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

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.
IDK, Larry Elmore &c. And it was starting to get less 70's fantasy art (I mean, I really liked some fantasy art, like Frazetta, that was very much what you're talking about, too, but), more respectful. There was a lot of blue-and-white line art, actually, in the 2e corebooks. Still, it was all much more professional, both art & layout, than 1e.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
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".
It was pretty jarring in the early days of 3E, especially in the PHB and DMG, where you had the likes of "Mr. Buckle" the iconic sorcerer and another guy who looked like Sensitive New Age Pony Tail Guy complete with a lip piercing.

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

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.
I look at 2E books pretty regularly and there doesn't seem like an extraordinary amount of cheesecake, though there certainly is some, such as the posted ones from the 2E Tome of Magic, although I happen to like both pics quite a bit.
 
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Lylandra

Explorer
Some of the 2e art doesn't age too well because much of it is very obvious 80's style. Especially the hair.

Zardnaar's heroes Lorebook is a good exception as it uses a more timeless style.

As with Lockwood's Demihuman deities... well, I like Lockwood, but this Corellon doesn't work for me. There is no androgynity, he's too bulky and the hair is... weird?

I really like the 5e art though.
 
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.
The "the xp is my and my party's gas tank" wizard lives on in my 3/3.5 campaigns. I massively increase the amount of xp necessary to level and everything balances out. But this is largely because i individualize xp gain. Why on earth a wizard wouldnt gain xp from taking mystical lore books by the truck load (on loan) out of the restricted section of a grateful arcane cloisters library after avenging their more learned (but not protected by a party) archmages death and reading their forbidden secrets is beyond me. Of course i count this as relevant enough literal experience to give the wizard a few thousands of xp. Plus its a major accomplishment of the party and probably that player will share the wealth that knowledge brings. I do similar things for other classes.
 

Hussar

Legend
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.
WAR is 3e and Pathfinder. Did Reynolds do any of the art for 4e? Not much as I recall.

But, let's be honest, 3e was only out for 3 years. It was the 3.5 art that was pretty great. I'd point out that all the art you are pointing to is pretty late in 2e's run. And, I have a sneaking suspicion that you are doing some SERIOUS cherry picking.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
WAR is 3e and Pathfinder. Did Reynolds do any of the art for 4e? Not much as I recall.
Action scenes is what he is calling war art... because it would be better to have nobody moving or doing anything since D&D is about passivity.
Or perhaps there definitely should be scenes portraying potters at their craft so that 3x fans will like it.
 
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Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
I'd point out that all the art you are pointing to is pretty late in 2e's run. And, I have a sneaking suspicion that you are doing some SERIOUS cherry picking.
I still run a 2E game and I have to say I don't think so. I'm not saying all the art is great---it's not---but a lot of it is pretty solid. It was a big step up from 1E, nostalgia factor aside, and is printed fairly well. I don't think it's as good as later printing, but a good bit of that's technology. The later 2E art is, IMO, not nearly as good as the earlier art, although there are spots where it's quite good.

Of the two examples, Tome of Magic was quite early in 2E's run before the black covers. Indeed, checking the copy right next to me, it was from 1991. Demihuman Dieties is from 1998.

However, the rulebooks, especially the early ones, did have some fairly bland monochrome line art, so maybe that's what you're remembering?

One other thing I'll say about 2E and many of the 1E books before them: I'm still using those books and my copies are, obviously, decades old. They are still in very functional shape and I used them for a lot of that time, because I played a lot of 2E from 1991 to 2007 and again from 2013-. Contrast this to modern PHB, which is a POS. I had to replace my first copy, which fell apart, but the replacement isn't all that great either.
 

Hussar

Legend
Yeah, that I'll grant. The costs of printing have changed so much that if you were to print a 5e PHB to the same binding and paper quality as a 1e PHB, it would run you a couple of hundred dollars for the book. :(

But, I'd point out that @Zardnaar was pointing to the 3e class splats. Thing is, compare those to the 2e class splats that they were obviously emulating. Remember, in 3e, they were still being very cautious about not rocking the boat too much from 2e. They wanted the books to be immediately recognizable. So, compare, say, the 2e Complete Fighter (did it actually have any art in it?) to Sword and Fist and that's a closer 1:1 comparison.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
WAR is 3e and Pathfinder. Did Reynolds do any of the art for 4e? Not much as I recall.

But, let's be honest, 3e was only out for 3 years. It was the 3.5 art that was pretty great. I'd point out that all the art you are pointing to is pretty late in 2e's run. And, I have a sneaking suspicion that you are doing some SERIOUS cherry picking.
Ok I'll get some 89 to 91 art from soft cover splat books.

Thief Handbook 1989
IMG_20191109_142432.jpg


Fighter Handbook 1989
IMG_20191109_142529.jpg
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
Yeah, that I'll grant. The costs of printing have changed so much that if you were to print a 5e PHB to the same binding and paper quality as a 1e PHB, it would run you a couple of hundred dollars for the book. :(
It's certainly gone up but I'm not amused at how fast my PHB has taken it.

But, I'd point out that @Zardnaar was pointing to the 3e class splats. Thing is, compare those to the 2e class splats that they were obviously emulating. Remember, in 3e, they were still being very cautious about not rocking the boat too much from 2e. They wanted the books to be immediately recognizable. So, compare, say, the 2e Complete Fighter (did it actually have any art in it?) to Sword and Fist and that's a closer 1:1 comparison.
The internet, like Pepperidge Farm, remembers. However, it does not seem to remember the art in CFHB, though it does remember the text of the book. (I'm sure with more looking it would.)

I no longer have a copy but happen to have a copy of Complete Psionics Handbook (of all things) and it has the same basic mixture of art that was in the hardcovers, i.e., mostly line with some color, but does not have cover art. The interior art in that book is on par with the hardcovers and looks like it was done by the same folks, so a mix of good, meh, and bad.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
It's certainly gone up but I'm not amused at how fast my PHB has taken it.


The internet, like Pepperidge Farm, remembers. However, it does not seem to remember the art in CFHB, though it does remember the text of the book. (I'm sure with more looking it would.)

I no longer have a copy but happen to have a copy of Complete Psionics Handbook (of all things) and it has the same basic mixture of art that was in the hardcovers, i.e., mostly line with some color, but does not have cover art. The interior art in that book is on par with the hardcovers and looks like it was done by the same folks, so a mix of good, meh, and bad.
Psionic Handbook is photos iirc.

Rest of the fighters book, old guy in armor from above is same book.

IMG_20191109_143441.jpg


IMG_20191109_143459.jpg


And some black and white blue ink.

IMG_20191109_143525.jpg


Not bad not bad IMHO.

Missed one from the Druids handbook. Recycled 80s art here it's on the cover of one of the BECMI adventures.

IMG_20191109_143954.jpg
 
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Don Durito

Explorer
There seem to be range of colour art in the 2E range that was good. Most of it, such as the one from the thief handbook above, made it onto covers of Dragon magazine at some point. So it was obviously being paid for with the expectation of reuse.

A lot of the rest of the art was, from memory average to bad (although probably no worse than 3e or 4e - just less colour).

A big exception was the planescape line which had interior colour art from DiTerlizzi.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
You're right, they are (just checked) but they look pretty conceptual. The rest of the art is the line art of that time.



One of my favorite pieces of art from that era. She's just seriously ba---s and there's a story in the picture.
Yep it was great back in mid 90s when we saw it. One of the better splat books ever made as well.
 

Lucas Yew

Explorer
I generally prefer WAR's more "crispy" and "pop" art compared to the more, um, how do I describe this, "angsty" and "oil paint" works of the TSR era.

Anyway, I wonder what exactly were the (usually bad) consequences to intra-class performance balance for the changes done between 2E and 3E.
 

Rabulias

Adventurer
I will note that much of the best 2E art (much of it posted above), were recycled from calendars and product/Dragon Magazine cover artwork, so there was a bit higher caliber to those pieces than standard interior color art.

As for me, Todd Lockwood's work really speaks to me. Here are a couple of his 3E pieces that I really dig:

The cover to Tome and Blood:
Image result for tome and blood cover art lockwood


The cover to The Forge of Fury:
Related image


An image from the 3.0 Player's Handbook, p.124:
Related image
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
I will note that much of the best 2E art (much of it posted above), were recycled from calendars and product/Dragon Magazine cover artwork, so there was a bit higher caliber to those pieces than standard interior color art.

As for me, Todd Lockwood's work really speaks to me. Here are a couple of his 3E pieces that I really dig:

The cover to Tome and Blood:
Image result for tome and blood cover art lockwood


The cover to The Forge of Fury:
Related image


An image from the 3.0 Player's Handbook, p.124:
Related image
love those
 

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