Gamers can be a stubborn bunch. And for that, I have to give the marketing team at Wizards of the Coast a lot of credit when they promoted D&D Third Edition.
Whereas Die! Vecna Die! and the Apocalypse Stone targeted players and DMs ready to make the change, The D&D Conversion Manual was meant for the hold outs: those who weren’t quite ready to give up AD&D Second Edition.
The previews in Dragon Magazine and information on Eric Noah’s Unofficial D&D Third Edition News revealed so much… and so little. Some gamers liked what they read, others didn’t.
For example, when I first heard about the feat Whirlwind Attack, I cringed. A vision came to mind of Xena: Warrior Princess, spinning in a circle with a sword crying “Ayiyiyiyi…!!!” Because, you know, things that happened on the show and who knows where the game’s designers may have gotten their ideas.
As I recall, Wizards of the Coast released it right before the Player’s Handbook came out.
And it was free, found wherever D&D books were sold.
The manual’s purpose, as stated in its introduction: “to help you preserve the best of your old D&D campaign as you adopt the new rules.”
Okay, great. While I know there’ll be some major changes, I can still run my old campaign or play my old characters under the new system.
Well, sort of.
I remember, after perusing the manual, thinking: converting from Second Edition just seems like a pain.
You could do it. Single-classed characters could be converted with little trouble, seemingly enough. No more exceptional strength for fighters. Many rogue abilities were integrated into the new point-based skill system. Spellcasters would need to know about new the names and levels for spells.
Elves, half-elves, halfling, dwarves, and gnomes all were given slightly different racial abilities. Goodbye to half-orcs.
You can probably forget about converting a multi-classed character. The math just gets too wonky.
The old experience point system just does not convert well to the new system. The manual has a couple different formula, but neither work quite right.
And then you’ve got different categories and names for various magic items.
The manual mentioned little about feats. You’d have to get the Player’s Handbook to read about Whirlwind Attack.
But by this point (if not sooner) readers should have realized that this isn’t really a conversion guide; it’s Wizards of the Coast saying: “Hey, you! This is an entirely new set of rules. Just create a brand new character!”
That’s the real message here.
There really wasn’t much to gain converting older material to Third Edition. Multi-classed characters were just going to be a headache. If wanted to convert a low-to-mid level character (single classed), you’d have an easier time. But if you had a high level character from AD&D Second Edition–well, why bother doing all of that math?
To put it another way: the conversion guide wasn’t really about converting your favorite characters to D&D Third Edition, it was about converting you.