Our D&D Greatest Hits: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition

Last week, Chatty DM told you about his experiences in AD&D (aka “First Edition”) as the edition that he started in. Many of us founding members of Critical Hits got our start in RPGs a bit later in the same game group playing AD&D 2nd edition. Now, that game group has expanded, split, mutated, split again, expanded, and changed a lot since then. However, we all still have some fond memories of those early days.

Like in Phil’s experience, we didn’t necessarily know the real rules (or particularly care). Some of the game play issues that would later come to bug us would be several campaigns down the road before they really became impediments to play. We played with a DM that liked to use 4d6 in order drop lowest, leading to playing fighters with 13th strength and paladins with 4 intelligence.

It was also the system that I would first run campaigns in. First, my utter failure of a campaign that mashed-up the video game Doom and D&D, or my much more successful followup that featured such unique NPCs as Lord Dort Invader, his Twelve Penetrators, and Gigantor the Great Big Robot.

From these memories of our early days, we’ve assembled a few of us who were in those games together to pinpoint what made those days of D&D so great.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (2e)

  • Age Range When Played: 12-17
  • Nostalgia Factor: High
  • Rules Mastery: Low

1. Flexibility

The O recalls those times fondly:

My D&D memories from that time have mostly been pushed out from all the cramming I had to do in school, but the ones I do remember are near and dear. My viewpoint comes directly from a novice player’s standpoint. What stood out the most to me in 2nd edition was the flexibility for both players and DMs. It felt as though the game was more open-ended, left more room for the imagination, and allowed greater room for house-ruling.

By far my favorite memories, and also my most saddening, involved my first long-standing character, Gurias the Half-Elf Wizard. Most of the great times involved our gaming group’s head DM, Abe. He was quite volatile and would quickly make rash decisions that could, to quote They Might Be Giants, “lead to excellence or serious injury.”

I recall once making Abe laugh because a couple of players were arguing amongst themselves, and I quickly ended the argument by saying, “Make half-elves, not war!” This campaign also involved my greatest failure both in D&D, and possibly life in general. Gurias was True Neutral and Abe created a magical neutrality test. He presented a white knight and a black knight fighting a complete stalemate, then asked me which I would choose to support. I chose the white wizard. I missed out on a great reward while being mocked into oblivion.

One memory, which I mention because it’s Dave’s favorite, involved Gurias’s demise. Gurias sadly died at mere level 7 and it was my first experience with character death. Remember how I mentioned the nice flexibility of 2nd edition? Well, rolling 1s and 20s with volatile Abe’s house rules were QUITE dangerous. Critical hits would lead to some heroic, amazing, over dramatized feat, while a critical miss lead to serious consequences. Our party was locked in a heated battle against an illithid mage. Gurias was at full health when said mind-flayer threw a fireball at me. I rolled my saving throw and it came up a natural 1. Abe’s response was that Gurias was blown to pieces then disintegrated by the fireball, preventing any chance of resurrection. Keep in mind that Gurias had enough health to withstand the fireball even if the damage dice rolled the maximum! I would eventually bring back Gurias in Dave’s 4th edition game, and the lore about the mind flayer’s fireball made it into that campaign.

Abe ended up giving me some redemption when my replacement character for Gurias, an evil Elven Fighter had a two-handed sword which received bonuses against humans. We were fighting a death knight and I critically missed AGAIN. This time however, he declared that the sword flew into the air, stopped, spun around making beeping sounds (as if a heat-seeking missile) until it locked onto a human character in the party (he randomly rolled which one), and stated that the sword flew at him and sliced off one of his legs. The best part? That party member was a guy named Ben… Abe’s younger brother! What ensued was a complete firefight of sibling warfare and sadness that words cannot describe. I can say that tears were shed and furniture was overturned.

2. Authority

The Main Event has this to say:

I did not know it at the time, but 2E’s byzantine bloated and vastly impenetrable rule set vested great authority in the DM. Adding to this dynamic was the fact our play group tended to have ‘older’ and ‘younger’ players… the older being somewhere in high school and the younger being in middle school. So, my first era of 2E play involved older players running games with a set of rules that was unfriendly to universal comprehension as a n00b. Rules-lawyering happened, but most of the time it was easily squashed with DM fiat. The thing is, it made for damn fun games. Rather than being hung up on the rules we were immersed and in love with the game and the game world. Part of that was my age and part of it was game design that I’d never endorse, but it was a different play experience in that era. The DM was in charge, end of story.

And you know what? With a good DM it can make for a better game and a better story.

3. Worlds of Wonder and Danger

Bartoneus recalls his first steps into D&D:

2nd Edition D&D came into my life at just the right time. I was ready to enter other people’s worlds and play a part in their stories, but I wasn’t yet to the point of wanting to create my own worlds or tell my own stories. For me my memories of 2E will always be tied to my first introduction to the planes and fantastic places like Sigil. I remember vividly the first time I had a character step out of a portal and into Sigil, but for me it wasn’t just entering “Sigil,” it was stepping into this wondrous city where the street arched upwards and kept going into the sky and all of your assumptions about the world were immediately left behind.

Back in 2E I always felt like non-weapon proficiencies were something special for my characters. I remember several instances of being encouraged as a player to sing my way out of certain situations because I had decided my Dwarf Fighter was proficient in singing Dwarven Drinking songs. Then of course there’s the instance of my first character’s death, where he was beaten unconscious after a courtroom scene involving Gigantor turned bad and the rest of the party fled through a portal to safety. When one of the players, I believe The Main Event, was asked by the DM if he wanted to try and save my character lying on the floor, he thought about it and responded, “No.” My character perished under Gigantor’s foot as the portal closed.

4. Whimsy

And finally, I recall some of my favorite characters and moments, driven by what was in the game:

The first D&D book I ever owned was The Complete Psionics Handbook. Without having a PHB, using what I could infer from the rules in the book plus half-remembered rules from convention games I had played in, I created an Elven Psionicist named “Spock.” The gaming group I tried to play him in didn’t let that fly, but I still got to play a Psionicist with all kinds of arm-stretching, weapon grafting, Id Insinuating goodness.

The second book I owned (yes, still without a PHB) was the Tome of Magic, and from there, Wild Mage easily became my favorite class. Memorized spells not coming in handy? No problem: cast Nahal’s Reckless Dweomer, roll on the wild surge table, and hope for the best. Though the results were heavily skewed towards something wacky (and not at all impactful) happening, I always felt like I had a chance to impact the situation… even if it was only a 1 out of 100 chance.

I also played a Halfling Cleric of chaos (once again using spells from the Tome of Magic) who was reincarnated into a skeleton through some chaotic consequences. Later, another curse would force his alignment to Lawful and necessitate worshiping a deity of law (I was NOT happy when that happened). There even came a battle against a powerful mage where my chaotic spells would have come in handy in scrambling his spellcasting, but all I had were law spells… except for the ones I had stored in my Ring of Spell Storing before the change. That last vestige of chaotic magic used at the right time saved the day, and my halfling would eventually revert to his old chaos-worshipping self before heading off on his immortality quest.

This is only a sampling, not even including the food mage, the berserker whose presence was announced by an organ, the bevy of characters based on Squaresoft games, the rogue who saved a gold mine and power-leveled through 4 levels thanks to the gold pieces therein, and much more. You still had the races and classes that had already become classics, alongside new and crazy options. And whether your fireball was turning into butterflies, or you were pulling a string of Christmas lights out of a Robe of Useless items, this is the edition to me that embraced some of the wackier sides of the game, for some memorable times.

Do you have any fond memories of AD&D 2e that you want to share? Please do, but remember to keep it positive.

Next week, we tackle a big era in D&D and the gaming industry: 3rd edition.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.


  1. While I started with AD&D 1e, it wasn’t until I started 2e that my D&D career would hit its stride. My fondest memory of any 2e game was when our DM (who is now one of my players) decided to allow my brother and I to duel. Our characters just weren’t getting along, and my brother’s lawful good paladin decided he’d had enough of my rude and obnoxious dwarven fighter, Barundar.

    We dueled, and well, my dwarf ended up cutting the paladin’s arms off. And well, the disgraced paladin would have to retire in shame. ..

    There were so many memorable moments for us playing 2e, that nostalgia keeps me from coming down too hard on that ed. We had nothing but good times playing it, and to me it still defines my most memorable moments of the game.

  2. Oh my….how could I forgot the robe of useless items?! ::facepalm::

  3. I don’t understand the hating of 2e. I understand that it was the first time the game suddenly looked like the “I have to buy all my books again” with countless ways to play tacked on at the end (combat options, kits, psionics, etc) that made it a little haywire. But that’s what I loved about it. It was a little more whacky and out there than 1st Ed, and crazy and whacky things happened.

  4. As a guy who also started paying AD&D 2nd Ed. and while loving other editions has returned to it. I have a ton of stories.

    Most recently while in a fight in a prison, my PC died. It was a tragic moment. I turned the sheet over grabbed some dice and rolled a brand new PC up. This was fast enough that I could join in on the fight 2 rounds later as one of the prisoners freed by the PCs.

    Another is the time we had two wizards in a party of 6. We were hunting a dragon and tracked it back to it’s lair. Where it had a choke point keeping us from being able to swarm it or cast many AOE spells. Fortunately through quick thinking and lucky spell choice one wizard had transmute stone to mud and another transmute mud to stone. We turned the ceiling to mud which smothered the dragon (partly) then turned that mud to stone, sealing it in. After that the dragon was much easier to fight and hit. Getting the hoard (also buried in mud/stone) was a different story.

  5. My fondest memory of AD&D 2nd is that it was the game that gave me the opportunity to meet the person who would become my best friend. Over 20 years have passed and along with many real life adventures, we still play D&D together regularly. It was my first introduction to the game and influenced how I would spend most of my life entertaining myself ever after. I never fell out of love with fantasy and rpgs.

    My favorite actual play memory is the result of the convergence of three factors: rolling 3d6 for stats, the fact that you could make your own magic items, and a Dragon article about roleplaying stupidity. The short version is that the party ended up with an Int 3 Fighter, with a custom built Wand of Wonder that had a button to activate it since magical utterances were far beyond his limited language skills. I will spare you the endless hilarity that ensued. Enough to say that when Mo declared “Mo push button!” the safest and sanest response was “My character ducks.”

    AD&D 2nd made me a gamer, and I will be forever thankful for the times I have had, the friends I have made and the imaginative forces it unlocked in my life. For what it is worth, gaming also introduced me to my wife, so it is a real and tangible way D&D has lead me to all the very best parts of my life.

  6. AD&D was what made me want to play the game in the first place. Sadly, I started with 3rd, but after a fashion I was able to get into a group that was running an AD&D game, and I jumped into it with both feet forward, playing the one class I’d always loved looking at in the books: The Bard.

    Garen Milliarr is one of the greatest character I’ve ever played. He was a simple traveler looking for a story to tell. He was not the strongest, nor was he the smartest. I myself was not the oldest nor the wisest at the table. Yet without our presence at the table, nothing ever got done. He was the only character who had managed to play the entire game from session one to session end. We saw many come and go in the group, but from the moment we laid eyes on the greatest story he would ever tell, Garen seemed to be the man in charge.

    He did a variety of amazing things for someone who was not really an adventurer by trade. He took possession of an extremely dangerous artifact, tasked with the goal of returning it to its rightful place. He safeguarded it against all dangers, and sacrificed his own life on two occasions, both to save everyone and also to ensure that the artifact would not fall into the wrong hands (by virtue of everyone dying). He witnessed the murder of his wife in front of him, and was given a choice to save his unborn children, or to bring back his wife. And then, later on, he went down into hell itself, alone, and brought his wife back to the mortal realm with his own two hands – a task made far easier by a single selfish act of using the artifact he was protecting for his own personal gain this one time.

    In the end, he survived to see the artifact returned to its rightful home, and after years of adventuring (both in-game and real world!), he could rest at ease, knowing that he had an incredible story to tell, a family to care for, and the adventure of a lifetime.

    With that said? He pretty much told everyone else in the party that if he ever saw any of them again, someone was going to die, because he was going into permanent retirement. After single-handedly waging a campaign of vengeance against the Drow who had killed his wife in the first place, and visiting other planes of existence, he was pretty much ready to say that the only thing he wanted was to raise his family until the day he passed away.

    There were a lot of zany houserules – exploding magical items, for one. But that only helped to make the game that much more fun – there always seemed to be some out-of-the-box solution that would present itself, if only we looked in enough places to find an answer that nobody could expect. That is what the true spirit of D&D was about, in my opinion, and that is the one thing I always try to look forward to in any game system. AD&D had that sort of charm and mystique, where the rules were loose enough that you could extrapolate interesting things from them, unlike the newer ones which are much more rules-lawyer-ey.

    I’ll always remember those days, and maybe I’ll return to them at some point – for all the things it could represent, and not all the things that it actually is.

  7. Sevenbastard says:

    We have a group of 7 players and a DM and we have run 2e every week for the last 8 months and its a blast. The game we play is heavily house rulled and a ton of DM fiat.

    We average one charachter death every other session but that makes the game much more fun and when you can make a charachter in 20 minutes your right back in the action.

    2e with just the phb is a fun, fast system forget all the kits and skills and powers just roll up a fighter and play.

  8. I loved 2nd edition. I started on it just before 3rd was released, and I clung to it adamantly for years out of sheer loyalty and ignorance. My first “games” were hours of creating characters because I couldn’t find anyone interested in playing. Probably a couple years after I completed my library of core and player’s option books (purchased one by one on Ebay — and I still have them all), I miraculously convinced my hockey-jock stepbrother to be my only player. He surprised me and loved it. We played every month just the two of us for something like 5 years.

    Eventually I got out of my shell and found a local 3rd edition group, but I convinced several of them to start a 2nd ed “throwback” campaign that we ran a different night of the week. It was Viking based, no-grid, and I was the only one who really knew the rules. Something about their reliance on me kept us all more involved in the story, and I think this proves the point you made above, Dave: when we let the DM know the rules, we can focus solely on the narrative and characters. My players had to describe their combat actions flavor-style because they needed me to explain what they should roll. It’s amazing to me that naivete is such a virtue in RPGs.

  9. I have lots of happy memories of 2nd edition. We were so skint when it came out that we saved up for the DMG by putting our 1p, 2p and 5p coins in a jar! Mostly though, I remember 2e as the edition in which we got to game in lots of different settings, all wonderful. As well as a lot of great stuff for the Forgotten Realms, we enjoyed the Horde adventures, more Oriental Adventures in Kara-Tur, Spelljammer, Planescape and the excellent Al-Qadim setting. Good times 😉

  10. I got my start in 2nd edition, even though the game is slightly older than I am. I’ve played 2, 3, 3.5, and 4 (and a little Pathfinder) over the years, and I must say 2nd is still my favorite. I love the freedom given to the DM and players to do whatever you want. I’m currently DMing 2e for a group of 6 players, most of whom started on 3 or 3.5. It’s a blast, every session. They all tell me they love the game, even if they still have no clue what most of the rules are, evidenced by quotes like “How does that work? That doesn’t make any sense.” “It’s 2nd edition; nothing makes sense.”

    I recently got a hold of a huge stack of old Dungeon and Dragon magazines, and looking through those adventures gives me so much inspiration. I really miss that sort of stuff from the newer editions. Not to say they don’t have good adventures, but they’re just too specific. Even just the core rulebooks, I used to spend hours reading cover to cover. They’re actually fun and interesting to read, not just reference material for hundreds of specific rules. They open up a whole set of fantasy worlds to your imagination.

    Age Range When Played: 10-18, 22+
    Nostalgia Factor: Very High
    Rules Mastery: High

  11. Oh how I love boxed sets! Sure, it turns out TSR lost money on every sale, but those were some of the greatest campaign settings that were ever produced for the D&D game – Planescape, Dark Sun, Al-Quadim, and Spelljammer were my favorites.

  12. 2e AD&D was where I actually started playing, rather than looking at bits and pieces wistfully and wishing for a group. While I’ve since played OD&D, 1e, and thousands of hours of 3/4, 2e is still “the original” for me, my first love, and the start of my best friendships, to this day.

    I started playing and DMing in college, 20 years ago, and haven’t stopped yet. While I’m reluctant to lose everything we gained in 3, 3.5, and especially 4e, I’m also excited to see what comes next!