Greywulf and Mike Mearls both have given their opinions on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition on the occasion of it’s 20 year anniversary. While AD&D (1e) was the first version of D&D I played as a very wee one, 2e was the first where I was part of a regular gaming group, the first campaign I played in, and the first campaign I ran. Despite all the gaming I’ve done since, 2e is probably still the RPG I’ve played the most, going almost every week (and sometimes more) from the end of my middle school days all the way into high school, before it would be supplanted by experimenting with other games (especially GURPS) and the eventual release of 3rd edition.
Well, on this prestigious occasion of the edition’s creation, I thought I’d engage in a bit of edition war with myself and list from memory 5 things that I loved and 5 things I hated about 2nd Edition.
THINGS I LOVED
1. “Complete _____ Handbook”
Complete Psionics Handbook was the first D&D book I ever owned (and I still have it). Complete Humanoids Handbook gave us tons of new races to play with when we were finally bored with the ones in the PHB. Every one of the class books gave tons of new options. And so on.
2. Tome of Magic
While Nahall’s Reckless Dweomer should be reason enough, this is also the book that introduced Elementalists and a whole buttload of evocative spells. Even the first level ones like Fists of Stone made spellcasters feel different.
A consistently favorite setting, Planescape shook everything up about what a D&D setting could be. At the time I likened it to Vampire with its choice of factions that granted special abilities, but the more I read it, the more I was reminded of Mage: The Ascension in the way the universe worked. AND it just plain (excuse the pun) made a great place to adventure.
4. No map, no minis, no problem
Before the days of 5′ steps/shifts and opportunity attacks, the need for knowing where exactly everyone was in relation to each other was greatly reduced. In the 2nd edition era, we never used battlemaps or minis. No having to draw out maps in advance, no complaints that the miniature didn’t depict the monster, and no extra table space needed.
5. Ignorable Rules
While 3e seemed to reinforce playing by the rules as written when possible, we were all about ignoring the rules in 2e. In fact, I’d be surprised if we ever were really playing by all the rules… though enough so that I could get by when playing in a convention game. Combat moved more smoothly and far more of the player’s actions were adjucated by DM’s call, which made for a fast-moving time.
THINGS I HATED
1. Ignorable Rules
By the token, the rules were often so vague that rules arguments, lawyering, and “gotchas!” took over the game more often, leading plenty to hurt feelings. I think to this day DarthCthulhu regrets giving out so much gold in an adventure he guest-DMed without realizing my rogue gained XP for every GP he acquired. Those XP awards were full of surprises like that: every new spell caster invariably would try to cast all his unused spells before resting so as to gain the XP benefit. Those, plus all kinds of gray areas, lead to the situation I describe above of never being sure if I’ve gotten the rules right.
Weapon proficiencies meant that there were various kinds of weapons that showed up on random treasure charts that no one could use. Non-weapon proficiences, being based on ability scores that rarely increased, stayed the same score throughout the course of your career. And especially after some later books, there were some non-weapon proficiencies that were better than others. So much for character concept.
3. Demi-Human Level Limits
Unless you’re human, good luck participating in a long term campaign. As far as I can recall, this had almost nothing to do with balance, but some flavor reason for trying to force races into certain careers.
While above I professed my love of the Complete series of books, at the same time, they introduced an element that every character had to take: a kit. They added extra powers and abilities, and generally didn’t come with enough drawbacks to justify a trade-off. You took a kit, or you were nothing. On top of that, there seemed to be no regard to balance. Plenty of kits were just overpowered.
Much maligned, and for me, reasonably so. Even among our extended group, there was no one who had the chart memorized for every class. That meant referencing it whenever there was an attack… and slowing the whole thing down. As soon as we saw a better option, we never looked back. (And don’t get me started on MTHAC0…)