3.5 D20 system vs D&D setting

Saelorn

Hero
This came up in another thread, and I was hoping to spin it off into a tangent discussion. Basically, while we can all agree that there are some problems with D&D 3.x, I was wondering how much of that is endemic to the d20 system and how much is just poor implementation that is specific to D&D.

From what I can tell, the core system looks pretty solid. You have the basic d20 against a DC mechanic. Six core stats, mostly in the 3-30 range, which generate modifiers to the d20 rolls. Races give bonuses and penalties to stats. Classes give you BAB with iterative attacks, your HP and saves go up with level, all based on class. Skill points per level, max ranks based on level. Only three saves, which are each tied directly to one stat. You get feats and ability scores every few levels. That's about it, as far as the base system is concerned.

The major problems I've identified with the system:
  • Basic stats are superfluous, because everything depends on the modifier.
  • Iterative attacks are a lot of math, and can slow down gameplay.
  • AC doesn't improve with level, and quickly becomes meaningless in the face of rising BAB.
  • It can be a lot of bookkeeping to make monsters or NPCs, since they have skills and feats and everything.

Of those issues, the first is cosmetic, and the third can be easily addressed with class features. That leaves the system as being a bit heavy on math and bookkeeping, though it's still nowhere near HERO or GURPS.

Meanwhile, problems that aren't inherent to the system, but are just part of the D&D implementation include:
  • Spellcasters are overpowered. Many specific spells are overpowered.
  • Fighter-types are boring, and don't have any round-to-round options.
  • Many specific magic items are overpowered. Magic items let you overwhelm the d20 roll by getting a huge modifier.
  • Many specific feats are overpowered. Power Attack is the only real way to deal damage, while Combat Expertise is nearly meaningless.
  • Many feats, spells, and magic items are deliberately underpowered in order to reward system mastery, leading to power imbalance between PCs.

What am I missing? What's the big flaw in d20 that prevents it from being used in new games?
 

ccs

40th lv DM
This came up in another thread, and I was hoping to spin it off into a tangent discussion. Basically, while we can all agree that there are some problems with D&D 3.x, I was wondering how much of that is endemic to the d20 system and how much is just poor implementation that is specific to D&D.

From what I can tell, the core system looks pretty solid. You have the basic d20 against a DC mechanic. Six core stats, mostly in the 3-30 range, which generate modifiers to the d20 rolls. Races give bonuses and penalties to stats. Classes give you BAB with iterative attacks, your HP and saves go up with level, all based on class. Skill points per level, max ranks based on level. Only three saves, which are each tied directly to one stat. You get feats and ability scores every few levels. That's about it, as far as the base system is concerned.

The major problems I've identified with the system:
  • Basic stats are superfluous, because everything depends on the modifier.
  • Iterative attacks are a lot of math, and can slow down gameplay.
  • AC doesn't improve with level, and quickly becomes meaningless in the face of rising BAB.
  • It can be a lot of bookkeeping to make monsters or NPCs, since they have skills and feats and everything.

Of those issues, the first is cosmetic, and the third can be easily addressed with class features. That leaves the system as being a bit heavy on math and bookkeeping, though it's still nowhere near HERO or GURPS.

Meanwhile, problems that aren't inherent to the system, but are just part of the D&D implementation include:
  • Spellcasters are overpowered. Many specific spells are overpowered.
  • Fighter-types are boring, and don't have any round-to-round options.
  • Many specific magic items are overpowered. Magic items let you overwhelm the d20 roll by getting a huge modifier.
  • Many specific feats are overpowered. Power Attack is the only real way to deal damage, while Combat Expertise is nearly meaningless.
  • Many feats, spells, and magic items are deliberately underpowered in order to reward system mastery, leading to power imbalance between PCs.

What am I missing? What's the big flaw in d20 that prevents it from being used in new games?
No particular flaw per se, just that the D20 system fad is passing.
For a good long while it was all the rage to use the OGL that WoTC gifted to the world. Now it's shifting a bit & you see games getting their own identities again vs just being a re-skinned D&D. That said, the d20 system is still used.
 
What am I missing? What's the big flaw in d20 that prevents it from being used in new games?
I've been out of d20 -- at least in its 3.x form -- for a few years, but I think you've hit all the big systemic problems. I'm sure if I read thru my 3.5 books I could find a couple more, like Str being the default melee attack stat and that niggly +2(?) charge bonus that becomes increasingly meaningless as hit points inflate.

Oh and the way that bonuses diverge, whether we're talking attack and AC or skill bonuses, is one of the things that makes play more and more rocket-tag-y as levels increase.

But mostly I think the problems come from D&D's particular quirks and implementations. Win-button spells that are 'balanced' by costly components, circumstantial application, or boringness. Arbitrary restrictions based on D&D legacy. The 1st-level-as-kinda-veteran-status design philosophy that makes multiclassing so problematic.

In my 3.x days, I spent a lot of time and energy dealing with this stuff. :)
 

innerdude

Adventurer
The other major problem I always had with 3.x was the lack of correlation between character leveling and their relative power levels in relation to the game world. The whole, "Gandalf was a 6th level magic-user" thing. A level 7 PC is basically the real-world equivalent of the 99.99th percentile of capability in any given field. They are literally one in a hundred million. Michael Jordan. Tiger Woods. Jennifer Lawrence. Stephen Hawking. By the time a PC reaches level 7, they should be hearing their name and exploits being sung in every major tavern in every major town and city. But 3.x doesn't seem to provide any inherent clue that this should be the case.

Looking back on it now, it's amazing to me I ever had as much fun as I did with the 3.x system, though some of my problem was certainly that my GM for most of the early 2000s just could not pull off a long-term campaign to save his live. My last straw with 3.x was my 9-month Pathfinder campaign back in 2011. When the PCs reached level 7, as a GM I finally just threw my hands up. "I am so sick of the NPC build rules. I don't give a flying flip what the book says; for this encounter to be challenging, this group of NPCs need a 25 armor class, and I don't give a rat's butt how they come by that stat."

By the end I was totally just eyeballing numbers and throwing them on to NPCs. There was ZERO consideration for how any of it made sense in the rules; I just wanted to challenge the players appropriately. When I laster discovered that Fantasy Craft had basically hard coded NPC design the way I was already doing it, D&D 3.x/Pathfinder was pretty much dead to me at that point. And don't get me started on D20 Modern. Good grief, what a shamble that ruleset was.

The simple truth is, most systems that postdate 3.x now are flat-out objectively better systems. They're tailored to deliver a specific experience and do it better than 3.x ever managed.
 
Last edited:

Ulrik

Visitor
Two more problems:
Everything is by level. You boil the competency of everything down to a single number. This might be ok for PCs (but really isn't, because PCs end up either great or totally incompetent at everything), but the system assumes NPCs are "built" as well which is hilariously wrong.

A lot of the subtler balance (and lack of) is baked into magic items and the gp budget. BAB outscales AC from stats, yes, but there are so many ways to increase AC with magic that you can easily build a near unhittable PC.

Sent fra min Nexus 5X via Tapatalk
 

Saelorn

Hero
Everything is by level. You boil the competency of everything down to a single number. This might be ok for PCs (but really isn't, because PCs end up either great or totally incompetent at everything), but the system assumes NPCs are "built" as well which is hilariously wrong.
NPCs are built consistently, which is nice, but the fundamental assumptions of how characters learn and grow don't really make sense when applied to non-adventurers. It's kind of silly that the only way to become a world-class blacksmith involves also having 20 hit dice and BAB +10.

That's a fair point, which I had forgotten. You could design around it by using a 2E-style skill system, where your skills didn't really improve with level, but it's definitely an issue with the baseline d20 system.
 
I have a few problems with d20.

  • First, there are too many situational rules that either have a minimal impact on play or require frequent reference to the rules. A dwarf's +4 bonus on ability checks made to resist being bull rushed is an example of minimal impact, while the rules concerning bull rush (and special attacks in general) being an example of frequent referencing of the rules.

  • Second, spells that affect raw ability scores are problematic as they require adjustments to multiple area on the character sheet. Bull's Strength, for example, grants a +4 enhancement bonus to strength which requires me to change my to-hit modifier, damage modifier, numerous skills, and carrying capacity.

  • Third, character advancement isn't related to in-game events. For example, prestige classes need to be planned ahead. If the Fochlucan college becomes an important fixture in the campaign, and I wish to join it as a Fochlucan Lyrist, then I needed to have planned for that at first level due to the various requirements.

  • Fourth, the system lacks morale rules for enemy combatants. Too often, in my experience, DMs run each encounter to the death when, in many cases, enemies would otherwise flee. I'm not a fan of leaving these situations to DM fiat.
These are the ones I have noted above what some others above have written.
 

Saelorn

Hero
I have a few problems with d20.

  • First, there are too many situational rules that either have a minimal impact on play or require frequent reference to the rules. A dwarf's +4 bonus on ability checks made to resist being bull rushed is an example of minimal impact, while the rules concerning bull rush (and special attacks in general) being an example of frequent referencing of the rules.

  • Second, spells that affect raw ability scores are problematic as they require adjustments to multiple area on the character sheet. Bull's Strength, for example, grants a +4 enhancement bonus to strength which requires me to change my to-hit modifier, damage modifier, numerous skills, and carrying capacity.

  • Third, character advancement isn't related to in-game events. For example, prestige classes need to be planned ahead. If the Fochlucan college becomes an important fixture in the campaign, and I wish to join it as a Fochlucan Lyrist, then I needed to have planned for that at first level due to the various requirements.

  • Fourth, the system lacks morale rules for enemy combatants. Too often, in my experience, DMs run each encounter to the death when, in many cases, enemies would otherwise flee. I'm not a fan of leaving these situations to DM fiat.
These are the ones I have noted above what some others above have written.
Some of those are d20 problems, but some of them are just problems with D&D 3E. A lot of races do seems to have fiddly modifiers to special circumstances, so that seems pretty baked into the system, and I can see how the 5E method may be preferable to some. The ability to affect ability scores directly is just limited to D&D-specific spells and abilities, though, so that's not a mark against the system as a whole.

Character advancement really should be related to in-game events, and there are points in the DMG to encourage that, but it definitely doesn't help that the way pre-requisites work means you need to plan everything in advance. It's as much of a problem for feats as it is for prestige classes.

There aren't codified rules for morale, so I could definitely put that down as a subjective flaw. It seems like you could fix it by just roleplaying the characters better, but if you would prefer for that to be codified somewhere, then it's a mark against the system.
 

Advertisement

Top