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

Honestly i dont care what the pearl clutchers say about "cheesecake" art being made for them often (ive seen many comments in my time on this site deriding art for this element's presence in it, some in this thread as well). The 2nd and 3rd editions had the best art. Whether it had scantily clad women in it or not (and thats good art too). I understand if its not to everyone's liking, but if you dont get political about it, its very well done stuff. Art is one of the worst things you can possibly get up tight about. Just enjoy it. And if it isnt to your liking or you cant enjoy it for any number of reasons there is still plenty of art that can be enjoyed. Everyone has their preferences and their repulsions.
 

GreyLord

Adventurer
I thought 3e had some great things going for it.

I did not like what 3.5 did to the iconic bard...I preferred a Half-Elf Bard to a Gnome. I think it also reflects the attitude at the time which differed when 3.5 came out.

3e seemed to want to replicate many of the playstyles of 2e (of which the Half-Elf Bard was a popular 2e thing and as such was a perfect fit for the iconic of 3e), but the rules had not been explored as greatly (a public playtest on the scale of playtests now may have shown some of the weaknesses) so many played it differently as they tried to exploit different rules.

This led to the min/max culture of 3.5 (and yes, we always had a min/max bit, but 3.5 I felt was sort of excessive to a degree) where as I think 3e was met more with a 2e type approach and many still play it in that way (those that still play 3e).

I also felt that in many ways it was an attempt to try to get it back to the 1e grittier style of play. I felt it replicated or tried to replicate that type of gamestyle that was being done in the late 70s and early 80s in it's feel. It also brought back many of the items from 1e that many wanted or would have wanted in the 2e corebook but was not there.

They had the Barbarian (1e UA), the Monk (1e PHB), and even the Assassin (1e PHB, but in the 3e DMG as a PC). I know @Jonathan Tweet says they wanted to focus on only good characters (and would know more than me which should be obvious), but it felt more like you could play an evil character if you wanted to than how 2e presented things.

2e was great in many ways, but it seems more clean cut, or Yuppie (any one remember that word) than 3e does. 2e was more of the High Fantasy time period (despite Dark Sun) with more of a feel of the Dragonlance games and High Civilized Forgotten Realms areas than 1e. 3e reminds me more of an attempt to go back to the sword and sorcery of 1e (ironically they did not do Dark Sun as the setting though) and appeal to the older gamers with Grey Hawk references abounding. It just felt like a grittier feel than 2e.

I feel 3e did a decent job if one wanted to play the same way they did with 2e in bringing in the grit and grime of 1e into a cleaner shell (2e was a cleaner cut or clearer rules in many ways than parts of 1e which is what I mean, 3e was clearly written in rules as 2e, but grittier in feel more akin to 1e).

I think 3e appealed to whole bunch of old gamers that felt 2e abandoned them when it dropped many of their favorite parts (Half-Orcs, Barbarians, Monks, Assassins, more Greyhawk type appeal and products, etc).
 
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GreyLord

Adventurer
2E heroes Lorebook before the WotC buyout.

View attachment 115570
Is this an art book? What book is it?

If it's an artbook its one I might be interested in finding second hand.

IN regards to 2e and 3e, I DO like a LOT of the 2e artwork. It was pretty great looking. That style I felt started in 1e (look at the covers of many of the hardbacks of 1e during the Orange Spine period, even the PHB orange spine has much of that type of artwork). Early 1e tends to be more crude (though it has it's fans, and my personal favorite artwork is in the Fiend Folio) but it also has it's fans from what I've seen.

3e has a different approach (as did 4e and 5e) in how it did artwork which has it's different appeal to different folks and different fans.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
Is this an art book? What book is it?

If it's an artbook its one I might be interested in finding second hand.

IN regards to 2e and 3e, I DO like a LOT of the 2e artwork. It was pretty great looking. That style I felt started in 1e (look at the covers of many of the hardbacks of 1e during the Orange Spine period, even the PHB orange spine has much of that type of artwork). Early 1e tends to be more crude (though it has it's fans, and my personal favorite artwork is in the Fiend Folio) but it also has it's fans from what I've seen.

3e has a different approach (as did 4e and 5e) in how it did artwork which has it's different appeal to different folks and different fans.
It's the Heroes Lorebook, it has a heap of full page art in the middle. About 10 or 12 pages worth.
Alot from the novel covers.

 

QuentinGeorge

Explorer
Did Reynolds do any of the art for 4e?
He certainly did the covers of the core books, which is why I think he has a "4E" association in many people's minds, even if Pathfinder later went on all-WAR, all-the-time, spree later.

I certainly loved a lot of the 2nd edition art, but there were some seriously silly depictions as well (and plenty of Elmore's women looked identical, did anyone notice that?)

There was a lot of 3rd Edition art - the dragon redesigns are iconic and blew every previous dragon depiction out of the water.

There was a weird trend for ugly faces at the beginning - particularly the iconics. Remember the ridiculous situation where Lidda the halfling rogue ends up being the most conventionally good-looking iconic. :confused:
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
Maybe it's the era I was first exposed to D&D, but my favorite, hands down, has always been Larry Elmore and Clyde Caldwell's art (With some Jeff Dee thrown in for that "D&D 80s superhero" aesthetic). Elmore, cheesecake or not, defined D&D for me (my apologies to the Trampier, Diesel, and Sutherland fans) with his 'idealized photo-realism.'

However, one thing I will say is that 2e and 3e is where D&D art was moving away from "posed still-life" and towards "action shots." In 3e art a protagonist was more likely to be swinging a sword or in the middle of reacting to something an enemy was doing, instead of just posing majestically because the fantasy photographer stopped the adventure or fight and exclaimed, "all right, everyone stop, look at me and look dour!" As much as the early to mid-80s defined D&D for me, there was too little action in the art compared to the action in our minds. I preferred scenes like the inside cover for Land beyond the Magic Mirror (fighting the giant clam) because at least it was in media res.
 

Sunsword

Explorer
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.
I've only been in one game where I and the rest of the group were evil. We knew going in we wouldn't be the good guys and we all agreed to it. I think sometimes it can be an interesting change of pace, but I'm glad that campaign was the exception. I think it worked for us because while were the bad guys, we weren't bad to each other. We were unified in out decisions and didn't have infighting.
 
I've only been in one game where I and the rest of the group were evil. We knew going in we wouldn't be the good guys and we all agreed to it. I think sometimes it can be an interesting change of pace, but I'm glad that campaign was the exception. I think it worked for us because while were the bad guys, we weren't bad to each other. We were unified in out decisions and didn't have infighting.
Tbh the idea that evil people are less cooperative than good people is unrealistic too. Actually id say on average they are slightly more cooperative. All the major reasons either good or evil people may become uncooperative in a group are either in common or have a reflection. Except one. Evil people are a bit less likely to let ideologies of virtue in particular turn themselves against eachother. Ideology still can, but generally ideology of virtue (which can massively conflict) do not. Evil people cooperate slightly better on average as a result. Betrayal is totally something good people can do to. But evil people dont feel compelled to for moral reasons and therefore are actually less likely to do so to an already established ally and even if they do they dont have the likelyhood to be impossible to reason with due to be utterly convicted in their belief thay they are right. Can still happen. Unlikely though. And it almost never will be on grounds that make them feel righteously justified.

Disclaimers:
People who are convinced what they do is not evil are arguably doing evil acts but are not themselves evil and arent included in the demographic of which i speak. Chaotic evil is not any sort of special exception as they are completely ununique in their capacity for double cross. Consider the other two chaotic alignments. Just as treacherous. Especially chaotic good. Also this is meant to apply to evil people in an evil group who truthfully considers eachother allies for some time (years) at the inception of the group. Evil people understand the value of loyalty. They are evil. Not stupid.
 
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Some examples of evil people working together cooperatively long term. Ill keep it non-governmental to keep this as apolitical as possible. Ill use execs of some businesses to keep it consistant.

Apple
Google (edit: Alphabet and google (which is a part of alphabet))
Facebook
Most large hollywood producing companies
All have plenty of evil people. All very cooperative.
 
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QuentinGeorge

Explorer
Some examples of evil people working together cooperatively long term. Ill keep it non-governmental to keep this as apolitical as possible. Ill use execs of some businesses to keep it consistent.

Apple
Google
Facebook
Most large hollywood producing companies
All have plenty of evil people. All very cooperative.
Jokes aside, I think none of those organisations would be "evil" in D&D terms. Neutral, maybe.
 
Jokes aside, I think none of those organisations would be "evil" in D&D terms. Neutral, maybe.
Well. You may quantify them differently (or may not believe them to be involved in the same things i consider them to be) but i consider a thriving child sex trade among other things to qualify.

But I'll stop talking about it i guess.

My point is nit political but rather psychological. And social. My point is evil can cooperate quite effectively.
 
Of course it can. Most of human history is evidence of this.

But D&D evil parties tend to be "Cartoon Evil" - the very idea of alignment kind of makes that inevitable.
Over the years not in my general circle of roleplayers. Depends on your circle. Ours tends toward actually roleplaying realistic alignments. Campaigns take longer but in a good way. We're suckers for realism in more than one way.
 
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Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
I've only been in one game where I and the rest of the group were evil. We knew going in we wouldn't be the good guys and we all agreed to it. I think sometimes it can be an interesting change of pace, but I'm glad that campaign was the exception. I think it worked for us because while were the bad guys, we weren't bad to each other. We were unified in out decisions and didn't have infighting.
I've played in a few "evil" campaigns dating from the mid to late '90s and then recently. I'm still in one that started that way, but due to finding and blowing the Horn of Change, some of our PCs shifted, mine most notably. I was a Bard/Warlock (in the 5E build, this started as a 4E campaign, where the build was Skald Bard). I don't recall assigning an alignment per se but I think Neutral with Evil tendencies would fit. I didn't actually blow the Horn for a variety of in character reasons, but was changed by it and experiences that happened on our way to getting it. I decided the character was going in a very different direction and ended up rebuilding as a Bard/Paladin after a pretty arduous quest. Now I'm Neutral Good. This also happened with two of the players swapping out characters, one of whom is Neutral and the other, a minotaur fighter who was a former slave, is Chaotic Good. So the axis of the party has shifted towards the good side with the remainer character staying the Neutral he always was.

I agree about party infighting. Evil campaigns often fail due to too much infighting and PVP, definitely. One reason this campaign has worked is that, despite many characters having quite selfish motivations, they always work as a team. They aren't pals but instead business associates who were outsiders from the power systems we found ourselves in. I should note, though, that none of our characters had what I'd call "Cosmically Evil" motivations. We were just selfish bastards.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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.
I really don't see this a loss of shared experience. Rather, it's a large variety of different shared experiences for people of different stripes. One group shares their experiences in Sigil, another on Athas and a third in Al Qadim.

I never felt a loss of shared experience with 2e.
 

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