D&D 3rd Edition announced at GenCon'99


Editor's Preface:
The redesigned D&D game has been scheduled for release in August 2000, at next year's GenCon. Ken Lipka continues his report on this most august occurrence. Stay tuned for more information as it is released. Furthermore this move to bring players back into the core fold means the end of production, but not support, of the Planescape line as we know it. However, based on the observations of the concept artwork, Third edition will incorporate many of the darker elements in its flavor. Ken gives his reaction below.


Upon arrival at GenCon, the possibility of a third edition became more plausible. Scattered around the convention were signs telling one and all to come to "The Big Announcement" which promised to reveal "The Future of Dungeons and Dragons". Needless to say, this version of the hype would imply a rather fundamental change to the game system as we know it. The only thing left to do was to actually attend the announcement and find out what the true chant was.

Before continuing, I feel I should put something of a disclaimer in front of the remaining text of this report. As I'm not really a trained journalist and I'm trying to get this written as fast as I can so I can get back to the convention, this text is going to be written somewhat stream-of-thought. That being said, let's stop wasting your time and bandwidth and get on with it.


(If you don't want to know any of the particulars, feel free to jump elsewhere. If you'd like some more of the inside story, so to speak, read on.)

The Big Announcement itself was made before a packed auditorium at GenCon. Peter Atkinson (President/CEO of Wizards of the Coast), Brian Danson (Vice-president in charge of TSR), and Keith Strohm (Brand Manager for Dungeons and Dragons) led the more-or-less controlled circus. One of the first things they did was to introduce the design team: Bill Slaviscek (Head of Role-playing Research and Development), Ed Stark (Creative Director of Core Dungeons and Dragons), Jon Tweet (Lead Designer), Monte Cook (Senior Designer), Skip Williams (Senior Designer), Rich Baker (Initial Development), and Kim Mohan (Managing Editor).

However, in addition to this fine and impressive selection of folks, TSR had a couple of very big surprises in store for the audience. The a-number-one surprise was the appearance of Gary Gygax. When stepping out on stage, he received a standing ovation and the chanting of his name from the crowd. After some small talk, a bombshell was dropped on the crowd - Mr. Gygax has a signed contract with TSR to work on products for the third edition. The speculation from Mimir.Net is that he's "only" going to be involved with a few modules.

Right after this bombshell, a smaller one was launched. Dave Arneson was brought out on stage (to another standing ovation). He was there to be welcomed publicly back into the TSR family. Apparently whatever legal and other troubles that he had with the company had finally be resolved. The two big changes as a result of this are the fact that his name is now going to be appear in all the credits on the products, and the game is finally able to be called Dungeons & Dragons again (dropping the slightly clunky "Advanced" moniker). Oh, and Mr. Arneson had some explosives of his own - he had just returned from Prague and participating in the filming of the D&D movie. (Yes, this is a serious project with Jeremy Irons as the villain. But more on this later.)

After these two special guests, the good stuff appeared. Specifically, some specifics on the setting itself. The first of which was the timing of the development of Third Edition. It actually began about the time that second edition was going out the door just over ten years ago. The project didn't really start to be official until about four years ago when all the various ideas and suggestions began to be collected and taken notice of. The purchase of TSR by WotC and the move to Seattle were the final kick in the pants which began the true and official work on the project. Beta testing of the new version of the game actually began last September and involved about 600 people around the world. (Some of these testers were in the audience.)

From there, a general discussion of the system's mechanics ensued. Peter Atkinson assured the audience that the new game would still be true to the core idea of D&D and wasn't going to experience a radical change to become "some hip, storytelling thing." Jim Fallone (Marketing Manager for D&D) likened D&D to being as essential to the American culture "like bowling." The new system was promised to keep many "sacred cows" as unchanged as possible, while improving the mechanics in other areas.

From here on out, I 'm just going to list all of the specific info I've found. First, what's staying the same...

  • Alignment
  • The Planes (good news for us Planescape fans)
  • Six ability scores in a range of 3-18
  • Classes
  • Levels
  • Hit Points
  • Mechanics of individual spells

And, here are some the things that are changing...

  • Multiclasses
  • Percentile Strength
  • No level limits for demihumans
  • An inherent critical hit system
  • Demons and Devils (bad news for us Planescape fans)
  • New classes (Monk, Barbarian, Sorcerer)

Additionally, a T-shirt was handed out to all who attended which listed some other interesting changes and additions. This list is reproduced below...

  • Half-orc barbarian sorcerer = Yes
  • Demihuman level limits = No
  • Monks & Assassins = Yes
  • Universal Skill System = Yes
  • Evil gnoll rangers = Yes
  • THAC0 = No
  • Rules you never used anyway = No
  • Demons & Devils = Yes
  • Critical Hits = Yes
  • 9th-level clerical spells = Yes
  • Ability score improvements = Yes
  • Strength 48 = Yes

And, as I expressed hope for earlier, the dice mechanics are finally going to be consistent. Everything (from racial abilities to thieving skills to combat) is based on the d20 and high numbers are always good. As Jon Tweet said: "D&D is all about rolling that 20!"

There are other interesting changes as well. While the Forgotten Realms setting will still be supported as a product line, core D&D will officially be considered to take place in the World of Greyhawk. The Ravenloft and Planescape settings are going to be folded into the system and be part of the core rules. This means that in the long run, the narrative style and other unique PS elements will be toned down or removed.

In addition to the setting changes, there is going to be a whole new look to the art as well. The art department has been given nearly free reign to completely redo the look of the game. While they are keeping a standard fantasy middle ages feel, the artists are doing their part to make things a touch more gritty, raw, and real. The concept sketches they showed at the presentation were definitely a good step towards accomplishing that goal.

The new Player's Handbook will be released at next year's GenCon. The Dungeon Master's Guide will appear in September, with the Monster Manual coming in October. A handy book to convert between second (or first) edition and third edition will also be made available. In each case, the books will be full color and cost only $19.95 each.

However, as if all of that weren't enough, hints (and outright statements) were made as to upcoming third edition products. Some of these were the expected modules. Bruce Cordell and Bill Ratcliff have been retained to produce some of them. There are also going to be some "transition" adventures released. (One of these, currently underdevelopment, has the working title of "Die, Venca, Die!") Other hints involved officially licsened products (specifically, computer games). Unfortunately, there are no plans for any planar products until at least 2001. (But, there will still be support in DRAGON Magazine.)

The first of these is "Pools of Radience 2: Ruins of Myth Drannor" by the SSI company. This will be the first computer game written to use the new third edition system. Coming soon after that is going to "Neverwinter Nights" by everyone's favorite software company, Black Isle (Interplay). In addition to being a third edition game, it also promises to be more fully multiplayer as well as boasting a "DM mode".

I know that in my first article, I stated that I didn't really want to see any radical changes to the system. Some of the changes that have been made are fairly radical (the main one being the reworking of AC and THAC0). However, I think that these changes are indeed going to be for the best and I look forward to being able to spend money on this latest product.

For those who want more information, there are some websites that can be visited.

  • - The Offical Site of D&D3
  • - Site for Neverwinter Nights

Read Ken's on-target preditions before the release of this tarmy chant!



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  Copyright 1999, Nathan Letsinger and Ken Lipka. Graphics by Jeremiah Golden.