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[Let's Read] The Rules Cyclopedia


Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
Validated User
Full disclosure: I'm not exactly a D&D person. I played an abortive campaign of red box D&D when I was a teenager and an even more abortive game of AD&D (the one where psionicists could have a power set like the Robert Patrick character in Terminator 2) a couple of years later. Nevertheless, I feel like I almost know about D&D just from hanging around with people who have played it and playing other games (the games I have played most must be Ars Magica, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and probably Feng Shui).

So I'm interested in reading the Rules Cyclopedia, partly to get a feel for the game with a view to GMing a short (or maybe longer) campaign, partly because I'd rather know something about D&D than feel I almost know about it. I may only manage a couple of pages a day due to other commitments but, even at that rate, it will take months rather than years to read the whole thing.

(For the avoidance of doubt, the book I am reading is this bad boy and I plan to be reading the .pdf, although I do own a copy of the hardback as well.)

EDIT: So, in my read-through, I will particularly be looking out for plot hooks and scenario ideas suggested by what the book says, as well as more understanding of alignment (because my main experience with alignment rules is courtesy of Palladium Books, who take a very different approach, I am led to understand).
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Registered User
Validated User
Cool; I'll be reading along. I love RC; it's one of the best D&Ds if you ask me.


Red-eyed dust bunny
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Since you're fairly new to D&D, it's worth noting that the Rules Cyclopedia is aptly named -- it's a big thick collection of all the rules from the 4 BECM box sets, in a single volume. Which is great as a reference work for someone who is already familiar with the system, but it probably isn't as good an introduction as the box sets -- which started with just a few levels and the essential rules, and then added the optional esoterica and bric-a-brac gradually.

Of course, by today's standards, it's still fairly rules-light. So it'll be interesting to hear your impressions.


Validated User
Yes as much as I love the RC it is not a great introductory set for the uninitiated, nor was it designed to be. But as a RPGer you should be OK cos you have the basic concept.


Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
Validated User
All right, so:

Skipping over what looks like a quite well-organised two-page table of contents, and on to the Introduction (p5).

Straight off, the introduction tells me that, as Sleeper and mach1.9pants noted, the Rules Cyclopedia is written as a reference for people who 'already play' D&D. Crap. But it goes on to say that 'it is possible to learn to play' D&D using the Cyclopedia. Phew! It also notes that the book is organised topically, so everything about rolling up a fighter is in one place, for example (so... that wasn't the case in the boxed sets?). There follows the standard 'What is a roleplaying game?' section familiar from so many RPG books, and this one, like the old Runequest, describes it as like interactive radio theatre (not puppet theatre using miniatures, as the old Runequest mentioned, I note, so I guess this is planting a flag firmly in the land of 'sit around and talk' as opposed to the land of 'move miniatures on a battlemat'). The GM, sorry, DM, will create the setting and develop scenarios: so this game doesn't give you a setting, it expects you to create your own. Sounds good.

Everyone should apparently bring everything they need to play: no borrowing dice, or rolling up characters in the first session? I guess this is just like Ron Edwards' bit about how it's fun but, you know, serious fun, like a garage band. There follows a section on the 'mapper' and 'caller': the 'mapper' draws the party map according to the GM's DM's descriptions - fair enough but what if the mapper makes a mistake? (We seem to be very much planting a flag here as well, in the land of 'player skill' rather than in the land of 'character ability'.) The 'caller' tells the DM what everyone is doing. Hmm. So, I suppose, the caller acts as a sort of gatekeeper to the shared imagined space, along with the DM? Does that mean lots of discussion and negotiation is expected before the caller tells the DM the final version of what the party is doing? How does this interact with things like note-passing and secret DM-player conferences? Maybe it doesn't: maybe the players just don't keep secrets from each other like that. So I guess there's no room for the thief-who-steals-from-the-other-PCs player. Hmmm. That might be really good. Not sure if my group would go for it, though.

Reading on, I see the caller is 'just a convenience' and 'not a rule'. Interesting idea for a way to manage the SIS and preclude intra-party conflict, though....

Following this is the usual section on dice and dice terminology so familiar from so many RPG books (no surprises here), then a note on how the book is organised into three sections: character creation, rules and appendices. Sounds straightforward enough. Character creation is Chapters 1-5, rules are Chapters 6-19, and Appendices cover setting information (so.. there is a ready-made setting? I suppose I'll have to wait and see) plus conversion rules for changing to Advanced D&D. Also, pronouns: 'centuries of use' have apparently made the masculine singular pronouns 'neutral' so they'll be using them but hoping they don't 'exclude' anyone. O... K. That's pretty standard for the time (publishing details say '1991'), I suppose.

Next (p6), Chapter 1: Steps in Character Creation (is this going to take the next five chapters? I hope they're short, if so). This should be done using a standard form ('the character's name at the top left' and so on) and under DM supervision so they, sorry, he, can 'watch... all dice rolls'. Fair enough. The book thinks creating a first character will take an hour or so and that, with practice, it will still take ten to thirty minutes. It goes on to say that a new campaign should start with a session for rolling up characters and discussing the setting. Fair enough. New characters shouldn't be rolled up during a session when it delays other players, though: I suppose you have to turn up early to do it before the session starts?

There are twelve steps to creating a Rules Cyclopedia D&D character. Step Twelve is 'earn experience', which I guess is another way of saying 'play the character'? Or maybe it applies to characters created to start above Level One? Maybe it's just a way of saying they've put the experience rules in the character creation section instead of the rules section? Anyway, the steps are:

  1. roll for ability scores
  2. choose a character class
  3. adjust ability scores
  4. roll for hit points
  5. roll for money
  6. buy equipment
  7. determine other abilities and rolls
  8. note adjustments for ability scores
  9. choose character alignment
  10. select name, personality and background
  11. determine character height and weight
  12. earn experience
Seems sensible (although I'm intrigued to learn the difference between 'adjust ability scores' and 'note adjustments for ability scores'; I suppose the latter is bonuses and so on from the ability scores).

Next up, the abilities. There are six and they are Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution and Charisma (I knew this already, despite having not played D&D for twenty years). Strength affects damage done with hand-to-hand and thrown weapons, chance to hit with hand-to-hand weapons (note to self: Strength is the hand-to-hand stat) and the ability to break down doors. Intelligence determines number of languages known and... that's it? Wisdom is the character's understanding of the world and the forces of nature, and the ability to resist spells. Hmmm. Like a 'nature' stat? Dexterity affects the ability to use thrown and missile (eg bow) weapons and can make the character harder to hit (not to self: Dexterity is the ranged combat stat). Constitution affects hit points and Charisma affects how other ('controlled by the DM') characters, react to the character (does that include monsters? Are there rules for it? Can a high-Charisma character make the difference between a combat encounter and a conversation? I'll be interested to see).

So you roll 3d6 six times and those are your six ability scores in order ('write the scores down as you roll them'). Hmmm. I think I'm going to try rolling up a character as I read, just in case it helps. I'll put the character-rolling-up bits behind spoiler blocks, though, to differentiate them from the reading-the-book bits.

Spoiler: Show
Strength 4 (ouch!)
Intelligence 9
Wisdom 11
Dexterity 6
Constitution 5
Charisma 13

Huh. I suppose my dice just aren't hot this morning. Good Charisma score, I guess?
High ability scores are good, according to the next paragraph, and I can adjust them in Step 3 (somehow I doubt I can just adjust them upward, though) but first I have to decide on a class (to see how I can adjust my ability scores?). All right: each class has a certain ability that is it's 'prime requisite', like an ability that goes with that class (so fighters get strength - not dexterity! - and clerics get wisdom for some reason). The higher the prime requisite, the better the character is at their job. The page ends with more on classes but I think this post has taken me long enough for now. More next time!
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Registered User
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It also notes that the book is organised topically, so everything about rolling up a fighter is in one place, for example (so... that wasn't the case in the boxed sets?).
Well, no. The information was spread out over several box sets!


Registered User
Validated User
Well, no. The information was spread out over several box sets!
Yep. The original boxed sets each covered a range of levels (let's see if I can get this right...Basic 1-3, Expert 4-14, Companion 15-25, Master 26-36), and suitably "advanced" rules and character abilities were of course covered in the more-or-less appropriate box. Arguably good for the learning curve, not always necessarily quite so much for quickly looking things up, so when trying to compile everything into one book for the Cyclopedia that approach fell somewhat by the wayside.


Taxidermic Owlbear
Validated User
To the RC's defence, it still beats OD&D and AD&D 1e with regards to organisation. ;)
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