- Dungeon Master's Guide (1st Ed.) Back Cover.

Dungeon Master's Guide
A History and Review


The Dungeon Master's Guide was (until the 3rd edition release) the backbone volume of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons gaming system from TSR. It contained the core of the game mechanics and descriptions thereof. From the third edition on, most of the game-critical rules have been moved into the Player's Handbook, making that the one book to own--if you must own only one--in the current ruleset.

Affectionately known by the acronym DMG, this book contains the rules necessary to administer an AD&D game. From tables to creative tips to magic items, it contains a wealth of useful information for both novice and experienced Dungeon Masters (DM's).

First Edition

Author(s): Gary Gygax
TSR Hobbies, Inc. 1979
ISBN: 0935696024
Cover: Efreet Lord

Having owned this book for 23 years, I still find myself at a inexplicable loss to define it. It is either a magnificent work of genius which is beyond my mere mortal ken, or it is worst cobbled together piece of garbage ever published. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes flipping through this singular tome knows exactly what I mean. It is totally disorganized, painfully detailed on rather obscure areas, yet sometimes very lacking in areas that really require further elaboration.

There is an abundance of Gygax's personality burned into this volume, though, and that alone makes it a highly entertaining study, if nigh impossible to read cover to cover. It contains lots of strange rules that many people have never used, and that were removed from subsequent editions of the guide. Things such as detailed disease tables, tons of minutiae regarding construction and siege, and tables for almost everything you can possibly imagine make this a strange and interesting book.

One of the more entertaining bits of trivia about this volume is that Gygax states in his introduction that only the Dungeon Master should have access to a copy of the DMG and should never let his or her players read it. The idea behind this was that extensive player knowledge of the rules could lead to rule fights with one player asserting against another (or against the DM) that so-and-so is the rule. In reality, DM's worth their dice will mitigate these problems by either creatively handling the contested issue, or more commonly, asserting the first axiom of tabletop gaming: "The DM's word is law."

First Edition Redux

Cover: Wizard opening double-doors

This release is often called the "Revised Edition," although there is nothing different about it except new cover art and very, very cheap binding. You would not believe the amazingly brittle glue used to bind this. Copies of the original printing are still numerous, yet the "Revised Edition" is relatively scarce mostly because the bindings wouldn't last a couple of years unless you never cracked the cover.

The primary reason for this re-covering was the pressure from fundamentalist Christian groups during the early 80's which labelled AD&D as Satanic and so forth. The giant red demon-looking efreet lord holding a scantily clad woman on the original cover did little to disuade these accusations, so TSR worked up some neutral cover art and found the lowest imaginable bidder for the print run (likely some guy in an alley, or themselves) and went with it.

Second Edition

Author(s): TSR Staff, David Cook
TSR Hobbies, Inc. 1989
ISBN: 0880387297
Cover: Annoyingly bright colored dragon painting

The Second Edition DMG marked a number of milestones. Primarily, it served the then-management's goal of no longer having to pay royalties to persona non grata Gary Gygax. It was also something of a rush job (as most things in AD&D would be for the next decade or so), but on the whole it had its good points.

Second Edition was more heavily skill based and removed such things as experience for treasure, yanked out several classes and changed around the remaining ones, and as such was fairly well a completely different game. The 2nd Edition DMG contained most of the kinds of things that the first carried: Encounter tables, magic items, NPCs, and so forth. It was also vastly more organized, if light on the personality that made the first such an unusual book. In fact, the writing is so dry that this edition is also unreadable for a totally different reason than its 1st edition counterpart.

Second Edition (revised)

Author(s): TSR Staff, David Cook
TSR Hobbies, Inc. 1995
ISBN: 0786903287
Cover: Beardless dwarves1
(?) storming a dungeon.

Unlike the "revised" first edition, this was actually a complete overhaul of the second edition rules. The entire book was reformatted. Various additions, clarifications, and fixes were made. I'm not sure if that justifies it's $30USC pricetag, but was certainly a step in the right direction. TSR spent much of the 90's rehashing and regurgitating existing material in various formats, so having them actually put work into the re-release of the DMG was nothing short of amazing.

If you prefer second edition rules, this is the book to own. It's still dry and unreadable, but it is, after all, a reference manual, so that's much more forgivable than many of the novels TSR has published. It contains much of the same material as the original second edition manual but with better formatting, greater clarity, and even worse art (if you can believe that).

Third Edition

Author(s): Skip Williams, Monte Cook, Jonathan Tweet
Wizards of the Coast, 2000
ISBN: 078691551
Cover: Blue faux spellbook with lock

Wizards of the Coast, the makers of the Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering card games purchased the destitute TSR in 1997. They decided AD&D was too hard, and so decided to make it more accessible. In fact, they even went so far as to strip the "Advanced" from AD&D to make it just "Dungeons and Dragons" so as not to intimidate their consumers. This is still a pretty hot topic among tabletop gamers four years after the initial release. Suffice to say this is not your father's D&D.

The 3rd made the changes implemented in second edition look tiny and minor. The entirety of the game was revamped from the inside out. Things such as race restrictions, class restrictions, and game balance were thrown out the window in favor of a fast-paced action RPG with little resemblance to the original. The DMG also became a supplementary book for the first time, with the core of the rules placed in the Player's Handbook. There are still things like magic item info and encounter tables and so on, but the book is light on mechanics and heavy on talk compared with the earlier editions. On the upside, though, it's far more readable than any of its ancestors.

The primary improvement in this edition is a drastic increase in realism regarding combat rules. No longer do you merely get a +4 to hit a sleeping creature. You can coup de grace, like you should have been able to the whole time. Many of the combat additions are very good, but the super-heroesque character changes leave a bad taste in my mouth.

3.5 Edition (3rd Edition Revised)

Author(s): Skip Williams, Monte Cook, Jonathan Tweet
Wizards of the Coast, 2003
ISBN: 0786928891
Cover: Blue faux spellbook with inset globe

Like the 2nd edition do-over, this is a bugfix for their original release. It contains many fixes, additions, and corrections. Perhaps the most important thing the 3.5 release added was advice for new DM's. The assumption that all DM's were experienced was something that made the original 3rd edition DMG difficult to follow for new gamers even with the game signifigantly reduced in complexity.

If you're a third edition DM, you would do well to get this book, as there were lots of errors and unclear rules in the first release, most of which have been ironed out fairly thoroughly. It also added a number of "prestige classes" and re-introduced miniature rules.

1 They could be possibly be Duergar, a terrible rendition of orcs or goblins, very short ogres or something, but I'm not sure. If anyone knows with certainty what they're supposed to be, please let me know.

Dungeon Master's Guide (1st Edition)
Dungeon Master's Guide (2nd Edition)
Dungeon Master's Guide (3rd Edition)
Nearly 25 years of experience with AD&D.
TSR information provided by a friend and long-time (former) TSR employee who shall remain nameless

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