Continuing my history of D&D with 3rd edition – this changes EVERYTHING!

What Am I Reading: Dungeon & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th edition

Part Three: You Turned My Game Upside Down …


I started to write a simple review of Dungeon & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th edition, but it grew into a series of blogs about the history of the game itself! Refer to my previous blogs for some of the terms if you are confused.

In 2000, Dungeons and Dragons, now owned by Wizards of the Coast, released a 3rd edition of the game. They referred to the “core books” – Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual but over the next seven years added dozens upon dozens of supplemental books and modules.

The biggest change was the d20 system.

3rd ed

                The d20 system turned dice rolling on its head. Instead of rolling lower, I had to roll higher! Not necessarily higher than my Dex, but higher than a fixed number that was based on what I wanted to accomplish. 10 is an easy task, 15 more difficult, 20 still more difficult. Tasks were given a Difficulty Class (DC). Remember the scenario from prior blogs…?

“I try to grab the vine and swing over the chasm.”

“That has a DC of 15,” says the DM.

{Roll} “8!! Finally! I beat my Dex! It’s about frickin time – after twenty years! Woohoo!”

“No, this is 3rd edition, you have to roll higher than the DC now. You fail. Your character plummets to his death. Mage?”

{Rolls} “I got an 18,” says the mage.

“You swing across safely,” says the DM.

“I hate this game…” mumbles the poor roller.

The people I have gamed with for nearly twenty years had a very hard time adjusting to d20. My wife suggested we look at it as an entirely new game system. We are no longer playing D&D; we are playing something like Rolemaster or Chill. That helped a little. Switching to Pathfinder definitely helped with the “it’s a different game system” mentality – primarily because it WAS a different game. But I am getting ahead of myself.

“Remember – roll higher,” is the 3rd edition mantra. Armor Class and Difficulty Class are similar. Before, the lower the Armor Class the harder it was to hit it. Now … roll higher. Someone with an AC of 18 is harder to hit than someone with an AC of 12 – in the older editions there was no such thing as AC 12. The limit was 10 going down to negative infinity, presumably … although negative five and lower were usually reserved for gods and unbeatable demons…

Classes and races remained unchanged. Thieves were now called Rogues. Bards were given their own class instead of a Thief sub-class. Half-orcs, removed from 2nd edition to appease the Bible thumpers, returned. Sorcerers were mages who cast spells without the aid of studying spellbooks were added as a class. That always smelled like an appeasement for whiners to me (“Why do I hafta study?” “That may work on your mommy, but not the DM! Study!”).

Experience points (XP) changed. As a character wins battles, solves puzzles and gets treasure, he gains experience. After gaining so much experience, he gains a level. This adds to his hit points, increases his ability to hit or avoid magical damage (called saving throws) and otherwise makes him more powerful. Different classes had different XP – a first-level fighter became a second-level fighter after accumulating 1000 XP. Magic User’s had to get 2000 XP to level up. Now it is all uniform – no matter what class 2000 got you to second level, 4000 to third, etc. (those may not be the exact numbers, but you get the idea)

Initiative was changed. Initiative is the term used to determine who goes first. “I hack at the ogre with my sword!” “Sorry, the ogre goes first.” “Who says?” “The initiative roll.” At the beginning of combat, each player rolled initiative on a dice (some used d6, some d10); the DM rolled for the bad guys. In the old system players or the DM who rolled 1s went first, all the way to 10. If you had a high Dex score you could subtract from that roll. If you were dexterous, you could go faster you see. When everyone was done, everyone rolled again.

3rd edition changed that. Those who rolled HIGHER went first. Once you roll, that was it until you were done with combat. “I go last AGAIN!?” “You rolled a 3; you go last until combat is done.”

Now there are Prestige Classes. These are class kits you can take at higher levels to make your specific character different from other players of the same class. Instead of just a cleric, you can be an undead slayer. Instead of a thief – er – rouge, you can become an assassin (brought back from 1st edition) or a dragon-horde stealer. As you go up in levels, you must pick certain skills and feats to give you the abilities to become a prestige class.

Leveling causes quite a bit of rule-hunting. In 1st edition, if you went up a level, you’d role more hp and find some new spells and that was it. In 2nd edition, you have more non-weapon proficiency points to increase your ability to Jump or Appraise. Now, along with the above, you may also get to increase a stat, or gain a skill or feat.

There I go again with the skills and feats, what are they? Oy. The optional non-weapon proficiencies of 2nd edition are the mandatory skills of 3rd edition. But now skills include, for example, what was once the domain only of thieves. If your wizard wants to learn pick-pocketing, he can get that skill. If he wants to wear heavy armor and use a sword, he can get that skill. Some skills have prerequisites (the wizard will have to learn the light armor skill first, for example). As with 2nd edition, some skills have levels, or slots. You get points to spend on skills when you create your character and when you level up. If I have two slots in the Jump skill, I can add +2 to your jump roll. At least they whittled the skill list down to 47 skills. Some of the rest were turned into feats.

Feats? They are harder to explain. These are bonuses you can choose to improve a character’s abilities and stats. These are real bonuses – not just for flare and role playing like a white scar down the cheek. A Feat can be, for example, Toughness, giving you two extra hit points; or Quickness, giving you +1 on initiative (I know there is a feat called Toughness; Quickness I made up as an example).In 3rd edition you had 60 feats from which to choose. You gained a feat every three levels. Not a lot, but when you could choose, where do you begin?

Thus now with feats and skills, the designers have finally closed the mouths of the whiners. Or have they?

“I try to snag a rock on the other side of the chasm with my rope,” says Mr. Poor Roller.

“You don’t have a rope. I took it when I picked your pocket,” says another player.

“You’re a gnome cleric!? Why are you picking my pocket?”

“It’s a skill I wanted.”

Sigh, I try to grab a vine to swing across, I have the Jump Skill, 2 slots.”

“I have the Empowerment Feat active, so you get plus one,” says the gnome.

“I’d rather have my rope.”

“Your Dex gives you another +2,” says the DM. “This is DC 15”

“I cast Helpful Hand,” says the mage,” that’s another +1.”

{Roll} “Carry the five, cosine of the two vectors … 45? Do I do it?”

“Damned if I know,” says the DM.

“I hate this game.”

There was a 3.5 edition released shortly after 3.0. It cleaned up some of the inconsistencies, but it was otherwise the same game with no major changes. It’s what a new edition should do…

Said major changes would come in 2007 with the 4th edition. It was to 3.5 what 3rd edition was to 2nd and changed the entire dominance of the roleplaying game business. So much so the D&D label has yet to recover.

3rd ed books


Copyright 2014 Michael Curry

End note: I made up the names of the “feats” because, frankly, I’m too lazy to look them up myself and I wanted this to come from my heart, but the rulebook. So ease up on the “that feat doesn’t exist” because I do not doubt you, I just wanted to give you the flavor of what a feats can do. If those are actual feats, I simply made a good guess…


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