Oh boy, here comes a potentially long post…
D&D 3e is the RPG I cut my teeth on.
I played this during school lunch breaks, during weekends and after school with friends, playing marathon sessions over the holidays, in the tabletop gaming club at university, into well after 4th edition was released.
It’s probably what I base most of my understanding of roleplaying mechanics on, how to build a game and adventure, what a physical RPG publication can look like, all that fun stuff.
Was it perfect? No, not really. If it was, we wouldn’t have gotten 3.5, or Pathfinder, or all kinds of ways to break the system like Monte Cook’s Diamond Throne books, or Cthulhutech, or Fantasy Craft.
But was it fun? Of course. I had a lot of good times playing the game, even when I was stuck as the eternal DM.
I never ran a published adventure, but I picked up all kinds of extra books to craft things from.
I have official Wizards of the Coast publications like Oriental Adventures and The Complete Scoundrel and Unearthed Arcana sat on my shelf, still occasionally getting some love when I have any time to sit down and read them.
I also have a few gems I found along the way that got to use the Open Game License, that insane gift from the era of d20 glut that keeps on giving. Currently turning to my left, I can look at Tales of the Caliphate Nights True20 setting from Paradigm Concepts, the Thieves World Player’s Manual and The Red Star Campaign Setting from Green Ronin, the Codex of Erde from Troll Lord Games, and Dead Man’s Chest from Necromancer Games.
With so many different companies developing for the one product, it was a great time to find your perfect product, but it was also what really led to WotC axing the line after less than a decade.
Honestly, I think they had trouble competing in some aspects – that’s why with 5e they bring on teams from all over the hobby to build the newer products and deliver on their more valuable asset – their IP.
It was a shame, there was still a lot of innovation to be had there. As shown by the success of Pathfinder and it’s D&D 3.75.
Some of my fondest memories are the homebrewing we could do – my best friend built a series of great rules around firearms and grenades for a steampunk-ish game. I think Bandolero and Grenado were classes we had a lot of fun with.
Then there was the post-apocalyptic game I played after university (probably the last game I played with these rules?) which had races stripped out of it – everyone was sort of a mish-mash by this point in the fall, so we had to survive as basically weird-looking humans with some feats to help us all out.
I still use a lot of 3e/3.5e content for building my current D&D adventures, since it’s pretty easy to convert across to 5e.
I’ll even use a bunch of Pathfinder stuff. I only played a limited amount of Pathfinder – a one-shot of level 20 barbarian characters going to save a princess from a castle, and the first part of the Kingmaker adventure path (which I loved, but I emigrated so that fell by the wayside). I liked some of how the rules changed, but not all of it.
I was happier to move on to pastures new.