Whats Wrong With Third Edition Anyway

That’s Mister Kitty to you

Ah, poor 3rd Edition D&D. It’s shortly going to be given the unceremonial boot by it’s lords and masters in preference to the shiny new 4th Edition kid on the block. This is – as near as dammit – a total rewrite of the rules, in much the same vein as the jump from 2nd Edition to 3rd Edition. While many familiar terms are retained, they’re all being subtly redefined to make 4th Edition a game that’s different in both style and substance.

But I don’t want to talk about that…… oh no. Whether 4th Edition becomes the Best Game Evah is something we’ll be able to debate endlessly (and probably will) months after it’s been released and we’ve had the chance to stress test the beastie.

The thing is, did 3rd Edition need changing that much? Sure there were areas with cracks and problems, but IMHO there weren’t all than many, not compared to the sheer amount of material produced for the game. Most gamer groups I know have put in hundreds (if not thousands) of hours playing it, and the majority of those have perhaps a handful of house rules which “fix” the game in their eyes.

Here’s my list of what needed fixing in 3rd Edition. I’m pretty sure you’ll have a different list, and will disagree with some of my choices; the point is that it’s a very short list, compared to the sheer volume of work for D&D. I’ve bandied about that 2% of 3rd Edition was broken, and 98% of it works just fine – this is the 2%. The other 98% is the rest of the core and all of the supplements. That’s a lot of spells, feats, monsters and classes that didn’t need nerfing at all.

Anyhow. On to the list. Most of these are from my list of Sacred Cattle that must die, so it’s old ground around this neck of the woods. In that post, I looked at the D&D game as I’d like to see it, with D&D moving toward a one book solution and a completely different take on the character class system. Here though, I just want to look at the rules we’ve got now. In no particular order………

1. Grapple

Some things are unnecessarily complex, and grappling is one of them. If a rule causes a gaming session to derail while folks reach for the rule books for clarification every damned time it comes up, That Rule Should Go. Grappling is just a minefield of legalese exceptions and special cases, and it could easily be fixed with a couple of paragraphs which state that if an attacker is using a weapon that can grapple (like a whip) or is unarmed they can make an attack roll to grapple (with appropriate penalties). If the attack succeeds, the defender cannot move their arms. Now, how hard would that be to put in rules terms, really?

2. Attacks of Opportunity

Enough’s been said about this broken, broken rule. It must die, and that’s all there is to it. Replace with “the GM can grant a free attack anytime if the situation merits”. There. Done.

3. Dead levels

Every level of every class sould get something new and cool as a reward. This is one area that 4e looks to be getting right. That’s not to say the new stuff should be overly flashy, but it should be something that emphasises the unique nature of each class. a little Wildshape here, or a feat there goes along way.

4. Preparation Time

This is, perhaps, the biggest booger with 3rd Edition D&D.

Creating monsters is a pain. It can take longer to build that mega-villain’s henchman than it takes to prep the rest of the adventure, and that ain’t good. That’s one of the reasons I love the Lazy GM series from the Creative Conclave so much. They provide tons of pre-done monsters-with-classes fodder, meaning I don’t have to worry about stuff like that. Perfect! Add in all the Monster Manuals, the Tomes of Horrors and the Monsternomicon, and there’s little reason to have to build a monster yourself, really.

Except. Monster building is fun. Or at least, it should be, not the chore it is under 3rd Edition. It looks like 4e is going to make monster building fun again, and that’s terrific. I’m pretty sure that there’s an easier way to make monsters in 3e though. I just haven’t found it yet…..

5. Challenge Ratings

What does CR do that HD doesn’t already do, really? Back in mists of time, Classic D&D used Hit Dice as a measure for a monster’s toughness. If the critter had any special abilities, this gave it one or more “stars” which showed that the monster was tougher than it’s Hit Dice merited, and the PCs gained extra XP for beating the beastie. It’s a simple mechanism, and it should be re-introduced in place of the kludgy, vague CR system we’ve got now.

Which leads us to…….

6. Experience point calculation

The designers of 3rd Edition D&D admitted that the XP tables were created based upon the characters killing x number of monsters of equal power at each level. I forget the actual number (and am Too Lazy To Google) – somewhere between 9 and 12, I think.

So, why not just make that the mechanic instead of having to cross-reference a table after every encounter? It’s quick, simple and eliminates a lot of the need for CR and the four-party assumption all in one swoop.

Here’s how it could work:

To get to 2nd level, kill 20HD worth of monsters. To get to 3rd, kill 30HD worth. Special Abilities (those “stars”, remember?) are worth 1/2 a HD bonus. Traps, social encounters, cool role-playing, etc gain you additional “kills”.

It’s XP by another name, but it’s far, far simpler than we’ve got now. Wrap that in rulesese and you’re done. Goodbye, foul table!

6 things out of the whole slew of rules. That’s all I could think of changing – I’m sure you could think of more, and remove some of mine from your own list. I’d bet we could end up agreeing on, say, 12 points in total that need fixing to make 3rd Edition a better game to play. I’ve intentionally focused on the rules rather than the flavour of D&D – given a choice, I’d ditch Vancian Magic too – but I’d rather the next edition of D&D concentrated on Getting the Rules Right rather than playing with the fundamentals.

But hey, that’s just me.

What do you think?

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