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D&D 3E/3.5 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

Jonathan Tweet

D&D 3E, Over the Edge, Everway, Ars Magica, Omega World, Grandmother Fish

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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.
This. The whole, "I'm evil so I have to betray all of my friends all the time, hur hur!" is as wrong as Lawful Stupid is for Paladins. Evil people can like, love and have friends that they are loyal to. Now that baron that hired us...
 

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Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
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.
My shared experience was with the people I played (and, for some, still play) with. However, that's not something that keeps marketers happy.

The interests of players and of a game company are not the same.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
My shared experience was with the people I played (and, for some, still play) with. However, that's not something that keeps marketers happy.

The interests of players and of a game company are not the same.
That's not a shared experience, though. That's just making sure that players don't have so many options that the company is only selling a small number of units of like 20 different things. I think maybe they used the wrong term. ;)
 



Arnwolf666

Adventurer
That's not a shared experience, though. That's just making sure that players don't have so many options that the company is only selling a small number of units of like 20 different things. I think maybe they used the wrong term. ;)
yes. We all need the same shared experience in a game originally designed to create a plethora of worlds and settings and adventures. More forgotten realms please. Stay true to the setting and don’t change anything. Well maybe import greyhawk adventures and put them in the forgotten realms. We can’t have those adventures done there after all.
 


Dungeonosophy

Adventurer
I'd like to see 6E (and its novel/comic tie-ins) bring together the Iconics from all editions, times, and worlds...a D&D "Crisis on Infinite Oerths." Everyone from Tordek to Tasslehoff.

Including:
  • 3E's iconics: (Tordek, Lidda, etc)
  • BECMI: Hawk (Ftr), Aleena (Clr), Clarion (Clr), Felonius (MU), Fleetwood (Ftr), Greegan (T), Rolf (D), Belrain (E),& Touchberry (Hf)
  • Moldvay Basic: Morgan Ironwolf (Ftr), Silverleaf (E), Sister Rebecca (Clr), Fredrik (D), Black Dougal (T), Borg (Ftr), Tars (Ftr), Gantry (Clr)
  • LJN Action Figures: Warduke (Ftr), Strongheart (Pal), Mercion (Clr), Elkhorn (D), etc
  • D&D Cartoon Show: Presto (MU), Diana (Acrobat), Sheila (T), Hank (Rgr), Bobby (Bbn), Eric (Cav)
  • The Greyhawk iconics: Bigby, Melf, Otiluke, Tenser, etc
  • Heroes of the Lance
  • Companions of the Hall
  • etc.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I'd like to see 6E (and its novel/comic tie-ins) bring together the Iconics from all editions, times, and worlds...a D&D "Crisis on Infinite Oerths." Everyone from Tordek to Tasslehoff.

Including:
  • 3E's iconics: (Tordek, Lidda, etc)
  • BECMI: Hawk (Ftr), Aleena (Clr), Clarion (Clr), Felonius (MU), Fleetwood (Ftr), Greegan (T), Rolf (D), Belrain (E),& Touchberry (Hf)
  • Moldvay Basic: Morgan Ironwolf (Ftr), Silverleaf (E), Sister Rebecca (Clr), Fredrik (D), Black Dougal (T), Borg (Ftr), Tars (Ftr), Gantry (Clr)
  • LJN Action Figures: Warduke (Ftr), Strongheart (Pal), Mercion (Clr), Elkhorn (D), etc
  • D&D Cartoon Show: Presto (MU), Diana (Acrobat), Sheila (T), Hank (Rgr), Bobby (Bbn), Eric (Cav)
  • The Greyhawk iconics: Bigby, Melf, Otiluke, Tenser, etc
  • Heroes of the Lance
  • Companions of the Hall
  • etc.
This sounds like the best thing that has ever existed and I want it now!

#CRISISONINFINITEOERTHS
 

Parmandur

Legend
I'd like to see 6E (and its novel/comic tie-ins) bring together the Iconics from all editions, times, and worlds...a D&D "Crisis on Infinite Oerths." Everyone from Tordek to Tasslehoff.

Including:
  • 3E's iconics: (Tordek, Lidda, etc)
  • BECMI: Hawk (Ftr), Aleena (Clr), Clarion (Clr), Felonius (MU), Fleetwood (Ftr), Greegan (T), Rolf (D), Belrain (E),& Touchberry (Hf)
  • Moldvay Basic: Morgan Ironwolf (Ftr), Silverleaf (E), Sister Rebecca (Clr), Fredrik (D), Black Dougal (T), Borg (Ftr), Tars (Ftr), Gantry (Clr)
  • LJN Action Figures: Warduke (Ftr), Strongheart (Pal), Mercion (Clr), Elkhorn (D), etc
  • D&D Cartoon Show: Presto (MU), Diana (Acrobat), Sheila (T), Hank (Rgr), Bobby (Bbn), Eric (Cav)
  • The Greyhawk iconics: Bigby, Melf, Otiluke, Tenser, etc
  • Heroes of the Lance
  • Companions of the Hall
  • etc.

5E is already doing a lot of this: these characters get mentioned in the books. More could be done, but give it time.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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.
"Selfish bastards" could just as easily be NG: Neutral-Greedy. I've played a few of these over the years... :)

And infighting isn't limited to Evil parties or even Evil characters. I've seen some otherwise quite Goodly parties explode into internal warfare, usually along the route of one thing leading to another, each time slowly escalating until eventually an all-hands brawl erupts. (frequent flash-point: friendly AoE fire from the PC wizard-type clipping the front-liners)

A partly-hypothetical example (based on a party I ran ages ago): two Good-aligned front-line-warrior PCs develop a rivalry of heroism: each one is determined to protect the other from harm*. The rivalry intensifies over time, eventually other PCs start choosing sides (and-or laying bets!), until you've got a powderkeg waiting for a flash. And as everything is perfectly in character for those characters, the DM would IMO be far overstepping her bounds if she arbitrarily put a stop to things.

* - in the game as played, this rivalry happened and lasted for quite some time but the intensification and involvement of other PCs mostly didn't occur. Here I use it merely as an example of how otherwise-Good characters could potentially still end up at each others' throats.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
yes. We all need the same shared experience in a game originally designed to create a plethora of worlds and settings and adventures. More forgotten realms please. Stay true to the setting and don’t change anything. Well maybe import greyhawk adventures and put them in the forgotten realms. We can’t have those adventures done there after all.
While the game is designed to create lots of different worlds and adventures etc., having some shared experience in there somewhere is still important.

In the early days that shared experience usually came from the classic modules: players from widely different campaigns could swap war stories over how they dealt with the Caves of Chaos or the Hill Giant Steading, because even though the campaigns were different the modules were more or less the same.

There's too many adventures out there now to be much of a basis for shared experience, and so the focus moves to settings (which means FR for the most part, like it or not) and even, in some cases, to game system or edition - which is very unfortunate in one respect: comparing war stories of what your characters did is far more engaging than comparing houserules and metagame stuff.
 

Arnwolf666

Adventurer
While the game is designed to create lots of different worlds and adventures etc., having some shared experience in there somewhere is still important.

In the early days that shared experience usually came from the classic modules: players from widely different campaigns could swap war stories over how they dealt with the Caves of Chaos or the Hill Giant Steading, because even though the campaigns were different the modules were more or less the same.

There's too many adventures out there now to be much of a basis for shared experience, and so the focus moves to settings (which means FR for the most part, like it or not) and even, in some cases, to game system or edition - which is very unfortunate in one respect: comparing war stories of what your characters did is far more engaging than comparing houserules and metagame stuff.
I can agree with that. But I love to hear people talk about house rules designed to make their setting unique. I don’t mean a new power attack feat or someone deciding 2E specialization needs to be a feat. But things that flesh out the setting. One example being kingdom rules. Another being how religion works in their campaign.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I can agree with that. But I love to hear people talk about house rules designed to make their setting unique. I don’t mean a new power attack feat or someone deciding 2E specialization needs to be a feat. But things that flesh out the setting. One example being kingdom rules. Another being how religion works in their campaign.
Sounds like a different thread?
 

qstor

Adventurer
3E/3.5e was the edition I ended up playing the most and the one that brought me into Pathfinder. I have many fond memories of 3.5e and I'd gladly play it again.
 

PMárk

Explorer
I'm a huge fan of 2e art: Larry Elmore, Clyde Caldwell, Brom, Tony DiTerlizzi, Jeff Easley are true masters.
That said, the 5e art in PHB, DMG, MM, CoS, ToA, DiA, GGtR is extraordinary both in quality and quantity, this is a new Golen Age indeed.

I don't want to badmouth 5e, or your taste, it's not even really targeted at you specifically.

But I never really got to understand why people are oh-so-enamored with 5e's illustrations. Sure, it has good pieces and the books look good in person, yeah, and okay, it's more diverse in ethnicities and more sensible in depicting women. However, those two aren't saying anything about the quality itself. Dunno, most of it just feels boring and too generic to me, most of the time. Most of the pictures are static illustrations of characters, or portraits in the APs. I could easily think of a great pile of books of the same (or close) genre from the past years that I think looks way, way better on the whole and from companies a lot smaller.

Though, I'm the kind of person, who thinks the new V5 Vampire, or even most of the 20th edition books can't hold a candle for the old black and white books, especially Revised, so...

Honestly, while I didn't like it, on the whole and mostly skipped it and went to Pathfinder, I think 4e was probably the best-looking edition so far. Even with the sometimes overtly WoW-ish glowing-weapons-with-lots-of-cristals and oversized-shoulder-pads aesthetic, which I'm not a fan of in the least. Also, as the later 3.5 books and the Dragon and Dungeon magazine covers were quite good.
 

PMárk

Explorer
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.

While I could get behind the notiont hat they pointedly wanted a common baseline for the game, over all, I much prefer the sheer weight of imagination that went into the 2e products (while I never even played 2e, outside the BG/ISD games), that gave us those wonderfull settings, novels and overall, the D&D multiverse. This is exactly the main reason why 5e feels shallow to me. 3e didn't, because it might not supported most of the settigns of 2, there were FR material, Ravenloft material, Eberron and other stuff.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
5E looks the best overall but it's a bit to clean/CGI type look.

The best art would probably be done of the Dragon issues covers or some from 85-95 or so. Late 3.5 also has some nice pieces
 

Arnwolf666

Adventurer
While I could get behind the notiont hat they pointedly wanted a common baseline for the game, over all, I much prefer the sheer weight of imagination that went into the 2e products (while I never even played 2e, outside the BG/ISD games), that gave us those wonderfull settings, novels and overall, the D&D multiverse. This is exactly the main reason why 5e feels shallow to me. 3e didn't, because it might not supported most of the settigns of 2, there were FR material, Ravenloft material, Eberron and other stuff.
I really don’t think the vast majority of players are really into the forgotten realms Or any setting. They are primary there for whatever adventure is being published these days. Not saying they aren’t good or Ed Greenwood isn’t great.
But I think there book adventure structure is the perfect way to covertly do new settings. Do the next one in darkon. Another in Cerillia, another on athas, another on mystara. From what I have seen as long as the adventure is good and fun people would buy it and play it. It seems like most characters are pretty much done after the adventure these days. It’s not like most players are using the same characters in princes of the apocalypse that they are using in out of the abyss. There current structure seems to me to be the perfect way to showcase new settings.
 

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