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The Principles of D&D 3E

Posted in Games, Principles

Principles are kind of my new thing, they’re a great way of actually putting instructions on how to run a game into the text. I’ve already taken a crack at Moldvay and 4E, and given all the edition wars between 3 and 4, I wanted to see what 3E’s principles would look like. Here’s what I got, straight from a 3.0 DMG.

  1. Provide a world, you create everything but the PCs (DMG 8 )
  2. Determine a style, the way the game is played (DMG 8 )
  3. Adjudicate the rules, you are in charge (DMG 9)
  4. Keep the game moving (DMG 9)
  5. Use props (DMG 10)
  6. Keep the game balanced using DM management and Player-DM trust. (DMG 10)
  7. Modify the rules (DMG 11)
  8. Know the players, PCs, adventure, and rules (DMG 12)
  9. Set the pace (DMG 16)
  10. Ask questions (DMG 16)
  11. Determine the outcome of every event using rules or your own judgement (DMG 17)

There were a couple of quotes that stood out to me as being, well, not my style.

“While the players are responsible for contributing to the game, the onus must ultimately fall upon the DM to keep the game moving, maintain player interest, and keep things fun.” - DMG 9

The idea of one player bringing everything for the other players to enjoy is something the gaming scene has been moving past for years, but it was apparently alive and well at the dawn of 3E. Text like this not only makes it sound like the DM is the only one who matters at the table, talking about an “onus” that “fall[s] upon” someone doesn’t make it sound like too much fun either.

“You’re the arbiter of everything that happens in the game. Period.” - DMG 17

Setting up one player as the one responsible for okaying everything in the game is already not a great idea, but setting up that role as more adversarial by including the provocative “Period.” after an already succinct sentence it just pushing it.

For me, the most interesting thing to come out of this exercise was just how much of a step forward 4E was in terms of the DM’s role, and the advice they’re given. More pages are dedicated to how to run the game in 4E, and the advice is, at least to my modern indie design sense, much better.

Sage LaTorra is a game designer and senior test engineer at Google. You may know him from Dungeon World.

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