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


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.

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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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