D&D 3.5 Hits the Shelves
By the time you read this,
copies of the
version 3.5 core rulebooks are on the way to stores, if not already on
the shelves. I know there will be a lot of questions about what did (or
didn't) change in the revision. I also know that we won't be able to
answer them as fast as you pose 'em. It's simple math--there are thousands
and thousands of you, and only a few of us.
So here are a few general
answers that attempt to tackle some of the common categories of questions,
while simultaneously sharing some of the theory behind the changes. Read
these first, then if you still need more information, post a question to
the boards at www.wizards.com (or
here at andycollins.net,
if it's a question for me specifically). We'll do our best to get to them.
Q: Why did you change this
A: In general, rules were
targeted for change for one or more of the following reasons:
It was confusing.
These are the simplest changes. Any rule that commonly resulted in player
or DM confusion--whether due to unnecessary complexity, unclear wording,
or simple errors in design--tended to draw attention from the developers.
A lot of the changes in the combat chapter of the PH fall into this
It was too good, or not
good enough. Third Edition had a lot of playtesting before
publication, but it had a thousand times more since its release in 2000.
That's bound to find the "weak points" in a game system, whether those are
spells that are too good (haste and harm come to mind) or
classes that are too weak (such as the bard or the ranger). It's OK for
some options to be more useful than others (for instance, fireball
is more often useful than dispel magic), as long as the choice of
"what's more useful" can still vary dramatically by situation. If
characters make the same choices over and over again, that points to the
likelihood that those options are simply better than the others. If every
sorcerer begins every fight with haste, that option's probably too
good. If every specialist wizard chooses the same banned schools, maybe
those schools aren't good enough. If no spellcaster ever bothers to carry
around a magic staff--an enormously iconic magic item if ever there was
one--then the staffs in the game need to get better.
It didn't fit the spirit
of the Third Edition D&D rules. Third Edition introduced a lot of
sweeping changes to the way D&D works, much of those coming from a goal of
streamlining and templating the game systems. For example, attacks, saves,
and checks all work in the same manner now--you don't use a different rule
for making an attack roll or making a skill check. Where we found places
that the rules didn't meet that goal, we tried to adjust the rules so that
they did. Monsters in 3.0 work much more like characters than they did in
previous editions (they have ability scores, for instance), but there were
still too many places (such as skill and feat acquisition) where they
didn't. The methods of giving out skill points and feats to monsters were
all across the board, and none worked exactly like the method for
characters. Version 3.5 codifies all that into a single unified system,
which is much more in keeping with the way Third Edition D&D works. The
"square" facing of all creatures in D&D is another example--rectangular
facing for big creatures establishes a default "facing" for the creature,
something that the 3.0 combat rules tried to eliminate. These rules
weren't necessarily confusing or unbalancing, but we believed that
revising them would ultimately prove advantageous for players and DMs of
It didn't work correctly.
This is a tricky category of changes, because it encompasses a variety
of issues. A spell's description might be worded in such a way as to
confuse players as to its actual effect. A feat might be least useful to
exactly the characters who are most drawn to it. A monster might be so
complicated to run that DMs couldn't use it effectively. None of these
rules are necessarily broken, but none of them work in the manner they
were intended. These aren't "necessary" changes in the way the first two
categories might be, but D&D shouldn't be a bait-and-switch game. If Power
Attack looks most exciting to the greataxe-wielding barbarian (and the
game sells it that way), then he should be the one getting the biggest
bang for his buck from the feat, and not the twin-dagger-wielding halfling
rogue. The game should deliver what it promises.
Q: Why did you add this
A: In general, we added material to fill "underserved niches" in the
game, or to beef up otherwise unappealing options. Some wizard schools
lacked punch, particularly at higher levels, so we added some new spells
to those schools. Some classes didn't have much appeal after the first few
levels, so we added some new class features. More feats on the fighter
bonus list means more options for the fighter, both at low and higher
We also tried to add elements that featured underutilized rules of the game.
The extensive new wilderness adventuring information highlights a lot of skill
applications in unusual settings (knee-deep marshes, rocky hillsides, etc.),
letting the DM see how to apply the familiar rules of skill use to alternative
Q: Why didn't you change this rule?
A: We tried to address all elements of the game in the revisions, but
constraints of time and manpower required us to prioritize some elements over
others based on their impact on the game. Classes, for instance, received a lot
more attention than individual spells. That's because each of the 11 classes in
the Player's Handbook is likely to be much more significant to game play
than any one spell (or even a whole category of spells). Just as in 3.0, the
elements of the game crucial to low- to mid-level play got more attention than
those occurring only at higher levels. That's not to say that lower-priority
elements were ignored; on the contrary, we put quite a bit of work into
adjusting the impact of game elements at higher levels (look at the new harm
spell, for example, or the new category of mass cure wounds spells).
Third Edition made great strides in advancing the quality of high-level D&D
play, and 3.5 aimed to improve upon those advances.