2123 Arms & Equipment Guide Review

I’ve talked in the past of luxury items, but what are they? In a nutshell, I identify them as anything that makes play more enjoyable, or faster but isn’t really necessary to play the game. Some of these are expensive, but they don’t have to be. One of the cheapest luxury items is the Arms & Equipment Guide which was published in August of 1991.

Oddly, this is part of the blue Dungeon Master Guide Reference Series, so players can’t reference it directly at the table; I suppose that this was done to help keep the DM in charge of the game, and out of the hands of rules-lawyers, but at this time TSR liked to give books to DMs saying that they were for THEIR EYES ONLY! Players who actually follow the rules might wonder what the heck is in this thing, and some clubs hate it when the DM makes stuff up, so the mystique behind the book might be appropriate in some cases.

There was a shift going on, I think that TSR overestimated that shift, but it was there, and it was breaking away from the published settings and doing some historical play, which had to be home-brewed. Of course the 2e rules had many historical components already built into the game, for instance Ring Mail isn’t something that you are typically going to find in a traditional fantasy game, and the prices reflected this. In the age of Ring Mail, this was the best you could get, and while they pointed this out in the core handbooks, there were lots of things in the equipment sections that were from different times and eras, all of it jammed together in one fantasy store, with no rhyme or reason other than to provide as much information as possible but at the same time keep the page count reasonable. That is where this book comes in, it defines more of the equipment found in the Player’s Handbook!

At the table, over the years I have had some odd questions, and I sometimes didn’t know the answer too, such as, “What exactly is a Bastard Sword?” “What’s the difference between a flight arrow and a sheaf arrow?” “What does my sling staff look like?” these are all logical questions, and since we try really hard not to bring too much mechanical mumbo jumbo to the table, I was always kind of forced to do just that.

I remember that one of my characters used a Morning Star for years, and I had no idea what the thing even was; all I knew was that it did 2d8 in damage.  Also, trying to buy food was always weird, why would a 4th level character want to buy an entire barrel of pickled fish, or try and bring along 250 gallons of cider with him to the underdark? Let’s not even get into equipment for mounts, I grew up around horses and still had no idea what all of that stuff was. Much of the equipment guide was ignored. Sure, there were a couple of explanations that players could read, but who really did that? Even if you did, it wasn’t really enough information to come to any clear conclusions anyway.

Is this all that is available? Four pages of stuff represents the entire list of everything manufactured or available in the world? For many DM’s that is exactly what that means. I believe that First Edition AD&D had a lot more available, but the prices were different. Actually the prices always seem to be influx depending on edition, which is just bizarre. But let’s refocus on this book itself.

In the past, if a DM wanted information they had to go to the local library, you really had to want to know the answer to go to the local library! This book gave as much info as it could for the low cover price. THAT is handy! Even today with the huge resources available to us on the internet, if someone wants to know what a bastard sword looks like I can quickly show them a picture of it, and tell them some of the information in Arms & Equipment  and have it all be relevant to gaming. Sure, you can Google Bastard Swords, but prepare to be swamped. We don’t want to simulate reality, we just want to know if this is something that our character would use or not: Nit picking, but without over doing it.

The book is broken up into five sections: Armor, Equipment for Mounts, Weapons, Equipment, and Clothes. It compiles not just the equipment found in the PHB but from the Players Handbook Reference Series as well as adding stuff from 1e and what I assume to be a few items unique to this book.


Each armor type is given a full page of text and a full page drawing. The text always has a brief description, and a section that they called “Campaign Use” which they talk about things relevant to our games, such as who uses this, how long it lasts, how to quickly destroy it, fun stuff like that! Sometimes there are small variant blurbs to modify things, such as spiked leather armor, or adding optional rules if you want to.

Shields and their uses are also given a page, as well as helmets, which is nice! It helps us visualize these items better, but also gives us some ideas on their flaws. Running around a dungeon with a body shield is something that I have done, and it isn’t wrong if you allow it, but if you are playing with the optional encumbrance system to add challenge, you’ll understand the numbers behind it. You can better apply an improved AC rating to it, but one’s attack rolls would be impossible unless they have the right weapon, and even then that roll will be hard to make with any accuracy.

CHAPTER 2: Equipment for Mounts

An excellent chapter with takes medieval ideas and simplifies them for modern minds. Unlike the previous chapter, this one rewrites and replaces the rules found in the PHB, it sticks close enough to them that it doesn’t cause a problem, but for more advanced play it allows more flexibility and ease of use when calculating AC ratings for lots of troops. While this chapter may seem overly complex, it actually makes things easier and gives an element to our encounters that we wouldn’t have if we stuck with the PHB. Basically it treats a rider and mount as one entity instead of two, which honestly makes more sense.

This chapter is a lot more compressed then the previous one, it still has fabulous art examples, but the definitions and campaign use were squished together. Some examples also have some vocabulary words to throw at your players so that they have no idea what you are talking about and may become really impressed and shower you with praise and admissions of love and deep respect—probably not, but a very very slim possibility is still a possibility! Actually this book adds depth and options to play; it identifies some very specific equipment that can change the nature of an encounter based on technology. It also makes entertaining reading, which considering that this is a book about arms and equipment, greatly helps with getting through this thing.

CHAPTER 3: Weapons

This is the longest chapter, and has some interesting features. The format is squished when it can get away with it, just giving a definition, but it can also open up and really blow your mind with facts that are relevant to your campaign; some entries feature Adventurers Notes that are actually helpful, and/or boxed text of historical data. In most cases they also have artwork that show off different examples of the same thing, such as battle axes and maces.

Finally, I know what a Morning Star is, and I laugh at my DM for allowing me to use it in close quarters: HA HA HA!

This chapter also includes a Master Weapons Chart, collecting gaming data from multiple publications at the time and putting them into one chart; this includes all four of the basic Complete Class Handbooks, so this list is pretty handy!

CHAPTER 4: Adventure’s Equipment

Historical Locks
This chapter is not complete, but it does have examples of the trickier thing found in other sources, and gives pictures to accompany them. It defines and briefly talks about their use in your campaign world. It doesn’t tell us why we’d buy a barrel of pickled kipper, but it does tell us how we can get it up the side of a mountain!

It still doesn’t do much for food needs, but it does add a provisions category which helps us to figure out food costs by the week, it isn’t all that helpful as it squishes everything up into one tidy paragraph, but it is something.

Maybe the fact that when I first started playing we were broke and starving half the time, has something to do with my obsession on this subject? We’d spend a good deal of time talking about exactly what was available at the inn, how it smelled and how it tasted . . . we didn’t care about the logistics of moving eight hundred thousand gold coins out of a 9 level dungeon, but by god you’d better go into elaborate detail when it comes to describing the innkeepers stew because that stuff is what really mattered, dammit!

CHAPTER 5: Clothing

Clothing should be given more attention than what this book or the PHB gives it, there just isn’t much to choose from, and while this chapter is far from complete, it is a step in the right direction and allows a DM to come up with some idea for the cost of something. Not that we want to get carried away with fashion, but it does play a part in society. There are still some mental calculations that we’ll have to do at the time to get our characters properly fitted, honestly, TSR would probably have had to make a book on this subject, and while I’m sitting here bitching about it, there still is no way that I would had actually bought something like that, so . . . yeah, this is a great chapter! It at least gets us started so that we can come up with some mental core ideas, nothing that we’ll ever want to write down, but it gives us just enough to make stuff up when we need it.


There is something definitely missing from this book, an index! When somebody asks you what the difference is between swords, you’ll have to do some flipping to show them the picture, but that is the thing, the pictures are nice! Well, not all. The image given to us of Leather armor is pointless as the man modeling it definitely made his Hide in Shadows roll, but that is just nit-picking.

Is this the best book that TSR had ever put out? No. No it isn’t, but it allows some sense of order to be had from us laymen at the table, it allows options and in some cases shows us why some items are listed the way that they are. Some items are not as convenient as we give them credit for, while others offer the players more options than they might be aware of. Much of what is in this book helps us visualize things better, or make a decision easier. It isn’t one of those books that you have to sit down and read cover to cover, and it won’t be able to answer every weird question that your players can pose to you, but it will help, and unlike Google, all of the material in this guide is relevant to gaming. If we want to know more, Google is always there, but at the table, this thing will eventually pay for itself in convenience and mind-candy alone. 

I give it a C+, it is great for advanced tables, but can probably overwhelm some users. It is fast and convenient but totally unnecessary to enjoy the game. I still consider it one of the better luxury items that TSR published, but the fact that it isn’t as complete as the title suggests, and the lack of an index lowers the rate considerably. If all you want it for is to get info on weapons and armor, you’ll be very pleased with this book, if you are looking to have basic equipment identified; you’re going to be a bit put out.

As far as value goes, a fair price would be in the 20-25 dollar range, which is very close to its original cost. Most of these books are still in great condition, I was able to find a mint condition book for 10 bucks, but that is after spending lots of time looking and getting lucky, but there are deals to be found for persistence!


trollsmyth said...

Actually, 2e had much better and larger equipment tables than 1e had. And, frankly, I think it had the best of any edition of D&D I ever played.

I let my players use this book themselves when shopping (though a few items were not available depending on where they were) and often supplemented it with the Al Qadim book, especially since I love me some Orientalism in my D&D.

RipperX said...

I remember one of those old 1e books, UA I believe, having a picture of different pole arms, and we loved that, but wished that they had done it with all of other weird weapons. Oriental Adventures had amazing supplemental weapons too. That was one of those books that I could just flip through any time and have a good time.

David Baymiller said...

Great game aide. Especially in the pre-internet age of back then. Good review.

RipperX said...

Thanks! I prefer products that do this kind of stuff. I think that this one lends itself to creativity, while most products do the exact opposite.

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