Monster Listings: GM Eyes Only?

When I first played Dungeons and Dragons, it was 1st Edition AD&D and the only book we had was a borrowed Player’s Handbook. After a couple of months I picked myself up a DMG, but it wasn’t until several more months had passed that we got our hands on a Monster Manual. The DMG had basic monster stats in an appendix, so we were able to get by.

Did anyone else try to keep players from looking at this?

Did anyone else try to keep players from looking at this?

When that Monster Manual finally joined the party (and that is a bit of a story in itself) I kept it “secret” and didn’t allow anyone else to look at it. My excuse was that only the DM needed to know the details about the monsters, and that players reading through “DM material” gave them an unfair advantage. My brother returned the favor when he bought himself the Fiend Folio and didn’t allow me to peruse its pages.

Lately, we’ve been playing Labyrinth Lord. I’ve also got a few things cooking for the White Box edition of Swords and Wizardry. The free availability of these games in PDF form is a major bonus over going about acquiring legal copies of the games, and 1981 B/X’s nonavailability as a PDF even before WotC yanked all PDF sales was a major reason why I went with Labyrinth Lord in the first place.

Printing these up for players, though, has got me wondering about something. The rule sets come as one volume, but it’s easy to print up a “player’s section” and give that to players and have a “full” version for myself. However, I’m wondering if that’s really necessary. After all, the versions of the game these retro-clones re-create did not come with separate player and GM books, at least not when you bought them; the entire game was purchased at once.

I believe the separate books bought separately gave me the impression that two of the three AD&D books were for dungeon masters only. The second edition of the game actually reinforced this belief by including a number of formerly-DMG sections into the new Player’s Handbook. If the DMG was for everyone, why bother moving combat tables into the PH?

The more I think about it, the more I feel that there’s no harm in “letting” players see monster stats and info on things like magic items. After all, if they really want to see it, it’s not like I can hide it from them. Maybe restrict reference at the table during a session, but to try and somehow keep them from finding out how many hit dice a green dragon has would be futile even if I thought it was a good idea.

How was this looked at in the early days? I realize that waaayy back in the day, maybe only one person actually owned a copy of the rules. But with the publications of Holmes and especially AD&D and B/X, the availability of rule books was virtually unlimited.

Besides, many players also DM. They know these things anyway. Were we just strange by trying to limit others’ access to the monsters?

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6 Responses to Monster Listings: GM Eyes Only?

  1. bat says:

    Back then, when we were so young I think part of that came from a less mature outlook on life than we have now. I may be wrong, but back then I really just wanted to see the cool pictures. The times I get to play now I don’t worry about the statistics of anything and I have all of these books in print that I peruse often, I am just happy to play.

  2. Ainatan says:

    In the case of LL you could print the book up to page 60, right before the monster section and it would become a perfect “player’s handbook”.
    I don’t mind telling the players in my group the monster stats because they are mature players and I also change a lot the stats. Most of the time I use the stats for just for inspiration anyway.

    • Kilgore says:

      That’s exactly what I’ve done so far. Not only does it keep monster and magic stats out of players hands, it makes for a smaller/cheaper player book. I’ve been rethinking keeping the info from players, though. Upon reflection, I don’t know how necessary it is.

      For the thin Swords & Wizardry White Box rules I gave the whole thing to my son. He thought reading about the monsters and magic was about the coolest thing ever. The info in WB is pretty sparse, so I didn’t mind giving him a taste.

  3. Brian says:

    You were strange. I remember kids who were players would memorize details from the monster books and quiz each other during recess while we waited our turn up at kickball. The rule in those games was that you couldn’t look in the book during the game, but memorizing was fair game.

    • Kilgore says:

      “You were strange.” No doubt! 🙂

      One thing about our situation was that we hardly knew anyone else who played. So the “everyone knows it all” scenario wasn’t in play.

      I like the “can’t look while playing” rule, though.

  4. Jeff Rients says:

    Pouring over the monster books reached almost the point of ritualistic observance with my original group as a kid. (Ditto the magic items in the DMG and UA, and the mechs in the Technical Readout 3028.)

    Nowadays, I think at least part of the monster list should be kept from the players’ ken. Keep ’em guessing!

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