On The Sublimity of Third Edition

So wizards is reprinting 3.x core books.

What's good about this? Not much. What's good about third edition though?

More than one or two things.

Reprinting just the 3.5 core books is a special kind of idea, the terrible kind. Anyone who wants those books is just going to buy Pathfinder. They would do better with Expanded Psionic, Spell Compendium, and other series of 'collection' books. Why? Because 3.5 books are available new at a lower price then the reprints. They lost the core rulebook sales to Paizo, and re-releasing the core rulebooks isn't going to change that. Have you seen the Pathfinder core books? It's a better engine then 3.5.

That's not what we're going to talk about today. What are we going to talk about?

Well, I'm pretty negative about 3.X in general, so here I'm going to talk about what 3.X did right. What elements of brilliance it contained that should propagate throughout the OSR. Here we go!

1. Touch Armor Class - Why is this not freaking standard? When writing for D&D writing, "must make a touch attack" is so much easier then writing "Must make an attack that bypasses armor, only allowing a dexterity bonus to armor class". One is simple way of stating what must be done. The other requires re-iteration every time it is mentioned.

2. Standardizing the terms of the action economy - In general, the action economy sucks a literal pile of moist monkey poop through pursed lips while making a 'swwwwwwwuuuuuuuuuup' sound. However, it is much simpler and more clear to say, "This takes a full round action," rather than saying, "The character must use the item for a full round in order to gain the benefit". Similarly, saying "The character cannot attack and can only move and make non-offensive actions" is much more unclear and complicated then saying "The character can only take move actions."

3. Spell descriptors - Let me be clear. I love item saving throws. I can even wrap my head around spells creating 'normal fire' and 'magical fire'. But categorizing energy types and having spells tagged with descriptors and then having clear-cut categories for what the spell is doing, helps me as a DM to make judgement calls as needed. I still can't parse the 2e version of Alter Self.

4. Conditions - I think having general condition descriptors is a good idea.  As long as you don't create a new condition for every little variant, and have a short list of perhaps 15 different conditions and general effects that other game effects can use or modify.

5. Bonus Types - Finally, there is an awful awful lot I hate about the magic item/spell bonus system. The one part I don't is having explicit bonus types with explicit rules for how they stack.

6. Templates - I thought they were a good idea when I first saw them, and I still think they are a good idea. Why shouldn't anything be a ghost? or a skeleton? Obviously some intelligence should be applied, but this is a good idea.


  1. Those are all very good points.

    Though it is not lost on me that pretty much all of them are just improved terminology. =P

  2. Regarding the first part of your post; While the re-issue of the core books will be more expensive than finding a used copy it won't be much as far as I can tell. Ebay sales for a 3.5e DMG are going for $24-$30 before shipping and the new books will be, what, $34.99? Plus, the re-iisue includes all the 3.5e errata.

    I've heard that RPG stores offer them cheap in their discount or bargain bin sections but I don't have a local RPG store around me so I don't know what kind of price range they're falling in there.

    Why do I want the 3.5e core books? I want them to use for our Microlite20 campaign (M20 being based off of 3.5e D&D) and for solo play with Unbound Adventures #11.

    Why is there a demand for them on Ebay? I don't know. Pathfinder obviously is a huge success so why the demand is there, at least on Ebay, I don't know, but it kinda makes me wonder...

  3. I wonder though, if you don't use CR strictly, what do you really get from a template? I mean, say you want a ghost goblin. Decrease the size and hit dice (maybe), add the ghost special abilities, done.

    Didn't everybody already create hybrid monsters?

    Touch AC is a real innovation that makes sense, but it does require reengineering all the bestiary entries (something that was obviously part of 3E) but that requires continual rulings to work with TSR era D&D and simulacra. It does kind of do violence to the term armor class, but we have been doing that kind of violence ever since dexterity started to factor in.

  4. "the action economy sucks"

    I'm curious if you have more about this elsewhere, and/or care to elaborate. I (effectively) grew up on 3.X, so I've never know anything but Full, Standard, Move, Swift, etc.

    1. The idea of an "economy" of actions that you "spend" can be limiting in my experience, though my primary exposure to action economy is the Fourth Edition implementation.


    2. I generally agree (and like your treatment at the link), except that I don't think of it in terms of "points to spend" but measures of how long a thing takes/how complicated the maneuver. If a round is supposed to be 6 seconds, it's convenient to have keyed terms to talk about how those 6 seconds are spent. It only becomes a problem when characters are trying to essentially min-max combat (a thing I think 4E was, possibly unintentionally, designed to encourage), and like any other kind of min-maxing that can be a problem. I don't feel like I "wasted" a turn if the only thing I did was a Minor action, if I accomplished my goal for that turn.

  5. A lot of the thing you like have one thing in common - they are meta-descriptions. Explaining things in standardized terms doesn't just make descriptions shorter, it means you're more likely to remember how something works without looking it up. This is why they need to control the number of conditions, named bonus types and descriptors. It's a balance to keep enough to cover what they need to cover while keeping them few enough that you remember each one.

    I am in favor of standardizing wherever possible. But I also think they need to keep the descriptive prose to stoke the imagination. I like the precision of 4e's rules, but they didn't do so well in adding the prose part. Some people are okay with bringing their own descriptiosn, but others find it too dry.

  6. I think wizards/hasbro believes - that there is a market which doesn't know, or doesn't care, about paizo and pathfinder.

    There's a lot of folks out there who still think of WotC as "D&D" and everyone else as "imitators". Not saying I agree, just saying.

    Luckily we can all see the sales rank on amazon and test this hypothesis once they release.

  7. I've never understood the idea of monster templates (there were even whole books of them weren't there?). As Brendan says above, surely anyone could make a zombie into a flame zombie by just saying "ok it does +1 damage from the flames and can spout a cone of fire once every 3 rounds doing 1d8 damage"... it's always seemed far more complex to me to have to look at some "official" template and adjust all the numbers in the pre-ordained way. Or am I missing something? (I've never played D&D 3, so I may be missing something ;)

    1. Templates were more like, "turn any creature into a zombie." Or a vampire, or an archon, or lycanthrope, whatever. In my opinion, they were actually pretty cool. A GM could wing it for all that stuff but there were some nice simplifications about having all those great ideas in front of you, begging to be used.

    2. I like the idea of templates, but in practice in 3.x they were a huge pain. This probably more of an issue with the overcomplexity of 3.x's monster statblocks, but still when I saw templates on this list, my gut reaction was to shudder.

    3. I guess some of the more complicated templates might have been bad. Most of the ones I used were fairly straightforward (+X to stats, gain these abilities).

  8. r.e., templates: from an outsider's perspective (skipped that era of gaming entirely, but have since read a lot of the material), templates seem like a fun idea that instantly got overused. I recently acquired a big stack of Paizo-era Dungeon magazines, and it starts to look like a contest for who can combine the most templates into one creature. After a while, all the stats for "fiendish, half-drow dire boar assassin/flame-larper" on even the run-of-the-mill encounters just make my eyes glaze over.

  9. Touch AC works better (and saves space) as a Reflex save. There should be 6 saves rather than 3, but linking them to avoidance method is nice when it's the defender rolling (and bad in 4e when it's the attacker rolling).

    Standardizing actions is odd. Reads OK and then seems to lead designers off in flights of fancy to give you horrible, game-breaking things to do with your minor action, and everyone "acting" in their little cage of carefully detailed action limits.

    Much like the rest of them. Good ideas not brilliantly executed, much like D&D has always been. There's nothing wrong with kits, as an idea, but 2nd edition did some horrible things with them. AD&D's initiative and combat system is quite clever and open-ended, if you can figure it out amongst all the contradictory text.

    1. I totally agree with your comments about standardizing actions, but simply being able to categorize something as a 'full round action' or 'standard action' or 'move action' is a huge boon to categorizing processes of activities (as I'm discovering while writing alchemy).


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