I’ll begin my short review of this product by echoing what a lot of others have said: When I played AD&D back in the early 1980s, anyone listening to our session would have thought we were playing Basic D&D using classes, spells, and monsters from the AD&D books. And we had never played Basic.
Those 1e hardbacks are classics. The options they provided for players and dungeon masters have provided the foundation that many fantasy RPGs and much of fantasy literature since the time has been built upon. In addition to the archetypal portrayals of adventurers, monsters, and magic the prose of these books helped establish a certain mood that influenced my thinking about how the game should be played. But the books have a weakness, and that is the fact that the actual rules for play are complex, scattered, and often contradictory. Some of them are on the verge of unusable.
So, like many others, we simply ignored most of the unneeded rules, simplified most of the rest, and played away never knowing that we were imitating that “kids” version of the game we wouldn’t get caught dead playing.
Taking the best of the advanced edition and adapting it for the clone of the 1981 version of the Basic/Expert edition of the game is a brilliant idea, and the execution is well-done.
The book itself is 160 pages in length, compared to the 140 page core Labyrinth Lord rule book. Although there is a section containing new rules, all of the regular rules for play are in the core book only. You definitely need the basic Labyrinth Lord book to use the Advanced Edition Companion. I put my two full-art PDFs together in a one volume comb-bound book I call the Tome of the Labyrinth Lord, and it’s working quite well.
The sections on character classes and spells completely replace the class and spell sections of the core book. The cleric class, for instance, is complete in the AEC and references to the core book are not required. The magic missile spell is included in the expanded spell descriptions in the AEC. All weapons and equipment from the core set are also in the lists of the AEC. This is a nice move and heads off one of the weaknesses of multi-volume rule sets: the need to flip back and forth between multiple sources for information on one specific subject.
All of the races and classes from the first edition of the advanced game are present and accounted for, and they are very closely re-produced. Fans of the original game will not be disappointed. Dan Proctor went to great effort to make sure that the AEC material is fully compatible with the core LL system, and this means that your third-level Dwarf can adventure right alongside a new elven thief and a paladin. I probably won’t continue to use race-as-class characters in my campaign, but those who want to will have no problems doing so. The basic hit dice levels are used, meaning that fighters get a d8, clerics get d6, and thieves d4, but the hit dice used in the hardcovers is listed as an optional rule.
The other two major sections of the book, those containing new monsters and new magic items, do NOT duplicate content from the core book. I believe that space was the main reason for this, and with 60+ pages of monsters and magic in the core book, duplicating it in the AEC would have meant a book well over 200 pages. Monsters and items from the core book are included in lists and tables that note their location. Virtually everything is faithfully reproduced as closely as the lawyers will allow, and (again) fans of the original game should not have anything to complain about.
The artwork is quite good. I don’t usually put a high premium on artwork, not really bothering to worry about it much unless it stinks, but I must admit that the illustrations in the AEC do a lot of good. This art, particularly the depictions of the demons and devils, is quite evocative of the old-school mentality and should please most gamers looking for a link to the good old days in a system from today.
It’s hard to find much to criticize here, to be honest. Virtually all the classes, spells, monsters, and magic you remember is present. Two notable exceptions are bards and psionics. While some will grumble about the former, I can’t imagine too many missing the latter. And with all the other advanced classes available, building your own first edition bard should not be too difficult if that’s what you really want.
All in all, the Advanced Edition Companion is a great product. Even if you have no intention of using the advanced characters, the spells, monsters, and magic items can certainly be used in a regular Labyrinth Lord game. And something that must not be overlooked is the fact that this is all open game material, meaning it’s out there for us forever.
Five out of five stars on this one.
UPDATE: Oops. Forgot to include links.
The Advanced Edition Companion is available on Lulu at Goblinoid Games’ print store in hardcover ($32.95) and perfect-bound softcover ($22.95). PDFs are available at RPG Now in standard full-art versions ($5.95) and a free no-art version. The free version simply has the art removed, leaving page numbering to match the standard version.
I purchased the full-art PDF. My guess is that the covers on the dead tree versions look incredible, but my preference for digest-sized books and comb or coil binding keeps me from springing for a print version at this time.
UPDATE 2: As I began working on a little project I began to realize that the differences between the races in the AEC and the 1e advanced game are more significant than I initially thought. Though I don’t think it will stop too many people, it’s worth taking a look at. I summarized them here.