A Quick Guide on AD&D: What you need & why

Getting into Advanced Dungeons & Dragons can be daunting to many people, especially now that the books are out of print. While Wizards of the Coast has republished them, I find the cost for these books to be unacceptable. With all of the supplemental material out there for 2nd Edition, many think that you need all of that stuff to run a game, but honestly, you only need a few books.


When 2e came out, it wasn’t meant to replace the original AD&D, simply to clarify rules, and make finding information easier. Many things were altered, but it was always assumed that you owned the 1e version of the game.  As the years passed, more supplements were added which typically over did the work accomplished by 1st Edition, the 2e Book of Artifacts for instance is unnecessary, all of the info that you need to create your own artifacts can be found in the 1e DMG, most of that 2e book is nothing but filler; choosing to publish an entire book to clarify a small blip in 1e was way too common, and you are best served by ignoring most of them.


There are only 3 books that you need from 2e.

  • The Player’s Handbook (PHB): This is the only book that a player needs to play the game, but the DM needs one too.

  • The Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG): This book contains rules specific for DMs which also agrees with the 2e PHB.

  • The Monstrous Manual (MM): This book is a huge collection of monsters and is a true work horse. It does cost the most, but it is a very valuable book to any DM.
  • The Complete Psionics Handbook: The book isn't core but it does allow you to run some monsters that use these rules, and you won't find them anywhere else that I know of.

  • The 2e Dungeon Master’s Shield is also worth the money if you can find one. It has most of the tables that you use regularly right there in front of you.

There are also 1e books that you should have:

  • The AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide: This book was written by Gary Gygax and contains a wealth of knowledge that is unique to it, if it has a flaw, then it has to do with how the book was bound, care must be exercised when you are handling it. Of all of the books reprinted, this one may actually be worth the cover-price just for the proper binding alone.

  • The Wilderness Survival Guide: Contains rules and suggestions for managing a party in the wild. It is very in-depth.

  • The Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide: Much like the Wilderness guide, but geared towards underground exploration. Both of these books were the first ones to introduce Non-Weapon Proficiencies.

  • The Manual of the Planes: This book completely replaces the Planescape setting and requires much less time to read. If you have no interest in traveling the planes full time, this is the book for you!

  • Oriental Adventures: While not necessarily core, this is a worthy book to keep.

  • Deities & Demigods: If you want to create your own settings, this book can help greatly with creating a pantheon. The 2e version of this book, called Legends and Lore is comparable if you can’t find a copy.

Seriously, I only really ever use the 2e core rule books. The 1e books are good for adventure designing, and I do use them, but only rarely; so if you can’t find them right away, I wouldn’t worry about it.

The Settings! The settings put out for AD&D were the most functional, if you have never cracked open a boxed set that is pre-3e, boy are you in for a treat! Below is a list of the most popular.

  • ·         The World of Greyhawk: Designed by Gary Gygax; it is a bare bones campaign setting for those who like to do their own world building, but lack the time to create everything.

  • ·         Dragonlance: A fully formed setting based on the Novels.

  • ·         Forgotten Realms: You hear people bitch about this one, but it is the most popular. If you let it, it can ruin your campaign, but, if you just stick to the box set, and a handful of supplements, then this place is a gem!

  • ·         Spelljammer: Fantasy in outer space.

  • ·         Ravenloft: A horror setting that is also a wonderful world if you stick to the box set.

  • ·         Planescape: One of the most popular boxes for people who DO want to run an entire campaign jumping dimensions.

  • ·         Dark Sun: AD&D with the difficulty setting all the way up.

  •      Mystara: A fully formed world with ties that date back to the early days of D&D

AD&D also allows you to easily play all of the old modules which made this game what it is. Of special interest are the 1e varieties, which are easily adapted to 2e rules with very little fuss. Many of the 2e modules were not that good, as during the era they produced stuff heavy on Railroading, but if you are the creative type, you can easily pick up an out of print boxed setting and get nothing but inspiration from them. This was back when D&D still sold ideas, which it should had stayed true to.


Celestian said...

I would absolutely not recommend "The Wilderness Survival Guide:" or the "The Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide". These are... interesting to read but far to complex to use in an actual game for the most part. Anything you CAN use from them (non-weapon profs) exist in the 2e PHB.

I would also not recommend "The Complete Psionics Handbook" either, specially for "what you need to play" collection. If you use monsters with psionics, just treat it as magic-using and go on. No need to throw in psionics into a game IMO.

For a 2e group, I'd suggest only the 2e PHB, DMG and Monster Manual (not the compendiums) to start. Avoid the kits and other books until your group has a good handle on the game mechanics.

RipperX said...

Howdy Celestian! Thanks for commenting, and you do make a valid point about Wilderness and Dungeoneer guides, I don't use them much, but I am influenced by them enough to put them on this list.

The Psionics, gosh people hate this book! I had originally forgot about it but edited it in. If you are going to play Darksun you need it. I also stand by my statement with its use for monsters, it is different and it keeps players on their toes. Can you run a battle against Illithids without it? Yes, but to me it is greatly improved with psionics.

I do agree with leaving the compendiums out, I own a ton and never use them as it is just easier and takes less time to just use the stats in the module and create it yourself.

Ulairi said...

Nice article. A little sad you left off Birthright.

Brooser Bear said...

Good overview of the books. I use primarily AD&D 1st Edition core set. I have all of the Complete Books of, and they are only slightly useful as a reference. Of the three 1E supplements, Dungeoneer Survival Guide, Wilderness Survival Guide, and Oriental Adventure, OA is the BEST, with the original Non-Weapon Proficiencies, and Gygax's very good introduction to his way of using them, which is more elegant than subsequent D&D editions or the other systems of its day. There is also other material for developing the timeline for your campaign, that I find particularly useful for running a Sandbox.

Dungeoneer Survival guide has an interesting and obsolete cartographic mechanic, but it's best quality is that it has the most advanced writing on ADVENTURE DESIGN. This was the last of the advanced theory. AD&D 2nd Edition was the one done to get rid of Gygax and to avoid paying him royalties, and later became all things to all people, written by hacks. They still had some books and supplement dedicated to adventure design, a mixed bag, and then any writing on adventure design was cut off, as the DM were supposed to buy ready made adventures and not grow their own.

Deities and Demigods is an interesting item. You want the first edition book and also the ODD booklet by the same title. D&D was originally heavy into occult, and the ODD booklet has the full material on demons, layer reproduced in the Monster Manual, I use the MM, MM-2 and Fiend Folio, all from 1st Edition. The First Edition of the Deities and Demigods has created D&D pantheons for the HP Lovecraft's Mythos, Melnibonean Mythos (Elric books) and Nehwon Mythos (Fritz Lieber's Grey Mouser series). The second edition Legends and Lore dropped all these, because of the copyright/royalties issues, and they renamed devils and demons as baatezu and tanarri so as to placate the parents, who feared the occult influences on D&D. 1st Edition Manual of the Planes is a waste, Planescape setting has a 1,000,000 times better approach. Wilderness Survival Guide is the weakest of my favorite supplement books. It does NOT give you good instruction on world building or wilderness design, and it reduces wilderness adventure and exploration experience, in all its beauty and majesty, to a bunch of mechanics to see how long your party will last. The best and most elegant writing on the dungeon adventure design, if you ask me, is the Tom Moldway' Section in his Red Box basic set. Nothing similar exists for wilderness design, it is a complex problem to represent Outdoors adventure for the D&D game, that has not been solved yet, even at the conceptual level. Traditional Wilderness hex crawl has nothing in terms of depth and elegance on Moldway's writing on dungeon adventure design. Hence the Wilderness Survival Guide is the weakest of the 1st Edition Books that I like.

RipperX said...

+Kenny Johnson

I must admit that I have never played Birthright. Tell me about what it is and I'll add it.

RipperX said...

+Brooser Bear

Was 2e written just to get rid of Gygax? I have never seen any proof that this was the case. Gygax wanted to write the 2nd Edition, however, while I will admit that he was a creative genius and probably the greatest DM of all time, what he wasn't was organized or a very clear writer. Much of his work is full of little contradictions. Could it be that management deciding that Dave Cook was a better fit for the job enough to be the cause of Gygax abandoning everything? He had a massive ego! I don't mean to knock him or under rate his importance to our game, but there just isn't any evidence to suggest this rumor, and I hear that one all of the time.

Sorry for taking that out on you, I am glad that you brought it up, as you can probably tell, that is something that has always bugged me.

The AD&D Survival guides are tremendously influential to my game, even though I don't actually use the mechanics presented in them, well, from time to time I do when I want to focus an Low Fantasy. Perhaps I should take them off of the list, but I really don't want to. Are they needed to run a good solid game of AD&D? No, the answer is no. Do they contain information in one (or two) happy little source? Yes! That is why I stand for them being there.

Then we come to Planescapes . . . I find it to be over done. I have no plans to EVER go there. I will take elements from the Planes, little gates which cause great big problems on the world that I am playing in, but I'd rather just use the Manual of the Planes for that kind of stuff.

Brooser Bear said...

I stand corrected. Gygax received royalties for the AD&D Second Edition, but the TSR adopted the policy of minimizing those payments to Gygax and Arneson, so Greyhawk was replaced with Forgotten Realms, and D&D line did not get the development of the AD&D, because of the dibs Arneson had on the two magic letters. There is an excellent and well researched article on how Gygax lost control over D&D and was ousted, just google How Gygax lost control over D&D to show part of the picture.

Gygax DMG was not meant to be read from cover to cover. It was written like an engineering handbook - if you needed a mechanic to run a particular aspect of the game, you turned to the right section of the rules. It was a reference book. Alsom his approach was to develop various mini games to resolve various situations that might arise during game play, which allows for a more realistic play, then to have one core game mechanic for everything, which is the current approach with WOTC.

Gygax introduced the Concept of the Non-Weapon Proficiencies in his Oriantal Adventure book, which was published in 1985, when Gygax was still with the TSR. Dungeoneer Survival Guide was published in 1986, after Gygax was ousted, and Proficiencies there are more like traditional skills, the way skills are used today. Gygax NWP's were rather different in scope. Each was a mini game. You did Gygax skill check when critical success was needed. I.e. If you swim, you did not need to roll every time you swam, only when there was a life or death situation when most men would drown, did you do the check. It cut down on skill checks, also it had a greater in-game impact. If you were armorer or a poet, you didn't roll to see if you crafted a suit of armor or wrote a poem, but rather if you wrote a GREAT poem that brought you renown in Court or a Great suit of armor, which brought you money and fame.

I made a mistake about the Manual of the Planes. Post TSR Gygax did a series of supplements called Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds, last title wasn't published because of Gary's death. The last title was Cosmos Builder, written by a dilettante and totally useless. I was not talking about the Manual of the Planes.

I never played the pencil and paper version of the Planescape setting. I played the Computer Role Playing game Planescape: Torment. And it was an AWESOME experience, culturally combining Street Elizabethan England and California of the early 1980's with the street tattoo shops and Lost Souls, spiritual misfits, who cluster around the Protagonist - A Samurai, who lost his purpose in life, a sweet and innocent demon thiefling, an angel with a heart of gold in a brothel, a creature from the plane of Law, who can not be lawful, etc. The computer takes care of all the housekeeping, so you, the player, get to enjoy the ride... and then there is YOU, you can not die, you just wake up in the city morgue, but with every resurrection you get a little dummer and remember a little less, until in the end you will end up like a midless zombie wandering the street, unless you figure out what you are and end the twisted cycle of rebirths.

RipperX said...

Wow, I read the article that you spoke of. A very nice find! It actually puts to rest all of the debating about what happened! It's also proof that business and this game have never gotten along.

Brooser Bear said...

Gygax and others at TSR were BAD businessmen. Gygax and Blumes had the attitude, that the company was their own personal mint, they kept up small business sized and small business minded family cronyism, when they should have acted with better business sense.

If you ever decide to go into business for anything, you would do well to form your own TEAM, that will act in your best interests. You will need a lawyer, an accountant, a marketing person, a business development specialist and a management consultant type specializing in strategy. Get this BEFORE you start looking for money partners, etc.

RipperX said...

Marketing Creativity isn't wise unless you are creating matterials that are used to be creative with. TSR's problem was that they invented a lightbulb that never needed to be replaced; while this was great for us users, it was horrible for their bottom line.

We have discovered that the game evolves, and while we aren't happy about it, and honestly don't upgrade . . . ever, it does allow a business to keep selling the same game over and over again like it was Star Wars. I just wish that they'd leave something alone. We are a small market of people who don't like to be treated like some cash cow, which we aren't. We are artists and guys like me and you have found our brand of paint, and we stick to it.

What really gets my goat is that they claim ownership over it all. Gygax should always have control of Greyhawk, Greenwood should always be able to do whatever he wants with Forgotten Realms, those properties belong to those men, and now they can't write anything without a bunch of people getting paid before they do.

Brooser Bear said...

Both TSR and WOTC totally screwed things up to get their bottom line, but the trend started with Gygax himself. There were two groups of wargamers, one in Lake Geneva, a group Gygax was in, and the other in the Twin Cities, Arneson's group. They evolved, first, fantasy miniatures wargaming, and later, role-playing and dungeon crawling as adjuncts to their tabletop wargaming. While he was writing the ODD rules, he excluded the other players from the creative process, first, the Twin Cities gamers, then his own club in Lake Geneva, and later pushed Arneson out of the way to make it exclusively his.

This essentially poisoned the D&D brand and set up the wrong marketing strategy for the hobby. More on that later.

TSR fired Gygax and took the brand out of hands, which he monopolized to begin with. About a decade later, the game was acquired by the WOTC.

After Gygax was forced out, TSR stopped supporting the GM's writing their own material. They pulled the Do It Yourself dungeon section from the second edition Dungeon Master's Guide. Even before Second Edition AD&D came out, TSR started publishing different settings for the game. The trend bloomed with the soft-cover supplements for the game, a total of 31 books, which sold for around $30 each brand new. This WAS for the company's bottom line.

Brooser Bear said...

Unlike TSR, which was started by a bunch of poisonous hacks, who gave away the store, WOTC was a more efficient corporation, which used advanced mathematics for its design and had sold its soul to marketing. WOTC overhauled the game to broaden its sales.

The main thing it did, was change the acope from medieval fantasy to generic fantasy, with elements of the super-hero genre and the comic books. The core audience for the game also shifted - it went from the largely white male Tolkien aficionado wargamers to middle school kids, with inclusive illustrations to welcome everyone into the game (not necessarily a bad thing, but the politically correct thing, which included taking fat Halflings with hairy feet and making then svelte and skinny mini-elves, with vaguely Asian features). WOTC also minimized the role of the dungeon labyrinth, and replaced it with the generic "Room" that was the encounter battlefield for its miniatures, which WOTC marketed not as miniatures, but as action figures. The game play began with players rollig to see, I they enter the room through a secret door, to avoid the trap and to surprise the enemy, etc. WOTC D&D essentially became a pen and paper version of the Diablo video game.

In the heyday, Gygax and the Blumes made a bunch of bad decision and took on the unnecessary corporate dept. In addition, once Gygax made D&D his own intellectual property, it stopped growing. Here is what I mean.

Brooser Bear said...

RPG Pundit, and other OSR types, keep hammering on the storygame movement how it is not the RPG's, because the DM lacks the creative authority, but the Narrativist environment was exactly the place, where D&D was developed. Role Playing was a free form improvisation, that occurred on the spur of the moment when a player wanted to get into the character of one of the miniatures on the table. Two players would play out scenes, namely one was a Prussian colonel, and the other an anarchist student spying behind the German lines, and they had a duel, which was resolved by the toss of a coin. The concept of a DM evolved later. Many of the wargamers were educated and knowledgeable intellectuals, who brought their knowledge into the spontaneous game design. For instance, what we know today as Encounter Tables, was previously used as Narrative Randomizers in the experimental literature of the American literary scene of the 1950's, where there was a fascination with a random story, which eventually spawned the choose your own adventure genre.

Once Gygax made the game his own, this kind of growth stopped. Had Gygax the wisdom of a higher being, he would have shared spoils of the creative process and brought the other gamers on board, if only for a focus group to keep developing the hobby. Today, the defunct Forge movement and the Storygame movement, over whose demise there is much unhealthy gloating by RPGPundit, were the closest embodiment of the open forum improvisational tradition that brought us D&D.

The game did not evolve. Planned obsolescence is a part of the marketing strategy by the WOTC. The simple reason that good always triumphs is that evil can't see past itself, and WOTC stock is worth .025 cents per share today.

How could the D&D been marketed differently? The TSR/WOTC mindset was that you can sell six times as many books, if you market to munchkins as opposed to the DMs. Also, better DMs buy modules than roll their own. This is where the company that sells D&D went bankrupt, both morally and fiscally. You see, almost every player is a closet DM, who wants to build their own world. When you houserule or modify the rules of the game, you are world-building. How can you market creativity, you ask? Remember those guys, Da Vinci, the Cistine Chapel and Michelangelo. Those guys were the successful DMs of their days. You see, the painting was only a byproduct of their drive to KNOW the world and to ACCURATELY recreate it on the canvas. That is why Da Vinci was both an engineer and a naturalist, and also studied anatomy and was a combat veteran. He did this so that his paintings looked REAL. You paint a battle scene, you know how the weapons and armor works, how the wounded sound, you are painting from experience.

Brooser Bear said...

DM's are a variety of writers, and they too attempt to recreate the world in a fantasy form that has some essential truths in it. This is an outgrowth of a very essential sensory-neurological process in which all conscious beings engage, called the Environmental Recovery Problem - how a living organism creates a mental picture of the world it lives in so that it can function in it. The depth of this process is the reason why those wargamers in the Lake Geneva club and elsewhere put their most advanced knowledge into developing the mechanics of the new game. The world-building that the DM engages in, is really a form of philosophy, and had the TSR/WOTC become a published to the D&D hobby at THIS level, they would have still been in business as a published more successful than a game company that they are currently. Specifically, any DM is a story teller. How do you become a good story teller? How to model this and this process in the real world. Sociology? Psychology? Mathematics?
Hire experts to write material on these topics, in a language accessible to the layman? This is what COULD have happened, had the D&D stayed a game for the grad school intellectuals. The games that took place at the Lake Geneva club were at THAT level. By stripping out the context and the discourse in which these games were taking place, Gygax dumbed down the game significantly to begin with, and from gitgo, he was marketing D&D out of its context, but had he kept it relevant to the original crowd that developed it, the version of the future I envisioned would have been possible. Also, had Gygax engaged with the clubs to develop his company, the TSR would have been in much better shape than it was historically.

RipperX said...

This is good stuff Broozer, are you going to post it on your blog as well? Not sure how many people actually read comment sections anymore.

I remember my initial thoughts at the time of the sale, our table, like all of the others were a bunch of sewing circles, and we were mad because,
A: TSR had put out way to much stuff, and ran out of business because of it.

And, B: A card company bought them, and it felt like WOTC had purchased the brand, just to kill it.

I think that if the internet was still around, then TSR would be too. We didn't want a 3rd Edition, we wanted more versatile products that rewarded creativity and not punish it. I think that the only RPG bigger than D&D is armchair managing TSR.

I see the OSR as a good thing, but I think that Gygax would had been openly hostile to it, TSR was always full of contradictions like that, how is a hack publishing a module that isn't functional any different from a DM running the same thing and convincing players that D&D sucks?

The only thing that I feel the need to correct you on is that 2e did encourage Dungeon Masters to write their own worlds, and it gave the tools to do so, some hidden in the DMG and, in true 2e fashion, they wrote an entire book on it called the Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide.

Brooser Bear said...

Thanks, Rip! I will post it on mu blog, after I modify it to stand on its own. Yes, Gygax was hostile to any version of D&D, but his own. OSR is an improvement over the past, because D&D damaged a lot of other games by denying them access to the fantasy infrastructure, for lack of a better word. I met a guy once, who was writing a novel. The novel was about D&D set in the G-series of modules. My heart sank, as I realized, that he will never be able to publish it as his own work, that at most, it will be considered fan fiction, and that he will never be able to make any money off it. TSR's logo, Products for your Imagination, took on a new and ominous meaning, as people's fantasy life was being created using copyrighted material. This was akin to people having their genes trademarked by the big pharmaceutical companies.

Truth is, Lake Geneva and Twin cities weren't the only places where gamers were evolving what became RPG's. What became Rune Quest was developing in San Francisco by a bunch of members from the local Society for Creative Anachronism. In UK a bunch of board gamers were evolving Traveler. Tunnels and Trolls was written in Arizona. D&D was first, and its monsters, spells, and combat mechanics were copyrighted from the beginning. At the time Rune Quest and T&T never developed a good spell system and their monsters suffered as well. The game that was really hobbled was the Arcanum Computer Role Playing Game. They HAD no license, and filled their dungeons with wolves, because Spioders, Rats, Goblins etc were the tropes of D&D. You should get your hands on a copy of the Tunnels and Trolls rulebook for the weapon list. He's got several varieties of the spear African Jambiyas and Assegais, Indo-Tibetan Bhujes and Shamsheer, European Estok swords. Integrating them into D&D would enrich the experience for the warrior characters. I never got into the Petal Throne.

You are correct about the Campaign Source Book and Catacomb guide. There was a whole series of the blue-cover books for the DMs as follows: Campaign Sourcebook; The Castle Guide; Arms and Equipment (written by hacks without much historic realism and some of its equipment as portrayed is non-functional); Monster Mythology (along with The Complete Book of Humanoids, which allowed players to pick humanoid races for their PC's) Humanoids aren't really differentiated in art or description. The Complete Book was ugly, should have been called the Book of Subhumans. The biggest insult was the Mongrel Man, portrayed as a chuck full of recessive genes, he could be "good", portrayed as engaged in art therapy for the slow learners. I am surprised that Bill Salwiscek was the author, because he likely had no idea of the garbage he was creating. Creative Campaigning, likely the best of the supplements for the DMs; The Complete Book of Villains, another good volume; Sages and Specialists, good, if a little overboard; Complete Book of Necromancers; and of Ships and Sea, both are okay supplements. So, I stand corrected, they got rid of Ggax writing in the DMG, and then put their own stuff in supplements. Why they pulled the design portion of the DMG I don't know, and I don't think that the DMG supplements made it into the Third Edition.

RipperX said...

That is actually my next article that I'm working on, in short, I think that World Building is its own game.

Brooser Bear said...

That sounds interesting. I am looking forward to the article. Have you ever looked at the Gygaxian Fantasy Words series of books that Gygax published just before his death? It's all about world building.

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