Why 3.5 Worked

Zardnaar

Legend
Out of all the editions 3.5 is one I don't have a lot of nostalgia for 3.5.

However 3.5 is still one if the bigger out of print editions played online.

And it lived on another 10 years via Pathfinder.

But 3.5 is a broken hot mess right? At higher levels absolutely. However I had my suspicions most people didn't play high level games.

Much like AD&D before it.

Now with D&D beyond showing 7% of games being above level 10 and 30% being above level 6.

So the old sweet spot IMHO is still level 3-7. It's nothing to do with game mechanics but more real life stuff. I suspect the few high level games are established groups of friends.

3.X slayed 4E even if 4E fixed it. But the old saying if it's not broke don't fix it seems to apply. They threw the baby out with the bathwater.

5E to me tops out around level 8 this is roughly when ability scores hit 18-20 with a feat or two thrown in. Anything higher than that's a bonus, level 12+ may as well be moon landings made it to 13 once in 5 years.
 

Anoth

Explorer
3.5 wasn’t broke. It just ran its course and was time for a new edition. The same thing that will happen with 5E. And then people will say 5E was broken. They were all good games. But once so many copy sales and/or people want to try something with new bells and whistles then it will stop selling and it will be time for 6E.
 

Celebrim

Legend
The reason 3e works is that at its core the D20 mechanic of d20+modifier >= target DC is a fundamentally solid mechanic that can be versatility applied to different procedures of play according to the needs of the table. It supported a wide variety of aesthetics of play at a wide variety of power levels from the grittiness of casual realism below about level 6, to epic levels of power at level 13 or higher. Moreover, if you didn't super optimize tier 1 and tier 2 characters, you had play balance up until about level 9 or 10. You are correct that probably most groups didn't play beyond those levels, but if they did the core mechanic still supported it, and groups were able to negotiate some sort of metagame that kept the game functional.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
I'm an odd duck in that 4E is my edition of choice, but 3.5E was a great edition in which I ran my longest-running and highest level campaigns. As the OP correctly points out, it works perfectly well up to the levels that most people seem to play their D&D games. Frankly, if 3.5E had the same electronic tools that 4E had (and has - thank God for the offline tools!), I'm not sure I would have bought the then-new edition.
 
3.5 wasn’t broke. It just ran its course and was time for a new edition. The same thing that will happen with 5E. And then people will say 5E was broken. They were all good games. But once so many copy sales and/or people want to try something with new bells and whistles then it will stop selling and it will be time for 6E.
Back in the day I both ran and played in high level (level 12+) 3.5 games. 3.5 was broken to hell and back. It was so broken that my own group and I agreed to end a 4 year campaign and take a break from D&D.

My break lasted 10 years until 5e; in the intervening period I played and ran other RPGs.
 

Don Durito

Adventurer
I think groups probably either embraced the complexity of 3.5 and its system building or played it loosey goosey and ignored huge chunks of the rules, playing it essentially in a similar way to 5E. (For example, when I first ran it I never once cracked the book open to check what an appropriate DC was for a particular skill, I just used what I felt was appropriate, and I never used miniatures, so we never had any arguments about when Attacks of Opportunity were used.)

I imagine groups that fell into the middle jumped ship and went to play other games.
 
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Richards

Adventurer
I still play 3.5 - two current campaigns, actually, one where I'm a player and one where I'm the DM. I've DMed a full 20-level campaign using 3.5 (as has my son) and the PCs in my follow-up campaign are right now at the high end of 18th level. We haven't experienced the "broken hot mess" assigned to high-level play in 3.5; granted, it takes longer to stat out a high-level foe but that's likely to be true (to some extent) of any high-level play.

Anyway, we're still enjoying it so that's what really matters. We never saw the need to ditch it for 4E and we have no real need to try out 5E when 3.5 is still fulfilling our gaming needs.

Johnathan
 

JeffB

Hero
Running and playing are two completely different things. 3.x drove me away from D&D (3.5 was the nail in the coffin), 4E brought me back.

I was actually rolling through all the editions Monster Manuals last night (1E, OD&D,2E,3E,PF1,PF2,4E,5E,13A) comparing high level creatures (like Demons, dragons, etc) In each case, 3.X,PFx creatures were just over the top with needless at the table complication for the DM.

I would play 3.5/PF1 with no problem assuming a good DM. But running the game past that 6-8th level sweet spot? Never again
 

NaturalZero

Adventurer
I didn't get seriously into actually playing and running DnD until the summer 3.5 dropped and I've probably spent the most hours playing that edition. I think the big strength of 3.5 was that you got a ton of choices and there was at least the illusion of meaningful freedom. The thing for those who cared about, or at least noticed, game mastery was that the longer the edition was out, the more it became obvious that where a handful of overpowered options in a sea of "timmy" choices. I found myself buying 80 page books and using 1 page because the rest of options had a tiny fraction of the usefulness and eventually I was burned out on finding needles in haystacks.

It's important to note that 5 years in, the online community had a strong grasp of how and why 3.5 was broken from an optimization point. We're now that far along with 5e and we see nothing even remotely close to that kind power disparity.
 

Iry

Adventurer
3.5 was a broken hot mess, but there was enough that was "juuuust right" that almost every DM could throw away the broken bits and still have enough delicious meat to enjoy a nice game. No two DM's could ever agree on exactly what was broken or should be kept, but it was enough that they each found their sweet spot.

It also had the raw power of nostalgia and sentimentality behind it, and that only grew over time.
Much like MMO players going back to Everquest, I don't think most players could go back to 3.5... but it was an important time in our lives and built the foundation for the good things we have today.

(Humorously, I think it would be easier to go back to 1st or 2nd than 3.X)
 

oreofox

Explorer
3rd edition was great, though I am salty that it came out a year after I first bought my 2e AD&D books. But I enjoyed the edition, and still like going though my books. I don't think I could actually go back to it, as (to me) Pathfinder greatly improved on it, despite the mess that game had. 3e was my first "true" edition of D&D, as 1e and 2e were too short lived (1 session of 1e, less than a year of 2e), and it will always hold a place in my heart and memory.

I never got to the higher levels, and luckily those I played with didn't give a rat's hiney about "optimization" so I never experienced the unbridled broken mess people keep talking about. Sadly, my final game of PF1e was a different story. Powergamer/optimizer/munchkin (whatever you wanna call them) murderhobos absolutely ruined that edition for me. I still look back on 3e/PF1e with fondness, but I don't think I will ever go back, or could ever go back, to playing those completely.

I've been tossing around the idea of mashing up 2e, 3e, PF1e, and 5e together. I don't know if I will ever get the motivation to do it, though.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Back in the day I both ran and played in high level (level 12+) 3.5 games. 3.5 was broken to hell and back. It was so broken that my own group and I agreed to end a 4 year campaign and take a break from D&D.

My break lasted 10 years until 5e; in the intervening period I played and ran other RPGs.
I ran and played in a dozen or more 3.5 games that ran to 14th-22nd level. It was over powered, but as long as the DM knew the PCs strengths and weaknesses, it wasn't all that hard to challenge them with encounters. I didn't find the game broken at all. Some individual spells or feats, sure. The game as a whole, no.
 

Tonguez

Adventurer
3.5 was great, the d20 v DC system was what brought me back to DnD, and I love the versatility and simplicity of the system including Feats. Yes there was PrC bloat but they could be ignore.

Pathfinder is system of choice for DnD now...
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
3.5 was great, the d20 v DC system was what brought me back to DnD, and I love the versatility and simplicity of the system including Feats. Yes there was PrC bloat but they could be ignore.

Pathfinder is system of choice for DnD now...
The prestige class and feat bloat is what I loved most about the game. Not the power of it, but the versatility that enabled me to create virtually any concept I could imagine. Having only the base classes with very few subclasses means that I sometimes have to sacrifice my vision of my character and cludge into subclass. Since I hate to do that, I have to toss out characters that I want to play and limit myself to what's available.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I enjoyed 3.5, but it had issues.

System mastery and the right build could make a huge difference. I remember one living campaign game where the party was fighting a pair of dragon-like creatures (based on fell beasts from LOTR if IIRC). In any case we were fighting them and my fighter told everyone "you guys take that one, I've got this one!" We killed our respective beasties at about the same time. Which meant my 1 character took the same amount of time to kill an identical creature as 5 other PCs.

I remember playing in a con with people that I hadn't played with before talking about some other player that did unbelievable amounts of damage. Then combat started and my fighter did as much or more.

On the other hand I had to have a worksheet that I used every round to add up multiple attacks because I had two weapons. Added in rows to account for power attack along with bless and a half dozen other modifiers. I rolled so many dice because my weapons had a lot of modifications that sometimes I needed two handfuls. I was efficient at it only because I used color coded dice and had a system.

But he felt insignificant if there was a PC with the right wizard or cleric build. Fight starts, we do our bit and then the wizard steps up and casts half a dozen spells somehow, leaving a smoking crater. Or the cleric steps up, increased their level temporarily (which was eventually banned) and just makes multiple monsters go away with no saving throw or counter.

Monsters could do that too. I played one time (and one time only) in a different region* that basically did everything they could to screw over any PC that had a good alignment. So I stupidly brought my 14th level paladin to a fight only to be told that I was effectively perma-stunned the first round. No save, no counter, nothing I could do because the monster was a high enough level that he just did it. Fortunately the rest of the party had get our of jail free cards or we just would have been dead in a round or two.

So yes, I had fun. But high level play just seemed to fall apart after a while, especially with casters in the group.

*The campaign had different regions, each region had a different admins and wrote many of their own mods.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
I still play 3.5 - two current campaigns, actually, one where I'm a player and one where I'm the DM. I've DMed a full 20-level campaign using 3.5 (as has my son) and the PCs in my follow-up campaign are right now at the high end of 18th level. We haven't experienced the "broken hot mess" assigned to high-level play in 3.5; granted, it takes longer to stat out a high-level foe but that's likely to be true (to some extent) of any high-level play.

Anyway, we're still enjoying it so that's what really matters. We never saw the need to ditch it for 4E and we have no real need to try out 5E when 3.5 is still fulfilling our gaming needs.

Johnathan
I got interrupted when I made my earlier post because I was going to mention your actual play threads as excellent examples of how 3.5E can work from levels 1-20.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
(snip) (Humorously, I think it would be easier to go back to 1st or 2nd than 3.X)
I still believe that one of the many reasons why 5E has been so successful is that it is, in so many ways, a natural successor to 1E or 2E and feels like those editions in play. (And, yes, I know there are differences, too.)

I enjoyed both 3.5 and 4e but I could never go back to either. I'd definitely need the digital tools to even try to play 4e again.
Fortunately, offline versions of the 4E tools are still available.
 

Aebir-Toril

Is lukewarm on the Forgotten Realms
As long as the core design principles of 5E are never violated, which might make for a boring edition, it will never be as broken as 3.5 was. 5E doesn't ever allow PCs to temporarily raise their level, cast dozens of spells, or create peasant railguns. It may not be easy to hear, as I too like 3.5 as an edition, but 5E will never be the broken, buggy mess that 3.5 was. That will undoubtedly lead to a more boring game over time, but balance will be far easier to maintain, thanks to the structure of feats, level features, multiclassing, spellcasting, and concentration.
 

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