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.
Kim Mohan was interviewed on the D&D podcast. He was a figure involved in Dungeons and Dragons I had never heard of, but there is apparently no one out there who has worked on Dungeons and Dragons longer than the man. He was a managing editor at TSR and then Wizards of the Coast. There are lots of great quotes. On Ed Greenwood: “For every word that he gives you, you feel like he’s holding fifty in reserve. And for every ten that he gives you he probably could have kept three or four.”
I picked up a copy of the new limited edition S-series adventure compilation Dungeons of Dread. It’s a nice hardback book that collects 4 modules released by TSR that were meant to separate the wheat from the chaff when it came to D&D players. Those modules are: Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, and The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.
This new edition begins with an introduction by Lawrence Schick, author of White Plume Mountain. He briefly explains the history of the series and of each module. Following this is a short table of contents and then each of the modules presented exactly as they appeared however many years ago. If you’ve seen the AD&D reprints the quality is much the same: that is to say quite good. Like the AD&D reprints the illustrations in Dungeons of Dread seem a bit higher contrast than the originals. The art work is reproduced reasonably well, but I suspect some detail has been lost in scanning the originals for their inclusion here.
Unlike the AD&D reprints Dungeons of Dread is much more of a collectible than a gaming aid. Presenting the 4 modules together like this is nice if you just want to read them, but to use them in the game would probably be unwieldily. The illustration booklets you’re supposed to show your players are bound in the book, as are the maps for each adventure. That’s not to say you couldn’t use this book at your table, but it’s a step back in usability compared to the original TSR modules. Really, something like this would have been better presented in a box set, but no one makes box sets anymore.
If you’re a fan of the old modules this collection is well worth a look. As I don’t own the originals, the choice was simple. I picked up my copy for $30 on Amazon, which is less than i’d pay for each module used on eBay.