In 1989, TSR released the long-awaited Second Edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It was to be evolutionary, and not revolutionary. But AD&D 2nd ed definitely introduced some new ideas.

For example, the original trinity of hardcover rulebooks (PHB DMG MM) was itself altered, replacing the Monster Manual with a Monstrous Compendium three ring binder.

Also in 1989, TSR released the first of their Complete Handbook series. The Brown Books were surely intended to draw in players as paying customers. These Player splatbooks would each focus on a class, with background and optional additions to the game rules. (There were also Blue and Green Complete Guides for the Dungeon Master. Visit my RPG reference site page for more on the whole series.)

The Handbooks proved to be quite popular, remaining in print for years, until the end of 1996, when the company ran out of operating cash.

They changed quite a bit throughout their print run, not only the logo, but also the cover finish, texture and/or pattern. Most of the TSR logos are represented, from the angled version onwards through the gold badge and finally to the shield logo. The original cover format, of a durable, faintly tactile, somewhat glossy plastic, persisted until 1995, then we see a couple different pebbly-textured covers. At the end, the covers were of a cheaper paperstock, with a background pattern of cross-hatched stripes.

This post will have shots of the morphing covers, with printing info where available. TSR was never diligent about noting printing data at the best of times, and they’d given up recording editions altogether as the game company approached the abyss. Some obviously different covers all have the same printing note copied in the next run’s credits; suspect printing dates will be in quotes: “printing date“.

No doubt I’m probably missing a cover or two, but I think the photos represent most of the versions that saw print. Comments and corrections welcome as always.


The Complete Fighter’s Handbook (PHBR1)

1989 … Aaron Allston … 128 pages … TSR 2110 … ISBN 0880387793

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Complete Thief’s Handbook (PHBR2)

1989 … John Nephew & Carl Sargent & Douglas Niles … 128 pages … TSR 2111 … ISBN 0880387807

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Complete Priest’s Handbook (PHBR3)

1990 … 128 pages … TSR 2113 … ISBN 0880388188

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Complete Wizard’s Handbook (PHBR4)

1990 … Rick Swan … 128 pages … TSR 2115 … ISBN 0880388382

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Complete Psionics Handbook (PHBR5)

1991 … Steve Winter … 128 pages … TSR 2117 … ISBN 1560760540

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Complete Book of Dwarves (PHBR6)

1991 … Jim Bambra … 128 pages … TSR 2124 … ISBN 1560761105

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Complete Bard’s Handbook (PHBR7)

1992 … Blake Mobley … 128 pages … TSR 2127 … ISBN 1560763604

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Complete Book of Elves (PHBR8)

1992 … Colin McComb … 128 pages … TSR 2131 … ISBN 1560763760

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Complete Book of Gnomes & Halflings (PHBR9)

1993 … Douglas Niles … 128 pages … TSR 2134 … ISBN 1560765739

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Complete Book of Humanoids (PHBR10)

1993 … Bill Slavicsek … 128 pages … TSR 2135 … ISBN 1560766115

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Complete Ranger’s Handbook (PHBR11)

1993 … 128 pages … TSR 2136 … ISBN 1560766344

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Complete Paladin’s Handbook

1994 … 128 pages … TSR 2146 … ISBN 1560768452

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Looks like it was mid 1994 when TSR dropped the PHBR coding. Too bad, I love product codes. And the OSR loves the coding as well, from the retro modules I’ve seen, most have adopted Letter & Number codes in the vein of classic Dungeons & Dragons.

Complete Druid’s Handbook

1994 … David Pulver … 128 pages … TSR 2150 … ISBN 156076886X

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Complete Barbarian’s Handbook

1995 … 128 pages … TSR 2148 … ISBN 0786900903

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This is the only cover format I’ve seen for Complete Barbarian. It’s fairly rare and valuable on the used market, so perhaps it just got one print run.

Complete Ninja’s Handbook

1995 … 128 pages … TSR 2155 … ISBN 0786901594

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See Also:

Fighting Wheel: Make quick work of by-the-book AD&D combat (1981)

Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998): A Worthy Sequel

Original D&D: Where It All Started (The 1975 White Box in photos)