Man, I Loved Second Edition

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.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

10 thoughts on “Man, I Loved Second Edition

  1. See I loved 2e because with all its complexity…almost all the rules were optional (and listed as such). the kits and whatnot..only applied if they would add to your game. You never had to use everything, and I never did. But the setting books were so nice (say what you will about al-qadim, its presentation was amazing)

  2. I hope my post didn't come out wrong. I LOVED 2E. What I was trying to work out is why I loved it, and why, ultimately, I switched back to 1E.

    Hell, I'd play 2E tonight if someone was running a game. But it wouldn't be my own system of choice. Why?

  3. I never really went the whole hog on 2E. I bought the PHB and DMG when they came out, and changed over to the THAC0 system in a heartbeat, but I carried on using my 1E Monster Manual(s) and so forth. We never got into kits and the like at all… maybe we were actually playing 1.75E 🙂

    Anyway, after years and years of Champions, then Hero 4e, then D&D3e, then Hero 5e, I've sort of gone back to D&D via S&W, which I'm liking a lot. I stopped playing 1.75E because it felt a bit restrictive (and prescriptive); the Hero System allowed me the freedom I wanted, but in the end it just got to be too much work to GM, and I found myself trying more and more to replicate the D&D play experience anyway. The 0D&D clones, so far at least, give me that experience plus a degree of freedom I didn't get from AD&D, and it's a real breeze to DM.

  4. Hello and hi to everybody!
    There are times I miss 2E. It was less complicated and rules-wise than 3rd edition, which was codified like tabletop or CCG game. Now I run Pathfinder edition campaign and still, after almost year of studying and using those set, I tend to forget some rules or modifiers, flip through 400 pages monster during combat, looking for one sentence. In 2E I had no such problems.


    Edition 3.x codified some things (for example philosophy of rolls, the higher the better). In 2E fighter or thief players saw almost no character improvement except for hp rolling, the were weak compared to spellcasters, who, on higher levels, were much more powerful and needn't them.

    Some time ago, during cleaning and organising, I looked at my 2E stuff and something like sorrow gripped me. It was like looking on old friend, who was abandoned for better looking, newer version. so many adventures, so many memories. I wanted to bring back them, but… I don't know if I could run AD&D again.

  5. I completely missed 2e. I had been burning out on 1e and managed to convince the groups I was playing with that they should check out B/X which was (and remains) my system of choice.

    In fact, I believe the only 2e books I own are the "2.5" Skills & Powers and Spells & Magic, the Psionic book, the Dark Sun setting (which we used for B/X and 1e), and the Encyclopedia Magica books.

    Sometimes I wonder if I would be burning out on 1e again right now if I had found 2e. (I'm finding the fiddly rules of 1e to be becoming a serious chore in the campaign I'm playing in).

  6. I think it's okay that some kits / classes were really good and others sucked. I like that there are some choices which are more powerful. After all, in real life some choices are better than others. And in the game you get to make choices, some of which are obviously better. Will you, doughty Fighter, attack unarmed or with your longsword? One is obviously a better choice.

    But there is another layer here. The kits and classes and races are a way of offering a handicap for unskilled players. Compare a Human Thief using the Pirate kit (poor choices in general all around, for various reasons) against an Elf Fighter with the Archer kit, specialized in the bow, using his spiffy trick shots and such. It's obvious that the elf is a more powerful character. There is no comparison. But if you want a greater challenge, play the Human. If you play that Elf everyone knows you're taking the easy way out. You're writing down a golf handicap of two dozen swings.

    The problem comes when players don't recognize the differences and expect that all characters will be of equal usefulness. Then the players with weaker characters feel left out in combat, and the players with combat-oriented characters feel left out when they need more versatility.

    Sometimes I'll play a character with no kit at all. Not to be boring, but just because I don't actually need the extra nonweapon proficiency and +1 against burrowing mammals.

  7. We still game using 2E to this day….the Core Rules CD and Expansion are probably the most useful D&D items ever published, allowing you to basically create "your" version of 2E by customizing the classes, spells, items, proficiencies, etc on the program. I use it almost everyday!

    I think the secret to keeping 2E enjoyable (at least in my case) is that at some point you have to make the game "your game". Whether it's starting your own campaign world (as I did), or another method, you have to have a construct that allows you to trim down the endless supplements, variations and add-ons into something managable. My campaign has my own custom character classes (about 15 in all), custom priests/religions, custom monsters, etc. It eliminates a lot of the min/maxing, munchkinism, plethora of information, and other "fiddly bits" that can wear on gamers and DMs alike. My 2E campaign world is unique, yet manageable, and as a bonus I can use the core rules program to roll up random NPCs and PCs alike using my custom adjustments. I'm still "master of my domain" because Player X cannot roll in and say "I want to play Character Class Y that I found in the Wizard Handbook"…instead I'll say "well, check out character class Z I have in my campaign world, it's similar but it's been playtested the last 15 years or so and it doesn't unbalance the game and fits logically into the framework of my campaign world". Otherwise, I agree, chaos will rule…

  8. The second edition of AD&D was great in many ways, but it definitely suffered from blandness as time went on. Too much focus on rules alterations and not enough on exciting and innovative adventure concepts.

Comments are closed.