During the summer I moved from second edition AD&D books to first edition. I think the one I used the least when playing AD&D – the Survival guides got a lot of use, and even the Manual of the Planes was somewhat useful.
This is also one of the two AD&D books for which I clearly remember when I saw them the first time. The other one is Monster Manual II, and I will write something about it later. The first time I saw Unearthed Arcana was at a friend of a friend. We had played a lot of roleplaying games for some years with one group, and one of my friend had this a bit older friend who was also a gamer.
The older guy ran some Top Secret for us – a fun game, though I think he was somewhat annoyed at us younger people not quite getting the tone of the game.
Anyway, he also had a collection of AD&D books. I think he had most AD&D books at that point, but I’m not sure if the second edition was already published. He had also this rare book in his library and he let us take a look at it. I was quite amazed by all the polearms in the book and decided that I would really like this book.
I didn’t get a copy until years later, and then I had gotten over the idea of having a humongous list of weapons, so I never really used the polearm list.
We used the book in one long AD&D campaign. It was a mix of first and second editions so we didn’t really use much of it – the new classes weren’t used and spells were mostly from the second edition.
The book itself is a collection of new, well, for a lack of better word, stuff, for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. It has new classes, a new ability (Comeliness), new spells and magic items, new rules, and of course, the polearm list.
The new classes are mostly quite overpowered. I could see a campaign of only barbarians or only cavaliers, but they might not fit very well in a normal campaign as both are quite powerful compared to the “standard” classes. Perhaps this set the idea for later expansion books – usually it seems the things in new roleplaying books are more powerful than the older ones.
Some of the spells got taken into the second edition of AD&D. Some were just forgotten, which is as well – there are quite a lot of spells altogether.
We did use the Comeliness ability in the long AD&D campaign. The rules have charm like effects, but we ditched those and just used common sense. For that the ability was useful, and of course my bard character was quite handsome. Objectively I don’t see much point in the Comeliness, though – Charisma is much of the same thing, and players can define their characters’ looks themselves, too.
One rule we used was the ability score generation so that the most important ability was rolled by best three of eight dice, and then less dice until one was rolled with just three dice. This created quite high abilities, but my bard had strength 4, which is of course quite low, scale being 3-18.
The magic item list has useful stuff, like Hevard’s Handy Haversack, the improved portable hole. Now it seems to me that AD&D has just toomuchmagic items, so I’m not use the list was useful even when playing the first edition.
In conclusion, the book has some legendary value for me – it was a rare book and much talked about, but we didn’t really use it even when we had it. The usefulness of the book for playing even first edition AD&D nowadays is, in my opinion, very limited. It’s a nice artifact of its time, but it’s just not very good as a gaming supplement.