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

Henry

Autoexreginated
I do kinda hafta wonder about a couple of things.

Like, what was the deal with spikes? Spiked shields, spiked gauntlets, armor spikes, spiked chain, Spike Growth, Spike Stones, casting Spikes on your shillelagh...
….Evard's Spiked Tentacles of- oh, no, wait, that one was parody.
I mean, was it an in joke? A subtle Spike Lee tribute? Making up for the absence of the Piercer?
I remember reading an article at the time, and I think someone commented that to them it was yet another case of the natural extension of taking living in a D&D universe to its logical conclusion. In a world where Purple Worms, Remorhazes, Giant Frogs, behirs, tyrannosaurs, tendriculoses, Giant sharks, nightcrawlers, and a dozen other things exist that swallow adventurers whole, the spikier the better to hurt something going down and coming up. :)
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
Looking back and reading this.article I can say I agree even less with many of the philosophicsl 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 form it's inception.
For me, the shared experience was an awesome element that I missed from 1e that 2e did lose. Bringing up things like the Slavelords, the Giant campaign, the D1/D2/Q1 modules, gave me an immediate connection with other gamers, something we loved to compare and contrast with one another, not because of a sense of being in lockstep, but how we each handled specific scenarios, what things we did in common and what things we did wildly differently.

2e, for all its variety, lost that, because while it‘s fun to talk to people about their Planescape campaigns, or their Birthright Campaigns, or their Dark Sun campaigns, we have almost nothing in common, except maybe having six stats and hit points. we varied so widely it ranged from some who never stopped initiative in never ending combat on Athas to people who never rolled a single die in Sigil, to the extent that many of us weren’t even playing the same game. For all the creativity it brings, it had the ultimate effect of thousands of little islands, floating in the ether with no touchstone between each other, which to me hurt the community.

Just my opinion, but both the Internet starting to bring disparate communities together in the 90s and WotC’s same goal in the late 90s to 2000s was I think part of the same general movement or zeitgeist of uniting little separate tribes of people into larger tribes, be it stamp collectors, roleplayers, or political movements. What it took a lot of effort for previously became very easy to do.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
… hmmm... how many editions have there been? That minus one.

10th level Standard, 6th level Elite, 1st level Solo.
Not sure what that implies about 20th level commoners, though.
Minions are a bit pushed up from what they might be they sacrifice a lot of the awesome moves they had in other roles to be viable at all vs enemies they are outclassed against - this was a thought - keying off of "if it was meant to stand in for 0-level. " something that would still go down easier but provide some sort of challenge is sometimes the minion description.
 
- this was a thought - keying off of "if it was meant to stand in for 0-level. " something that would still go down easier but provide some sort of challenge is sometimes the minion description.
Like a light beer, I suppose. In 3e, Warrior was used to level up basic sorts of monsters, Adept to re-create the witch-doctors &c of earlier eds, again, making the humanoid getting the levels more of a challenge. I suppose a commoner could fill something like the shoes of a minion, by having a relevant skill (sense motive or something) that mapped more or less to the PCs, to enable some non-combat scene, without him needing to be a legit combat threat to the party, as well. Yeah. That makes sense, and, yes, I see the analogy to minions now that you point it out.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
Ah the trope of the thief stealing from their own party. I've hated this so much for as long as I've been playing D&D. And there will always be some folks that don't get that this is a group activity that requires teamwork. Like, you could put "A Rogue should never steal from the rest of the party and if you do you will have to make a DC 15 con save or die right then and there" in big bold text in the character description and there would still be players that would try to get away with it.

Getting rid of individual XP awards was a great move. I like the idea of rewarding PCs that go the extra mile, but it took forever to calculate and there was always someone that would complain about another PC getting more XP from them. Saying "well, they had some really wonderful role-playing" rarely went well for me, I'll say that.

2e's art was definitely full of wonderful pieces of art. Honestly, I think 3e's art was overall the most lackluster of the editions. Too many pieces that were just someone floating on the page, without any background, or a close up of someone with their mouth open because they were shouting. One of the things I'll give to 4e was that it brought back having art that had backgrounds, foregrounds, that told a full story.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
Like, what was the deal with spikes? Spiked shields, spiked gauntlets, armor spikes, spiked chain, Spike Growth, Spike Stones, casting Spikes on your shillelagh...
….Evard's Spiked Tentacles of- oh, no, wait, that one was parody.
I mean, was it an in joke? A subtle Spike Lee tribute? Making up for the absence of the Piercer?
I think the term was "dungeonpunk".

This was the time when body piercing was a pretty big fad, if you recall, and I'm sure the art director wanted things to look hip or edgy. I was not a fan of the early 3E art in general---I always felt I was seeing pictures of adventurers, if the adventurers were the baristas at the local indie coffee shop or manning the counter at an indie record store (a few still around then). The double sword was a totally cheap Phantom Menace ripoff.
 
I think the term was "dungeonpunk".

This was the time when body piercing was a pretty big fad, if you recall, and I'm sure the art director wanted things to look hip. I was not a fan of the early 3E art in general
Actually I wasn't even talking about the art. Everything I mentioned was some fully-statted-out thing your character might use in-world. And, they were disproportionately rather good options, at that (the spiked chain, most notoriously).
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Based on Celtic Legend shields with bladed edges were definitely a thing... so that is a bit wicked.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Jonathan Tweet said:
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.”
Hmmm...while 3e did some other good things, that you choose to highlight these particular changes baffles me, as all are changes I personally would not have made.

In order:

Evil PCs - it's an endless argument as to whether these should be allowed or not within an individual campaign, but the game system as a whole intentionally (trying to) remove or ban them is too much. The system default should be 'anything goes', leaving it up to each DM what to allow or not.

That said, on reading the original 3e books and then playing the game I never got the same sense of "PCs Shall Not Be Evil" that I did from the original 2e books. And you left Assassin in.

Individual xp awards - removing this gave rise to that most awful of developments: the 'passenger' character who takes little or no risk but continues to advance while his-her braver companions die off. It also led to some truly bizarre arguments about whether characters not even present for an encounter should get xp for it - the rules said yes but logic and reason said no.

Also, shoehorning all classes into the same advancement chart removed what was otherwise a useful class-balance mechanism.

Strongholds - there's currently a thread in here regarding mechanics people would like to see brought back, and strongholds/followers is high on the list. Building a stronghold (or a temple or guild or lab or college, depending on class) forces the PC to interact with the setting in much different (and usually more civilized) ways than the norm.

However, if strongholds are seen as too much focused on the individual PC, why not put in some guidelines and rules for how a whole party can build a keep or castle or stronghold as a home base?

Thief-as-class - once you get past the 'theft' part and realize the class is also scout, spy, information gatherer, sneak, and lockpicker the 'Thief' name fits well. 'Rogue', the replacement name, doesn't somehow; as 'rogue' can describe anyone who doesn't follow rules - it would fit better as a generic name for Chaotics.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
Ah the trope of the thief stealing from their own party. I've hated this so much for as long as I've been playing D&D. And there will always be some folks that don't get that this is a group activity that requires teamwork. Like, you could put "A Rogue should never steal from the rest of the party and if you do you will have to make a DC 15 con save or die right then and there" in big bold text in the character description and there would still be players that would try to get away with it.

Getting rid of individual XP awards was a great move. I like the idea of rewarding PCs that go the extra mile, but it took forever to calculate and there was always someone that would complain about another PC getting more XP from them. Saying "well, they had some really wonderful role-playing" rarely went well for me, I'll say that.

2e's art was definitely full of wonderful pieces of art. Honestly, I think 3e's art was overall the most lackluster of the editions. Too many pieces that were just someone floating on the page, without any background, or a close up of someone with their mouth open because they were shouting. One of the things I'll give to 4e was that it brought back having art that had backgrounds, foregrounds, that told a full story.
As I said in session 0 stealing from party is kicked out of group.
 

Hussar

Legend
Never understood the whole "dungeon punk" reaction. Maybe it's because I came a bit late to the party and mostly started 3e with 3.5 where it was much less of a "thing".

But, knocking 3e for its art? Naw. 3e just had SO MUCH artwork going for it. Sure, there was bad stuff, of course. But, Sturgeon's Law applies and when you have that much full color art in every single book, you get some really, really gorgeous stuff.

I'll stand the 3.5 Tome of Magic against anything before or since. That is one seriously gorgeous book.

I find the 2e art doesn't age particularly well. Mostly for the cheesecake nature of it. That, and most of the books were black and white line art and largely forgettable.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
Never understood the whole "dungeon punk" reaction. Maybe it's because I came a bit late to the party and mostly started 3e with 3.5 where it was much less of a "thing".

But, knocking 3e for its art? Naw. 3e just had SO MUCH artwork going for it. Sure, there was bad stuff, of course. But, Sturgeon's Law applies and when you have that much full color art in every single book, you get some really, really gorgeous stuff.

I'll stand the 3.5 Tome of Magic against anything before or since. That is one seriously gorgeous book.

I find the 2e art doesn't age particularly well. Mostly for the cheesecake nature of it. That, and most of the books were black and white line art and largely forgettable.
2E books had full page full colour art in them. 3E had that dungeon punk sepia thing with poo brown covers.

Books like the draconomicon were the exception. The 3.0 splats look fairly nasty now while 2E used glossy paper, metallic blue ink and scattered the full colour art through them.

Late 3.5 art got better then we got the WAR art in 4E.
 
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Aebir-Toril

When life gives you Lenin, make Leninade!
2E books had full page full colour art in them. 3E had that dungeon punk sepia thing with poo brown covers.

Books like the draconomicon were the exception. The 3.0 splats look fairly nasty now while 2E used glossy paper, metallic blue ink and scattered the full colour art through them.

Late 3.5 art got better then we got the WAR art in 4E.
I found the faded vellum look of the 3.e books interesting, but largely ineffective. They just looked kind of gross and stained.

Looking back, those ugly, pseudo-CGI page borders were pretty awful as well.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
I find the 2e art doesn't age particularly well. Mostly for the cheesecake nature of it. That, and most of the books were black and white line art and largely forgettable.
That may be true in the core books, but there's a lot of diversity of art thanks to the diversity of settings. I don't think 3e achieved quite the same as spanning the works of Brom in Dark Sun, Tony DiTerlizzi in Planescape, and Jim Holloway for Kara Tur.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
Cover art bleah
IMG_20191109_120935.jpg


Interior ok
IMG_20191109_121055.jpg


And close up 2E, cheesecake sure but better than most.

IMG_20191109_120507.jpg


So yeah with my above post I don't think 3E is winning to many art awards.

3.5 got better but that late as well, most 3.5 was poo brown window type covers.

2E softcover late 90s. Compare with Masters of the Wild.

IMG_20191109_121633.jpg
 

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