Anyone who has read this blog for a little while already knows that I consider the D&D Rules Cyclopedia to be the definitive version of D&D, bar none. It’s my role-playing bible, the single best edition of the Dungeons & Dragons ever made. And this week, I’m going to show you why.
Each day I’m going to touch on just one piece of the Rules Cyclopedia, from character generation to encounters and combat, from monsters to the Known World and show why your game would benefit from a little Classic D&D injection, whatever Edition of the rules you use.
Let’s start with just the facts, ma’am. The D&D Rules Cyclopedia is a 300-page hardback book released in 1991 that collated the vast majority of the Classic D&D rules from the Basic, Expert, Companion and Master rules (and other supplements) into one single tome. Unlike 3rd Edition’s Rules Compendium, the Rules Cyclopedia contained everything you need to play – and when I say everything, I mean….. everything. From complete character generation for all levels of play from 1st to 36th (and beyond) to monster stat blocks, a complete game world (with colour hex maps) and more, the Rules Cyclopedia has the lot.
Basically, if it’s in D&D, it’s in this book. Want a Druid class? Paladins? Wandering Monster Tables? Planar Travel? Castle building? Seige combat? Naval combat? Manscorpions? Treasure tables? To get the equivalent content in 3rd Edition D&D you’d need all three Core Books and many other supplements to boot. By my reckoning, to equal the Rules Cyclopedia’s $24.95 value, you’d need to invest well over $200 in any other edition to even come close. Oh, and that $24.95 was the cover price back in 1991. Now, you can get all that goodness for around five bucks as a PDF from RPGNow. What’s not to love?
Ok, I’m gushing again. I’ll stop. Maybe. For a little while.
The thing is that not only is it a complete enough set of rules to keep me gaming and raving about it 18 years later, but it’s also damned good fun too. Sure, some of the rules might seem hinky on first impression, but the whole thing hangs together beautifully. Unlike later Editions of D&D, if you want to change something you can without feeling like the whole thing is going to fall apart around your ears. This is a version of D&D that just begs to be toyed with, hacked and customized to your liking.
Y’know the crazy thing though? The more I play with the Rules Cyclopedia, the less I hack. It’s a zen-like voyage of discovery where you’ve got to go through the pages and pages of house rules and come out the other side.
Case in point: the Classic D&D Classes. In the Rules Cyclopedia we have Fighter, Thief, Magic-User and Cleric – all of whom are Human – and the demihuman “classes” of Elf, Dwarf and Halfling. In our campaigns we say that humans undergo a Casting ceremony while still a child (at birth or later, depending on religion and culture), and their path in life is revealed. The D&D human Classes are the character’s Caste, and wars have been fought over a child being Casted a Thief to a long line of noble Fighters. The other races have no such ceremony – an Elf is just an Elf – and are bemused by human’s pre-occupation with pidgeonholing each other. In many cultures, ordinary folks can’t afford the Casting ceremony (unless a kindly Cleric offers it for free), and end up as castless Commoners, shopkeepers, etc.
See? Suddenly the hinky Classic D&D classes make sense, and no House Rules needed. Zen, indeed.
Next: Let’s take a closer look at those Castes… I mean, Classes.