RPG Week: D&D Rules Cyclopedia Day One

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.


Is this the best D&D ever? I think so.

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.

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12 Responses

  1. Bob says:

    The system was that perfect that for the entire time my town had a central roleplay club it was the system we used for almost every campaign we ran. Every so often we would stretch out and run a WOD or Paranoia game but we’d always return to the Cyclopedia.

    Bobs last blog post..Weird Gaming Moments

  2. Hybban says:

    This is also my favorite D&D edition. I got the book on ebay 2y ago for only 5$ :) I can’t wait to read the following entries!

  3. I would like to know more about your setting. The caste thing is intriguing to me.

    Dr. Checkmates last blog post..Return of Mark of the Movie: Frozen Alive

  4. Greywulf says:

    Turn to page 268. There’s your setting. Drool over the hex maps and marvel at a setting that manages to drop every cool culture in history into a single world and get it right :D

    We quite like the caste system for explaining the Classic D&D Classes. It adds a rationale to them, while mixing in lots of multi-faith traditions such as baptism, bar mitzvah, etc. Generally speaking, a Cleric anoints the baby/child/young man or woman, casts a minor spell and declares the Class. The child gets Casting gifts and the whole family gathers for the event – it’s an important event in a person’s life.

    A character’s Class is dictated by the Immortals themselves; it shows their aptitude, talents and outlook on life. Of course, everyone knows tales of folks being Mis-Caste (STR 7 Fighters, etc), and Clerics do occasionally accept bribes to ensure a favourable Casting. The truth often comes out in the end though, with suitably comedic/tragic results.

    Hope that helps!

  5. Tetsubo says:

    I just picked up a copy of this book at a yard sale for $1. I am awesome! :)
    .-= Tetsubo´s last blog ..City of Ember Movie Review =-.

  6. Greywulf says:

    @Tetsubo Hope you know you’ve gone and made an awful lot of people very jealous now :D

  7. Tetsubo says:

    Then my job is done here. :)

  8. Azathi says:

    Wondering if you knew of another pdf source the RPGnow site apparently no longer carrys this item I have my own copy but I lent it to someone and they “lost” the weapons mastery rules Massive pain in the butt added the most flavor and barring all the other better rules the weapons mastery rules were the most awesome part not opposed to buying an electronic copy of the rules but really not willing to pay the current hardcopy price in excesse of $60.00

  9. greywulf says:

    @Azathi Unfortunately not, sorry. Wizards of the Coast, in their infinite Wisdom (I use the term “Wisdom” loosely) decided to pull all PDF versions of their products, past and present. Silly people.

    And I agree – the Weapons Mastery rules are truly excellent.

    Good look with your search!

  10. Azathi says:

    @greywulf s’alright found one on a bittorrent not illegal since I already own (admittedly a bedraggled copy) but wish WoC aka HASBRO would learn they can make more money off a few old pdf files than they can on stuff like DDO (well the margin would be better ) but thanks for the update gonna spring this one on my gaming group one has played by the old rules before and loved backswing slashing through kobolds hehe

  11. Xagyg says:

    And yes – I think the classic rules (culminating in the Rules Cyclopedia) is the best. I bought classic D&D in 1981 and have loved it ever since. There is no substitute and I have tried many RPGs.

  12. Hi guys, directly from Italy I confirm that Rules Cycplopedia is the definitive rpg. I’ve passed through Hero System, Marvel Super Heros, Call of Chtulhu, Star Trek Decipher, Basic Roleplaying etc. etc….. but, at last, I will always return on muy marvellous copu of Rules Cyclopedia!
    One question for all of us: is there anyone that has thought about the problem of the absence of deities on the manual? Without entering in the 1st/2nd edition of AD&D but, when you play Basic D&D, your clerics pray a generic deity or someone use specific (TSR?) pantheons with special rules?

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