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).

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