This article originally appeared in Pyramid #15
Published by TSR, Inc.
Compilation and Development by slade
$25.00 per volume
At first, this seemed like another testament to the art of repackaging. "Let's put all the same old information in a new format and sell it to them again!," I pictured the folks at TSR saying, snickering at the gullibility of their fans and putting a couple more millions in the bank.
Well, the Encyclopedia Magica series is selling like gangbusters, but not because of slick marketing or any basic character flaws on the part of AD&D players across the globe. These books look good, and they're incredibly useful to boot.
In the 20-some-odd years (some odder than others, as the old joke goes) of Dungeons & Dragons and its big brother AD&D, the amount of material generated for the game is staggering. Hundreds of issues of various magazines, dozens of hardbacks and boxed sets and an uncountable number of sourcebooks, adventures and modules - and practically every one of them contained new magic items. So somebody had a bright idea at TSR to collect all the magic items ever "officially" published for the game and present them in an encyclopedia, in alphabetical order. I don't even want to think about the amount of work required to go through all those old books and find all the listings; I'm just sitting here in abject admiration of the job.
The Encyclopedia Magica has everything published through December 1993 in the history of the company. Items come from Dragon, Dungeon, Polyhedron, Imagine (remember that one?) and even The Strategic Review, TSR's first magazine. Even the Fantasy Collector Cards get cited. The earliest game book I found named was Eldritch Wizardry, but there could be earlier for all I know. As an added bonus, each item has the book or magazine issue it came from listed right there.
The Encyclopedia Magica has three of the planned four volumes out at this writing, at over 400 pages per book (and, according to a running total at the bottom of each page, 5,127 separate items!). The first volume contains a useful guide for the book, plus a long set of tables for generating unique artifacts and tables for converting monetary values between the various AD&D worlds. The fourth volume, it is promised, will contain extensive tables for randomly determining the magic items that are found in treasure hoards (with the most powerful artifacts and relics removed). But the star of these books is the huge listing of magic items, from the Abacus of Calculation to the Spellbook Thesis on Conditional Ruptures (so far).
There's not much to say about the writing - it's all descriptions of magic items. The graphic designers did a nice job spicing up what could have been very drab pages with a goodly number of black-and-white drawings (around one every other page) and the occasional color plate. The use of a slightly reflective gold ink for the page frame and certain sub-heads also gives the book a touch of class.
Actually, the whole book is classy. TSR pulled out all the stops with this one, with faux-leather covers, embossed with the company logo on the cover and the title on the spine in gold ink. They even bound in a little gold ribbon to use as a bookmark, like in fancy Bibles and dictionaries and such. The approach paid off; Tim Brown, the Director of Creative Services, told me that the top-quality appearance of the books has helped the sales. "It's a book everybody wants to own," he said. Brown also said that with the success of Encyclopedia Magica, TSR will probably be doing other books with a similar fancy-looking style.
Congratulations to TSR for taking a nearly impossible-sounding job and devoting the time and expertise to getting it right. There's nothing sloppy or careless about these books - a first-class job all the way, and a must-have for any AD&D player.
- Scott Haring
Article publication date: October 1, 1995
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