Editions War Part Three: 2e AD&D
In 1985, TSR’s board of directors removed Gary Gygax from the company, and after some litigation about intellectual property rights over characters and the Greyhawk campaign setting, which ultimately led to a payout, the company embarked on a new era in gaming. They’d learned a bit from the development of 1e AD&D, and the Satanic Panic that they’d been dragged into. Then, in 1989, they released the first book for 2e AD&D.
2e AD&D came out of a lot of lessons learned during 1e AD&D’s tenure, and featured a number of shifts. The most noticeable of which was the “Mom friendly” approach to it. Gone were devils, demons, images of magical circles and anything that could be construed as being related to Judeo-Christian mythology. Cut’n’pasted in were the Baatezu and Tanar’ri (devils and demons by a different name), and the game, on the whole, was more oriented towards “heroism” and “good” morality wise. The edition ran from 1989 to 1999, disappearing only after WotC took over and later released the much reworked 3e D&D game. It also saw the demise of Basic D&D during its run, with that products last offerings coming out a few years before its own end. Notably, this edition saw an explosion of campaign settings, and a continued tradition of literature, particularly for the popular Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance settings.
Like its predecessor, 2e AD&D requires three core books to play, the PHB, DMG, and MM. Unlike its predecessor though, that’s all you actually need. Despite being utterly generic (save for Greyhawk related spell names), these three books actually do provide you with all you need to play the game. There are numerous supplementary books, like the Complete Handbook and Complete Book of series’, the Player’s Option series, and so on, but while they do add to the game, they aren’t necessary to effectively play it.
Score: 4/5 This edition was spot on in keeping things to as much of a minimum as needed, but lost a point for missing the boat in the core books about kits for classes.
The opening paragraphs of 2e AD&D make no bones about it. It’s 1e AD&D that has been polished up, streamlined, and made more player friendly. Things are still at times unintuitive, and THAC0 is still a thing, but over all the rules show improvement and thought over the previous editions. There’s still a significant learning curve for new players and DMs, but the information is well organized and presented.
Score: 3/5 The effort and learning from playtests and organized play show in this edition, which while still at times is unnecessarily complex, has good functionality.
2e AD&D, like its predecessor, has some issues here. The level caps are still in place (but have been raised), as are racial minimum and maximum attributes. Only humans have unlimited class choice and advancement possibility. Half Orcs are gone now as well, relegated to the Complete Book of Humanoids. The game moved forward two steps, and back one in this category. The game is still very much set in the mode of how it was originally conceived by Gygax, as far as play and ideas about inspiration.
Score: 2/5 This was a missed beat that probably hurt the edition in the long run, as players and DMs are still restricted (rules as written) in exercising agency and world building.
This is a tricky one for this edition. On paper, it has no “base world”, but in practice, and in particular from organized play, it was still Greyhawk. But it isn’t the Greyhawk of 1e AD&D. Citing that edition’s tonal dissonance and poor world building, Greyhawk was rebuilt, and presented largely in two boxed sets, in a post-war genre. It has better construction than the previous edition, but still has issues. The largest of course being that it isn’t in the core three books.
Score: 2/5 2e AD&D is presented as a setting free game, but really isn’t, and you need two boxed sets to really get it going.
Low. 2e AD&D does a good job on art quality, and a decent one with having both male and female adventurers presented as normal (although there is a trend towards fantasy “sexy” with many of the women portrayed). Minorities are completely absent from the PHB though, and there is one pic of a POC in the DMG. I gave this category two chances, checking both the initial and revised releases, both fell down, the revised DMG didn’t even have that one image.
Score: 2/5 Women are still largely either in peril or inappropriately dressed for battle, and POC are still absent.
Fair. 2e AD&D went through a revision and had huge amounts of material printed, and can still be found in some shops and online; but pricing ranges from reasonable to outrageous depending on the seller and the item. And of course, there are online copies available from various sources.
Playing 2e AD&D is smooth, once you understand the flow and rhythm of the system. The rules are still on the crunchy side, but it works well. The higher level caps for demihuman player characters keeps them in the game for longer, and modern players will appreciate the options (if used) that made this edition a different animal from the previous ones. Another key note here is that the game assumes, much more than 1e AD&D, that this game will be played in a variety of ways that aren’t necessarily classic dungeon crawling.
2e AD&D was the edition I cut my gaming teeth on, I still love it, but it has issues. The game mechanics are still wonky, the there’s still no in-core-book base world to kick off from, and the persistence of level and attribute caps is still irritating. If played with the optional books, like the Complete Handbooks/Complete Book of/Player’s Option series’, the edition really comes alive, and were those more integrated into the core book set, the score for this edition would have been higher under the criteria I’m using.
This edition has, arguably, the second largest player base of any previous edition save for 3/3.5e, and for good reason. For its faults and hiccoughs, it has retained a strong following because it was easily manipulated into use for just about any fantasy or pre-firearms historical setting. There’s a healthy amount of online support for it too, which can be a boon.
Final Score: 15/30 This edition is, of the pre-d20 era editions, the most playable and the most supported. Modern gamers looking for a retro experience that won’t slap you in the face will enjoy this game. All that said, the base books fall down hard in the areas of diversity, and there are still a lot of aspects that make the game less than what it could have been.
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Images here are used for review purposes.
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At the time, we saw 2nd ed as a money grab and as folding under to the demands of BADD and the rest of the Satanic Panic idiots. I can’t say I gave it a fair shake as a system though as about this time our usual play group split up to deal with work university and other parts of life.