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

Nice thread! 2e was the longest edition I have ever DMed continuously. And I still love it.
Coming straight from BECMI, I planned to move to 2e as soon as it was published. But since I was young and naive (17), I only bought the 2e DMG at the start, because I was always the DM, and the players could keep using the Mentzer rules, "obviously" :D ...so I wanted to upgrade the game to Advanced. I almost had a mutiny when I asked my players to switch! But the DMG offered a glimpse into the AD&D worlds, and after a while, we were hooked. In fact, we later used the 4d6 method to generate characters because I first read the DMG, and we realised that the 3d6 method wouldn't really produce exciting characters given the ability scores tables when we converted our BECMI characters to AD&D. When we switched to 3.0 later, I always used the "Organic" method, since the ability score improvements mitigate the effects of bad luck, and the system didn't put any restrictions on scores anyway; many interesting characters were generated.

log in or register to remove this ad


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.

Yup same. I played 2E then 1E.


The PHB's attempt to explain what an RPG is always seemed a little bizarre to me. I'm not sure how anyone could understand what was being explained, a lot of people have long misunderstood RPGs and I don't see how this wouldn't make things more confusing. The Black Box did it well IMO, as it explicitly compared D&D to children's make-believe games. Some gamers might object to that but I think for the average person, it's a simple explanation that most people should be able to grok.

I think a good number of the problems or weaknesses with 2e's rules generally come from two things. First, there was the need to change and update things, but the designers were also told not to change too much because backwards compatibility with 1e needed to be maintained. There was some of that compatibility, but 2e changed just enough to make things a bit clunky, and sometimes when 2e changed things, it kind of broke how things worked in 1e. Second, there seemed to be an assumption that players already are familiar with D&D or at least role-playing, and are probably coming up from D&D. This is more explicit in the DMG where new DMs were originally advised to start with D&D instead, but the 1995 revision changed that to one of TSR's attempts to have an introductory set for 2e since the D&D game had moved from the Red Box to the Black Box and then was mostly discontinued. Honestly, if a DM needs starter material for 2e, I'd recommend the D&D Adventure Game along with the Fast-Play material WotC published at the end of the edition.

Ability scores are one of those areas where 2e definitely breaks things from 1e. So we've already talked about how Gary felt in 1e that characters needed good scored with at least one 15, sets up ability modifiers where high scores are something of a must and had the 4d6 method as a default. Then 2e defaults to 3d6, relegating 4d6 to optional Method V (but IME and from other people's recollections, Method V seemed to be what most groups used anyway) but the basic framework of AD&D was still built around Gary's assumptions.

Some of what 2e talks about ability scores I think is a reaction against 1e developments. Gary introduced elements over the course of 1e that fleshed out high level play and included more powerful options, but I think he was also becoming more removed from how RPGs were developing in the early 80s. Gary's stuff tends to be pretty gamist but at the time narrativist ideas were starting to become more influential. I think 2e made a deliberate choice to step back from the ramping up in power Gary added in material that eventually got published in Unearthed Arcana like the hideously overpowered Method V (the 1e method V not to be confused with 2e Method V which was 1e's default). Ability scores do matter somewhat because Gary designed AD&D with them mattering in mind. There is definitely an approach in 2e's tone that wanting to play a powerful character is badwrongfun and that's it's superior play to have a character with weaknesses that need to be role-played. 3e dialed back on that in turn saying that people playing powerful characters wasn't in and of itself a bad thing because this was how they engaged with the game.

If I were to run a fresh AD&D campaign these days though, I would probably drop the AD&D system entirely which relies on high scores and switch either to D&D's 3-18 bell curve which doesn't result in AD&D's dead zone from about 8 to 14, or the modern ability bonuses that were introduced in 3e. Both give bonuses without having to rely on very high scores across the board and are easy to remember.

I mostly agree with @Mannahnin about level limits being a poor balancing feature. It doesn't balance anything if the game never reaches the limits, but it's also one of the balancing features where penalties are delayed until later in a campaign while the benefits are always on. Balancing things like this doesn't do anything if the character dies or something before the balancing features actually kick in. I don't have too much of a problem with the idea that humans are dominant and that level limits reflect the fact that humans continue to be interested in adventuring things while the demihumans fall behind because they have different priorities, but the actual in game mechanics enforcing this don't really work well.


That basically just incorporates the expanded stat tables from Deities & Demigods (and, I think, Monster Manual 2) into the core rules. The only time those scores were really used was in Dark Sun (where the default stat rolling method was 4d4+4 and various alternates were based around 5d4; and most racial ability modifiers were in the -2 to +2 range except half-giants who got +4 to Strength so they could max out at 24), which walked back some of the more ridiculous results from the tables in question in its Revised & Expanded version.
You never had the Giant Strength items for your PCs?


Apologies for the delay. A mountain of translation work all came in around the same three week period.

Let's continue our look at the Player Character Classes with an overview of the Warrior class group, and specifically the Fighter.

Page 16 opens with a quick explanation of class descriptions, namely, terms that new players may not be familiar with. Here Experience Points are explained, and what's very noticeable here is the following: "Characters earn experience points by completing adventures and doing things specifically related to their class. A fighter, for example, earns more experience for charging and battling a monster than does a thief, because the fighter's training emphasizes battle while the thief's emphasizes stealth and cleverness." Ooh, this sounds exciting! But a glance at the DMG splashes cold water on the excitement. The sole Warrior-specific XP award is 10 XP/level for each Hit Die of a monster defeated. We'll examine XP more closely a little later in the book. The overview ends with a quick explanation of character Level and Prime Requisites.

The Warrior overview notes that the group is made up Fighters, Paladins, and Rangers. Warriors can use any weapon and wear any armor, and they get 1d10 for their hit die. They also get the special Constitution bonus noted in the ability score section. Table 14 then provides the Warrior experience table. It has two columns: Fighter, and Paladin/Ranger.
The column goes up to Level 20, but past 9th level it is merely an additional 250,000 XP for fighters, and 300,000 XP for paladins and rangers. These are all new XP progressions compared to 1st Edition. 1st Ed. has a weird hump at 5th level, where instead of the expected 16,000, it is 18,000. 6th level is then 35,000, and 7th level is 70,000, before the tables agree again with 125,000 at 8th level.

Paladins and Rangers had separate tables in 1st Ed., both more steep than this one. 2nd Ed. Paladins especially benefit, since 4th level is 3,000 XP cheaper.

And here we must say good-bye to one of the things I liked about TSR-D&D: Level Titles. I know, I know, they were superfluous, nobody ever used them, no one was sorry to see them go. But, I kinda was. When we first started playing with B/X, I was always excited to reach a new level and change my character's title. It was a fun little bit of world-building in the rules. But with the publication of 2nd Edition, they were gone, never to return.

Finally, we get Table 15, detailing Warrior Attacks Per Round. 1/round for levels 1-6, 3/2 rounds for levels 7-12, and 2/round for levels 13 and up.

So now we come to the Fighter. Fighter's must have a minimum STR of 9, and as their Prime Requisite, Fighters with a STR of 16 or more get a 10% bonus to XP. All races can be a fighter, and they can be of any alignment. The mythical and historical examples of fighters are: Hercules, Perseus, Hiawatha, Beowulf, Siegfried, Cuchulain, Little John, Tristan and Sinbad (for myth) and El Cid, Hannibal, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Spartacus, Richard the Lionheart, and Belisarius (for history).

So, what are the unique class features of the Fighter? Well, while it's been noted in this thread that this later got given to other classes as well, as of the PHB only Fighters got weapon specialization. Basically, this is the ability to use weapon proficiency slots to specialize in a single weapon. Melee weapons and crossbows required two proficiency slots: 1 to become proficient, and 1 to specialize. Bows, for some reason, require 3. Specializing in a weapon gives a +1 bonus to attack rolls, and a +2 bonus to damage rolls. If a melee weapon, then the Fighter also gets extra attacks: 3/2 rounds at levels 1-6, 2/round at levels 7-12, and 5/2 rounds at level 13 and above.

There is a bit of a gray area with regards to weapon specialization. The Fighter class description makes it seem to be a done deal, but the actual specialization rules are in Chapter 5: Proficiencies, which is an entirely optional chapter! I would not think much of it, except there's a line in the Paladin class description. When describing how a Paladin who loses paladinhood becomes a fighter, it says (my emphasis), "He does not grain the benefits of weapon specialization (if this is used), since he did not select this for his character at the start." Which suggests that one of the Fighter's major benefits might not even be available in the game.

While Level Titles are gone, a 9th Level Fighter nonetheless becomes a "Lord," and can automatically attract men-at-arms. Kinda automatically, because he needs to have "a castle or stronghold and sizeable manor lands around it." It goes on to talk about the Fighter taxing and developing his lands, gaining a steady income. "Your DM," it says, "has information about gaining and running a barony."

I wanted to examine this info to flesh out the benefits of this feature, but...I do not find any such information in the DMG. The Fighter section of the Classes chapter of the DMG only discusses NPC fighters. The section on High-Level Characters talks only about changing play styles. The section on NPCs discusses hirelings and henchman, but nothing that relates specifically to the Fighter's ability to run a barony.

The section ends with Table 16: FIGHTER'S FOLLOWERS. This provides for three percentile rolls: once for the leader of the troops that come to the fighter, once for the troops themselves, and once for the elite "household guard" unit.
Die RollLeader (and suggested magical items)Die RollTroops/Followers (all 0th-level)Die RollElite Units
01-405th-level fighter, plate mail, shield, battle axe +201-5020 cavalry with ring mail, shield, 3 javelins, hand axe; 100 infantry with scale mail, polearm, club01-1010 mounted knights: 1st-level fighters with field plate, large shield, lance, broad sword, morning star, and heavy war horse with full barding
41-756th-level fighter, plate mail, shield +1, spear +1, dagger +151-7520 infantry with splint mail, morning star, hand axe; 60 infantry with leather armor, pike, short sword11-2010 1st-level elven fighter/mages with chain mail, long sword, long bow, dagger
76-956th-level fighter, plate mail +1, shield, spear +1, dagger +1, plus 3rd-level fighter, splint mail, shield, crossbow of distance76-9040 infantry with chain mail, heavy crossbow, short sword; 20 infantry with chain mail, light crossbow, military fork21-3015 wardens: 1st-level rangers with scale mail, shield, long sword, spear, long bow
96-997th-level fighter, plate mail +1, shield +1, broad sword +2, heavy war horse with horseshoes of speed91-9910 cavalry with banded mail, shield, lance, bastard sword, mace; 20 cavalry with scale mail, shield, lance, long sword, mace; 30 cavalry with studded leather armor, shield, lance, long sword31-4020 berserkers: 2nd-level fighters with leather armor, shield, battle axe, broad sword, dagger (berserkers receive +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls)
00DM's Option00DM's Option (Barbarians, headhunters, armed peasants, extra-heavy cavalry, etc.)41-6520 expert archers: 1st-level fighters with studded leather armor, long bows or crossbows (+2 to hit, or bow specialization if using that optional rule)
66-9930 infantry: 1st-level fighters with plate mail, body shield, spear, short sword
00DM's Option (pegasi cavalry, eagle riders, demihumans, siege train, etc.

While the Leader and Troop table derives from 1st Edition (in the DMG), the Elite Unit table is new. It's all well and good that the 9th-level fighter gets all this, but 2nd Edition is pretty much silent about how the player is supposed to make use of all this. The 1st Edition DMG actually had rules and advice for running a stronghold, but the 2nd Ed. DMG is quite thin, in both actual thickness of the book and for the rules for higher level play.

Next up, we look at the Paladin.

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads