The presentation is stunning. The covers are high quality embossed with gold foil imprinting on them. The tasteful use of the classic original illustrations really make these a nostalgic winner. It felt good to pick up a new product that was 1st edition. The texture, the weight, and the high quality of the printing showed a respect for the classics that was reassuring to see. Also the edges of the paper are gold foil making the books feel very expensive.
Opening the Monster Manual first I see that the end papers are a beautiful shade of brown that compliments the cover nicely. Inside the book is identical to the original Monster Manual in every way - except that the paper is much higher quality clay-coated smooth. It's like seeing an old friend but something is just a little different, he's dressed just a bit nicer, hair combed, maybe a little more fit. But still that same old friend you so enjoy hanging out with.
The advantage of the paper is obvious, everything is crisper and more high contrast. The printing is black-black on ultra white-white. The contrast is so noticeable that it takes a moment to adjust. Then you start scrutinizing and notice that something about the font is different. Very subtly, but just enough to notice.
On the left the original Monster Manual, on the right the new Special Edition
You realize that Wizards did more than just scan the original, run an OCR and call it a day. They painstakingly recreated each sentence word by word. The font is very close to the original, probably as close as you can get in a digital font. I've only just begun to read and compare but I haven't seen any word changes yet. I'm sure there are some as I recall reading that there was some light editing done. One of the advantages of the method Wizards chose to use is that the gradients used in the tables is much smoother than in the original books:
The illustrations also feel crisp (though ever so slightly degraded, which I will get to in the next section). As you can see by everyone's favorite Monster Manual illustration:
Another pleasant feature is the bookmark tassel. I will take advantage of this as I enjoy rereading these books from beginning to end.
It's hard to find anything to not praise about these beautiful recreations, but there are always nits to pick, so let's pick away.
While the paper might seem like an improvement, it also makes reading the text much harsher. It is so contrasty, and the paper is slightly heavier. Compared to the originals where the blacks aren't as rich and the paper is much less bright which makes them a little easier on the eyes.
The scanning process didn't favor the illustrations well in the Monster Manual, particularly where there is fine ink lines. Dave Trampier's bold heavy lines survived pretty well, but Dave Sutherlands delicate cross hatching becomes thick and muddy. Fine lines become heaver. For example in this illustration of a kobold encounter the cross hatching mushes together:
On the left is the Special Edition, on the right the original Monster Manual
I suspect this might be in part the fault of the source material, since the Monster Manual is the oldest I'm not sure they had access to the original plates so they scanned from the book. So you can imagine: the original illustration was photographed, then used to make a plate from, then printed and finally decades later scanned by Wizards. So they are at best a 3rd generation copy. For some reason though the illustrations in the Player's Handbook seemed to fair better. While the DM's guide has a few that are just massacred - like Darlene's gem illustration on pg 25 and her stunning scratchboard illustration 59, but her forest illo on pg 48 faired nicely despite the exquisite ink lines. Many of the diagrams held up, but the hexes on pg 47 fell apart (this is one where they could have recreated the hex).
There isn't anything really ugly at all about these premium reprints. The books are all around gorgeous, feel great to hold, and are like having mint editions of the classic. If there is anything ugly perhaps the price? $44.95 for the DMG, $34.95 for the others. But compare that to trying to buy any of these books in mint condition, or even finding a mint condition and the price is pretty great.
Buy if you want pristine reprints or if your old copies are so beaten up you are afraid to open them for fear of them falling apart.
Don't buy if you are happy with the copies you already have.
4.5 out of 5 stars