Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Nostalgia Creep - Or, How D&D 3rd Edition Suddenly Became Nostalgia For Me

 I'd mentioned during a new year's post that I had some designs on revisiting Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition that I'd revisit in a future post. This is not the first time I've felt this way, but most definitely it's the first time I've decided to actively engage with it. The last time I got genuinely interested in a return to D&D 3rd was during the rise of 4th edition D&D, but before Pathfinder had manifested. Needless to say, Pathfinder ended up being a suitable substitution and derailed me for a good long while. With that said....you might wonder why 3rd edition D&D and not just more Pathfinder? Or, for that matter, why not AD&D 1E or 2E? 

Well, this is a complex question. But as I have thought a bit about my returning interest, I realize the convoluted logic path goes something like this: D&D 3rd edition has a lot of good memories for me. I had some bad memories, too, but I realize in retrospect that the good times gaming came from the game groups that were synergetic and had fun without caveat, and the bad memories were from the groups where there was a bad synergy or maybe some literal bad actors (players who mostly liked griping about the game). In time it made me enjoy 3rd edition less....as I bet it did for many. But I can't deny that some of my best days gaming were from around 2000 to 2006 during which I used D&D 3/3.5 as my go-to gaming engine for D&D, and had consistently great groups of players, many long time friends, who were all into enjoying the game in the same general way. 

So, to put it another way, some of the nostalgia I know I'm feeling is for that particular era of gaming in my life. But....and this is a big, important but....I've got a couple really amazing groups these days that are all now long time old friends and we have a really good synergy, too. So the idea of introducing my current group to "classic" D&D 3.5 doesn't seem so crazy; for many of them they started with the rise of Pathfinder, D&D 4E or D&D 5E and have never actually experienced a game of original D&D 3E.

There were some problems back in the day. D&D 3.5 had an overwhelming number of splatbooks for it's time, though I find it ironic that today, when you look at the core rules, it contains as much (or more) content than all of the D&D 5E core books and accessories combined. Even better, with the advantage of hindsight the sum total of all 3rd edition D20 content has a very precise period of closure. Sure, books continued to churn for Pathfinder, but as anyone immersed in the vagaries of edition mechanics knows, Pathfinder 1E has a lot of assumptions in design that make it difficult to precisely treat as retro-compatible. A gamer could readily be forgiven for seeing the PF1E era as the start of something new and the proper close of the D&D 3.5 era, in other words.

Anyway.....long story short, I am having fun with what I realize is another genuine (and unexpected) moment of nostalgia. The advantage here is I recall my issues with the game, and realize that a nostalgic return to 3.5 will avoid the bulk of those issues, chiefly due to the fact that it's now a closed loop as games go....all of its content is out and its cycle of life as a publishing machine is done; I can pick and choose from the content out there with a great deal more discretion than I once might have, and I can studiously avoid those supplements that I disliked (example: I was not a fan of the Book of Nine Swords, Incarnum, etc....precursors to the shift to 4E design ethos). Likewise, my players are long time friends and cohorts, and bring to the table a wealth of commonality rather than the sorts of players that once pervaded the hobby with 3rd edition, in which min/maxing design was considered the overwhelming motivation in character generation (as opposed to rolling something fun and interesting for the story). 

I don't know if this will be a long term or short term venture....I do think it will be fun to revisit if only so I can both lampshade the things once part of D&D that led to the modern iterations of the game, and likewise contrast that with the design elements of modern games which are maybe less satisfying (such as D&D 5E's reduction of damage values to "it's all hit points" and general ease of risk, or Pathfinder 2E's amazingly double-edged precision in difficulty ranges).

Either way.....if my group opts in to try it out, I'll provide more updates!


  1. I always felt that 3.0 was a natural evolution of ADnD 2nd Edition. It has a lot of the same feel and plays very similarly, so long as you don't make the assumptions that became common in the mid to late 3.5 era. Stuff like fixed number and difficulty of encounters, strict wealth by level, optimized magic items and stats. If you're not doing any of that (and not min-maxing your characters) it's a really fun game to play. Best of luck with your group!

  2. I loved 3.0/3.5 and is still my favorite version of DND