Talk to The Hand

3e D&D Player's Handbook:
The Review

3e Dungeons and Dragons Player's HandbookYes, the book is beautiful, it's spectacular, shut up already. If you haven't already ponied up your Andy Jackson, stop reading, go the store and buy the book, and then come back. Just make sure that you've got a handkerchief or a wad of napkins so that you can clean up after your massive, ten-minute orgasm.

By now, I figure any gamer that's still breathing knows how good this book is. I'm personally stunned and relieved that my favorite game genre now has a system that's so painless, the numbers can finally take a break and let actual gaming get a minute in edge-wise. So many things have been fixed for the better, it'd be impossible to list them. So I'm not going to. Instead, let's look at something else:

  1. Where is the game still broken?
  2. Where is it broken and abusable, and how can this be, uh, remedied so that unscrupulous, unrepentant, filthy-filthy old-school power gamers can be stopped before they start putting on their downy-white sheep suits?

Hit Points: Well, hit points are still with us, and still broken. But have you seen the play-tester list? There are more people there than Ron Jeremy has shagged during his entire porn career (35 years and still going hard, by the way). The point being, if they didn't fix it, I'm sure they tried. Oh, they cleaned it up a little bit there's a section on the "Coup de Grace" that's quite nice, but it's otherwise unchanged. In contemplating this prior to the release of D&D 3rd, I was personally hoping that they'd keep hit points. Why, you ask? Because I dread some sort of half-assed knock-off of White Wolf's soak system. Again, why? Because in White Wolf combat, the hours tick by like nothing, and invariably some massive amount of damage will be dealt, only too be halved, soaked, and healed. And that's just against the player characters. Can you imagine how many soak dice a dragon would have? Yes, I'll take hit points and love them, thank you.

I'd really be interested in seeing how they tried to fix hit points. I'm guessing that they'd of tried something mild, like a standing -1 penalty on all rolls if, say, a character drops to 50% of hit points, maybe a -2 at 25%. Seems easy, right? But I'm sure they worried about something like this:

Timmy Game Master: "The goblin hisses as he swipes at you with his sword and connects, your ribs burning as the dirty blade lays open your flesh. You take 5 points of damage. Oh, and since that's, uh, half your hit points, you have a -1 on your rolls. Now--"

Johnny First-Time Gamer: "Wait, I get a minus one? From a goblin? Man, fuck this. I'm gonna go hit on your sister."

Attribute bonuses: Well, everything is standardized, and that's good; the issue is how attribute modifiers interact with the other parts of the game, and by "other parts" I mean "combat." With strength and dexterity it's pretty damned easy to get a huge bonus to hit something, and this may not be a good thing. On the one hand, it's reasonable for combat to get a boost from being crazy strong or quick, but on the other hand, considering how much of a role combat plays in most games, the disparity between combat monsters and non-combat monsters might be a bit much. Still, while landing a blow may be easier, damage isn't quite as extreme anymore, so it might all even out. I'll wait to see how this gets borne out in my first game, though, before I comment further, but for now, this is something to be aware of.

The Multi-Class System: Is good. Very, very good, and easy. While it allows the characters to really get out there and diversify, it opens the door to potential abuse, and for super-character gamers, the lure may be too much to pass up. For starters, it makes humans/half-elves the most powerful race in the game by far. How? By allowing their favored class to be the class in which they have the highest level at any given time. Here's an example: make a human with a high dexterity and a high intelligence, start him out as a rogue (so he'll have a crazy amount of starting skills, and even shelling out for cross-class skills is affordable), level up into a fighter (so he picks up every weapon proficiency in the game, plus a free bonus feat (on top of what humans already get), level up as a fighter again to get more hit points, a combat bonus, and another bonus feat, and then switch over to being a mage. You can now do everything, use anything, have enough perks to be formidable even as a low-level character, and whenever you pick up a skill, you can apply it to whatever class you want.

Here's another one to watch out for, but it's pretty blatant: start as a paladin, and then switch to being a sorcerer at 2nd level. This scores on the paladin's (even ex-paladin's) "divine grace" ability, that gives them a plus to all saves equal to their charisma modifier, the same modifier that gives sorcerers their bonus spells. Super-magedom. Watch out for it.

There's an even simpler way to make a super-character in D&D though: pick a class and stay with it, just so long as the GM tosses levels like old candy-bar wrappers. Advancement to silly heights is at the heart of most any game, and in D&D it's even more naked. The challenge will be seeing if the new DMG has enough juice to push for a new dimension of storytelling that can take advantage of the excellent, excellent system they've presented so far.

Classes & Races: For the most part, the game is scrupulously balanced, in almost every regard. Monks are pretty scary, but only above tenth level or so, and at that point everybody is scary. As for races, small characters get a lot of bonuses, but they lose out big time in weapons (and monkdom in particular), so it all balances out there too. The only thing I don't understand is, half-orcs have an unprecedented set of minuses, both to intelligence and charisma. Sure, they're half-orcs, but it's a pretty stiff penalty to levy on a character that already has to deal with being called "pig-face." The whole thing smacks of "Willy Horton" era racism, and I won't have anything to do with it. Consistency is nice, but I don't see why they can't offset the orcish +2 to strength with a minus 1 to intelligence and -1 to charisma. Otherwise, the orcs just tank when it comes to skills. But then again, why do you worry about skills when you're a barbarian?

Timmy GM: "You sees a bear."

Krumsh the Barbarian: "I kills da bear! And then I use cleave to kills the tree next to it!"

Timmy GM: "You gains a level! Now you sees a troll."

Until later, kiddies.

by Dan "The Hand" Bentley