D&D 1E Inquiry: How do fans of AD&D (aka 1E) feel about the Unearthed Arcana supplement?


Piggybacking off of my other post regarding 4E and Essentials, I wanted to get a read on how fans of 1E feel about 1E Unearthed Arcana.

If you are a fan of 1E, did you like Unearthed Arcana? Did you hate it with the fury of a thousand suns? Were you ambivalent? Please include your reasoning behind your feelings if you can articulate them.

Personally, I hated Unearthed Arcana.

The new classes were so wonky: Barbarians had lots of interesting stuff but couldn't work with magic-users, tried to destroy magic items (IIRC) and needed ridiculous amounts of xp to level, cavaliers were so mount focused that they seemed pretty useless for most currently produced site based (often dungeon) adventures plus they had the weird mechanic of slowly raising their ability scores, acrobats were...just...lame.

Additionally, I HATED the inclusion of new, bizarre races like deep gnomes and drow as playable races. HATED it.

Unearthed Arcana dramatically diminished my interest in D&D and it was a precursor to even further changes which pretty much killed my interest in the game for a long time.

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I found the book a lot of fun to read, but in truth wasn't playing the game at the time where any issues with the new material would show themselves within gameplay. It wasn't until 2E that I started playing in earnest.

But from an entertainment perspective, I found UA to be a welcomed addition to the lore of D&D. Calling the class 'Thief-Acrobat' I thought was a little goofy and dumb (rather than just 'Acrobat'), but other than that it did nothing to curtail my interest in the game.


Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I was a kid and still pretty new to the game in general. I liked the additional race, class, weapon, spell, and magic item options; Thief-Acrobat made sense to me as I was also reading Gary's Gord the Rogue novels. It was still pretty underpowered, though. The other two, as you say, were a weird mix of overpowered (if you disregarded or circumvented the roleplaying restrictions) and virtually unplayable (if you followed them closely). As an elf-loving kid, having more kinds of elves and higher level limits was welcome. Like Defcon, I didn't really start playing regularly until 2E came out; before that it was mostly just me and my brother and occasionally a couple of neighbor kids messing around without any consistent or knowledgeable DM.

But in retrospect, yeah, it was pretty poor. Weapon Specialization was broadly welcome but the kind of "option" that's basically mandatory. A bunch of little patches and add-ons to a system that needed some of its concepts re-examined on a more basic level.

Lots and lots of good memories here...

I fondly remember opening up the Unearthed Arcana as a kid after playing AD&D for about a year. I was blown away. It was a cluttered encyclopedia of information. Lots of Greyhawk lore was baked into the game, which really got my wheels turning. Barbarian tribes in Greyhawk were all named and had different non-weapon proficiencies to master their surroundings. At the time we were all watching the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, and now we couple play the classes in the show. A childhood friend was in love with all things medieval and urged us to start a knight campaign using the new rules. He even took up saber fencing, and got us all involved. Later on we had a campaign in the frozen north and all played Barbarians, heroes of our tribes sent on a quest by a great Tarkhan, each of us trying to one-up one another. It was our Barbarian campaign that kept us from playing 2e, because Barbarians didn't exist in the 2e PHB; no d12 hit dice, no boosted Con or Dex bonus, no anti-magic abilities, etc. As a result, we never really played 2e. For the next, I want to say, 5 years we played 2e with Unearthed Arcana, using simple cantrips (tick-tock double lock), kewl new spells like Stone Skin, Cavalier Paladins, extensive weapons charts, Hierophant Druids, and our beloved Barbarians.

Eventually we all graduated from high school and went our separate ways. I was traveling the world and when I came back for a while one of the guys had just started a new campaign of AD&D. We got a game in before I left and it was better than I remembered. Seriously, I just love Unearthed Arcana. In today's gaming world it never would have been published. No gaming company today would ever make something that cluttered and jam packed with information. Companies today would have stretched it out into 3 or 4 different supplements padded with fluff. There was like 20 different polearm variations for a spear because D&D was still a historical fantasy game in those days. I can only imagine Gygax telling the editor that everything has to stay. It was truly a book of lore, and really influenced D&D for the better.

Weapon Specialization was broadly welcome but the kind of "option" that's basically mandatory. A bunch of little patches and add-ons to a system that needed some of its concepts re-examined on a more basic level.
I distinctly remember Weapon Specialization being the birth of the bow-wielding Ranger. Unearthed Arcana introduced the "point blank shot", which doubled arrow damage when you were within 30ft. Rangers were basically doing 2d8+8 per shot in a dungeon. They didn't add Dex to damage but Weapon Specialization and Double Specialization gave extra damage bonuses if I recall, and everything added up and then doubled.


I would not play 1E ever again wthout UA.

While I’m not keen on the inclusion of the under dark races, I did like the classes, weapons and options introduced. Perhaps my favorite was the cantrips, and there’s a lot of iconic spells that appeared there - (mage) armor, for example.


Moderator Emeritus
A mixed bag.

I was still a teenager, so of course I loved some of it - but by the time I adopted 2E I was over it.

What I remember most, actually, is that it was the first of the 1E hardcovers that seemed to have an inferior binding to what came before it. My 1E DMG is still in fine shape, UA I had to break apart and put into a 3-hole binder to keep from losing pages within a month of having it.

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Let's see ....

What was good about Unearthed Arcana?

1. No Bards. The book powercreeped everyone, but thankfully helped consign the Bard to the dustbin of history, where it remained.
Wait ... what? Grrrr. nevermind.

2. Polearms. Man, that appendix T was pretty cool.

3. The binding was terrible, so the pages fell out, which meant that no one had a copy after a few weeks to use.

What was bad about Unearthed Arcana?

Everything else.

I found Unearthed Arcana to be transformational in my view of the game, even if the actual UA product was perhaps pretty slap-dash.
Having started playing the game in '83 (at a point where oD&D with supplements I-VI were locked away in the hands of those scary adult gamers with jobs and facial hair and so on), the notion that a game would have official, written in ink (and not in a magazine) changes to the rules... yeah, that was pretty transformative. Mind you, I don't think we ended up using much if anything from UA all the much excepting weapon specialization and the updated racial level limits (which did make playing by-the-book as nonhumans a lot more feasible, but honestly just once again papered over the fact that no one in our group considered racial level limits an at-all good way of addressing either balance or EGG's idea of a humanocentric gaming experience). I think we ended up actually using the systems from OA, WSG and DSG (also pretty hit-or-miss) a lot more than anything here.
All in all, in retrospect it was a pretty clearly a cash grab to keep the lights on at TSR and not much more, but I also think it lead the way to some of the more inspired things for 2e like the reddish-brown softcover splats and similar products (which are still probably a good thing, even if they were what presaged the character build part of the game and endless splats and so on).


I still remember unwrapping it at Christmas. We'd already incorporated the classes into our game, following the Gygax articles (re)published in Imagine magazine. IIRC I, er, "somehow" managed to roll what I needed to get a Cavalier Paladin - still one of the characters I look back on most fondly. Looking back, there must have been a ton of balance issues, but I loved the new classes, new spells (especially the way cantrips were implemented) and new treasures, though I don't remember us using any of the new races. As for others, it transformed 1e for me.

Musing Mage

Pondering D&D stuff
I view UA as any expansion set - as selectively optional.... so I basically go through and cherry pick the options I want my players to have, tweak a few here and there and that's that.

For instance, I don't allow Cavaliers, and the Paladin remains a fighter subclass, but I have allowed Barbarians and Thief-Acrobats. Spells in UA are available but must be 'unearthed' so to speak, so PCs cannot just select them, they must research or locate them.

Weapons are available, new races and level limit expansions are not... etc. You get the idea. From that point of view, it's a wonderful expansion with many fun options and a few missteps I can ignore.

the Jester

UA was a VERY mixed bag, including some of the worst, most broken material released for 1e (cavaliers, Drow as pcs, the new character generation method, anything items- ugh), but also a few gems (new spells, other magic items, social class rules, weapon specialization, new unarmed combat system, etc).

from what I remember, my group basically used the new spells/magic items, some of the new equipment and rules, and ignored all the new classes and races... the cavalier and barbarian were rather... broken.


Mod Squad
Staff member
The classes were not good. The character generation system was overpowered (and led to the first case my group had seen - a human magic user with an strength higher than their intelligence)*.

Some of the other rules - like weapon specialization, were good ideas for the game they were in.

So, overall - mixed bag.

*Which was then funny, because that was what allowed the magic user to work with the new anti-magic barbarian. My human M-U had an 18 strength, and a 17 intelligence. That's how the dice came out. Beating the barbarian in arm-wrestling, and being able to quite handily bash in some goblin skulls at 1st level allowed the barbarian to say, "This guy just doesn't fit the mold of 'wizard', so clearly he isn't." I just then avoided casting spells in his line of sight until he reached a level where he didn't have to murder me for it.

It was dumb, but as teenagers we just rolled with it, because we didn't really know better.
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UA is very divisive in the 1e community. You’ll find a lot of people who say it’s worthless. You’ll find a lot of people who wouldn’t want to play 1e without. You’ll find pretty much nobody who adopts it whole hog, and even its most ardent defenders will admit that several of the additions need to be reworked or omitted.

if you do incorporate a majority of the book, you’ll find that pc power is greatly increased.

I used to be of the mind that UA was mostly unusable. I’ve softened on that some. While the massive power creep still makes me blanch, I think judicially taking some of the ideas from UA can make for a more flavorful game. A couple of the races and classes are interesting additions if adopted with slight modifications, and I think the new Illusionist spells make it a far more interesting class to play.

If I’m running a game with novices or on a one-off or short term basis, I won’t bother the players with incorporating any of UA in. If I’m looking at a longer term campaign with some 1e veterans, I have a short list of the things I do and don’t incorporate in the game.

I’d also add that anyone who really likes UA (and 1e in general, honestly) should check out Trent Foster’s Heroic Legendarium. It’s a further expansions to 1e-style games in the same fashion as UA.

The Heroic Legendarium: A First Edition Adventure Gaming Companion - Storm Fetish Productions | DriveThruRPG.com


I was still at school (just) when it came out and remember it generally with fondness; mainly because it offered new ideas to the game I loved.
Cantrips were great and we came up with all sorts of creative uses for them.
I can’t remember anyone ever actually playing a cavalier, though I do recall a couple of friendly NPC cavaliers (take a bow, Lord Antonius, the Eagle of Castavar as our Wilderlands group battled the Dead Gods of the Mammoth Lands)
I played a thief-acrobat once in a university game.

Strangely, I don’t recall any discussions linked to “balance” during the entire 1E era. Maybe it was just our group? We were far more into story-gaming, and UA helped with new options.

I’m sure I’d find a lot more issues if I still had my copy and reread it.


Victoria Rules
Like some others here, I saw (and still see) UA as a very mixed bag.

Some of it is excellent; for example the percentile stat increment system for Cavaliers (and Cavaliers in general if toned down a bit and made a sub-class of Fighter); some of the spells; some of the items; cantrips in concept if not execution; the relaxed level-by-species limits, etc.

Some of it is garbage; for example the Barbarian as written; some of the spells; some of the items; the new roll-up system, etc.

So, lots of cherry-picking and kitbashing later I'd say maybe half of it, tops, got adopted into our games (and a few bits e.g. the percentile-increment system got expanded upon).

However, I seem to differ from everyone here in one respect: 37 years and a fair amount of use later my UA copy is still intact, with its binding secure and all the pages in place*.

* - I probably just jinxed it by mentioning this, but oh well... :)

Let's see ....

What was good about Unearthed Arcana?

1. No Bards. The book powercreeped everyone, but thankfully helped consign the Bard to the dustbin of history, where it remained.
Wait ... what? Grrrr. nevermind.

2. Polearms. Man, that appendix T was pretty cool.

3. The binding was terrible, so the pages fell out, which meant that no one had a copy after a few weeks to use.

What was bad about Unearthed Arcana?

Everything else.
Could it be that you have a secret crush on the bard but are ashamed, so that you take a shot at the bard whenever possible?
Just asking for a friendly bard...

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