Choose Your Language

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Changing Face of AD&D (Part 2)

Last week I looked at my early years playing AD&D with the first edition rules in the 1980's. At the end of that decade, the second edition rules for AD&D were released, which I was to use throughout the 90's until the release of the third edition rules in 2000. With the second edition rules we learned about such things as THACO (the die roll required To Hit AC 0) and non-weapon proficiencies. How did these and other rules compare with those of the first edition from the decade before and in what way might they be helping to shape the future of D&D?

Second Edition

Before I recall my acquisition of the second edition books, I wanted to point out that there was another first edition book I had that I did not mention last time, but deserves a mention now: The DragonLance Adventures. I mention it now because, for me, this campaign setting provided the bridge between the two rule editions. I played the entire campaign using the first edition rules, but later bought the second edition Monstrous Compendium Appendix detailing the creatures of Krynn; the setting of the DragonLance campaign.

The second edition was released in 1989 and I bought copies of the core rules (DM's Guide, Player's Handbook and Monstrous Compendium) as soon as they became available in my local store. The first major difference was obvious even at this stage, as the Monstrous Compendium had been released in a ring binder format rather than a standard book. The idea was that you bought additional monster pages as they were released in different pack formats. I suppose it was a good idea for making money, but a terrible idea for the players (myself included) who found the format cumbersome and awkward to use. At the time, however, there was no other way to acquire monster information and so I continued to buy the packs and eventually ended up with two volumes, which I managed to pack into a single binder. Along with the appendix I mention above, my second edition monster collection was complete. Unfortunately, I never acquired the book version of these creatures that was eventually released and my next book for monsters would not be until the Monster Manual of the third edition.

Personally, I agree that a new edition of the rules had become necessary to help slimline an unwieldy first edition, which the second addition claimed to address. Unfortunately, however, history has shown us that from the second edition onwards, the rules were to undergo a greater bloating to cover an even greater amount of new material and rules. Check out the comparative list of rule books to each edition and you will see what I mean. The first edition had a total of 13 books to refer to (of which I had 10), whereas the second edition was to expand to well over double this number. If you check out the list of materials it is not easy to say exactly what constitutes a "book" as there are many appendices just for the Monstrous Compendium, subject to which style of campaign you played. However, from this list, I can say that I ended up buying 6 other texts that were supposed to help complement play: Four Complete Handbooks covering the Fighter (CFH), the Thief (CTH), the Wizard (CWH) and the Priest (CPH) classes and the Rules Supplement Guides for the Castle (CAS) and the Catacombs (CAT). The problem was, by the time I had bought these new rules and supplements I was already up to a similar number of books in a few of years of playing than I had the first, and there was no end to these supplements in sight. So much for making the game "less unwieldy".

Almost as soon as the core rules were released, these supplementary texts started to follow. But what did these supplementary texts offer? The bottom line, primarily, was ways of playing the game if you did not have the imagination to consider playing it that way yourself, with more rules to help complement your decision - as well as introducing new optional rules for the game as a whole. Wasn't one of the prime goals of the new second addition to avoid unwieldy rules? Each handbook would now offer over a hundred new pages of rules and information about a single class of adventurer, and cover such rules as various ways of parrying (CFH) and sample priesthoods (CPH). And while the other supplement guides were not quite so exasperating when it came to adding more rules, they did contain sections that reminded me of the first edition Wilderness and Dungeon Survival Guides with rules that appeared designed for the sake of incorporating just another rule about a topic. E.g. Chance of canon misfire rules (CAS).

From all these negative responses, you may think I do not like the second edition rules, or maybe that I should have just avoided buying these supplement texts in the first place. I would like to address the latter point first: To be frank, I believe I was lulled into a false sense of security regarding the purpose of these texts and pure gaming enthusiasm probably led me into buying them. It is only with hindsight that I can look back at these texts and recognise that I was buying into the "minutiae rules" once again. At the time, however, I thought I was buying into useful and purposeful rules that every good gamer should have access to, just to be sure everyone was playing the game fairly and with most opportunities for the players. However, having access to all these new rules came with its own problem: too many rules to refer to would once again inhibit smooth play. When the player says "Can I cut the button off his shirt?", what would once may have been a simple interaction between DM and player has now turned into a given rule (CFH) - and would require a quick rule check to be sure we had it right. Of course, some of these rules would get easier to remember and play in time, but because this kind of thing was the exception rather than the norm, play could ebb and flow according to the whims of a player's gaming style for the day rather than remain consistent with more basic rules to play by.

The Pros and Cons (Second Edition)

From the last comments, things do not look good for the second edition, mainly due to the fact that they did not end up doing what they set out to do in the first place. i.e. Make the game easier to play (by becoming less unwieldy). However, my group of players did not shy away from them and we played second edition for ten years until the release of the third edition. So, what did we like and what did we dislike about this edition of the rules?

In the following list, I have once again chosen to ignore much of the additional supplemental material that came out for this edition, so I could do a direct comparison of the core rules between editions. As it turned out, the second edition was already mirroring many of the changes we had made to the first edition rules, as well as taking some of them into areas I was already altering for my own campaign, which meant less work for me to do. This, at least, was a definite overall PRO.


1) Core Racial Integrity: Even though I list Archetypal Races as a PRO for the first edition rules, I actually prefer the further limiting in race that the second edition rules make. They lessen references to sub-race variants (and also remove the half-orc race completely), which, to me, were always one step closer to monster creatures than those that were finally chosen as playable races in this edition.

2) Class Group Recognition: Once again, even though I praised the first edition for its Archetypal Classes, I find I prefer the further streamlining of the classes that come with the second edition core rules where they emphasise the four major groups: Warrior, Wizard, Priest and Rogue. (NB: I cannot, however, say the same about the optional rule on creating a new character class, nor the expansion of classes with the various kits that became available with supplemental rules.) And while I still believe there is reasonable argument for the other first edition archetypal classes (E.g. Ranger and paladin), I believe that recognising that the other classes are mere sub-categories of the main classes was a positive step in the right direction.(*)

(*) Class progression is one of the prime attractions of AD&D. Unfortunately, however, I believe the continued desire to create a "new class" to satisfy every type of player is one of the main problems to affect the game's rules. In fact, I believe new classes are responsible for stifling player creativity from developing classes that were (in many respects) already available to them. For instance, it is quite possible to play an "illusionist" as a wizard class who has specialised in illusion spells only (by role playing it this way). This is similar to how the second edition worked, except additional rules or conditions were set to accommodate the differences in the "sub-classes" within the second edition rules, which I believe are unnecessary. As another example, a "paladin" can be viewed primarily as a fighter with the ability to cast some spells, which can be acquired if the PC was made to multi-class a fighter with a magic using class. Problems arise when new feats and skills are assigned to a new combination of classes that make it a unique class. i.e. The "paladin class" is not just a multi-classed fighter with wizard/cleric class, but a class of its own with its own unique abilities. I must quickly add that I do appreciate that a paladin is much more than how I describe them above (due to its many other abilities as a class nowadays) and is why there is still argument for some other archetypal classes. Controversially, however, if, for example, one was to reorganise the "unique" feats of a paladin into feats available to a PC that consisted both of a fighter and cleric class, then a more streamlined system could be organised. Such a system would limit a PC to only being able to multi-class with two classes, so that you could retain the uniqueness of feats and skills determined by class limitations. E.g. Only PCs multi-classing in a fighter and cleric class could acquire the "Warrior Steed" feat, which would mean a player would have to decide whether the ability to attract a "Warrior Steed" was worth the sacrifice of being able to cast wizard spells, which would have been an alternative option. In this way, an archetypal system is maintained within a flexible system.

If you read my last blog, you may now be asking yourself if I am contradicting what I said last time? The answer is "no", if you consider I respect the main four Archetypal Classes from first edition (now better defined in the second edition as a Fighter, Priest, Wizard and Rogue), and if I was allowed to include the ability to multi-class them all in a way that expands on the class options available, but without introducing new named classes that have their own unique "rules". The distinctiveness of each character build should be down to the way the player plays their PC with the feats, skills and equipment they acquire to supplement their style of play, rather than a representation of a new class altogether. Maybe you could still call the "class build" a "paladin" and role play it that way if it fits in with what the player understands a paladin to be. After all, what's in a name? The distinction can be made through choice builds, limited by a combination of the four main original archetypal determinants.

3) Non-Weapon Proficiencies: The precursor to the third edition "Skill" rules and an expansion of the first edition Secondary Skills. On the surface of things, one might have thought I would consider this a "CON". However, its covering of a number of universal and specialised skills paved the way to what would become the skill system of the third edition rules (and complemented a system I was already working on for my player's PCs). This system allowed players and DM alike to address situations throughout play via a simple system based on attributes already familiar to the player. Quick reference and easy guidelines made this a welcome addition to the AD&D rules.

4) Spell's Schools & Spheres: The second edition rules did a good job at starting to define the categories each spell would fall under. This distinction in the various types of spell would offer an alternative way to specialise in the various classes. E.g. Druids would have access to divine spells of certain spheres only. Major and minor differences between the spell levels also helped define spells available. In this way, spells across all the classes fell into two categories only: divine and arcane. This, in my opinion, is the purest form of defining magic and sub-dividing these two types into the various spell types available according to class is the best way to develop individual distinction within a smaller archetypal class structure. However, I do respect that there is argument for totally separate lists of spells for each class, which is also subject to which classes one considers archetypal. However, I believe separate lists, while appearing a simpler system on the surface of things, do not help to explain the bigger picture of magic in general. This is fine for some people and so no further explanation is required, but for some people (I include myself here), an overall system that helps explain the way something fits within the D&D cosmology and allow a way of expanding game play (but without complicating or changing the rules) is a preferred system to work with. In other words, without such a system, the development of various class nuances with respect to magic becomes subjective and open to argument as to its validity or not, whereas a defined system is objective and is more balanced. E.g. The original druid's spell list from the first edition was a list of spells with a simple background of "nature" type spells as its guiding principle. For this type of system to work, then no further expansion to the classes or magic should be made at all, as the game has been balanced for the unique existence of this class. If, however, there is a guiding system or principle that helps define which spells a "nature" type class should have (which the second edition defines), then it opens the way for both DM and players to organise potential other groupings of magic spells that would fit a different style of play. Note, the spell system does not change, but the access to the different types of spells does, in a similar fashion to the original archetypal classes from the first edition. As an example, it gives reason as to why druids have some spells similar to clerics (divine), but that also differ from one another, as they work in different spheres of the same type of magic. Neither of them have access to the arcane magic, which requires training in the wizard class.


1) Rule Unwieldiness Worsens: The second edition ended up betraying itself and us by introducing a number of supplemental rulebooks and additional material that should have been left to the remit of the interaction between the DM and player. Furthermore, it did nothing to fix the first edition cons of an unusual and limited numbering system for many mechanic devices.

2) Optional Rules: On the surface of things, the optional rules appeared harmless enough, and one was able to pick and choose which rules to play. However, their very presence could be a bone of contention as it opened up potential arguments to include them at certain times. E.g. Parrying. This rule simply adds a level of complication uncalled for in my opinion. While an argument is made that a PC is potentially open to more risk than someone parrying, it is easier to assume a PC, playing a hero, is actually defending themselves to the best of their ability all of the time and there is no need for any distinction in play. This optional rule became a standard rule in later editions, which, in my opinion, weakens the game play. (As a group, we played very few of these optional rules.)

3) Racial Level Limitations: In all fairness, this was a CON of the first edition rules as well, but I will list it here now. That is, how different classes would be limited in level according to the race played. This always appeared an arbitary and penalising rule to me, and seemed an unfair way of balancing the game where non-human races had benefits over their human counterpart. This CON would finally be eliminated by the time we reach third edition rules.

Like the first edition, there are some rules that came along with the second edition to which I feel neither hot nor cold. An example of this would be the change from the combat tables used by the DM to determine if a PC hit an opponent to the use of the THACO (To Hit AC 0) formula to determine the same. It was just a different method to do a similar task in my opinion, and playing either system was much of a muchness once one became used to it. Furthermore, while I liked the way the second edition was to combine the original spell lists into the two main categories and designate spheres according to mythoi background, I believe it (unfortunately) also led the way for the later third edition rules to exploit this joining when redistributing the spells back into lists by allowing spells that were once in sole possession of one archetypal class to be cast by another. Here follows an example of what I mean: Animal Summoning spells specifically for the druid class of the first edition rules become generic divine spells in the second edition rules, but were still reserved for "nature" type priests (which would include druid type priests). By the time they reach the third edition rules, the "nature" sphere is dropped for the cleric/Priest class, and they are now given (as standard) a Monster Summoning spell like that once reserved for the wizard only. The separate druid spell lists have returned and a Summon Nature's Ally equivalent is given to them. During the course of changes to the spell lists throughout the editions, clerics have managed to gain a monster summoning ability that was once only available to wizards via Summon Monster spells (or by druids by their equivalent Animal Summoning spells). Furthermore, in a similar manner, "spheres" once used by the second edition rules to help manage spells throughout the various mythoi and beliefs later disappear in the third edition rules and become replaced by domains for clerics, allowing them access to even more spells that were once outside of their influence altogether. In brief, in the process of passing from first, through second and into third edition rules, one could play a cleric that moved from once being "incapable" to "capable" of casting prized arcane magic spells, such as Monster Summoning (from 1st level) and Wall of Fire (from 7th level). I believe this may have been a step too far.

The End of A Second Era

The year 2000 saw the end of another era and the end of using the second edition rules. The third edition rules had been released and many aspects that player's had disliked about earlier editions had been revised and/or removed. No more confusing number systems, easier combat rules with straight forward AC values. Was this edition the one to answer all problems? A quick glance of the PHB showed what looked like a return to some of the original first edition ideas and rules ... half-orcs were back ... there was the barbarian and monk classes ... but it also talked about feats and skills that reminded us of the second edition. Was this really going to be the set of rules to end all rule debates and keep things simple? Join me next time as I try to recall the decade of the 00's and my experience with the third edition rules.

If you have any memories of your years with second edition rules, please send me a comment and reminisce with me.


Kamal said...

Those were the good old days. Though I never got all the zillions of extra books. One of my friends had the deities and demigods book with the cthulhu and melnibonian mythos creatures before they had to remove them due to copyright.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Kamal,

Good to hear from you.

There were quite a few books.

The one you mention your friend having is actually from the first edition of the rules, which I covered last week. If you read that, you will see that I have that copy of the book as well. I wonder how many are still around?


Jclef said...

2nd edition was my first and still my favorite. I know there were tons of extra rules, but for the most part, we didn't worry about the gritty details - we just made stuff up as we went, usually rolling a 20 sided to determine the "weird" stuff.

Our group was pretty large, and at times had 8+ people at the table, so being able to browse through a bunch of different manuals during gameplay was cool.

I especially like the artwork of the 2nd edition!

Nice posts, btw! :D

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Jclef,

Thanks for posting.

Glad you are enjoying the posts. :) There is at least one more post on the topic, possibly two, but I may make another post in between.

Since reflecting, I am finding a number of things I like about the different editions and I must confess that I am pleasantly surprised that I have found a number of aspects about the second edition that I overlooked before.

My own group has varied in size over the years. In the latter years, it has comprised of only three players, myself, my wife and a friend. Before that, I used to have another regular two players and in the very early days the number could run into ten!

As you can imagine, having quick and easy to play rules was essential with larger numbers just to keep the game flowing.