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Deluxe Reissues Take You Deep into Dungeons & Dragons History


Dungeons & Dragons has numerous editions and hundreds of sourcebooks and adventures — and most of them are out of print. But now, Wizards of the Coast has opened up a treasure trove of classic reprints and digital books.

D&D is in a weird place right now — it’s literally in between editions, as Fourth Edition is no longer supported and D&D Next is more than year from being released. To fill this enormous gap in their release schedule, Wizards of the Coast has been issuing deluxe reprints of select books from D&D’s past.

originalLast year saw the release of the 3.5 core books, while the AD&D 2nd Edition core books will get the premium reprint treatment later in 2013. They also recently put out a deluxe edition of the 3.5 Spell Compendium, which is just what it sounds like: a book full of magic spells. I got my hands on a review copy to get a firsthand look at one of the reprints.

If you’re wondering, “What is 3.5 and how could this book be useful to anyone but collectors?”, let me explain. 3.5 is a revision of 3rd Edition D&D. It’s also the edition that had the OGL, Open Gaming License, which allowed third party companies to make their own works based on these rules. The extremely successful Pathfinder RPG is also derived from 3.5 D&D — indeed, it’s sometimes referred to as D&D 3.75.

Pathfinder probably offers the most obvious use for the Spell Compendium. While Pathfinder is slightly different from D&D 3.5, most of the spells in this book are completely compatible. Actually, I’d go so far as to say all of the spells are compatible, because if you’re into RPGs you’re clever enough to modify things as needed.

The premiumization of the Spell Compendium adds some shiny embossed gold patterns to the cover — it’s otherwise identical to the original, although any errata issued since then has been incorporated. I wish they’d done away with 3rd Edition’s silly fake metal book binding. Had they left it entirely gold, this would be a downright gorgeous book.

There’s nothing fancy about the presentation — this book is literally a giant catalog of spells, collected from many sources, including obscure sourcebooks, magazine articles and web-only content. It’s certainly nice to have Veil of Undeath, Shadow Landscape, and Curse of Impending Blades all in one place. All told, there are more than 1,000 spells here.

original2But if 3.5/Pathfinder is not your thing, you’ve got other options. The 1st Edition AD&D core books got the premium treatment last year, and while the covers were redesigned, all of the quirky old interior line art was kept. And if you’re looking to go back even deeper, the legendary “White Box” original D&D set will be rereleased in a deluxe format later this year. It first came out in 1974, and original copies are not easy to get a hold of. This new version will have all the booklets from the original, but comes in an oaken box. It’s probably worth the $150 price tag just for an excuse to say “oaken” a few times each gaming session.

original4For my money, the coolest reprints are the adventure collections. D&D adventures, or “modules” used to come out as linked series, and the reprints collect all the entries in a series into one hardcover package. The A-series, Against the Slave Lords, even includes a new adventure that allows you to start off with level one characters. The S-series, Dungeons of Dread, includes classics like “Tomb of Horrors” and “Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.”

What about more obscure bits of D&D’s past? That weird old adventure module you played in 8th grade, or that book about vampires you read until it fell apart? You’ll want to check out Wizards of the Coast has said that they plan to release every single published work they hold the rights to from every edition of D&D in PDF format. They’ve been steadily releasing them, adding new titles every few weeks over the last few months. At this point there’s already a pretty comprehensive collection of previously out of print books available.

When the site first went live, I grabbed one of the 2nd Edition Ravenloft books, and unfortunately the scan was terrible — blurry and hard to read. Since then, I’ve talked to other gamers who’ve downloaded books from DNDClassics, and it seems that I got an isolated bad scan — other than some of the Ravenloft books, the PDFs are excellent quality.

It’s something of a surprise twist that this lull between editions has created a mini golden age for fans of classic D&D. — Ed Grabianowski,, 4/29/13



4 comments on “Deluxe Reissues Take You Deep into Dungeons & Dragons History

  1. Chris Lites
    August 13, 2013

    I have most of the old 1E stuff in original formats. It’s nice to see it come back though. I suspect that WoTC is doing it to assuage some 4E bail-outs in the RPG community. D&D Next uses elements from 1st Edition and is modular. Or it was at any rate. I think they’re trying to cast a wide net. The problem is so many people have already adopted Pathfinder as their fantasy RPG of choice. 4E really hurt the brand, and the lack of good licensed video games in recent years hasn’t helped. From what I’m told, Hasbro runs the company like a toy company, expecting similar profit margins. Publishing has never, ever had the profit margins of most retail products. We’ll see what happens in the next couple of years, but I predict D&D will be outstripped by Pathfinder.

    • TrashBoat
      August 13, 2013

      For me, it was 3e, 3.5e, and 4e. It was just too much for the average consumer to cough up the $$ for new books every few years, new source materials, etc..

      So many of us (me included) simply gave up and moved on to other things. My expectations and hopes for D&D right now have never been lower.

      I think about AD&D (or even 2nd edition) and I think about all of those amazing boxed sets with new worlds, new modules, gods, NPCs, magic items. I must have purchased every single one: Ravenloft, FR, Birthright, Dark Sun. They offered more CONTENT as opposed to rehashed, overly-tweaked, micro-managed rulebooks.

    • the guatrau
      August 13, 2013

      I recommend you read some of the blogs from long-time TSR employees (such as Sean K Reynolds and Monte Cook) to really understand what happened, but in a nutshell, TSR was bought by WOTC because the people in charge — Peter Adkinson being first and foremost — loved D&D and wanted to rescue it when TSR keeled over. However, when Hasbro bought WOTC, they were after Magic: the Gathering and Pokémon; they didn’t give a rat’s ass about D&D, which is why they licensed the digital rights to the first bidder instead of keeping it in-house like M:tG. So now D&D is stuck in a cycle where they have to compete with the CCG market, which translates to a series of short-term decisions; even when things are good for the game and brand (like the 3.0 to 3.5 period, and the current approach with D&D Next), you know it’s just a matter of time before the beancounters step in and squander all the goodwill they’ve accumulated since the last debacle.

  2. Eric
    August 13, 2013

    Probably (maybe) not, because there’s a really mucked-up rights dispute at the heart of all that. The shortish version is that Lovecraft’s copyrights were either assigned to his estate when he died or lapsed and fell into the public domain. (Further complicating the latter issue: whether the rights went into the public domain may depend on when a story was published, since American copyright law has changed several times in the meanwhile, and/or may also depend on whether HPL had standard contracts assigning his rights to various pulps which have since gone out of business or whether he managed to haggle better deals out of some of them.) August Derleth secured something from HPL’s estate when he and Donald Wandrei were setting up Arkham House to keep HPL in print, but there’s controversy over whether there was ever much of anything to secure if the stories were already public domain (which they may or may not have been). (Derleth is frequently treated as a bad guy by Lovecraft fans, but for all his faults he and Wandrei are basically the only reason you’ve even heard of HPL.)

    When Chaosium decided to come up with an RPG based on Lovecraft’s work, they licensed the rights to do so from Arkham House (which may or may not have been necessary). (Chaosium also had a licensing arrangement with Michael Moorcock for his Elric stories.) When TSR decided to publish the first edition of Deites & Demigods, they didn’t bother to secure any licenses from Arkham House nor Chaosium (which, again, may or may not have been necessary). (TSR also thought they had some kind of agreement with Moorcock to include Elric material, by the way.) When the first edition of Deites came out, Chaosium sent a cease and desist to TSR regarding the Lovecraft (and Moorcock) material; TSR decided it was less expensive to settle with Chaosium and publish a revised edition without the “offending” material (even though Chaosium may not have actually had a case).

    The current state of things remains a mess. Arkham House still has rights which may have lapsed, Chaosium still has licenses from AH that may not be worth anything. Both publishers do what they can to protect their rights in a way that won’t actually force them to go into a courtroom and risk losing their rights. Don’t think they’re bad guys—they aren’t, they’re just trying to honor HPL in their own way while keeping the office lights on.

    All that’s the “probably not”. The parenthetical “(maybe)” is that Wizards Of The Coast did license some kind of rights from Chaosium when they published a d20 version of Call Of Cthulhu. No idea whether that covered anything else. And WotC could always decide to challenge Chaosium’s license and republish the original Deites And Demigods so long as whatever settlement they inherited from TSR doesn’t bar it, though that seems unlikely because, again, the whole rights thing is a mess and litigating it would cost everyone a lot of money they don’t really have at a high risk of losing because nobody really knows how a court would go (it’s actually possible for both sides to lose if a court splits the proverbial baby and determines that some materials are public domain and others are still copyrighted).

    Hope that wasn’t too confusing and I didn’t miss anything. Any misstatements are my own, I’m afraid. It’s worth looking up if you’re kind of a nerd about this sort of thing, because it really is an interesting saga in its own right.

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This entry was posted on August 13, 2013 by in Uncategorized.
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