Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Ten Fun Facts about the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia

Ten Fun Facts about the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia

When I suggest that looking through the D&D Rules Cyclopedia is a bit like staring in to a weird carnival funhouse mirror, I’m not kidding. If you spent most of your formative years learning AD&D 1st and 2nd edition, the BECMI edition of D&D is strangely familiar and utterly weird all at once. Here’s ten interesting observations about those rules for those interested:

1.       Despite having “race as class,” the Rules Cyclopedia compiles all of the optional rules letting you play elves, dwarves and halflings indefinitely, ganing experience which in turns lets them benefit from optional rules that allow them to advance in combat ability using letter-identified “demihuman attack ranks.” So a Dwarf with enough XP for DH rank K, for example (2.2 million XP!), can hit as hard as a 22nd-24th level human fighter.

2.       If you didn’t like the demihuman attack ranks and special rules associated with gaining XP after hitting level cap, the Rules Cyclopedia actually provides guidance on simply letting demihumans continue to advance in level as an optional rule.

3.       Weapon Mastery rules were one of the many strange add-ons included in the BECMI edition of the game and codified in the Rules Encyclopedia. In only about seven pages this edition of D&D makes a system of weapon specialization that is both more nuanced and more complicated than the system that AD&D 2nd edition codified in an entire separate rulebook (the Complete Fighter’s Handbook)! Weapons advancement under this optional system goes through five ranks of profiency, improves damage dice with the weapons, defense bonuses and provides for unique special effects, with a distinct advancement chart for every weapon in the game. This is one section of the “Basic” game that is actually more complex on its face than the AD&D proficiency rules.

4.       The D&D Rules Cyclopedia also provided a more elaborate skill system (which was also identified as such…no proficiencies here) with as many (possibly more) core skills identified in the rules as you see in the AD&D 2nd edition of the game. Indeed, rules allowed for demihumans at level cap to continue gaining skills as they hit benchmarks in XP advancement, something not provided for in AD&D.

5.       Attack roll advancement in D&D Rules Cyclopedia is erratic…fighters, for example, tend to advance in attack rank every fourth level or so. Despite this, the THAC0 rule applies just fine and remains the default mechanic for easily tracking your character’s attack ability. Likewise, it is not correct to assume that fighters (and demihumans) don’t get multiple attacks at later levels…..they do. But unlike AD&D which was balanced over 20 levels of advancement, the same advancement on number of attacks is spread out over 36 levels in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (with one additional attack gained every 12th level).

6.       I had always assumed that encounter balance was primarily a mechanic starting with D&D 3rd edition (mechanical provisions for such not being in AD&D as far as I recall). Yet the Rules Cyclopedia includes optional encounter balance rules, which kind of shocked me. They are slightly more elaborate than you might imagine, and deploy fractions….but they seem to work.

7.       Those who remember what passed for unarmed combat rules in AD&D may be shocked to learn that the D&D Rules Cyclopedia has a more elaborate and effective approach to unarmed combat and wrestling outlined in only a few pages, and no dumb chart in site!

8.       There are six ways to accrue experience in the game: story goals, party goals, monster experience, acquiring treasure, exceptional actions and then the optional skill use. The game discussed expected advancement, suggesting characters level up after five adventures….which means, going by standards of the 80’s and 90’s, a player needed to stick with a character for potentially 175 sessions (!) before hitting level 36. When I think back to my games in the 80’s, and how I think it took my sister 110 sessions to get from level 1 to 15/11 on her thief/mage elf in our AD&D games, that doesn’t sound too off. They do suggest that if the pace is too slow you could dial it up to a level every 2 sessions. This sounds like a lot of other games I knew which had dudes with level 40 paladins carrying two copies of Thor’s Hammer around since they killed him…twice.

9.       By the way, paladins, avengers and knights are totally a thing in the RulesCylcopedia. You just need to get to fighter level 9, first. The magic-user equivalent is the magist, magi and wizard. Clerics at 9th level are simpler, oddly…but this iteration of the game does let them cross class in to druids, and also there’s a whole other optional class named the Mystic which is essentially something between a spiritual adventurer and an AD&D monk. Either way, the trigger for what sort of special class you are comes from hitting “name level” which is level 9…at which time you decide if you’re going to rule your particular brand of fiefdom, or remain a wandering adventurer.

10.  The Rules Cyclopedia touches on how the planes work in D&D, and while it is essentially close to the AD&D Great Wheel, it is also oddly different. There are chiefly elemental (inner) planes, the ethereal plane, the astral plane and then the amorphous outer planes, which are where the Immortals….a tangible end game goal for all PCs!...dwell. The exact nature of the outer planes is left for the DM to define on an as needed basis.

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