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

Comments

Don Durito

Explorer
I think it's inarguable that things change in such a way that functionality may be reduced.

Let's just take the Fighter as an example. (and ignore spells). At level 11 the Fighter gets 3 attacks a round (and 6 with action surge). Now in a game where everyone is on the ball and really focused - this may be able to be resolved quickly with the player rolling attacks and damage at the same time. But still, if the player is making all 6 attacks this can noticeably slow the game down while everyone else waits for their turn.

Now imagine if the players and GM are not so focused than this is compounded. (And some people want to fix 2 weapon fighting by giving out more attacks!)

I'm not sure the issues at higher level play are really due to balance issues so much as issues of increasing complexity and resolution time. This was likely even the case in 3E where there definitely were huge balance issues. I found that 4E despite claims to the contrary also had a sweet spot for similar reasons and became less fun once players reached paragon tier. This would also explain why people have differing experiences - with some groups high level play exceeds the level of resolution time and increasing complexity they're comfortable with - and for others it doesn't.

It's also an advantage of 13th Age. Players don't get increasingy numbers of attacks or exponentially increasing numbers of spells.
 
Yes, and in a full adventure day at Level 20
Which is quite an assumption, compared to how people actually play, but, that aside...
, the hit point contributions of the Wizard spell slots and Fighter attacks even out. The math works.
Previously stipulated: so long as all you're measuring is single-target DPR, which is the fighter's best (nigh only) thing, and pretty nearly the wizard's worst.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Which is quite an assumption, compared to how people actually play, but, that aside...
Previously stipulated: so long as all you're measuring is single-target DPR, which is the fighter's best (nigh only) thing, and pretty nearly the wizard's worst.
There is a direct HP line per Spell slot, laid out in the DMG. A LEvel 9 SPell has a HP value for it's contribution.

And yes, Fighters kill things good: that's the fun.
 
Let's just take the Fighter as an example. (and ignore spells). At level 11 the Fighter gets 3 attacks a round (and 6 with action surge)….. But still, if the player is making all 6 attacks this can noticeably slow the game down while everyone else waits for their turn.
I'm not sure the issues at higher level play are really due to balance issues so much as issues of increasing complexity and resolution time.
OK, so at 11th level, a fighter, once between short rests, attacking 6 times instead of three gets a flag for delay of game, but, at 5th, a wizard, forcing saving throws from multiple creatures with a fireball, rolling 8 dice for damage and apportioning full or half according to the results, not an issue? (and it's not like fireball is that complicated a spell to resolve, as spells go, just potentially more to it than the fighter's best round at double the level).

This was likely even the case in 3E where there definitely were huge balance issues.
3e could slow to a crawl - or be over in a flash, depending on who at the table was optimizing, and for what.
I found that 4E despite claims to the contrary also had a sweet spot for similar reasons and became less fun once players reached paragon tier.
There isn't really a similar reason in 4e. You don't get a lot more attacks as you level. At first, a Wizard might sleep a large area and attack multiple opponents - at 7th the fighter might attack over a similar area with C&GI (and that's his high point, for the next two tiers). The increase in complexity as you level in 4e is fair through heroic Tier, going from 1 encounter & daily each to 3, but modest thereafter 4 by the end of Paragon, and just swapping out through Epic. 4e arguably started with more choices (at least for the fighter, at no point does any 4e character out-decision-paralyze a 2/3rds-the-level-equivalent 5e full caster) and lies entirely outside some fans' sweet spots, but it doesn't have a range of early or later levels that break down relative to mid-high Herioc.

There /was/ a sort of speedbump effect I used to notice at Paragon, though. Early in 4e (and it's not like there was a late in 4e), power designs eschewed immediate actions until Paragon, so, at 11th, you'd pick up a new Paragon power, that might just be an interrupt, and two or three new features to remember - and, subsequent powers you retrained or items you picked up might also involve interrupts or other off-turn actions, /and/ monsters got more off-turn actions, as well.
A group new to the edition, having finished up heroic for the first time, could struggle with that for a level or two.
Subsequent supplements put a lot more off-turn actions in the Heroic Tier.

It's also an advantage of 13th Age. Players don't get increasingy numbers of attacks or exponentially increasing numbers of spells.
Yeah, not s'much LFQW in 13A, though the fighter is pretty sad for other reasons, the structure is not entirely dissimilar to 4e, the wizard doesn't get dozens of spells to choose from...
 
There is a direct HP line per Spell slot, laid out in the DMG. A LEvel 9 SPell has a HP value for it's contribution.
Nod. Which, and MM is on record, does not account for the versatility or breadth of what spells can do, nor the plausible best uses thereof.
 

Parmandur

Legend
OK, so at 11th level, a fighter, once between short rests, attacking 6 times instead of three gets a flag for delay of game, but, at 5th, a wizard, forcing saving throws from multiple creatures with a fireball, rolling 8 dice for damage and apportioning full or half according to the results, not an issue? (and it's not like fireball is that complicated a spell to resolve, as spells go, just potentially more to it than the fighter's best round at double the level).
Fireball is limited, Fighter keeps on swinging long after spell slots run out.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Nod. Which, and MM is on record, does not account for the versatility or breadth of what spells can do, nor the plausible best uses thereof.
Well, at a certain point, a Wizard is a Wizard and a Fighter is a Fighter. Wizard gets some weird versatility within heavy limits (if the players are challenged), while the Fighter keeps on trucking. Diversity, not disparity.
 

Don Durito

Explorer
OK, so at 11th level, a fighter, once between short rests, attacking 6 times instead of three gets a flag for delay of game, but, at 5th, a wizard, forcing saving throws from multiple creatures with a fireball, rolling 8 dice for damage and apportioning full or half according to the results, not an issue? (and it's not like fireball is that complicated a spell to resolve, as spells go, just potentially more to it than the fighter's best round at double the level).
What!?

Don't go reading silly agendas into posts that don't have them. I thought the point was obvious. Even something as comparatively simple as the Fighter can slow the game to a crawl at higher levels. The wizard obviously can slow things down more. (Especially if you have a player who dithers over which of their many spells is the right one for the situation at hand).

As for 4E. I disagree - and basically for the reasons you give. To my mind Paragon tier took a game that had just about the right amount of complexity and pushed it over the edge with my group. Since you seem to be conceeding that complexity increased I'm not seeing how you can disagree. We could have a pointless argument about how big a bump in complexity it is - but that's a bit like arguing about how big the straw that broke the camel's back was.

Basically if you take a game with a certain level of complexity and increase the complexity with progression you're going to narrow the audience as you go.

There are OSR games out there that don't even have levelling up. Apparently for them staying at 1st level is the sweet spot.
 
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Parmandur

Legend
You already said over the course of an adventuring day.

And fighter doesn't keep on swinging after enemies run out, because they've all been burned to death by a fireball. ;P
Yes, the Wizard gets his moment to shine, like every other Class, and they are Wizard-y moments like giant Fireballs. But they only get so many 3rd or better spell slots, while the Fighter keeps on killing.
 
Well, at a certain point, a Wizard is a Wizard and a Fighter is a Fighter. Wizard gets some weird versatility within heavy limits (if the players are challenged), while the Fighter keeps on trucking.
Used to have heavy limits. There used to be hard weapon, armor & magic item restrictions on the magic-user. Spellcasting in combat - let alone melee! - used to be a real risk. Components used to severely limit the conditions under which you could cast. Concentration was needed to cast anything and, if interrupted, the spell was lost. Memorization meant less flexibility over the course of the single day than spontaneous, not greater. Heck, there wasn't spontaneous casting.
Diversity, not disparity.
If the fighter and wizard did different things, in different ways, that were situationally sometimes better than the other, or vice versa, sure. But the wizard does the same things as the fighter (single target DPR), in a different way (cantrips & slots), and /more/ things, as well.
Yeah, there's a theoretical mathematical equivalency in DPR for the case of a long enough day that the caster blows /all/ his slots on damage-causing spells vs lone enemies, and continues plinking away with cantrips, until his overall DPR for the day converges with the Fighter's. And, even more hypothetically, if that day continued to grind on, and they both survived long enough, the fighter would pull increasingly far ahead, round by round, by the difference between his weapon attacks and the wizards attack cantrip.

But, I ask you, is D&D a combat-only game in which you do nothing but face a succession of lone enemies?
 

Parmandur

Legend
Used to have heavy limits. There used to be hard weapon, armor & magic item restrictions on the magic-user. Spellcasting in combat - let alone melee! - used to be a real risk. Components used to severely limit the conditions under which you could cast. Concentration was needed to cast anything and, if interrupted, the spell was lost. Memorization meant less flexibility over the course of the single day than spontaneous, not greater. Heck, there wasn't spontaneous casting.
Cantrips never catch up, because the Fighter has better attacks and more of them, whiel the Rogue has Sneak Attack.

The game part is combat heavy, yes. That is where the balance is. Out of combat, Wizards will not want to waste resources outshining the martial PCs in their department,.
 
Yes, the Wizard gets his moment to shine, like every other Class, and they are Wizard-y moments like giant Fireballs. But they only get so many 3rd or better spell slots, while the Fighter keeps on killing.
Because he has infinite foes and infinite hps?

Cantrips never catch up, because the Fighter has better attacks and more of them
I believe I just said that: the /Fighter/ catches up, after slots are expended, because his attacks are better than cantrips.

The game part is combat heavy, yes. That is where the balance is. Out of combat, Wizards will not want to waste resources outshining the martial PCs in their department,.
Rituals aren't a waste of resources.
And, really, what department?
Niche protection is largely gone. Sure, the Rogue has Expertise, he can be that good at some stuff, of his choice.
 
Skills work better, and faster.
Better? Where magic can do something, it's usually pretty absolute about it. Faster? Depends on DM judgement, since the ritual's casting time will be defined and out of combat skill use is less likely to be.

But, literally everyone has skills, and through backgrounds, any given PC might have basically any skill or tool proficiency. Thanks to BA, anything short of Expertise as a class feature doesn't make skill use stand out for a class, anyway. The Rogue can hang his hat on skills, not the fighter.
 
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Parmandur

Legend
Literally everyone has skills, and through backgrounds, any given PC might have basically any skill or tool proficiency. Thanks to BA, anything short of Expertise as a class feature doesn't make skill use stand out for a class. The Rogue can hang his hat on skills, not the fighter.
I mean, if someone want to be a jock Wizard, but otherwise a Fighter will always outclass Wizards at Athetics and Acrobatics, also due to BA.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
Literally everyone has skills, and through backgrounds, any given PC might have basically any skill or tool proficiency. Thanks to BA, anything short of Expertise as a class feature doesn't make skill use stand out for a class. The Rogue can hang his hat on skills, not the fighter.
High Dex fighter with the right back ground and guidance spam can replace the rogue.

Not as good as spamming guidance on rogue but rogues are often better replaced with Dex fighter, monk, bard etc. Guidance spam almost obsoletes Rogue.

Rogue and Fighter both take to long to get back to good at their niche is the problem.
Rangers better Archer, Paladin's better melee. Rogues not particularly good at skills until level 9 or so due to the way proficiency scales and other classes can come close enough in various ways (spells, class features, bard rice etc).

They're not bad classes just take to long to get to where they're needed. Niche protection is kind of gone.
 
Rogue and Fighter both take to long to get back to good at their niche is the problem.
Rangers better Archer, Paladin's better melee. Rogues not particularly good at skills until level 9 or so due to the way proficiency scales and other classes can come close enough in various ways (spells, class features, bard rice etc).
Niche protection is kind of gone.
Yeah. Kinda. Mostly gone. Though, as in 4e, it's as much a matter of multiple classes able to fill a niche as the niche being gone... just... fuzzier.

And the Rogue is fine with skills - just like everyone else - he just doesn't stand out until proficiency is high enough for the Expertise doubling to really make an impact.
 
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