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WIR: The D&D Rules Cyclopedia

Diamond Spear

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I’ve wanted to do a WIR on the D&D Rules Cyclopedia for a while as it’s my favorite edition of the rule set. I’ve always appreciated just how much information they managed to cram into one book; with no other reference work you can run entire campaigns from it, ranging from simple dungeon dives to armies of thousands clashing to determine the fate of kingdoms. I’ve even accepted Dwarf, Elf and Halfling as classes. After all it’s one of the things that makes D&D its own separate thing. As well, I’ve only ever found it necessary to include two house rules, one for thief skills and one for magic-users, and even the one for magic-users I don’t use in every game I run. So here we go.


This tome is a monster, clocking in at just over 300 pages. My current copy is a PDF so I can’t speak to how it was printed and bound back in 1991 but going by memory it seemed a decently sturdy hardback. The cover art appears to be a knight fleeing from a dragon, not the most heroic choice perhaps, but it’s a serviceable enough piece of art.

Inside the cover is a full color page telling you everything the book contains. It’s a nice inclusion in my opinion, since if you were flipping through the book at a store that one page gives a nice overview of what to expect from the product.

After that we get a very comprehensive Table of Contents that spans two pages. I love the face that it’s such a comprehensive table and, in the PDF version, every entry is clickable so you can jump to right where you want to be.

Lastly we get the Credits page. Long time gamers will recognize most of the names here other than that not much to say.

Our first section is the Introduction.

The Introduction to the book is a single page which is nice as it reserves page count for actual game content, although at 300+ pages I’m fairly certain avoiding increased page count wasn’t the primary concern. The introduction is broken down into six sub-headings; covered briefly they are:

What is Role-Playing – an adequate five paragraph explanation of the hobby. Nothing too earth shattering.

Setting Up – Covers the supplies the players will need such as dice, pencils and paper and also explains how the players should arrange themselves around the table (DM at one end players slightly separated from the DM). Again a pretty standard introduction for new players.

Mapping and Calling – This short section covers the roles of the Mapper and Caller and I can’t for the life of me understand why they were still putting those roles in a rule book published in 1991. No group that I know of ever used them and they just strike me as outdated, even for 1991.

Using the Dice – A quick but thorough overview of when and how to use the dice and how to read them.

Cyclopedia Organization - This explains that the book is divided into three major sections: Character Creation, Rules and Appendices and gives a brief overview of what is covered in each section. It’s well written but I question if it needed to be included as it comes after the Table of Contents which already provides an excellent breakdown of what is located where in the book.

Pronoun Note - Here I’m just going to quote the entire paragraph.

“The male pronouns (he, him, his) are used throughout this book. We hope this won’t be interpreted by anyone as an attempt to exclude females from the game or to imply their exclusion. Centuries of use have made these pronouns neutral, and we feel their use provides for clear and concise written text.”
While I don’t agree that “Centuries of use have made these pronouns neutral” I do give credit for them addressing the issue twenty-seven years ago.

So that’s it for the introductory material. Next up is Chapter One: Steps in Character Creation.
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
This tome is a monster, clocking in at just over 300 pages. My current copy is a PDF so I can’t speak to how it was printed and bound back in 1991 but going by memory it seemed a decently sturdy hardback.
I have both print versions.

The binding of the 1991 print version is sturdy, and it's sewn. The paper is good quality, somewhat glossy and every so slightly textured, just enough to give it a little grip. It has a slight yellowish color, but that could just be age. Its dimensions are 8-18/32" x 11-5/32" x 26/32" (using 32nds consistently for easy comparison). The cover art bleeds over the edge.

The 2018 print on demand version from Lightning Source (via OneBookShelf) is glued. Overall, feels a bit lighter, thought it's actually noticeably bigger -- 8-28/32" x 11-13/32" x 1-4/32", i.e. a bit wider and taller, but considerably (about 1/3rd) thicker. That's because the paper's thicker, though it's noticeably lower in quality. The pages are a very bright matte white. The cover art is surrounded by a border.
 
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Diamond Spear

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Thanks so much for filling in that blank for me! Feel free (you or anyone else) to jump in with comments on anything I post here.
 
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yukamichi

Unregistered User
Validated User
RC is one of my all-time favorite D&D products precisely for the reason you mentioned: one of the only (and easily the most comprehensive) single book solutions to the game, and absolutely dripping with content at that.

FWIW my copy's spine is actually cracking and the cover is worn/ripped in some spots, but that's probably more due to it spending many years poorly stored (stacked horizontally underneath other books): the binding, however, is still rock solid. I suspect that the pages will stay together some time after even the cover starts to give way.

Looking forward to the future of this thread :)
 

Caduceus

Not the rod of Asclepius
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I like my POD version just fine, but the original was a bulletproof, sewn binding beauty the likes of which you rarely see in RPGs these days.
 

Caduceus

Not the rod of Asclepius
Validated User
Mapping and Calling – This short section covers the roles of the Mapper and Caller and I can’t for the life of me understand why they were still putting those roles in a rule book published in 1991. No group that I know of ever used them and they just strike me as outdated, even for 1991.
I think it would be difficult to consider this a comprehensive set of rules if they didn't include material that existed in every past version in one form or another. And I've played with a version of the caller rules! Never full on caller, though.

Pronoun Note - Here I’m just going to quote the entire paragraph.



While I don’t agree that “Centuries of use have made these pronouns neutral” I do give credit for them addressing the issue twenty-seven years ago.
No vocal language maven in 1991 would have advocated for the singular "they," so they would have gotten piles of hate mail for using it. Of course, the singular "they" has been around for centuries, but, without the sort of internet access we have today, it would have been difficult to find that out by oneself and everyone would have just listened to William Safire or whatever.
 

WistfulD

Registered User
Validated User
Mapping and Calling – This short section covers the roles of the Mapper and Caller and I can’t for the life of me understand why they were still putting those roles in a rule book published in 1991. No group that I know of ever used them and they just strike me as outdated, even for 1991.
That's the problem. Everyone seems to believe that, with a short aside acknowledging that there's no right way to play D&D, their way of playing D&D in 1991 was, in fact, the common way of doing so. We of course don't know that (and really can't, especially since those who are still active in gaming are probably not representative of the norm of 1991). More importantly, as other threads discussing TSR in the 90s have examined, it appears that TSR didn't really know what the norm was either, having very poor communication with their customer base.

Regardless, anecdotally my group certainly had a designated mapper for a given dungeon. We looked at the caller part and decided it was probably there just in case a group couldn't keep on track ("Okay, you've been standing in front of that door for 20 minutes making Monty Python jokes! You have one minute to discuss strategy, and then Jeff you tell me what you've all decided to do. Otherwise, I start rolling random monster checks.").
 

Baulderstone

Registered User
Validated User
I've never seen a caller, but I've played and run plenty of games with designated mappers. Having a mapper seems entirely in keeping with this edition of the game.

I also agree with Caduceus that it would be strange to exclude the mention of these rules given that it is meant as a compilation of earlier rules and not a new 1991 edition.

In any case, I think making maps is a valuable imaginative tool for players. When I am playing almost any RPG, I find it useful to doodle at least a crude map any time the GM describes a location. It makes me listen more actively as well as engage my imagination more in picturing the place. When I do it, I am lot more likely to use my surroundings in interesting ways and lot less likely to make the GM repeat details.
 
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Erik Sieurin

Translemurist
RPGnet Member
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I cut my teeth on Mentzer Basic, and while we never had a caller, we certainly had a mapper. Generally a guy who loved making them.

Nice to see this WIR, by the way, will follow.
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
The caller and mapper are ancient ideas, with the first at least being an explicit role even back in OD&D (see the example of play in The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures). But it's worth remembering that Allston's Rules Cyclopedia is probably the most minor edition of D&D -- a lot of the wording is simply borrowed from one of the first four BECMI box sets, while the changes between OD&D, Holmes, B/X, and BECMI are more significant. Though even so, when I flip between the Players Manual from the BECMI Basic Rules and the Rules Cyclopedia, even the caller and mapper aren't quite the same. The intro paragraph and the first paragraph covering the mapper are more or less identical (quotes are dropped, bold was changed to italics, that kind of thing), but the second paragraph under mapper is different, and the caller section is not just entirely reworded, but it's also shortened from three paragraphs to one. That's actually more change than I would have expected.
 
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