Jonathan Tweet: Streamlining Third Edition

The D&D 3rd Ed project was part big-picture vision and part a collection of individual decisions about rules, terms, and characters. In terms of rules, a lot of what we did amounted to streamlining. We removed absolute limits in favor of consequences, removed unnecessary distinctions in favor of important ones, and eliminated extraneous rules. Many of these changes seemed drastic at the time because they eliminated rules that dated back to original D&D and its first rules supplement, Greyhawk. The D&D-playing audience, however, accepted them in stride.

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Some of the work to streamline the game had already been done in the Dungeons & Dragons line (“basic” D&D or “BECMI”), and some had been done with 2E. Basic D&D offered a unified table for ability modifiers and ditched separate damage values for human-size versus large ones. 2E ditched level limits by race, level names for classes, and the awkward term “magic-user.” Both versions of the game left out attack bonuses by weapon and Armor Class, as well as the possibility that a beginning character might randomly have a suite of game-breaking psionic powers. We maintained all these changes and took these efforts further.

One overriding goal was to remove limits wherever we could. I was fond of telling players that in the new edition you could eat rocks as your rations. The players would look at me in disbelief, and I would say, “You’ll break your teeth and starve to death, but there’s no rule against eating rocks.” Likewise, there was no rule against wizards wearing armor. It hurt spellcasting, but you could do it if you wanted to. Ryan Dancey would say the same thing more succinctly: “consequences, not restrictions.”

We got rid of class and multiclass restrictions by race. At Gen Con the year before 3E released, we showed a roomful of fans an illustration of a halforc paladin, and they cheered. We also removed ability minimums and maximums for races and minimums for classes. If you wanted to play a ranger with a low Constitution, OK, you just won’t be as tough as the typical ranger. If a wizard wants to swing a sword, OK, you’re just not as skilled with it as with a quarterstaff. Was it important to say that dwarves can’t have Dexterity scores of 18? No.

We removed differences between characters that mattered least so we could focus on distinctions that mattered most. Small characters got their foot speed increased so they could keep up better with humans-size characters. Darkvision was defined as not infrared so that it didn’t implicitly give some characters the hard-to-manage ability to see heat. Druids didn’t have to fight other druids to attain high level. Paladins could have any number of magic items. Multiclassing and dual classing became the same thing instead of two quite different systems. Earlier, D&D balanced wizards by making them weak at low level and powerful at high level, but we tried to balance the classes at both low level and high level. (We failed. Spellcasters were still too good at high level.) We put all classes on the same XP table for rising in level. The original system doubly punished wizards’ hit points by giving them a lower Hit Die per level and making them lower level at any given XP total. The system also sometimes gave clerics more hit points than fighters because a cleric would be higher level than a fighter with the same XP total.

For me it was particularly satisfying to eliminate extraneous rules. We ditched percentile Strength. A big surprise was how little complaining we heard about percentile Strength going away. The fighter with 18/100 Strength was something of a icon, but players accepted the change. Percentile Strength is a rule that you don’t see other RPGs copy, and that was a pretty good sign that it wasn’t doing much for the game.

You can say the same thing for weapons dealing more or less damage again large creatures than against human-sized targets, a rule that we dropped. Personally, I loved getting rid of weapon damage values that came with bonuses, using plain dice ranges instead. A damage range of 1d6+1 became 1d8, which is pretty much the same thing. That way, every bonus added to a damage roll was a bonus that came from something other than the base weapon type—a Strength bonus, a magical bonus, or something else special. Ranged weapons lost their rate of fire. I hated the way high-Strength characters in 2E liked throwing darts (rate of fire 3/1) so that they could get their Strength bonus on damage several times. Characters became proficient in all their classes’ weapons rather than a few, and weapon specialization went away. In 2E, specialization gave the character benefits to attack rate, attack rolls, and damage rolls—effects that multiplied together to more than double the character’s average damage.

We dropped the XP bonus that characters used to get for having high ability scores. In original D&D, the only thing that a high Strength did for your character was grant them an XP bonus if they were a fighter. Strength did not affect attacks or damage. In 3E, a high Strength score did plenty for a fighter, and the XP bonus was cut as extraneous.

We let players roll Hit Dice up to 20th level rather than making them stop at 9th or 10th. In original D&D, 9th or 10th level was a sort of maximum, with spellcasters not gaining an higher-level spells thereafter. Spells of 6th to 9th level were a later addition. The system we inherited, however, went up to 20th level, and we let Hit Dice scale up to match.

In 2E, sometimes players wanted high scores and low rolls, as with thief and ranger skills or nonweapon proficiencies. Sometimes players wanted low scores and high rolls, as with THAC0, saving throws, and Armor Class. We established a system where you wanted high scores and high rolls: attacks, saving throws, and skill checks. While we were at it, we streamlined and rationalized saving throws and offered a single initiative system rather than the several systems found in 2E.

D&D is popular in part because of its legacy, so we worried that fans would object to all these changes. Overall, however, the fans ate it up. Part of the reason that we got away with big changes is that we took pains to make the new edition really feel like D&D, but that’s a topic for another essay.
 
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Jonathan Tweet

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I think LFQW became even more pronounced because as archaic as it had become, the experience charts in older editions helped keep the wizard from eclipsing the fighter at a noticeable clip. With everyone leveling at the same rate the discrepancy in power between casters and non-casters became more obvious more quickly.
Actually, the wizard progressing slowly was mostly just an early impression. From 1st through 6th the wizard was a little behind the fighter (and the cleric & thief were advancing faster than either of them), but only by 1 level, some of the time, but, at 7th, that changed, with the wizard getting there 4k exp ahead of the fighter, as of 9th, until 14th when they pulled even again, the wizard would have been a full level ahead of the fighter.

Seems like the exp slowdown in 1e was tuned more to hitting 'name' level than to power, if, indeed, it had any rhyme or reason, at all.

From 3e on, everyone has progressed at the same rate, so, classes are weighted as if they're always comparable, when, clearly, in 3e & 5e, as the MCing system they use readily illustrates, they are anything but, and, ironically, while 4e classes may have been better balanced, it's MCing in no way took advantage of that, and any subtlety to its level progression was moot - indeed, I've known DMs to just level 4e campaigns arbitrarily, not even tracking experience.

5e, though, has an interesting feature built into it's level progression. The exp it takes to level, relative to the exp you gain from expected encounters for your level, changes how quickly you level up. The first level goes the fastest, one normal adventuring day and you're 2nd level. Likewise 2nd &3rd, by 4th you're slowing down, it takes more than twice as long (which, I know, sound silly, 2 or 3 days to level, wow - another reason to vary the pacing with longer rests), so you slow down and spend more time playing in the functional 'sweet spot,' after 11th it speeds back up so if you do play to high levels, you at least aren't stuck there for years (or, more likely, until you "retire" or die of old age) as you tended to be in 1e.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Actually, the wizard progressing slowly was mostly just an early impression. From 1st through 6th the wizard was a little behind the fighter (and the cleric & thief were advancing faster than either of them), but only by 1 level, some of the time, but, at 7th, that changed, with the wizard getting there 4k exp ahead of the fighter, as of 9th, until 14th when they pulled even again, the wizard would have been a full level ahead of the fighter.

Seems like the exp slowdown in 1e was tuned more to hitting 'name' level than to power, if, indeed, it had any rhyme or reason, at all.

From 3e on, everyone has progressed at the same rate, so, classes are weighted as if they're always comparable, when, clearly, in 3e & 5e, as the MCing system they use readily illustrates, they are anything but, and, ironically, while 4e classes may have been better balanced, it's MCing in no way took advantage of that, and any subtlety to its level progression was moot - indeed, I've known DMs to just level 4e campaigns arbitrarily, not even tracking experience.

5e, though, has an interesting feature built into it's level progression. The exp it takes to level, relative to the exp you gain from expected encounters for your level, changes how quickly you level up. The first level goes the fastest, one normal adventuring day and you're 2nd level. Likewise 2nd &3rd, by 4th you're slowing down, it takes more than twice as long (which, I know, sound silly, 2 or 3 days to level, wow - another reason to vary the pacing with longer rests), so you slow down and spend more time playing in the functional 'sweet spot,' after 11th it speeds back up so if you do play to high levels, you at least aren't stuck there for years (or, more likely, until you "retire" or die of old age) as you tended to be in 1e.
I would posit that the "sweet spot" is actually not an artifact of the rules as such, but more an indication of what "power level" people want to tell stories at by and large. We have broadcast streaming examples of high level D&D play now, and it is fine: but people still by and large just start over again at 11th, and zoom up to 4th. Tier 2 play is where people want to play, narratively rather than mechanically.
 
I would posit that the "sweet spot" is actually not an artifact of the rules as such, but more an indication of what "power level" people want to tell stories at by and large.
"Power Level" as such, in D&D, is just another way of saying "system artifacts at higher level." And why people want to tell stories in the sweet spot is /because the game works better at those levels/.

The game's had serious issues at high level for all but a few years of it's history, any such preference, at this point, is like the preference for the Big 4, or 6 stats, or rolling a d20 instead of 3d6 or % - "people don't like to play high level, so high level designs don't need to be that playable" is just self-fulfilling, game-design philosophy at this point.

but people still by and large just start over again at 11th, and zoom up to 4th.
It's not really "still."
The 'sweet spot' has varied. In 3e you had E6, because major problems like Polymorph kicked in at 7th. In 5e, 7th is just another level, it gets problematic in the double-digits, and you zoom up to 4th because the exp chart is designed to minimize exposure to the less playable lowest levels, as well.
 

Parmandur

Legend
And why people want to tell stories in the sweet spot is /because the game works better at those levels/
But is that why? 5E works at those levels, just fine. Critical Role has oodles and oodles of Tier 3 and Tier 4 play up for viewing, among others.

The four Tiers represent different narrative states: I would argue that people would gravitate to Tier 2, no matter what, for narrative reasons divorced fro mechanics.
 
But is that why?
Yes. For for decades. It was well ingrained when /3e/ was in development.
5E works at those levels, just fine.
Nothing in the content of 5e would tend to suggest that. There have /always/ been exceptions, groups who found 1e or 3e or whatever "worked" at higher levels - their play styles had just somehow accommodated or leveraged the issues that made it less playable in general. All-caster parties, combat strategy/tactics revolving around pre-buffing & targeted dispels.
The four Tiers represent different narrative states: I would argue that people would gravitate to Tier 2, no matter what, for narrative reasons divorced from mechanics.
Their /meant/ to, but to what extent are those 'narrative' states intertwined with less functional mechanics? Unless you can tease out the nominal fiction of the Tier from the dysfunctional mechanics of the level, you can't discount the latter. Especially given decades of evidence and inertia, and the strong, intentional similarities between 5e and those earlier incarnations.

5e has a mid-level 'sweet spot' of relative functionality like 3.5 & earlier versions of D&D, because it's intentionally designed to be like them.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Yes. For for decades. It was well ingrained when /3e/ was in development.
Nothing in the content of 5e would tend to suggest that. There have /always/ been exceptions, groups who found 1e or 3e or whatever "worked" at higher levels - their play styles had just somehow accommodated or leveraged the issues that made it less playable in general. All-caster parties, combat strategy/tactics revolving around pre-buffing & targeted dispels.
Their /meant/ to, but to what extent are those 'narrative' states intertwined with less functional mechanics? Unless you can tease out the nominal fiction of the Tier from the dysfunctional mechanics of the level, you can't discount the latter. Especially given decades of evidence and inertia, and the strong, intentional similarities between 5e and those earlier incarnations.

5e has a mid-level 'sweet spot' of relative functionality like 3.5 & earlier versions of D&D, because it's intentionally designed to be like them.
I see assertion, but...we have video evidence of it working, and the math works out. Theory, and practice.

Yet people still prefer Tier 2 gaming, by huge margins. I don't see reports of people getting frustrated with rules at Tier 3 levels, just feeling the story is done and starting over.
 
I see assertion, but...we have video evidence of it working
Do you think they'd post video of a game going to crap?
, and the math works out. Theory, and practice.
5e math works, roughly, as far as BA and DPR goes, as far as versatility & power beyond DPR goes, LFQW still clearly applies.

Yet people still prefer Tier 2 gaming, by huge margins.
There's no "yet" to it. Apprentice levels are still less functional, mid levels still work better, the sweet spot is still preferred.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Do you think they'd post video of a game going to crap?
The show is live, and the "Search for Grog" Level 20 One Shot had a full theater audience in attendance while they played on stage.

5e math works, roughly, as far as BA and DPR goes, as far as versatility & power beyond DPR goes, LFQW still clearly applies.
It always works in rough fashion, true, which is why it works. LFQW is solved, insofar as it was an issue.

There's no "yet" to it. Apprentice levels are still less functional, mid levels still work better, the sweet spot is still preferred.
Preferred for story-based reasons, not gameplay related reasons.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
Yeah I'm not convinced that's the best way.

Due to hp inflation and bad saves not scaling it's often better to avoid damage dealing spells past the early levels IMHO.
The bigger issue was always that damage became unnecessary, once you had spells that inflicted the Death condition directly. And even if the target was immune to Death effects, there were other ways to stop them that didn't require you to go through their HP
 
LFQW is solved, insofar as it was an issue.
You may be pleased with the current level of disparity created by LFQW, but it is still present a structural artifact of the class designs, whether you find it desireable, or others find it problematic enough to avoid high-level play for that and other systemic issues.
 
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Gadget

Explorer
I will always appreciate the "unifying" (I prefer this over streamlining, as it was still a relatively complex game mechanically, just not as segregated into so many disparate systems), and smoothing things out overall.

However, I will always view it as also one of the most "broken" version of D&D by throwing wide the doors of restrictions and enshrining the "build" mentality of combinations of multiclassing (with prestige classes of course), feats, items & spells to become quite an monstrosity, making the so called "arms race" and "christmas tree" effect more pronounced than ever. Not to mention the excessive process simulationism the system engendered as well.
 

Parmandur

Legend
ou may be pleased with the current level of disparity created by LFQW, but it is still present a structural artifact of the class designs, whether you find it desireable, or others find it problematic enough to avoid high-level play.
There is a difference between Classes, but no disparity. They are on par with each other, in terms of narrative contribution and being fun to play. I see no reports of people avoiding high level play because it breaks down, just starting over again because the stories wrap up.
 
There is a difference between Classes, but no disparity. They are on par with each other, in terms of narrative contribution and being fun to play.
I'm not going to argue how you may feel about it - "difference" vs "disparity," here, is just a matter of connotation. Nor is it the only issue inherent in the system that contributes to less functional play at the lowest levels, and at higher levels.

One of the smart things 5e did was tune the exp progression to speed through those lowest levels, and extend play in that preferred mid-level sweet spot.

Preferred for story-based reasons, not gameplay related reasons.
To the extent that both are present and not extricable, an unsupportable assumption. You could opine that both might play a factor, of course. But we'd need to look at a circumstance where they weren't correlated.

There was one, of course, but it's so obscured by controversy I doubt it'd be useful.

Then again, what play has represented in the story sense, at different levels has arguably changed, some, over the decades. In 1e, it was assumed you'd become feudal land lords and organized crime bosses and cult leaders and the like, by double-digit levels. In 3e there was no such assumption, you continued as adventurers through all 20 levels.
There was no significant change in the lack of popularity of high level play.
 

Parmandur

Legend
I'm not going to argue how you may feel about it - "difference" vs "disparity" is just a matter of connotation - but the class designs are there to examine. LFQW is just part of the structure of those designs. It's not the only issue inherent in them that contributes to less functional play at the lowest levels, and at higher levels.

One of the smart things 5e did was tune the exp progression to speed through those lowest levels, and extend play in that preferred mid-level sweet spot.
One of the other things it has done is make the Fighter quadratic (number of attacks, Action surge, etc). Hence, LFQW is no longer a disparity in fact.

.
There was no significant change in the lack of popularity of high level play.
Yes, because there was a particular place people wanted to play: E6 speaks to this in terms of how popular it was as variant.
 
One of the other things it has done is make the Fighter quadratic (number of attacks, Action surge, etc). Hence, LFQW is no longer a disparity in fact.
Nope. The fighter is, if anything, more linear than back in the day. The 1e fighter's attacks became more likely to hit as he leveled - much more likely, and improved faster than other classes, and topped out superior - and he (very slowly) got multiple attacks. BAB was similar in 3e, though iterative attacks were less of a multiplier than just full additional attacks.

The 5e fighter /does/ get full-bonus extra attacks (yay!), but, thanks to BA, his chance to hit relative to similar-level opponents does not go up much, nor does it advance any faster or higher than anyone else's. So, quite linear, if unsteady, primarily through Extra Attack.

Likewise, the Fighter's Action Surge stays the same for virtually his whole career.

Now, if Action Surge went from 1/short rest to 5/short rest, and gained radically in versatility as it did, y'might have a point.
But it doesn't.

Yes, because there was a particular place people wanted to play: E6 speaks to this in terms of how popular it was as variant.
OK, yes, E6 /was/ a change in how higher levels were regarded, in that play above 6th was recognized as problematic, rather than play above about 10th. And the point of E6 - the 'E' in E6 - was to continue to advance and enjoy 'Epic' play as you continue to gain feats (so an E6 character could get wild stuff like WWA).

If it was the stronghold-building & politicking story style of high-level 1e that had been putting people off, 3e abandoning that should have made high level /more/ popular.

OTOH, if it was LFQW & attendant caster dominance and playability breakdown that had made high-level play unpopular the whole time, then the whacktastic crazy-brokenness of CoDzilla and Tier 1 casters and Polymoprh shenanigans doing the same even sooner, would have hurt the accessibility of high level play even more.

The development of E6 is consistent with one of those.
 

Parmandur

Legend
The 5e fighter /does/ get full-bonus extra attacks (yay!), but, thanks to BA, his chance to hit relative to similar-level opponents does not go up much, nor does it advance any faster or higher than anyone else's.
Having 8-32 chances to hit in a combat is a pretty big difference compared to 1-2, or 2-4 for other combat Classes.
 

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