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
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 & Equipmentand 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.
CHAPTER 1: ARMOR
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
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
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
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!
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,
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!