Retro Review – Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Spell Compendium Premium Reprint
Jason Vey, Play Unplugged
A few years back, Pinnacle Publishing and White Wolf Games took an unprecedented step in the tabletop gaming industry when they listened to fan demand and re-released the classic versions of Deadlands and Vampire: the Masquerade, respectively. These re-releases were ostensibly done to celebrate the anniversaries of the games in question, but were met with cheers from the fan base of these games. What no one expected, however, was for Wizards of the Coast to follow suit.
The edition wars that erupted when the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons came out gave rise to the niche movement that is generally referred to as the OSR—the Old School (Renaissance, Revival, Revolution, Revo-take-your-pick). These are those fans of older editions of D&D who dropped the newer versions of the game and went back to their retro edition of choice. Some even went so far as to use the Open Gaming License to create their own versions of these classic editions so that they could be in print once more, and once more see support.
Several of these “retro-clones” became popular, and somewhere in the depths of the dank Mountain-Dew-and-Doritos-filled basement in which I like to imagine Hasbro locks its WotC subsidiary, someone was listening. The gaming community was delighted when Wizards announced the re-launch of the first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons corebooks to celebrate the game’s 30th anniversary, with faux leatherette covers, foil-edged pages, and a ribbon bookmark, with a portion of the proceeds donated to a memorial to honor one of the hobby’s creators, E. Gary Gygax.
When these flew off shelves, WotC announced that they would re-release second, 3.5 edition, and original D&D premium reprints as well.
It’s important to view these things in context. The first edition re-releases got a royal treatment from WotC, and from the looks of it, the forthcoming Second Edition books will get the same treatment—leatherette covers, ribbon bookmarks, etc. The OD&D set in November will come in a real wooden box with premium dice and nicely presented reprints as well. So what about the 3.5 books?
This review will examine the re-released Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Spell Compendium. This book is an outstanding resource for DMs and for players of spell casters, a collection of over 1,000 spells above and beyond those found in the Player’s Handbook, drawn from such diverse sources as the Complete book series, Dragon Magazine, various D&D setting books, and the Wizards’ website. Many spells have been upgraded from the 3.0 edition to work seamlessly with the 3.5 version.
The book contains rules implemented between the printing of the cores and the release of this book (and useful to magic users), such as swift and immediate actions. It gives advice regarding various supplemental spell casting character classes such as, “this class deliberately has a limited selection of spells; be careful in choosing how to expand it.”
The spells include passages that describe what a spell looks, sounds, and feels like when cast (a neat idea, though giggle-worthy: imagine a player saying, “I cast Beast Claws,” to the DM’s response, “Hold on a minute while I look it up for the descriptive passage”).
Another nice element is the addition of book and page references for the spell’s sources and rules references where needed. There is a full page of spells re-named from their original source material, and I did wonder why this was necessary; no explanation is given. But it’s nice to have the reference handy. After the spells is an appendix of spell lists for the core classes, as well as an expanded list of clerical domains.
The book is thorough and while I never owned it the first time around, I’ll be glad to have it at the table any time I play 3.5 in the future.
The book is high-quality, with paper stock and interior art and design identical to that in the original release and a much thicker and heavier cover than the original, which features a glossy, metallic look in its evolved version of the original book cover design. One wonders why WotC didn’t take the leatherette approach with the 3.5 re-releases; these don’t even include a ribbon bookmark.
With a cover price of $50, it’s an investment, especially when the original can be found on the secondhand market. Back in 2004 Wizards released real leather-bound anniversary editions of the cores; perhaps they didn’t want to confuse the issue with another set, or that leather binding may have pushed the price to $75; however, the 1e and 2e books aren’t actually leather bound—they just look like it.
Let’s be fair: $50 isn’t unusual for a 285-page full color glossy hardback gaming book, and the binding and cover stock do seem high-end. Still, they just don’t look “premium.”
+ A fantastic resource for spell casters in a 3.5 D&D game
+ 1,000+ spells, some upgraded from 3.0, from various sources
+ Rules references and good citations
+ Expanded clerical domains and spell lists
+ Heavy, sturdy binding; this book just feels strong and substantial
- $50 price tag could turn some gamers off
- For a “premium” book, the cover treatment could have been more “premium.”
The Verdict: If you’re a 3.5 fan who missed this book the first time around, grab it. It’s well worth the cost and effort if you plan to play the game. Also, we as gamers should be supporting the effort—call it a cash grab if you like, but the truth is this is a big-time game company who listened to their fans and is trying to give them what they want: all the older editions, back in print, along with the new stuff. Sure, they’re trying to make money off it. They’re a business. That’s to be expected. But this is a classy gesture that has brought a lot of gamers back into the D&D fold. Plus, again, the book just rocks. OVER A THOUSAND SPELLS, ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?!