Seven years of sourcebooks, FAQs and erratas has altered Dungeons & Dragons’ game mechanics dramatically. The Rules Compendium collects the game’s most important rules into what we hope is the definitive D&D rulebooks.
The final 3.5 Compendium seemed like the least interesting when it was first announced. What advantage was there to reading a summery of existing rules, in particular when they were simply a collection of rules mostly found in the core rulebooks. With resources like the Hypertext d20 SRD available to all D&D players for free, what could the Rules Compendium offer to make it worth purchasing?
At a Glance
I have a theory. This cover was not intended for the Rules Compendium. We have a beefy Barbarian rushing towards us dual wielding axes; one aglow with a green energy, the other seemingly forged out of the same green energy. One of his shoulder pads is bug-themed. What looked like scars and veins along his arms look upon closer inspection like runes etched right into his skin. Nothing about this fellow screams “Rules Compendium”. However, it does scream “Warrior”. Could this artwork have been originally meant for a sequel to Complete Warrior, the only book in the original Complete series without a follow-up? This is pure speculation on my part, but it is fun to wonder what might have been.
The cover leaves me torn. I like consistency in my series, which the Compendium series so far hasn’t been. The Spell Compendium had full cover artwork reminiscent of the core rulebooks. The Magic Item Compendium
used the profile box format made popular by the Complete books. As far as I know, the rest of the artwork is completely reused. Luckily, it is reused very cleverly. Fling Ally by Joel Thomas, originally seen in Races of Stone Is used to illustrate Aid Another. Hilarious. The cover art from Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss, featuring a Marilith with a weapon in each of its six hands, is used to illustrate Disarm. There is some great artwork in these pages, and a reader can have fun determining where they originally saw certain illustrations. I know I’m curious what context the Medusa riding a Gorgon (Team Petrification) image from page 89, Mounted Combat, originally appeared in.
Written alphabetically and a rule to a page, it is simple to flip through the pages to find the rule in question. In case the reader is having trouble finding a rule, such as when the exact name of the rule could be worded in different ways, or if two rules have been bundled, like Disable Device and Open Lock, there is an easy to use Table of Contents and Topic Index.
The True Compendium
New spells appeared in sourcebooks released after the Spell Compendium. New magic items were released after the Magic Item Compendium. But no new rules appear in any D&D sourcebook after the Rules Compendium. This is the be-all, end-all of 3.5 edition rules. Furthermore, new rules were far more scare in D&D supplements than new spells or magic items. So this doesn’t render previous publications less useful. It collects for a well of different sources.
The Rules Compendium isn’t all rules. There are essays and anecdotes throughout written by Dungeons & Dragons developers and designers. From house rules to topical stories, the Rules Compendium offers a rare insight into the game design process.
The Player’s Handbook was written somewhat narratively, even the crunch chapters, so that it was an enjoyable read. The Rules Compendium is written in technical terms. This may minimize debate and interpretation, but it makes it a labour to read cover to cover.
A Lot of White Space
For whatever reason, the Rules Compendium does not letter box its pages like most sourcebooks. This makes the pages feel very empty.
160 pages is rather thin for any D&D sourcebook. The book contains very little original content and even reuses artwork. It may seem hard to justify paying as much for this thin compilation as a standard sourcebook, which is typically larger and contains mostly original material.
I finally understand Grapple!
In my first game after purchasing the Rules Compendium, the DM put a dire wolf against a mounted PC and wasn’t sure if she could trip him. I checked the index, then turns to the Mounted Combat page. No mention. Back to the Index and then to the Trip page. There is a section explaining how to trip mounted opponents. Never before could I read four pages in one book and find such an obscure rule.
Buy the Rules Compendium. Your game will run much more smoothly, stop less often, and fewer arguments will come up. This may be one of the last releases in the 3.5 edition of the game, but it is also the best.
If You Liked This Book…
Unearthed Arcana introduced optional rules for the game that aren’t covered in the Rules Compendium.