Halloween

Halloween
5% of All Sales go to Support The Tavern

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Unearthed Arcana 1e - Boon or Bane?


I remember getting the Unearthed Arcana for 1e. My God, it was like opening up a present on Christmas morning.

Surprisingly, it didn't take long for High School me to realize there was ALOT that didn't belong in the campaigns I ran, such as:

- Rolling ability scores by class. That was overpowered and broken even for those of us that treated the Deck of Many Things as a "solo adventure" for between sessions.

- Barbarian class - overpowered and anti-social

- Cavalier class - not suitable at all for dungeoneering and also overpowered. Balancing class powers with roleplay hindrances wasn't much of a balance in my High School and early College years.

- New spells. Some were awesome. Some added depth, especially to the Illusionist class. Alright, maybe this I like more than I'd like to admit ;)

Anyhow, for my group, the UA was more of a negative than a positive, but as it was "official" and "core", we felt obliged to let it be used in our campaigns. Stupidity of youth, I know.

What was your experience with 1e's Unearthed Arcana? Good, bad, indifferent?

44 comments:

  1. Ignored it mostly. Pretty much for all the reasons you cite.

    ReplyDelete
  2. We used it, but mostly for the spells. I don't think I ever saw anyone with a Cavalier or Barbarian character though. I did like the Thief-Acrobat and the expanded Druid levels.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Loved it for these same reasons

      Delete
    2. You really can't play a barbarian from 1st level BTB, because they aren't allowed to adventure with magic-users or even clerics. What party doesn't have one or both of those?

      Delete
  3. I loved it. Yeah, the barbarian and cavalier were overpowered, but only in really specific situations and most of the time suffered from their restrictions a great deal. What they really did was add so much color I felt like I understood the world a lot better. Both would make better NPCs, IMO, so you could play to their strengths or weaknesses in interesting ways. My favorite thing in there was the weapon specialization. I could finally make something like an archer, or a melee fighter that wasn't exactly the same as every other.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Barbarian was definetly overpowered to the point of absurdity. The new races were even worse.Being a Drow had no real hinderances in a dungeon heavy campaign.
    Weapon Specialization (played right) was cool as were the new magic.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I loved it for the weapon specialization. Many in our group played with the new classes. We tweaked them a little so there wouldn't be constant in fighting. Cantrips were a bit hit a first and then we found out they were more annoying. I liked it. I used it. I'd do it again damn it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Neither boon or bane. Here is the bottom line, to me: It's a mixed bag of potential resources for my game. Some of it I like, some of it I don't like. In some games, I use stuff from UA, in others, I don't.

    That this book is so contentious among fans of 1e, and used by some as a measure of their fellow gamers' pedigree, says more about the people who play or pontificate about 1e, than the actual material itself, IMO.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What I do use, in general:
      some of the spells
      some of the magic items
      some of the expanded weapons list
      tracking
      hand-to-hand combat
      a watered-down version of weapons specialization

      Delete
    2. We sixth-graders didn't have the mindset to regard UA contents as "potential resources".

      It was OFFICIAL, so everything "counted". Even the stuff that broke our home games.

      Kids, amirite?

      Delete
  7. Some of it is valuable to me, some of it isn't. I like the expanded Ranger information, the Thief-Acrobat, the new spells (except for Chromatic Orb, which, uh, save vs death in a 1st level spell slot? Really?), the new weapons (but not the armor, except the buckler shield), the alternate weaponless combat systems (especially version I), the spellbook rules, some of the new magic items, Illusionist starting spells.

    Unlike most people, I do not like Weapon Specialization, which is utterly mishandled for my style of play. The new classes are not useful for my style of play.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Completely utterly awesome. Game balance? Who cared! We were like 12 or something. We loved every bit of it. Of course, we had seen most of this marterial before because we were all avid Dragon Magazine readers (where most of the new classes and spells all came from), but it was nice to have it all under one book rather than spread across a dozen or so issues.

    ReplyDelete
  9. It broke my campaign and nearly my teenage friendships. Fortunately Warhammer fantasy roleplay came out which saved everything :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. As a child I used this book uncritically. Reading it now, though, there are just too many options that give new powers to characters without a suitable trade-off -- which is obviously why some people loved it and why TSR/WoTC/Hasbro would go on to publish something like a million player option books for every subsequent edition of the game.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Weapon Specialization and Comliness. Both played large parts in my character du jour. Other than that, I just loved the idea, even if it was filled with "junk" I would never use. To this day, my 1e books consist of the three core books and UA.

    ReplyDelete
  12. When the dust settled Wespon Specialization was the nly bit I used.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Boon.
    To me it showed just how far a person could change D&D. All of the core books up to then were...core. This one felt more about options outside the core. Sure there was "non-core" material in Dragon magazine, but I couldn't afford a subscription. So, for me, this opened my eyes to the customizability of D&D.

    ReplyDelete
  14. My 1e days consisted only of using PH, DMG, MM, FF, & DD. It wasn't until much more recently (within the last few years) that I've gone back to get the books I never played for my collection/library. Funny thing is I just read it cover to cover about a week ago. Though I can definitely agree there were some interesting and potentially over-powered things in the book, a lot of stuff from this tome has become standard fare for D&D. Not so much the cavalier or thief-acrobat, per se, but the Barbarian and quite of few of the spells that came out of this book.

    ReplyDelete
  15. At the time it came out I was pretty disgruntled with D&D, and between AU and the Wilderness/Dungeon guides I gave up AD&D entirely for Palladium Fantasy and DragonQuest, didn't come back until AD&D 2E arrived (and after much begging by my freshman year group).

    Cut to 2012 and I picked up AU for an AD&D 1E campaign I ran and I actually realized I really liked it. Time has a way of changing perspective on things, I suppose....

    ReplyDelete
  16. If you look at it as a collection of ideas gleaned from Dragon and then pick and choose, it works great. Expanded levels for Druids and new spells and magic items for all: good. Spell book rules: cumbersome. Demi-human deities: some are good, others not so much. Cavalier or Barbarian: not necessiarily anti-social. A non-wizard campaign can be a refreshing change of pace, actually.

    ReplyDelete
  17. We tried everything in it.

    We even had a paladin as a sub-class chevalier, for when overpowered just isn't enough! We went through a power gamer phase like most gamers.

    In the end we used some of the rules for special games, like the rolling methods (we even commented that at this point you should just pick your stats). We tried all-barbarian parties, though surprisingly we never did a camelot game with the chevaliers.

    New spells and magic items were well loved and weapon specialization was a staple. The thief acrobat was rare but welcome as a regular class. We never got into illusionists though.

    We marveled at the copious info on pole arms, which was cool but had almost no practical application.

    Did UA introduce specializing in groups of weapons instead of individual weapons? I can't remember, but that was something we really liked and which broadened the range of weapons we would pick up.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I saw a lot of barbarians in those post-UA pre-2e days.

    ReplyDelete
  19. -I turned the thief-acrobat into a full-on acrobat class
    -Tracking
    -Weapon specialization
    -Spells and magic items
    -Heavily tweaked the barbarian, but used the UA class for a basis

    The only things I really never use are the sub-races and the cavalier class.

    ReplyDelete
  20. "Hey! Now we can play the cartoon!"

    ReplyDelete
  21. "Hey! Now we can play the cartoon!"

    ReplyDelete
  22. My copy of UA was actually a Christmas present from my folks.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I used a fair amount of it - mainly spells and weapon specialization, but at the time I liked the barbarian, the subclasses and the demihuman gods a lot too.

    Until the pages all fell out. :-(

    ReplyDelete
  24. We use (Most of) the spells
    We use (Most of) the Magic items
    We use the expanded druid abilities

    We used the fighters weapon specialization/dual specialization for a long time until we realized that it was seriously breaking game balance, the other classes felt like they were only there to support the fighters.

    The rest of the class stuff cavaliers, barbarians etc we ignored from the start.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I liked the cover but don't think I ever used much of the new material. Barbarians never made any sense to me; I was glad to see 2nd get rid of them and cavaliers. But it was an optional book so i don't see how it could be "bane."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. when it released, we believed everything published by TSR was "official" and core, which made UA one hell of a curve ball ;)

      Delete
    2. no one I knew considered it required

      Delete
    3. What Our Host said. It was a "mandatory" book, by cracky.

      We sixth-graders didn't really grasp the whole "optional" bit.

      Delete
  26. I recall EGG defending its release quite crankily in his Dragon column and insisting that the barbarian class was balanced ("I know my own game system!"). It was the moment I first started to glean that Gary was equal parts authoritative genius and sideshow barker snake oil salesman.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My skepticism of Gygax started with UA's weapon specialization rules. A few years previously he had a column in the Dragon where he ranted against weapon specialization. My eyes were opened...

      Delete
  27. Boon. In play, the Barbarian and Cavalier proved much less powerful than everyone seemed to think they were. The Barbarian was such a loner, he ended up fighting alone, which only took him so far. The Cavalier was, in my experience, surprisingly vulnerable in dungeon crawls. But I loved both classes. The sheer variety added to the races, as well as making class level limits a bit less onerous (though, really, I'd house-ruled them away in the first place as early as 1980), added to the book's allure. The spells and magic items were very welcome, too.

    This topic and the replies in the comments reinforce once again something about Old School gaming to me: we were just as varied back then in how we felt the game "should" be played. It was decades later, when I finally got online, that I finally discovered there were people who hated this book back in the day.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Good. My best ever campaign featured:

    - attributes by class
    - weapon specialization
    - a cavalier-subclass Paladin
    - a cavalier
    - a ranger/druid
    - a thief/acrobat
    - a wizard who made great use of Evard's Black Tentacles and Melf's Acid Arrow.
    - a barbarian (initial a solo adventurer - they made great solo characters!)
    - piles and piles of the magic items from UA

    Probably more I'm forgetting. But yeah, my best AD&D campaign was through-and-through a UA campaign.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Hmm, both. The racial attribute tables confirmed that my PHB had a misprint (max 14 DEX for half-orcs). We liked the increased level limits for some of the downtrodden races, and weapon specialization seemed like a good thing at the time. Someone even made an acrobat. The overpowered/silly stuff revealed to our tween minds that yes, published material can be completely wrong and ignored. Up till then, anything in a TSR publication seemed authoritative. The scales dropped from our eyes!

    ReplyDelete
  30. Oh, and the polearm illos -- loved that. I hadn't seen it in Dragon as we rarely got any issues.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Indifferent. I can take it or leave it.

    ReplyDelete
  32. I should add this coda though. I am playing 1st Ed with my boys now. We have been sticking to the "Basic 3" rulebooks and I have not decided if I am going to include UA or not. I will include the spells and magic items, but I will introduce them slowly through out the game. No Cavaliers and no Barbarians though.

    ReplyDelete
  33. As a kid of about 14 I think when this book came out (1985, right?), I really loved it just because I felt it expanded the options of the game. And I really wanted to see that Barbarian class which I'd read about but never seen (I looked for that damned copy of Dragon #63 everywhere I went for years, hoping to find an old back-copy stuffed on a shelf somewhere).

    By this point, we'd mostly stopped playing D&D in favor of Gamma World and Star Frontiers and Top Secret. But I really liked the idea of the expanded classes, as (as HappyFunNorm pointed out), I felt the classes added depth to the world. You don't *need* a barbarian class or a cavalier class to tell you that the world has these kinds of cultures, but having them definitely sets the stage and helps a novice at world-building get a better grasp of what the campaign is like.

    At the time, I also really liked that the barbarian class "solved" a problem I'd always had with the basic fighter class, which is that fighters were "penalized" for fighting in light armor. One of the fighters few basic class abilities in 1E is that he could wear any kind of armor, so every fighter in our game always went for Plate Mail as soon as he could acquire some. It made it ineffective to say "No, I'm going to stick with hide and furs because I'm a tribal barbarian guy." Doing that just meant you got hit and damaged more often.

    As a kid, I could see that the Cavalier was just way better than most other fighter-type classes but the imagery just seemed really cool to me, with the code and the knightly virtues and stuff. I was too young to get that most of that you could just role-play without mechanics.

    And lastly, I really got into the pole-arm descriptions. I felt like it made me seem smart that I knew the difference between a glaive-guisarme and a voulge-guisarme. That's some useful knowledge right there.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I only got the book fairly recently, but back in the day, the reviews/critique in White Dwarf magazine made it sound like it totally wrecked the game. Enough for me to decide that I wouldn't like it. Which, having read the book, I think is still a wise decision. Younger me wouldn't have understood the optional aspect of the book.

    Now? Having read the book, and being old enough to recognise that I can take or leave stuff as I please, I'd use it as something to dip into. I'd modify stuff like the the barbarian or cavalier and some of the racial abilities. Ultimately, though, it's a book that isn't necessary to play AD&D.

    ReplyDelete