Review: D&D 3.5

Copyright Robert J Defendi with Matthew Fitt © 2003

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

"If you play D&D, these books are a must purchase. Get them and enjoy."

It's been many months since Wizards of the Coast (WotC) announced the 3.5 update to the D&D game. I have to admit that I've eagerly awaited this update, probably more than 3.0. AD&D Second Edition had completely lost my interest by the end, and I didn't have much hope for 3.0. D&D 3.5 had higher expectations, however. I liked 3.0, but months of play revealed certain glaring problems. I had hope that the 3.5 edition would fix most if not all of these.

Did they? For the most part, yes. There are many good changes, and many of my issues with the game were fixed. Actually, there's only one thing they changed that annoyed me (the hit die of the Ranger) and even it was part of an overall step forward.

D&D 3.5 released all three core books at once. I've covered each of them, separately, below.

Player's Handbook

The structure and overall content of The Player's Handbook more or less remained the same. This is still the main book necessary for making characters and running a game. The changes were, on the whole, in the details.

Pros

Barbarians have had some good tweaks, making them more playable. For instance, they now have a trap sensing ability and the ability to go into an advanced form of rage at 20^th level.

Bards have been somewhat played with, too. Among other things, they now have more skill points, to give them a broader use in the game.

Druids now have the ability to convert a spell slot to a summoning spell, much like the Cleric's ability to convert a spell slot to a healing spell.

Monks have had a few minor tweaks as well, notably in the attacks per round department.

Paladins now have their powers spread out a bit, to discourage multi-classing into Paladin for one level solely for the saving throw bonuses.

Rangers have considerably more versatility. They almost made the ranger playable, but messed it up in the end.

There have been minor tweaks in the skill section. They cut the Innuendo and Scry skills for instance. No one used them anyway.

Many feats were brought to the Player's Handbook from other books. This opens them up into open game content for the d20 companies out there.

Weapons are now based on the character's size. For instance, a longsword comes in the medium variety, the small variety and the large variety. While a halfling's longsword may seem like a short sword to a human, the hilt is the wrong size for a human to wield properly.

There have been many tweaks to individual spells that, for the most part, don't detract and usually enhance things quite a bit. Some spells were too powerful in 3.0, some not powerful enough. You can tell that a lot of thought went into adjusting game balance in this section.

Cons

The Paladin is no more playable than the 3.0 version. The Fighter is still much more powerful. WotC seems to be of the opinion that because the paladin gets played a lot, it isn't broken. They don't seem to realise that people would still play paladins if they had fur and barked like dogs. The paladin is too well ingrained in the D&D psyche for people to ignore it just because the class is broken.

The Ranger almost made it. On my first read, I thought the class was fixed, but then I saw that they shorted the Ranger in the hit dice department, so he is only a bit less broken than in 3.0.

While overall I liked the combat section, I was annoyed that they didn't fix a few problems I had. For instance, I think mages should get a penalty for casting a spell in the same round that they are hit with a full attack. It seems surprising that a mage can get hit five times in six seconds and still cast a spell without anything more than the casting defensively penalty! They also didn't change the one rule in D&D that annoys me the most: the fact that attacking a collar on someone's neck or a pouch on their side provokes an attack of opportunity. I'll just never get that attacking any object on another person's person (I like the sound of that sentence), makes them so confident of their safety they get a free attack on you.

Dungeon Master's Guide

The Dungeon Master's Guide serves its same purpose in 3.5. Most of the changes here come from the addition of material. While much of it won't be of help to the avid D&D player (who will own the Epic Level Handbook, for instance), this info is also in the SRD, which means d20 companies can finally start exploring concepts like other planes and characters higher than 20^th level. This is the book that impressed me the most, personally, because of the potential industry impact.

Pros

Increased detail in the Adventures section. Encounter charts, for example.

The inclusion of a section on the planes. While this has little use for those who own Manual of the Planes, it considerably opens up the options to d20 companies.

Epic Level rules, while simple, open up characters above 20^th level to other game designers.

There are many additional prestige classes. While most of these are published elsewhere, their inclusion here (and therefore in the SRD) means that game designers can now include Arch Mages and Duelists (to name two examples) in their d20 products.

Many great changes in the magic items department. They gave Adamantium a purpose, finally, made certain magical properties affect only the price of an item, not its overall plus. They fixed the price of skill bonus items, as well.

The inclusion of templates at the back of the book allows for more ease of play, where miniatures are involved.

Cons

I have nothing bad to say about this book.

Monster Manual

This book is a work of art, and that's just looking at the text. The monsters are much easier to use, with details like their flatfooted AC and their grappling bonus included in their stats. The only thing bad I can say about The Monster Manual is they removed the two pieces of Elmore art. Maybe they thought it made the other art look bad by comparison.

Conclusion

The D&D 3.5 update is a fine piece of work. While it fell short of my expectations in some areas, I can't swear that it could have met my expectations, as high as they were. If you play D&D, these books are a must purchase. Get them and enjoy.

As a final note, there are conversion notes, downloadable from the WotC website (www.wizards.com ) that walk one through converting other hardbound books, like the Fiend Folio, to 3.5 stats.

Editor's note: The Player's Handbook, The Dungeon Master's Guide, andThe Monster Manual retail for $29.95 USD and can be purchased at your local gaming store or online at the WotC website.