Monday, May 20, 2013

I Played More AD&D 2e Than Any Other Version of D&D - So Why Do I Detest it So Much?

Actually, the answer to that is fairly simple, at least at its core:


Sure, 3e probably had more bloat, but it wasn't all coming from the same company, despite the best efforts of FFE.

2e just seemed to collapse under it's own weight - and I'm not just talking about it's infinite number of settings. No, I'm referring to the series of Complete Handbooks. Talk about ways to unbalance and kill a campaign. I guess it was good that there was always a new setting to move on to after the pervious campaign imploded under the new and better unbalanced rules (not even going to touch Skills & Powers or whatever it was called).

Heck, I didn't even know of the EGG drama going on behind the scenes, as this was before the internet for me.

I started gaming with AD&D 1e and ended my first tour of gaming with 2e. When I returned, I wanted a game that felt like 1e. C&C was close but not quite. 3e seemed like 2e on steroids. 4e didn't even seem like D&D to me anymore.

So now I run AD&D 1e / OSRIC and S&W Complete / C&T. I still can't run without houseruling either, but that's a whole 'nother post.

I have fond memories of playing 2e, but that seems to be more in spite of the rules, not because of them, at least as we allowed the bloat to take over the game.

What are your memories / feelings about AD&D 2e?


  1. I personally never played it... Guess that was a good thing..

  2. I also played a lot of 2e. That and B/X -- no AD&D 1e.

    In retrospect, I think I was lucky to only ever buy the core 2e books (players handbook, DM guide and the monster compendium), and that was it, so I never really experienced the bloat-horror.

    Perhaps because of this, I don't have the 2e-hate that a lot of people have.

  3. 2e remains a good game if you stick to the core books and maybe (just maybe) allow the 4 core class books. You absolutely must ignore the players options/skills and powers stuff.

    I think 2e went a long way to clearing up a LOT of rules confusions from previous versions of the game.

  4. 2e had some very good ideas that simply collapsed under the execution of those ideas. Also, the default setting moved from a rather grim swords & sorcery universe where nasty death was waiting with large fanged teeth to....something cuddlier, where there was a much greater focus on what characters did between adventures.

    But....Spelljammer's system of creating a solar system for your D&D world, the idea of kits, the idea of specialists beyond the illusion, and the idea of speciality priests (for example) are all worthy ideas. The early execution of some of these ideas was even fine....but, as time went on......

    .........too much of the bloat became nit-picking. It was like feats and prestige classes became for 3e. Too many nits to pick, not enough substance, but a feeling that if you didn't have the nit for X you should not do it. Bah.

  5. Never played it. I got the books cheap and tried to look through it, but, man! The text is bitty, the art is awful, the layout is eye-pummeling, and the rules focus on things I really don't care about.

  6. Considering that the mentioned bloat is mostly located in the supplements, I find mystifying that people found AD&D 2e bloated as a whole.

    Like Gavin, we only used the core books (without the MC) which had fiddly bits clearly marked as Optional and the rest of the book seems almost identical to me to most OSR stuff.

    Now, having access to the earlier and later D&D versions, I'm rather fond of the modularity 2e has in the core books. I don't care much about all the terrible supplements, but there are some that have seen some heavy use in our games, improving our fun overall (such as the Psionic Handbook).

  7. I owned a huge collection of AD&D2 stuff, quite a few settings, and most of the Complete... books. I later realized that some of the added rules contradicted basic concepts of PHB and DMG. Which lead me to writing an essayistic interpretation of both the PHB and DMG, and their essential rules and mechanics: a stripped-down AD&D2. I halted the project when I stumbled over the OSR, and realized others before me had gone a similar path, and done a better job. :)

    When I think of the Complete Ninja's Handbook ... I shudder.

    But I love my 1989 PHB and DMG. I play Basic Fantasy with my group, though.

  8. I am kinda with you here.

    I ran more 2e than I played it. I was in college and I was the only one willing to run. I look back on the time not as the time I "played 2e" but more the time "I played Ravenloft".

    I did know about the whole Gygax thing then. I was an early adopter of the net and was on a lot of bitnet groups back then.

    But I hated those Skills and Powers books and the constant bloat of the "kits" was it for me. It was the Complete Bards Handbook that ruined it for me. The "Blade" kit. I read that and wanted to through the book away. God that was awful.

  9. I only ever played it once but I read the books cover to cover many times and I still have a fondness for it. The settings were fascinating and the Monstrous Manual is one of my favourite monster books.

  10. I have run 2e and only 2e for years—I got into the game on 2e and stayed with it after trying 3e for about a half hour. I have to say: I don't find the optional books to be all that impinging. I know that I now must sound like 3e apologists, but with judicious rulings on kits (and really, more custom kits for the campaign rather than just accepting all the standard ones) as well as optional books I have never found a reason to move forward OR backwards from 2e.

    Sure, we got weird meta-rules (like the kit that gives you the power to make a fancy death speech) but we also got a strong-as-hell set of bones to do whatever you can think of. Yeah, the premise of the setting became lighter and sort of defanged... it was a Renaissance/Medieval themepark and that failing of 2e is actually what led me to become a historian (the constant question of "Ok, but what would it REALLY be like?" plagued me).

    Still, with the heavily modified version we play at my table (Most of C&T, none of the other player's option books, very heavily moderated kit use with intense oversight on what is allowed and reams of homebrew) I have NEVER YET had a complaint from ANYONE about the rules that wasn't a backported 3e-er complaining that you can't make whatever character you want when you start out (or that things are too darn hard and the game requires too much thinking).

  11. I enjoyed it, and ran a campaign using it a few years ago, and found it held up well. The splat books could be a bit much, but I opened them up to the players, subject to my final approval. So they could look through the books all they wanted, but if they came back with a half elf/half orc power ranger, they were going to be disappointed.

  12. I used the 2nd edition PHB and DMG (along with the 1st edition monster books) for my final college campaign in the early 1990's. I had no real problem with 2nd edition, although I also have no desire to go back and run it again. Leaving aside the rules bloat in the splat books, even the core books seemed to have some of the AD&D "flavor" sucked out of them. They felt hollow somehow.

  13. Never played it either. I'd been playing 1st ed when it was out, and stopped gaming for a long time after that. Didn't really get back into it until 3rd ed was out, and 4th was debuting. By that time, there were so many other choices... well, there was no need for 2nd ed. So, yeah, I guess I really didn't miss much.

  14. I started with 1e, but I preffer to run 2e with the PHB and DMG only. I find it a easier to refrence ersion of 1e, with (in my opnion) a few slight improvement:

    The Thief Class with the point buy of thief abilities.
    It doesn't have Monks/Assasians which I always found silly/anoying.
    Weapon Specilations makes a reason to play a Fighter vs a Ranger.
    You can make a charachter without refrencing the DMG (always anoying in 1e).

    The only house rule I can think of is no Bards (thier xp table allows them to gain spells faster than a Magic User at low levels.)

    I agree the Kits were a decent idea that hurt the game as they bloated out, but really the 2e PHB is just a Clone of 1E, beter organized, with some rules options thrown in, along with some spells and gear from unearthed arcana.

  15. it was not 1st ed :(
    I switched hoping for a betterment... but the switch killed our campaigns...

  16. I still don't see a way the one minute combat round with segments fails to be a nightmare to play or adjudicate.

    1. I never met a single person in the 1970's or 1980's who actually used segments. 1st edition combat wasn't a nightmare because everyone used the Basic melee round instead.

  17. It's strange looking back but I don't think we were even aware of 2E at the time. We all started with 1st Ed AD&D (mixed in with a bit of Basic) and then moved on to other games. It wasn't until years later, when I was starting to get back into D&D-style games, that I realised there was a distinct 2nd Edition. I'm pretty sure, for the most part, when I'd seen the books originally I'd just assumed it was a new printing of the original AD&D. Then I started to discover modules and supplement that spoke of "kits" and I realised I'd missed a whole generation of the game.

  18. 2e didn't collapse under its own weight, TSR collapsed under its own weight.

    If you don't like rules bloat, then don't get bloated on rules.

    2e was fine for what it was.

    1. easier said then done when your college group was always into the latest and great from TSR ;)

      These days, I'd run it with just the core three books, as the kits added nothing but trouble.

      Hindsight is, as always, 20/20

    2. My experience was opposite.

      I, the DM, kept wanting to use the stuff from the splatbooks (to get my money's worth, I guess), but my players wouldn't bite for the most part.

      There was only one exception: The Complete Psionics Handbook.

      I bought it, and read it, and immediately for forbade my group from using it. (I never bought the Ninja book, though).

    3. Wait, now that I think about it: the Complete Book of Elves, too, was a bit of problem with one player insisting that he wanted to play a Bladesinger.

      And so was the Complete Paladin's Handbook to a certain extent--well, until the PC encountered a room full of cursed items from "Grimtooth's Traps," got turned blue, and then green, and then lost 6 intelligence points, the player then got mad because his character could no longer qualify for the Wyrmslayer kit, so he had his paladin examine a Book of Vile Darkness in a room down the hall in protest. After which a night hag killed his character.

      I didn't really have the heart to tell the player that the Intelligence loss was only temporary, but I was also annoyed with his obnoxious Wyrmslayer Paladin, too.

  19. I've played 2E more than any edition (3E/3.5E comes close though). Still playing it and having a great time with the games I'm in. The groups I've played with have only used kits and weapon specialization/mastery rules, sometimes only with DM approval for some kits. Never played a game that used the Skills & Powers or other late edition add-ons and options. I find the value of kits not so much for a mechanical benefit, but as an archetypal focus when I don't have a strong concept in mind, basically as a set of predefined proficiencies and styling that helps jump start a character concept or inspiring concepts I never thought of.

    I feel 2E is a very good balance between too light a rules set where everyone feels the same despite their flavor and one where the rules get too fiddly to the point of "character builds". Sure one can try to min-max, but there aren't enough bonuses and modifiers to make that much of a difference compared to the post 3E varieties. I've seen monsters chew up Bladesingers and Cavaliers just as well as the rest of the party if they're not careful.

    Despite the appearance of imbalance in some of the kits, most don't affect the game in the long run, at least nothing compared to the characteristic imbalances innate in these editions. No one bats an eye at those imbalances (the ones 3E/4E tried to even out). I've seen fully kit'ed out, stat heavy characters take the same beatings as "average" characters. The system can still be swingy enough to end a character with some good or bad rolls.

    Every edition has their quirks and add-ons. People say the same thing about Unearthed Arcana class and the proficiencies from the Wilderness/Dungeon Survival Guides.

    As for focusing on events outside of the dungeon. I've also heard the claim old school rules frees gamers to roleplay. I see a contradiction there in old schoolers claiming it both ways that their rules of choice are great for roleplay and they focus on the spirit of the game as a dungeon crawl. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, there just aren't additional pressures for one or the other in the various editions. I think sometimes people tag on criticisms just because they're looking for another reason to rag on a system. A system is played as the group wishes, they establish their own tone.

    Prior to the advent of the OSR and retroclones, both Frog God Games and Goodman Games made their claim to fame releasing 3E material in the style of 1E. By many accounts, everything 2E did wrong, 3E did worst, so where's the excuse in that if two or more major third party publishers were able to establish an old school vibe despite using a new school rules set?

  20. fighters book was essential and the other basic ones were handy - i liked the historical ones but it was necromancers guide that broke the straw - when you have friends making original games and art better than a commercial product you stop and think, when company pumping out ill conceived products that seem lazy and forced its time to stop encouraging them with money. I used to love chaosium for years - everything was gold then about 1990 a few duds appeared - mildly disappointed by last products i got by pdf - glad i didnt bother with real ones - oldscool products ive bought make me much happier - more room to move as a gm. simple and easy to digest and some increasingly strange stories. TSR by trying to hit every target market just became the vanilla of the industry. I didnt buy a gaming product for 15 years - using RQ3 and marvel. My DnD resurgence came from new players who wanted to try it - mostly i run bx + 2nd ed NWP + a few feats i like from later eds made into proficiencies. Found a new club with youngins playing rule lite fudge type games which are fun but dont seem to have convincing climaxes, risk or challenge - more most flamboyantly imaginative over the top is dubbed coolest. Very few books of any kind in use.

  21. Never forgave 2e for dropping half-orcs (& to a lesser extend, assassins), but in hindsight it really was mostly an improvement over 1e mechanically. The books looked more sterile and boring, and there were too many splat books, but you didn't have to allow any of them. We usually just used the fighters book & the thieves book. I liked the humanoids book too, but but almost never used it.

    Also the Vikings book was sort of cool, but again didn't actually use it, there too many better otpions for historical stuff in GURPS.

    I wish there were more of a middle ground betwen 2e and B/X ... C&C with some house rules being the compromise I usually find.

  22. The 3 core books were great!

    There were several downers - removing of some classes and races, for instance - but the biggest disappointment was the implementation of the Complete series. Once I saw The Complete Torch, Brick, Saddle, and Boot Strap in the upcoming products list I knew it was too much. ;)

    1. ugh - "removal of" instead of "removing of".

    2. CW was using the present tense for emphatic boost ;^)

  23. Eek, I loved AD&D 2nd Edition, and am actually working on new material for it (campaign settings and modules). It was my introduction to RPGs and I have very fond memories of my wizard getting killed four times in one night, my first ranger getting his face pounded in by an ogre with a mace, and my first fighter whose intelligence was so low I played him as having gotten involved in one to many bar fights :)

    They are my favorite memories of gaming! The system was great!

    I have one objection to the rules bloat comment though: TSR went out of their way to make sure EVERYTHING was labeled as optional. Though I have long since lost many of my books, I remember reading "Throw this by your DM before you use it" again and again and again. If the DM had trouble saying "No." then the trouble is with the DM, not the system. TSR released new books in order to make money and continue to support the game as a company, like it or not, they had to do it.

    In 3.X and 4E, however, those systems purposefully went out of their way to do the opposite. To WotC, the DM is an annoyance, and buying books is the only way to know the "right" rules. As far as WotC is concerned, they want a table top skirmish war game, not an RPG - and THAT is rules bloat. Anything from WotC is "official" and can be used.

    My only nitpickyness of your comment :)

    1. I'm right there with you man, even doing to still producing material!

  24. I have actually been re-reading 2e for the first time since the early 90s. Some of it is a little wonky. THAC0 is easy enough, but honestly Descending AC should have never existed (hell Armor Class should have never existed. Damage reduction for the win). I like weapon speed because there should be a mechanical reason that makes a Dagger better than a Two-Handed Sword, without weapon speed the Dagger is only used by wizards and rogues as a back up.

    All in all though I kind of miss 2e. I don't think I would bother trying to teach it new players when there are other games I want to play, but a lot of stuff in 2e I like a lot. I like the kits sure some of them were broken, but most of them were more flavor over function they added little roleplaying aspects for a few mechanical bonuses. Which some players need to bring a little life to a character.

    The complaint on bloat is common through out the rpg community for many systems and I am annoyed by it. No one is making you buy and use all the rule books ever. As GM you are allowed to say the player can't play a dragon or use whatever splat book they want. OSR has a lot of bloat these days. I just don't buy it or care.


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