Tired of your fighter doing nothing but trading swings with monsters? Are your dungeon denizens' tactics getting a little too routine? Need help setting up that siege of the evil overlord's castle? Then this is the book for you.
This exciting expansion to the AD&D game contains rules and systems that will make your battles more vibrant and realistic. There are new rules covering critical hits, tactical options, and combat maneuvers such as shield walls, disarms, and more! Complete weapons tables for all eras of play include lots of new weapons and revised characteristics for old ones.
The Combat & Tactics system has been carefully designed to present sets of rules in easy-to-use modules that you pick and choose from and incorporate into your campaign. Regardless of which ones you do use, you'll find everything works with everything else.
Player's Option: Combat & Tactics (1995) is the first book in the Player's Option series of alternate rules for AD&D 2e. It was released in July 1995.
A Last Gasp? In May 1995, TSR released new printings of the AD&D second edition Player's Handbook (1989, 1995) and Dungeon Master's Guide (1989, 1995). They featured more full-color art and a looser page layout, which they said was "easier-to-read" (and which also increased the length of the books). These new books also included various minor errata and corrections.
The AD&D trade dress changed simultaneously, removing the phrase "second edition" in the AD&D logo and centering all the rulebook covers on a black background. In Dragon #217 (May 1995), TSR said the purpose of the new printings was mainly to "look much more attractive."
However, the new editions of the AD&D rulebooks didn't release on their own. July saw the premiere of a new Player's Option series, which began with this book, Player's Option: Combat & Tactics (1995), and was immediately supplemented by Player's Option: Skills & Powers (1995) that August. These books matched the new trade dress and featured new variant rules that could be used in AD&D.
We should put these new releases in the context of TSR's financial state by spring 1995. As early as 1993, the company was cutting lines wholesale, with formerly strong sellers like Basic D&D, Dragonlance, Gamma World, Marvel Super Heroes, and Spelljammer being among the casualties.
Meanwhile, a little game called Magic: The Gathering (1993) was released that same year, throwing the whole hobby games market into chaos (and severely impacting RPG sales). By 1995, TSR was dumping money into two major collectible projects of their own - Spellfire (1994) and Dragon Dice (1995) - both of which would fail.
Looking back from the future, we now know that TSR was just a year and a half from a major crisis, kicked off by Random House, that would put them out of business. Back in 1995, it's likely that the cracks were already showing from inside of the house, and that the increasing financial issues that TSR was facing played a major hand in TSR's decision to release new rulebooks and expansions in 1995.
In fact, the first two Player's Option variant rulebooks are somewhat reminiscent of Unearthed Arcana (1985) and Oriental Adventures (1985) - another pair of variant rulebooks released during a time of financial crisis for TSR, with the hope that they'd save the company.
Every indication is that the Player's Option books did pretty well and thus could have fulfilled that role (for a brief time). Combat & Tactics received a second printing just four months later, in November, then a third Player's Option book, Spells & Magic (1996), was published the next year.
AD&D 2.5. The new printings of AD&D second edition, combined with the three Player's Option books, have been broadly called "2.5e" by fans - mirroring the "1.5e" designation given to AD&D following the release of Unearthed Arcana and Oriental Adventures.
Fighter Variants. Combat & Tactics may be the most purposeful of the three Player's Option books, because it directly addressed an age-old problem in D&D. As Skip Williams said in Dragon #216 (April 1995), "When was the last time your 8th-level fighter did anything except plant his feet in front of a monster and trade swings until one or the other of them ran out of hit points?"
And almost twenty years later, D&D Next still seems to be fighting the same problem…
About Gridded Battle Maps. Various versions of AD&D had previously included somewhat abstract rules for using miniatures. However, Chapter 1 of Combat & Tactics introduced something new: a gridded battle map of 1-inch squares. The "attacks of opportunity" and the precise sizing for larger monsters in the rules make it clear that it was a test-run for some ideas that ended up in D&D 3e. Other ideas, like facing, didn't make the cut.
About Specialization & Mastery. Chapter 4 introduces rules for a variety of levels of specialization: nonproficiency, familiarity, proficiency, expertise, specialization, and mastery. The latter two cost extra proficiency slots and were probably drawn straight from Unearthed Arcana, again underlying the similarity between the variant rule sets. Similar ideas would (again) show up in 3e, but as feats.
About Unarmed Combat. Chapter 5 introduces new rules for unarmed combat. That ruleset has been a constant problem for every official version of D&D, so it's no surprise to see it here. One of the worst problems for AD&D unarmed combat was that it was broken up into three individual rulesets, for pummeling, overbearing, and wrestling. That structure is kept here; the rulesets just get more rules.
About Critical Hits. Chapter 6 introduces a pair of critical hit systems. Critical hits were among the earliest variants ever seen for D&D, dating back to some of the very earliest RPG APAs. They were also very common in the D&D variants and expansions that showed up in the late 1970s and early 80s, including The Arduin Grimoire (1977), Arms Law (1980), and Sword's Path Glory Book 1 (1982).
About Siege Warfare. Chapter 8 on Siege Warfare is most notable for the fact that it makes no mention of Battlesystem (1985, 1989, 1991), the AD&D mass-combat system. TSR probably initially created Battlesystem as an answer to GW's Warhammer Fantasy Battle (1983). They tried to support it via many supplements over the years, most notably the "Bloodstone Pass" series (1985-1988) and the Dark Sun Campaign Setting (1991) - which had originally been called "War World."
None of TSR's attempts had made Battlesystem particularly popular, however; its absence in Combat & Tactics might have been a final acknowledgement that it was (after a decade of work) dead.
Gary Gygax Would Have Hated It. Probably. In The Dragon #18 (July 1978), Gary Gygax published one of his first diatribes against variant rules for AD&D, saying, "Additions to and augmentations of certain parts of the D&D rules are fine. Variants which change the rules so as to imbalance the game or change it are most certainly not. These sorts of tinkering fall into the realm of creation of a new game, not development of the existing system, and as I stated earlier, those who wish to make those kind of changes should go and design their own game."
He especially hated critical hit variants, saying that the "whole game system is perverted, and the game possibly ruined, by the inclusion of 'instant death' rules." Of course, we know that Gygax was fine with instant death traps, like those found in S1: "The Tomb of Horrors" (1978).
Gygax also spoke out against weapon expertise, feeling it was another type of "instant death." He would only accept it if there was "balance," saying, "What character could be more familiar and expert with a chosen weapon type than are monsters born and bred to their fangs, claws, hooves, horns, and other body weaponry? Therefore, the monsters must likewise receive weapons expertise bonuses."
Of course, he had also introduced specialization (and double specialization) without offering the same for monsters back in Unearthed Arcana - where it was only available to fighters and rangers.
Generally, despite some variations in position, it seems likely that Gary Gygax wouldn't have been too happy with the Player's Option books and wouldn't have supported them back when he ran TSR. The chasm between Gygax's D&D and TSR's D&D had been growing for years, with the skills of Dungeoneer's Survival Guide (1986), the silliness of WG7: "Castle Greyhawk" (1987), and the increased GM freedom of second edition AD&D (1989) being other sign posts.
The Adventure Continues. The Gates of Firestorm Peak (1996), by Bruce Cordell, was the first TSR adventure to focus heavily on the rules from the first two Player's Option books.
About the Creators. Skip Williams was a very long-time TSR employee who really came into his own as a creator from 1994-1996, when this book was written. Perhaps more notably, he was part of the design team behind D&D 3rd edition, explaining the migration of some of these combat ideas.
Richard Baker was a newer hire, best known for his Birthright Campaign Setting (1995), released the same year. Baker would also write the third and final Player's Option book, Spells & Magic.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.