Thursday, January 2, 2014

Somehow, it worked: AD&D Second Edition

I can only speak from my own experiences, having played AD&D 2e from around 1990 until 2002 or so when my long running Greyhawk campaign finally folded. I haven't run 2e since. But lately I've been looking through my old books and thinking about the "good'ole days:" before the OGL, before Ascending AC, before every class had the same experience point chart, before the unified d20 mechanic.

Maybe I just didn't know any better, but somehow AD&D 2e worked.

--We didn't mind Thac0. Sure, new players found it a little confusing. But we all thought it was better than those combat tables in the 1e Dungeon Master's Guide.
--While I had started with AD&D, I learned the rules in AD&D 2e with less difficulty. All the rules for combat and character generation were in the Player's Handbook, explained better, not scattered between the PHB and the DMG.
--The initiative system didn't bother us. I felt it was more straight-forward than the old "segment-system" from 1e (which at the time I really didn't understand).
--The 1 minute combat round seemed to make sense, in a way, even though I wasn't completed enamored with it. I'm not sure why they kept it from AD&D, and didn't use the 10 second combat round from D&D. In the end it didn't matter, we rolled initiative, attack dice, and the DM just described what happened--even if it seemed to take less than a minute in game time.
--A fighter was a great starting class for newcomers to the game. Every group can always use another good fighter. We didn't see the fighter as a weak class at all--especially when you added rules for specialization.

Sure, if I ran AD&D Second Edition now there'd be things I'd change. I would probably use Ascending AC. I like the experience system from Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, so I might use that instead of the "fiddly" xp system in 2e.

What amazes me, though, is how I played and DMed 2e for over decade and had lots of fun. But somewhere along the way, at least for a time, I was convinced that 3e/3.5e was somehow inherently better. Many still think it is. Many think Pathfinder is a logical progression out of 3.5e. Others stick to 4e. I really hadn't even heard of an "edition war" until 3e came out.

But it doesn't matter. At my tabletop in the "dark ages" between the end of AD&D 1e and the rise of 3e, somehow, AD&D Second Edition worked.


  1. I was pretty sick of 2e by the time 3e came out, and welcomed the latter with open arms. (And then hardly played it at all.) In retrospect, I realize that what I was sick of was really the bloat of optional rules, supplements, etc. The core 2e rules remain very solid, and I've often debated returning and running something with them. Especially since nowadays with the internet, there are lots of great ideas floating around for various tweaks and fixes to parts of the system that were a bit undercooked.

    A couple years ago, the THAC0 Forever blog did a really interesting close-reading of the core books, looking at how differently the game comes out if you don't use any of the optional rules.

    Even if I never go back and run something with 2e, there's no denying that the vast majority of my D&D experiences were with that system, and I can't help but get a bit warm and fuzzy thinking about it.

    1. I've always said that one of the best things a retro-clone can aspire to be is 2e with better art. Most of the complaints typically lodged against 2e are the kind that are prefaced with "Dude" or appended with ", man..."

      "Dude, it just wasn't Gary's game anymore!"
      "They got rid of the craaaazy evil demon art, man!"

  2. Thanks for pointing out Thac0 Forever! Its too bad it looks like its gone dark.

    Rules bloat, TSR ousting Gary, changing the art, are all things I've heard levelled against 2e. But the main deal breaker, whenever I've brought up the idea of running 2e, is Thac0.

    1. TSR unwittingly assumed that people weren't too lazy or mathematically disinclined to appreciate their own discovery that all of the information on the combat tables were easily extricable from a single value. Oh, well.

    2. I will never in a thousand years understand objections to THAC0. I'm not a "math person" by any means, but THAC0 never seemed any more onerous than pretty much any other level of math you're asked to do in an RPG.

      I guess I can understand not liking THAC0 if you're really allergic to arithmetic (I have a couple folks like that in my current group), but the people who say that THAC0 is "confusing" or that they "don't get it"--what the hell?

    3. Stelios, if THAC0 is really the main objection to running 2E, why not just convert it to attack bonuses for your players?

      The formula is: 20 - THAC0 = attack bonus, and then use armor types as given for ascending AC. Converting existing AC is also trivial: 20 - DAC = AAC (since 2E uses 10 for unarmored, this is literally just rotating the number around a pivot of 10, so DAC 6 becomes AAC 14).

      (I also started with 2E and have thought now and again about running something with it again.)

    4. David & Brendan: Here's my short answer--if you can, refer to Dragon #249's article: "Out of Character: Simplifying Thac0 and Armor Class," by Peter Adkinson. Adkinson doesn't just simplify Thac0, he gets replaces it with a similar system that Brendan proposes.

      He says, himself, that Thac0 is "non-intuitive" and that his system (which is the forerunner to 3e's ascending AC) is "very intuitive." So official opposition against Thac0 came straight from WotC, which was paving the way for 3e by marketing 2e as obsolete.

  3. I only played a little bit of 2e but I didn't find it particularly exciting as a set of rules. We had a great time playing so obviously it didn't prevent us from having fun with it!

    1. Excellent! Having fun is really what matters.

  4. I'm running (wishing I was playing) a 2e campaign right now. Just core, with a couple of house rules and a Oriental Adventures Wu-Jen. We are having a blast. To be fair the group includes a couple of Ph. Ds so math and Thac0 don't cause any problems.

  5. If I remember correctly back in the 90's: In addition to the core books we used some of the rules from the Complete books, especially the grouped weapon proficiency rules from the Fighter's Handbook, got some use out of the Complete Elves book too; we had a couple Bladesingers, and I played a Drow once! loved the Complete Humanoids handbook but my DM's hated it! As for non-weapon proficiency we rarely used anything beyond the secondary skills system. Eventually some of the skills and powers stuff was incorporated, mostly for tweaking Ability Score adjustments.

  6. It still works. I started running a new AD&D 2E campaign last year. Two of the players are complete AD&D freshmen (and not very experienced RPlayers, either) but they're having a blast. In fact, it's been a very rewarding experience for me as a DM, too.


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