Title: Player's Handbook (3.5)
Code: N/A PHB 3.5, unofficially
Design Team: Monte Cook, Jonathan Tweet, Skip Williams
Rule Set: Dungeons and Dragons 3.5
D&D 3.5 came out in June of 2003. It wasn't until 2007 that I even looked at it. I wasn't mentally prepared to make the huge jump from AD&D and Basic D&D to 3.5, but it turns out I was. This is "These Old Games", I'm not going to review a new game...
The difference between AD&D and 3.5 is huge. Where AD&D hosted all of your character's powers and abilities under the class description, D&D 3.5 gives a cursory example of powers under class then allows you to pick from a menu of abilities.
The system is a standardized d20 system. Standardization from the ground up is very good. One of the great advantages of 3.5 is it breaks every character down into a couple of stat blocks, which makes building a quality, unique character ease. Each character is made of 8 different categories of descriptions, all of which is uniform between classes. As per any type of D&D, you start with ability scores, then everything changes. You select a race, a class, skills, feats, character descriptors like alignment and religion, equipment and finally spells, if any. All characters have the first 7 items, while only spell casters have spells, obviously.
Races stayed basically the name, but the variety of non-human sub-races were put away, presumably so DM could style their own. Gone were most racial limitations, welcoming in an age of official Elven Paladins. Races have a preferred class rather than classes they cannot perform in.
The number of classes and their relationships have changed greatly. AD&D has 11, 12, or 15 character classes, 3.5 streamlined that down to 11. Magic user and thief were renamed to Wizard and Rogue. Bard are a real class which is welcome change. Assassin, Illusionist, Cavalier and Thief-acrobat were all gone, but not really. Also, multi-classing is normal and with few restrictions, while duo-classing is utterly gone. Few very class abilities appear in under character class, they are regulated to feats.
Every character has a set of skills based on their intelligence and class. Each skill is linked to an ability, so no more nerfed Charisma.
Feats are an incredible departure from AD&D. They are special abilities that are so varied that each class can be used to create a completely unique feel. They are wholly based on class and level, so you continue to grow after creation. You can use feats to bring back those lost classes: Assassin, Illusionist, Cavalier and Thief-acrobat.
One downside to the feats system is that it is unbalanced. Magic using players are going to want the ability to make magic items, so they will lose combative feats. Rogues will want observational powers, which in no way equates to magical or combat abilities. While some of the feats are chained together with prerequisite feats, sometimes you can get two things that pair in a very unbalanced way. Usually this comes into play when you get a bonus to initiative plus some other combat effective ability, so that character always goes first with a big hit.
Your character descriptors are pretty self-explanatory, what is your outlook, demeanor, etc. But 3.5 cranks up the effect of religion on your character. You are no longer a psuedo-Catholic priest, but a follower of something out of our world. Spontaneous casting should also falls under this category, but it is described with the classes. Basically, your character can cast whatever they feel like if they have this ability. Additionally, clerics can always cast healing spells if the need arises.
Equipment has been regulated to an abstract system, almost like a tool kit for the class. It reminds of Star Frontiers' Standard Equipment Pack. I find it odd and basically ignore it. Equipment lives in the half-world of wonderfully standardized rules vs. massively extensible character variety. The designers probably realized this and went with it to allow players to access equipment that is otherwise too expensive by the charts at first level. It's not that much of a problem, really because back in the days of AD&D, I, the DM, was forking out cool equipment on character generation day.
Spells have been completely revamped and tied back to the mechanical systems of the game. Additionally, they have been realigned with the various schools and those schools are often dedicated to specific classes. A 3rd level Wizard spell might be a 7th level Sorcerer spell. Also, being in tune with the mechanics of play, there are no oddball spells that work like nothing else in the game.
Back to the standardized rules. ALL information combat information appears in the Player's Handbook. Back in the 70s and 80s, you'd make a character then wonder what you were getting into. With this book, you know. There are a few things relegated to the DM Guide, but they aren't enough to slow you down. THAC0 and decending AC are gone. Your opponent's AC is your attack roll target number, which is reduced by your attack bonus. Combat is speedier, attacks come more often than AD&D. The rounds seem to take longer, but a heck of a lot can happen in a given round without reducing combat to "high roll wins all".
Saves have also been revamped to fortitude, reflex and willpower. It's a nice, easy system. I think it's far better than charts, even though I lament the loss of the marketing statement: "Includes 31 illustrations, maps and charts".
While I still prefer to play my mashup of Basic, Expert and Advance D&D, the benefits of 3.5 outweigh any negatives. If I were doing a one shot or something and didn't have anything in specific in mind, this would be my rule set.
4 of 5 stars.
You can grab a digital copy from DriveThruRPG for less than 10 bucks