Thursday, March 25, 2010

Defending AD&D Second Edition

I was no defender of AD&D 2nd Edition back in the day; indeed, my period of near-complete absence from D&D mostly coincides with its time in the sun. Had you asked me a year or two ago, I would readily have said that 2e was the weakest of the game's principal editions, and given a variety of reasons that this was so: failing to address any of AD&D 1e's many major mechanical issues, stripping material from the game in a cowardly kowtow to fanatical nutjobs, and a sprawling product line that included a great deal of material that was of less than stellar quality.

If you ask me today... well, all of those things are still true. But I've softened a lot on 2e. While it doesn't really fix anything that was wrong with 1e, it did clean up the presentation a great deal, and it's frankly a lot easier to learn out of the books. It's still mostly the same game as 1e, and 1e was a pretty good game on its own terms. Yeah, it took out devils and assassins and half-orcs, but all of those eventually made it back in in some form or another, and it's not like much of it would have been hard to adapt from earlier materials. And it did fix some stuff as well, the Bard being the obvious example, and while some of its efforts may not have been wholly successful... say, psionics, they at least represented an improvement over the incomprehensible babble that 1e boasted in that department.

The huge, incoherent range of products is the most interesting point. It was a lot of stuff, and the seemingly-immutable Sturgeon's Law held true, in that about 80% of it was crap. But that very volume meant that a lot of good stuff snuck in as well. The 2e era was, in many ways, the golden age of D&D, much as I loathe that term - at least from a publishing standpoint. There was a vast array of materials to pick from and a wagonload of different settings to run in. This may not have made any business sense at all, and I may not have liked all of it, but I did like some of it, settings and adventures both. Even the most virulent AD&D haters of the day probably would have admitted the excellence of a handful of products, even if they would have groused about the suitability of the AD&D engine for running them - a legitimate concern in some cases. Even if I grew to dislike the 2e Forgotten Realms for its excess and overdevelopment, I still liked and admired some of the products, like the outstanding Faiths and Avatars.

In retrospect, it's hard to say that AD&D 1e maintains the D&D tradition, follows the D&D paradigm or successfully executes the D&D playstyle while claiming that 2e doesn't, even if one might quibble over minutiae; and thus it becomes very difficult to credibly lambaste 2e as any kind of aberration in the history of D&D. And its advantages in presentation and in the breadth of options available, rivaled only by 3.x, actually make it pretty attractive. If you take the whole of 2e and apply to it a sensible gamemastering methodology, namely that you should use what you like, adapt what you need and discard the rest, the weaknesses of that edition suddenly become far less important.


  1. I liked 2e. Its when I actually learned to play the game. I loved the HUGE variety of campaign setting boxed sets... opening each one was like being a kid at Christmas... multiple books, new races, maps. Do they even make them anymore?

  2. Not really, no. Boxed sets have been discarded more or less industry-wide as uneconomical due to the costs of printing the boxes themselves. One comes out from one company or another from time to time, but they're pretty rare these days. WotC doesn't really do them at all for D&D save for intro-type sets.