Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Arcana Unearthed

I know that various pet game systems, settings, or supplements are much maligned in the OS blogs; I myself have a personal loathing for 2nd Edition AD&D and the Forgotten Realms setting. However, in the spirit of full disclosure, I feel I must admit my own not-so-proud Achilles Heel: I absolutely LOVED Unearthed Arcana.

I’ve speculated before that I might be a bit of a closet munchkin, though in all honesty that’s not why I and my players were so enamored of the book. Three-quarters of my gaming group owned a copy of UA, even though few even had their own Monster Manual, DMG, or PHB. Here’s the skinny:

Reason #1: After years of playing B/X and AD&D, there was finally a new game supplement…not just a new cover or a new monster manual. This had spells, and classes, and magic items, etc..

Reason #2: It was a TRUE AD&D supplement…and by that, I mean it had the Gygax name stamped right on the cover.

Once my group started playing AD&D, we played ONLY AD&D (with some additional pieces from the Mentzer Companion rules). We didn’t run Judge’s Guild adventures or use supplements that were non-TSR. Dragon magazine and official supplements were our only tools for the game…after that, we could create our own adventures or random tables. TSR in general and Gygax in particular, were our final authorities in gaming.

So Gary’s Unearthed Arcana was a godsend (so to speak) for us. New OFFICIAL rules? You bet!

We also found it incredibly useful…I never played a game without it. We used pretty much every rule in the book: Comeliness? Check…in fact the half-orc became an extinct species after the advent of UA. New races? Check…grey elves, drow, mountain dwarves (only one…see Comeliness), and I’m guessing even a svirfneblin was created (though never played). New classes? Check, check, check…no one in our gaming group ever used a cavalier (we never liked goody-two-shoes paladins anyway, and we weren’t that impressed with the cavalier’s armor), but everyone had a thief-acrobat at some point, there was a hierophant druid that was a major NPC of our game, and my brother rolled up several barbarians.

New weapons and equipment…we used it all: whips, lassos, blow guns. One girl who was an occasional player insisted on getting a man-catcher for her fighter…”I’m gonna’ catch me a man!” she’d say, when she wasn’t swinging a two-handed sword. Heck, we even started using pole arms now that the UA showed us what the hell they looked like (ranseurs and spetums were particularly popular).

Most of the magic items got used at some point…Heward’s Handy Haversack and extendable magic quarterstaffs (see Thief-Acrobat) were BIG hits, as were Iron Bands of Bilaro/Robilar and the Prison of Zagyg (an artifact from S4?!). A lot of the new clerical spells were used, and teleport without error and chain lightning became mainstays of our magic-user’s arsenal.

We used Table VI to create new characters…finally, no need to fudge rolls if you wanted to play a Ranger or Monk! Everyone knew their character’s social status, birth order, and legitimacy of birth…all of which led to good natured, in-character (and out-of!) ribbing.

Of course, the unarmed combat rules were a lot less messy than the ones presented in the DMG. We actually started using brawls and grappling in our games with the UA system. Previously, all enemies had been put to the sword.

Yeah…we used it all. The DMs of our group certainly did when designing adventures. I’d go so far as to say it was more useful than both the Find Folio and the Monster Manual II put together. I mean, how many times did YOU put a Grel into a dungeon? Or a Modron? Though the threat of a Tarrasque was ever present, I’m not sure the players ever encountered one.

No, the Unearthed Arcana was great. The increases to level maxiumums provided “topped out” demi-human characters with a new reason for adventuring, and the new rules and goodies provided all of us with a fresh set of tools to make our game play fun. God bless it!


  1. I was surprised to see the hate leveled at UA. But after reading the hater's explanation I understand why.

    My UA was OA, I loved that book.

  2. "OA?" I don't know that abbreviation off-hand.

    For my old gaming group, UA was indispensable. We even used the "spells per spellbook" rules...I was just digging through some old character sheets and found lists and list of which spells were in which tome for various characters. We were crazy-mad with following "all the rules." Sheesh!