Dungeon Masters Guide (1e) – Sean’s Pick, 072715

With me leaving for Gen Con in a couple of days, it seemed more than appropriate to point yet another foundation product of the entire hobby that is finally officially available in PDF. The Dungeon Master’s Guide for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AKA “1st Edition”) changed everything about our gaming culture when it first came out. Sure, it provided the core combat and related rules for playing the game outside of the boundaries of Basic D&D, but it also laid the groundwork for a much expanded gaming experience; we began discovering the nearly-infinite other ways to play an RPG.

A Different Sort of Dungeon Masters Guide. The contents of the 1e Dungeon Masters Guide would probably surprise a modern player of D&D. That’s because more recent Dungeon Master’s Guides have become books about how to run D&D, while the original Dungeon Masters Guide was instead the system’s core rulebook.

To be precise, the first edition Dungeon Masters Guide contained all of the rules for the AD&D game except for those related to character creation — and Gygax drew that line very strictly. The Players Handbook (1978) included information on abilities, classes, and races, but the Dungeon Masters Guide contained many of the actual rules for those game elements. If you wanted to know how to roll your characteristics, how to turn undead, how to hit a monster, or how to save a throw, those rules were here!

This split resulted in a somewhat unusual organization for the Dungeon Masters Guide. The first 50 page or so exactly mirror the organization of the Players Handbook, with each section filling in the rules systems that hadn’t been included in the previous volume. Only after that did the Dungeon Masters Guide fully embrace the dungeon mastering side of the game, with rules for combat and discussions of adventures, NPCs, and other favorites like magic items. The result is a real mish-mash that feels more like a random assortment of articles than a coherent rule book.

Figuring out what’s where in the Dungeon Masters Guide is one of the most challenging parts of AD&D 1e play, because the book is full of tiny tidbits of information, often hidden in the most unusual places. Perhaps this was all an intentional part of the design, as the Dungeon Masters Guide does say that it’s a “compiled volume”. So consider it the “AD&D Omnibus”.

What a Difference an Edition Makes. The AD&D Monster Manual (1977) and Players Handbook (1978) both expanded the OD&D (1974) game without rebooted it. They revised the rules to improve specificity and increase details without fundamentally changing the game systems.

To a large extent, the Dungeon Masters Guide is more of the same, with its emphasis on updating characters, combat, experience, and magic items. However, there are some notable changes in these systems.

  1. Characters are better. This is the result of changes to the ability score generation method. In OD&D, players rolled 3d6, in order, for their characteristics. In AD&D the least generous system has players rolling 4d6 for their characteristics and throwing out the worst number, then arranging the numbers as they see fit. The result shows two big changes in how D&D was being played: characters are more powerful and players are getting more choice over what they play.
  2. Combat is expanded (to over 20 pages!). A segmented combat system helps spells to better interweave with melee. Theoretically this is modified by weapon speed and even by a comparison of weapon vs armor type, but the complexity of the AD&D combat system was sufficient that many GMs left out many of its subsystems. This was also the case for AD&D’s new unarmed combat systems, which most found too complex to use.
  3. Everything is detailed with unusual one-off rules. Every time you turn a couple of pages in the Dungeon Masters Guide, you’ll find a rule that most 1e GMs probably don’t use and don’t even know about. Adjustments for pursuit and evasion based on party size? Special AC rules for unhelmeted characters? Organizational suggestions for monsters? Insanity lists? Intoxication effects and recovery? Government forms? Infravision that causes the eyes to glow bright red? It’s all here.

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