Alpha and Omega
It's been a good long while since Wizards of the Coast formally announced the coming of 5e. They'd hinted around about a return to old school gaming values, or at least opening up the idea of them being an option in the rules. I admit, I was intrigued and I did (and have) engaged in some shameful joy about the passing of 4e. But the announcement back on January 17th that the first edition AD&D rulebooks were to be reprinted just floored me. Once I'd picked my jaw up off the floor I think that morning I started calling around to various local game stores to see which of them would carry it (it was as much news to them as to me).
At any rate, I finally settled on Cool Stuff, Inc, a local store that also does a brisk trade in Internet sales. They offer pretty deep discounts regularly. It wasn't until March that I was able to go in and for the pre-order. Imagine my disappointment when I found out the reprints had been delayed from April until July! However, now having the reprints in hand (and after all, that's the whole purpose of this piece), I can say without hesitation it was worth every minute, because they got the re-release of AD&D nearly perfect.
Without further ado, the overview:
The books themselves came shrink-wrapped. This was a nice touch that ensured they'd arrive in near-flawless condition. I found it a bit onerous thinking about the books then being on a game-store (or large bookstore) shelf and generally inaccessible to browse, but given that there's some nudity that may have been a prudent move on Wizards of the Coast's behalf. It also preserved the book-wraps, seen below (after removal):
All of these contain a slightly different blurb regarding each book - not simple boiler plate - and a postage-stamp sized image of the actual book-covers.
Regarding the covers themselves, I'm of two minds. On the one hand, the three cover paintings are of course the "originals" and it would have been nice to have seen them again. On the other, while they are all in possession of Paul J. Stormberg (I believe), Wizards of the Coast may not have known this when they were doing the layout, or they may have just decided "tribute" covers were better. Even I, a strident AD&D fan, know that the Monster Manual cover is just goofy looking (and before I get any hate mail for saying that: David Sutherland threw his original employee copy of the Monster Manual away because he disliked the cover so much, so the story goes). Additionally, the covers were replaced by more "uniform" artwork all done by Jeff Easley for late 1e printings. Those are the covers some 1e fans are more familiar with. So it doesn't break tradition terribly much to have these new covers, as shown in preview below:
The covers themselves are slightly debossed with faux-gold leaf in the debossing, and some faux-tooling on the simulated leather cover. Let me take a minute her to discuss the "simulated leather" part. This is not padded vinyl, nor is it some weird fake plasticky substance that is meant to convey the tactile sensation of leather. The "leather" part is in the look only - and it carries off very, very well.
For comparison's sake, regarding the covers, here are the individual books next to true 1st-print releases of the originals:
(Note the "Lizardman" colophon in the lower right on the Monster Manual; also the $9.99 price tag - this tells us that counting for inflation, the price of the books is in line with current econonmics)
(I apologize for how "hot" this photo is; however, the shadows of the debossing on the new Dungeon Masters Guide can be seen clearly. Also note that the "shield" tribute image in the new edition is at least 1/5th to 1/4th the size of the original "Efreet" painting)
(The new Players Handbook cover here doesn't have any truly notable features beyond the generally well-done overall job.)
Construction-wise, I personally think these books will be just as sturdy as the originals. Why? Because they're stitched, not glued to the spine. Behold!
(That red cloth shows a solid construction. And yes, that is gold edging on the pages! Note the bookmark incorporated in the book's construction, too.)
Taking a peek inside, we see that the colored end-papers have been replaced with a brown end-paper stock of similar weight as the original paper.
(TSR was later to switch to white for all their books, likely due to either cost or desire for uniformity, but these early editions featured the goldenrod coloring; contrast with the dark brown of the reissues.)
Now that we've got a feel for how the books are put together and presented externally, let's have a look at the actual contents. Here's the title page for the Dungeon Masters Guide in the reissue:
It is nearly identical to the original. Here you can see the care taken with the interior artwork. Unfortunately, it ran a bit dark, however. I'll touch more on that later. Note at the bottom, the new trademark information, and now an ISBN.
(Yes, the intellectual property BELONGS to you, Wizards, but Gary wrote it.)
There was some concern early on about the actual alteration, either deliberately or accidentally, of the actual content of the books. I'm here to say that a brief perusal shows that the reissues are identical to the originals...or are they...? Let's have a look. Below, my true-1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide page 9:
(Games Workshop, prominently mentioned.)
Now the reissue:
(Games Workshop, expunged!)
...but wait...! From my workaday 6th edition:
(The Games Workshop contact information, removed well before now.)
All kidding aside, a better view of subtle changes inside can be seen here, with this view of the probability distribution chart. The lower image is the reissue, the upper the true 1st (which the later prints also had).
Note the arrows? Thick and bold in the original runs; the reissue uses a smaller, un-bolded arrow. While we're on the subject of subtle changes, note these two paragraphs. First, the 1st print:
(The first sentence under The Effect of Wishes on Character Ability Scores ends with "...spells found on...")
Now, the reissue:
(The entire parenthetical statement is on the first line.)
While the fonts appear to be the same pitch, the spacing is definitely tighter. And yet to my eyes it is at the same time clearer. I think the brightness of the new paper helps. Speaking of that, I realize I said no more construction talk but let me just say this: the paper is not glossy. It is semi-gloss, or satiny. But it does not throw back light like a slick magazine page or plasticine photo paper. It feels a bit heavier than the original paper. I'll ask Mrs. TheDungeonDelver's mom if she can tell what weight it is.
Now, one question might be, "Does this spacing affect the charts in the book?" Let's see:
(Here, the Age Categories chart from the 1st printing. Note spacing and font size.)
Here's the reissue...
(The same table, easily readable, not at all distorted.)
One more (very important) word on the text: none is lost in the spine. Not a single page I have seen thus far has text that runs deep into the spine. There are places where it's better than the originals, in fact. So far it is eminently readable.
Let's talk about the interior art. First of all, as happens with many new books, it smudges. I'm pretty sure the first prints probably did when they were opened on the first day. I don't mean smudges as in just comes off on your hands when touched, but if you're going to be working from these books, don't be surprised if you do smear some black ink onto your hands (or worse back onto the page) from resting your fingers or palms on the books for a while. I'm not going to smear an image to show you, but trust me, they do.
Now, in sharpening up the art, they also darkened it considerably. This is unfortunate, as some details have been lost. Let's consider one of my friend Brian's favorite illustrations from the Players Handbook, featuring a group of demi-human explorers passing a magic mouth spell on a corridor wall... Here's what it looked like originally:
(Note the arms of the adventurer holding the sword - sharply defined, easy to see. The steps proceed all the way to the eyes looking up out of the darkness.)
Now, here's the reissue:
(The details mentioned above for the first printing are almost totally obliterated here. The arm of the adventurer disappears at the elbow, and the stairs terminate well before they reach where the now roundish and poorly-defined eyes are.)
This darkening of the art is endemic throughout the reissues. Remember Emirkol the Chaotic? Here he is in a true 1st-print Dungeon Masters Guide in all his evil glory:
...and here he is in the reissue:
(Darker; the blacks have much more contrast.)
Here's another stark example:
(Several of the treasure-grabbing adventurers' details are lost in this classic image from the Monster Manual)
Finally, for comparison, some line art:
Our famous succubus doesn't seem to have suffered for it, and that brings me to why this isn't a huge issue: the artwork had to "pop". It was being printed on a different kind of paper from the best scans they could muster, the originals having been disposed of or returned to the artists ages ago. It is not an enormous disappointment to me. Had a different paper stock been chosen or had the originals been on hand to use, we might have gotten a different look for the images.
Finally, there's the art (and advertisements) from the backs of all the books. There's still ads there:
(On the left, the old GEN CON advertisement, on the right, the Gygax Memorial advertisement.)
So what does it all mean, then? First of all, these are a fine, fine way to spend your gaming dollar, period. No buts about it. On a scale of one to ten, these are all 9.9. Wizards of the Coast truly brought their "A" game with these. If this is what the delay from April to July meant, then so be it! This is a monumentally great product. Thank you, Wizards of the Coast. And thank you Gygax family.
I want to urge everyone who loves D&D of any stripe, who had the simple pleasure of gaming with Gary or hanging out with the Gygax family on a "porch party" back a few years ago when they so generously and kindly opened their house to we the gaming public, if only for a short while...I want to urge you all to donate to the Gygax Memorial Fund even if you don't buy these books. And you should buy them. If you don't want to do either, please contact the Troll Lords at www.trolllord.com and find out what charities Gary preferred and donate to them.
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