Rules Cyclopedia (1991)

Have you ever tried to play the Mentzer version of Basic Dungeons & Dragons? I don’t mean just the red Basic box. I mean like a mid-level game that requires at least two or three of the five boxes. If you have, you know what kind of nightmare that is. It would be one thing if you had to just navigate two or three players booklets, but if those booklets are each poorly organized? Ugh.

The Rules Cyclopedia (1991) corrects this by collecting the four main D&D boxes (Basic, Expert, Companion and Master) into one nicely organized and indexed hardcover. Everything you need — player or DM — to play D&D in one book. When has that ever happened, before or since? Until Old-School Essentials superseded it, this would be my go-to for running a basic game (and, as much as I love the cleanness of OSE and B/X, there is so much weirdness in BECMI that it will always be my true fave).

Though it isn’t branded as such, the Cyclopedia is the foundation of the Challenger line. The big box basic sets I covered last month released in parallel and were the new on-ramp, with those players graduating to Challenger and the Thunder Rift adventure series. In a couple years, when the line was shuttered, Challenger players would be absorbed into AD&D Second Edition version of the campaign world, Mystara. It’s kind of confusing!

Always liked Easley’s wormy dragon on the cover — it is way more exciting than his cover for the 2E Player’s Handbook, certainly. Terry Dykstra does all the interior illustration. I really enjoy his work, which is a little bit detailed while also being a little bit cartoony. Really bold line work — he’s the definitive artist for this iteration of Basic, and I wish they had kept him around for Mystara. Look at those Beholders! I also find his dragons to be very satisfying — gotta love his insistence at drawing every single scale.

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