by Ramanan Sivaranjan on July 07, 2013
The D&D Rules Cyclopedia is quite the book. Released at the end of the 80s, just as AD&D 2nd Edition was about to begin its reign as the premiere edition of D&D, it collected all the rules for playing “basic” D&D in one giant hardback. Previously, all these rules were available as a series of boxed sets by Frank Mentzer, sometimes referred to as BECMI D&D after the name of each set: Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortals. The Rules Cyclopedia was a much more convenient repackage of almost all this material and more.
The Rules Cyclopedia has everything you need to run a D&D game from levels 1-36. I have never played in a game where a character has advanced beyond level 7, so there is a lot of potential gaming there. Beyond the rules of the game, you have a big collection of magic items, a sample mythical world to adventure in, one of the biggest collection of Basic D&D monsters available, rules for mass combat, rules for running domains, etc., etc. It’s so thoroughly self-contained you really wouldn’t need to buy another book to play a game of D&D. This is very much at odds with how game publishing seems to work: part of what keeps publishers in business is their customers buying new books. It certainly seems at odds with how TSR operated at the time.
My first exposure to D&D was through the Rules Cyclopedia. My friend had a copy, which he used to run the first campaign I participated in. I played a Cleric, more or less modeled after the one pictured in the book: some White chick with a mace. We would all share this one book. I regret not buying a copy then. I ended up buying the 2nd Edition Players Handbook at the time, and then buying other 2nd Edition books from there. I don’t know if I thought the systems were the same or not at the time.
The Rules Cyclopedia is available as a PDF once again. The scan is very so-so, but reads well enough on an iPad. The fact they released it on dndclassics.com suggests it’s not going to get a fancy re-print like the other older D&D books. So if you’ve been waiting to pick this one up, now is the time to do it.
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