The biggest news in the rpg community over the past six months was the release of the 1e reprints. This is old news by now, but I was away when they were released and now that I’m back I’d like to share my thoughts and experiences related to this wondrous event.

Why Is This A Big Deal?

I already have a set of 1e books. So why am I excited about this? There are a couple of reasons. First off, my copies are heavily used and showing the wear. It’s high time I got another set. But then, if I just wanted another set, I could have bought a used copy in decent condition on eBay.

A better reason for my excitement would be that the availability of these reprints will certainly fuel more interest in playing 1e. Previously, when a potential new player walked into a store and said she wanted a set of D&D books, she was handed 4e since that was the only edition of D&D currently in print. There are of course all sorts of alternatives, retro clones, and used copies of older editions, but how is a new player to know about these things? By reprinting the 1e books, WotC has given a whole new generation ready access to AD&D.

However, the real reason that I’m excited about this release is that it is certainly a sign that WotC is testing the waters to see if there is a market for reprints of older material. If sales go well, I’m hopeful that we may see reprints of the OD&D books, chainmail, modules for 1e, etc. Other than Holmes basic edition and the three core 1e books, I just didn’t have the money for the myriad D&D products (or other RPG products) filling the shelves in the late 70’s/early-mid 80’s. I would be very excited to see WotC reprint more of those books and modules.

There is also a bonus: WotC is donating a portion of the profits from the 1e reprints to the Gary Gygax Memorial Fund. I am a great fan of Mr. Gygax and hope to one day travel to Lake Geneva to give my respects at his memorial once it is completed. WotC’s contribution goes a long way towards making that happen.

The New Covers

Many people are upset with the new covers. I rarely like change myself. However, I think it would be rather anticlimactic to simply use the original covers for these reprints. By changing them, they are marking the event. Had the new covers included the type of artwork used in newer books I would have been royally pissed. But the incorporation of elements from the original books as part of the new look was, imo, tastefully done and very appropriate.

There were mockups floating around the internet for some time prior to release. These mockups were very similar to the final version but had one notable difference. The word “Advanced” was left off. To some, this omission may seem very minor. Personally I was very offended. I’m extremely happy that it was restored before they went to print.

All in all, I’m very happy with the new covers and doubt I could have come up with anything better myself.

My Impression Of The New Books

I’ve never been a fan of WotC so naturally I was expecting the worst. Their generous contribution to the memorial fund and recognition of Gary’s work had softened my feelings towards them and the new covers were a good sign. Still, I had my doubts.

Once I finally got my hands on a set, my first impression was good. Each book was wrapped in a heavy, protective, clear plastic which reduced damage from shipping and shelving. This also meant that others hadn’t been thumbing through the books with grubby fingers. The books were guaranteed to be as pristine as they had been when they left the printer.

The covers look good. The artwork simulates old leather and incorporates texture and what looks like gold leaf. The elements from the original book covers could have been more detailed but you have to look closely to really notice. I have my doubts as to how well the covers will hold up though. I think if the surface is pierced, it will continue to tear readily. I’m hoping not to test that suspicion.

The pages are of a heavier paper than the original and therefore keep the opposite side from showing through. This makes it feel a bit odd as my subconscious keeps telling me something is wrong as I page through the books, but it is an undeniable improvement.

The edges of the pages are gilded and the designers included a thin ribbon attached at the top of the spine that you can use to mark your page. These are both subtle enhancements that imo really work to make these books a bit more elegant. I’m quite pleased that so much effort was put into the aesthetics of the books.

The Really Impressive Part

When the 1e books were originally created, personal computers were effectively non-existent. Reprinting the 1e books wasn’t simply a matter of emailing a file to the printer. All three books had to be recreated from scratch. The text was retyped. The images were scanned and retouched. Everything was painstakingly inspected. But even that is only the beginning. WotC did an amazing job of locating fonts that closely mimic the original text. The layout is so close to that of the original books that someone intimately familiar with them can’t spot differences without having the two side by side.

The re-creation of these three books was clearly a labor of love and the attention to detail shown in this project speaks volumes about the respect those involved had for Gary. I tip my hat to WotC. They did a marvelous job and I couldn’t be happier with these books.

My Quest To Obtain The 1e Reprints

Although I am extremely happy with the books, the process of obtaining them was a very different matter. I may have mentioned before that I hate buying things on-line. Especially in the case of a limited printing where, if the on-line order arrives damaged, it may be too late to go to other suppliers who may be sold out.

We don’t really have a gaming shop in the area. However, the local comic book store will sometimes do in a pinch. I dropped by Matt’s Cavalcade of Comics about a month prior to the announced release date. Sometimes, shops can get product in earlier than the official date.

Of the three guys behind the counter, two had not yet heard about the reprints. One was flabbergasted that anyone would be interested in reprints. He told me it was silly to pay over $100 for a set of reprints when you could get “like-new” copies for less on eBay. Clearly he hadn’t checked eBay recently (or read any gaming forums) or he’d have known that prices for such copies had skyrocketed as soon as WotC had announced the reprints.

Nevertheless, one of them called a distributor and then told me that they could have the books in-house two-weeks prior to the release date. I was skeptical but hopeful. I told him that I didn’t want to special order them but that if he could get three copies in I’d happily buy them on that date. I returned on the specified date only to be told that Wizards doesn’t allow them to sell prior to the release date and whomever I talked to must have been confused. I was asked again if I would like them to hold onto my money in hopes that they would eventually have the product. Again I declined but reaffirmed that I would be happy to purchase three sets when they arrive. I returned again on the release date and was told that none had been ordered (even though they had promised to do so) but that they could special order some for me. On each occasion I was told that I could probably get used copies (of the earlier printings) online for less and that they may even have some in-stock. I tried explaining the difference but they just didn’t get it.

I said we don’t have a gaming shop in town. That isn’t exactly true. There is a store in town called Pegasus Games that claims to be a gaming shop. It is about 200 sq ft in size, mostly filled with tables covered with homemade terrain and a few thousand dollars worth of dusty inventory around the walls. Signs around the shop advertise D&D but no such products were in evidence (not even 4e). It is a one-man operation (although I suspect it is just a place for he and his friends to play TCGs). I had visited this shop previously when looking for Paizo flipmats, Game Science dice, and a few other items. He was unfamiliar with each of the items I was looking for but offered to special order them for me. Despite my opinion of this shop, I decided to give it another shop. When I entered it was empty except for the owner (as usual). I said I was looking for the 1e reprints and asked if he had any in stock. < blink > That “deer in the headlights” stare said it all. I asked if he sold D&D products. “Oh yes, I can order whatever you want”. < Sigh >

I called the few other shops in nearby towns (~40 miles) but had similar experiences. They either had not even heard of the reprints or hadn’t found it necessary to order any.

My last option was a store in Salem called Wild Things Games. I looked up their number and gave them a call (while mentally making plans for the 120 mile trek to Portland to try my luck in the big city). The owner of Wild Things answered the phone. Not only was he aware of the reprints but he was as excited about them as I was and said he had ten copies in stock. An hour later I had them in my hands.

I still can’t believe that so many “gaming shops”, heavily focused on D&D (albeit 4e), were completely unaware of the reprints. And of the few that were aware, all but one were completely uninterested. I don’t expect everyone to jump for joy but I was (and still am) quite dumbfounded by this reception.

When all is said and done, I got my copies so I’m happy. And as a bonus I discovered a new gaming shop that I hope I can depend on in the future. It was a frustrating and confusing experience but happily it all worked out in the end.