On The Best Books Released for Dungeons & Dragons Part I

Dungeons and Dragons has been around long enough to complain about back pain. A lot of things have been published in the last several decades, when it comes down to studded leather brass studs what are the best books ever published for fantasy role-playing games?

Midkemia Press Cities

This one was out of my grasp until recently. Though out of print, they offer the .pdf from their website. requiring more rolls then more modern players might expect, it's an engine that allows you to customize encounters for different kinds of cities. As a resource for exploring large fantasy cities, it's a plethora of interesting encounters, plots and dangers, just from walking around your local burg. It makes exploring a large strange city into a series of small dramas and personalities, that both you and the players can discover through play. It's a way to make cities as interesting for the players as dungeons.

It has extensive city creation tables that include chances for rare buildings. Although not necessary to build a city in the amount of detail it provides (down to individual storefronts) it does allow you to answer the question is there a jeweler/clockmaker/physician et. al.

The other fascinating part is the downtime system which takes characters that are staying back or not actively adventuring with various downtime events. There's an option for smarter or wiser characters to avoid or seek danger. Following is a comprehensive table of adventure and events, from being offered dangerous missions, to falling ill, to having your living quarters infested by pests.

It finishes off with a mission generator, a tavern/inn generator, rich occupational background tables, street traffic density,  a dice conversion table, and a stable generator.

Pretty good for a resource from 1981.

Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue

Yeah, but what about knife boots!
Aurora's was ostensibly a shop in Faerun, but what this supplement contained was equipment a world filled with adventurers as a career would end up producing. If they were thieves that needed to infiltrate, wizards who needed to stock a lab, clerics on the lookout for new ways to serve, this little book had a bit of everything.
The entire book is devoted to equipment lists. This makes it about the best setting supplement ever produced for the Forgotten Realms. You could run a game with this book in play and it provides more direct setting information useful in play then any of the many books with dry histories and texts.
From ale to cheese, wine to jewels, diversions, storage, hardware and clothing; the book is filled with what you would expect a society would sell, if beset by monsters and filled with powerful gods, crafty wizards, stealthy thieves and brave fighters.
It contains dozens of useful and interesting items, infra-vision lanterns, special thieving helmets (with ears that are not at all ostentatious) that allow you listen, book safes and quick access scroll cases, among many others.

1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide

Gygax in the prime of his life poured his soul into this book toiling away, and at the end he had crafted an artifact. I've been reading this book for over 30 years now and every time I open it, I still find something I've never seen before. I've also lost things in it, only to discover them much later, hidden in pages I flipped through dozens of times.
There is no other book like this in existence. It is unique, a vision of one man. The pattern of his thought and knowledge laid bare, every paragraph a facet of an endlessly complex gem. But this is no shaggy dog. Every time you return to it, it provides new insight, new revelations. Not because anything new is there, but because you have changed.
It's pretty brilliant. If you haven't ever really read it, what are you waiting for?

Encyclopedia Magica

Sometimes there's too much and you want a pause button. This collection of leather-bound volumes contains every magical item created anywhere from Original D&D till the late 90's at the dusk of second edition. It has a huge random table in the back, so that when you roll up a magic item, there are tens of thousands of results.
What's really interesting about using it in play, is that so many of these items are strongly tied into whatever their history is. It makes the treasure interesting, unique, usually requiring some adjustment to use in play. But it also interjects unexpected problems and surprises. Once they found a spellbook linked to a dragon. A great treasure, but also great risk.
The fact that it also encapsulates twenty-five years of magic items gives a capsule into the design of magic items over time. Plus it's really fun to roll on the d10,000 table for magic items.

Wizard Spell Compendium

This is similar to the last collection and indeed, collects every spell printed. What's interesting about this, is that it is Vances 1,000 lost spells. Assigning random spells, and only providing new spells randomly from this list, creates a different kind of magic system, one where spells are capricious, unknown, and of wildly varying power. Not allowing players to pick spells from the book, but instead seek them out, and carefully select those spells which they are able to learn (remember the limits of spells per level and chances to learn!) creates powerful, but unpredictable wizards.
In games not focused on combat, but instead adventure or survival, having dozens of variations and types of spells lead to an eclectic toolkit that becomes a signature for the wizard.
It also outlines the entirety of "Dungeons and Dragons" magic theory, with all the official schools of magic covered, from shadow magic to chronomagic for masters of time, elemental magic, all the way to the incantrix and more.


Judge's Guild Ready Reference Papers

The Judges Guild was playing a lot of Dungeons & Dragons back in the day. This is a giant reference hodgepodge, used in play for their settings. It's a lot like a selection of house rules, but functions more as an expansion, providing more, well, everything.
It covers everything from social levels, decade appropriate sexist tables of women, proclamations, boons, wills, crime and punishment, poisons, justifications for uncalled for aggression, wizards guide to enchantment, movement obstacles, hirelings, encounter tables, flora, construction costs, and more.
That's a lot of stuff for 1978. It's dense, arcane, interesting and eclectic. If you're running a campaign, you won't make it through the whole 60 pages without coming up with one change you'll want to add into your campaign.

Forgotten Realms Boxed Set 1st Edition

Since the Forgotten Realms has been taken from Greenwood, set on fire, and then handed back, laden with weight of ages, mary and marty sues teleporting around and impregnating gods who are hiding as bears, eye rolling in its baroque ridiculousness, it's hard to remember it's so popular, based on the strength of this particular supplement.
This works as a useful tool for a dungeon master to run a campaign. It has two books. The first covers the calendar, language, names, currency, religion, and maps and short descriptions of settings.
The second book is full of nothing but rumors, ideas, and other inspiration for belabored Dungeon Masters. This book can provide years and years of play with this straightforward setting, filled with a selection of colorful personalities, and most notably, a long section on events and rumors occuring every month over the course of two years. There's even a little mark for which ideas Ed Greenwood had marked for further expansion. A fun game is looking back and seeing where each of those ideas finally ended up.

Check out the second part of our "Best Books Released for Dungeons & Dragons." The links to drivethrurpg are affiliate links for me, another way for you to be a great person and help me out.  

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4 comments:

  1. Midkemia Press also wrote the very, very cool random encounter tables for Sanctuary in Chaosium's Thieves World box set. Comparing the two might prove interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The 1st edition DMs manual is so good I have the original and the fairly recent reprint.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great list, and a couple I've never heard of, so THANKS!!

    ReplyDelete

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