages are now all but illegible to me. I'm not 20 years old anymore and, without my reading glasses, I couldn't even begin to read those books. Toss in color blindness and having black text on dark(ish) backgrounds means that I'm breaking out magnifying glasses from time to time to actually try to read those books.

Even back in the day, I would go to things like the Hypertext SRD LONG before I'd punish myself by trying to read those books.

Say what you like about 4e, the books were REALLY easy to read.
 

PMárk

Explorer
I went back and took a look at my 3.5 books recently, looking for something else, and, I have to say, the internal pages are now all but illegible to me. I'm not 20 years old anymore and, without my reading glasses, I couldn't even begin to read those books. Toss in color blindness and having black text on dark(ish) backgrounds means that I'm breaking out magnifying glasses from time to time to actually try to read those books.

Even back in the day, I would go to things like the Hypertext SRD LONG before I'd punish myself by trying to read those books.

Say what you like about 4e, the books were REALLY easy to read.
Dunno, I could see black-on-brown being hard on some people with eye problems, but really, most of the pages are black-on-white (moreso, a fairly pleasant off-white, IMO) and the font and size is quite readable, at least for me. I'm short-sighted, not far-sighted, though. I could see the color-blindness complaint for some of the suppelemtns, that were black-on-brown all along, but not for the corebooks and most of the line. Only thing I don't like is the pale lines behind the text. I'm recently re-reading and using the corebooks ing-game and all-in-all, the text is quite flowing and easy to read for me.

I must admit, the 4e books are quite good though. Here, my only complaint is that, honestly, I just prefer "busier" layouts. Stylized page borders and such. That's one thing (among many) that i don't like in the new Vampire books either, that the layout is mostly just text on otherwise empty pages, which just too white and, well, boring for me. Nowhere the classic wrought-iron cemetery-gate borders. :( I just don't like this kind of "minimalistic" design.
 

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