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
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.
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.
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.