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What's the best and worst D&D book you own from any edition?

Best: A toss up between the Red Box set, which was my first D&D book ever, and the 3.5E Player Guide, which is my "home" edition. Both were great reads for very different reasons. Both were definitive books for my RPG life.

Worst: I'm going to go with Races of Destiny from 3.5e.

There are lots of D&D books that I dislike with a passion. I hated the lack or organization in 2e material. I hated how the Magic Item Compendium and Book of 9 Swords completely changed 3.5E. I hated stealth errata in Complete Psionic, and terrible spells like Melf's Unicorn Arrow in the PHBII. But all of those books had some actual ideas and some actual value, even if I personally dislike them.

Races of Destiny, OTOH, is without a doubt the least remarkable book in my RPG library. It came in a box set with the other Races Of series. I read it, I put in on a shelf, and it was done. It's not terrible; it doesn't break the game, it isn't annoying, it isn't offensive. But there's nothing useful in it. There are no new ideas, and none of it's concepts are flushed out. It is by far the most boring and worthless RPG book I own. I don't think WotC ever referenced any of the material in it ever again. The only thing remarkable about it is how unremarkable it is.
 

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jeremypowell

Explorer
So, when I glanced at the thread title, I mistook "any" for "every," and that still seems like a more fun list, so I'm making it.

You'll notice a theme.

pre-2e
Best: Waterdeep and the North — Incredibly imaginative, it feels like this book plus the grey box constitute the real start of the 2e era
Worst: N/A — This is the only category I can't fill, because I only have a few pre-2e books and they all rock

2e
Best: Faiths and Avatars — Nearly overwhelming in its rich detail, but still very usable
Worst: Realmspace — Reads like it was written by a nine-year-old high on fumes

3e
Best: Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting — A stunning achievement that should remain the model for any such book
Worst: Faiths and Pantheons — Cut-and-paste reprint of the previous edition's winner that adds too little new material

4e
Best: Neverwinter Campaign Setting — The only excellent 4e Forgotten Realms book
Worst: Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide — Cover to cover just about as bad as it could possibly be

5e
Best: Out of the Abyss — Still the only really original 5e hardcover adventure
Worst: Explorer's Guide to Wildemount — The only 5e book I wish I hadn't bought
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
Best: A toss up between the Red Box set, which was my first D&D book ever, and the 3.5E Player Guide, which is my "home" edition. Both were great reads for very different reasons. Both were definitive books for my RPG life.

Worst: I'm going to go with Races of Destiny from 3.5e.

There are lots of D&D books that I dislike with a passion. I hated the lack or organization in 2e material. I hated how the Magic Item Compendium and Book of 9 Swords completely changed 3.5E. I hated stealth errata in Complete Psionic, and terrible spells like Melf's Unicorn Arrow in the PHBII. But all of those books had some actual ideas and some actual value, even if I personally dislike them.

Races of Destiny, OTOH, is without a doubt the least remarkable book in my RPG library. It came in a box set with the other Races Of series. I read it, I put in on a shelf, and it was done. It's not terrible; it doesn't break the game, it isn't annoying, it isn't offensive. But there's nothing useful in it. There are no new ideas, and none of it's concepts are flushed out. It is by far the most boring and worthless RPG book I own. I don't think WotC ever referenced any of the material in it ever again. The only thing remarkable about it is how unremarkable it is.
Didn't Races of Destiny have the killoren and the illumien? I loved those races . . . although never did play one of them . . .
 

Jack Daniel

Engines & Empires
I don't actually own a huge number of official D&D books at the moment. (I pruned the collection a while ago, and I'm not sure if or when I'll ever build it back up again.) The best that I have is definitely the Rules Cyclopedia, that's a no-brainer… but the worst?

…Actually, I've just remembered that I have a copy of the adventure In the Phantom's Wake. Which, to be fair, has a cool full-size poster-map of a ship's deck and interior for it's "dungeon"—but it's also a God-awful railroad of an adventure, with an unkillable ghost-pirate "boss monster" and a stupid puzzle-mystery that has to be figured out by the PCs within a time-limit on pain of unfair character death. The only way to win is not to play, making it a negadungeon published decades before the likes of Death Frost Doom, Tower of the Stargazer, and Maze of the Blue Medusa.
 
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Didn't Races of Destiny have the killoren and the illumien? I loved those races . . . although never did play one of them . . .
Googling shows that the Illumian was in this one, but Killored was from Races of the Wild. I remember RotW being a step up from RoD. Races of Stone was the best of the series IMNSHO.

I think the fact that you never actually got around to playing an Illumian, and the fact that the race and mechanics they used never show up anywhere else, illustrates my point fairly well.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
Googling shows that the Illumian was in this one, but Killored was from Races of the Wild. I remember RotW being a step up from RoD. Races of Stone was the best of the series IMNSHO.

I think the fact that you never actually got around to playing an Illumian, and the fact that the race and mechanics they used never show up anywhere else, illustrates my point fairly well.
The illumian certainly didn't have traction, pretty sure they never appeared again in D&D! But I still love the race, or at least, the idea of the race.
 

Best: 4e's Open Grave: Secrets of the Undead. Not quite a setting book, not quite a monster manual, but an overall excellent trove of ways to them your campaigns around the undead. I used this quite a bit when I ran an Eberron campaign centered in Karrnath.

Worst: 4e's Monster Manual. Ugh. What a piece of crap.
 

Olaf the Stout

Adventurer
I never had the Shackled City hardback, and I never managed to run the campaign, but I have vivid memories of reading about the adventures in Dungeon Magazine at the time. I found the city inside the caldera of a volcano a fascinating setting!
And you just know the “dormant” volcano is definitely not going to erupt at some point in the campaign. 😂
 

Olaf the Stout

Adventurer
Currently there are exactly 2 WotC branded books and 1 Paizo book on my shelf. I purged all of my actual D&D / PF hardcovers maybe 5 years ago, other than:

-- The 3.x Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting,
-- The 3.x Eberron Campaign Setting
-- The 3.5 Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting

All of them are excellent, but if I had to rank them top to bottom, Golarion/PF would be #1, and Eberron #3. So the "worst" D&D book I own is the Eberron Campaign Setting. 🙂
What system are you running currently?
 

Blue Orange

Explorer
I've always wondered how much of the charm of the 1e DMG, particularly in retrospect through the rose-colored glasses of early adolescence, was precisely due to its bizarre disorganization. Reading it and trying to make sense of the contradictory rules felt like being a wizard puzzling through an occult tome of eldritch secrets, what with the tables for minutiae (there was a random condiments table!), and of course Gygax's grandiloquent, archaic, and sesquipedalian prose. The whole thing was full of complicated digressions, rarely-used tables, and long disquisitions on every possible permutation of something simple (has the magic item list ever been so long?).

There was also the vaguely disreputable feel of a lot of it--in addition to the now-famous random harlot table, there were rules for summoning and random generation of demons (and this was back in the 70s and 80s when Satanism was something people had real moral panics about), tables for torture chamber items and sexual perversions, and the notorious cheesecake pictures, including one near the back of a succubus. Every major magic item type had a booby-trapped version. It was like reading a book written by that dangerous (?) guy in high school who wore a black leather jacket and listened to heavy metal music (this was what rebellious older kids did in Gen X, for the younguns), if he had had the vocabulary of a professor of medieval studies. It was a nerd's idea of rebellion, if rebellion involved reading about stuff you weren't supposed to instead of taking drugs and committing petty crime.

What, you think I'm picking on the book? I used to take it with me when getting dragged to try out clothes by my parents and pore over it trying to figure out why some monster had a 3% chance of appearing in a swamp while another had a 4%. I generated 12 monsters from Appendix D (yes, I can still list half of them besides Appendix N) in grade school and turned them into a personal set of demons with a hierarchy and everything. I stuck bits from the dungeon dressing tables into school essays as metaphors (don't ask). I thought the gal in Darlene Pekul's Aubrey Beardsley homage was cute.

But if the golden age of science fiction is thirteen, well, maybe that's the golden age of RPG books as well.
 

What system are you running currently?

From 2010 to 2011, I ran Pathfinder 1e. It was actually a lot of fun, but by the time the characters reached 8th level, prepping for sessions was exhausting. From 2012 until this year, I mostly ran Savage Worlds.

In that time I ran campaigns in a fantasy homebrew setting, a LotR hack, and the Weird Wars Rome setting from Pinnacle Entertainment. Two other GMs ran campaigns in Shaintar (a high-fantasy setting specifically for Savage Worlds) and War of the Dead / zombie apocalypse.

*Edit -- another group member tried GM-ing a GURPS superhero campaign for maybe 4 months in 2019, loosely based in Brandon Sanderson's Reckoners universe, but we were lucky if the game rose to the level of mediocre most sessions. Having tried GURPS in 3 different settings now, I can definitively say I dislike the system immensely.

We also dabbled for 4 sessions in Dungeon World in 2018, which was going . . . okay, mostly, other than it was hard shifting into the right GM mindset, and one of the players (who's no longer in the group) bounced hard off the system.

After 8+ years of almost exclusively playing Savage Worlds, everyone in the group was ready to branch out, including me.

Last year just before Covid hit I started an Edge of the Empire campaign that played just 2 sessions, but was going well. I was actually pretty disappointed we didn't get to keep that one going.

Last week we played our first remote session of Ironsworn (a PbtA / FitD derivative), and it went very well. The plan right now is to alternate between Ironsworn and a Tiny D6 / Tiny Frontiers (space opera) campaign being GM'd by the group member who ran the Shaintar campaign.

We'll see what shakes out this year. I'm pretty sure I'm going to pick up Swords of the Serpentine at some point, and my kids looooove The Dragon Prince TV series, so Tales of Xadia is probably in the mix at some point too.
 
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Bluenose

Adventurer
I think that's fair. For a lot of people OSR = very stripped down rules. But that isn't always the case see Traveler's charts and system/planet creation method and terminology and Rolemaster etc.
And to some extent the majority of 1970s RPGs don't really qualify as simple (too much influence from 1970s wargames among the writers, I suspect), though equating Old Game with Old School has always seemed unreasonable to me as someone who played in the 1970s. And if the inclusion of a lot of random charts and tables disallow a game from being OSR, then I'm pretty sure the 1E DMG cuts AD&D out of the list. Which is patent nonsense considering how OSR material uses that as one of the main sources (along with Original and Basic D&D).
 

Blue Orange

Explorer
And to some extent the majority of 1970s RPGs don't really qualify as simple (too much influence from 1970s wargames among the writers, I suspect), though equating Old Game with Old School has always seemed unreasonable to me as someone who played in the 1970s. And if the inclusion of a lot of random charts and tables disallow a game from being OSR, then I'm pretty sure the 1E DMG cuts AD&D out of the list. Which is patent nonsense considering how OSR material uses that as one of the main sources (along with Original and Basic D&D).

You do raise a very good point, though--there are a lot more B/X clones than AD&D clones. I suspect one of the attractions of OSR is simplicity of rules.
 

So that's my best and worst D&D book that I own. What's yours?
Best, as in one I've used most hours of play: D&D 5E PHB
Best, as in one I used longest: Cyclopedia,
Best, as in one with the best neat ideas: Tie: Voyage of the Princess Ark, Spelljammer
Best visually? (no longer in my posession) D&D 4E PHB.

Worst:
AD&D 1E DMG. Ugly art. Poorly worded. Unclear writing. Convoluted rules. Poorly organized. Good ideas buried under bad ones.

I Never got Book of Vile Darkness, but from what I've seen, it would be the content worst, while AD&D 1E DMG would be the everything else worst.

Edit: I'd forgotten I'd previously responded... The alternate bests differ, slightly.
 
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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
The sheer multiplicity of D&D products put out across almost fifty years and several editions makes this a very hard question to answer. I'll tentatively nominate the following:

Best: Return to the Tomb of Horrors (AD&D 2E). This is an epic campaign, starting out with a simple mission to root out some giants, which leads you to infiltrating a college of necromancers, only to then brave the Tomb of Horrors itself, and that's just the beginning! It really contributed a lot to the legend of the original S1 Tomb of Horrors, and has become a classic in its own right ever since.

Worst: WG7 Castle Greyhawk (AD&D 1E). I honestly can't get past how mean-spirited this product is, being one big put-down of Gary Gygax's legendary castle/dungeon.

Please note my use of affiliate links in this post.
 

S'mon

Legend
But I think the worst is probably "Scourge of the Howling Horde". It's an incredibly dull, railroady adventure, pretty much every stat-block is wrong (including several monsters drawn unchanged from the "Monster Manual"). But worst of all, it was clearly typeset assuming full colour, and then printed in greyscale, with the net result that several of the sidebars are nigh-unreadable.

The copy of Scourge I got had been partially eaten by animals - this was probably an improvement. :D

Favourite book is the 1e DMG, a timeless classic. I like the 5e PHB & MM a lot, despite some issues (terribad PHB index, hard to find section in PHB, no encounter tables or NPC race mods in MM) - presumably though in some distant future I'll be running a new version of D&D and won't need them anymore. But I'll still be referring to the 1e DMG until I die/am too sick/too senile to play D&D.
 

Olaf the Stout

Adventurer
The copy of Scourge I got had been partially eaten by animals - this was probably an improvement. :D

Favourite book is the 1e DMG, a timeless classic. I like the 5e PHB & MM a lot, despite some issues (terribad PHB index, hard to find section in PHB, no encounter tables or NPC race mods in MM) - presumably though in some distant future I'll be running a new version of D&D and won't need them anymore. But I'll still be referring to the 1e DMG until I die/am too sick/too senile to play D&D.
It annoys me that WotC still can’t get indexing right. Indexes should not refer you to another page in the index. Just give me the page numbers directly. It’s not that hard.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
For the best I'm going to go with 2e's Encyclopedia Magica. Awesome book set.

For the worst it's a toss up between 1e's Dungeoneers Survival Guide and 3e's The Magic of Incarnum.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
It annoys me that WotC still can’t get indexing right. Indexes should not refer you to another page in the index. Just give me the page numbers directly. It’s not that hard.
I'm almost certain the the PHB's horrible index exists entirely for the THAC0 reference. Which was not worth it in any way.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
I responded to this thread back in its first life, and it's interesting to me how little my answers have changed in the time since.

Out of the hundreds of D&D and TTRPG books and boxes I've purchased over the years, the ones I've USED the most have been the 2e Al-Qadim sourcebox Secrets of the Lamp and the D&D Rules Cyclopedia. If I have to pick one as the Best, it's the Rules Cyclopedia, though it's far from perfect; it's riddled with typos and errors. But for someone who knows their way around a rulebook and a chart, the issues are easy fixes.

Now, as mentioned previously, I've purchased hundreds of books, and I keep buying them to this day. I buy tons of stuff I know I'll never use, tons of stuff I hope I'll be able to use someday, and tons of stuff I find myself using in unexpected ways. C'est la vie.

But there are only two books I've ever actually regretted purchasing (well, three really, but the third is regretting giving money to the cretin who wrote it, and I wish I'd known more about that person before the purchase. The book itself is fine).

Anyway, the two books that were to me an absolute waste of money and resources were Magic of Incarnum and the 3.5 Dungeon Master's Guide II. Those two books were so devoid of value to me I felt they represented actual contempt for the audience.

Others like them, and that's fine. I don't hate. But holy moly, I did not find one scrap of value in either book.
 

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