Playing D&D 3e Without Tears
A week or so ago, I mentioned that I was playing in a D&D 3e game — a long running campaign that started as a 2e game in the early 1990s — and that the campaign avoided most of the many 3e problems discussed on forums because the game was played as if it were 2e and used a few house rules to fix some of the more obvious issues. Naturally, I was asked what those house rules are. So this campaign is the subject of today’s post.
The most important reason for this campaign’s success with the 3e system (and note, it is 3e — not 3.5 or Pathfinder) isn’t the house rules, but the fact that the players and the GM play it as if they were still playing 2e. What does this mean? To start with, it means the group still has the 2e era zero-tolerance for players who are rules lawyers and/or min-maxers (now more tolerantly called “optimizers”). The rules as written are less important than the GM’s rulings, the setting integrity, the house rules, and common sense. This solves many of 3e’s issues without any house rules at all.
After all, if you don’t have min-maxers looking for rules issues to exploit, many of 3e’s issues simply are not likely to come up at the table. Those that are stumbled on my accident are going to be handed by maintaining setting integrity or by a ruling from the GM. For example, an exploit that can be simply stumbled into without any min-maxing is the infamous (at least on 3.x discussion forums) bear summoning exploit where a druid always summons bears and all the bears are far more effective in combat than any fighter could be. In this campaign’s setting, however, druids are servants of “Mother Nature” and are granted their powers by “Mother Nature” to be used mainly in the protection of nature — just as they were in 2e. If a druid were to start summoning bears nearly every time combat is joined, chances are many of those combats aren’t going to be about protecting nature. Therefore, “Mother Nature” is going to eventually stop providing bears when the rules-exploiting druid tries to summon them. This simple solution works because in this campaign setting integrity and common sense trump the rules as written.
A number of actual rules changes have been made, however. As I am not that interested in rules when I get a chance to play, I do not know all of them, but here are some of the major changes to the 3e system that I do know they’ve made:
- While the standard 3e saving throw groups are used, they have been modified to work like they do in 2e. That is, they get better as you go up levels — and for magic, the level of the caster has no effect on the save.
- All spell-casters start with only a few randomly determined spells. The only way a spell caster gets more spells is to find them (in scrolls, books, etc.) in the game. Players cannot simply choose to know any spell in the spell lists.
- If a spell-caster is takes damage (or is otherwise distracted) before his spell goes off, the spell automatically fizzles. A concentration check is allowed to see if the caster retains the spell in his memory — if the concentration check fails, the spell fades from the caster’s mind.
- Fighters can move and still make a full attack.
- There are no attacks of opportunity — and least not in the 3e style. Instead characters and monsters have what amounts to zones of control that one cannot just move through. (Combat is “theater of the mind” — minis and battlemats are not used.)
- 3e open multi-classing is allowed with two restrictions: 1) You cannot take an additional class until you have at least 3 levels in all of your current classes; and 2) Prestige classes are the sole province of organizations in the campaign world and training to advance in those classes is only provided by invitation of the organization in question. In other words, the GM controls which prestige classes, if any, are available to a character.
- Skills (and especially skill rolls) are downplayed. For example, rolling without a reasonable description of what you are actually doing is simply not allowed. Skills effects are limited by common sense: Diplomacy, for example. If something is a task anyone could try with some chance of success, even those without the skill on their sheet can attempt it with a reasonable chance of success. Skills pointed per class have been modified.
- Many feats are modified. For example, any feat that RAW walls off some action that anyone should be able to attempt becomes a +2 bonus to the attempt for those with the feat. Some feats are eliminated or made harder to use (magic item creation feats, for example).
- Morale rolls, reaction rolls, wandering monsters, random treasure and the like were retained from TSR D&D.
- Character advancement is slowed down to closer to 2e speeds. That is, a year of weekly play with the same characters will generally see those characters reaching about 8th level.
- Healing has been modified to handle the higher hit points of 3e characters and monsters.
- There are no Magicmarts. Other than common potions and scrolls with very common spells, magic items are seldom for sale.