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D&D 2E Looking back at the leatherette series: PHBR, DMGR, HR and more!

Greg K

Adventurer
Kits, however, left me somewhat cold. My eyes quickly learned to shift immediately toward the end of each listing, where it outlined what mechanical benefits you gained and what drawbacks you had to accept in exchange for them. I also quickly learned to glance at the proficiencies section (both which ones you had to take in order to use the kit, and which ones it gave you for free), but the rest of it was quite secondary to my mind, and not just in terms of skills…that’s a pun, y’all (since each kit has a “Secondary Skills” section, in case you used those instead of proficiencies; both were technically optional under the AD&D 2E rules, but the former were quickly forgotten by almost everyone, while the latter kept inching their way closer to being mandatory parts of the game).
I found kits a missed blessing. I liked the basic concept and the idea behind several (perhaps, even most) of the Fighter kits, but the implementation left me cold (with the exception of recommended proficiencies). I felt they suffered from the hodge podge nature of D&D and the lack of GURPS 3e and Hero System's advantages/disadvantages.
When 3e came out with feats, I thought 2e Fighter kits could be better implemented under 3e. Unfortunatly, we got a deluge of PRCs, Jame's Drisoll's adaptations of the Complete Fighter's Handbook to 5e and his implementing kits through quickbuilds with recommended skill and tool proficiencies and recommened feats (some newly created for his document) worked much better for me than 2e kits.
I actually did make an effort to learn this book’s “punching, wrestling, and martial arts” maneuvers, absolutely none of which has stayed in my mind through to now. I can only assume I did this because my younger self saw “martial arts” and immediately dove in. As it stands, this was nothing like the wuxia-flavored fighters, ninjas, or monks that we’d see later (or, for that matter, in AD&D 1E). Even so, I eagerly lapped it up.
I gave the associated charts a look and, while they were simpler and, to me, more user friendly than their 1e counterparts, I was very disappointed. They might have been my least favorite part of the book
The same couldn’t be said for things like the hit location rules or the outline for tournaments. The former struck me as too cumbersome even then, and the latter just seemed boring. Why would my fighter be winning a jousting tournament instead of exploring ancient tombs and battling goblin hordes?
I remember being ok with the hit location rules, but I don't recall us using them (or, maybe, they came up once or twice). The tournament rules and jousing, however, were welcome for our group as we had moved out of the dungeon for much of our game. There were short dungeon crawls, but as much time was spent above ground and in villages, towns, and courts as was spent fighting both invading hordes (often undead) and a pissed of wizard's guild hunting the party.
 

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Stormonu

Legend
I agree with @Orius - if there’s one place 2E fell down, it was that it tried to hew to close to the real world in its rulebooks and FR-linked “real world” settings like Kari-Tur, Horde, Maztica. Somehow, Al-Qadim seemed to mostly escape that treatment (or I somehow missed it). That really becomes apparent with the release of the Historical series*, and the Fantasy Europe they pushed in Dragon Magazine in the time. One of the things that always baffled me was how generic and unfantastic the cover of the original 2E PHB was - knights riding on horses through a canyon? This really typifies what D&D is about?

* Yeah, I know that the intent of the Historical line was to present real-world areas, but it really seemed like TSR had used them behind the scenes as bibles to inform and frame their generic rules.
 

Orius

Adventurer
Al-Qadim avoided some of those problems because they were going for a fantasy Arabia take on it. They say as much right in the intro to the Arabian Adventures book. They looked at not just historical Arabia and its folklore and legends and things like the Arabian Nights, but also some cues from Hollywood history like the old Sinbad movies. As a result, it's remembered as a fairly evocative setting. By contrast, the D&D Gazetteers gave us the Emirates of Ylaruam which was made into the cleric kingdom (possibly as a contast to Glantri) with a very tepid fantasy Islam flavor, and it's somewhat less interesting. I remember a letter in Dragon's forum from the mid 90s that criticized this approach saying that if Faerun had been treated with the same literal historicity as these settings, we'd have Elminster burned at the stake for witchcraft (which I'm sure the haters would have loved).
 

Greg K

Adventurer
I agree with @Orius - if there’s one place 2E fell down, it was that it tried to hew to close to the real world in its rulebooks and FR-linked “real world” settings like Kari-Tur, Horde, Maztica. Somehow, Al-Qadim seemed to mostly escape that treatment (or I somehow missed it). That really becomes apparent with the release of the Historical series*, and the Fantasy Europe they pushed in Dragon Magazine in the time. One of the things that always baffled me was how generic and unfantastic the cover of the original 2E PHB was - knights riding on horses through a canyon? This really typifies what D&D is about?

* Yeah, I know that the intent of the Historical line was to present real-world areas, but it really seemed like TSR had used them behind the scenes as bibles to inform and frame their generic rules.
Too each their own. I like Dark Sun (orignal boxed set), Al Qadim, and Ravenloft: Relams of Terror. However, I and most of my friends prefer the default being closer to the real world with magic, dragons and monsters. I'll take it over The Forgotten Realms, Planescape, Spelljammer, Eberron, Nentir Vale, and the D&D fantasy of 5e. It is also why I disliked the Dungeonpunk of 3e, late 3e, both Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies of 4e and dislike the vast majority of 5e subclasses
 
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Al-Qadim avoided some of those problems because they were going for a fantasy Arabia take on it. They say as much right in the intro to the Arabian Adventures book. They looked at not just historical Arabia and its folklore and legends and things like the Arabian Nights, but also some cues from Hollywood history like the old Sinbad movies. As a result, it's remembered as a fairly evocative setting. By contrast, the D&D Gazetteers gave us the Emirates of Ylaruam which was made into the cleric kingdom (possibly as a contast to Glantri) with a very tepid fantasy Islam flavor, and it's somewhat less interesting. I remember a letter in Dragon's forum from the mid 90s that criticized this approach saying that if Faerun had been treated with the same literal historicity as these settings, we'd have Elminster burned at the stake for witchcraft (which I'm sure the haters would have loved).
I was about to say that witch burning was more Renaissance than Medieval, but then realised that Forgotten Realms itself is more Renaissance than Medieval...

My belief is that because Al'Qadim had a good lot of MiddleEastern fantasy and mythology to lean into (ie, the Arabian Nights touchstone that everyone worldwide is familiar with) it was able to make a "Fantasy Arabia" to match the "Fantasy Europe" of Faerun, rather than adhere to "Historical with different names" of Kara Tur, Maztica and the Hordelands.

I still fault it for continuing the bizarre D&D shyness about modelling monotheism but that's a small complaint.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
An interesting bit of trivia accompanies this next book: insofar as I can tell, DMGR3 Arms and Equipment Guide is the first sourcebook of its kind in D&D's history.

That was a bit of a surprise to me, since equipment books are part and parcel of so many tabletop RPGs now. But some checking seems to bear out that this was where it began as far as D&D was concerned. While AD&D 1st Edition's Unearthed Arcana had its infamous "pole arm section," and The Complete Fighter's Handbook likewise introduced a bunch of new weapons and armor, this was the first time we'd get a book wholly dedicated to the subject.

Subsequently, we'd get equipment books with regularity. Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue would follow DMGR3, describing everything that wasn't weapons and armor. Third Edition would recycle the title with its own Arms and Equipment Guide, and 4E would have not only the Adventurer's Vault, but would follow it up with the Adventurer's Vault 2 and Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium.

On a tangential note, a conceptual overlap between "equipment books" and "magic item books" would be introduced after AD&D 2nd Edition. While DMGR3 and Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue stuck to mundane items, leaving the magical ones to things like the two-volume The Magic Encyclopedia set (which was essentially a big index of magic items in the game) and the Encyclopedia Magica series, 3E and 4E would be more liberal with mixing magical items alongside the mundane ones, though books like the Magic Item Compendium would, as it says on the tin, deal with enchanted goods only.

Having said all of that, this first foray into the area of equipment-specific sourcebooks is very unlike what came later. I know I already played the "wow did I misremember this!" card, but I honestly thought this was more in line with its descendants in describing a truckload of new equipment for AD&D 2E characters.

Nope.

Rather, this book is chock-full of flavor text and illustrations describing the equipment that's already in the AD&D 2E Player's Handbook. Very little in the way of new mechanics are here, mostly in the way of minor expansions for things like helmets and the odd optional rule (the tables for barding, i.e. armor for mounts, are the exception). It's staggering how much this runs counter to contemporary expectations.

Each suit of armor (which, rather than alphabetically, are listed in order of how much they improve your Armor Class), for instance, is given a full page of descriptive text and a full-page illustration. So we not only get details of how leather armor can come from animals other than cows, for instance, but also get a picture of an adventurer stitching their leather armor up by the campfire.

That's not to say that what's here isn't useful; the pictures and expanded descriptions are helpful in fleshing out little details about some of the most ubiquitous parts of the game world. But make no mistake: that's this sourcebook's only major goal, and I find myself questioning if this was the best format for such an undertaking. As handy as this can be, did we really need a stand-alone supplement to let us know how long a long sword is, compared to how short a short sword? It's like seeing the world's most exquisite doormat; at some point you have to wonder if the utility of the thing warranted the level of effort that went into making it.

Overall, it's not hard to see why this format was abandoned in future supplements, and equipment guidebooks became about new equipment. It's a change that I heartily prefer.

Please note my use of affiliate links in this post.
 
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Stormonu

Legend
of Those 2E supplements, Arms and Equipment is the one I still reference to this day, as well as Aurora’s (which, unfortunately, I misplaced my copy).

The item I most remembe that caught me off-guard was the Morningstar - I had a completely different mental image and expectation how it was used before reading the entry.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
of Those 2E supplements, Arms and Equipment is the one I still reference to this day, as well as Aurora’s (which, unfortunately, I misplaced my copy).
It took me forever to get a physical copy of Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that once I got a chance to sit down and read it, it lived up to the hype. That's not something that happens very often. :)
The item I most remembe that caught me off-guard was the Morningstar - I had a completely different mental image and expectation how it was used before reading the entry.
I used to get the mace, flail, and morningstar mixed up all the time; I've since managed to learn which is which, something I still can't say for the various pole arms.
 

Voadam

Legend
I read the arms and equipment guide off of the 2e rules CD's rtf of the book, so no pictures. I don't remember anything particularly standing out. It probably lost a bit without the art.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
I read the arms and equipment guide off of the 2e rules CD's rtf of the book, so no pictures. I don't remember anything particularly standing out. It probably lost a bit without the art.
The book was useless without the pictures. It's a coffee table book except you don't want to put it on your coffee table.
 

Stormonu

Legend
I read the arms and equipment guide off of the 2e rules CD's rtf of the book, so no pictures. I don't remember anything particularly standing out. It probably lost a bit without the art.
Nowadays, with the access to Wikipedia and the like, the book is not as invaluable as it used to be. The artwork wasn't extraordinary in any way, but it clear up a lot of areas where people might have had a question about exactly what armor or weapon was being referred to (as sometimes what D&D refers to as an "X" weapon is somewhat muddled in other resource literature. Modern D&D has cleaned up/clarified/redefined a lot of weapon and armor classifications since those days.
 

Orius

Adventurer
Arms and Equipment wasn't bad, it's just that looking back on 2e, Combat & Tactics had a much better and comprehensive section on weapons. Armor, too. The equipment chapter in Arms and Equipment isn't too bad though, and the chapter on horse barding is good for what it is. Some of the weapon illustrations weren't that good at depicting the weapons either.

Still, it was a good resource when first published. It took several years for Combat and Tactics to come along, so this book was good for a while.

Also, each section of the book was handed by a different writer, so they do feel a bit different. I think the idea behind the book was to provide comprehensive descriptions of the weapons, but it wasn't enough to fill 128 pages, so the other chapters were meant to pad things out. There's a few places, especially in the armor chapter, where things fell like filler.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
So now we come to DMGR4 Monster Mythology, and before I say anything else I have to get this out of the way:

ZOMGILOVETHISBOOKSOMUCHSQUEEEE!!!

Remember how much I gushed out The Complete Psionics Handbook? Well that's nothing compared to the enjoyment I get from this! I bought my copy of DMGR4 years and years ago, and I'm quite honestly shocked it hasn't fallen completely to pieces from how much I've read it. I still pull it off the shelf just to peruse when the mood strikes me, despite having half of the book memorized. As someone who owns around two thousand print RPG products (if we include individual issues of magazines like Dragon and Dungeon), I like to think it means something when I say that this is in my personal top ten. Yeah, it's pure nostalgia winning out over practical functionality, but who cares? I love this book!

I mentioned back when I was going over The Complete Priest's Handbook that this was the closest I came to looking for a generic book on deities that weren't tied to a particular campaign world. Sure Legends & Lore fit that bill also, but its cultural trappings were too strong for me (which also the case for 1E's Deities & Demigods). Here we got the completely original pantheons that I wanted to find, without having to splurge on a boxed set, and while fifty some-odd deities here were updated from earlier sources, more than half of them were completely new (and at the time, they were almost all new to me). And while I'd thankfully be over my search for a generic pantheon by the time that Faiths & Avatars, Powers & Pantheons, and Demihuman Deities came out (that last one retreading some of the ground in DMGR4) - setting a new standard for how gods were presented in AD&D 2E - Monster Mythology was the MVP of "god books" prior to that.

(As an aside, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention AuldDragon's Monster Mythology Update Project. I know everyone knows about it already, but it deserves to be mentioned again for how superb it is.)

But about Monster Mythology, I could go on for paragraph after paragraph, there's just so much to love here. For instance, there's a minor shift in presentation here from Legends & Lore that I quickly picked up on: unlike in that book, the deities in DMGR4 are presented as existing within the holistic scope of the Great Wheel cosmology. That is, this book tacitly acknowledged that all of its gods were a part of the same setting, unlike how L&L presented its gods in the context of historical Earth. Of course, On Hallowed Ground would put them into the Great Wheel as well (though, to be fair, D&D had assumed that all the various human pantheons were on the Outer Planes as early as the 1E Manual of the Planes, but it was nice to get a contextualized presentation of how the various deities fit into a planar point of view). Since I didn't know much about D&D's planar setting at the time, I found those tantalizing.

I also remember being quite pleased with how Monster Mythology took into account the new clerical spheres from the 2E Tome of Magic, something that Legends & Lore didn't have since it predated that book (there'd be a series in the "Sage Advice" column of Dragon magazine, starting around issue #198 or so, with unofficial updates for the new spheres to the pantheons in L&L, but again, I wouldn't find out about that until later). To my mind, this was another mark of greater usefulness.

I think what stuck with me most, however, was just how much this put a whole lot of "big bads" into play. For all that I know a lot of people looked down on the idea of "gods as just big monsters," I absolutely loved the idea of being able to mix it up with (the avatars of) actual gods. Of course, I came by this honestly, since D&D had been indulging in that at least as far back as Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits, but I still relished the thought of crossing blades with the likes of Maglubiyet or standing up to the savage fury of Yeenoghu.

That reminds me of another point: quite a few demon lords made the jump to being deities as of this particular tome. Demogorgon, Yeenoghu, Baphomet, Juiblex and more. To this day, I'm still not sure why the decision was made to elevate them (since they weren't gods in 1E, even if the Manual of the Planes edged them closer to that status, nor were they divinities in 3E), or why they were the only planar rulers to get that treatment, compared to, say, Asmodeus and the various Lords of the Nine.

Also, despite my fanboying out over this book, I've never been entirely sold by how small the Unseelie Court is compared to its good counterpart. Seriously, it consists of exactly one deity! I mean, the tale of the mysterious and insidiously powerful Black Diamond that turned the Queen of Air and Darkness into what she is makes for a damn cool story (and we've never gotten the lowdown on just what the Black Diamond really is), but you're really telling me that the numerous gods of the Seelie Court couldn't take down one intermediate deity? Yeah, I know Titania doesn't want to destroy her sister, and everyone leery of the corruptive power of the Diamond, but come on; the Unseelie Court needs more to bulk it up!

Also, fun fact: this book features the Elder Elemental God and the Dark God, the latter of whom is Tharizdun by another name, matching how he's presented in WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun. While everyone takes it for granted that Tharizdun and the Elder Elemental God (or "Elder Elemental Eye," as it was called in G1-3 Against the Giants) are one and the same, that was a connection only made as of 3E's Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. (For more on this, check out this thread over on RPG.net.)

But yeah, so much to love here. Stats and lore galore, my favorite combination. This just might be as good as the leatherette series ever got.

Please note my use of affiliate links in this post.
 
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Voadam

Legend
That reminds me of another point: quite a few demon lords made the jump to being deities as of this particular tome. Demogorgon, Yeenoghu, Baphomet, Juiblex and more. To this day, I'm still not sure why the decision was made to elevate them (since they weren't gods in 1E, even if the Manual of the Planes edged them closer to that status, nor were they divinities in 3E), or why they were the only planar rulers to get that treatment, compared to, say, Asmodeus and the various Lords of the Nine.

I think this is mostly 1e history. Yeenoghu was connected to gnolls and Juiblex with oozes and slimes in the 1e MM, Baphomet with minotaurs in MM II, and Lolth with drow in the Fiend Folio. I am not sure if the Ixitxachitl connection to Demogorgon came in a dragon article but the MM does not mention a connection between their clerics and the demon lord.

None of the devils had a connection to specific races in 1e that I was aware of. Orcs and Sahuagin were the big LE monster manual races and had their own full racial gods in 1e.

Demon Lords and Arch Devils were both lesser gods on their own plane in the 1e Manual of Planes.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Yeenoghu was connected to gnolls and Juiblex with oozes and slimes in the 1e MM, Baphomet with minotaurs in MM II, and Lolth with drow in the Fiend Folio. I am not sure if the Ixitxachitl connection to Demogorgon came in a dragon article but the MM does not mention a connection between their clerics and the demon lord.
Them being the "gods" of those monsters makes sense, though I suspect that the connection could have been made for other demon lords. Graz'zt and Pazuzu (or rather, Pazrael) were both given non-divine stats in Planes of Chaos (affiliate link); I suspect that they could have been made the deities of, say, lamias and harpies just as easily as Demogorgon could have been for ixitxachitl, so it still seems a tad arbitrary to me.

That said, the Lords of the Nine did have their own niches carved out (those being the layers of Hell that they controlled, rather than a race or a particular evil activity), but 2E was very unclear about how it wanted to portray them, leaving it to a single article in Dragon #223 which, if I recall correctly, had them not being gods but still gave stats for avatars of theirs.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Many of these entries are collections of and expansions of prior lore scattered between Unearthed Arcana, Dragon Magazine and the various monster manuals of 1E. It is nice to see them all in one place and their lore expanded, but I never paid the book much attention as I was familiar with most of the background information from past sources (and was using my own homebrew world, with different gods).

One thing I hadn't realized or had forgotten about was the lack of goblin gods in Monster Mythology. I thought information about nilbogs and the hobgoblin gods enslaving/overcoming the goblin gods in 5E was a retcon, and was therefore surprised when I pulled this tome out to discover a distinct lack of goblin gods in the first place.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
One thing I hadn't realized or had forgotten about was the lack of goblin gods in Monster Mythology. I thought information about nilbogs and the hobgoblin gods enslaving/overcoming the goblin gods in 5E was a retcon, and was therefore surprised when I pulled this tome out to discover a distinct lack of goblin gods in the first place.
I'm pretty sure you have the part about which gods were overcome backwards. :unsure:
 

delericho

Legend
Unfortunately, Monster Mythology came at just the wrong time for me. I've oscillated between "homebrew everything" and "use as much published material as possible", and this book came as I was deep in the homebrew position. So I got it, gave it a look, but didn't really have any use for it. So onto the shelf it went...
 

Voadam

Legend
That said, the Lords of the Nine did have their own niches carved out (those being the layers of Hell that they controlled, rather than a race or a particular evil activity), but 2E was very unclear about how it wanted to portray them, leaving it to a single article in Dragon #223 which, if I recall correctly, had them not being gods but still gave stats for avatars of theirs.
There is also the 2e Guide to Hell where Asmodeus is a greater power independent of worshipers and there is discussion of the other Lords of the Nine too.

Geryon has stuff in A Paladin in Hell.
 

Orius

Adventurer
I don't have much to add about Monster Mythology except that I prefer its power level to what we got with the Faiths and Avatars stuff. The specialty priests were far more in line with what Legends and Lore did, while the material from the Faiths and Avatars series was pretty powerful. So in a 2e game, MM is the baseline for the demihuman priests when I'm running things. Demihuman Deities though is still useful for the fluff, and I'd probably allow some of the spells.

Obviously the usefulness of this book really depends on whether or not the DM is using the traditional non human gods.
 

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