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On the State of Affairs in 3.5e

Jota II November 24, 2009 User blog:Jota II

Over the course of the past week, a number of discussions have forced me to take stock of a some things, and have led me to draw a number of conclusions. While it should be understood that these are my thoughts and thus something that should be taken as opinion, I hope to offer a balanced perspective on a number of other takes for playing D&D in the 3.5e incarnate, which certainly are factual in their existence.

First and foremost, assumptions must be made. The most pertinent of these is acknowledging the fact the 3.5e is a game in which inequality exists. This is one of the key assumptions of this wiki and driving premise behind our usage of balance points. If you happen to disagree with that assertion, you can disregard what is written from this point on.

Once this assumption is made, there are four ways to approach 3.5e:

  1. The system is unequal, therefore it makes sense to scale everything up to the highest common denominator. In this case, the highest common denominator is what we have termed 'wizard level' -- this can therefore be considered to be amping it up to 11, since the wizard level goes beyond simply 'passing' the Same Game Test. The most obvious example of this is the repository of material collectively referred to as Tome material, whose pioneers include Frank (Trollman) and Keith (or simply K). One of the positive aspects of this is that is does not require a rewrite of too much beyond the base classes, although it can be argued that certain monsters need upgrades to remain in line with the superior firepower at the disposal of the PCs. Although Tome material has gone beyond this (solely upgrading classes), it is possible to play without the further addenda proffered. This method has drawn a certain degree of acclaim within the online community in part due to the sardonic wit of its pioneers and also the nature of its content, which allows players to be 'larger-than-life' heroes, especially in contrast to some of the relative mundanity of some Wizards of the Coast material.
  2. The system is unequal, therefore it makes sense to choose some acceptable middle point and pare down that which stands above it while scaling up that which falls below it. This method is advocated by Ghostwheel among others, which in his particular case upholds the rogue level of balance as ideal. This method does not require the same wholesale rewrites of classes that the first does, but tends to require a significant degree of errata and often the introduction of new rules to regulate the upper tier of power and possibly to underwrite those stragglers who cannot keep up. This method is popular among many but as of yet there is no widespread, standardized variant; each dungeon master tends to keep his or her own set of rules to balance the game according to his or her particular style. Particular adjustments, however, do tend to have a way of disseminating themselves from game master to game master via the internet.
  3. The system is unequal, but the implementation of either of the two options posited above is either unfeasible or undesirable. Therefore, we have a gentlemen's agreement not to 'break' the game, or to remain at some relatively equal measure of power. This requires that all parties involved have some knowledge of the system and balance points, and then it depends on the integrity of the players not to violate this agreement. The effectiveness of this naturally depends on the players involved, and thus unlike the two revisions above, this allows the potential for severe inequality to exist, which can create undue tension between players. The advantage to this option is it allows players to be whatever they want, regardless of balance point, with minimal extra effort, while still, in theory, creating equality amongst all involved.
  4. Blissful ignorance, also known as what inequality? Though most of you who will read this will have acknowledged that the system is not a sterling example of equity across all parties, there are those players and dungeon masters who are simply unaware of the potential gulf in power that can exist assuming optimization. Whether or not a game operating at this level actually has disparity between party members often depends on the amount of unintentional optimization that occurs, notably amongst spell, maneuver, and feat selection, but in other areas as well.

As a final note, I do not hold any choice to be superior to any other. This is merely an exposition on the game as I see it. These are not mutually exclusive, either: I have known of games that span multiple balance points (usually rogue and wizard), allow Tome material, have a general gentlemen's agreement not to do anything too crazy, and have homebrew rules for further regulation of play.

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