Review by Art Schmidt
Every gaming nerd in the world has stories about their first D&D game, their first (and usually favorite) edition played, their first character, first group, etc. I won’t bore you with any of mine (I’ve got some pretty awesome ones, though!) but suffice to say I have been playing D&D since before the hardbound books, so it’s been a long time. My first Dungeon Master’s Guide was the 1st Edition book, all two hundred and thirty-two glorious, black and white, densely packed pages of it. It opened up worlds of possibility for my friends and me. We spent endless hours exploring magical realms of perilous danger and heroic adventure.
I ran most of the games, as I had the Dungeon Master’s Guide (or “DMG” in gamer parlance) and a burning desire to create my own worlds. We played the printed adventures, or modules, and then I created my own. The DMG was a great help in this, chock full of tables, charts, and endless descriptions of magical items, weapons, ancient relics and fearsome villains. I do not know how many tablets of graph paper I went through in my teenage years, but I always had some pages tucked in my text books, my folders, or folded up in my pockets, covered in lines and boxes representing mines dark and deep, full of orcs and dragons and swords of flame.
Remember 1979? We didn’t even have Atari back then. This was the BOMB!!!
Having spent the majority of my gaming years running games, versus playing characters, I have owned and used every edition of the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide (except for 4th Edition, and to be honest that’s not out of any dislike for that system but due to a lack of desire of any of my gaming group at the time to make the move from 3.5). And I’ve loved them all, though at varying levels of love. The original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) Dungeon Masters Guide (note the lack of the possessive apostrophe; this was 1981 for sure) was a genuine first love, wide-eyed and unjudging and incapable of believing we’d even been blessed with such a magnificent gift. It literally opened up worlds of imagination for millions of gamers world-wide. Never mind that the book itself was a jumbled mess of disparate information, random thoughts shoveled into a solid form so quickly that no thought was given to organization or flow. It didn’t even have chapters, but did we notice or really care? Heck no!
2nd Edition was more like Puppy Love; it all looked good on the outside and added in a lot of things we thought we wanted, and we knew we were supposed to love it because we loved the game. But the mechanics weren’t completely sewn together and there were some issues with over-powered spell casting classes.
If they made a Guide to all of the 3.5 Edition rule books, it would be thicker than the DMG.
3rd Edition was a nostalgic love; it was a brave new departure from the old standard but the system was broken from the get-go. The wildly popular Edition 3.5 was a rebound love; 3rd Edition was dysfunctional and a rough break-up, and 3.5 was a welcome bowl of ice cream and a warm blanket. And it worked very well. But after years of fluff and bloat, the system became unwieldy and overly complicated. Especially so for players and DMs who wanted to focus on story, but had to acquiesce to players who wanted to min-max their way to a War Hulk or Shadowcraft Mage build which everyone knew would eventually break the campaign (and the story!).
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