Here’s a few observations—nay opinions, and strong ones at that!—about Third Edition:
1. It’s a unified system.
Everything makes sense and works logically together. Skills are based on a relevant (well usually) ability. Making a skill check is Ability + Skill ranks + roll. Pretty logical. Other systems work together well.
2. Easy “to hit” rolls.
Low-level combat is easy for the DM. Forget those old 1st Edition combat tables! Forget the much-ridiculed THAC0 mechanic. The monster’s AC is the total roll needed to hit, period; if the PC reaches that number, they hit. I’m so glad we moved away from a negative number AC system.
Now all 10th-level human fighters need not be the same! Personal customization is key. Receiving additional feats and abilities greatly add to the fun of leveling up.
4. Magic-users are fun again.
It’s great to have wizards and sorcerers with more spells. In the old days, you fired off your daily sleep spell at 1st level and then hid behind the fighters. Now wizard-types can mix it up pretty well, without making the fighters feel weak or useless.
5. It’s a unified system.
The integrated system lauded in #1 above can also make customization more difficult. Don’t like attacks of opportunity? Throw them out … but look out for the PCs or monsters with the Combat Reflexes feat… Retooling the system just got a bit more difficult.
6. Miniatures use.
Using miniatures has now become almost de rigueur for D&D gamers. The game has a much more tactical feel. I personally like minis, and I like knowing how far I can move in combat (especially having suffered as a player under poor DMs that slow PC movement unfairly while letting their favorite villains move about in combat like the Flash). I do know some players that hate the new, chess-like aspect of combat, however. I’ve often seen crazy, zig-zag movements to avoid attacks of opportunity that don’t jibe with heroic combat at all, so at times I can understand the criticism.
7. Long stat blocks.
Years ago I tried the Mythus game system with a bunch of friends. We played through a dungeon of two using the very Gygaxian rules … and then stopped. One of the main reasons, beyond all the new abbreviations and odd rules quirks, was the loooooong stat blocks. (Pick up a copy of Necropolis sometime—which makes the Tomb of Horrors look like a day at the beach, by the way—and look at the BBG’s stats at the end and you’ll see what I mean.)
My first thought when we abandoned the system was, “God, I hope D&D doesn’t ever look like this. Skill-based stat blocks are pure hell.” Well, flash forward 10 years…
I hate the super-long stat blocks for bad guys at CR 8 and higher. Hate ‘em. Scanning a stat block for a super-villain is ridiculous—what does he do next? I understand providing all the spells for a 20th-level wizard/fighter, for instance, but do we really care if he has a flare spell? Would he really use that spell? Ditto for listing many of the prerequisite feats. It just doesn’t seem necessary.
It appears this problem is being adjusted in 4e. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
8. Advancing monsters.
I’ve heard differing views on this one, so I’ll chalk it up to personal taste. I’m not a math guy. I have a very logical brain but my SAT scores were fairly lop-sided. So when it comes to computing stat blocks … well, meh.
I think advancing creatures—be it advancing a beast or leveling up a humanoid— is a royal pain. I like having War10 kobolds, etc., to keep the players on their toes (I can see the ad: “Kobolds aren’t just for 1st level anymore!”) but the DMs work just grew big-time. Check out the otyugh-advancing example in the back of the MM. This brings to mind a likely series of events:
- DM spends a half-hour advancing an otyugh up 10 hit dice.
- The two wizardly PCs dispatch the critter with two simultaneous fireballs.
- The DM, suppressing a sob, leaps out the nearest window.
Now let’s make a gnoll commander, say a Ftr4, in 3rd Edition: first we select the feats, then we compute the skill points and ranks (adjusting for class, synergies, armor, and racial bonuses)… Eech. Yes, if you’re running a home game you could probably leave out his Swim or Rope Use skill values and take some short cuts, but if you are writing for publication or want to be by-the-book, the DM’s job just got a whole lot harder.
9. Fast leveling, slow play.
Level advancement in 3.5e is too fast for my tastes. I agree that is shouldn't take years and years of game play to see PCs level up, but in my experience 3rd Edition PCs level up every other session in the lower levels—first and second level seem to flash by—and it seems that the players barely get used to their PCs before they’re tacking on new feats.
Likewise, gameplay has generally slowed down. Combat at higher levels is painful—for the players and DM, not the PCs and monsters! A dramatic final combat can take hours.
Creating characters on the fly is also a chore. In 1e, an experienced player can create a fully-equipped 10th-level PC in 15 minutes if they aren’t overly fussy about mundane equipment. Creating that same PC in 3e/3.5e probably takes an hour.
10. Third Edition is a powergamer’s dream.
Part of this falls under DM responsibility and control over one’s players, but the new system makes number abuse very tempting. Third edition has made charisma less of a “dump stat” and has balanced out the abilities fairly well, but there are other areas where “clever players” (read: munchkins) can build unbalanced characters via bizarre class combinations—I’ve seen some absurd combos online to be sure—or weapon and feat choices. Spiked chain, anyone?
A recent Wizards column spoke about Power Attack and how the feat was meant to represent a warrior’s ferocious swing in combat but instead led to most players coldly min-maxing their bonuses to get the best “bang for the buck” in combat—some minor abuses are very common.
11. Poor grappling rules.
I guess some things never change!