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Rules Compendium

Antimagic, polymorphing, turning undead, gaze attacks, incorporeality, and the perils of grappling trolls…. This month, we speak with Chris Sims, RPG R&D editor and compiler of the new Rules Compendium, about how the latest sourcebook helps make better sense of the wealth of game information.


Wizards: Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. 4th Edition has been announced; what makes the Rules Compendium something that players and DMs would still like to have on their shelves?

Chris Sims: That elephant has been in the room since before Rules Compendium was conceived. It was hard to ignore her while I was working on the book. It was hard to be neck deep in 3E rules while much of the department was working on an entirely new rules set.

But I digress.

Rules Compendium is aimed at those who want a concise rules reference for 3E. It’s intended for people who might continue a 3E campaign until or even after 4E comes out. Those people deserve a book that’ll be authoritative and help lighten the load at a game session.

A good portion of the book is just plain entertaining to read, as well. All of RPG R&D pitched in to provide anecdotes, historical perspective, and opinions on what appears in the 3E rules. Rules Compendium also contains a lot of cool art from many sources, including Dungeon and Dragon. Logan Bonner and I spent a long time sorting through art to use in this book.

Wizards: A related question, what reason went into the making of the Rules Compendium? Assuming I already own the core rulebooks, what is the Rules Compendium designed to do for me as a player? As a DM? Is the Rules Compendium meant to essentially replace the core rulebooks?

Chris Sims: Rules Compendium doesn’t replace the core rulebooks. What it does is collect all the rules you need to play the game at the table in one place. You won’t need Player’s Handbook for movement rules, Dungeon Master’s Guide (or Frostburn, for that matter) for weather, printed out Sage Advice for issues, and all the Complete series for skill uses. Rules Compendium has that stuff integrated into it. This book also attempts to clear up rules issues that have existed in 3E up until now. It’s not just a rules compilation that includes errata—developers, such as Stephen Radney-MacFarland, helped me refine rules, and I worked to make the language clearer in places. It should answer some vexing problems.

What can it do for the DM and the player? If you’ve prepared your adventure ahead of time, as a DM, Rules Compendium should be all you need at the table assuming you could borrow a player’s Players Handbook if you needed to look up a spell description. For anyone who plays the D&D game, Rules Compendium is the authoritative source for rules. This means if a rule in Rules Compendium contradicts a rule in an earlier source, Rules Compendium is correct. Knowing the rules in Rules Compendium can help you design better characters, and play those characters better.

The book organizes each rule section onto a page, a spread, or a series of spreads, for ease of use. It’s just easier to find what you’re looking for in Rules Compendium than it often is in other rulebooks. (See below for info on the index.)

Wizards: Aside from the core rulebooks, what other sources were used to derive the rules for the Rules Compendium?

Chris Sims: Bits and pieces of Rules Compendium come from all over the 3E catalog. I used mainstream material from core books, lots of things from the Complete series and Races series, the latest Monster Manual definitions, and even some pertinent magic item rules from Magic Item Compendium. Sources that are more obscure include Libris Mortis, environment books such as Sandstorm, and subsystem books such as Tome of Battle.

We also put a draft through its paces with a group of community members from the Character Optimization boards on the Wizards site. They were a huge help in refining what did appear in the book. Thanks guys!

Wizards: When it came to collecting and assembling the rules, were there particular mechanics you were interested in clarifying, fine-tuning, or outright revising with official errata? Grappling, for instance, featured in the 4th Edition announcement video in regards to 3rd edition—does the Rules Compendium help navigate the complexities of grappling a troll?

Chris Sims: With a whole lot more rules than could fit in 160 pages, we were interested mainly in those rules that you need to reference during play. As I said before, we attempted to clarify, and help players avoid misinterpretations and confusion. I took major aim at rules such as antimagic, gaze attacks, grappling, incorporeality, turning (it’s for more than undead), and similar complex subsystems. It should be much clearer how to grapple a troll, and you still shouldn’t bother if you’re a halfling, but it’s still that familiar and involved process.

Wizards: As another example, polymorph received quite a bit of attention in recent memory; how does the Rules Compendium address this subschool?

Chris Sims: Rules Compendium includes all the latest thinking on polymorph and the way it works throughout the D&D system, from alternate form to wild shape. The only spells that appear in the book are those related to this subschool.

Wizards: Aside for collecting and presenting the various rules, what else does the Rules Compendium offer in terms of our reading pleasure? Any insight into the making of the rules themselves, for example?

Chris Sims: We here in R&D provided insight on lots of things in the book, from funny rules situations at our own tables to rules trivia, from insight into how specific rules came to be to house rules we use in our games. Not only is that true, but a series of essays in the books describes the life cycle of rules—how they’re born, live, grow, survive, and even die. (Mearls kills them.) It was a lot of fun collecting, reading, and writing a few of these asides. Heck, I just read a few, and I still enjoy them.

Before you judge that last statement, remember that I had to look at this book for a long… long time.

Wizards: When it comes to your own games—either played or DMed—were there ever problematic or time-consuming rules research or outright confusion at the table, that would have been happily solved by the Compendium? Favorite or least favorite rules, that you were glad to give some attention to?

Chris Sims: The funny thing is, our games, like many others, often route around (that is, don’t use) difficult rules, rather than coming at them head on or allowing our games to grind to a halt. But one example of a complicated rule that Rules Compendium should solve is what happens when two creatures are sharing a space but really shouldn’t be. Another is rake—do you know how that works off the top of your head when you see it in a monster description. I didn’t. Yet another is antimagic… and gaze attack… and gaseous form….

I could go on.

But Rules Compendium even helps adjudicate not-so-complicated rules, such as actions and action types, with a new and improved table of actions and their associated types, along with attack of opportunity info. That table takes up a single spread that you can keep open on the table as you play—if you need to do so.

Wizards: We haven’t seen an index for a while. Any chance of one here?

Chris Sims: When I consult the Black Magic Modron here in the office, the answer comes up, “Better not tell you now.”

What it should have said was, “You may rely on it.” The thing is, Rules Compendium sure wouldn’t be much of a reference without an index. It is a good reference.

To be able to cram all the rules into those 160 pages, I had to be creative with organization in a few instances. I knew good index would solve any problem that might arise from these cases. Kim Mohan helped me make that dream of utility come true. The front of the book has a list of contents by name of the rules entry, such as Movement, and it has a topical index by specific topic, such as Swim. Swim is actually in the Movement section, but the topic index tells you to jump to page 93 if you just want to reference the Swim rules.

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