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D&D 3E
Edition Blues 
11th-Jun-2009 12:06 pm
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After playing with 4th edition with some time, though only as the occasional standalone adventure, my players and I have decided to drop back to 3.5 for a campaign because it will be a semi-sequel to our last major storyline, which was set in 3.5 Eberron.

God, how I missed the 3rd edition character creation process. I know that a lot of it is just nostalgia and familiarity, but I have so much fun with it. And no, it's not a fair comparison because of the number of splatbooks available for 3rd and the extreme lack of balance in certain classes/spells/feats, but it just feels like you can make far, far more customized and interesting characters in 3rd edition.

Even though I'm going to be DMing, we're a small group so I'm making a PC...so I'm really having a blast. My guy is a super-simplified wizard, both to keep myself from stealing the show and to keep him manageable while I'm also trying to run the bad guys. I wanted him to be as effective as possible in propping up the party's fire-power, while not really being able to bypass obstacles through magic.

So, 10/10 points for awesome 3.5 character creation.

But minus several million points when I started to look at the monster manual stat blocks again. I nearly had a seizure. Dear god, I forgot how nightmarish it was to try to put together a decent combat encounter in 3rd edition. Luckily, I'll be using a published adventure...but even then there's a LOT more text to keep track of than in 4th edition.

3rd Edition: Delicious for players, hell for DMs.
4th Edition: Bland for players, heaven for DMs.

Really, the biggest thing that 3rd edition needs is a re-think of monster/NPC stat blocks. One of the biggest changes from 2nd to 3rd edition is that monsters were treated as characters, with stats and skills and feats and all that. It's one of those things that Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time. The problem, of course, is that monsters don't need that level of detail. That's something that 4th edition gets right. Monsters/NPCs there are trimmed down to only what you need to do, and they are based on guidelines that are very easy to use if you want to make your own custom enemies.

The interesting thing, though, is that there's no reason that you can't do the same thing for 3rd. If you're willing to put in a little work, it would be easy to come up with similar stat/level guidelines and a simpler type of monster stat block. Going forward, that's exactly how I'm going to operate. My enemies will NOT follow the rules for players.

For example, at the end of our last campaign I assembled what I really believed was a truly epic final boss fight. It was a Mind Flayer with a ton of Psion levels, who started the combat with a stack of about 10 defensive buffs to ensure that he wouldn't be disabled/killed in a round. Building him took over a day. The end result was fantastic, but I'm not sure if the effort is ever one I'd look to duplicate. And damn, then there was the amount of bookkeeping required in battle. Recalculating stats as buffs get dispelled, keeping track of power points, using magic item charges, etc...

If I were to do that today, I'd definitely follow the 4th Edition process. I'd aim for a AC/saves/SR that would work __% of the time, and not care how I got there. I would pick a good psionic power and just give it to him at-will. I'd pick a REALLY good psionic power and make it an encounter or recharge power. I would give him a 4th-edition-style "action point" and/or something he can use as a swift action. I would allow Dispel Magic to apply a stacking debuff to his defenses (-1 to everything?), to simulate stripping away of defensive buffs.

I'd also give him a 50% chance to shrug off any condition, once per round just like 4th-edition saves. (I can use the same mechanics for the players to shrug off some of the monster's abilities.)
This basically eliminates the "save or die" problem and gives me a system should enable me to control how long I want the monster to survive (figure PC's average damage X hit chance, multiply out by how many rounds I want him to live on average.) By having a more durable monster, I can also make his damage more reliable, but generally lower and less "bursty". He'll be a threat, but a less random one. Plus, if it's a longer fight then it increases the importance of tactics, positioning, and cooperation.

Right away I have a monster that I can build in minutes, not hours, and that is very easy to manage in combat, leaving me with plenty of time to coach players or add flavour text.
Comments 
11th-Jun-2009 04:33 pm (UTC)
That's something that 4th edition gets right. Monsters/NPCs there are trimmed down to only what you need to do

I prefer deciding myself what I need to do with the monster. If a player wants to make a character using an obscure monster, those stats should be available.

On a side note to make a mention of how difficult it is to keep track of effects and spells as they go down or come back up. I built a program that is being released into beta tomorrow that simplifies that greatly. I will be posting the link on this journal so keep your eyes open and try it out.
11th-Jun-2009 05:36 pm (UTC)
I prefer deciding myself what I need to do with the monster. If a player wants to make a character using an obscure monster, those stats should be available.

What stats? Str/Dex/etc...? I'm not advocating hiding that. Perhaps I wasn't clear.

I'm saying, for example, that I don't need to know that an Aboleth Mage has the Lightning Reflexes feat. You don't have to feel compelled to breakdown every total like a tax return.

A "monster" is inherently different from a character. A monster doesn't need a Knowledge[Dungeoneering] value (to pick on the Aboleth Mage some more). Heck, I would strongly argue that a spellcasting monster doesn't even need a full spell list -- just a couple iconic abilities as I described above. Monsters don't need to be as fully evolved as player characters -- give that "CR5 Human Mage" a twice-per-encounter 5d6 Fireball and at-will "1d8+5" magic missiles and call it done.

I'll will disclaimer all this by saying that a recurring "monster" often should be a full-fledged character and lies outside of this discussion.

And there should DEFINITELY be enough info available about the RACE that you can make use it for player/NPC characters -- but that is a separate issue than what the specific monster info block should look like.

But that's the key right there. I'm not talking about races (monstrous or not). I'm talking about monsters (a.k.a. specific instances of enemies, regardless of race).
11th-Jun-2009 05:09 pm (UTC)
I looked briefly into trying to come up with monster creation formulas a la 4e (I ran a brief 4e game and actually enjoyed making up new monsters, something that was never the case in 3.5). The problem is, a lot of 3.5 stuff doesn't scale as nicely or transparently as 4e--you can't really make it "misses 50% of the time", because that assumption isn't built into the game. Numbers just cover such a wider range in 3.5 (which is actually something I like about 4e--you don't have a 25 point spread between skill checks so that one player always succeeds while another always fails).

What I did take away from 4e for the 3.5 game I'm running is some of the aspects of "making fun monsters", rather than the method behind it. I don't bother to select feats or skills or anything, and just give monsters numbers that seem to fit (ie., if an enemy would like Power Attack I'll just drop its attack bonus and raise it's damage, regardless of if it has a feat slot or even a 13 Str). I also like trying to come up with a neat, unique ability or attack for every monsters. So that my guards from City A are distinct from City B because they use a different mechanic. Choosing a maneuver out of Book of Nine Swords to give to an enemy at-will or 1/encounter has been a decent way to do this.

Also, for what it's worth, while in 4e there are much fewer options on how to build characters at creation time (it is a much simpler process, and not necessarily as fun an exercise as in 3.5), I find that the 4e set-up gives you a much larger number of options during play-time, particularly for melee characters (I think Bo9S would fix this, but my DMs all seem to hate it :( ). In my 4e pbp, at each round of combat I have more significant choices of what to do than in 3.5, which is often reduced to me performing my one gimmick (which was fun to construct at character creation, but is slightly more restrictive once we're actually playing). So if anything, 4e has taught me to build characters towards flexibility of actions if not of abilities, designing 3.5 characters to also contain aspects I enjoy out of 4e.
11th-Jun-2009 05:42 pm (UTC)
Ah, gimmicky characters. I had a monk that had one feat where I could take a -4 to my AC and if I was hit, I got a free trip attack on the target. He had another that if you missed him, he got an attack of opportunity on you, which he used to do trip attacks. It sounded cool at first to have this Master of Defensive Martial Arts thing going on but after a while it didn't.
12th-Jun-2009 02:00 am (UTC)
As an opponent? Cause that's what we're talking about.

Just because one gimmick doesn't work doesn't mean that all are bad. I could see a tripping opponent as irritating (I ran one game with a control-based Beholder that kept putting people to sleep, and it got slow).
11th-Jun-2009 05:49 pm (UTC)
Numbers just cover such a wider range in 3.5 (which is actually something I like about 4e--you don't have a 25 point spread between skill checks so that one player always succeeds while another always fails).

Well, this is absolutely true for skill checks, but you can definitely come up with a reasonable targets for to-hit and spell DCs. (Though maybe it breaks down at very high levels -- we usually reboot our campaign when we get to the mid-teens.)

What I did take away from 4e for the 3.5 game I'm running is some of the aspects of "making fun monsters", rather than the method behind it.

Yup yup -- that's definitely what I'm trying to advocate here.

So that my guards from City A are distinct from City B because they use a different mechanic.

That is a great idea.

And yeah, The Book of 9 Swords is the single greatest thing to happen to martial characters in 3rd edition. That plus Reserve Feats (Complete Mage) gives you the most significant improvements from 4th edition with regard to character creation.

Hell, in our houserules Fighters get a bonus feat EVERY level and are unrestricted in which feats they take...and still no one has taken a fighter level in over a year.
12th-Jun-2009 08:56 am (UTC) - Monster / NPC Generater

Have a look at Dingle's Games Monster Generator and NPC Generator.

They are basically the same except the NPC generator includes magic items and spells. It is very good and an absolute life saver for GMs. Major encounters can now be created in minutes, not hours.

Disclaimer: Paul, who runs Dingles Games, is an old friend of mine and I helped out on some of the HTML but seriously, it really is an incredible tool for GMs.


12th-Jun-2009 11:13 am (UTC) - Re: Monster / NPC Generater
These are really quite good. Thanks!
12th-Jun-2009 11:34 am (UTC) - Re: Monster / NPC Generater
HOLY CRAP!

That is frickin` awesome!


You sir are a true hero. This makes my totally paperless DMing that much easier.

Again, HOLY CRAP THIS IS GREAT!


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