Around 2008, with 4th Edition on the horizon, it was clear that official support for the D20 System as it was would come to an end. Around 2008 Paizo announced their plans for Pathfinder, advertised as an "updated 3.75" which drew a lot of fans.
It seems that within the year of Pathfinder's release, most of 3.5's fanbase dumped their old flame in exchange for her hotter, more fun sister and most self-publishing D20 companies followed suit. As a result, non-Pathfinder based 3.X books published between 2012 and 2016 are as rare as hen's teeth.
Technically speaking, 3.X is still alive and kicking at the moment, even with 5e's popularity. But it's in a different form entirely.
So I decided to check out the third party books made during the "twilight years" of D20. Did they go out with a bang, seeking to celebrate 3rd Edition's final moments with memorable adventures? Did they whimper and go "Pathfinder or bust" quietly? On the contrary, this 1.5 to 2 year span saw a lot of big changes and innovation, as well as a different sort of self-publishing culture.
- There were a lot of dream projects released: Monte Cook's Ptolus is the most visible example, but hardly the only one. EN World released their War of the Burning Sky Adventure Path installments in monthly updates. Dungeon Crawl Classics published their Castle Whiterock megadungeon, nearly as long as Ptolus at 761 pages. Necromancer Games, famed for the Tome of Horrors and many "first edition feel" style of adventures, published a city-centric planar sourcebook on the City of Brass, whose first half was the environ itself followed by the other half of adventures set in said realm.
- There was more self-awareness: During the 2001 to 2004 D20 glut, everyone and their Mom was slapping inappropriate genres and settings, believing WotC's claims of a "universal system" in spite of the realities. Although this hasn't gone away, enough years of play exposed gamers and game designers alike to the shortcomings and deeper realities of 3rd Edition. Aside from Monte Cook's World of Darkness, most of the big releases around this time were more grounded in the RPG's strength: pseudo-medieval heroic fantasy.
- An Influx of PDF updates: Sorting through Drive-Thru RPG's "date added" entry for 3.X OGL games, I noticed quite a few of the older products were added as PDFs onto online storefronts. World's Largest Dungeon, released way back in 2004, had a late 2007 PDF release. Afghanistan, Somalia, and Columbia D20 (modern warfare focused games) dated from 2002 yet got 2009 PDFs. I do not know why this happened. Perhaps a desire to make some last-minute "cash-ins" over a possible "rise of 4e?"
- The Death of Subsystems: "Side games" like D20 Modern and True20 saw their last official releases around this era, and given that they were far less popular than standard fantasy D20, the third party well dried up just as fast. Well, Chris Field of Skortched Urf Studio is still making D20 Modern books to this day, but these aren't talked about in polite company.
Anyways, I figure I talked enough about the "hows" and "whys." Let's get down to the "whats." All of them are available on Drive-Thru RPG, and can provide relvant links later (WIP).Amethyst D20:
A post-apocalyptic science fantasy setting in America 500 years in the future. Where mystical creatures such as dragons, elves, and sorcerers engaged in a devastating battle with humanity.Book of Experimental Might:
Monte Cook's collection of house rules he's used in various campaigns.Book of Unremitting Horror:
A surprise hit for D20 Modern which later gave a spinoff of its own RPG the Esoterrorists. A collection of horror-themed monsters.Castle Whiterock:
A megadungeon by Dungeon Crawl Classics.City of Brass:
A high-level planar metropolis which is a haven of scum, villainy, and countless treasures and wonders from across the Multiverse.Kobold Quarterly:
A self-declared "Switzerland of the Edition Wars," this magazine featured articles and new gaming content for a variety of systems. It ran for several years before retiring.Monte Cook's World of Darkness:
A D20 adaption of World of Darkness tropes into a newly-created alternate setting. Was not very popular among the White Wolf crowd.Pirate's Guide to Freeport/[System]Freeport Companion:
Torn between an already loyal 3.X fanbase and heading into uncharted waters with 4th Edition, Green Ronin published a system-free sourcebook for their prominent pirate setting along with a series of system-based Companions for various systems.Ptolus:
Monte Cook's magnum opus, a city-centric setting he used to playtest the 3rd Edition rules in. Is very user-friendly and contains several campaign's worth of content.Spellchrome:
A mash-up medieval fantasy with future tech setting.Svimohzia: The Ancient Isle:
The last 3.X Kingdoms of Kalamar book to be released, this sourcebook detailed Kalamar's fantasy Africa analog region.Third Dawn Campaign Setting:
Dreamscarred Press' psionic-centric campaign setting.Video Game Magic Items:
I reviewed this a while ago. Basically taking iconic video game creations with the serial numbers filed off, translated into D20 format.War of the Burning Sky:
EN World's first published adventure path. An heroic fantasy where the PCs are a band of plucky traveling resistance fighters against a tyrannical expansive empire.