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Players Handbook (1e)

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The 1st Edition Player's Handbook is back!

No more searching through stacks of books and magazines to find out what you need to know. The Player's Handbook puts it all at your fingertips, including: All recommended character classes: Fighters, Paladins, Rangers, Magic-Users, and more.

  • Character Races: Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Half-Orcs, Humans, and more.
  • Character Level Statistics.
  • Equipment lists with costs.
  • Spell listings by level and descriptions of effects (including many new spells!).

As a dungeon adventurer or Dungeon Master, you will find the contents of this book to be what you have been waiting for. All useful material is now compiled under one cover, especially for players!

Product History

Players Handbook (1978), by Gary Gygax, was the first book of rules for the AD&D game. It was published in June 1978 and seen by many for the first time at Gen Con XI (August 1978).

About the Cover. The cover by Dave Trampier — which shows adventurers looting an idol after killing their foes — is one of the most famous in D&D history. The painting actually encompasses the back cover too (as was the case with all of the original AD&D books) but that picture, which shows adventurers dragging off loot and foes, has never received the same attention.

Because of its fame, Trampier's cover has been repeatedly recreated and parodied. The 3.5e Player's Handbook II (2006), which shows a close-up of the idol-robbing, may be the most attractive homage, but the original HackMaster Player's Handbook (2001) is fun too, because it shows Trampier's iconic scene several minutes earlier, when the adventurers are still fighting the lizard monsters.

Trampier's famous cover was replaced in 1983 by a Jeff Easley painting of a wizard. Most people agree that the later image is more professional, but much less memorable.

About the Other Illustrations. The illustrations by Dave Trampier and David C. Sutherland III feel relatively scant, especially when compared to the 200 illustrations in the Monster Manual (1977). There also aren't as many iconic illustrations as found in the other two core AD&D books. However, the illustration for Otto's Irresistible Dance is a favorite. It shows an Umber Hulk clicking his heels together while under the influence of the spell — which underlines the use of humorous cartoons in early AD&D products.

About the Title. There is no apostrophe in the title of the original Players Handbook. This was purposeful. Its usage was considered confusing and graphically unattractive, and so none of the 1st edition (1e) books had apostrophes in their titles. In Dragon #28 (August 1979), TSR Manager of Designers Allan Hammack, bemoaned its loss, saying "Alas for the death of the apostrophe!" and "Using an artistic excuse, they bar its every attempt at propriety and propagate the error. All is not lost, however, for there is a small but determined underground seeking to restore the lost mark to its proper place. Someday ... ."

That day would be the 1989 release of AD&D 2e.

Moving Toward AD&D. The D&D game began with the OD&D box (1974), which was expanded with four supplements (1975-1976) and additional articles in The Strategic Review (1975-1976). However, by the time that Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry (1976) was published, TSR had already decided that the system — which now spanned a half dozen books and several newsletters — needed to be unified and cleaned up.

A new Basic D&D (1977) came out first, thanks to the singular efforts of J. Eric Holmes, but it was just an introductory book, intended to shepherd new players through the first three levels of play. What D&D really needed was a revamped game for the more advanced players: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

The AD&D system technically began with Monster Manual (1977) in December 1977. This compendium of monsters showed off the increased detail that would be present in the new AD&D game, but it didn't give much hint at the game mechanics. That would await the publication of the AD&D Players Handbook (1978) six months later.

Despite the publication of AD&D, Gygax claimed that the original "D&D will always be with us". He thought that OD&D and AD&D served different audiences, and that there was no reason to retire the original. OD&D did indeed remain available into the '80s. Afterward, later editions of Basic D&D (1981, 1983) picked up the mantle of OD&D as the simpler and looser D&D game.

Many Printings. The Players Handbook appeared in 17 different printings from 1978 to 1990. The last few printings actually appeared after the release of the AD&D 2e Player's Handbook (1989) — which shows how much less concerned everyone was about editions in the '80s. It was a far cry from the desperate dumping of 3e products following the release of D&D 3.5e (2003)!

Most printings involved very minor variations. The biggest change came with the 8th printing (1983), which was when the new Jeff Easley cover appeared as part of a general rebranding of the AD&D line. In the modern day, the 1e Players Handbook has been reprinted twice more — once in a miniature collectible edition produced under license by Twenty First Century Games (1999), and once in a deluxe limited edition produced by Wizards of the Coast (2012) to support the Gygax memorial fund. The 2012 edition featured reset text.

A Different Sort of Players Handbook. The AD&D 1e Players Handbook is very different from its later incarnations. From AD&D 2e onward, the Player's Handbook has been the main rulebook for the D&D game, but in AD&D 1e it only contained the most crucial rules needed by the players. That means that it explains abilities, races, classes, spells, and psionics, plus a few other bobs and bits.

What's astonishing is what's not in this book. For example, you won't find rules about how to actually roll your abilities! The Dungeon Masters Guide (1979) has that! Similarly, there are no rules for combat or even saving throws! Instead the player only got summaries of what the rules systems were like — not the actual systems!

Though this might seem bizarre today, the original Players Handbook was from a different age; players were kept in the dark about the rules of the game, and the game master was the ultimate arbiter of all the game's mechanics.

What a Difference an Edition Makes: The Controversy. There's a lot of disagreement over whether AD&D is a minor revision of OD&D — gathering together all of its supplements and articles — or whether it's something bigger. This controversy started in Dragon #26 (June 1979) when Gygax rather shockingly said, "there is no similarity (perhaps even less) between D&D and AD&D than there is between D&D and its various imitators produced by competing publishers." In other words, he was claiming that OD&D was more like Tunnels & Trolls (1975) and RuneQuest (1978) than AD&D! He was very clear in saying this: " It is neither an expansion nor a revision of the old game, it is a new game."

Some folks disagreed, most notably Richard Berg who reviewed the Players Handbook in Strategy & Tactics magazine and said that it was a rewrite of the OD&D game. Gygax took extreme umbrage of this claim in Dragon #22 (February 1979), stating:

"Under the circumstances, one can only wonder why Mr. Berg took the time to write on a subject of which he obviously knew so little. Perhaps it is personal or professional jealousy, as the success of D&D and now AD&D has certainly set the rest of the gaming hobby industry on its collective ear, but that is speculation."

The fans had the ultimate word: when you examine the RPG magazines of the late '70s and early '80s that most of them didn't differentiate much between OD&D, AD&D, and BD&D. Instead, magazine articles were usually written for "Dungeons & Dragons" generally. In the present day, most people would probably still agree that Berg was more correct than Gygax … but it all depends on what you're measuring.

What a Difference an Edition Makes: The Goals. There is a big difference between OD&D and AD&D, but it primarily lies in the overall vision of the new game. Gygax explained many of his new goals in articles in Dragon #26 (June 1979) and Dragon #28 (August 1979). He said that "D&D is only a loose structure … [while] AD&D is a much tighter structure which follows, in part, the same format D&D does, but it is a much stronger, more rigid, more extensive framework …"

This tighter framework served three purposes:

First, Gygax thought that the tighter framework would keep players from house-ruling D&D. As he explained: "[O]D&D campaigns can be those which feature comic book spells, 43rd level balrogs as player characters, and include a plethora of trash from various and sundry sources, AD&D cannot be so composed." Based on these changes he thought that "players will not be so able to bend the rules nor will the DM be able to bend the rules." This staunch defense of the "official" rules of AD&D would lead to letters-column drama throughout the '80s.

Second, Gygax thought that it would create "a better platform from which to launch major tournaments" — a goal that was much more successful (and less controversial).

Third, Gygax thought that it would better orient D&D toward its actual audience. OD&D had been intended for miniatures players who already had a strong basis in wargaming. Rules that were sometimes guidelines weren't a problem for these experienced players. Now, D&D's loose structure was becoming a problem for the larger audiences brought into the game though Holmes' Basic D&D. Gygax believed that a more structured game would better appeal to a large audience made up of "wargamers, game hobbyists, science fiction and fantasy fans, those who have never read fantasy fiction or played strategy games, young and old, male and female."

What a Difference an Edition Makes: The Mechanics. Mechanically, the biggest difference in AD&D lies in its level of detail. Everything is much more specific and much better described. The Monster Manual had already made this obvious with its monster descriptions, which were longer and had much more statistics. In the Players Handbook the spell listings (which took up half the book!) showed the same increased level of detail — which now featured not just longer descriptions but also whole new elements, like lists of required spell components.

AD&D also made one other major mechanical change: it increased the breadth of play possible. OD&D play topped out in the first ten levels of play, while AD&D pushed viable play into the teens. As Gygax said, "you won’t run out of game in six weeks, or six months. Perhaps in six years you will, but that’s a whole different story."

Beyond that, the new Players Handbook mainly gathered material from a variety of sources. For example, the ten character classes in AD&D were massively expanded from the three in OD&D, but most of them had appeared before:

  • Cleric: OD&D (1974)
  • Druid: Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry (1976)
  • Fighter: OD&D (1974)
  • Paladin: Greyhawk (1975)
  • Ranger: The Strategic Review #2 (Summer 1975)
  • Magic-User: OD&D (1974)
  • Illusionist: The Strategic Review #4 (Winter 1975)
  • Thief: Great Plains Game Players Newsletter #9 (June 1974) / Supplement I: Greyhawk (1975)
  • Assassin: Supplement II: Blackmoor (1975)
  • Monk: Supplement II: Blackmoor (1975)

The bard class (which appears in an appendix) was a bit more of an innovation; though a bard had previously appeared in The Strategic Review vol. 2 #1 (February 1976), the AD&D bard was massively rebalanced — and largely considered unplayable, since it required moving through fighter and thief classes before finally arriving at druidic bardism.

AD&D also increased the list of possible PC races, which were limited to dwarves, elves, hobbits, and men in OD&D. Now the list of demihumans was doubled, with half-elves from Supplement I: Greyhawk (1975), gnomes from Supplement II: Blackmoor (1975) and the totally new half-orcs.

Beyond that, there were numerous small changes, such as: alignments were now ninefold, expanding from the five alignments found in The Strategic Review vol. 2 #1 (February 1976); all classes now got bonuses from strength and dexterity, not just fighters; and various mechanics were re-balanced as part of a more cohesive whole.

Whoops! Players Handbook was a small production from a small company and it had a fair number of errors in it. Dragon Magazine #35 (March 1980) lists many of them, but surprisingly most of those errors were never fixed in later editions of the actual book. The funniest error in the book is probably the listing of the class title for fifth level clerics as "perfects" — which was presumably a typo for "prefects". This mistake was cut out of the Players Handbook starting with the third printing (1979) or so, leaving 5th level cleric as the only level in AD&D without a level title.

The most far-reaching error in the Players Handbook, according to Frank Mentzer in Dragon #70 (February 1983), was the idea that falling damage was just 1d6 for every ten feet fallen. Apparently Gygax had written “1d6 per 10’ for each 10’ fallen”, implying damage that cumulatively increased, but someone had changed it to “1d6 for each 10’ fallen”. Gygax only realized the mistake while producing the thief-acrobat class for Dragon #69 (January 1983). However, after almost a decade of non-cumulative falling damage, it was almost impossible to get Mentzer's change to stick.

More errors appeared with the publication of the Dungeon Masters Guide (1979). Because so much time elapsed between the two publications, they ended up being out of sync with each other. The most notable change was probably that the monk went from using the thief attack table in the PHB to the the cleric attack table in the DMG, however there were other discrepancies between the books. Some were addressed in the "Dispel Confusions" columns of the later issues of TSR UK's Imagine magazine.

Expanding the Outer Planes. The D&D Outer Planes appeared for the first time in "Planes: The Concepts of Spatial, Temporal and Physical Relationships in D&D", an article by Gary Gygax for The Dragon #8 (July 1977). Players Handbook reprints the Dragon planes in largely the same form. There are 25 total, including the prime, positive, and negative material planes, four elemental planes, the ethereal plane, the astral plane, and 16 outer planes.

The Great Wheel was born!

Future History. The entire roleplaying world was in a strange hiatus between the publication of AD&D 1e's Players Handbook (June 1978) and Dungeon Masters Guide (August 1979). During this interim, TSR began publishing official AD&D products, such as the original "G" adventures (1978), but there were no AD&D rules to play then with! To help resolve this issue, TSR published an emergency sneak preview of AD&D rules in Dragon #22 (February 1979), but for the rest of AD&D's rules, players had to wait another six months.

This wait between the books does not appear to have been planned. At one time, Gygax was talking about both books appearing in summer of 1978. This suggests that the intent was to have no gap … let alone a gap of 14 months! The problem was in part caused by Gygax needing a break after the complex ruleswork of the Players Handbook; he wrote the "D" adventures (1978) as a break before moving on to the Dungeon Masters Guide.

About the Creators. Gygax was the co-creator of D&D alongside Dave Arneson, but the AD&D books would only bear his name … a point that led to legal contention in 1979.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to Thanks to the Acaeum for careful research on Players Handbook printings.

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Reviews (13)
Discussions (10)
Customer avatar
Paxton K September 04, 2015 8:58 am UTC
They said they re-released the 1st Edition books foe the Gary Gygax fund to put a statue of him up.
What are they making that 25mm statue of diamond? ;)
Sorry, Gary...we all miss you.
Customer avatar
Josh J July 25, 2015 3:06 am UTC
This particular text - does anyone know if it's been well annotated? The World of Greyhawk scan was really well done with page links.

On a side topic - having bought several scans from back when a previous site had legal AD&D downloads, I'd like to mention that I'd really really like a scan of the original Unearthed Arcana. It's absence is notable in the set of AD&D 1'st edition hardcovers, and for the life of me I can't understand why.

Unearthed Arcana, in print, was a terrible departure from the original PHB, DDG and DMG. Those books stand up over the years perfectly. The Unearthed Arcana printing, on the other hand was glued cheaply, not stitched, and falls apart. A digital copy would be invaluable. I've bought the reprint, and love it, but I'd like to load a digital format book into my iPad for travel, and can't.
Customer avatar
Paxton K September 04, 2015 9:04 am UTC
I really hope they do. They have been releasing them slowly; but the Wilderness and Dungeoneers and Oriental Adventures really could use it. Heard that collection called D&D 1.5. I really liked 2nd Edition but when deciding which to buy, I went with 1st to get all the classes.
Customer avatar
Steve K July 21, 2015 9:16 pm UTC
I have a 1st Ed Players Handbook that has a 16-page misprint. The first 16 pages are printed, then the entire book starts again from Page 1 thru 127. Do you have any knowledge of this misprint? I have been looking on the internet to try and find anyone that has this documented and I have been unsuccessful; your information above on the PHB was really great to read and contained a lot of things I never knew about the PHB! Thanks!
Customer avatar
Steve R July 11, 2015 12:08 am UTC
"Though this might seem bizarre today, the original Players Handbook was from a different age" Oh, I promise you, those of us who played any other games at all thought it was pretty odd back then, too.
Customer avatar
Jens A July 09, 2015 9:57 pm UTC
I'm disappointed that this has the wrong cover. If they're going to make a big deal about it being the original 1978 Players (sic) Handbook, then it should have the original 1978 cover, not one that hides most of the original art behind some kind of faux-leather binding.

I realize the cover design isn't mechanically significant. Still, I have so much teenage nostalgia attached to this book, but without the cover I remember it just goes *poof*.

Beyond nostalgia, though, I don't have any desire to actually play this game again. 1E has neither the simplicity of the original D&D, nor the clean streamlined play of modern editions (or Dungeon World.) It's just clunky. Even my high-school gaming group just strip-mined 1E for some useful ideas (mostly the monsters!), along with bits from the Arduin Grimoire, All The World's Monsters, etc., then tossed the books aside and house-ruled everything else. One of our DMs once memorably ran Gary Gygax as a super annoying NPC monk who carried these...See more
Customer avatar
Rich F July 08, 2015 2:37 am UTC
This electronic copy has the same errors as the print version, which is disappointing.

Page 17: Halflings
"High resistance to magic spells, for every 3'/2" should read "for every 3 1/2"
"See heat radiation variation at up to 607" should read "See heat radiation variation at up to 60 ft."

Page 17: Half Orcs
In the first paragraph, the bolded text - "ADVANCED DUNGEONS ft DRAGONS" should read "ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS"
(The "FT" should be an "&")

Pg 26: Illusionist spell progression chart.
There should be no 5th level spell at level 9.

Page 36: Tack and Harness
"Barding, Plate 15 S.P." should read "Barding, Plate 500 G.P."

Page 37: Weight and Damage by Weapon type
"Axe, Battle: Damage to size L: 1-4" should read "Damage to Size L: 1-8"
Customer avatar
Staffan J July 07, 2015 11:12 pm UTC
Wouldn't one of the reasons for Gygax's insistence that AD&D was a completely separate game from D&D be that legal contention mentioned at the end of the article? Since Arneson was a co-creator of D&D, he was entitled to royalties from D&D products, but as AD&D was a "different" game TSR didn't have to pay royalties for that. Since the Monster Manual used the "D&D" name, he got royalties for that, and later for "Monster Manual II" (because that was held to be derivative of Monster Manual), but not for the PHB or DMG. That was also one of the reasons TSR went with "Monstrous Compendium" and later "Monstrous Manual" for 2nd edition, rather than "Monster Manual."
Customer avatar
Shannon A July 08, 2015 6:49 am UTC
Motives are hard to suss out so far after the fact. However, I don't think the changes in the Monster Manual naming had anything to do with the various creative & legal controversies.
Customer avatar
Paxton K September 04, 2015 9:25 am UTC
...I have set myself up as final arbiter of fantasy role playing in the minds of the majority of D&D adventurers. Well, so be it, I rationalized. Who better than the individual responsible for it all...
He also suggested in the DMG that players who read the DMG be "asses" a heavy fee for consulting "sages"
I have always said D&D was the mother of all gaming. She was not a kind and gentle one.
I have just reread the books and was utterly shocked at the sheer hubris! The part on "playing monsters" that intelligent players would soon realize their folly and unintelligent ones would leave after they died.
A am utterly impressed though with his word use. The man had an amazing vocabulary!
Customer avatar
Zidders R July 07, 2015 5:32 pm UTC
Just wanted to note that the bard class is NOT unplayable! While you do have to move through classes it's worth it in the end. You gain so many useful abilities and end up with a character who has a ton of range when it comes to combat, magic and knowledge-based skills. My 1st ed. bard, Pandora is one of the most memorable characters I've ever played.
Customer avatar
Josh J July 25, 2015 3:20 am UTC
Half elven bards are strange rule contradictions.

Technically only humans can be the "character with two classes" instead of multi-class, so a half elf must either be granted an exception to be dual classed, not get to be bards, or multi-class to be a bard if that rule is true.
Customer avatar
Paxton K September 04, 2015 9:37 am UTC
There can be no half elf bards. Zidder was right that was playing back in the time of "hard" and it was very rewarding. I just never had a character that had Str15, Int12, Wis15, Dex17, Con10 and Cha15. Hitting the Cha17 for a Pallie with the rest of the attributes worth playing it was damn hard too.
Of course, with the "infant mortality rate" of 1st level characters, one had plenty of chances to get a fantastic roll, even rolling just 3d6.
Customer avatar
Josh J September 04, 2015 11:06 am UTC
You do realize that this literally is a case where the actual text of the 1'st edition Players Handbook contradicts its self, right? What are you basing this rather final decision on? I'm not aware of it being decided in a later Dragon Magazine anywhere by TSR.

Whatever though, my campaign allows it. There's also text in the rules about how, if you don't like a specific rule, change it to suit your campaign.
Customer avatar
Michael W July 07, 2015 4:12 pm UTC
Very very clean PDF. I'm very impressed how clean it looks. I think this is probably the best looking 1e/2e PDF I've purchased from drivethru.

Customer avatar
Brian S July 07, 2015 4:24 pm UTC
Is it the original cover or the reprint?
Customer avatar
Michael W July 07, 2015 4:29 pm UTC
The cover in the PDF is the reprint. So is the text.
Customer avatar
Brian S July 07, 2015 3:22 pm UTC
so is this a clean up pdf of the original or a pdf of the Recent reprint? Which cover does this pdf have? The original has gray tones while the reprint is stark black and white. It would be nice to know.
Customer avatar
James R July 07, 2015 3:39 pm UTC
This is the recent reprint with cover as shown.
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