Look if you haven't heard about this yet, you really are reading all of the wrong pages! Wizards of the Coast appear to be receiving pre-orders for the reprints of the 1977 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules. This is a really interesting move for Wizards and raising money for the Gygax Memorial Fund seems like a really sweet idea. I always think that when WotC say that they looking back at earlier editions it's just a ploy to convince players of older editions that they'll like the new unrecognisable ten book system. "It's zee same game"
As Dr Seuss would say:
"Old Hat, New Hat!"
-in a general approval way-
if you now what I mean. :)
The original covers for
the MM can be seen here
So if you're not sure about buying smelly old editions from ebay or a shiny Lulu copy of OSRIC has no interest for you, then this is your opportunity to read the texts many of us worshipped back in the way-back salad-years hazy-70s-80s day.
If they truly are identical, and you only want to buy one book, I really must recommend the Dungeon Masters Guide, which is organised is the strangest of ways, but is a delight to read - also note that in the appendix is a full list of monsters stats -if you don't have the Monster Manual to hand. On the other hand The Monster Manual would make a perfect gift the players and non-players alike, it's not everyday you get the see so many unique descriptions of so many creatures from so many different stories in one book, also Gygax claims to have started work on the MM first. It has been mooted on a few blogs and forums that it is possible to play many games with the player's guides alone, in this case maybe playing original AD&D is workable with just the Player's Handbook - after all, it contains all of the classes equipment, spells, classes and rules for combat.
The forewords are always quite interesting. It took me years to realise that when Gygax refers to "Dungeons & Dragons", that he means the rules before the "Holmes" and the coloured box sets (B/X and BECMI et al), and that he clearly saw Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as an expansion (replacement) and continuation of those rules. This may seem obvious, but the development of the boxed sets was a journey of D&D in a slightly different, parallel, direction - debates are still had about this, and it's hard to summarise here. Friends and I started with the purple and red Basic boxes - that was "Dungeons & Dragons" to us, we knew that they weren't just an introduction to AD&D, but it was pretty clear that Advanced D&D was written earlier, and some of the gaming conventions and assumptions didin't always tie up with Basic/Expert. But these observations are down to subjective interpretation, the more you dig into the history of editions the more confusing it gets. AD&D is a sort of culmination and zenith of the rules which survived for a significantly long time in that edition, which probably indicates it's success and popularity. However these rules were rarely played in isolation, they were endlessly adjusted, amended and supplemented by articles in Dragon, White Dwarf and Imagine magazine. It was popular, it was informed. Players knew the difference between a dungeon-crawl and character story led games. The appendices for converting AD&D to Gamma World and Boot Hill also tell you a lot about the broad mindedness of the author and editors (if not, at least an awareness of cross-franchise marketing ;) )
In many ways, by buying the reprints of AD&D (1st edition) its as far back as you can get to the original ideas and dice mechanics without going down the ebay-collector and retro-clone routesin that search for OD&D.
My only problem with the Premium editions (and I know I'm not alone here) is that they could have used the original art as opposed to these new tributes, but maybe they are actually trying to sell it as a complete game for a new generation, or maybe it's an art "rights" thing. The new art pays loyal tribute to the originals, though. By the time I was playing, the covers had been revised and replaced with the Jeff Easley art (with the exception of Fiend Folio). I was playing in a group which was borrowing from the, then frighteningly modern, Unearthed Arcana (and later Oriental Adventures) which was the first serious reorganising of the rules before the much needed and overdue 2nd edition AD&D was released.
So buy em before they change their minds and bury the original AD&D forever! ;)