D&D 3E/3.5 Edition Experience - Did/Do you Play 3rd Edtion D&D? How Was/Is it?

How Did/Do You Feel About 3E/3.5E D&D?

  • I'm playing it right now; I'll have to let you know later.

    Votes: 0 0.0%


Limit Break Dancing
With all of the talk about the Golden Age of Gaming, and all of the retro-clones floating around, it's made me curious about the older editions of the game. I'm curious how many folks on ENWorld have ever played these older editions, and what their level of satisfaction was. Or is, if you are one of the rare birds that are still rocking it O.G. Style.

This week I'd like to examine the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Have you played it before? or are you still playing it? What do you think about it?

By "played," I mean that you've been either a player or a DM for at least one gaming session. By "playing," I mean you have an ongoing gaming group that still actively plays this version, however occasionally. And for the purpose of this survey, I'm only referring to the D&D 3e/3.5e rules set, first published in 2000 and updated in mid-2003. You remember it; it was the "dungeonpunk" version with the Sword and Tome on the cover:


This was a brand-new edition of the game, like nothing that any of us had ever seen. Nearly all of the dice mechanics had been stripped out and rebuilt from the ground up, and the love-it-or-hate-it THAC0 mechanic was gone. Combat was expanded to play more like a tactical mini-game. All character classes used the same XP table. Barbarians and Monks were core classes. And so on. Seriously, I could write a thousand words on the differences between 3rd Edition and AD&D, and not even cover half of it. So much had changed, that it created a split in the gaming community that still hasn't quite healed.

But the biggest accomplishment of this edition was ultimately its doom: the Open Gaming License. Wizards of the Coast decided to make the 3rd Edition of D&D an open-source system, which allowed authors to write new D&D material without needing direct approval. This made it incredibly easy to market D&D-compatible content under their label and suddenly, D&D was everywhere. The D&D Renaissance had begun.

Now I know that some of you expected me to separate out these two versions into different surveys, the way I did for B/X and BECMI. But I didn't for several reasons: one, these two editions used the same mechanics; two, these editions had the same contributing authors; and three, the v3.5 rules were intended to be a rules update and not a completely new release. No, 3.5E doesn't merit it's own survey.

Feel free to add nuance in your comments, but let's not have an edition war over this. I'm really just interested in hearing peoples' stories of playing the 3E rules, and swimming in all of the OGL content that came with it. I know that this edition, and the ones to follow, are going to cause some strong feelings for folks. I also know that some people on this board still consider themselves to be soldiers in an ongoing Edition War. So I'm asking you to just...not. Don't bait the trolls, and don't be the troll that takes their bait. Just reminisce with me, be respectful of other people and their experiences, and save your attack rolls for the tabletop.

Tune in next week for one of the most controversial editions in recent memory...4th Edition!

Other Surveys
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Survey Results (24 Apr 2020)
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Mark Hope

I wrapped up a 2e campaign before diving into 3e, but I put many enjoyable years into this edition. I enjoyed the ability to customise your game and your character with a high degree of mechanical specificity. You could really build pretty much whatever you could imagine and have a decent degree of mechanical support for the concept. Tons of options, some evocative artwork, fascinating degrees of system complexity. Myself and several others spent many years working on the 3e conversion of Dark Sun most enjoyably. I was happy to continue with Pathfinder when that came out, rather than adopt 4e.

Eventually, though, the same mechanical complexity and involved nature of the system proved to be too much. I ended up returning to B/X and AD&D, albeit with some houserules carried over from 3e (ascending AC and Pathfinder's CMB/CMD system, for example). I still have a lot of fond memories of and respect for 3e, but it's not a ruleset that I would return to. I sold almost all of my 3e stuff a year or so back and was stunned by how much the books went for. Clearly there are lots of enthusiastic players still out there :)


I am still running 2 3.5 play by post games. I like 3.5 OK, but am fully converted to 5e moving forward at is faster and simpler to play & DM, as well as being more balanced and less mechanistic. So my poll vote is "I've played it, and I don't like it [relative to 5e]*"

*You can do a lot of stuff in 3.5 that you can't do in 5e. It's a goldmine for character concepts. Unfortunately, actually playing with all that stuff ends up a lot less fun to play/run due to complexity and imbalance between the tiers.

I went with "I played it, and wasn't impressed one way or another," but really that's the half-way point on a continuum.

I had stopped gaming in the late 90s. After 3e came out, I decided to take a gander, my love of fantasy being rekindled by the Fellowship of the Ring movie. When I first cracked the books open, I was blown away - any race could be any class! New monsters could be created just by slapping a template on them! Crafting your own magic arms and armor was so easy! The possibilities were endless.

Then, as the options grew and grew, those possibilities began to feel like a burden. The game I wanted was getting buried under options and rules. That's when I jumped ship and went off to play Castles & Crusades. I wouldn't return to D&D until 4e.

All that being said, I think about giving 3e another shot now and then, though I think I'd limit it to the core three books only, plus maybe a setting book.

I followed all the build up in Dragon until it finally came out in August of 2000. I bought the core books and we started a campaign right away. I liked the edition initially as I thought that the changes it made progressed the game forward from the standpoint that the d20 system made it easier to play without having to know too many subsystems. But I always thought that because so many rules were quantified that it put a lot more power in the hands of the players to influence the game than previous editions. Seemed the unwritten rule that the DM had the final say was somewhat lost. There were a lot of good books to come out of the edition like the FRCS, but as the edition wore on I liked it less and less as there were just so many options, and fiddly math for my taste. I created a character a few years back to join a friends group that I hadn't played with in about 10 years and I immediately remembered why I stopped playing the edition. I've kept a few books from the edition but I don't think I would ever play it again except for a one-shot here or there, and certainly wouldn't run it as a DM. I can appreciate it for what is was, the next logical step in the evolution of the game and the building blocks for what came after.


3E was a grand clean-up mechanically of all the kludge of AD&D and 2E and I found it to be like a breath of fresh air. At the time I could not see myself ever playing AD&D or 2E again after so much of the game was made logically sound and clearer with 3E.

But now 5E has done to 3E what 3E did to AD&D/2E. It has cleaned things up even further, make many more logical and logistical changes which make too much sense to ever feel as though playing the older edition is worthwhile. And while I can appreciate the idea that 3E has many more "character options" to choose from than 5E... those options are so small, insignificant and too easily able to be ignored within the story of the game than I don't miss them at all.

Quick example-- I'm currently playing in a Pathfinder game right now and I had to take a feat. I chose Arcane Attack or Arcane Shot or whatever its called, and the mechanics it gives me? A +1 to damage rolls with my weapon. That's it. That is my "character customization"... a +1 to damage. The same exact thing as if my STR modifier was bigger, or it was a magic weapon, or if it was any number of other abilities which raise my damage. And because of the fact this +1 just gets added into the damage stats of my weapon attack... there's nothing noticeable or special or interesting about it. I just went from 1d8+3 damage to 1d8+4. Whoopie! What customization! My PC feels so much more different now since I took that feat! ;)

And that's why I have no desire to go back to 3E anymore either.


I received this edition as a breath of fresh air, at first.

Played a few D&D campaigns but got tired of all the «bonus hunting», «cherry picking» of feats and «level dipping». Despite the clarity of the design decisions made for 3e I felt this was no longer D&D.

But I kept playing d20 games. d20 was perfect for Modern and Star Wars because it made sense to me that characters would have competence in various classes. It comes with the territory. So, I ran a very successful d20 Modern multi-genre game for years. I also GMed a few Star Wars d20 and SAGA mini-campaigns. But no D&D.

My group disintegrated towards the end of the 3e era because of player «real life» issues. I started playing wargames intensively (40k, warmachines) with only occasional games of d20 Modern.

EDIT : Forgot to say I would play 3e (d20 games) again if invited. But I would not want to GM a game. This is the only other edition, with 5e, that I would play.
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3e is the only major edition that I've never played. Nothing to do with the rules and purely down to it coming along during a time when my gaming group had drifted away and I couldn't find any other players. Dark times!


Barovian Wannabe
The first long-running campaign I ever played, and the second version of D&D I experienced (after 4E, oddly enough), was 3.5. Maybe it wasn't the greatest place to start. I remember being a little overwhelmed by the options, and I think I hamstrung myself early on by letting the DM talk me into playing a combination of obscure sub-race/sub-class which were in splatbooks he owned. I played a bland character who I didn't connect with, and who I was trying to build toward options I didn't have immediate access to.

I don't have a lot of concrete memories of this campaign, because I felt like I was a bit "clocked out" of it most of the time. Most of the other players were min-maxers and spent a lot of their time scanning the books for optimal builds and preferred magic items to seek in the next town. I found this all very tedious and it felt like it often got in the way of the world the DM was trying to express for us. Combat took a million years and I remember sitting around bored waiting for my turn. (Some of this was my problem, not the system's.)

I didn't really start to enjoy it until I retired my first character and rolled up a new one with a more concrete backstory and mechanics I enjoyed more. Unfortunately this only happened toward the very end of the campaign, and I only had a couple of sessions with this character. I've not really touched 3.5 since then, although I think I've played in at least one game which used the rules.

Since dipping into the OSR and coming out a 5E fan, I've come to appreciate the balance between giving players options and providing a clean and elegant ruleset.


Limit Break Dancing
Oh, 3rd Edition. The edition that brought me back to the game.

When Wizards of the Coast bought D&D in the late 90s, I was worried. I was concerned that they would make so many changes to it that it would become an unrecognizable, unplayable mess. I was envisioning a collectible card game, like some weird "Magic: The Dungeoning" offshoot. Or an endless series of tabletop boardgames like the ones that had been floated by TSR and never caught on. Either way, I didn't want it.

By the 90s, I had resigned myself to play my beloved BECM forever, and I wasn't really looking for a new edition of the game. I'd play the occasional D&D game with my friends, but they were all playing 2nd Edition AD&D and I didn't care for it. So I really wasn't much of a "hobby gamer" like I had been in the late 80s. By the time the new millennium arrived, it had been years since I had played a game.

And then I saw the new 3rd Edition Player's Handbook on the shelf at "Poor Richard's," a bookstore in Colorado Springs. It was quite by accident: I think I was there to pick up a Harry Potter book or something, I don't remember, but whatever it was they didn't have it. So I did what I normally do in a used bookstore, I walked over to the Fantasy/RPG section and looked around for some classic D&D modules. And there it was, a shiny new hardcover called, simply, "Dungeons and Dragons." I'll be honest, it was the lack of the word "Advanced" that made me pick it up. If it had the A-word on the cover I would have recoiled with a hiss, like a vampire presented with garlic. But without that A-word, I could let myself believe (even if it was just for a moment) that it was a return to, or maybe a reprint of, my favorite system.

I flipped it open and the first page I saw was the class description of the Druid. I spent 10 minutes reading it, and then purchased the whole book. I read it cover-to-cover, and a few weeks later I had put a small adventure together for my roommate and a couple of our friends. (The earliest versions of the 3E PHB had a tiny section at the end with monsters, DM tips, and such, enough to build a small dungeon or something.) And 4 hours later, we were completely hooked.

We played 3rd Edition exclusively until 3.5E came out, and then we bought all-new books and played that version exclusively until 4th Edition came out. We played one game of 4E but didn't care for it, so we switched to Pathfinder instead so that we could continue playing the 3.5E rules set with fresh material. So while BECMI is my favorite edition, I've played 3.X the most (from 2000 to 2015). It's a robust, highly-detailed, highly-customizable game system with tons of content and a thriving online community--what's not to love?
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I came from a 1e/2e mashup.

My friends and I were trying to invent a better rp game that was d20 and was more skills-focused. When 3.0 came out, we dropped our efforts because it was exactly what we were looking for.

We played it for YEARS. We modded it, mashed up a few of the skills and were very critical of the extra books that came out. Honestly, I felt all those extra books were money-grabs that ruined the game. Taking feats from one book and combining it with a unique class from a different book could just break the game. We mostly only used the core books and some of the prestige classes (some of which we would balance).

-I liked the ability to customize characters which you can't do to the same extent in 5e
-I like the detail in the combat (such as grappling, shoving, tripping and disarming) that 5e lacks. It could be tedious and overwhelming for new players but it added so many interesting options in combat once you had the hang of it.
-I find The skill system has more customization than 5e because you can diverge from your starting skill-set and take skills that aren't typical to your class. We had to hombrew a bit to make cross-class skills a bit more useful.
-I liked how negative hit points work and ability damage and negative levels and all the things that make the game more 'dangerous' and make monsters more interesting.
-It could be broken a bit too easily and things got super-crazy at high levels
-monsters and spells were more interesting.
-5e is much easier to play and make characters. 3e takes time and effort. Especially when making detailed NPCs

It was very crunchy. I went from 3.5 to DFRPG (fate) and that has changed my style of gaming considerably. I find 3e a bit harder to play now but I still have many fond memories.
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Limit Break Dancing
Quick example-- I'm currently playing in a Pathfinder game right now and I had to take a feat. I chose Arcane Attack or Arcane Shot or whatever its called, and the mechanics it gives me? A +1 to damage rolls with my weapon. That's it. That is my "character customization"... a +1 to damage. The same exact thing as if my STR modifier was bigger, or it was a magic weapon, or if it was any number of other abilities which raise my damage. And because of the fact this +1 just gets added into the damage stats of my weapon attack... there's nothing noticeable or special or interesting about it. I just went from 1d8+3 damage to 1d8+4. Whoopie! What customization! My PC feels so much more different now since I took that feat! ;)

And that's why I have no desire to go back to 3E anymore either.
Hard agree. So much of the "customization" of 3.X was just a flat, boring, numerical buff. Oh goodie, the numbers go up until I win, hooray. Unfortunately, too much of that carried over to later editions.

I think that running a 3rd Edition game is a lot of fun at low levels. But unfortunately my game turns into a math-management nightmare for me around 9th level, when running a single battle scene can take us 2-3 hours. And by the time the players made it to 16th level, I was having to spend entire gaming sessions just to run a single battle.

And the arguments! Sweet Pelor, the arguments! Having a Rule For Everything meant that there was also an argument for everything. Arguing about which number to add to another number, so that you can add another number, etc. Arguing about what class options are available, which books to include and not include and why. Arguing with the DM about the cool Unbalanced Whatever you just found on the Internet somewhere and need to have for your build.

So I love this edition, I really do. And I played the carp out of it for a decade and a half. But I can't go back to it. Not without the E6 houserule, anyway.
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Why is there no option for "i played it, love it, and its still the main edition i play?"

Aside from what the above question makes obvious, its also the main edition im drawing from to create my custom edition. There is also significant influence from 2nd edition, 1st edition, and becmi. But by far the most influence is from the 3.x era.

I love how customizeable it is. And how customization works. There is a lot you can change without screwing up tons of other mechanisms. But also it is so BROADLY customizable.


At first I really liked the overhaul, logical ordering, systematization & customization that 3e provided. But the excessive processs simulationism, number crunching, system mastery, Christmas tree effect, and many other issues bogged it down for me; transforming it into one of the editions I like the least.

It's by far the edition I dislike the most.

Sure, it had its advancements in comparison to AD&D, so I guess I can say it was the first to make those advancements. Yay? But the system was so fundamentally broken, and class balance so out of whack in part because of said fundamental brokenness, that I could never enjoy it.
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It's by far my favorite edition. I'm still playing it, having actively chosen to avoid 4e, and not having seen enough in 5e to make me want to switch, either. It's really the only edition I want to play.

I like it because, unlike OD&D, Basic D&D or AD&D, it was the first version of D&D to be built on a consistent framework, a coherent system. It is a game that, at its heart, I can teach someone to play in 5 minutes and they understand at least the basics (learning technical stuff takes a lot longer, but there's no "do I roll high or low for this one" and similar questions).

I like it because virtually every person in the game world can be modeled. People without PC character classes aren't just vague "0th level" characters without specific stats. The game always seemed designed to balance the various needs of a well-build, balanced game system

I like it because it's flexible and adaptable and can readily be house-ruled or changed to fit a vast variety of settings or play styles, and do so far more seamlessly than previous editions. . .and most of the changes our groups made to previous editions became core rules in 3e anyway.

I like it because it was the first edition of D&D I ever played that actually could do all the things I wanted D&D to do, without having to be heavily altered or house ruled. It didn't focus purely on combat, and actually started to include a comprehensive skill system so characters could be skilled at social skills even when the players weren't.

While a few of the rules changes to 3.5 seemed a little over-pedantic (I realize they were done to plug loopholes that some rules lawyers were abusing), it generally fit my mental image of what D&D was supposed to be more than any other edition.

. . .and I'm not saying that because it was the first edition I played. I first picked up the "Black Box" Basic D&D set in the early 1990's and first really played with AD&D 2nd edition circa 1998. Those were okay for their time, but once 3e came out, there was no going back.

Theo R Cwithin

I cast "Baconstorm!"
Measured in both number of hours played and system mastery, 3/3.5e has been my main D&D system. I really enjoyed it; and eventually went on to PF1, which I enjoyed even more.

The edition's "crunchiness" really appealed to me back then-- and is what I dislike about it now. The vast network of rules felt very grounded, and made it easy to extrapolate other rulings. The advent of splatbooks was a headache, but I generally only played/DMed games with well-defined limits on available books & features.

Simplified rulesets like E6 or Micro20 really cut down a lot of the issues I had with edition, and those are still my preferences today as far as the 3e lineage of D&D is concerned.

On the meta-side, I really appreciated the OGL. It's a nice motivator to put creations "out there", and while it enabled a lot of garbage, it also dramatically opened up exposure for a lot of creative minds who might otherwise never have seen the light of day. That was hugely important for the hobby, imo.

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