D&D 2E Let's Read the AD&D 2nd Edition PHB+DMG!

Iosue

Legend
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In the course of another thread, I was comparing AD&D and AD&D 2nd Edition. 2nd Edition holds a unique place in my heart. After playing D&D from 1987 to 1991, in 1992 I used the money from my first summer job to buy the core books for 2nd Edition. The original AD&D books left me a little cold; they were interesting reads, but I just wouldn't be using the majority of the rules. We played AD&D characters using D&D rules. But when I got 2nd Edition, it spoke to me. I loved the artwork, I loved how they had cleaned up and streamlined many of the abstruse AD&D rules. It was a game I wanted to play. But as I paid for those books at the Source Comics & Games in Falcon Heights, and then eagerly read through them at home, I had no idea that my playing days were behind me, at least for a while. Our group got busy with school, and work, and the general business of growing up. We always intended to play again. We even kept buying books. But we never got around to it. But it had a tremendous impact on me. To this day, I see D&D in my head as Elmorean Realism. I still think 2nd Edition has the best initiative rules of all D&D since 1974. I thought it would be fun to read through the rules, and share my thoughts with you guys.

I'll be reading printings with the above covers. Let's start with the prefatory matter of the Player's Handbook. I would be remiss if I did not point out the grammatically correct title, unlike 1st Edition, which eschewed the apostrophe S for...adjectival plurals, I guess? The title page shows a black and white reprint of the cover illustration by Jeff Easley, although "Player's Handbook" is colored in the dark-ish blue so heavily used in these printings. Beneath the illo is "The revised and updated Player's Handbook for the 2nd Edition of the AD&D® game," again in that characteristic blue. A banner of that color runs through all the subsequent pages, giving 2nd Edition a very bright and professional feel. Having come up with Mentzer's D&D line, I appreciated it, but I imagine many of those who liked the darker art and style of 1st Edition were put off by it.

Page 2 opens with Special Thanks To:, acknowledgments written by an anonymous person. (I think it was David "Zeb" Cook, but he is mentioned in the third person.) After of course acknowledging the work of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the author makes special mention of Zeb Cook, Jeff Grubb, Tracy Hickman, Kim Mohan, Douglas Niles, Jim Ward, and Margaret Weis as authors of the other AD&D hardcovers prior to 2nd Edition. After that, a veritable laundry list of people are mentioned. It looks like just about everyone who had worked at TSR or was TSR-adjacent is mentioned.

Then come the Credits. Design is credited to David "Zeb" Cook, with Steve Winter and Jon Pickens credited for development. After that come yet more thanks for the "hundreds of players" who playtested the game, as well as "anyone who has ever asked a question, offered a suggestion, written an article, or made a comment about the AD&D game." Finally it notes that 2nd Edition is a derivative work based on the AD&D PHB and DMG by Gary Gygax, as well as Unearthed Arcana and other materials by Gygax and others.

On the facing page 3 is Cook's Foreword to the Second Edition. With all due respect to Zeb Cook, I don't have much to say about it. It again notes that 2nd Edition was the result of input by many, many people, and not the work of just Cook himself. Perhaps most notable is the expressed design goals of "make it easier to find things, to make the rules easier to understand, to fix the things that did not work, to add the best new ideas from the expansions and other sources, and, most important of all, to make sure the game was still the one you knew and enjoyed."

One thing I was a little surprised about was that Lorraine Williams was nowhere mentioned. Of course, normally one would not expect the CEO to be mentioned, but there was the precedent of Mentzer's Companion Set being dedicated to Brian Blume. Given the momentousness of the occasion, I thought she might at least be listed in the long list of names in the Special Thanks section.

Pages 4-6 are the Table of Contents. The major chapters are: Welcome to the 2nd Edition AD&D® Game, The Real Basics, Glossary, Chapter 1: Player Character Ability Scores, 2: Player Character Races, 3: Player Character Classes, 4: Alignment, 5: Proficiencies (Optional), 6: Money and Equipment, 7: Magic, 8: Experience, 9: Combat, 10: Treasure, 11: Encounters, 12: NPCs, 13: Vision and Light, and 14: Time and Movement.
One major departure from 1st Edition AD&D is the inclusion of the Combat rules in the Player's Handbook. Of course, players had long had access to the combat rules since Holmes, and Moldvay and Mentzer reinforced this, so it was a no-brainer for 2nd Edition to follow their lead.

Page 6 lists the Appendices: 1: Spell Lists, 2: Notes on Spells, 3: Wizard Spells, 4: Priest Spells, 5: Wizard Spells by School, 6: Priest Spells by Sphere, 7: Spell Index, and 8: Compiled Character Generation Tables. Finally, there is an Index.

The bottom half of page 6 is a handy page listing of all 67 Tables in the book.

2nd Edition, it seems, often gets the bad rap of being backward and confusing (descending AC, THAC0), but also lacking both the particular charm of Gygax's AD&D, and a strong design ethos, a la 3e and 4e. We'll see how that goes, but I have to say, the PBH is a superbly organized book. The addition of a Spell Index strikes me as super helpful, as do the compiled character generation tables, and page listing of all tables in the book. A player should not need to engage in much flipping through the book to find a needed table, rule, or spell!

We end with a big of iconic art by Larry Elmore. It perfectly captures the feel of a 1st level party achieving their first victory, while not promising overmuch regarding what the prospective players' characters would be able to do.
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Iosue

Legend
I should note in passing that I did not expect we'd be having a 2nd Edition party in D&D Older Editions when I started this post last night.
 



Iosue

Legend
Welcome to the Second Edition AD&D® Game takes up page 8, and contains six sections: Why a Second Edition?, How the Rule Books are Organized, Learning the Game, The Second Edition AD&D Line, A Note About Pronouns, and Creating a Character. This section is meant for returning players, and new players are advised to skip to The Real Basics on page 9 before returning to the introduction. (Conversely, returning players are advised to skip The Real Basics altogether.)

I should note that the layout going forward is three columns of text per page, with chapter headings and subheadings printed on white lettering within the blue banner stretching across the top of the page. Subheadings within the text are written in bold, colored the darkish blue mentioned earlier. I could not say what font size it is, but the font is large enough to be easily readable. All in all, a nice, clear layout.

Why a Second Edition? makes the case for the new edition. This section somewhat rehashes Zeb Cook's foreword before giving the answer to this question: "The AD&D game evolved over the course of 16 years. During that time, the game grew tremendously through play. Changes and improvements (and a few mistakes) were made. These were published in subsequent volumes. By 1988, the game consisted of 12 hardcover rule books. It was physically and intellectually unwieldy (but still a lot of fun). The time was right to reorganize and recombine all that information into a manageable package. That package is the second edition."

How the Rule Books are Organized simply notes that everything a player needs to know is in the Player's Handbook, additional rules and information DMs need are in the Dungeon Master's Guide, and details about monsters is in the Monstrous Compendium.

Learning the Game notes that returning players will find the biggest changes in Character Classes, Combat, and Experience. As for how new players learn the game? Rather interestingly, it's primary advice is to find a group of experienced players and join them. If none of your friends are into AD&D, look for experienced players through your local hobby store! But what if you can't find any experienced players to teach you the game. Here I find the advice rather weak tea. The new player is recommended to read the Player's Handbook, make some characters, and buy a pre-packaged adventure module. Then round up some friends and go to it. "You will probably make lots of mistakes and wonder constantly whether you are doing everything wrong. Even if you are, don't worry about it. The AD&D game is big, but eventually you'll bring it under control."

How spectacularly unhelpful, and not very conducive to getting new players to buy your game. This is particularly egregious since the Red Box was still in print. But if crossing the streams would be Very Bad, why not create some kind of tutorial module?

The Second Edition AD&D Game Line reiterates that there is a Dungeon Master's Guide and Monstrous Compendium, teases the Complete...Handbook series, and notes that there are adventure modules.

A Note About Pronouns notes that "[c]enturies of use have neutered the male pronoun," so it is used exclusively throughout. This was 1989, of course, and the writers no doubt saw themselves as progressive for having even addressed the issue. But it is a little disappointing after B/X made a point of using "he or she". (Mentzer wrote in a style that explicitly avoids using third-person pronouns entirely, using a combination of the second-person pronoun and somewhat stilted sentences.)

Finally, Creating a Character is a short paragraph noting that character generation is covered by chapters 1-6 (with chapter 5 being optional).

The Real Basics begins with a very thorough, in my opinion very good explanation of what a role-playing game (specifically AD&D) is, and how to play it. Through a step-by-step process, it turns a game of Snakes and Ladders into a dungeon-crawl RPG:
  1. Start with Snakes and Ladders.
  2. Instead of a path winding from side to side, make it a maze.
  3. Instead of snakes and ladders, put in hidden doors and secret passages.
  4. Instead of rolling to see how far you move, move as much as you want, in whichever direction you want.
  5. Now add other things to the maze, like vampire bats, goblins, zombies and ogres. You get a sword and shield to fight them.
  6. Now add other players in the maze, and you can team up.
  7. Now hide the board and give it to a player who becomes the referee. The referee describes what you see, and you tell the referee what you want to do.
  8. And now you're playing AD&D. Get pen, pencils, dice, rulebooks, and snacks.
The Goal notes that there's winning and losing like in a board game. There's typically an adventure goal to achieve, and the point of the game is to have fun while working together with other people to achieve that goal. Required Materials goes through what you need to play: a copy of the Player's Handbook, a character sheet or blank sheet of paper for your character, pencil, eraser, polyhedral dice. It notes that at least one player should have graph paper for mapping, although the book doesn't deal much with how or why to map. Miniature figures are noted as being useful to keep track of where everyone is in a confusing situation like a battle, but anything from pewter figurines to chess pieces, toy soldiers, or even pieces of paper can be used.

Page 10 is taken up with the Example of Play. The example of play follows a party of three (two fighters and a cleric) as they go through a dungeon, pursuing a wererat they fought and wounded earlier. They travel through some passageways, making choices about direction, and find themselves at a deadend, a block sticking out of the wall. They figure out that the block is a step to reach the ceiling, where they find a secret door to a new room. They hear monsters coming, so all three go through the secret door. In the hidden room, they find themselves caught between two groups of hostile wererats, and the example of play ends just before combat begins.

The example of play is pretty standard, though I notice a distinct absence of procedural examples. There is only the DM checking a fighter's STR score to see if he can move the block, and the DM rolling the PC's attempts to find a secret door. Most of it is the DM describing something, the players doing something, and the DM describing the result. Which is absolutely fine, and gets across the idea that role-playing is an interaction between the DM and the players. But I think what I want to see from an example of play is demonstrations of how a DM knows what to do, and how they have their information. These early examples of play tend to be written so that they are almost entirely dialogue between the players and the DM. I'd like to see a little more "stage directions", as it were.

Some other things that jump out at me: while one fighter is called "the group's leader," there is no mention of a Caller or Mapper. Nobody appears to be mapping. Indeed, the DM describes distances using yards, a very unwieldy unit if one is mapping to 10' squares.

The introduction ends with a Glossary: about 100 entries over two pages, so economical, yet fairly comprehensive. Some terms get their last hurrah here: Demihuman, Dual-Class, Infravision, and Prime Requisite in particular. Some terms are 2nd Edition specific: Maneuverablility class, Specialist, and Sphere of influence. One might even add THAC0 there, since it was only in 2nd Edition as an official rule.

Next up: Chapter 1: Player Character Ability Scores
 

as I was an active writer for TSR's magazines back in the day, I (and scads of other people in the same situation) got both of these free from TSR, as they were looking for the freelancers to start writing stuff for the magazines ASAP. I can still remember looking through it and having mixed reactions... happy at the much clearer organization and clarity in general, and disappointed at the things from 1E that were nixed...
 


as I was an active writer for TSR's magazines back in the day, I (and scads of other people in the same situation) got both of these free from TSR, as they were looking for the freelancers to start writing stuff for the magazines ASAP. I can still remember looking through it and having mixed reactions... happy at the much clearer organization and clarity in general, and disappointed at the things from 1E that were nixed...
I think that sorta sums up why 2e is remembered so fondly by me. I played a little BECMI prior to 2e, but never played 1e so I couldn’t really be disappointed by anything they nixed going from 1e to 2e and instead just found a fairly well laid out book with rules that were pretty easy to understand.
 

Voadam

Legend
as I was an active writer for TSR's magazines back in the day, I (and scads of other people in the same situation) got both of these free from TSR, as they were looking for the freelancers to start writing stuff for the magazines ASAP. I can still remember looking through it and having mixed reactions... happy at the much clearer organization and clarity in general, and disappointed at the things from 1E that were nixed...
I wasn't a freelancer but I had the same reaction, I really appreciated THACO being in the PH and using a regular formula, the cleaner organization for stuff that had been spread out over multiple book (non weapon proficiencies), and the new initiative systems but I was continuing a long term campaign with PC Grugach elven assassins and PC drow. So it was a bit of a mix and match of 1e and 2e stuff to continue.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
I think that sorta sums up why 2e is remembered so fondly by me. I played a little BECMI prior to 2e, but never played 1e so I couldn’t really be disappointed by anything they nixed going from 1e to 2e and instead just found a fairly well laid out book with rules that were pretty easy to understand.
My two brothers and I were BECMI players for four solid years with little contact with the wider gaming or even D&D world. We occasionally found "best of Dragon" books at the local mall book store, but that was it. When we finalyl moved out of podunk, we discovered AD&D -- two months before 2E was released. So, my "education" was through homebrew BECMI and we ended up going almost directly to 2E, except we had these 1E books that injected our 2E games with just enough Gygaxisms to make it weird. Aside from Dragonlance, we never had any use for any published settings except the extremely lightly sketched out Known World from the Expert set, and the singular module that informed our playstyle was The Isle of Dread.
 

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