Dungeons & Dragons 3E: What You Need

One of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to any roleplaying game is “where do I start?”. When you’ve got a 300 pound gorilla like Dungeons & Dragons dominating the field 30+ years after its birth, it’s only natural that it’s going to come up as a lot of people’s “go to” answer…but with somewhere upwards of 8+ editions (depending on who is doing the counting), that’s hardly an answer.

Over the course of a few articles, I’m going to look at every edition of Dungeons & Dragons I’ve played extensively and run down the absolutely MUST HAVEs for each of them. As you’ll see, it’s often not a very easy question to answer. I do hope you’ll chime in with your thoughts!

Now we move on to Dungeons & Dragons, 3rd Edition (or 3E, or 3.0 and the 3.5 Revision, et. al.), a huge transformation for the game line.

D&D 3.5 revision Core Rulebooks

I have back problems from lugging these guys around.

D&D 3.5 is superior to 3.0. There, I said it. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s begin.

Is That a Big List in Your Pocket, or…?

What?! That’s not the same 3 book list as AD&D 1st and 2nd editions (plus or minus a PDF or so).

What gives?

Rules Compendium for D&D 3.5 revision

Here’s a 160-page errata document for you.

3.5 has so many moving parts and add-ons that power escalation became a problem, and the amount of errata in the game is prodigious, making the Rules Compendium useful, and various other late-in-the-edition books highly valuable for their re-balancing and alternate options, including Book of Nine Swords, Magic Item Compendium, and perhaps a few others.

So what you’re seeing above is the ultimate rules reference, plus the ultimate resources for all character types.

Now, you could scrap the Rules Compendium because the latest prestige re-release of the core three rulebooks has the errata included…but you’re still referencing across three books (realistically two: the PHB and DMG) for most rulings you’ll need at the table.

You’re call.

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game

I jumped on the Pathfinder bandwagon for only a relatively brief time, but that’s not because I had anything against it; quite the opposite, in fact. I didn’t buy in specifically for money reasons, and the fact that the entirety of the game is included online at the D20 PFSRD website. Moreso than even DDI for 4e, you are getting the ENTIRE Pathfinder RPG experience online, for free, thanks to the beauty of the OGL, as well as the openness of Paizo’s policy.

Gigantic library

Current selection of Pathfinder RPG books. Not pictured: 3rd party books.

What if you like your dead-tree books?

Pathfinder’s still got a great buy-in, because they crammed every goddamn thing they possibly could into the core rulebook and their line of bestiary books:

Done. All the DMG-type stuff is in the Core Rulebook. A huge number of monsters — and all the rules to build your own — are in the Bestiary. That’s really powerful.

And if you enjoy a more toned-down, stripped version for low- to mid-levels, you can even do without those two and just get:

Pathfinder Beginner Box

They really couldn’t have done this more RIGHT!

That, too, has its own dedicated websites (an SRD style one, as for the full Pathfinder game, and others), so you can even get that for free, though the box comes with battle mats and counters for heroes and monsters. It goes up to 5th level, which really is almost the same as doing D&D 4e Heroic Tier-only.

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to just tack on Feat acquisition beyond 5th level and mine d20PFSRD for additional Feats, Spells and whatever, without the more complex tactical combat rules like Attacks of Opportunity and such. Many people do this, and call it something like “E6” or the like. Seriously, Google “E6 rules” and you’ll get a dozen or more versions, all free. The Beginner Box just does it in a snazzier, physical product.

In hindsight, how would you do a stripped-down, barebones collection of 3.5 or Pathfinder books?

If you enjoyed this article, please comment, like, and share! You can support future reviews and articles at our Patreon. We publish supplements, campaign accessories, and adventures for Dungeons & Dragons at Dungeon Masters Guild as well as other OSR games and Cortex Plus at DriveThruRPG.

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neuronphaser is an editor, eCommerce consultant, web producer, and analyst living in sunny Hollywood, CA. He's been playing tabletop RPGs of all kinds since 1985.

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