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AC4 The Book of Marvelous Magic (Basic/1e)
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AC4 The Book of Marvelous Magic (Basic/1e)

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"Tell me, teacher?How does one open the cabinet of security? Of what use is the banner of bravery? And what are the limits of the sun deck? My books and scrolls tell me nothing about many of the magical treasures I've heard you mention time and again."

"No, Phaedras, your manuscripts are too general. But since you have inquired, I will allow you to peruse this, one of my most treasured volumes?The Book of Marvelous Magic. It will answer your questions."

And now you, too, can learn the secrets that were revealed to Phaedras! The Book of Marvelous Magic is the ultimate sourcebook on magical items and their twists and quirks. Over 500 new magical items are described in detail. An appendix describes how these items can be used with the AD&D game.

Product History

AC4: The Book of Marvelous Magic (1985), by Frank Mentzer with Gary Gygax, is the fourth Game Accessory for the Basic D&D Game. It was published in February 1985.

About the Cover. This Clyde Caldwell cover of a striking sorceress in a vault of magic is probably better known as the cover of Gateway to the Savage Frontier (1991), one of the Gold Box D&D computer games.

About the Internal Illustrations. Despite its rudimentary layout, Marvelous Magic has rather larger margins. It also has huge borders on its illustration. Mentzer says he feels that "the product designers got out of hand" and that they "cut a lot of text to maintain that useless and boring format". He wrote about 30% more material than ended up in the final book.

Origins (I): Higher AC. Moving into its fourth product, the "AC" line continued to be somewhat erratic. After an interesting debut with AC1: "The Shady Dragon Inn" (1983), the next two supplements had been a combat screen and a set of "Dragon Tiles", each with a short adventure. The Book of Marvelous Magic was then the only particularly notable release during the middle of the AC run. Two different sets of player character sheets, another GM's screen, and another set of Dragon Tiles would follow. The line wouldn't settle back into producing memorable supplements until late in its life, beginning with AC9: Creature Catalogue (1986).

Origins (II): Interesting Authorship. The author line of Marvelous Magic reads "Frank Mentzer and Gary Gygax". As it happens, Gygax was getting a lot of credits in 1985, even when he wasn't very involved in the projects — though Marvelous Magic is probably the least known of these "joint" works.

In this case, Mentzer says he did 95-99% of the work. A few of Mentzer's items came from the Lake Geneva incarnation of his Aquaria campaign, but most of them were written by Mentzer over just a two-week period! Mentzer showed the manuscript to Gygax, who suggested that he could add a few things, then submit it to Production himself, and Mentzer would earn more money as a result — though there were also larger financial reasons for putting Gygax's name on products in 1985.

Several other people are credited for additional contributions: Mark Acres, David "Zeb" Cook, Tracy Hickman, Doug Niles, Penny Petticord, John Pickens, Gali Sanchez, Carl Smith, Garry Spiegle, and Skip Williams.

Origins (III): Miscellaneous Magic. Magic items first appeared in OD&D (1974), which even included a category for "miscellaneous magic" — a set of 23 magic items that ran from "crystal balls" to the "mirror of life trapping". Marvelous Magic is the newest incarnation of that "misc. magic" section, but massively expanded. It includes all the miscellaneous magic items that had appeared in the Mentzer Basic (1983), Expert (1983), and Companion (1984) sets, plus about 500 more.

Adventure Tropes: Satire. Some of the items in Marveouls Magic have punny names, such as the Drag Net, the Gaff of Gaffes, the Revolving Door, the Half Mast, and the Hard-Boiled Egg. Some are just punny, like the Gavel of Auctions and the Gong of Butler Summoning. Mentzer says, "The puns are a long tradition, started by Gary in the '60s." More generally, they represented the sense of humor at Lake Geneva.

Expanding D&D. Marvelous Magic offers the biggest expansion of miscellaneous magic ever for any D&D game. And how do you organize all those items? Marvelous Magic sticks with alphabetical order, though it also has random charts for some unusual categories such as "animal-related items", "paper and related items", "tools and hardware", and "travel items" (optionally, "land and air" or "water").

Expanding AD&D. Marvelous Magic was the second Basic D&D book to also support AD&D play, after AC3: "The Kidnapping of Princess Arelina" (1984). However, unlike "Kidnapping", Marvelous Magic actually discusses the topic a bit, with a short essay that (rather intriguingly) lays out the difference between Basic D&D and AD&D as seen by TSR in the mid '80s.

The article states that Basic D&D was "easy to modify" and had actually become "easier to modify" as details were added in the Mentzer BECMI books (1983-1985), because these expanded details were treated as "options". In contrast, TSR saw AD&D as "more complex" and so "very difficult to modify properly". This matched with TSR's general claims that no on one should change the way AD&D was played … but apparently the same rules didn't apply to the Basic game!

About the Creators. Mentzer was the architect behind the BECMI series of Basic D&D boxes. This was his first supplement for the game system. It would be followed by one adventure, IM1: "The Immortal Storm" (1986). Gygax was of course the co-creator of D&D, but was little involved in this project, despite his name being on the cover.

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

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Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
July 5th, 2016
"The D&D and AD&D games are actually different games." p.74, The Book of Marvelous Magic. This was not the first time I had read this, and by 1985 I had moved away from the D&D game to AD&D, it was still interesting [...]
July 28th, 2007
Well, this book really should have been called: The Book of Marvellous Magic Items. I was looking for such a book and almost went past it until I read the description of the product. Overall I really liked the product, which delivered e [...]
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File Last Updated:
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This title was added to our catalog on July 05, 2016.