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3E/3.5 The 20th Anniversary of 3rd Edition D&D

Twenty years ago this month, the Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook, 3rd Edition, was released.

I thought this might be a good time to remember the release of 3e and talk about the release and the changes it brought to gaming.

The release was the focus of this website when it was originally founded as a 3rd Edition news and rumors page.

First, for the first time, D&D had a single coherent system. Before that, it was simply an ad-hoc combination of rules and subsystems. You'd roll low on a d20 for one thing, but high for another thing. There was very little consistency.

Second: This gave us the OGL and the SRD's. This was an immense breakthrough for several reasons. For those who played D&D in the 1990's while TSR owned the game, we could remember when TSR was jokingly said to mean "They Sue Regularly". They were openly hostile to fans trying to publish their own D&D materials online. Fans (or their web hosts) would get Cease and Desist letters for simply hosting a page about their homebrew campaign setting, or posting their own spells, character classes, monsters and such. Now WotC was bringing a completely different mindset to fan-created material.

They also opened the door wide-open to third parties making games comparable with, or derived from, D&D. No longer did every game company that had an idea for a setting, or bought a license for a property, have to kludge together a mediocre attempt at a game system to go with their setting idea. . .a popular and decently written system was now available to everyone for free. WotC would even make more D&D-derived games in the coming months and years, like their d20-based editions of Star Wars (the first version of which came out a few months after 3e, in November 2000), or d20 Modern, their D&D compatible game for modern-day (and sci-fi) adventuring.

This even put the basic "DNA" of D&D into the open in perpetuity. There was a time in the late 1990's, shortly before WotC bought TSR, when it seemed D&D might vanish forever, that the company that made it might just go out of business and the game would permanently go out of print. The OGL and the SRD's meant that 3rd edition D&D could live on and be reprinted (albeit without the name "Dungeons and Dragons" and a few "product identity" creatures like Illithid) in perpetuity no matter what happened to the company that made it. If someone wanted to reprint the entire 3e core rules today, with just those few "product identity" elements (a few D&D specific monsters and the wizard names in some spell names) removed, they could. That very idea was unthinkable beforehand.

Third: It revitalized D&D in a way that hadn't been seen in almost 20 years. While D&D had a surge of popularity in the early 80's, that popularity faded over time, and throughout the 90's, many gamers drifted from D&D to other games. 2nd Edition AD&D looked painfully archaic compared to games published only a few years later, and there was a time in the 90's when White Wolf was the biggest name in RPG's, not D&D. By 2000, D&D seemed positively outdated compared to most other games on the market. I know most gaming groups I played with at the time had to heavily house rule AD&D 2e to even make it anything they wanted to play. However, D&D 3e got people that hadn't played D&D in many years to come back, it got groups that had skipped the change to 2nd edition to adopt 3rd, it created a huge resurgence of interest in D&D.

Fourth: Demons, Devils, Assassins, Barbarians, Half-Orcs, and Monks were all back in the core rules. AD&D 2nd edition had sanitized many things that TSR had feared would offend "moral guardians", like assassins, demons & devils, or half-orcs. They removed Barbarians from the core rules as well, saying it was redundant compared to the fighter, and they removed the Monk, specifically saying it should be confined to the realm of "Oriental Adventures" supplements. 3e celebrated the classes and lore of the 1e era in that sense and introduced a new "Dungeonpunk" aesthetic, breaking away from a trend in 2e's of making D&D into "Medieval Western Europe with Magic", by explicitly removing elements both of fantasy, and non-western cultures from the game. They also removed many arbitrary restrictions on character creation. Paladins no longer required a 17+ Charisma, and could be races other than Human. Rangers could be alignments other than Good. Druids didn't have to be just True Neutral anymore. Humans could multi-class freely now. Any multiclass combination was allowed (alignment restrictions permitting).

What are your memories, experiences, and thoughts on the 20th anniversary of D&D 3e?
 

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Cadence

Adventurer
Supporter
In a lot of ways 2e to 3e felt similar for me to 1e to 2e. It took a lot of things that were clunky and made it seem smooth and natural, without losing the heart of the game. Granted, 2e to 3e changed a lot more than 1e to 2e.

The biggest thing for me about 3 in retrospect might be the OGL, and the return of a lot of things by outside publishers (that reminded me of what I would see around the local game/comic shop in the very early 80s for D&D and AD&D). I can't imagine putting a lot of work into making gaming materials for a system that doesn't have something like an OGL (even if I never plan to publish it).

I think in a lot of ways 3/3.5/PF is the one that comes closest to laying down what I like about the feel of a fantasy RPG - and that some of the more recent 4e/13thage/5e have gone a bit farther than where my sweet spot is.
 

Xeviat

Adventurer
3E was the first edition I played/ran as an actual PnP system. I played a lot of Baldur's Gate/Icewind Dale, which ran on the 2E rules, and I had read one of the monster manuals from AD&D, but I never got the chance to play them. It was definitely my foundational D&D experience.
 

Well for me, I "finally got into" DND when 3.0/3.5 was the current edition. I have that in quotes because I didn't play DND for the first time until 5E of this year. I was only familiar with 2E due to Balder's Gate/Planescape/Icewind Dale.

However, a lot of the DND Splatbooks I did read, whether the very few books I purchased and "certain methods"of online digital viewing or 3PP, was during 3rd Edition basically. My first DND book ever was Sword And Fist. And Races of Destiny and Tome of Battle directly influenced my very first PC and his background. Read none of the novels though. Hence, my games are heavily Forgotten Realms because of that and a lot of the lore that is available out there. And a lot of terms and stuff I use are from that edition. In fact my very first character ever, a Half-Elf Fighter, is a Battle Master but instead of using the term "Battle Master," I reflavored the name to Warblade from Tome of Battle. And that is mostly due to the fact that the Warblade of 3.5 and the Battle Master of 5E use Maneuvers. I also reflavor the Class Name of Clerics into the various Specialty Priests that existed, such as Silverstar of Selune, Demarch of Mask, Arachne of Lolth, Witness of Tharizdun, Doomguides of Kelevmor, Storm Lords of Tempus, etc, etc if I assigned a NPC to a certain Faerun faith.

Also the first DND game I've ever played was both Dark Alliance games on the PS2. On the PC was Neverwinter Nights. Then I got Temple of Elemental Evil. And those two games used the 3.0/3.5 rule set. It also made me realize how annoying it is to require a Masters Degree in System Mastery Math and the absolute combos of classes and prestige classes gave me the BIGGEST headache ever to the point where I appreciate 5E for making Single Class progression much better, outside of some quirks here and there, and the idea of Capstone abilities. It's also because of the large number of feats in the game that made me come up with the House Rule of letting Characters start off with a Feat/Racial feat at level 1. And this was before the Supernatural Gifts introduced via Theros.

Also for me, this was the edition that had the version of Psionics that I prefer/am used to. Also it gave us Eberron and we all know how awesome Eberron is. And lets not forget how AWESOME the Wizard of the Coast website was with it's Forgotten Realms/Eberron articles. A lot of great flavor and stuff was in there.

So 3.0/3.5 was basically my gateway into getting into DND and eventually leading me to playing 5E with my current group. and hopefully with some of my circle as I DM.

It's also why I'm gonna get the Goodman Games' Temple of Elemental Evil when it comes out too!

Now after all that being said, would I ever play 3.0/3.5? I'm not quite sure. I know if I did, Warblade, Crusader, and Swordsage would HAVE to be the replacements for the Fighter, Paladin, and Monk since they are much more superior martial options compared to the original three. And the Bladesinger would have to be modified to use the Races of Faerun versions' abilities with its Spell List being swapped out for the Complete Warrior's Bladesinger Spell List. I would probably also have to House Rule Pathfinder 1E skill point method, when it came to cross-class skills, as 3.0/3.5's Skills/Skill Points was kinda....annoying if you didn't know what you were doing when it came to class/cross-class skills. At least Pathfinder 1E had a better way of doing it so that way you weren't as screwed when it came to cross-class skills.
 
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3E was great when it came out, I liked the changes, but as it went on it got over complicated with PC options just by the shear number of books. I always felt that because so many rules were set in stone the edition favored the players over the DM if played RAW.
 

I still remember the day one of my friends brought the 3rd edition phb over, during our weekly 2e sessions. Almost everyone had a look of hostility on their face. A new edition, again? So we have to buy all new books? But then we decided, lets give it a try.

And I never changed back. Gone were the headaches of Tac0 and reverse armor class. The rules made so much more sense and there were so many character options. The many climate-specific books like Stormwrack, Sandstorm and Frostburn gave me so much inspiration for my own campaigns. Then Pathfinder came along, providing an even larger catalogue of material that was perfectly compatible with 3.5e. And we still play 3.5e today.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
The release was the focus of this website when it was originally founded as a 3rd Edition news and rumors page.
That's not quite accurate. This site (originally called d20reviews.com) existed alongside Eric Noah's Unofficial 3rd Edition D&D News and covered non-WotC d20 games. When Eric closed his site, I took on covering the official D&D stuff too.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
20 years damn. We played 3E like 2E. At first.

In April 2001 I discovered forums. Started to shift more towards the form meta I suppose.

Game stopped resembling 2E with bells and whistles.

Met my wife a few months later.
 

Marandahir

Crown-Forester
My first D&D game was 2e, run for me at my 11th birthday party in 2000, just months before 3e's release.

But the first edition I REALLY played significantly was 3e/3.5e. It's got a special place in my heart, even though I would be hard pressed to turn back the clock and return to it now. It's the version I played with my first consistent D&D group, with my first girlfriend, and it's the version that inspired my first worldbuilding attempts (the prototypes of my current setting, for which I'm so glad I still have the original maps I drew to look back at for inspiration).
 

3ed was way better than the 2ed system wise. Unfortunately, it also suffered from the too many books bloat. It had its strong points. Yet, some of its weakest point only showed after a few years when many campaigns went high level enough. Whenever a new edition or a new game is out and I decide to DM we make max level characters and we simulate a few dozen of combat with high level monsters. We immediately saw the number bloat but at that time, we thought we had done something wrong. We saw the Codzilla (it was not the name we gave it) and the power of the summoner type of caster. After a few years, we went back to 1ed or played Vampire the Masquerade because the number bloat was, well... tiresome?

The feats were the greatest addition to the game. Even if some feat were really a form of feat tax, the ability to make a truly unique character was there. Yes some characters were stronger than others, but over all, 3ed was good for character customization. Too good. The bloat of prestige classes became tiresome and the advent of Pathfinder only made it worst. Pathfinder was good. But it was a variation on what, near the end of 3ed, we saw as detrimental to the game: "A constant power creep in which numbers were always in greater numbers and too varied to control". The fact that many feats were in fact, feat taxes was also getting on our nerve and martial classes were there only to protect the Codzillas... And not counting the 5mwd that was introduced (or formalized?) in the edition.

Again, don't get me wrong. 3ed was great. The consistency and the normalization it brought was much needed in D&D. But the game was a bit too swingy for my taste. 4ed went too much into normalisation and we know where it led. I do think that 5ed is the best edition so far.
 

Talking to people about D&D in 1E meant letters to the editor in Dragon magazine. 2E meant USENET and TSR's AOL forum (the former a lawless #&$%-show, the latter a draconian-enforcement "adore us unconditionally or F-off" reservation. 3E was able to be birthed in the light of the world wide web and at least marginally moderated but mostly neutrally moderated web forums. That meant a lot to me. I ultimately lost a huge amount of appreciation for 3E after WotC decided to let the inmates start running the asylum. I went back to 1E for a long time, but finally came to grips with how I wanted to run 3.5, and probably actually prefer it over ALL other editions, recent or ancient - when kept firmly under control of a DM who simply understands why it needs to be controlled.
 

I switched to 3.0 when it came out - I didn't really have much choice at the time, if I wanted to continue on as a freelance writer for Dragon and Dungeon magazines - but immediately came to love it. So much had been changed for the better, rules-wise, and the possibilities were so wide open as far as character creation. I felt a little constricted at first in the monster selection, because unlike during the 1E to 2E switch you couldn't really just take the monster stats from the previous edition and run with them, they needed a much bigger conversion effort, but over time (and subsequent monsters in the Fiend Folio, Monster Manual X books, and even third-party works like the indispensable Tome of Horrors) things got better on that front. (And, I have to admit, the 3E Monster Manual did do a good job of providing a decent initial selection of monsters.)

When 4E came out and I had to make the same choice again - purchase and learn the new edition or leave my freelancer days behind me - I stuck with 3.5 and never looked back. (I'm not slamming 4E, it just didn't look like the changes they'd made to the game were going to be my cup of tea, nor those of my players.) I've been playing 3.0/3.5 since the edition(s) first came out and I don't see myself ever needing to move on from it. Sure, higher level combat starts to get clunky at times but I've found I don't mind the extra effort and I've been blessed with players who build characters they think will be fun to play, not seek the most broken loophole combinations they can come up with.

It's been a good 20 years and I look forward to the next 20 years of 3.5 gaming.

Johnathan
 

I bought the most of 3.5 D&D translated into Spanish by Devir Iberia. My collection is my little threasure. Can you imagine the emotion when I showed the Draconomicon to my little niece and this said "this (dragon) is my favorite".

I remember 3rd was in the 2000 year, but it is little hard to remember my university years were two decades ago.
 

Erekose

Adventurer
I’d stopped playing during my degree. This wasn’t that long after 2E had been released but we‘d made the transition seamlessly. I played the various CRPGs based on 2E but it was 3E, and the excitement around 3E, that brought me back to TTRPGs. It’s still the best version of the game IMHO. We have house ruled a lot of the complexity and so, at the table, it plays as fast as 5E.
 

MGibster

Hero
I got tired of 2nd edition in the 1990s and came back to D&D with 3rd edition. Overall I liked the 3rd edition rules and most of my problems with the game were pretty minor. I really loved the idea of Prestige Classes, but I hated how a player had to plan a roadmap in order to get to that class. i.e. If something came up in the game and they were interested in Arcane Archer, oh, too bad, you didn't take these skills two levels ago.

What I most remember is the glut of d20 products and how bad many of them were. The d20 versions of Legend of the Five Rings and Deadlands were flat out horrible and let's not forget the myriad of books with magic items, terrible adventures, and even worse character classes. Some of them were gems though. Games like Spycraft, Call of Cthulhu d20, and adventure paths like Rise of the Runelords were fantastic. But I can remember my FLGS had some of those d20 books on their shelves for years.
 

But I can remember my FLGS had some of those d20 books on their shelves for years.
I took a break from gaming for about a year or two in 2005-2007 towards the tail end 3.5. The game store I played at and bought alot of books from had gone out of business in that time and someone opening up a new store bought most of their remaining stock. I remember when I finally went to check out the new game shop, 99% of the 3PP garbage released from 2000-2008 were languishing on that guys shelves.
 

I'd started gaming with AD&D, continued into 2e and lost interest in D&D for several years. Played a bunch of other systems during that time. My wife and I wed in September 2000, and several of my friends gave "us" a copy of the 3e Player's Handbook as a wedding gift. and told me it was something to keep myself occupied during the honeymoon. My wife gave them a look that kills at twenty yards . . . .
 

Voadam

Hero
Other big 2e to 3e changes.

Stats Instead of AD&D's idiosyncratic reverse bell curve stats had a unified linear bonus.

Racial Class limits All races could play all classes.

Level Limits All classes and all races were unlimited in class levels regardless of stats.

XP unified chart.

Multiclassing Any class combos for all races with cumulative class features for attacks and saves.

Balance Design 3e's design goals was for each character of X level to be balanced with other characters of that level for combat, instead of weak at low levels balanced against strong at high levels or by different xp charts or by stat restrictions to get into powerful classes.
 


Arvok

Explorer
Sorry to be the grumpy, old Fatbeard here, but most of my observations about the changes wrought by 3e are negative.

Sure, 1st and 2nd edition were clunky and quirky, but I saw that as a feature not a bug. I can understand the appeal of a streamlined rule system (especially for new players), but I missed saving throws versus Rod, Staff, or Wand. Nostalgia, I guess.

My biggest beef with 3e was that the writers seemed to have very little understanding of medieval warfare, weapons, or mindset. I get that D&D is fantasy, but it was originally designed as medieval fantasy. From 3e on, it seems that it is simply a modern mindset with some old technology thrown in. When the writers can't shoehorn something modern into a Middle Age setting because of a technological issue they hand wave 'magic' at it.

Yeah, I know. I'm a grumpy, old man. GET OFF MY LAWN!
 

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