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D&D 3E/3.5 What was the original intended function of the 3rd edition phb classes?


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The erroneous nature of your assertion that pre-3e save or suck spells only came into play when fighters were good at saving against them can be addressed on its own merits.
except that ignores the above part about skipping HP...
yes at low level 1 lucky crit can kill your fighter, also 1 failed save... as you level your HP goes up and 1 lucky crit is UNLIKELY to kill your fighter, and 1 low roll on a save is equally unlikely...

You took out the part where it was not low level she was talking about...

SHe had 0 problem with hold person maybe ending a fight at 2nd level... but when it still could at 13th and was still a 2nd level spell it was BS...



My assertion that pre-3e low level saves were tough to make was not an attempt to disprove that high level pre-3e saves were easier to make than 3e high level saves.
except even low level pre3e SoS spells (like tasha laugh even before hold, or sleep) YOU GOT BETTER AT RESSITING THEM, and so did the monsters.
2e wizards could not reliable say "I bet this monster has a low will save, tasha laugh/hold person," and end a fight at 7th or 8th level... let alone 12th or 13th... a 3e one could.

that whole "the caster had no say in the DC was a feature... it was the intent, not a bug or an opps to be fixxed.

Saves where the resisting to major battle ending effects pre 3e... in 3e (and a bit in 5e) they are NOT any more.
Pre-3e low level characters often missed on attack rolls, saving throws, and level based abilities like thief skills. They got significantly better at mid to high levels with high level pre-3e fighters in particular often hitting and making saving throws.
Yes and 3e (and 5e after, and pathfinder) all took the physical toughness from the fighter... no more could they just shurg off effects...
 

Staffan

Legend
3E introduced more Cures (at each level, as I recall), and introduced Domain spells so Clerics could always cast a Domain spell in place of a prepared spell of the same level, with the idea that you'd always have the option of a cure or something else with any given slot on any given day.
Close, but it was the other way around. Clerics could turn any prepared spell except their domain spells into cure spells. One of the later books may have had a feat or something that allowed for turning prepared spells into domain spells, but it wasn't part of the core cleric.

It wasn't the lack of playtest but the lack of outside playtest.

They only playtested how they'd play. They barely playtested how others would play.
I distinctly remember there being articles on the D&D web site that had brief interviews with external playtesters, and I think the PHB had like a whole page of names written in really small type with playtesters. I don't know how tightly controlled those playtests were, though – there's a difference between "Here are some rules, go do your thing" and "Make characters according to these guidelines and play this particular scenario and see how aspect X of the rules work in these circumstances.".
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
Another problem is that it's boring design. Three encounters out of four are basically only preparation for the major encounter, where the point is to wear you down to where the final encounter becomes exciting. That's the same kind of thinking that gets you the scoring in Britannia*, and that's no way to run a game.
Eh, that’s a matter of personal taste. Some folks (myself, for example) quite enjoy the long-term resource management game. And, that type of play has been part of D&D‘s DNA from the beginning.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
I think the value of 3e Cure Light Wound wands was pretty self evident from the books and approaching it from a critical/analytical/actual use perspective in thinking about the game and in actual play.

Anyone who played pre 3e D&D generally knew the use and importance of healing in D&D.

In 3e a new big not obscure thing was you could buy magic items commonly. AD&D had selling items for gp, but the 1e DMG stressed buying items was a big not common deal. 3e changed that at least for low powered items. A first level wand of a common spell was designed to be easy to get. 50 cure light wound spells on hand is awesome for a D&D adventurer so buying them when you see that is a relatively cheap and common option is an obvious, but fantastic idea.

Playing as you did in 2e naturally led to looking at 3e with the same ideas which meant those who looked at 2e mechanical options with anal analytical eyes looked at 3e's mechanical options the same.

No internet required.

Casual players who did not go deep into the mechanical options did not see them on their own in pre 3e games. I see the same today with casual 5e players. Most of the people I have played face to face D&D with have never been on a D&D forum. D&D forums have their own self-selecting community that is geared to those more into discussions of D&D stuff so there will be more discussion of and transmission of insights, but it is not necessary. Analytical people who play D&D exist outside of the forums.

Forums make it easier to see these ideas and discussions, but not necessary. All it takes is someone to look for mechanical options critically or to have someone in your group who does who wants to discuss them.
I agree about CLW wands, but some of the optimized builds like CoDZilla were something most folks wouldn’t just come up with on their own. They were the products of multiple analytical people putting their heads together. Which doesn’t require the internet, but the internet sure makes it easier and allows those ideas to spread farther, faster.
 

I agree about CLW wands, but some of the optimized builds like CoDZilla were something most folks wouldn’t just come up with on their own. They were the products of multiple analytical people putting their heads together. Which doesn’t require the internet, but the internet sure makes it easier and allows those ideas to spread farther, faster.
and without the super cheap 50d8+50 healing stick they would not have been anywhere near as effective.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Andy Collins (and his peers) made huge efforts to be transparent about the development of 3E and 3.5E. You can look back on these boards, on Andy's own message boards (All) and on archives of the old WotC boards (as well as archived interviews with him and other people listed in those core 3E books) and get the full story - from design philosophy to playtesting to the whole 9 yards.

My short hand view: They built a game that was intended to be versatile and balanced. They, at first, underestimated the amount to which the D&D community would unite on the internet between 1999 and 2005 and did not realize how much they'd see optimization. They also did not realize the extent to which the community would have unified opinions that were wrong from a statistical / numerical standpoint.
 

The designers expected people to play the game just as they had in 2e, with only the barest minimum of strategy change. This is why Clerics got the "spontaneous conversion" stuff, and decent attack actions--Clerics were expected to be Brother Bactine almost all the time, so they were given a bunch of benefits to cushion that blow. Instead, players looked at all those benefits and the inefficiency of in-combat healing and said, "Why would I ever heal when I could do a bunch of other, more-useful things instead?" This type of disconnect, between "we expect players to keep playing just like in 2e, so we should adjust things assuming that they will" and "analyze the game for what it actually rewards and then pursue that," characterizes about half of the problems with 3rd edition's balance.

About a third of its issues center on the failure to test scaling beyond relatively low levels. People have mentioned E6 and how 6th level is about the last level where things still work right--well, that's because that's about as far as they playtested, from what I've been told. They presumed that patterns which held fine up to that point would hold fine forever after, and...they don't. You can see this most strongly with the Fighter class: having tons of feats was supposed to be extremely powerful, but in practice because of the long and tiny-fiddly feat chains, most Fighters actually require a TON of optimization just to be halfway decent, let alone great. A failure to test and examine how feats actually worked when spooled out over many levels meant the designers had a false idea of how valuable a feat-slot was.

Most of the remainder is down to simply not considering whether features played nicely together, best exemplified by the Monk. The Monk is supposed to be a mobile combatant flying around the battlefield, doing cool martial arts things. The problem is, in order to do the best damage you can in 3rd ed, you must stand completely still. They then stapled on several other random grab-bag features that don't actually cohere together into any meaningful whole; the 3rd edition Monk just frankly sucks and there's very little you can do to fix it that doesn't effectively become "replace it with a different class." (As an example, there are feats that allow characters to count their Monk levels as advancing psionic powers, essentially suturing together Monk and whatever psionic class you prefer.)

The final little bit--which has a disproportionate impact for its size--is the presence of specific spells and feats that blow the game balance wide open, semi-related to my second paragraph above. Infamous examples being the spell glitterdust and the feat Natural Spell. The former is simultaneously excellent crowd control and completely defeats enemy stealth or invisibility when it's successful (and it's easy to make it successful). The latter allows essentially every Druid ever to become an incredible powerhouse, taking on animal forms that rival the Fighter's power while also being able to cast spells. That feat is almost single-handedly responsible for the D in "CoDzilla," and it seems pretty clear that the designers just....never considered how powerful they were making the Druid class.

So...yeah. The designers of 3e expected an unchanged culture of play from 2e, they didn't test the game beyond low levels, and they more than once failed to actually make cohesive design goals for some of the classes. Druid was incoherent but incredibly powerful (suturing together "pet class," "shapeshifting class," "full nature spellcaster," and "summoning specialist" all in one package!) while Monk was incoherent in a way that made it weak.
 

They also did not realize the extent to which the community would have unified opinions that were wrong from a statistical / numerical standpoint.
What opinions are these, exactly? Because to the best of my knowledge it was the designers who got several things wrong. Like the utility of in-combat healing (which simply drags combats out) or the wildly inconsistent value of a single feat.
 


Staffan

Legend
About a third of its issues center on the failure to test scaling beyond relatively low levels. People have mentioned E6 and how 6th level is about the last level where things still work right--well, that's because that's about as far as they playtested, from what I've been told. They presumed that patterns which held fine up to that point would hold fine forever after, and...they don't. You can see this most strongly with the Fighter class: having tons of feats was supposed to be extremely powerful, but in practice because of the long and tiny-fiddly feat chains, most Fighters actually require a TON of optimization just to be halfway decent, let alone great. A failure to test and examine how feats actually worked when spooled out over many levels meant the designers had a false idea of how valuable a feat-slot was.
A big problem with fighters was that while feat chains felt cool at first (I have Power Attack! And now I get Cleave! And next level I get Great Cleave!), they kind of petered out after about 6th level. You could of course still take more feats, but you'd be starting over on a new feat chain with moves that were cool at 1st or 2nd level, but not so impressive at 10th. And many feat chains required decently high stats in different stats. You dump-statted Intelligence? Well, no Combat Expertise or Improved Trip for you, then!

That was really the big advancement of Tome of Battle: giving martial characters more awesome abilities at higher levels.

Most of the remainder is down to simply not considering whether features played nicely together, best exemplified by the Monk. The Monk is supposed to be a mobile combatant flying around the battlefield, doing cool martial arts things. The problem is, in order to do the best damage you can in 3rd ed, you must stand completely still. They then stapled on several other random grab-bag features that don't actually cohere together into any meaningful whole; the 3rd edition Monk just frankly sucks and there's very little you can do to fix it that doesn't effectively become "replace it with a different class." (As an example, there are feats that allow characters to count their Monk levels as advancing psionic powers, essentially suturing together Monk and whatever psionic class you prefer.)
As I recall, most of the "random stuff" for the monk came from the 1e class.
The final little bit--which has a disproportionate impact for its size--is the presence of specific spells and feats that blow the game balance wide open, semi-related to my second paragraph above. Infamous examples being the spell glitterdust and the feat Natural Spell.
It should be noted that Natural Spell wasn't in the 3.0 PHB. I think it was added in Masters of the Wild (the druid/ranger/barbarian splat book for 3.0), and then incorporated into 3.5.
So...yeah. The designers of 3e expected an unchanged culture of play from 2e, they didn't test the game beyond low levels, and they more than once failed to actually make cohesive design goals for some of the classes. Druid was incoherent but incredibly powerful (suturing together "pet class," "shapeshifting class," "full nature spellcaster," and "summoning specialist" all in one package!) while Monk was incoherent in a way that made it weak.
I like how 13th age solved the druid dilemma. Basically, druids get to choose three talents from among (IIRC) shapeshifting, summoning, elemental magic, animal companion, and fighting. Picking one of these gets you so-so abilities in that area (e.g. an animal companion will help you in every other fight), and you can pick it a second time to become great at that aspect.
 

Voadam

Legend
I agree about CLW wands, but some of the optimized builds like CoDZilla were something most folks wouldn’t just come up with on their own. They were the products of multiple analytical people putting their heads together. Which doesn’t require the internet, but the internet sure makes it easier and allows those ideas to spread farther, faster.
CoDzilla seem pretty straightforward from the books.

Cleric is just take and cast buff spells on yourself then go to town. That seemed to be an intention going into 3e to make clerics more divine powered champions, more magical paladins. They just did not see how much it would be dived into with a five minute work day, particularly with scry, buff, teleport as a tactic.

Druid zilla is maybe buff yourself with some spells like barkskin, turn into a big bear with improved grab and shut down the opponent with big strong grappling.

Or druid zilla is overwhelm with big strong summons.

Or druidzilla is go full caster in a different way.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
CoDzilla seem pretty straightforward from the books.

Cleric is just take and cast buff spells on yourself then go to town. That seemed to be an intention going into 3e to make clerics more divine powered champions, more magical paladins. They just did not see how much it would be dived into with a five minute work day, particularly with scry, buff, teleport as a tactic.
Sure, and they probably made too many synergistic buffs like divine power and righteous might. Fortunately, something like the concentration mechanic scuttles the excessive overlapping buff tactic in 5e.
 


Orius

Hero
TBF, in 1E and 2E there only WERE "cure HP" spells at 1st, 4th, and 5th level, but yeah, a lot of groups expected the Cleric to load up on cures where they could. It kind of depended on the culture of the group, though. In practice some Clerics would mix in a few other practical spells on those levels, and load up on max cures on downtime days when the party was beat up.

3E introduced more Cures (at each level, as I recall), and introduced Domain spells so Clerics could always cast a Domain spell in place of a prepared spell of the same level, with the idea that you'd always have the option of a cure or something else with any given slot on any given day. But they kept healing spells as basically always being your Standard Action for the round.

Pre-3e did have that healing gap in spell levels 2 and 3, where CLW started falling behind around character level 4 or 5. Spells and Magic in 2e tried to fill in the gaps a little by introducing CMW, though it's a bit weak in 2e. S&M also had a 3rd level spell called repair injury or something like that which could function as a basic hp healing spell in a pinch though its primary function was to heal specific injuries caused by the Player's Option crit tables.

In any case in the last 2e game I ran, I added CMW to the standard cleric spell list (basically any ToM or S&M spell that was a standard 3e cleric spell became a standard spell for 2e), and used the 3e dice for healing rather than the weaker 2e values. However, CSW and CCW stayed at their original levels. My younger niece played the cleric and only used about half the spell slots for healing; she liked to experiment with the various spells. In particular, she was fond of the 2e conversion of sound burst I did.

3e allowed spontaneous casting of healing spells. Complete Divine had the Domain Spontaneity feat that allowed for spontaneous domain spell casting.
 

Orius

Hero
I said earlier that pre-3e wasn't balanced per encounter like 3e tried to do; it's sort of the conventional wisdom that the earlier versions of the game went for balance over the course of a campaign. One aspect of that was that XP was awarded for gold; it was expected that about 75% of XP was from treasure, not monsters. That led to a different play style since encounters were far less rewarding and therefore more of a risk. Random encounters would exhaust some of the party's resources and any incidental treasure often wouldn't be worth it, and D&D is partially a game of resource management. Many types of monsters generally didn't even carry treasure with them. You'd generally want to fight monsters that had lair treasures because that would be worth something. Or maybe an NPC party because they had magic items, but were risky in their own way.
 

I don't know, I think a lot of people are forgetting the state of the game when 3e was designed.

First and foremost, AD&D wasn't designed so much as assembled over the course of a decade or more. By the time of the 1990s, it was very clear to the RPG design community that AD&D was the antithesis of a designed game. It was also a dead game as far as sales. People I've talked to in the industry at the time legitimately thought that everyone had moved on from D&D to other, more narrative games. And it's not hard to see why. AD&D is, more than anything else, extremely arcane. It's full of dozens of systems and mechanics that each work differently, often contradicting each other. It's impossible to intuit or get a feel for how things are supposed to work because it was all rules tacked on to OD&D. It was like design by Katamari Damacy. Attempts by TSR to add design to it in the form of 2e and Skills and Powers largely just fractured the game even further with even more ad hoc systems. Worse, because the mechanical systems were so different, it was nearly impossible to tell from the mechanics alone what the true intent of each system was. Further, there was also a very strong culture of DM vs PC, perhaps best satirized in Knights of the Dinner Table, that virtually everyone recognized as toxic but was hard to undo. The nature of the rules encouraged an extreme number of house rules to be adopted. The complaint was that you couldn't go from one table to another because every table not only used different house rules, they used different subsets of the core game's rules, too! Different choices for initiative, weapon speed, weapon type vs AC, double specialization, warrior "sweep", grappling, level limits, race limits, XP determination, advancement, treasure placement, etc.

So, you're WotC. You've just bought TSR's IP, and you need to sell a new edition to justify that purchase. You can see that even though they were producing a ton of content, nothing was really selling. And the people buying were often just reading the content and not using it for a game. That's fine for making money for that product, but it means you're not producing content for your core customer base target. (They were also selling at a loss, but, still. Sales weren't great and they weren't selling to gamers, their target audience.) WotC does a massive market study, and they find some really interesting and useful things like: (1) a ton of people still play AD&D but they just stopped buying stuff, (2) people like 3-4 encounters per day because it fits well into a session, (3) people don't play much over level 10, (4) group sizes are about 3-5 players plus a DM, (5) most groups ignore arbitrary limits (ability, level, and race), (6) nobody really likes alignment that much, (7) people want to be able to find games easier, (8) people didn't really like Vancian casting, (9) non-combat should be expanded, (10) players didn't like not having any agency, (11) players wanted more customization and options, (12) nobody likes being "stuck" playing a cleric or thief, (13) save or die is not fun, etc. Unsurprisingly, all the stuff that they found was either a core design element of 5e, or is something that people still complain about in 5e. [You used to be able to find articles by Monte Cook, Sean Reynolds, Skip Williams, etc. about this big survey or research that they had done, but they're very hard to find now. Some were probably on Eric Noah's original news site, although many weren't written until well after 3e was published.]

Other than that, what WotC really finds is that nobody uses the rules as presented. It's all a big mix of a la carte choices. They thought they'd be dealing with 2-3 different versions (Basic, 1e, 2e) but what they're actually finding is much closer to dozens of "editions". And the reason WotC comes up with is: there's no cohesive design. Lots of rules are too complex and time-consuming for most tables to bother with, or they're actively not fun, or they just don't work.

So, your new edition needs a cohesive design. That, right off the bat, says you need a brand new system with many core mechanics completely redesigned. That's question 1. Question 2 is: What rules do you incorporate into the new edition to satisfy as many people as possible? When everyone is using a different subset, what do you pick to attract the most existing and new customers? Think about that a minute. You need to redesign the game, and you can't tell what game people actually play! This is by far the most difficult question to answer with the new design, and even looking back and knowing the flaws, it's hard to say if what they ended up doing was right or wrong. They couldn't tell what was actually important. Even for us looking back, we can't tell if a different design would have attracted fewer players or failed for other reasons. Nobody had really done before what 3e did in the sense of scope and scale of rules for a TTRPG. So, as we all know, they decided to make the most cohesive and complete design they could, incorporating as much material as possible. Knowing from the start that they would have to create another new edition in perhaps only a few years to fix the big mistakes (and to again offset the cost of TSR), this seemed like the best course of action. At the very least, it would let them tell what people actually used and pare it down in the future.

Therefore, the primary purpose of 3e was to give it a design. An actual game designed by professional game designers, not hobbyists with boutique, hand-crafted systems for everything. It wasn't going to be perfect but, given the sea of chaos they began with, 3e just needed to be the seed crystal to making an actual RPG product out of the IP. Because what they bought didn't really have that.

So, to answer OP's question: The class design of 3e was intended to replace the AD&D designs in terms of class ability requirements, racial restrictions, racial level limits, and resolving dual class vs multiclass. Otherwise, they were the classes you were expected to use for the whole game.

The unintended consequences were:
  1. People ignored the or easily circumvented the multiclass penalty of Favored Class. It was intended to be a weak restriction anyways, but it enabled a la carte multiclassing to take advantage of class ability frontloading. That's why in 5e nobody gets much of anything cool until level 3, and it's why warlock is such a bad design (the class plateaus progression between level 3 and level 9).
  2. People really, really, liked the new kits: prestige classes. These were intended to be 1-2 available as determined by the DM for a given campaign as a special reward. Nope. Everybody wanted a prestige class for their character in every campaign for more cool abilities. So, very quickly with the introduction of splat, the base classes became a puzzle to answer the question, "How do I optimally get to my prestige class as quickly and efficiently as possible because the game is still probably going to end between levels 6 and 10?"
  3. Spellcaster scaling really, really got clearly out-of-hand. The problem Gygax knew about in Supplement I in 1975 had grown into a tarrasque-sized problem in 2001. It became very clear that the way casters worked was grossly unfair, but it was an unfixable problem without another major edition to totally overhaul the game.
So, much like 2e, the big problems with 3e class design were:
  • Multiclassing
  • Kits
  • LFQW
In 5e, I think kits is pretty well handled. I think LFQW is mostly handled, but possibly a little over-corrected with how unusably bad some spells are now. I think multiclassing is still mostly a problem.
 

Exactly. I don't know how people went from Monte stating that some feats were good in specific circumstances (e.g. one-shots or to improve the survivability of a specific race/class combination) and, in hindsight, the should have provided more information to the designers, intentionally, placed trap options. The latter, to me, implies that the designers approached feats with malice to screw over players which is not the same as failing to provide guidance under which conditions to take specific feats.
Let's look at what Monte said himself. The article's still around if you know where to look.

And to quote from it
Monte Cook's actual words:
But, in fact, we did take some cues from Magic. For example, Magic uses templating to great effect, and now D&D does too. (To be clear, in this instance, I don't mean templates like "half-dragon," so much as I mean the templating categories such as "fire spells" and "cold-using creatures," then setting up rules for how they interact, so that ever contradictory rules for those things don't arise again, as they did in previous editions.)

Magic also has a concept of "Timmy cards." These are cards that look cool, but aren't actually that great in the game. The purpose of such cards is to reward people for really mastering the game, and making players feel smart when they've figured out that one card is better than the other. While D&D doesn't exactly do that, it is true that certain game choices are deliberately better than others.
The key thing about it is that's not what Timmy Cards are. We can look at Mark Rosewater's Making Magic and we find out that Timmy should be superbly catered for - by a large hulking barbarian or by a big blast mage bringing the damage.

I think that Monte Cook is talking about the way Magic uses lucky charms as teaching tools (again Mark Rosewater) - but Magic is intended to be all about player skill.

I'd have to call this accidental sabotage by Monte Cook not actually understanding the M:tG design concepts he was talking about.
 

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