Monday, October 15, 2012

Review: AD&D 2nd Edition Player's Handbook

Looks like WotC is still trying to placate pre-4e D&D fans with reprinting the 2e core books, AD&D 2e Player's Handbook included. Good for them. 4e really destroyed a lot of my goodwill toward WotC. So I doubt I'll be purchasing these reprints, especially since they cost around $40 a piece. My only hope is that some younger players pick up these reprints (both 1e and 2e) and start playing the game before rules became the primary reality over the story or the players.

In this review, I won't attempt to filter out my biases developed over 23 years+ (!) of gaming history and experiences. So I make no apologies if this review is skewed one way or another.

When the AD&D Player's Handbook came out in 1989, for some years already TSR had been pushing the precedence of "story" over player desires and planning. We see this with the Dragonlance Campaign setting and the adventures published in the late eighties and early nineties (boxed text was at an all time high!). The AD&D Player's Handbook certainly represents a break from the past, mostly in presentation. The rules, of course, are pretty much the same--just refined and compiled from previous books. 

Let's take a look at the rules first. AD&D did need a rules compilation. I've played AD&D and I've run AD&D. The 1e Player's Handbook was a great book. It provided player characters with what they needed to create and run characters in AD&D. Most of the rules of actually running the game (including combat, saving throws, etc.) were in the Dungeon Master's Guide. This works fine until multiple people in a group need to level up. The DM must then handle each individually, because the Player's Handbook does NOT include the combat charts and bonuses the players need. Maybe this was fine in the pre-3e world, but my players wanted to know how they can advance their characters.

Non-weapon proficiencies also became part of character creation, before they were supplements in The Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and The Wilderness Survival Guide. They are, however, still optional. You can have a fun game without them. This is perfect for beginners, who might want to tackle the rules one "layer" at a time. And I'm speaking from experience. I didn't use NWPs until a couple of years after I had bought the book. The NWPs system, however, is quick and dirty, and you don't get better as you advance in levels. 

The full combat system is included in the book, including the introduction of the now (in)famous THAC0. Yes, to younger gamers it doesn't make much sense (To Hit number = THAC0 - AC), but was what we had. It was, in my opinion, an improvement over those combat tables. I still don't like the minute-long combat rounds, but I general ignored them when playing. A round was a round. 

As for races and classes, the standard ones are still there, with some alterations to reflect changes in previous rulebooks and a few, like the Bard and specialty priest and wizard, cut from almost a whole new cloth. Veterans of 1e will notice that the Half-Orc and the Assassin are gone. Oh, The outrage!

I won't call the 2e Player's Handbook "family oriented,"but it certainly, at least in presentation, veered away from the classic sword and sorcery feel of its 1e predecessor. The artwork is different, you will not see "A paladin in Hell." Instead, much of the artwork are small pictures done in blue ink. Non, I find, are particularly striking. There's a few full page illustrations depicting a dryad emerging from a tree, some warriors on horseback engaging some footmen, and even an old favorite from the the module The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth makes an appearance. In my opinion, the artwork doesn't quite generate the wonder that artwork in the 1e Player's Handbook did for me. 

Overall, I've always been torn with the AD&D 2nd Edition Player's Handbook. I like what TSR did with the rules, compiling them. But I've never been a complete fan of the presentation. I liked, and continue to like the "dark" sword and sorcery feel of 1e.

Did TSR change this image to assuage people who accused D&D of leading young people in Satanism? I'm sure they did. 

But that's the subject of a later post.

What do you think of the 2e Player's Handbook? If you were playing RPGs at the time, what impressions did it give you as to the game itself? Did it change D&D's image?


  1. I wasn't playing at the time sadly (being born in '88) however the 1995 revision of the PHB was the first non 3rd edition book I got a hold of after I started playing D&D. It was what got me to go back and look at older editions and find that I preferred them to 3e (and especially 4e). I personally find the black books to be a step up in terms of presentation and art direction compared to the '89 versions. I think the thing I like best is how clear a distinction it makes between core rules and optional rules that you can add in. Nice review, its cool to see people talking about the black sheep edition of the game.

  2. Thank you for reading!

    I think the black books are a step up, too, overall. The only downside is that my group at the time was so used to the old PHB, we had a hard time finding anything in the new PHB for a while! lol


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