Let's talk D&D 3rd Edition DMG

edited March 2012 in Story Games
So quite a while ago in some thread I can't remember, I said something along the lines of:
"The 3rd Edition DMG is the worst crap ever!"
and JDCorley was like:
"Nu-uh, it's the best!"
and I was like:
"Nu-uh!"

And we kinda left it at that. Now Jason is singing praises to the 3rd edition DMG again in another thread and man, it really bugs me. I want to talk about it. Tell me what's awesome about it.

I'll come back with a list of what sucks later.

Comments

  • Cool, actually I have it set out at home recently, I'll check it out tonight, LETS DO VIS, TANGO DOWN
  • edited March 2012
    Round 1.... FIGHT!
  • Oh no, did Vanilla stop parsing HTML tags again?!
  • edited March 2012
    I admit to being excessively hard on the poor ol' DMG. It's all in good fun. But I still think it's pretty weak as far as D&D manuals go.

    The thing that got the most use out of the DMG was the point-buy rules for abilities, which was pretty much made necessary by the (then) new design (the default of randomly rolling stats became less and less desirable through the years).

    But my favourite part of the book by far are the NPC classes. I would happily run a game with just those (and did so, more than once).

    The monster-as-PC rules seem cool, but in the ten years of play we maybe used them once and they're wonky. No way is a level 1 fighter with 8 levels of minotaur equivalent to a lvl 9 fighter (and let's not get into wizards).

    There are pages and pages of NPC stats that were never used.

    Prestige Classes! Awesome concept, terrible implementation. They're unbalanced. They don't work as intended (as a reward for players). They're 80% responsible for the twinkie build mentality that permeated late 3E and filled 80% of the supplement treadmill cruft.

    The Running the Game chapter starts out promising, by almost setting up a procedure for encounters and then it just talks about mechanics and conditions and movement. Necessary stuff, sure, but useful as a reference, not for the process of running the game.

    They don't really tell you how to build a dungeon! Sure there's talk about drawing a map and keying it in, but no useful example. There are pages and pages of dungeon furnishings and scenery, with atmospheric illustrations that I love, but no real guidance on how to use them (or maybe that's just me).

    There's stuff like taking 10 and taking 20 which is a solution to endless rerolling, but in retrospect I think it fostered a careless attitude to skills in our group by treating a symptom instead of addressing the issue.

    There are some good random tables, but the book didn't teach me their value. I thought random tables were stupid until I learned how to effectively use them elsewhere. The random encounter rules should be in the running the game chapter, alongside the rules for determining surprise and distance.

    Town Creation Rules! Yes, they're cool. But they often don't make sense, especially from an economical standpoint. The economy of 3E is borked anyway.

    NPC reaction rules are burried somewhere alongside prices for ships, instead of being in the running the game chapter. The rest of the book is just lists upon lists of magic items.

    In short my complaints are:
    -the book's organisation does not do it service, turning what are effective, useful procedures and rules into disparate bits of crunch that don't form a larger picture, at least not to a newcomer (such as I was)
    -what advice is there is often very wishy-washy, of the "Sometimes this, sometimes this other thing, but often something in between." sort. I mean, it's reasonable and all, but there's very little to hold on to.
    -there's very very little immediately useful stuff in there. You constantly need to reference the XP chart and maybe some other bits (like prices for stuff) but personally I just did not find the majority of the book a useful tool for play.

    This last one is probably my biggest gripe. It's a 250 page book with big pages and tiny text but if you asked me what I used from that book in play it would be maybe 20 pages? I guess you can stay that's my fault, not the book's though.
  • If anything, Zak demonstrated us that all DMGs (consistently in the various D&D Editions/product lines) are mongrel collections of disparate materials of varying, and extremely subjective, value.
  • edited March 2012
    yeah, it's a mixed bag

    They don't really tell you how to build a dungeon! Sure there's talk about drawing a map and keying it in, but no useful example. There are pages and pages of dungeon furnishings and scenery, with atmospheric illustrations that I love, but no real guidance on how to use them (or maybe that's just me).

    this is one of the biggest failings; it's also kind of in keeping with the low average quality of actual WOTC produced dungeons

    a book i'd really like to see is sort of a tutorial book for building a good dungeon, with enough tables and lists and stuff that it's useful to use out of order for vets once you've built your first by process
  • Posted By: RafuIf anything, Zak demonstrated us that all DMGs (consistently in the various D&D Editions/product lines) are mongrel collections of disparate materials of varying, and extremely subjective, value.
    This is no surprise, look at the number of cooks in the kitchen!

    So let's not forget about the context in which the D&D3 DMG exists:

    * Most people in the RPG hobby only play D&D.
    * Most people in the RPG hobby started by playing D&D.

    These two things together mean that the DMG has to be very, very introductory, and cover a ridiculously huge variety of tastes.

    Thus, Chapter 1, which nobody ever looks at because "bah, we already know all that", is very overlooked. It's quite good. It lists exactly what DMs must do in D&D3:

    * Provide Adventures
    * Teach the Game
    * Provide the World
    * Figure Out What People Want (they call it "style of play", the examples here are terrible, but the advice on figuring it out is good)
    * Adjudicate situations not covered by the rules or which are in dispute
    * Push The Game Forward'
    * Keep Game Balance
    * Change Things (if you want to)

    And then there are very, extremely specific things that you must do to run the session:

    * Know the players, and establish table rules
    * Work with the players so they can get what they want.
    * Try to avoid players who are trying to "game you" versus the world
    * Know the characters
    * Know the situation
    * Know the rules
    * Set the stage
    * Set the pace
    * Provide action
    * Determine outcomes
    * Wrap things up

    This list, and the details underneath each heading, is a really great introduction to what it is a DM does. It's a very specific section with lots of clear instructions. (This is why when people say "AW is WAY better than D&D because it tells you how to run the game!" I always shake my head and chuckle mordantly under my breath.)

    Not all the advice is brilliant for everyone, of course. But doing what it says here is a great start, and it opens the doors to areas where you can change things up for yourself in very specific contexts first. (Before you start rewriting hit point rules or whatever.)
    Posted By: Figaro (quoting someone)They don't really tell you how to build a dungeon! Sure there's talk about drawing a map and keying it in, but no useful example. There are pages and pages of dungeon furnishings and scenery, with atmospheric illustrations that I love, but no real guidance on how to use them (or maybe that's just me).
    This is just flat wrong! p.118-126 gives you a procedure for generating a random dungeon, so long as you can draw a map, and there's an example on 126-129, with a sample map on 127, so you don't even have to draw the map, you can just use that one! It's even pre-keyed!

    Like seriously, this is not the first time people have told me a WOTC-era D&D book does not contain things that it blatantly does contain. I've had people tell me 4e has no random encounters and that there are no NPC stats in the 3.0 DMG, and both those things are so crucial to their D&D experience that they must REJACT THIS EDITION FORAVAR. I think it's because we already think we know "how to play D&D", so we glaze over things that we think we already know how to do, then forget we ever saw them.

    More on how great this book is soon. But Chapter 1 alone would be worth the price of admission (despite the crap attempt to classify playstyles).
  • edited March 2012
    If I had to sum it up I'd say the 4e DMG communicates its wisdom the most clearly, the 3e DMG has the best and most catholic intentions and the AD&D DMG is the most fun and inspiring.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyThis is just flat wrong! p.118-126 gives you a procedure for generating a random dungeon, so long as you can draw a map, and there's an example on 126-129, with a sample map on 127, so you don't even have to draw the map, you can just use that one! It's even pre-keyed!
    i mean it doesn't give you an instructive how-to on making and stocking a dungeon. random generation is of course great and i love it, but i think a guided process of making a good first dungeon is content i would like to see
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: Figaro
    i mean it doesn't give you an instructive how-to on making and stocking a dungeon. random generation is of course great and i love it, but i think a guided process of making a good first dungeon is content i would like to see
    It would be sweet to see a little booklet on this, to be honest. I don't know my OSR stuff very well, has anyone made, like "How to make a fantastic dungeon". Is there an edition of D&D that has great advice on this?
  • Posted By: Simon CPosted By: Figaro
    i mean it doesn't give you an instructive how-to on making and stocking a dungeon. random generation is of course great and i love it, but i think a guided process of making a good first dungeon is content i would like to see
    It would be sweet to see a little booklet on this, to be honest. I don't know my OSR stuff very well, has anyone made, like "How to make a fantastic dungeon". Is there an edition of D&D that has great advice on this?

    The Great Work is left undone. There are bits and bobs: The Dungeon Alphabet is the Samuel Johnson's Dictionary but the OED of dungeon design has yet to be written.
  • Posted By: Simon CIt would be sweet to see a little booklet on this, to be honest. I don't know my OSR stuff very well, has anyone made, like "How to make a fantastic dungeon". Is there an edition of D&D that has great advice on this?
    As Zak said, not really. There are lots of sources for good content for dungeons, but not enough about structure and procedure. It has been the book D&D has most needed since there was D&D.
  • An opportunity!

    I wonder if a book of essays would be a cool way to do this? Like, that fantastic one about how if you strip away the cruft, you can see that some dungeons are just a long straight line, but others are highly interconnected. That was super interesting and useful to me.

    But the other thing I want to know more about is how to do that thing Jim Raggi does where most of the rooms in the dungeon are empty, but it's still really tense and interesting. Kind of how he designs the dungeon to tell a story as you travel through it.
  • I would much rather see a step-by-step than essays, as an aid to people learning to DM. Essays are for vets.
  • I totally agree, a step by step process woulda been awesome. The random process is good enough to get you started, though. Remember the context: people reading this have never played another RPG and will never play another RPG.

    So Chapter 2 is not as great.Others already talked about alternate ability score generation. Not a huge deal because ability scores aren't a huge deal in 3e, but it's not bad. The Modifying Races section is all right but way too general. Monsters as races doesn't work, but is good enough for eyeballing it. The Classes section is laughable because class balance in 3e is already laughable and trying to preserve it doesn't work outside the focus of a specific campaign, and there's no advice here on how to balance for your campaign. Prestige classes are a neat idea, I give big thumbs up to this idea. It helps give flavor to worlds and many of the examples are cool. It's pretty clear they're optional and you should use them sparingly, as special character types specific to the world you're making.

    NPC classes are amazing, really awesome, great flavor and give some solid ideas for how to make your own D&D world by mixing the demographics up.

    Creating characters above first level is mandatory, it shoulda been in the Player's Guide. But whatever, it's here, it works, it's good.

    There are 3 pages on how character class relates to various roles in society. Very cool for the newb to think about, although again, probably should have been in the Player's Guide too.

    The last few pages of Chapter 2 are the pre-generated NPCs. I don't know what kind of weird games you all were playing but this was the most-used section of my book. Since I like stories, I like NPC badguys more than mindless monsters, so this was my go-to set of pages FOR EVER. I very rarely had to generate an NPC from scratch, I would just take one of these, switch out some skill ranks and maybe a feat or two, and I was good to go. This is HIGHLY IMPORTANT in 3e because full character creation can take a long time otherwise and who has the time anymore?

    Anyway, Chapter 2 is a mixed bag. Some useless stuff, some amazing stuff, some stuff that simply had to be thre.
  • Forgive me here, I'm not following how if this is 'the only RPG you'll ever play' means it's OK to skimp on dungeon building advice.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyI totally agree, a step by step process woulda been awesome. The random process is good enough to get you started, though. Remember the context: people reading this have never played another RPG and will never play another RPG.
    I think this makes the lack of a step by step process doubly damning. Mind you its not like the 3e version is in any way unique in lacking it.
    The last few pages of Chapter 2 are the pre-generated NPCs. I don't know what kind of weird games you all were playing but this was the most-used section of my book.
    Yeah, when I was playing 3e a lot seldom did i run a session without using this section.
  • JD: 3E was my first RPG and I was the DM from the get go, so there was no pre-conceived notion of "how to play D&D". But it took many years and other people, other texts until I grokked it.

    The starting advice was pretty great, that's true (the "playstyles" talk is crap though*), but I made very little use of the rest. I used the NPC stats in the beginning, but then I realized it was easier to pull an AC, HP and some abilities out of a hat. I used the NPC classes and they are excellent, as I already said. We used treasure, but almost never the random tables, because they didn't make sense in the context, because there's no dugeon stocking as a procedure.

    Oh and to be clear, there is stuff in there about making a dungeon. It talks about drawing a map, furnishings, there's a random generation table, there's an example map later on in the book. But it's all bits and pieces, with lots of pages in between. It doesn't hang together.

    Basically, yeah, my complaint is still the same. The advice is solid, but I often found the tools it offers broken or burdensome and easier to create on my own. So the book got very little use. It provided a springboard, but for me personally, that's where it ended. Any further instruction or tools to make it work I had to figure out on my own (which isn't necessarily bad, but still).

    *the notion we got from there, that the hobby exists on a spectrum from rollplay (combat) and true roleplaying (deep!) still survives in some form in the group to this day
  • Posted By: Captain TharkForgive me here, I'm not following how if this is 'the only RPG you'll ever play' means it's OK to skimp on dungeon building advice.
    It's not, but it does mean that it's okay to have:

    * an example
    * a random dungeon creator method that works
    * and random stuff for when you get stuck doing it your own way

    Like, they're not trying to teach you good general encounter design or any of that, they just need to get you playing and give you some guidelines for eyeballing it next time.
    Posted By: TeataineBut it's all bits and pieces, with lots of pages in between. It doesn't hang together.
    Nope, it's all straight through from p. 118-129!
  • edited March 2012
    I'm re-reading my DMG. I've choosen to believe the advice JD gave me in the other thread. I'm wondering why I haven't tried to DM D&D... well, I kinda did once, though in the end I had to improvise everything and barely used classes and the mechanics in their simplest form. I was trying to teach about RPGs to a group of friends and had the support of an experienced 2e player. And a mostly incompatible with his experience 3e manual. Of course, with only half a year of player experience and barely one year GMing other games there's no way to pull this stunt and play D&D the way it's supposed to be.

    The DMG states that you must know the rules, that's at least 200+ pages of the players handbook (were they more? I no longer have my PHB with me) and well, let's say, pages 118-129 from the DMG. If I had known that before, probably I would be DMing now. However I'm terrible memorizing all the crunch, so I would have needed years of playing before learning enough to DM, and way before that, I had so many terrible sessions that it was easier to think "the game is broken" instead of "Our DM sucks terribly", since his knowledgement of the books was truly impressive.

    And man, now that I'm re-reading it I'm getting tired of how many times they spam the concept that "You are the DM the fun is in your hands is your responsability you're the focus of the game if it's a failure you'll get to blame" I mean, I do like to entertain others, but I don't enjoy this kind of pressure. And the DM I had definitely cleaned his @$$ with these pages. Still does. And still some of my pals play with him because nobody else will DM D&D for them.

    However I do play D&D online with them.

    Now I'm not saying the book doesn't have anything useful or doesn't teach anything at all. It was definitely a step in the evolution of game design, but not one where we can stop and say "the DMG is all you need to learn how to GM this and any game"
  • IMO, the 3.5 DMG has the best commentary on Alignment, ever.
  • Posted By: WarriorMonkNow I'm not saying the book doesn't have anything useful or doesn't teach anything at all. It was definitely a step in the evolution of game design, but not one where we can stop and say "the DMG is all you need to learn how to GM this and any game"
    Right - Actually no GM books or sections have ever said that, in the history of the universe, forever. GMs sections have only ever talked about how to run the particular game they are in.
    Posted By: WarriorMonk"You are the DM the fun is in your hands is your responsability you're the focus of the game if it's a failure you'll get to blame"
    Well, what is actually says is significantly more nuanced than that, it says that if people aren't having fun, you are in the best position to see it, and adjust things to help them. But yes, there's a lot of stuff about your responsibility.
    Posted By: WarriorMonkThe DMG states that you must know the rules, that's at least 200+ pages of the players handbook (were they more? I no longer have my PHB with me) and well, let's say, pages 118-129 from the DMG. If I had known that before, probably I would be DMing now. However I'm terrible memorizing all the crunch, so I would have needed years of playing before learning enough to DM, and way before that, I had so many terrible sessions that it was easier to think "the game is broken" instead of "Our DM sucks terribly", since his knowledgement of the books was truly impressive.
    Well, I think "know the rules" probably doesn't mean "know what absolutely every spell and feat does". Because no noob could have played it then. In fact in the "know the players" section it suggests focusing on what this group of PCs can and can't do. And the sample NPC section gives you some areas of focus. You probably should know what Power Attack and Cleave do because they're very common feats fighty types take early. The exact damage for Meteor Swarm isn't really necessary, though.
  • If I may be permitted a brief aside, the 3.0 version of Dungeons and Dragons for Dummies is actually pretty solid. If there's a great hew and cry I can open up a new thread about it.
  • I'd be interested - the Dummies series in general is a pretty decent method of teaching/learning (though it has some howlers, of course)
  • edited March 2012
    Pathfinder = D&D 3.75, right?

    Anyone able to comment on how the Pathfinder RPG GameMastery Guide compares to our beloved DMGs?
  • From my perusal of the Pathfinder book, it's like my least favorite parts of the 3.x DMGs, mixed with a lot basically useless discussions of 'story vs fighting' and things like that. And the mechanical bits while fine are pretty much cut as pasted from the 3.0 DMG.

    By far the worst part is how it seems specifically written to tell you to buy into the Adventure paths, and as such provide very little practical advice for making your own adventures.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: JDCorley The exact damage for Meteor Swarm isn't really necessary, though.
    Funny thing you mention that. I started enjoying D&D as a player and with some highs and lows I kept enjoying it until the day our GM put a Naga in front of us because one player was derrailing the session. After using all kind of treachery to keep us from doing her any harm and entangling the party, the DM had the Naga cast... yes, a Meteor Swarm. Nobody survived. It wouldn't exactly had to ruin the game, but then the GM had a repented naga resurrect all PC's, which totally ruined the mood and yes I realize I sound like a girl sobbing about her abussive ex-boyfriend but my point is that from that day on, we became obssesive power-gamers, game-lawyers and rule-bending revenge addicts. Munchkins.

    And a few sessions later, I stopped enjoying the game at all. If I had known the rules better, we could probably be still playing D&D. And enjoying it not like power-greedy monsters but as roleplayers. Heck, I need a drink and a Pathfinder book now... no, I just readed the comment above, make it a DW book then...
  • Posted By: WarriorMonk I realize I sound like a girl sobbing about her abussive ex-boyfriend
    What does that mean?
  • Sorry, perhaps that's only commonplace and not a sexist comment here in Peru. It's a social situation where a girl who just had a breakup does nothing but complain about it and doesn't let you change the topic even whe you try to cheer her up. It's quite rare for men to do that here, most of the time we get drunk or deal with it in other ways. I meant no offense, it's just my local culture. I know it's a generalization that sounds kind of uncivilized but again, sensitivity and impeccable politeness aren't well perceived by the society standards here.
    That's one of the reasons why a lot of peruvians prefer to make their lives elsewhere. Me? I'm too peruvian to fit elsewhere. My apologies for the use of that metaphor.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyThus, Chapter 1, which nobody ever looks at because "bah, we already know all that", is very overlooked. It's quite good. It lists exactly what DMs must do in D&D3:

    * Provide Adventures
    * Teach the Game
    * Provide the World
    * Figure Out What People Want (they call it "style of play", the examples here are terrible, but the advice on figuring it out is good)
    * Adjudicate situations not covered by the rules or which are in dispute
    * Push The Game Forward'
    * Keep Game Balance
    * Change Things (if you want to)

    And then there are very, extremely specific things that you must do to run the session:

    * Know the players, and establish table rules
    * Work with the players so they can get what they want.
    * Try to avoid players who are trying to "game you" versus the world
    * Know the characters
    * Know the situation
    * Know the rules
    * Set the stage
    * Set the pace
    * Provide action
    * Determine outcomes
    * Wrap things up

    This list, and the details underneath each heading, is a really great introduction to what it is a DM does.
    That's quite a list.

    I don't want to be a DM anymore.

    How does/should the scope of responsibility factor into our judgments? Like, there are some who say that HERO is the best Superhero game because of the rules flexibility. The cost is I've heard of games going 8 hours for just one combat scene.

    Though, I want to make clear that these duties of the DM are at least the same as all previous editions, so I don't agree that the 3.X DMG is "the worst crap ever," but my sense is that it's worse when compared to 4E for mainly the lack of discipline in the delegation of duties amongst the players. One of the big improvements in 4E might not entirely be the DM advice, but the streamlining the rules and providing simple and clear systems to lighten the load of the DM. Should that be considered or does that get in the way of comparing the DMGs to each other?
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: Jogesh EZ One of the big improvements in 4E might not entirely be the DM advice, but the streamlining the rules and providing simple and clear systems to lighten the load of the DM. Should that be considered or does that get in the way of comparing the DMGs to each other?
    The 4e DMG is hard to beat if you want to play 4e in the stereotypical 4e style.

    If you don't want the "narrow focus/light load" model, you may want to open up a little.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: Jogesh EZI don't want to be a DM anymore.
    Okay? I don't like playing football, I get too banged up and my knees can't really take it at my age. So I don't want to play football anymore.

    I quite liked the 4e DMG, but I don't have as much experience with 4e so I can't say how amazing it is or it isn't.

    PS in Edit: Chapter 3 is super huge, so I haven't had a chance to sum up properly. It's a fairly mixed bag in general.
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