When I describe my earliest gaming days, I typically claim that I played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons almost exclusively. After all, the books and modules my friends and I were using had the AD&D logo on their covers and we loved the depth provided by the reams of races, character classes, monsters, spells, and magic items. Yet, if I were to be honest about it, we weren't playing AD&D at all, at least not according to the full rules of the game. We ignored weapon proficiencies, segment-based combat rounds, grappling/pummeling/overbearing, helmet rules, and a host of other distinctive elements of AD&D. In truth, our games were closer to Holmes or Moldvay, with lots of AD&D-derived options tacked on. In speaking with many other players of my vintage, this seems to have been a common experience.
That's where Dan Proctor's Advanced Edition Companion enters the picture. Like its predecessor, Original Edition Characters, AEC is a supplement to Goblinoid Games's Labyrinth Lord, offering up optional rules to emulate many of the distinctive elements of AD&D, but mated to the elegant LL rules. Using AEC would thus be very close to recreating the way my friends and I played "AD&D" back in the day, something Proctor himself notes in his foreword: "the goal in writing the Advanced Edition Companion (AEC) was to create an expansion of Labyrinth Lord that is a natural evolution (with compatibility) of advanced first edition but keeping the slick original game engine. I think you'll agree that I've succeeded. If you play using AEC you will be playing advanced first edition rules as most people played them"
And succeed he has. AEC covers a wide range of topics within its 160 pages, presenting straightforward adaptation of AD&D distinctives for use with Labyrinth Lord. So, you get expanded races and classes, along with spells, monsters, and magic items -- nearly everything you'd find in AD&D -- without most of the "fiddly bits" that most of us didn't use anyway. It's all here, from gnomes to assassins to creeping doom and the demon prince Orcus. There are even plenty of inspiring tables (such as random tavern patrons and random sounds), as well as discussions of planar cosmology, potion mixing, and more. Reading through AEC, it was very hard not to want to pick it all up and drop it into my Dwimmermount campaign right away. Much as I've enjoyed the "purity" of a more OD&D-inspired campaign, there will always be a part of me that longs for the baroque diversity of Gygaxian AD&D and the Advanced Edition Companion reminded me of this fact more than any other game book I've read in recent years.
What's most remarkable about this product is not its contents but that the entire thing is open game content. That means anyone can use it to create their own advanced-flavored products and I hope many people do so. Heck, I'm tempted to do so myself. Goblinoid Games has helpfully provided the complete text of the supplement (without artwork) for free here, making it easy for anyone to create compatible and/or derivative products of their own. I hate to gush about this, as it undermines what little objectivity I might have on this subject, but I find it difficult to do otherwise. AEC is a great gift to the old school community, particularly publishers. That, in its outlines, it's rather similar to my own idea for a "D&D 0.75" probably says a lot about my own love of it.
The retail version of the Advanced Edition Companion is nicely presented, looking very much like other recent Labyrinth Lord products. The text is clear and readable and I didn't notice any significant typographical errors or editorial issues. The text is highlighted by many black and white illustrations by Steve Zieser, Sean Aaberg, and Jeremy Pea. Most of the artwork is superb, beginning with Zieser's stunning cover, although Aaberg's illustrations of demons and devils are also noteworthy for having won me over after initially disliking them. What I most like about AEC's artwork is that it's all distinctive, harkening back to the illustrations of the Golden Age without explicitly imitating them. AEC, like Labyrinth Lord generally, manages to pay homage to the past without feeling the need to ape it -- a fine approach in my biased opinion.
Advanced Edition Companion is available in three retail formats: paperback ($22.95), hardcover ($32.95), and PDF ($5.95). This is one of those rare products I'll probably grab in hardcover at some point, in spite of my distaste for Lulu.com. AEC is simply that good and I'd like to have it in a format that'll hold up to all the use to which I'm likely to put it, both in play and in writing. I imagine I won't be alone in this feeling.
Presentation: 7 out of 10
Creativity: 9 out of 10
Utility: 9 out of 10
Get This If: You want to add the depth and flavor of AD&D to your games without all the additional complexity.
Don't Get This If: You have no interest in the peculiar Gygaxian flavor of AD&D.