D&D 3E/3.5 3rd Edition Revisited - Better play with the power of hindsight?

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
A bunch of their player oriented stuff has fun flavor stuff but I am less a fan of their player mechanic stuff. I have played an unholy warrior and DM'd a witch and much preferred the roleplaying angles over the mechanical implementations.
One thing that's easy to overlook is that Green Ronin's Avatar's Handbook (part of their "Master Class" series), while it's technically focused on a new class, is actually a mini-bestiary of celestial creatures that acts as a counterpart to their Book of Fiends.
 

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Voadam

Legend
Slayer's Guide to Demons was another one I used to expand the demons and demonology lore in my game. It has multiple themed families of non-Tanari demons that were driven out of most of the Abyss by the dominant Tanari. Incorporeal madness demons, shadow demons, etc.
 

Voadam

Legend
I am a fan of the 3.5 monster book Complete Minions, interesting unique monsters, well fleshed out descriptions, and the Todd Morash art is very distinctive. Most people are not that familiar with it so they are fun to spring on a group.

On the flip side is Tome of Horrors with a ton of AD&D conversions so I find it a very utilitarian useful DM book for those familiar with AD&D or converting old modules.

I am also a fan of the Penumbra Bestiary for interesting monsters with fleshed out descriptions and hooks. I was a contributing author on this one and had fun coming up with linked stories like those found in the Castigoran constrictor and the Halperthian rattler entries. The barrow wight template is something I came up with for a PC in my game who was killed by a wight in Ravenloft.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
If we're talking about bestiaries, I want to go ahead and take a moment to recommend the Bestiary Malfearous (affiliate link) and its sister product, the Bestiary Nefarious (yes, that one is a Scribd link, but it's okay; our own @Stormonu is the author, and he uploaded it to Scribd himself).

I only recently picked these up (not having known that the second existed, and the price point on the first, along with no preview, giving me pause) and I honestly wish I'd gotten them years ago. The sheer breadth of monsters in these books is astonishing, and they cover a lot of niches that seem obvious in hindsight, but seem to be overlooked in a lot of monster books. Where else will you find entries for different varieties of insect-people, which are also coded as playable PC races? Elemental lords who can actually cast spells as elementalists (because you'd think that a being of fire would actually be able to command fire magic, right?), an entirely new type of evil outsiders with over a half-dozen entries of various CRs, etc. It's a lot of great content, and I found the books very inspiring.
 

Schmoe

Adventurer
Mongoose Publishing had some really interesting books in their Encyclopaedia Arcane series. They had books focused on expanding existing tropes, like the Necromancer and Conjurer, as well as books that introduced innovative and thematic alternative magical approaches, like Star Magic, which I particularly liked. It looks like they are still available as eBooks.
 

I ran 3e from 1st-25th level with all the brown splatbooks with PsyHb, ELH, and ToB at the end.
I found it did well at all levels, but I cut my teeth in the 90s running 2e in a campaign of 9-13 players from 3rd-19th level so keeping track of sheer volumes of modifiers & stats was a long-mastered skill. I appreciated the types of bonuses. There probably didn't need to be as many as there were but it made rules management straight-forward.

Like most, I felt 3e casters were vastly more powerful than 3e fighters, but that was true of 1e and 2e. The PrCs did give options to change that, though I really wish ToB had been out for 3e rather than the very end of 3.5.

I thought the xp hit to casters for item creation was fine. Every so often they'd wind up a level behind the fighter or rogue, but they'd have a pile of scrolls or whatever and would earn more xp and mostly catch up.

The existence of a magic item economy drives some people nuts but the lack of one drives me nuts. Either people can make new items and there is an economy, or people can't make new items and there is still an economy but it's sky high, like the market for "can't make any more" Van Goghs.

All the PrCs had to match the campaign, usually involved some kind of society (secret or otherwise). I did veto several but after finding out what players were going for, directed them to campaign-friendly options.

I.e. the rogue who wanted to be the Loth-spider got to be a dragon disciple. And as the campaign was loosely based on krynn after magic got snafu'd, they got lots of free baggage. Like long lived enemies/relatives and, after he touched a Dragon Orb, Takhisis and Paladine yammering in his dreams.

The party found an unknown tower of High Sorcery and the mage was able to use it to for the "arcane order" PrC. In this "broken magic" world, The Order could use their special slots to cast higher level spells. Of course, it wasn't really a "tower of high sorcery" and there were other beings awakened once the tower was being charged.

Making the class flavor actually impact the world was key. The first time the mage was seen casting higher level spells, every Robed Wizard was hunting them down.

As they uncovered secrets about the age before "the gods from beyond", the monk learned there was more to chi and became "the" Fist of Zuoken ...who then had to go find where Zuoken had been imprisoned.

And when the monk used psionic "witch" powers, they were hunted down by every priest of the krynnish pantheon.

The fighter was adopted (or marked for lunch) by the elddest redcap and was taught the Fey fighting styles (ToB). Which wigged out every Celestial and Infernal they encountered.

PrCs belonged to other beings of exceptional power, like the fey using ToB. The Acolytes of the Skin could cast higher level spells as well. The PrC that got the undead limb was able to open the door to the Shadowfell, which was its own thing.

The rules were crunchy goodness but like chips, unfullfilling without the plot flavoring. It's the difference between a game and a campaign.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Counterspelling is a classic example of 3e design, where someone felt that there should be rules to do a thing, even if there's not often a good reason to do so.

If you know, for example, that Sharu Garrul, the Master of the Keep of the Four Worlds, is a lazy duelist and always opens with Lightning Bolt, then giving someone the option to plan around it is better than not (the magical equivalent of "I know how he fights, he always dodges to the left"), even if there's likely a better way to go about it (cast Protection from Elements before the fight).

This compares well with AD&D design, where the books were full of bespoke subsystems to cover corner cases (how often did anyone ever use the subdual rules in 1e, or punching/wrestling in 2e?)...except that, for whatever reason, the 3e design team never encountered a rule that they didn't immediately make painful to use, including several hurdles to ensure that it would be difficult to exploit in any meaningful way.
Looking back, something that jumps out at me is that writing entirely new (rules-heavy) RPG systems is a lot like what I imagine writing a computer operating system is like. You do the best job you can ahead of time, but there's going to be bugs and various issues that will only come up after it's been out for a little while, where a large enough customer base using it for a long enough period of time offers feedback.

Sorcerers, in 3.X, are a prime example of this. Not only do they pay a (small) action-economy tax for using metamagic feats (making the casting time of any spell that's a standard action or less into a full-round action), but they also have their spell progression operate one level behind wizards and other (full-progression) preparatory spellcasters. Why? Because the designers of 3.0 thought that being able to allocate your spell slots on the fly was just that good, even if you were limited to a "spells known" list.

And it's not like they were alone in thinking that way. If you have a copy of Relics & Rituals, released by Sword & Sorcery Studios in 2001, check out the sorcerous power true ritual on pages 144-145; the book's designers felt that it was worthwhile for there to be an "epic" magic spell (albeit before the epic-level rules were a thing) which converted a character's wizard levels to sorcerer levels, even noting in-character that it just felt more freeing not to have to rely on a spellbook.
 

Yora

Legend
Given that sorcerers do get access to fewer spells and one level later, letting them use metamagic feats without the casting time increase sounds like an attractive house rule.

And it would make metamagic feats for sorcerers feel considerably more attractive. (No clue how much of a difference it would actually make.)
 

Voadam

Legend
Given that sorcerers do get access to fewer spells and one level later, letting them use metamagic feats without the casting time increase sounds like an attractive house rule.

And it would make metamagic feats for sorcerers feel considerably more attractive. (No clue how much of a difference it would actually make.)

In my experience casters often were either in the back row and did not need to move or were caught in melee and could only do a five foot step when casting. The times you wanted to move and cast were fairly rare.

The perception that it is a detriment is pretty big though.

Conceptually the big detriment for sorcerers for me was the being behind a level on top level spells so most every other level they were limited to lower level spells. It made them a definite step down from cleric, druid, and wizard options in power potential.
 

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