I've gotten off the d20 band wagon. It's kind of sad, in a way. As silly as this sounds, I think I was literally one of the earliest adopters of D&D Third Edition. Way back in 2000, I was an active reader on Eric Noah's Unofficial D&D Third Edition News. I can still remember the excitement of those times. If I think hard enough, I'm mentally transported back to the radio station where I worked as an overnight DJ. During down time, I'd surf onto Eric's site and read snippets of the upcoming 3E. I remember how new and different it all felt. Reflex saves, Base Attack Bonuses, Feats...all that stuff that is part of the gaming lexicon now was exotic and new.
It was a new age in gaming, one that we'd never seen before. The grognards will tell you that the golden age of D&D was the late 1970s, and they're right. The early 2000s, though, was the age where the gap between the game designers and the players all but vanished. The internet was still a fairly new thing back then and it seemed that information about the new D&D was appearing at lightning speed. If Monte Cook came up with a new rule on Monday, you'd hear about it on Eric Noah's message boards on Tuesday.
For me, it was the first time I ever felt such a strong connection to D&D. The open communication, the willingness to address the hardcore fans, to give us information about the hows and the whys of the development process, made a lot of us feel like 3E was our game. TSR had been a faceless corporation with a hostile policy against houserules and fan sites. Wizards of the Coast, at least for a few short years in the early 2000s, embraced the fans. They leaked us information about the game. They not only encouraged house rules, they gave us the OGL so we could officially endorse and sell them.
I was so excited about 3E that my friend and I planned a last minute trip to Gen Con just so we could buy the 3E players handbook the moment it was available. I got mine signed by Jonathan Tweet, Skip Williams, and Monte Cook. Then I got both Gygax and Arneson to sign it. We went to an RPGA event and found that the judges were only vaguely familiar with the new rules. Thanks to Eric Noah's website, I knew more than anyone there about the new game. I started helping people make characters. I felt like an expert. I felt like 3E was my game, like I'd had a hand in creating it. I didn't, but I got to watch it develop.
Alas, Wizards of the Coast isn't what it used to be. How could it? None of the people working there are the same. The world is a different place, too. Paizo and Goodman Games released their entire game rules online for free as a public playtest. Almost every game that comes out now is under some kind of open license. Some of the good things that came out of those early 3E years are still around, but the magic has faded. It makes me sad in a way.
Pathfinder seems like a worthy heir to 3E. As I hear about Paizo's continued success, I can't believe that Wizards basically gave them 3E after D&D Fourth Edition came out. If the rumors are true and Pathfinder is outselling Dungeons and Dragons, then it means that Ryan Dancy's plan worked; no single company owns D&D any longer. The name may belong to Wizards, but the game belongs to everyone. Who could have seen any of this coming, eleven or more years ago?
I miss those early days, right before 3E came out. There was a buzz in the gaming world and a sense of community that I wish we could find again. I know that it wasn't the first time this happened. I guess that means that it won't be the last. Here's to the next gaming high period. It can't come too soon!