Monday, March 31, 2008

D&D 3.5+ Impressions

I mentioned in The Great D&D Schism that there are some revisions to D&D 3.5, including Pathfinder, True20 and the Book of Experimental Might. I've had a chance to browse through the Book of Experimental Might and some of the Pathfinder Alpha document. Someone asked me my opinion of them, so I thought I'd share my impressions here.

A common theme with both is evolution over revolution. They start with the assumption that the core system is pretty good, but could use some tweaks. Pathfinder finds a lot more places to tweak, but the changes in Experimental Might seem to be a bit more revolutionary where they do occur. As a result of that, and the fact that I have it in hardcopy, I've spent more time with the Book of Experimental Might than with Pathfinder.

The Book of Experimental Might makes me want to play a magic user. In fact, for the first time ever in a D&D game I think I'd really like to play a wizard. The combination of hit point changes, disciplines, increased feats and changes in the spell levels really makes the class look interesting, even at lower levels.

Although the changes to magic are big, and are both the core of the product and what I find the most inspiring, it's the changes to healing and hit points that I think will really make the biggest difference in game play. I don't want to go into too much detail, but the number of ways you can be healed are increased, and the limits are mostly on the character being healed, not the one doing the healing. Characters can only be magically healed a fixed number of times each day based on their level and Constitution bonus, in return many of a Cleric's abilities to heal are effectively unlimited within the party (they have a limit on the number of people they can heal per day, but not the number of times they can heal each person). This splits up the bookkeeping involved with healing to each player, instead of forcing the Cleric's player to do it all.

In addition to the changes in magical healing, there are also changes to Hit Points themselves, with characters getting more of them, but divided into two pools. One pool is made of easily healing Grace Points, and the other more traditionally slow healing Health Points. Characters can even "take a breather" once per encounter to gain back some Grace points and get a bonus for their next action. I really like the possibilities of this mechanic from a dramatic standpoint.

The one part of the book that I think misses the mark is the section on skills. It's not that I don't think the suggestions there are bad, it's just that they don't go far enough. I think this is the one area where Pathfinder does it better by borrowing the system from Star Wars Saga Edition. That system doesn't force you to spend skill points on different skills each level, instead you just buy a skill and your bonus in that skill is equal to your level (plus some other factors). The result is both simpler, and better tied to the level based system that D&D is.

So, right now, if I was to run or play in a D&D 3.5 game my choice would be for 3.5 core plus the changes in the Book of Experimental Might and the core skill system from Pathfinder/Star Wars. Not the new skill descriptions from Pathfinder, just the core advancement scheme to replace the skill points per level system that exists now.

All that said, I'm still looking forward to seeing just what 4.0 has going for it. Aside from there being a little too much focus on tactical combat, it sounds very interesting.

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