2nd Edition Dungeon Master Guide: Book Review

In 1989 the very first book was released that heralded in the 2nd Edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, that book was product 2100 Dungeon Master Guide. Now I am going to do my best to keep my word count down, but it is hard, as I am very passionate about this book; but I promise that I will do my best to be fair.

I bought my first copy of the DMG back in 1994; at the time I had the reprints to choose from, or this copy. Now, technically, I wasn’t a DM yet, but the gaming store that I shopped at had only one copy of this specific book in stock and they wouldn’t be getting anymore, so I picked it up. I didn’t read it! But I did own it. Once I decided to start learning how to become a DM, I finally cracked it open and have used the very same book ever since.

Back in the day, the players weren’t allowed to read the DMG, they were told that this was because it had secrets that were best learned through play. The soundest way to become an adequate DM was to play, and play, and play! You’ve got to have a really good working knowledge of the Player’s Handbook before you can be competent enough to start calling a game, and let me tell you; your first one is a nightmare. Thankfully, the more you do it, the more you learn and the better at it you become.

This book is one of three books that are required to play the game. The other two are the Player’s Handbook, and the Monstrous Manual. The physical specifications of the DMG are that it is a hard cover book, which has put up with a lot of abuse through the years and is none the worse for wear. A couple of my corners are dented in from dropping it, or having stuff hit it on the shelf, but the colors of the beautiful cover art are just as bright as the day that I removed the shrink wrap.

I love the paper that it was printed on, it is strong enough to last for years and years, yet it wasn’t so shiny that it didn’t take ink from making permanent notations inside of it (a complaint that I have with more modern printing practices). The binding is super-heroic: it has held perfectly all these years later, which is something that I can’t say about original AD&D books, and, most importantly, the book lays flat and keeps the page that you have it opened too for easy reference.


I’m not going to go through all of the chapters, this blog in itself is a huge love letter to this book; but I will share my basic thoughts and feelings in regards to it. Quite often this book gets a lot of heat because people say that it isn’t complete, and it isn’t. 2100 specifically wasn’t written to replace the original Dungeon Master Guide written by Gary Gygax, it was meant to simply update many of the mechanics, but at the same time be complete enough so that the user doesn’t necessarily need the Gygax DMG. Me, personally, I use both books, with a preference to the 2nd Edition during play as my 1e DMG requires much more love and care because it is trying to fall apart. For the most part, I’ve mined what I really love from the 1e copy and transferred it into a binder that I can abuse and use during prep, but like I said, for the most part, I stay with the 2e copy.

People also complain that it doesn’t have the huge wealth of knowledge that the original contained, and it doesn’t. A few chapters of the Gygax version appeared as their own books, which expanded the ideas that he created into fully formed products. Whether this is a good thing, or a bad thing I’m not going to judge, everybody has their own opinion on the subject. The fact is that there is a ton of information in this DMG! This is one of the books that I read regularly, and even though I’ve read it cover to cover many times, I still find new stuff hidden inside of it.

While I’m not going to break it down into chapters, I will tell you some of my favorite points in the book, but first, what I don’t like.


There is way too much advice in this book for my taste.  They made it a point not to make an instruction manual, as the user only needs to read that once and then, ever after, it is a waste of space. While the advice that it does give you is extremely helpful, once you get it, then you got it. The first three chapters of the book seem to contain, mostly, advice for new to intermediate level Dungeon Masters. There is some good mechanics hidden in there, but more often than not, you don’t look at it anymore.

There also seems to be more effort put into describing weird magical items than anything else. There is a lot of stuff in this book that was left vague and caused more questions from the reader that were never ever answered, meanwhile they’ve got the full stats for weird stuff that chances are, you are never going to give to a pc, ever.


I love this book, and while some of the chapters are extremely wanting, there are chapters that I really love! Specifically, the NPC section, from generating personalities, to defining jobs and how to determine success or failure for NPC skills, and how much one should charge for services is always helpful and entertaining.

 Combat rules are better detailed in this book than in the PHB, it wasn’t just recycled text, almost everything in this book is unique to it. Creative thinking is the greatest tool that a PC has at their disposal, and this book tries to help you judge such attacks which were purposefully left out of the PHB.

 The greatest and most helpful thing in the DMG isn't the secrets which it contains, but is the Index. The Index isn’t just to the book itself, but it also has the pages and topics listed for its companion book, Product 2101: Player’s Handbook. This amazing index saves a lot of headaches, especially if you aren’t sure which book a specific fact is in.

The artwork is amazing, and serves a dual purpose, not only does it inspire the DM, but it also helps him flip through the book and find his favorite sections, providing landmarks of sorts.


As this book is required to play the game, that alone gives it a high grade, while some of the writing is purposefully confusing, it gives you all of the tools that you need to either use this book to make a judgement, or at least, gives you a large enough feel for the game so that you can design your own. For a new DM, the advice is incredibly helpful; it doesn’t leave the user hanging without a sense of direction. No, it doesn’t tell you how to play the game, but discovering out how to do that should always be a personal journey, and besides, there are enough resources out there now for new users of the game to get a really good grasp on things that can either go wrong or what a DM is supposed to be doing with his time.

This book was replaced by a reprinting of it, as well as some corrections made periodically during its own print run, however I have never been able to actually spot what these corrections were, though I admit that I use the last run of it. Though an update is available, I have always chosen to stick with this copy.

I give this book an easy B+. It isn’t perfect, but what book truly is? Yes, many modern users won’t need the advice given, and chose to seek it from online sources, but there is much more to this book than meets the eye.


Anonymous said...

I do completely agree that the Index is the best thing in this book! As a new 2e DM that section was a god send. Just out of curiosity, what sections of the 1e DMG would you suggest keeping for 2e?

RipperX said...

The 1e DMG is great read, Gygax is the father of AD&D. I do go back from time to time, just to compare. Each edition of the game kind of focused on their own thing, for 1e, Wilderness Adventure and creating a larger world feel is a quick summery of what it did, so those sections are really good. I also love little bitty things in the book, such as Disease, the effects of alcohol and drugs, and insanity.

Gygax had more space to work with, the 2e DMG is 192 pages, while the original DMG is 240, thus you will find that some things are better explained. It was always assumed that you had read it, so the 2e DMG focused primarily on changes that have been made to the system.

Once the 1994 DMG, which I call the Black Books, came out, they figured that you probably didn't read the original, so a little more detail went into explaining some of the concepts; not much, mind you! But they did try. I have read the Black DMG, however I never purchased it, and don't use it at my table.

Brooser Bear said...

Way back in the halcyon days of 2003 I was looking to get back into gaming. By June, I knew what setting I was going to run first, and I realized that it was going to be D&D in some version. But which one? Was it going to be the White Box? The B/X booklets, which I love, or was it going to be the AD&D. In the 6:30 AM of the early June 2003, I was sitting on the water's edge of the Elizabethport Reach, watching hundreds of containers being off loaded the mighty container ships docked at Staten Island across the water. I cracked opened Gygax's Player Handbook, read his introduction to the game, and I realized, that Gygax had a VISION, of both, the game and of history, he was the Hand of the Design, and that I was going to run HIS version of AD&D.

The reason I prefer DMG 1st Edition over the subsequent ones were the APPENDIXES, the articles on gems and properties of herbs, types of treasure, Artefacts - powerful magical items, Dungeon Dressing tables, Chapter on character aging, disease, and death. There are things I DIDN'T like about AD&D, and I changed them promptly. NPC generation, the character traits were scatterbrained, and I scrapped them. Moldway's section on Dungeon Adventure Design was so much better in the Red Book, and it is complemented so nicely by Ggax's Dungeon Dressing Tables - Moldway Section 8 - Stocking the Dungeon - you roll Special. Gygax DMG Dungeon Dressing Tables consisting of 29 x 47 SPECIAL FEATURES for Trick Rooms!!!! This descrfibes my approach to AD&D - Gygax Framework, into which I pull game mechanics from other places that work better than the original AD&D or are not covered by it.

RipperX said...

There is some great stuff hidden in that book. I have found that the best version of it is the original 1st printing, they went with a much cheaper bind in the reprints, and in most cases, those books are hardly held together.

I don't know it as a fact, but I have heard rumors that the newest reprint has a better bind, however it is missing some stuff. The latest reprint is expensive as hell, and might be edited for offensive content??? I'm not sure what the going price is for the original first print, it is probably pretty high, but the binding is worth it.

Brooser Bear said...

Was there content in the 1st printing that was edited out of the subsequent ones? I got the Revised December 1979 edition.

RipperX said...

I don't think that anything changed in its initial print run, all of the errors were even kept, which made no sense. The only thing that might had been removed was the restrictions on female characters, as this pissed a lot of people off, but I think that all of my copies of it still have that left in so maybe they just apologized in Dragon Magazine and then did nothing about it until 2e came out.

Brooser Bear said...

Gygax was a notorious chauvinist. There is a tremendous gender difference between, few women can do chin ups like men, but the issue is much more complicated, way over the head of Gygax and others partaking in that discussion. Suffice it to say, that women can hold their own in the field, and there are other reasons to think twice about letting women join infantry.

But it's not even that, if the content is the same, I don't care if I got the original or the revised edition.

RipperX said...

The STR stat is always up to interpretation, isn't it. A Trapeze artist or a gymnast is displaying tremendous acts of strength and agility, and it requires both. A female gymnast won't look anything like Conan the Barbarian, but possess the grip and ability to preform amazing feats none the less. I don't think that stats really determine physique at all. I've had female characters with high STR scores and it doesn't break the game at all. I don't get what Gygax was thinking when he wrote that stuff.

In regards to the reprint of Original AD&D, they used that shiny paper, and the price is nuts, but one has to do what one has to do, right? It is still better then a PDF.

Brooser Bear said...

It's a little bit more complex with STR. I looked into real-world equivalents of character abilities and a picture is only a bit more complex. Gygax looked into the real world research, when he created Character Ability scores. The clue is in his mention in DMG of STR being measured by the amount of weight the character can lift in a Military Press exercise. That is straight from the Human Performance research of his day. It moved on since then, and got MORE interesting. You picture of the Gymnast's strength is the perfect example.

Human abilities are grouped into two distinct categories, which behave differently: Physical Abilities and the five forms of measurable Human Intelligence. Human abilities can all be improved by training and exercise and can all be brought up to be "All 18's". Human Intelligence consists largely of latent talent, influenced by one's genes, and also required constant practice for improvement, but presence of latent talent makes a quantum leap in how much the intelligence ability can be developed, and also, Human Intelligence is more of a Zero Sum structure - you CAN NOT get "All 18's" with the Human Intelligence abilities, though fully developed Renaissance Men have existed and were clearly exceptional in two or three areas. The abilities themselves are as follows:

Physical abilities are STRENGTH, FLEXIBILITY, and ENDURANCE. STR is the amount of weight one can dead lift off the ground and over one's head. Men can get stronger in this than Women. FLEX is the ability to do splits and to contort one's body. Women are can be superior to men in this and there are male dancers who take female hormones to match women in FLEX. END is how heavy a burden one can carry on the back and for how long, also how long one can run or stay in a physical fight before getting winded and exhausted.

Human Intelligence abilities are as follows: Verbal/Arithmetic Intelligence, measured by the IQ test; Artistic Intelligence, ability to draw a 3D picture and correctly maintain the proportions of the objects in the drawing; Mechanical Intelligence - Manual Dexterity, ability to take apart an engine or a watch mechanism, and put it back together again without relying on schematics; Tumbling Intelligence, Agility - awareness of one's body in 3D, allowing one to do complex choreography in dance, gymnastics, and acrobatics; and Emotional Intelligence - allowing the person to read facial expression, pick on non-verbal behavioral cues, and successfully interact with people. So, ART, DEX, INT, CHA and all forms of Intelligence. AGILITY is the most complex of human abilities. It is a function of human intelligence, but requires high physical development in the areas of STR and FLEX to be developed. The minimal requirement for gymnastics is the STR to lift one's own weight, and women need less of it since they are typically smaller and lighter than men, and exceed them in FLEX.

This leaves two other abilities, Constitution and Wisdom. WIS is Gary Gygax own brilliant design. He defines it as the inherent discipline to do what is good for that person. Not smoking on the emotional level, because it is not good for you. This would be cruicial for survival among various Saddam Husseins and other fanatic tyrants, as well as in the universe where exist many fickle and cruel gods. There is a large amount of literature written in Philosophy, and Gygax's contribution in on the level.

Brooser Bear said...

Constitution is in a class by itself. Human Endurance is not really the CON as defined by Gygax. However, there is a Genetic Trait called HARDINESS. A while back Cattell proposed that human behavior is the expression of people's psychological traits, and later it was proposed that some traits are learned while other traits are genetically inherited. Later still, some psychologists set out to find and define Genetic Traits, most were too abstract and too removed from everyday life to be readily tghrown into a game or a self improvement book, but one such trait is called Hardiness. HRD is the ability to rsist infection and how fast one recocers from injusry. That sounds like CON to me. As a side note, people with exceptional Hardiness tend to be optimists, with a sense of humor, and they can not hold their licquor. They suffer more acutely from hangovers, and they start feeling it sooner than the rest of us. For that reason, they typically are non-drinkers. My father ones said that they are extremely healthy individuals. Another side-note is that aspirin is the chemical agent that boosts Hardiness, speeding up certain metabolic processes, that produce high Hardiness, The Anti-Aspirin is the ARACHIDONIC ACID (AA), an Omega-6 fatty acid typically found in meat and egg yolks. For it to be bad, you have to mix it with the frying oil or grease, in which case the AA is bad for you, promoting inflammation. Moral of the story - Eggs are healthy, but fried eggs in excess are bad for you, especially if you got arthritis, asthma, allergies, or other inflammation based diseases.

RipperX said...

I see that we got inspired Brooser! The Player's Options: Skills & Powers addressed this in a great way that I use from time to time. It added different stats that you don't roll up, and, instead, are simply determined by just comparing existing stats with one another. I know that I had written an article about it before, so it is some where in the archives . . .

Brooser Bear said...

I have Skills and Powers and I read it. Spent the past few days researching the latest on relationship between different physical attributes, and then translating them into D&D Stats to be used in Midlands or other D&D games. I will present my findings over a couple of posts on my blog.

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