Monday, July 2, 2012

From Japan: D&D Rules Cyclopedia

Recently an amazing post turned up on Reddit where someone took the liberty to snap some photos of the Japanese edition of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia. I have always had a huge interest in Japan and Japanese culture. Alongside tabletop roleplaying, anime would have to be tied for my top hobby/personal interest. And I won't lie, many times the stylistic presentation of anime tends to seep over into the games I run. Thus, for me, it is always very exciting when something turns up with an overlap between the two.

The first notable thing with the Japanese Rules Cyclopedia is the fact that it is not presented as a single volume, but is instead divided into the typical Player's Handbook, DM Guide and Monster Manual. This is not that big of a surprise, however. The books are in a much smaller format than the American version and one volume at such a size would be a bit unwieldy to work with. It is not uncommon for longer works to be broken up into more manageable volumes in Japan. Furthermore, the books read right to left but again this is just a standard difference in books between America and Japan.

The other major thing to note is just how much the artwork resembles the Record of Lodoss War series; pictured above. This is especially apparent with the color pages detailing male and female versions of the character classes; several being only a skip and a jump away in design from the relevant hero depicted in Lodoss. I am particularly fond of the last few images that depict black and white renditions of some character classes. Just comparing them to the illustrations used in the original books shows a world of difference. That's not to say either one is better than the other. Both have their own appeal, in my opinion. 

Record of Lodoss War (Lodoss Senki in Japan) began in 1986 as a Replay. Replays were essentially serialized/novelized write-ups of campaigns; little sad such a notion never caught fire here in America. Ryo Mizuno, the group's DM, created a setting called Forcelia which was used initially with D&D to generate the story that would become the Replay. As Lodoss grew in popularity the setting was moved through different tabletop systems, including the Japanese Sword World RPG, and ultimately spawned proper novels. 

These then spawned both an animated series, originally released direct to video (OVA), and a manga series adapting the novels. Later, a longer television series (Chronicles of the Heroic Knight) was made from the material retreading some of what the OVA series covered as well as covering material from novels that had yet to be published at the time the OVA series was created. The Lodoss series has even gone on to bring about other anime series placed within the setting including Legend of Crystania and Rune Soldier.

With a single viewing of the OVA series, one would easily be able to see the parallels in art style between the Lodoss and the artwork used in the Japanese Rules Cyclopedia. Furthermore, at first glance most fans of fantasy roleplaying will be able to easily pick out the character class of each hero. Record of Lodoss War can best be summed up as D&D: The Anime. There is really no other way to approach the topic and it makes me sad that there was never an attempt to make that connection in America or even to see a proper D&D anime made. 

As the series progresses, one easily gets the feeling that what they are viewing was some table's campaign unfolding in animation. Some people enjoy anime and some don't, to each their own, but if you are a fan of fantasy roleplaying (and in particular D&D) you owe it to yourself to at least hunt down the shorter OVA series and give Record of Lodoss War a look. Personally, I would love to see an English translation of Sword World or even a system-neutral Forcelia campaign setting, but I know that is an impossible long shot; one can dream, however.

Anyone interested in this version of D&D would do well to look into Dark Dungeons; an excellent retro-clone of the Cyclopedia. And yes, it is cleverly named after the classic Jack Chick tract. Sadly, tracking down a copy of the real deal in good condition and at a reasonable price seems to be a bit of a feat at this point. I am a big fan of Labyrinth Lord (and by extension B/X) so I see the Rules Cylcopedia as a sort tricked out upgraded version; quite interesting in my book.

With Wizards of the Coast's apparent interest in re-printing old core rules, it would be nice if this was something they considered. Personally, I find re-printing the 1e and 3.5 core rules to be a waste of time. The core books for 1e are still readily available second-hand, in good condition and at far better prices than what WOTC is asking; though it is kind of them to be donating part of the sales to the Gygax Memorial Fund. As for 3.5, at this point I am pretty sure anyone interested in the game either already has the books or moved on to Pathfinder. If one wanted to get into the game, it just seems to me like Pathfinder would be a much more obvious and better starting point being a game that's billed as an improvement upon 3.5 as well as currently being supported with new material.

So, Wizards of the Coast, why not? How about a reprint of the Rules Cyclopedia?


  1. Totally agree with the sentiments here. From the "Lodoss-is-D&D" to the "Rules-Cyclopedia-Reprint-Please." (I would buy it in a heartbeat.)

    And Sword World! Would love an English version.

  2. Definitely, I feel ya. Hopefully between the surge of reprints from WOTC and the budding amount of Japanese TRPG's being translated into English, we might see at least one or the other eventually; preferably both.