The original 1985 release of Unearthed Arcana™ changed Dungeons & Dragons® forever by introducing new races, classes, magical items, and rules written by Gary Gygax. This new printing will appeal to nostalgic D&D® fans looking to add this classic to their collections.
The most complete version of Unearthed Arcana ever printed!
The original Unearthed Arcana was corrected and updated through articles published in Dragon® magazine. Completists will want to pick up this version because it has been, for the first time ever, painstakingly edited to include the original errata and supplements created in the 1980’s under the supervision of Mr. Gygax himself.
Unearthed Arcana, by Gary Gygax, is TSR's seventh hardcover for the AD&D game. It was published in June 1985.
Origins (I): Gygax Waning. Gary Gygax's major contributions to the D&D game began to fade around 1980. A few last Greyhawk adventures appeared, thanks largely to Rob Kuntz coming on board in 1981 to finish up S4: "The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth" (1982) and others. But other than that, Gygax just didn't have the time to produce gaming material, first because he was running TSR Hobbies and later because he was off in Hollywood, running TSR Entertainment.
As a result, others picked up the mantle of leadership in TSR's design studio: Lawrence Schick created the studio and brought on Basic D&D designers David Cook and Tom Moldvay, then Gygax's hand-picked right-hand-men Frank Mentzer and Francois Marcela-Froideval led much of the D&D design work afterward.
Origins (II): Dragon Rising. Though Gygax didn't have the time for major releases, he wasn't willing to abandon game design entirely. Instead, he began to produce new material for Dragon magazine. He'd had a "From the Sorcerer's Scroll" column as far back as The Dragon #11 (December 1977), but it disappeared in 1981, around the same time that Gygax's book-length contributions did. A year later, there was a resurgence: the Sorcerer's Scroll made a return in Dragon #55 (November 1981) and would continue through Dragon #75 (July 1983). But, this was a different Scroll. Gygax's early columns had often been editorial in nature, but now he focused largely on crunch.
Many of these columns from 1981-1983 would be ground-breaking, including: the introduction of cantrips in Dragon #59 (March 1982) through Dragon #61 (May 1982); the creation of three new classes, the barbarian in Dragon #63 (July 1982), the thief-acrobat in Dragon #69 (January 1983), and the cavalier in Dragon #72 (April 1983); and the debut of many (now classic) spells, such as goodberry (and other druid spells) in Dragon #71 (March 1983).
At the same time that he was writing these rules expansions, Gygax was also designing "Featured Creatures", which eventually appeared in Monster Manual II (1983). There was discussion that Gygax's mechanical articles from the Sorcerer's Scroll would similarly be incorporated into an "AD&D Expansion volume", but those discussions ended in early 1983, when Gygax was bundled off to Hollywood; his magazine writing ended shortly thereafter.
Origins (III): TSR Waning. Unfortunately, TSR didn't do well in Gygax's absence. Due to any number of financial issues, layoffs began in June 1983 and continued into 1984. Gygax rushed back to the midwest to help his ailing company. Among other proposals, Gygax suggested that TSR produce a slew of new products bearing his name. For the first of these, Gygax "instructed that [his] Dragon magazine articles be compiled". (Finally.) The result was Unearthed Arcana (1985) — a book that was so successful that Gygax later claimed its royalties allowed him to exercise enough stock options to regain control of his company.
Of course, Gygax still wasn't up to producing book-length RPG work of his own, due to the time required in running the ailing company. Thus, Unearthed Arcana was actually the product of divers hands, including collaborator Frank Mentzer, design consultant Jeff Grubb, and editor Kim Mohan. But Gygax's work is clearly predominent.
Two more of the Gygax projects were largely or entirely his work: the novel Saga of Old City (1985) and WG6: "Isle of the Ape" (1985). However the rest of the projects pushed out with Gygax's name in 1985 were mostly the work of others. Oriental Adventures (1985) was by David Cook, while the D&D Companion Set (1985) was by Frank Mentzer, who also completed Gygax's T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil (1985).
Together, Gygax's three authentic projects of 1985 form an interesting trilogy. "Isle of the Ape" looks back at Gygax's earliest take on D&D, Saga of Old City reveals the company's future direction in fiction, and Unearthed Arcana offers Gygax's final vision of the D&D game, in his last days with the company he founded.
A Different Sort of Players Handbook. In 1985, AD&D had been around in a "finished" form for six years. The only hardcovers released during that period were books of deities and monsters, not rules. These were also the years of D&D's greatest growth, so it's pretty safe to say that by 1985 most players of AD&D never knew anything but the status quo. This is why Unearthed Arcana was entirely ground-breaking to those fans; it was the sort of revamp of the system that most players had never seen.
Now, players delved into what was essentially a supplementary Players Handbook, full of new character classes, new races, and new rules. The changes were so large, that Unearthed Arcana is now used to mark the beginning of AD&D 1.5e, an expansion of the core game that also included Oriental Adventures (1985), the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide (1986), and the Wilderness Survival Guide (1986).
Unearthed Arcana has a section for GMs too — a split that would be repeated through several of the later AD&D hardcovers. However it was the player's section that really revamped and relaunched the game.
Continuing the Premium Reprints. Almost forty years later, Wizards of the Coast reprinted Unearthed Arcana in a premium edition (2013), with reset text and rescanned artwork. It followed on from a premium AD&D 1e Players Handbook (2012), Dungeon Masters Guide, and Monster Manual (2012) that had been released the previous year; due to their success, Wizards was now expanding the line. The inclusion of Unearthed Arcana as the fourth 1e reprint showed its importance to the classic game. (Afterward, Wizards would finish the 1e reprints with two adventure compilations.)
Expanding D&D. Unearthed Arcana is full of expansions to the D&D game. Besides the aforementioned new classes and new races, AD&D also picked up a 7th attribute, Comeliness — which was meant to be different from Charisma, but was never that popular. Unearthed Arcana also contains plenty of new magic items and spells, including the introduction of 0-level cantrips — an idea that's been much more long-lived.
Various existing character classes got adjustments too, the most notable of which was the fighter's new "weapon specialization", which allowed improvement in a weapon of choice. It was a somewhat ironic addition, because back in The Dragon #16 (July 1978), in a much earlier Sorcerer's Scroll, Gygax wrote, "There are a number of foolish misconceptions which tend to periodically crop up also. Weapons expertise is one. … For those who insist on giving weapons expertise bonuses due to the supposed extra training and ability of the character, I reply: What character could be more familiar and expert with a chosen weapon type than are monsters born and bred to their fangs, claws, hooves, horns, and other body weaponry?"
Unearthed Arcana also contains a well-remembered "Appendix T" which shows what all the game's pole-arms actually look like. Gygax had written a similar article way back in The Strategic Review #2 (Summer 1975), with a small supplement in The Strategic Review #4 (Winer 1975).
The Forgotten Heroes. Unearthed Arcana introduced three major new character classes to AD&D: the barbarian, the cavalier, and the thief-acrobat. Of them, only the barbarian has retained a major presence in later editions of the game.
The Resurrected Races. Unearthed Arcana also expanded D&D's rolls of PC races by subdividing dwarves, elves, and gnomes. Dwarves now included gray, hill, and mountain variants; elves now included dark, gray, high, valley, wild, and wood variants; and gnomes now included svirfneblin (deep gnomes). Much of this work was probably in response to Dragonlance (1984-1986), which was similarly expanding the races of Krynn.
Of all the new races, it was probably the drow (dark elf) that was the most popular — and would soon grow moreso with the publication of The Crystal Shard (1988) and the introduction of Drizzt Do'Urden.
More importantly, Unearthed Arcana also increased the level limits for demihumans, capping their advancement at higher levels. This was a reflection that the whole AD&D game was increasing in level, requiring what Gygax called "more potent non-human characters".
About the Media Tie-In. The three new classes that Gygax introduced to Dragon readers between July 1982 and April 1983, and which were updated for Unearthed Arcana, also made it into the D&D cartoon that premiered on September 17, 1983. Bobby is a Barbarian, Diana is an Acrobat, and Eric is a Cavalier.
Whoops! Unearthed Arcana was probably rushed out too quickly, due to TSR's financial problems, because it was beset with errors. Dragon #103 (November 1985) contained two pages of corrections meant to be cut out and pasted into the hardcover book. This errata was never included in reprints … until Wizards' 2013 release of the book! Dragon #117 (January 1987) then contained a complete Sage Advice column on the book.
There were also serious questions about the balance of the new classes, races, and items in the book — though this isn't the sort of thing that was being corrected by errata at the time.
About the Creators. Gary Gygax was of course the co-creator of D&D. His other major publications on his return to the TSR heartland were the novel Saga of Old City (1985), the adventure WG6: "Isle of the Ape" (1985), and the mega-adventure T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil (1985), the last completed by Frank Mentzer.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.