My Initial Comments on D&D 3.5

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Monte and I have talked a little about D&D 3.5, and our opinions are very similar on the matter. Today he posted a review of the books, and I thought I'd throw in my comments and opinions as well. When I quote Monte's review, I'll put his text in brackets {}

My super-short summary: I think this version changed the game more than it should have. The two versions are not as smoothly compatible as they say it is. I think a lot of people are going to loot 3.5 for house rules but otherwise continue playing 3.0.

{This revision is too much, too soon.}

I totally agree. As Monte said, 3.5 was originally scheduled for 2005. And the changes that were made went far beyond correcting errors and fixing things that needed to be tweaked. Common rules and names for things changed, and it's going to confuse a lot of people.

BTW, I think Monte is being fair in his assessment. While he did work on 3.0 and could easily be seen as biased toward the version of the game he worked on, he's being impartial. There are problems with the new rules. I've been writing stuff using them for over a month now and I keep having to go back to WotC R&D again and again with questions and clarifications on things. Things are supposed to be cleaner, and in many cases they are, but other things that were clear have become muddied.

{So, one has to surmise that the new business team determined that sales were slumping slightly earlier than predicted and needed 3.5 to come out earlier.}

Could be true. It could also be the constant pressure from Hasbro to increase profits. It could also be what some people on the net have said about WotC: they've done all of their classic "big books" (psionics, planes, deities, campaign setting, equipment, castles) and they needed a new rules set to let them start all over again (while it's true that WotC has released all of their traditional big books, R&D isn't the ones with the power to make the decision to release 3.5 ... that's all the brand team, and it could just be that R&D was having a hard time convincing the brand team that their ideas for other 3.0 books were cool enough to sell, so the brand team pushed 3.5 on them).

{3.5 is ... neither a revision nor an actual new edition, but something in between ... You see, while some of the changes are merely revisions, many are also completely different rules.}

True, and again this is a problem stemming from the brand team. Other than "make 3.5," the brand team didn't give R&D much direction as to how far they should go with the changes. Should it be just an incorporation of errata and rewrites of confusing rules? No answer. Should it be a step forward in the evolution of D&D, a hybrid between 3.0 and whatever 4.0 would be in the future? No answer. So the designers made changes they thought were needed and others that they thought would improve the game, but weren't really told when to stop. The result is a game that's much like 3.0 but different enough to require relearning of your game memory and reflexes.

{If I were in charge of the world ... I'd make sure that in a revision, there were no actual rules changes that could retroactively alter a character or a campaign ... in my definition of revision, they just shouldn't be part of these books.}

I agree. As an example, I wrote Ghostwalk almost two years ago, WotC decided to publish it right before 3.5 for (I'm guessing) two reasons: (1) they had a hole in the schedule where the book could go, and (2) they didn't want to bother to update it to 3.5, so it was now or never. Having just written an article updating Ghostwalk to the 3.5 rules, I can totally understand reason #2. Converting stuff is a major pain. Not as bad as converting 2E AD&D to 3.0 D&D, but still a tedious struggle. And it's not insignificant changes. Entire skills went away, so some characters need a bunch of skill points redistributed. Ranger HD decreased, so suddenly all ranger characters have a lot fewer hit points. And several classes gained skill points per level, so using those characters as-is from a 3.0 book means they're going to be underpowered compared to 3.5 members of that class.Some feats changed or went away, so characters based on using those feats had to be redone. Key spells went away or changed spell level, so spellcasters need to be updated, spells based on those spells need to be changed, and magic items using those spells or spell effects need to be altered or redescribed. Monsters now have standardized skill points and feats just like characters do (good) but that means that 3.0 monsters can be very different (weaker or stronger). And they haven't had as much time to playtest these new rules as they did with the 3.0 rules, which means that the CRs you see in the MM are closer to the estimate side of the scale than the "playtested and proven" side of the scale. And some of the monsters changed on top of that ... they've given us a preview of the new mummy ... 8d12 HD, CR 5 ... compared to the 3.0 mummy at 5d12 CR 3 ... so the 3.5 version is exactly twice as powerful (according to the CR system) as the 3.0 version, and therefore any 3.0 adventure using mummies just got a lot harder.

As an example of the work in converting between the two systems, Ghostwalk is a 224 page rules-light book (for my books, at least ... about half of it is story and campaign related, while my stuff is well over 50% rules material), but the 3.5 update for it runs over 6,000 words long (just under 8 densely-packed pages of text, though the format of the document makes it take up more pages than that). Conversion on the fly? For Brainiac or Reed Richards, maybe. Not me, and I consider myself pretty freakin' smart.

Monte mentions some things, such as the renaming of magic weapon properties or spells. While this seems like a minor issue, it means that a new gamer who picks up the 3.5 rules and a 3.0 adventure isn't going to know what a +2 chaotic longsword is. He's not going to know what the change self spell does. And so on. And some things kept the same name but now do different things. A 3.0 adventure that has a cleric with bull's strength cast in advance is going to need a second look at that character's strategy because his tactics rely upon his better Strength. The stat-buffing spells weren't a problem (I don't remember a flood of email complaining about how they were too good). They didn't need to be "fixed." And if they were to be fixed, they didn't need a radical change to how they work and keep the same name, that's just going to confuse people.

{Damage reduction has been completely overhauled, as has size and facing for creatures larger than Medium-size}

The facing issue is a pain. It was changed to handle corner cases like when you have a character mounted on a horse enter a tight space and suddenly they can't make a turn because there's no horizontal 1x2 space on the grid, just vertical ones. I don't think we need to radically change a major aspect of how the game works just to handle a few corner cases. Especially when it makes some monsters really buff (the ogre, who was 5x5/10 with a total of 24 threatened squares, 16 of which were Reach squares where it could get an AOO on a charging Medium character, and is now 10x10/10 with a total of 32 threatened squares, 20 of which are reach squares where it can get an AOO on a charging Medium character) and others really weak (the manticore, who was 10x20/10 and is now 10x10/5, which means no more Reach games for him). At least the ogre's CR has changed to reflect his greater power in 3.5 ... but that means 3.0 adventures with ogres are tougher than they appear.

{The Bad ... Lots of the new feats are the kind that just add a +2 bonus to two skills.}

While Monte has a problem with this, I can see the benefit. One, it provides a standard (in the SRD) for all other publishers to use these named +2/+2 feats instead of creating their own version (AEG's "+2 to X and Y" feat might have a very different name than FFE's "+2 to X and Y" feat, which is just going to confuse people who purchase 3rd-party d20 products. I also know that Andy Collins worked hard to pair up similar skills (like Knowledge (arcana) and Spellcraft) so that you'd be able to find a +2/+2 feat that boosts two of your character's class skills.

{Taking levels of a prestige class now apparently forces you to pay multiclassing XP costs. Whether intentionally or by accident, the prestige class chapter no longer states that they are free of this cost.}

It's an accident. I discovered this lack of appropriate text a couple of weeks ago and got a confirmation from WotC that prestige classes still do not count toward an XP penalty. It's good that they're keeping that rule, but very very bad that the mention of it was cut from the core book. That mistake is on par with the +10%/+100% magic item pricing error that was accidentally inserted post-design the 3.0 DMG.

{Lots of the "new" material is just pulled in from other products....}
{There are no playtester credits. At all.}

I'm irritated about this for slightly different reasons than Monte is. I'm a person who believes giving credit where credit is due, and some of the new material in the PH (specifically some of the feats) and DMG (specifically some of the prestige classes) was written by me for various FR products. Yet though I was credited in the 3.0 PH and DMG in the "Other Wizards of the Coast R&D Contributors" section, my name (as well as other people who have since left the company, including people such as myself who were at WotC when work on 3.5 was being done) has been removed from the 3.5 version, even though those books include (almost verbatim) material I wrote in books that are still out on the shelves. That's strange, and if it was a deliberate effort to remove former staff (I'm not saying it is, but I no other explanation comes to mind why those specific people were removed), then that's just not nice. Duane Maxwell, Brian Campbell, Steve Miller, Jason Carl, and other former WotC people made their contribution to 3.0 and enough of 3.0 is present in 3.5 to justify keeping their names in the book. Plus all of the hundreds of playtesters (who put in hundreds of hours to make D&D 3.0 the excallent game it is) are no longer mentioned. Hmph.

{Things that should have changed, but didn't:}
{Caster level is still a prerequisite for magic item creation. This was an error in the 3.0 DMG and remains.}

I'd guess that's because the designers may have been working off the pre-errata files and didn't plug in all of the errata. Oops. Correction: The "CL is a prereq" is a commonly known error at WotC, but for some reason it never actually made it into the official DMG errata. So that helps explain why it didn't make it into the 3.5 DMG ... it wasn't on the existing list of things to fix. Still, it is unfortunate that it was not included, because it _is_ an error in the 3.0 book.

I have my own list of things I like and don't like about D&D 3.5, but that requires me digging through my old email archives, which I can't do right now (I'm on a train and don't have internet access, plus my battery is running low). That'll just have to wait for later.

One final thought: As Monte said, the people who worked on 3.5 are friends of mine. I want 3.5 to do well so WotC does well so they can keep their jobs. I know they put a lot of thought into this revision and they wouldn't release a book that they weren't satisfied with. As stated above, there were some communication problems within WotC and R&D can't be blamed for that. They did the best with what they were given. I know they're excited about the new books (and they should be, it's a big thing) and they deserve kudos for fixing the things that did need to be fixed in the game.

So take a look at 3.5 and if you like it, buy it and use it. If you only like a few parts, grab the SRD and houserule it into your 3.0 game (which is what I'm going to do). If you don't like it at all, grab a couple of backup copies of the 3.0 PH, DMG, and MM (your FLGS will appreciate you helping them clear out old stock) to make sure you have copies of the books for a long time to come.