They got it right this time, the owner of my local gaming store said, they finally got it right after all these years. And I believed him, I guess. I don’t know. I was quite happy running AD&D Second Edition. 

Other gamers seemed excited about it, too. Dragon Magazine published previews of it. I remember representatives from Wizards of the Coast visiting a local university to promote it.

Intuitive was the magic word to describe the new edition. Thac0 was counter-intuitive. Base Attack Bonuses and Ascending Armor class was intuitive. The word was in the marketing and every gamer I talked to before and after Third Edition said the said the same damn thing: It’s more intuitive than Second Edition.

But the game’s intuitiveness wasn’t why gamers were so enthused/excited/ga-ga over the new game.

See, its like this…

D&D Third Editon was the ANSWER, the solution, to D&D‘s problems:

  • Adventures based on a story with lots of background. It was Back to the Dungeon, baby. And that was it the marketing, too.
  • Campaign settings fragmenting the customer base. Greyhawk would be the default setting, but the Forgotten Realms would get its own books.
  • TSR’s sordid history and bankruptcy. With the new edition, Wizards of the Coast did everything it could to break from the past.
  • Competition from other companies. The OGL would encourage them to publish D&D material, instead of their own fantasy RPGs.
  • Thac0 and counter-intuitive math. The d20 core mechanic would replace this.
  • No more limits. Instead, more options.

And when we say more options we mean MOAR Options!!!

After D&D Third Edition came out, you’d go to a gaming store, and there’d be a whole wall of d20 stuff. It wasn’t like in the old days when D&D got maybe a shelf or two. No, d20 products needed a whole wall to be displayed properly, with the covers of each product facing the consumer, none of this you could only see the book spine business.

The official D&D products from Wizards of the Coast got the most prominent spot. And then came the third-party publishers:  Necromancer Games, Sword and Sorcery Studios/White Wolf, Malhavoc Press, Goodman Games, Kenzer and Co., Green Ronin Publishing, Fantasy Flight Games, Fiery Dragon, Kobold Press, Monkey God Enterprises, Mongoose Publishing, Fast Forward Entertainment, Alderac Entertainment Group, Pinnacle Entertainment Group…

And these were ones stuck around for a while, who managed to get their products into the stores. The Heady Days of Third Edition happened when online shopping was relatively new, and companies were trying figure it out. Thus, you had to get your product into stores if you wanted in on the market share.

In that first six months, gaming stores seemed to stock everything, no matter the content. As a friend once said to me, as we looked at the d20 Wall: there’s a tremendous amount of crap out there! 

Meanwhile, companies like Avalanche Press figured out they could sell copies by putting half-naked women on the cover (I’ll let you do the Internet Search), though their content often lacked proper editing and ultimately were the works of amateurs. (I’ll review The Last Days of Constantinople as an example soon).

 

And then the d20 Glut hit…

Gamers soon had their favorite companies and didn’t stray too far from them. Game Masters often outright banned third-party material. I know I did, as did all the DMs I knew at the time.

If this was a trend, then its no surprise why the books on the d20 Wall wouldn’t sell.

Remember those deep discount bins of third-party d20 products at your local gaming store? 70% or 80% off retail and the stuff still wouldn’t sell?

It’s been nearly 17 or 18 years, and still amazes me how fast the market expanded and then contracted, how wave after wave of new products came out each month and were almost forgotten the following year.

Remember Dragonstar? Remember the Kingdoms of Kalamar? Remember Ghelspad?

Remember The Book Eldritch Might and Arcana Unearthed?

Remember all those brand new products which came out between August 2001 and July 2003, and then D&D 3.5e wiped the slate clean?

 

The heady days ended in August 2003 as the cold reality of the business cycle set in for many gamers, including myself:

All that D&D Third Edition material would be rendered obsolete.

Did anybody really want to take into account the new ranger class’s special abilities between 3.0 and 3.5? Or the differences in spells? Or the changes to certain high level rules? Or monsters? Or something as simple as differentiating between small and medium-sized weapons?

Did you really want to hold on to Tome and Blood when they’d updated the spells, feats, and prestige classes in Complete Arcane? Or convert material from Relics and Rituals and The Book of Eldritch Might into the new edition?

No.

 

And thus the cycle began anew. I would like to say I was a little older, a little wiser. I was even burned out and looking for another system to run.

Yet I bought into D&D 3.5 Edition because that’s what my players wanted to play.

Meanwhile, at my local gaming store, the d20 wall had come down, replaced by comic books. All RPGs were regulated to a corner in the basement, getting less space than Warhammer.

The Heady Days of D&D Third Edition were over.