When Second Edition hit the shelves in 1989, I was so into it it’s hard to describe. I loved everything about it. It seemed to streamline everything that needed streamlining– THAC0 was a huge hit in my games– and the concept of “splat books” was new and exciting at the time.
I remember my ambitious plan to go through every kingdom in Greyhawk and come up with an applicable fighter kit, thief kit, etc. You would finally be able to play a Yeomanry Fighter, or an Almor cleric. I had dozens of the damn things written out (all, naturally, with the applicable formatting, or as close as I could get to it using Wordstar, which was the word processor of choice at the time for us DOS users).
These were the heady days of CompuServe ($12 per hour) and GEnie ($6 per hour, if I recall correctly). And AOL was just getting started, so there was that as well. It turns out AOL made the transition from dial-up BBS to web-based portal, but it was by no means a done deal when we were still breathlessly awaiting the Complete Paladins Handbook. There was a lot of chatter on the BBS’s about how to really fill out every nook and cranny.
This was also the time I was in the Air Force, and my friend Pete (who’s now a Major staring into the dark abyss of becoming a Lt. Col– 18 years after we last rolled d20’s together) was DMing a Dark Sun campaign. Oh, I had great fun with my half-giant fighter with the 21 strength. But the group moved on first to Champions (I had a character with a bionic arm), and to Palladium, and I wasn’t thrilled with either the system or the setting, and sat that one out. Then we all ended up getting transferred. But I kept up with second edition.
Once I got out of the military, I was still a huge 2E-head. Back in Boston, I ran my legendary Greyhawk campaign, and had a blast (and, if I may be permitted to name-drop, so did Erik Mona, whom I had the pleasure of DMing in said Greyhawk campaign, and whose name some Greyhawk aficionados and others might recognize; at the time he looked like David Mustaine, which fact I never tire of reminding him when we chat).
But I’ve got to say somehow 2E eventually wore thin. Was it too slick? Was the fact that you had essentially an infinite number of classes (or sub-classes) thanks to the concepts of kits just too much? Bear in mind that some kits were ridiculously over-powered, and others were similarly lame. And all the more were the ones that I came up with. Oh, you’re a Geoffian Fighter? You’ve got X, Y, and Z skills and abilities. You come from neighboring Sterich? Well, see, you’re completely different.
It was all just too much. Too many fiddly rules. 2E ended up being the ultimate bulwark against the onslaught of the skill system. Who needs skills? You can choose from a thousand different classes, races, and kits! Surely one of those will fit the bill you’re looking for. It ended up just being a complete mess, and I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. I left RPGs for a decade before coming back to 1E, which, while more complex, in its way is still more flexible in that it doesn’t expect you to use every rule. There was still a bit of the “frontier mentality” that said the DM was king, and the game was his to bend and warp as he saw fit. So when I came back, I went to AD&D 1E.
But one thing I still to this day love– the Ravenloft Monstrous Compendiums. The idea of a 3-ring binder for monsters was a good one in theory, but in practice it ended up not working. But Grave Elementals? Oh, HELL yeah. I’m keeping them no matter what edition I use.