Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thac0 and Rules Bloat are Bad? (AD&D 2e Apologetics-Part 1)

Erik Tenkar says that he's played AD&D Second Edition more than any other edition, but he detests it because of its rules bloat. 

Meanwhile, at the same time, a discussion in defense of Thac0 arose on G+.

AD&D 2e has been largely passed over in the Edition Wars, I feel. But when it does come up, rules bloat and Thac0 become the deal-breaker. Critics won't even try 2e because of these concepts. Even though everybody seems to agree that the 2e campaign settings are neat.

I've heard these arguments since the early days of 3e, and these arguments are unfounded.

Back then I used Thac0, and I didn't know any different. It worked. Now I use Base attack Bonus /Ascending AC, but I can still calculate Thac0 in my head. Its not that difficult. Also, using Thac0 to condemn an entire system just shows a person's ignorance and fear; ignorant that they can easily replace Thac0 with BAB/Ascending AC, and fearful of trying something that worked fine in the past. Perhaps even the fear of not keeping up with the Joneses.

The same goes with the idea of rules bloat. It's been touted time and again in both rule books and in the Edition Wars: you only need the core books to play D&D, in whatever version. Everything else is optional. From 2000 to 2008 we saw two whole cycles of official "splatbooks" from Wizards of the Coast, the first for 3e, and then they recycled the material for 3.5e, all of which produced dozens of standard and prestige classes, hundreds of feats, spells, and so on. This doesn't count all of the stuff churned out by third party publishers.

I concede, it was annoying back in 2e when a player kept hounding me to play a Bladesinger from The Complete Book of Elves. Yet it was also annoying during 3e/3.5e watching players sift through a stack of splatbooks to find the key feat, spell, or prestige class so their characters can be min/maxed. And then they get upset when I told them "no." So I can empathize with Tenkar.

What's even more interesting is that these criticisms often come from people (at least in my experience) who've never played 2e. Or, in the case of the G+ poster, come from those playing 4e. In the mid-to-late 2000s, my gaming group was convinced that 3.5e was the best. At that time, I'd gotten weary of running 3.5e and wanted something more simpler. AD&D 2e called to me.

And yet my group, even though I'd been running great games, refused to try 2e. Thac0 and Rules Bloat were the deal-breakers. I tried to explain that we'd use BAB/Ascending AC, and that I'd limit what you can use from the splatbooks (just as we had been doing with 3/5e). But to no avail.

So if Thac0 isn't that bad or replaceable, and rules bloat easily curable (just say "no"), then where does the idea that AD&D 2e is compromised by Thac0 and rules bloat come from?

The real answer, I've discovered, really has little or nothing do with Thac0 and rules bloat at all...

Where do you think these arguments against 2e originate?


  1. I would say the Thaco and Rules Bloat is a myth. From ignorant people that have never played the "classic" editions. Perhaps it is the same reason why someone like myself who has played since the mid to late 80s thinks the newer versions after 2e are crap. Ignorance and or fear.

  2. Two things: 1) A lot of people are still bitter about the GG vs TSR fights that occured back in the 80s. They feel that AD&D 2nd Ed is a betrayel of the "real" D&D. Essentially, they are fighting a fight that is over 20 years old at this point, buried in the dust bin of history, but not forgotten. If you like AD&D 2nd Ed, and don't give a crap about internal management squabbles at TSR, you've "picked your side."

    That is usually where the "rules bloat" and "unnecessary" comes from.

    2) THAC0 hate, and DM undermining, is the result of Wizards of the Coast trying to convince people: "Oh, our system is better, you don't have to do math!" Which was a lie, but we'll run with it. They presented all of those "different" ways to solve a problem as "to complex" (which reinforces Rules Bloat complaints) but also "unfair." Why should, they ask, the DM tell you no? It is in the RULES. WofC wanted everyone to have a copy of the books, and wanted the books to trump the DM. Why? Sales. If you are dependent on the DM for your books and information... well, the DM might be lying to you! He might deny you a feat! LE GASP! He might, wait for it, not let you do whatever you want to do, no matter how broken the rule.

    And since that doesn't sell books, WotC started to create a "feeling" of the Rules as Written (RoW) being more important then the Rules as Interpreted by the DM.

    The DM, to them, was an inconvenient necessity of a role playing game, and is one of the reasons why, I feel, that later editions are more like wargames than role playing games.

    You don't need a DM to play BattleTech, just everyone with the books and accessories.


    Okay, I'm done ranting :)

    1. But you're on a roll here. I like it! I feel a bit of the same myself though. The only D&D I really know is "Good old TSR." WotC was magic the gathering to me which that system works for that style game. The adaption of that style into D&D I think sucks. Everyone can do everything really? DM's are not needed what? How is that a RPG? We all kill eachother ok or we all hack n slash alright sure but thats not the point of the orginal D&D or even the 2e version.....

    2. My views exactly. For me, the engagement of a puzzle or challenge by the DM, in a world narrative was one the reasons I was drawn to 2e as a game, and not 3.5 or 4e. The group I played with adopted 2e as a whole - and frankly, as far as world design goes it is one of the best systems for it. 2e was the height of rules support for the DM: enough rules to have a streamlined system, but enough room for the DM to wing it when necessary - and none of this "the DM is your enemy" crap.

      I mean, the outright hate against DMs in some groups is so high I'm shocked anyone DMs those games. Why would you? You're basically being told "Read the grey boxes in this pamphlet and we'll tell you when we want snacks."

      No thank you.

  3. I like Thac0 and never understood the hate, especially from OSR people. I mean, I get why ascending AC people don't dig it, but... Why do you need an entire table, when a single column contained all of the information you needed? B/X HAD Thac0, it just wasn't called that. It was just the bold "0" column of the combat table.

    1. Well that and it appears to me that the newer version do the math in reverse Numbers go up to be better and low numbers are bad. Thats one thing that messed me and a group of 2e players up when we attempted 3e/3.5e playing. To the point where we said scrap this we're going back to 2e and just "barrowing" some newer stuff like i dunno some of the monsters and equipment/magic items are fun in older settings if u are able to adjust somethings to fit into the old play style/rules.

  4. Well, I tend to think the same of arguments about bloat (splatbooks, settings, etc) that I do about THAC0 hate, with a minor difference.

    In 2000, the people moaning about bloat in 2e may have had a point. But, did they object in kind in 2003 or 2004 when 3e hit similar levels of bloat? It's important to note that 2e had a much longer life than any edition of D&D since. 1989 to 2000, just a wee bit longer than the 4 years each for 3e/3.5e and the 4 years for 4e (although 4e isn't technically dead yet, the day they announced 5e/Next and started switching all the events and gamedays and such over, 4e was dead.)

    Do those same fans, many of whom switched over to Pathfinder instead of 4e, now gripe at the Paizo Bloat? The piles of material available for PF, after only 4 or 5 years, make 2e look spartan.

    At least, to Eric Tenkar's credit, he plays games (1e/OSRIC and OD&D/Swords & Wizardry) that are fairly spartan and unbloated, so I can accept some merit in his opinion. If he were one of the typical 4e or PF players just hating on 2e to make themselves feel superior to old school players, I'd dismiss him like the rest.

  5. I've played all the editions and spent a long period of time playing 2E. I dislike THac0. I never liked it and saw the removal of it with 3E to be a serious improvement on D&D. It is/was a sacred cow that needed to die. That being said I had a lot of fun playing 2E.

    As for rules bloat I am a huge fan of rules bloat. I like giving the characters and world more options. Rules bloat is nothing but house rules that people can use or not use. I don't see anyone arguing to eliminate or disallow house rules from D&D.

  6. There are only two rules in my games.
    1. GM has final say.
    2. Have fun.

    Beyond that I could not care less what the rules books say. In any edition of any game these are the rules. I have run & played in so many different systems that I am now a system atheist. All that matters is having a chance to tell a great story!

  7. In my neck of the woods, THAC0 was occasionally brought up but this was back in the days before Ascending AC, so I really never understood what the complaint was about. THAC0 struck me as a simple way to remember what you needed in order to hit a foe without having to write the entire graph.

    The complaint I most often heard leveled against 2e back in the day was that Kits were unbalancing, Kits were unwieldy, etc. It was all about the Kits. I always liked them, though I agreed with a few of the complaints. I think the notion that you could just not use Kits was kind of a foreign concept to us back then, but so was the idea of going back to use an older edition of the game. We were kinda dumb kids, I guess.

  8. I never understood any of the complaints against thac0. Subtract your roll from your thac0 and that's the AC you could hit. Dead simple. And I much prefer thac0 to adding +15 to -4 to +5 to +6 to a roll of 19.

    There were a lot of options and splats out there, but that is NO different from the unholy bloat of 3.X (especially when everybody jumped on the OGL/d20 bandwagon). The kits were fine with me and barely changed the game at all. Just made it a little more customizable.

    Overall I like 2e better. It let you grow from an essentially Regular Joe character to a Hero; whereas, 3.x takes you from a (min/maxed) Hero to a Superhero. I find the former to be a much more gratifying journey.


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