On the Effects of Third Edition Design

What were the major effects of the New School Design changes?

No particular order

Experience for Combat

"When the party defeats monsters, the DM awards them Experience Points." 3.0 Dungeon Masters Guide, Page 165

It's not that simple of course. They receive awards based on the challenge of the trap or monster overcome. When is a challenge overcome?

"As the DM, you must decide when a challenge is overcome. usually this is simple to do. Did the PC's defeat the enemy in battle? Then they met the challenge and earned experience points. Other times it can be trickier. Suppose the PCs sneak by the sleeping minotaur to get into the magical vault--did they overcome the minotaur encounter? If their goal was to get into the vault and the minotaur was just a guardian, then the answer is probably yes. It's up to you to make such judgments." 3.0 Dungeon Masters Guide, Page 165
The major effect on play? The game's advancement is driven by combat, where you are assured of acquiring the experience you need. The option for it to be based on 'goal' behavior drives hoop-jumping and railroading. The intent is good, i.e. "you can gain experience for things besides killing monsters", but the actual result in play makes the game much more combat oriented, because that is where experience is guaranteed.

Saving Throw Difficulties are based on the Wizards Power

"The difficulty class of a saving throw against a wizard's spell is 10 + the spell's level + the wizard's intelligence modifier." 3.0 Players Handbook, Page 53

A 7th level fighter in 1st edition has a base save of 10-13, giving him a 55-40% base chance of saving versus any spell. It would not be unusual at that point for him to have a +2 to +4 bonus on a variety of saves, pushing that up to a 70-80% success rate.

WARNING, 3.0 Math: That same fighter in 3rd edition with likely equipment is going to have a base +2 to +5, with equipment and stats providing +2 to +6. This means their total bonus ranges from +4 to +9. But now the wizard has the choice to target their 'weak' saving throw with his spells! This means 1d20 + 6 versus 16-22 (assuming a 16-18 stat range for a +3 to +4 bonus and a third or 4th level spell for another +3 to +4 bonus) Along with the fighters magical equipment, it is also likely the wizard may be focused in that spell (+2) or have a piece of equipment raising his stat by 2 or 4 (+1 or +2). I am not unaware of 'Iron Will' and 'Lightning reflexes' or the 100 tricks to maximize the various things. This is assuming the basics, resistance bonus, stat enhancements, and spell focus.  END MATH

Best case for the fighter? 50% success rate. Worst case? 20% success rate.

Suddenly save or die/suck became a whole lot more deadly.

Feats, Prestige Classes, and Unequal Power

"Prestige classes allow DMs to created campaign-specific exclusive rolls and positions as classes. These special roles offer abilities and powers otherwise inaccessible to players. . ." 3.0 Dungeon Masters Guide, page 27

Want to trade in your ability to turn creatures for extra actions? Want to do tremendous amounts of damage? Looking to break the game math in new and interesting ways? 

Well, you can, by picking feats and prestige classes. But you can't just pick them - you have to have all the prerequisites. How do you meet the prerequisites the quickest? Well, you have to make all the right choices at the right time. You've got to build your character. 

Old school classes required much fewer choices, and the choice they did make rarely depended on the choices they made before.

Standardization of Effects and Wealth by Level

"You can create a potion of any spell of 3rd level or lower that you know and that targets a creature or creatures." Brew Potion Feat from the 3.0 Players Handbook, Page 80

"Table 5-1: Character Wealth by Level is based on average treasures found in average encounters compared with the experience points earned in those encounters. Using that information you can determine how much wealth a character should have based on her level." Character Wealth, from the 3.0 Dungeon Masters Guide, Page 145

A strict reading of the rules of course indicates that anything could be in a potion bottle, but the effect of the above, meant that potions, and other magic items, became known quantities. Far easier to have each effect be a standard one easily referenced and similar to all others. 

And this is true. You do spend less time having to look things up because everything works the same. However, everything feels a lot less magical. 

Hack & Slash


  1. Also seems to be written simplistically. Gygax assumed the audience were college kids or tge brains in high school. 3rd edition makes no assumptions for good or bad. Trend might have started in 2E, Im not sure

  2. Basic snd Expert sets had mimimalist writing bit they didnt hold the readers hand

  3. I started with 3e, so I must have missed this in reviewing OSR materials -- when did you *not* receive XP for combat? Are we talking about not assigning XP for like, really ridiculously low-level monsters like goblins and kobolds, or is there an entire class of monsters that don't award XP? I would love to know why this is considered a change from 3e onward.


    1. You received a fraction of your experience from monsters. Very little compared to the haul of treasure.

  4. dither: I think the point is a shift between priority in granting experience. Treasure for gold was the big one, with 1 xp per gold piece. Monster xp was so minimal it was more of a consolation prize for using up resources getting into a fight, when the more effective advancement plan was getting as much loot as possible with as little fuss as possible, motivating characters to avoid monsters.

  5. And unlike AD&D saving throws, 3e saving throws generally got _less successful_ at higher levels. I did an analysis years ago at 20th level that showed that unless you tried fairly hard, you were likely to become more likely to be affected at high level than low level.

    Recalibrating Saving Throws

  6. I really hate and love 3rd edition and it's child Pathfinder. I really think it is cool how the savings throws work but at the same time I think it sucks. I love and hate how they do experience. I really like and hate the older version were each class had their own XP chart to follow at the same time I dislike and like the D20 XP concept.

  7. The worst of these changes is the shift to receiving more XP for combat and none for treasure. It had the effect of motivating changes to the monsters to make them less deadly overall. I appreciate how dangerous older editions feel in comparison.

  8. 2nd edition AD&D laid some of the groundwork for 3e's xp system. 2nd edition's xp guidelines are fueled by monster xp. Monster xp are the standardized party reward. A "story reward" is also based on the potential monster xp. Those are the standards. Optionally, xp from gp is mentioned, but very quietly, certainly more quietly than the prominent optional individual class-based experience awards.

  9. My experience was that the wealth by level chart actually served to reduce the amount of treasure that I handed out. Plus it was nice when rolling up high level NPCs. As for potions, I don't see any difference between 3e's potion rules and the scrolls-at-first-level rule from Holmes that the OSR seems to be so in love with.

    For a great example of how story XP awards can be handled, look at Castle Whiterock. Plenty of awards distributed all over the dungeon which give a variety of "missions" that the players can choose to take on.

  10. That's a good summary. I like some of the changes, but I think the big fail was probably to nail down so many things which typical gamer morons took as holy writ. If only they had made that standardization of wealth an optional rule or something like that. The thing I dislike most of 3rd ed+ games is the gamers who feel entitled to things "because it's in the book".

    But, I guess the fights were just different before that, not gone.

    OI really liked your breakdown of the saves!

  11. The largest effects of 3rd edition was how much easier it became to gain modifiers from ability scores.

    To get a +3 damage modifier in 1e requires a Strength 18/01. To gain a +3 to hit in 1e requires an 18/00. In 3e the required Strength is 16 for both.

    I think this was one of the first real big steps D&D took to pushing the game more towards "who you are" rather than "what you do."

    Ability scores became way too important.

  12. In 3rd+ editions, characters are differentiated by character building decisions, before you sit at the table.
    In pre3 editions, characters are differentiated by game play decisions, while you're sitting at the table.


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