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Sunday, June 29, 2014

In Defense of the Maligned- Part I, the Unearthed Arcana

Part I deals with the much maligned Unearthed Arcana. Part II will be about the poor Oriental Adventures (that rocks too).

To start out, about the Unearthed Arcana? (UA for short) I've never understood the "hate".

There I said it. I'm an unabashed fan of the Unearthed Arcana, but not in a weird Bob's sort of way from the movie Office Space. The book is roundly regaled in some quarters, especially one one gets into the OSR ("Old School Renaissance") weeds. I get the impression that some would prefer to imagine that its not really Gary Gygax's name on the front cover, or that it is not his rules, but it is.

Some feel that the UA lead to the "terrible" 2nd edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, but to me I think that's a stretch to be quite honest. If anything it was showing its hand towards the route that Gary was going with his version of 2nd Edition AD&D. Read the link, it is an excellent summation of the various clues that Gygax left us as to where he was going, and a direction that would have left many of the various "hard core gamers" (read: grognards) with their collective man panties in a twist. I'm not going rehash all that as its not going to lead to anything productive.

UA lead to a new realm of possibilities, it also changed my perception of fighters. As presented in the 1st edition Players Handbook,  Fighters are definitely milquetoast. Rather then being the inspiring everyman a fighter got some umph, especially when one considers how much magic users outshine fighters at higher levels. That's not say its perfect, bow specialization being the most egregious. Again all good as I've always liked fighters and might very well be my favorite class to play. Taken as a whole, the book has some bad parts, some middling and quite a few good ones. To me the good parts more then balance out the bad ones, even the crap spells for clerics and druids, of which many I've never seen used in an actual game.

When taken in the historical perspective some people dislike it because of the politics of the time meaning that the book was rushed out the door as TSR was experiencing its first cash crunch because of the mismanagement of the Blumes. Or because of the really crappy binding of the book itself. I'm lucky, my original was bound well, its since gone missing, any that I've purchased of of FleaBay have been the later printings with the better bindings. As far as the out the door to save the company? Good because it led to second edition which I like.

Taken all in all the UA dove tails nicely with what I consider AD&D. I use the 2nd edition rules but having come into the game during the later stages of 1st edition's run as I outlined here, I use a variety of sources from the time-frame of 1984-1989, particularly Dragon. Myself and others who play as I do are what I call "Hybrid Players" As I have gotten older I've rejected the idea of kits and a lot of the additional books. Some like Ships and the Sea or Arms and Equipment are handy, the various Complete guides less so, but not for the reasons most gamers do. To me kits speaks to larger market forces. At the time 1st edition WFRP was gaming steam in the US and it had a boatload of classes. I think it was TSR's response to WFRP. I have no data to back up this claim but it makes logical sense. I've used them in play before and at the time they were fun, no regrets there, but as time has gone buy I've paired the choices of the players back to the 2nd edition Players Handbook and use NPC classes for various NPCs.

For me in closing: The UA holds a special place for me as it represents the first Advanced Dungeons and Dragons hard cover that I bought for myself (sent away for it via mail!) Prior to that all I had were the Basic and Expert books and hand me downs from my older brothers. It probably explains why early on I played a inordinate amount of cavaliers too. But hey cavaliers* aren't so bad, they nerf illusionists in 1st edition splendidly. That can't be all bad, well if they could squeeze in a special ability to slay gnomes too, I'd be OK with that.

* I've pretty much solidified on 2nd Edition AD&D when I game master (sorry Randolph) but I do include options for my current campaign world. Instead of using the UA one I use the Corrected Cavalier" as well as the same issue with the article "Tracking down the Barbarians" from Dragon #148 Both work better then the UA versions of either class. In fact its a great example of how things can be lifted as is from 1st edition and place it in your 2nd edition games. Oh yeah almost forgot, I also allow for the 1st edition assassin to be used pretty much as is, it works and I've had little to no problems with the class as is, aside from the "High Gygaxian Prose"...


  1. Yay I got a shout out on the blog! ;-). Never said I wouldn't play 2E, not my fault your geographic location and work schedule prevent our playing more frequently. Any time you want to step up on Saturdays have at LOL...can I play an Illusionist? I promise not to abuse the class :-P

  2. Nope you missed it, more of an apology that while I don't mind playing 1st edition I don;t like DMing it. In a way for me 2nd edition is much like how you view Basic: very easy to DM.

  3. OA is OK, but the UA??!!! Thus ends my perusal of your earlier blogposts (and I didn't make it past paragraph 3)

    Worst thing to ever happen to the game: the first UA.

  4. Haha, c'mon don we can't agree on everything...