Top critical review
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Not terrible, but not good either
on June 9, 2005
I've been playing D&D (or more precisely, AD&D) and other RPG's for a significant portion of my life, so I think it's fair to say that I know what I'm talking about. Third edition, or more accurately, 3.5 now and coming up on 4th, is both a blessing and a curse at the same time. It is getting a whole new generation of people into the RPG world. However, it is, as some people have already said, a less intelligent version of TSR's previous work.
Perhaps the biggest issue I have is with the "balancing" of the character classes. Designed so that all character classes are "equally powerful" at all times, what Wizards of the Coast has effectively done is gut the classes in favor of cookie cutter standups. Now, a wizard and a fighter stand on even ground throughout their careers, as long as they both choose the propper "feats" to give their character those special abilities. In 2e, the classes were balanced much more realistically. A wizard was capable of raining fiery death upon his opponents, but he made some serious trades for that power. A fighter couldn't cast a spell ever and was likely to be dumber than a brick, but there was never a time when he wasn't ready to go with armor, sword, or spear. Paladins, arguably an over-powered class in previous editions, certainly had a significant level of ability, but the trade-offs for that power were severe to say the least. The third edition paladin is barely a shadow of his former self and there's no longer any draw whatsoever to play one.
Combat was redesigned, and admirably I might say: however, there's nothing there that any 2e DM worth his salt hadn't already instituted in his game previously. They got rid of THAC0's and flipped the AC chart, but more DM's than I can count knew how to do that when 2e first came out! After that, there are loads of idiotic rules that make no sense except when you realize that the new edition is designed so that you almost can't play without spending bundles of cash on miniatures. Creatures now have no "facing" (i.e., there's no front and back in combat, it's all the same). Initiative is now static, which totally disallows for any sense of the heat of battle (an easily fixed rule perhaps, but stupid nontheless). In order to actually figure out what your character is able to do within the space of a round, you absolutely must have a gridded off map and a miniature for yourself and everything else in the room. The chaos of combat that comes from not knowing precisely where everything is at any given moment is stripped away because now you are forced to view the battle as a general rather than your own character.
The system does more than just encourage "roll Playing" over Role Playing, it down right demands it. With skills such as "sense motive" and "gather information," third edition has effectively taken out of the players' hands the responsibility to actually perform some of these tasks themselves. Instead of actually talking to townsfolk to find out what's going on, you can make a roll of a 20 sided die, do a little bit of math, and find out everything you need in order to go kill the bad guy, which is what it amounts to.
The revamped XP system is designed so that no character will ever face anything that is overly challenging to them. There's a specific "window" in which optimum XP is gained for fighting certain monsters, but anything over or under that results in no XP or less. This creates a video game type atmosphere in which the characters are just challenged enough to keep on going just as in Mario Brothers, the monsters get a little tougher after every level.
In order to keep up with everybody else, you're forced to run out and purchase new supplements every month or so, each costing about $30 or more. There are no soft cover supplements anymore that you can pick up for less, so it's easy to see that Wizards of the Coast is gouging players in order to turn a profit.
Despite all the negative, there are some positive aspects to the game as it stands.
1) Clerical spellcasting has been "fixed" as I see it. Now, instead of cookie-cutter clerics (as they often were in 2nd and 1st edition), now every priest has the opportunity to specialize in "domains" that grant specific spells and abilities.
2) The world of magic item creation has been opened up to lower level player characters, letting wizards of even 1st level create scrolls and potions on occasion rather than waiting until 9th level. Of course, this comes at the heaviest cost of all, XP, but trading a few hundred XP for a permanent magical item might be very tempting to a player.
3) As I mentioned, the official switching of AC and THAC0's is a good thing.
4) The simplification of many complex rules invites many new comers to the game.
5) The atmosphere can be there, as long as you have a good DM at the helm who knows how to do more than just drop monsters and traps in front of you and watch you whack them. Again, this is where imagination comes in, just as it did in all previous editions.