As I have discussed in the past, I got started with D&D playing with the Rules Cyclopedia. When I went to buy my own D&D books I ended up grabbing the AD&D 2nd Edition Players Handbook instead. I didn’t realize the games were quite the same, and assumed I’d want the “advanced” version anyway. I’ve wanted to track down the Rules Cyclopedia for ages, but they are often hard to find or collectables. Alex, a player from my recent Torchbearer game, was given two copies by a friend of his. He asked the group off hand if anyone wanted one. Of course I do! So he mailed it off to me. What a lovely thing to do. And it’s here now, and I am awash in nostalgia.
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.