It’s my opinion that 3ed is best compared to previous versions of Dungeons & Dragons™. I haven’t playtested it yet, but going through the rule books and character generation process has given me some first impressions. I’ll start with the good news.
First, the books are absolutely gorgeous. This is not surprising, as Wizards of the Coast got their start in collectible card games (specifically “Magic the Gathering”). The cards would never have been collectible if they’d been ugly. And Wizards is obviously keeping its long standing ties to large numbers of excellent artists. Good looks really do count towards the game’s credit. Good art helps players get a feel for a fantastic setting, and Wizards has some of the best art in the business. I would prefer a plainer background for the text, but that's a quibble; they are still very legible.
Second, with the d20 system, WotC has done away with many of the bad rules and inconsistencies in gameplay that have long plagued rules technicians like myself. No longer must new players try to remember which rolls should be high and which should be low. Where there used to be an agglomeration of inconsistent rules, probably often made up on the spot by the game developers during playtesting, there is now a unified and consistent system of rules. All the classes’ saving throws work the same. All the attributes have the same amount of bonus at the same level. Attacks, spells, skills, and saving throws all work the same way.
Third, the classes are more interesting, more varied, and often more focused. The sorcerer in particular looks like a lot of fun, and the monk is probably more playable now than it has ever been.
Fourth, there is a bit more emphasis on non-combat gameplay. It now becomes worth one’s while to learn things that are not related to combat. Item creation feats in particular look very interesting.
Fifth, you no longer have to shatter the bell curve on attributes in order to gain any noticeable benefits. A thirteen is noticeably better than a ten or an eleven in any attribute. No longer does intermediate strength (12-15) merely let you carry more and go through barriers more easily. Now it helps in combat.
Finally, they’ve revived the World of Greyhawk. It is the game’s oldest, richest, and most varied setting. No matter what kind of land you're looking for, Oerth probably has it. Oerth is a place where savages using Neolithic weapons can live on the border of a land where knights in full gothic plate ride huge destriers, and an evil demigod can establish a city-state that shares a border with a lawful good theocracy.
All of that is good, but there are also problems with the system, which I will now go into.
Character creation is hard. I used to always think of AD&D™ as a great system for introducing newbies to role playing, because character creation was so simple. I’d ask the new person, “Did you ever see ‘The Hobbit,’ ‘Lord of the Rings,’ or ‘Willow’? If you were in one of those movies, would you rather be a sneaky guy, good at fighting, have magic spells, or holy power?” I’d get an answer, we’d roll up his attributes, I’d set him up with the gear and weapon proficiencies he needed, and we’d be off. I was not above letting new players pick their skill slots (non-weapon proficiencies, to use TSR's abominable gamespeak) on the fly. They didn't know what was powerful. They just knew what they wanted to do. Breezing through character creation is very important; few new players find character creation anything but a crashing bore.
Now, in order to have an effective character, one must choose a path and plot out all the feats and all their dependencies for that path. In 3ed, feats are all. And there are lots and lots and lots of feats. I’m a fairly experienced rules tech and game mechanic. I can knock out a decent GURPS character in a couple of hours. But trying to figure out what I should do to create the 3ed character I wanted … well, I worked on it for a day or two, and I’m still not satisfied with it. It’s almost as mind-bending and intricate as creating a character in Iron Crown Enterprise’s “Rolemaster.” Suffice to say, I believe I’m going to have to find somebody who really knows and likes 3ed to explain it to me.
There is more to keep track of, particularly in combat. One of the reasons that I much prefer AD&D™ to Palladium™ is that combat is much faster and simpler. In 3ed, many of the monsters have feats available to them as well, and you have to bear in mind what those do to their THAC0s and saving throws. An orc is not likely to have more than one Weapon Focus feat, and you have to keep track of whether he's in melee where the feat applies or ranged combat where it doesn't (or vice versa).
Further, I am certain that the game has as many rules loopholes, unbalances, and exploits as it ever has, and quite possibly even more. I know that all games have them and it's my responsibility to keep up with that as game master, but it is still annoying.
Finally, the D&D™ community still seems to be home to all the hack-n-slash powergaming munchkin weenies who know less about the personality of the characters that they themselves have created than they do about Cloud Stryfe or any other computer RPG lead character.
Considering all this, the main reason I used to have for playing AD&D™ is gone. No longer is the venerable “Dungeons and Dragons” game a good one to use to introduce new players to role playing games. Fortunately, I still have my AD&D2ed books for that. Unfortunately, I can't get them for new players.
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