The version of the popular role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (or, perhaps more correctly, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) that first came out in the year 2000. It took a step away from its roots in miniatures-based wargaming, specifically the tradition of trying to be somewhat historically accurate, and towards a stronger tie to fantasy. It also changed the system in ways too large to be considered mere cleaning up, yet too small to count as a true overhaul; the designers tried their hardest to make the game a "modern" RPG while still being D&D. In many people's opinion, they succeeded.

Key features of the new D&D include:

And this is just in brief...

An updated edition of the original RPG Dungeons & Dragons, published by Wizards of the Coast (WotC). Based on the d20 system, this is the first new RPG system put out by WotC since they acquired TSR.

This is a major rewrite of the entire system compared to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition.

Going back to their roots and trying to streamline and improve the system they have made adjustments to all aspects of the system. From adding in popular house rules, combining similar rule sets into one mechanic, and abolishing artificial limitations placed on races and classes they have produced a much better game that its predecessor.

Succeeded by Dungeons and Dragons 3.5.

Most of the new changes to the 3rd edition were brought about to make playing the game easier. It was thought that the ruleset only interested a limited number of people because it was too difficult to implement. (unless you were just REALLY REALLY into it). Some hard core fans are no doubt going to dislike some of the changes to the game, but the general idea was to attrack a much wider fan base. Dungeons and Dragons, (although generally thought of with a negative tone by the masses)(along with J.R.R. Tolkien) has been a driving force in the Fantasy Science Fiction genre. Setting the standards that identify new races (elves, dwarfs)and the way that Fantasy Sci-Fi worlds are written about.

Creature listings have also changed. Descriptions are a tad more terse now, and offer less insight in to their ecology than the old 3-ring Monsterous Compendiums. On the upside to this all creatures now have ability scores as a PC would. (STR, DEX, CON, etc...)

Note, ability scores themselves have changed format. No longer are they in the 1-25 range. An open-ended scale is now in place. However the six stats themselves remain the same.

A nice addition is the inclusion of "recipies" for magic items in the Dungeon Masters Guide. This is a part of making item crafting more accessable to PC's. The line of "Craft X" feat is also part of this.

The d20 system which it is based on is distributed under the Open Gaming License, meaning companies can publish and sell their own products for D&D. This resuled in a massive expansion of the product line and a massive user base expansion.

Also, what must be noted is the design of the new handbooks are quite breathtaking, and are in themselves, works of art. IMHO, the most spectacular is the Forgotton Realms book.

The books are also being mass-produced, meaning that the books are significantly cheaper.

While most of the changes between 1st edition and 2nd edition AD&D were minor enough that both could easily be seen as two versions of the same game, the designers of 3rd edition D&D started from scratch and overhauled everything. What follows is a very incomplete list, as there are far too many changes to list here.



  • Rounds of combat last six seconds.
  • Initiative is rolled only at the beginning of a combat; the initial order of action is generally kept throughout the rest of the combat. After the first round, there is no more "first" or "last", only "next" in a repeated cycle of actions. There are ways to change where a character is in that order, however.
  • There are only three saving throws for characters: Reflex (getting out of the way), Fortitude (withstanding massive physical damage), and Will (fighting off mental attacks).
  • The rogue's "backstab" is now a "sneak attack," and can come from any direction. Instead of a damage multiplier, it does an extra 1d6 damage at 1st level, 2d6 at 3rd, 3d6 at 5th, etc.
  • Critical hits in the form of damage multipliers are now part of the standard rules. A roll of natural 20 is not always required for a hit to be critical.
  • Except for damage, almost everything is based on the roll of a d20. High is always good, low is always bad. In most cases, a natural 20 will always succeed and a natural 1 will always fail.
  • THAC0 is gone; AC now starts at 10 and goes up. If the rolled number plus modifiers is equal or higher than the target's AC, it is a hit.
  • Polearms have "reach" and are generally only useful if an opponent is ten feet away.
  • Which direction a character is facing does not matter in combat. Instead of bonuses to hit for attacking from the side or rear, whenever two characters are on exactly opposite sides of the opponent they are fighting, they get a bonus to hit. If the opponents are thieves, they can "sneak attack" every round that they remain on exactly opposite sides of the opponent.
  • Unarmed combat has been overhauled and streamlined.
  • Characters are unconscious and dying if their hit points fall below 0, and die when their hit points reach -10.
  • Each character in combat "threatens" an area for 5 feet in all directions. If an opponent attempts certain actions within this area, the attacker gets an attack of opportunity on that character.
  • Use of miniatures of some sort (even just dice on a grid) is strongly recommended, due to the many instances where relative position of combatants and distance between combatants is vital to running a combat.


  • All spells are now in a single alphabetical list, with a line in each describing which classes can access it and what spell level it is for each class.
  • All spells have been extensively overhauled, with many added, dropped, renamed, altered beyond recognition, etc.
  • Magic resistance is now called "spell resistance."
  • The cleric spell list has been rearranged to be on a 9-level scale instead of a 7-level scale.
  • All spell writeups now include a comment about how spell resistance applies to the effects of the spell.
  • Spells generally have casting times of 1 action, 1 round, 1 minute, 1 hour, etc. Mages who cast a 1 action spell can also move up to their full movement for the round. Mages who cast a 1 round spell can move up to 5 feet that round.


  • Monsters do not all get d8 for hit dice; some may get d4, others may get d12. Bonuses to the final hit point total can now far exceed +3. All monster listings include the average number of hit points, so that "standard" examples of that creature can be easily created without rolling dice.
  • There is now a save against undead energy drain to see whether it is temporary or permanent. Energy drain gives a character "negative levels," which apply a cumulative -1 to all rolls and will kill a character if they are equal or greater than the character's Character Level.
  • Monster xp now varies depending on how much of a challenge the encounter is to the PCs.
  • Special abilities are listed as Extraordinary, Spell-like, or Supernatural, to better judge how they interact with other abilities (such as spell resistance) and whether or not they can be disrupted in combat.
  • Monsters now have STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS, CHA, as well as saving throw bonuses, just like PCs.
  • Monsters can gain levels in "character" classes, and their monster hit dice count as levels of "Monster."
  • Dragons have been made significantly more dangerous and deadly than before.


  • All PCs, NPCs, deities, and locations mentioned in the PH and DMG are taken from the world of Greyhawk.
  • Far, far too many details to list here.

Changes courtesy of the faq.

Something that was discussed relatively often around the release of third edition was the phenomenon of "third edition blandness" - and after switching from second to third in my campaign setting, I noticed it too. In second edition, there was a strong emphasis on class identities. That is, paladins should act like paladins, rangers should act like rangers, and part of the DM's job was to play watchdog to make sure this was followed.

If you peruse the third edition literature, especially the additional class books, the idea seemed to be more to supply the hit tables, feats, etc. instead of the ambience of the class itself. The difference is less defined in the PHB, but it's still there.

But this isn't all bad.
Because of the concepts of the classes were more defined in second edition, it didn't give quite as much personal freedom to the players. In third edition, it's significantly easier to make that gladiator class fit your character's history, instead of trying to work around the narrow scope of the class.

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