The Best Gaming Book of All Time?

I own literally hundreds—perhaps thousands—of gaming books. Some are amazing works, others are crap. However, there’s one book that stands head and shoulders above the others.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

 

One book has never steered me wrong even though I haven’t actually played the game more than sporadically for (probably) 20 years. Packed full of wisdom, hints and tips for running epic games its contents withstand the test of time. For me, the advice therein yet guides me in my gaming quest. I know without a shadow of a doubt my campaign would be a pale shadow of itself without this book by my side.

So what’s the book?

Well given I’m a bit of an old fart, you’ve probably guessed by now. Of course, it’s the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide by Gary Gygax.

My Beloved DMG!

My Beloved DMG!

In my opinion, this book—gloriously disorganised and utilising (sometimes) a baffling vocabulary—more than any other book is responsible for my love affair with gaming. Frankly, when I first started playing D&D I wasn’t really using even a rough approximation of the rules. I was young, I was crazy and I was having fun. But that’s not the point. The DMG inducted me into the amazing world of fantasy gaming, slipped its ebon tentacles about me and never let me go. Within its page, I caught a glimpse of what a truly epic game could be like.

Sure there’s tons of tables in there I’ve never used. I’ve rarely needed to know how far a gnoll can dig through soft rock in a day, for example. There are bags of artefacts and relics I’ve never used in my game. And frankly the pummelling, grappling and overbearing rules always baffled me. But that’s not the point. The inclusion of this kind of material spoke to me of the kind of detail—dare I say verisimilitude—a full, comprehensive and downright awesome campaign should include.

To this day, I return again and again to this book for inspiration. While ultimately D&D is a game of imaginary combat, the DMG strove (successfully) to give a sense of the wider campaign. It speaks of the importance of weather, time, taxes, hirelings, artefacts (I’d never own), richly detailed dungeons and more. And, of course, with a comprehensive, more rounded campaign world comes more rounded and fully fleshed out PCs to explore it. The kind of PCs that almost become friends; that you can imagine as actual people, not merely a collection of numbers scribbled on a piece of paper who exist only to slay and loot.

Now a-days, my original DMG is looking a little battered. It’s dog-eared, I’ve scribbled notes here and there and it’s festooned with page markers. There are even paw prints across the Random Dungeon Generation appendix left there by my first dog when I foolishly took the book into the garden and paid it more attention than her! But that just makes it better. This book is my companion and my guide. I shudder to think what my campaigns would be like without it.

And you won’t even pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Do I Know Best?


Do you agree? Is the 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide the best gaming book of all time? What’s your greatest gaming book of all time? Let me know, in the comments below.

Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

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28 thoughts on “The Best Gaming Book of All Time?

  1. I’d contend the Rules Cyclopedia (combing Basic and Expert D&D sets, and others) is a much better piece of work, though far less well known by the public at large.

  2. The one that I enjoyed most for the week we were at Band Camp was in the campus bookstore. It was the Monster Manual. I loved the look of it. the fact that it was a brwose copy told me that others were enjoying it as well.

  3. Excellent choice. I’d perhaps vote for the Rules Cyclopedia OR Warhammer Fantasy’s Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness, but the 1E AD&D DMG is as good a selection as any.

  4. For me; it was the Rules Cyclopaedia. From the front cover, beautiful (at the time, though still classic) maps; the pictures and tables and all of the ideas!! I still have it, and it’s a prized possession. It’s an heirloom piece, in my opinion, one that I fully intend to pass down to my daughters. Already I see the glorious gleam in their eyes when I open up our old cedar chest and their little hands automatically go towards it and my other RPG books. They are so delighted by these secret tomes that I casually tell them, “When you’re ten years old or so, we will use these to play the best game in the world!” They marvel at the dice, too, which I keep in a little concave paper clip jar, along with MtG counters in blue and blue-clear. It’s a special occasion for my daughters when I open the chest, and the one that sees me yells to the other, so that they can rush into our bedroom and look at “Daddy’s special books.” I love that they find them so enthralling without even knowing what they are for; and I can’t wait until I can let them know! It reminds me so much of my Rules Cyclopaedia experience, reading it cover to cover without knowing what most of it was!

    • It’s perhaps a little late now, although I don’t know what age your daughters are, but you really don’t have to wait until they’re 10. My brother’s kids are all playing, starting when the youngest of the three was about 7. (although the oldest would have been 10 at that point, I guess.) They may get something a little different out of it at the younger age than they will as they mature, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable for everyone.

  5. I agree. It was my gateway to a world I had hardly imagined….full of inspiration like no other. Peerless in my memory….as chaotic and perplexing as it was, full of mystery and promise to my 13 year old self.

  6. It’s a good book, and one I crack open once in a while to visit Gary (rest his soul), but no, I don’t think it’s the “best book” (subjective as that is). It may be the inspiration for most other games, but I found old Tunnels & Trolls books to be more approachable in around the same time-frame, more modern DMGs are more useful to educate new DMs in how to run a game, Shadowrun (1E) for giving a flavor and setting a tone for a game. My all-time favorite gamebook, however, is the GURPS rulebook (1st Edition- 3rd Edition). All the information is at hand and easily arranged, no other book is needed. The rules are easy to absorb, but there are hints of so many things you can hang the meat of a campaign upon. Of course the system has a ton of other books you CAN buy for it; that’s one of the hallmarks of GURPS, after all. It’s just not strictly necessary, and gives anyone from a novice group of gamers to a veteran squad everything to play nearly anything they wish.

  7. You have my wholehearted agreement on this, except the book in your image has the 1983 cover art. I prefer the original giant Efreet.

  8. I remember reading it in the car (I was 14) on the way home from buying it and getting to the lycanthropy information (I think on page 12 or so) and thinking “Wow, there is so much stuff in here I never even considered!”

  9. Rules cyclopedia hands down. it has everything you need to play (no need for Player’s Handbook or Monster Manual), plus planar adventuring (no need for Manual of the Planes), naval battles (no need for Ships & the Sea), mass combat and siege rules (no need for BattleSystem), dominion rules (no need for Birthright), constructions rules (no need for Castle Guide), monster spellcasters (no need for Complete Book of Humanoids) undead leiges controlling armies of undead, Ascending to Immortality!!! PLUS a chapter summarizing the world of Mystara, which is as everyone knows, the BEST and Most complete and diverse game world setting ever created.

  10. Rules Cyclopedia is the best ever for actually running the game.

    But it’s Gygax’s DMG I turn to in between games for advice, inspiration, and to read for pleasure. In that sense it was indeed the greatest gaming book ever written and its legacy will endure.

  11. Definitely, even though I moved on to 2e I still use the 1e DMG as a reference book. Many of the charts and tables still see use at my table. I agree with you. Good call!

  12. Though a lot of material in the AD&D DMG is great. A must look at book is the Chivalry and Sorcery 2nd edition, and the sourcebooks.

    They add more charts and tables, and a variety of items to acquire in the market place. The most interesting part is the atmosphere that some of the C and S rules evoke.

  13. I am ‘profoundly’ over-joyed to hear there are a few who see there is more than retro or nostalgia to 1st ed. DMG (I would include 2nd as well, just me). Some players from then and now, I talk to, say it has too rules that slow (bog) the game down and other stuff that one does not even care about. That was / is the beauty of the book; at some point, the longer one games, a question is asked….”What does the DMG say or is it covered?” It was mentioned about the pummel, grapple and overbearing rules which most do not think about until maybe their first bar fight; when I started all confrontations (fights) lethal till you asked if other is unconscious or almost. Most non-lethal fights were handled thus unless one was a monk class where hand-to-hand was for most part covered and rules better explained and laid out. If not a monk….oh well good luck. Another was, could anyone ‘climb’ a tree? This would stop a game quicker than the previous action(s). Nothing special, just a ordinary, everyday tree. Most discussions ended with, if one was not a thief or assassin or dual class with one of….NO. Yes, it is covered in the book but most DM’s I played with would get flustered trying to find those rules (table) and give up. That was my only real fault with the book is how it was laid out very random. So, depending on what it was, it could easily turn into a research project. But over all, I feel Mr. Gygax did a very through job in trying to cover all sorts of things that a DM might get asked or ask them-self or want to use. The DM at least had a starting point on topic.

  14. I still read the original DMG for inspiration, but the First edition Monster Manual is my favorite. I love the way Gary builds a mythology around the monsters.