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Observations from the Deep Ethereal

Current Project: Revising D&D 3.5

Rating: 3 votes, 4.00 average.
Most everyone will admit that D&D 3.5 is very flawed; from unbalanced classes to a CR system that doesn't work, from skills that are useless to the 15-minute work-day, from the need for some kind of healing (though not necessarily that of a cleric) to the ability for characters who are balanced to a per-round environment to go for twenty encounters without a need to stop as long as they were getting healed.

In short, there are many problems with the system, and as of yet no published or homebrew work that I've seen has completely fixed it. There are some insightful changes here and there, and some of those I've taken and incorporated into a new system revision which I'm working to finish. The system has some main points it stands by:

1. Encounters are challenging, but not deadly. 1 enemy per PC, with changed enemy stats to allow for very quick and easy monster creation. That also means that "I win" effects need to go (or be toned down), a conundrum I had until I hit on an idea that would allow them both to be balanced by the DM on the fly and not be able to solo an encounter on their own. I also created standardized monster table stats which one could compare to the level of the PCs and easily create monsters that have stats that will challenge the players without killing them.
2. 15-minute workday should be gone. To that end, I've changed how spellcasters work a little, as well as added balancing effects to how effects change characters. In tandem, I've added a a way for meleers to heal themselves (limited) so that one doesn't need a healer whatsoever--though life becomes much easier with one.
3. Allow every character who's built intelligently to be useful at every level of the game. For this to work, I boosted medium-BAB classes with an encompassing fix, and removed blanket immunities from most monsters so that certain characters would be less effective against them, but still be able to contribute.
4. Make treasure less of a hassle for the DM while keeping everyone at the WBL (wealth by level) they should be at. For this I created standardized tables of "bonus effects" that PCs automatically get, allowing them to stay where they need to be as far as the Big Six are concerned.

I've got most of the rules and fixes down--just need to codify 'em with design notes and explanations and such.

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  1. Ghostwheel's Avatar
    Rather than working the MM, I created new tables for monster based on both math and predicted PC abilities of the level of the monster. Creating monsters will now be quick, easy, and on the fly. Check out the monster stats, plug them in, give +/- 1 to 2 to flavor specific monsters, and add abilities that make the monsters who they are. Quick, easy, and effective, while still challenging the party.

    And yeah, as far as self-healing, I actually plan to use revised Healing Surges in combination with Taking Stock rules together; this allows characters to bypass the 15-minute workday, but still have a soft cap on the number of encounters they can go through before needing to rest. I also limit magical healing to heal characters up to 50% of their maximum HP, and any additional healing needing to be done by healing surges so that characters can automatically bypass the limit with a wand of lesser vigor/cure light wounds. One complaint about healing surges that I've heard is that one cannot really explain them realistically. However, I'd argue the opposite; why, after getting stabbed, shot, burned, electrified, and maimed, with half your organs removed from your body (ie, 1 HP) can you still fight at full strength? That's because HP isn't really the physical damage one takes, but a combination of morale, luck, plot armor, determination, drive, moxie, willpower, and only a small part of it is actual physical damage. Healing surges simply allow you to fight on where lesser people would have fallen long ago. After all, the PCs are heroes. Another option might be Hollywood Healing.

    As far as equipment goes, I plan on using the rules in Complete Gear, which allows players to automatically stay at CWBL, stops the headaches DMs can have with having to carefully ration gold and treasure while keeping characters at WBL (while taking into account that certain items will be sold at half price), and allows characters to spend gold on flavorful things such as bribes, great food, making connections and so on, without feeling like they're reducing their own power in combat as a viable character. It also has the side-effect of opening up new viable character concepts, such as the "starving bard" who doesn't have a single gold piece on him and has to sing for his dinner, without making them completely suck in combat. This is combined with Balanced CWBL rules to balance casters and fighters as far as wealth is concerned (in 3.5 it's completely tilted in favor of casters) while making sure that characters have at least the most basic equipment needed to be viable in combat against similar encounters.
    Updated 03-06-2010 at 10:09 AM by Ghostwheel
  2. Ghostwheel's Avatar
    Life is already unfair; why should I have to put up with unfairness, imbalance, and things that aren't fun in a fantasy game I play for fun? This isn't a life simulator. It's a game where you play around in a fantasy setting, interacting with NPCs and kicking monster butt.

    Anything that saps away the fun is bad, and feeling like your character isn't viable, or worse than everyone else, or is unable to contribute to the group generally isn't fun for me, though YMMV.
    I have less fun when encounters are cakewalks or TPKs with the DM having to bail the party out every time--I prefer having a very challenging fight, and winning by the skin of my teeth, though YMMV.
    I have less fun when after a single encounter I'm forced to either rest or be crippled for the rest of the day into uselessness--though again, YMMV. I have less fun when I have few tactical options in combat beyond, "I full attack/charge/move and standard attack this round--again," though YMMV.
    I have less fun when my character is near-epic levels, yet is useless because he's just had all his magic items disjunctioned, and the DM hates giving out "too much" gold, forcing most if the party to feel frustrated and not able to perform to their fullest or at the level that the DMG says they should be able to all the time (as opposed to specific times when you're stripped of your items, but will get them back in the near future)--though YMMV.
    I have less fun as a DM when I have to carefully balance each and every encounter so that it doesn't kill my players' characters or be neutralized/killed in one round, or have to spend a long time making sure a monster's HD fits its feats, skills, HP, ability scores, BAB, grapple checks, size modifiers, and all the other bits of a monster sheet, most of which don't matter--though YMMV.

    These are just a few of the things that my revision seeks to fix, things that make the game less fun. If these resonate with you--great. You might like the revision very well compared to the current edition of 3.5; however, if they don't, then there's no reason that you couldn't stick with 3.5 as it is.
  3. Ghostwheel's Avatar
    Just wondering then... why D&D 3.5? If you're looking for something that simulates life, wouldn't a system like Silhouette be better, with its more "realistic" rules?

    It's just that D&D has always been played to its strongest suit as a game that comes with a gamist approach to the system, and is often weakest when trying to come from a simulationist approach; consider for example things like HP--how come characters don't get weaker as they get closer to death? Why can a naked character without any magic survive the breath of a dragon that can melt clean through stone and steel? Or how falling from orbit will never kill a level 10 fighter with decent Constitution?

    An example of how D&D 3.5 attempted to be simulationist (and flopped) is the grapple rule; grappling is an attempt to simulate how grappling actually works, instead of creating a functional mechanic. It breaks the way that every other nonmagical combat action works, is overly complicated, and is also horrifically imbalanced - nongrapple creatures and builds just get rolled over when a grapple is called when compared to builds that specialize in grappling.

    It's just that D&D was created with a gamist approach in mind, and if one wanted a game that was more simulationist, a different system might be a bit better suited--I'd highly recommend a look-through the Sihouette ruleset, perhaps adapting it slightly to fantasy roleplaying tropes, using Tribe 8's magic system without the setting it comes from.