More 2e Love

At Grognardia’s blog I got a big boost of confidence from a few posts that he made in regards to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition. He had asked for folks to chime in about their favorite 2e era modules, and was shocked at the amount of responses he received over it. I can’t say that I blame him, I was shocked too. I really hadn’t put much thought into 2e modules, I see the flaw in them, which of course is that they are almost always railroad jobs. Story driven adventures aren’t all that fun, I agree with Grognardia’s position of the story being incidental.

Over the years, ever since the introduction of 3e, I have heard lots of complaints about 2e, and I think that I’ve addressed this in the past, but I would like to take some time out and really put my feelings on digital paper again.

I don’t think that it is fair to compare apples with oranges, which I consider 3e+ to be a completely different game then Dungeons and Dragons. I know why the changes were made, and I have heard my share of complaints and name calling in regards to 2e enough to know what really bugs people the most about it, and chiefly, all of their complaints really weren’t targeted towards the core system at all, but with their dealings with Dungeon Masters.

I think that games like the 2nd edition live or die by the skill of the Dungeon Master, many of the rules are deliberately left open, to be decided by him on a case by case basis. Almost all of the rules are optional, so one can make it as easy or as hard as they think that they can handle. If you and your players start getting bored with how things are going, then simply add another layer of rules on there, try adding weapon speed, or enforcing the encumbrance rules. These things force the players to think more, and that is the basis of the game!

My problem with the later editions is that by making it easier to DM, by making the rules less up to interpretation, they eliminate the heart and soul of why I, and many others play the game, and that is what allows a truly gifted DM a chance to become special.

I have played under very bad Dungeon Masters, and I’ve played under some really good ones too, I think that the point of being a DM is to become the best that you can. A good DM doesn’t necessarily need to be a rules master, he doesn’t need to know everything about the game, but he does have to have experience playing. I truly believe this! You see Dungeon Masters out there that hate playing, or never got a chance to play. Not to say that they are all crappy DMs but I bet you that if they would had spent more time playing they would be a heck of a lot better at it then they are today!

I have played every class, from Psionics to Fighters. I know what each class is capable of, what they want out of the game, and how to challenge or entertain them. This stuff can’t be found in the DMG! In order to DM 2nd edition, one element is required, and that is experience!

D&D is more then just putting heroes up against monsters, it is about tactics, describing the worlds you are creating, making unique NPCs, managing the heroes gear and controlling what they have, keeping magic magical, providing different experiences every time they sit at the table, being fair, and most importantly, being unique.

2e is about trust, and in order to have the players trust, you must be trustworthy. The players have to have faith in you, if any of them start taking stuff personally then you need to correct the situation as soon as possible. You don’t have to give them what they want all the time, but giving them what they need and keeping them wanting. Making them earn everything that they have instead of just gifting it out. That is a really big one. I know of lots of inexperienced DMs who just start giving everybody magical swag, when quite honestly, the stuff in the DMG should keep you supplied with unique and powerful items for decades and still not be exhausted! If players think that they are entitled to Portable Holes and Flame-tongue swords then you really need to pull back! A fighter should have a plus weapon at some point, and a wizard needs to be kept supplied with new spells, but other then that, that is all you are required to give them, and even all of that stuff should be earned. If you just give things away then the players won’t respect them. Don’t do it.

But on the same token, don’t force them into combat against a monster that requires an enchanted weapon to hit when they don’t have one. That is how you lose respect. You have to know when to give, and you have to know when to take away, and you learn this by playing under a good DM.

I like 1st edition, however I don’t play it. I own the manuals, and I take what I want out of them, things which were left out of the 2nd edition which I enjoyed, none of it ground breaking. Assassins aren’t needed, anybody who kills for money is an assassin, I agree with my Ruleset that this shouldn’t be a player class, but an NPC.

Monks are specialized fighting/clerics who are more physical then mystical. Psionics are kept relevant by a couple of kick butt monsters that pop up from time to time, and I keep that class open, but few people want to play it. They too make better NPCs then they make playable classes.

I enjoy my specialist mages and priests. Folks complain about it but I, for one, will never understand the heat that they get. I just think that that system, while rather complex, is just so damned neat!

I like skill challenges, things that make the game that much more interesting. I enjoy Save or Die rolls, by removing them, you remove a lot of suspense from the game, nothing stops a player cold faster then being told to make a saving throw or die! I’ve been in that position more times then I can remember, and losing a character to it is something that happens. If I got myself into that position, then I don’t blame the DM for it (again it goes back to trust). I also enjoy level draining monsters, nothing hurts worse, or generates the dread and fear of a monster that can drain your experience! It is maddening when it happens, but it does improve the game by having that danger there.

I enjoy the common themes of the game! If you find a toilet, then you simply HAVE to put a carrion Crawler in there, you just have to! I hate fighting lichs, but only in the way that I secretly love it.

Trust, and being trustworthy is the name of the game. And trust is just as important as the funny dice are to the DM. Yes, you can fudge rolls, allow folks to make another check, there should be some give and take there, after all, the game requires that you cooperate with the players too! And as far as I can tell, this has been the #1 problem with 2e haters, they got burned by DMs who weren’t trust worthy, which happens. Nobody can just start DMing and be good at it, it is like playing a wizard, it takes lots of practice and you fail but keep going anyway.

I don’t want to sound like I am knocking anybody, that isn’t what I wanted to do today. Everybody has their own preferences and styles of play, most don’t even know that 2e can cater to all styles.


The 2e game itself was cheap, at least in theory. There are only 3 core books, the Players Handbook, the Dungeon Master Guide, and the Monstrous Manual. That is it! That is the core rules, and it is all you need to play the game . . . well, once you know what you are doing.

Naturally, this won’t make money, and in order for TSR to stay operating long enough to supply us all with great hardcover core books, they also have to sell other products. The supplements contained things that one could had easily done ones self, but providing a hard copy of it. The most famous of these supplements was the Complete Guide series. There were LOTS of these things, which were actually kind of fun and ground breaking, but of course some were better then others.

Chief among the supplements were the four basic class guides. These were filled with alternative rules, new items, new weapons, new NWP, a new system for handling Weapon Profs, new combat rules, they introduced kits, and roleplaying tips. The four Complete Guides to the classes are some awesome books! I will even put the Complete Guide to Psionics up there on my list of Core Books.

Races guides were also pretty good. Dwarf, Elf, and the Gnomes and Halflings were tossed together. All three had excellent advice and new stuff to add to your core rules if you wished it. None of this stuff was required, but it could be handy if and when there was any confusion in regards to how the core rules are handled, and they offered alternatives if you just couldn’t get the core rules to work for you.

They provided teaching points on how to modify things to your liking. Where they started to stray is keeping the series going, the guide to Paladins, Rangers, Bards, and Humanoids was just a waste of paper to me. While I suppose that specialist players could appreciate them, I think that they should had put all of the Subclass books together and never had printed the Humanoid Handbook, but I know that that is just my personal opinion, so take out of it what you please.

Hardcover Supplements also came out. Many of them weren’t needed, but provided some more material for the DM to work with. The Tome of Magic, Deities and Demigods, Book of Artifacts, & the Monstrous Compendiums (some better then others) all masqueraded as core, and could be treated as such. The Tome presented more schools and spheres of spells, introduced us to Wild Magic, and gave us some more magical items, none of which is very ground breaking. If this book is missing from your collection, don’t bother picking it up. Deities and Demigods . . . well, I think that I still prefer my 1st edition copy of this book and it hadn’t changed much. I’ve never actually used this book for more then looking at pictures. I’ve never really ran a real world campaign where the gods themselves stepped in, I suppose that that is just my own personal style, and I am glad that I have them, but I really don’t use them.

Artifacts and Relics actually has been useful to me, it teaches you how to create your own. I think that I would throw this book on the core pile too. The lay-out was excellent, its easy to find the stuff that you are looking for, and it is full of excellent advice. Best of all, you don’t have to read it all day to get what you need out of it, as far as a reference book, this is exactly what you want out of one!

I’ve talked at length about the MCs, and it was so recently that I don’t really think that I need to repeat myself.

The other supplements which came out were targeted towards DMs themselves. This was called the Complete DM’s Reference series, most of these titles were pretty good. The Catacomb Guide was an excellent recourse for both new DMs, and for folks who wanted to build their own milieu from scratch. I own the Castle Guide, and found much use for it, and I would love to finish off my collection by finding a guide to sailing and ships, but those things are kind of hard to come by. I’m not sure how many books were in this series, I know that a Complete Guide to Necromacers came out, fleshing out the wizards school of the same name with spells designed for NPCs and villainy, though I must say that I’ve gotten along thus far without it. Of course, you also have such insane titles as Monster Mythology, one of the most needless books TSR may have ever written. Why they bothered with this is beyond me, all of this should had been put in the MM but since it wasn’t then I think that it is safe to assume that it really doesn’t matter what gods the monsters worship, besides, this should be up to the DM to ponder, not some book.

Other core books which came out were the Players Option’s series, better known as 2.5e. This stuff was just insane, and unless you write a blog about 2e, you probably don’t need them. I have found some uses for them, but not many, definitely not enough to warrant publishing them in hardbound! But they did publish paperback versions as well. They are interesting reads! Though, they aren’t worth altering the character sheet over, and I think that rolling up a new character takes long enough as it is, without throwing even more options at a PC. This is clearly 2e getting ready to transition forward to 3e. Offering different skills and some newfangled point system which wasn’t attractive to me. I think that after I initially read them, I was all gung ho but nobody else wanted to play any differently then what we did, so I never got to play with them . . . I don’t think that I lost anything except for the initial money spent on them. I wouldn’t play with them today, or any day, but have found some good stuff as a blog writer inside of them. I guess that they are good for talking about D&D but don’t offer much help in terms of actually playing D&D.

Much of the products above all served a purpose, no matter how small or pointless that purpose may be. Why anyone would require an entire book to learn how to play a barbarian is beyond me, but the fact is that people bought them and that kept TSR open for at least another hour.


The core rules are awesome, the supplements deeper then the Mississippi River, and wading through the oceans of information was no easy task. THAT is a legitimate complaint with an easy solution. DON’T BOTHER WITH THE SUPPLEMENTS! And if you do, then just get what you think that you need.

Of course, rules are no fun without a module or two to play them. Most of us wrote our own adventures, if we were in a bind then we’d chop out maps, keys, and NPCs from these things as typically the stories of the modules didn’t go where we wanted to go.

The module is also where TSR bit off their own leg. For some reason, in the RPG business, it is expectable to make fun of other products to make a short term sale. The 2e books discredited 1e, pointing out all of that systems failures (which, again, most of these failures were more along the lines of mistakes on the part of poor DMing rather then true flaws in the system itself. But 2e didn’t stop there, they kept pumping out all of these settings, and all of them were excellent! In them, they would take swipes at their own products, and they were put out with the regularity of comic books. Every week you could mosey on down to the gaming store and find a variety of new TSR goodies to buy.

I saw one of the most laughable quotes a few years back in regards to the TSR marketing strategy. I can’t remember who it was, but they stated that it was always intended that you could drop any of the modules that you purchased into any setting. This is such a line of horse manure. None of these modules could be just DROPPED in anywhere. All of the settings had different rule sets, each of them was unique, and with so much variety out there, the very term GENERIC was shunned as if it were a white can of beer, labeled BEER in big black letters. At the time, THIS was truly TSRs greatest sin. The writers verbally bashed products while touting their own, and then they’d turn around and make them irrelevant come next months deadline.

Nobody, and I do mean NOBODY played every TSR product that came out, there was more of a supply then there was a demand. Forgotten Realms guys didn’t have time to switch over to Dark Sun, Ravenloft players weren’t interested in Dragon Lance, and nobody wanted to have anything to do with Greyhawk anymore. The company was putting out more books then the sane person could read (or that the Game Shop could sell) and the house of cards collapsed, the pieces being picked up by a card game company that honestly has no clue as to how to run the RPG business either.

Not to say that all of TSR’s modules were trash! That was the challenge at Grognardia’s this week, to recall modules which were good, in spite of the settings. Of course, the biggest difference between 1e and 2e is the lack of consistency. No module were ever considered to be MUST PLAYED! There were no common stories, no rites of passage. No common enemies. . . . or was there?

The Box Set was a remarkable tool at the time. A good box set should take a 1st level character, and provide enough XP to get him up to at least 15th level. Box sets such as Under Mountain, and Night Below became classics. While Under Mountain was just to damned big, and not really ever finished, Night Below is one of the greatest TSR Mega-Modules of all time. The story is provided, and it doesn’t get in the way because unlike regular modules, the box contained the entire campaign. It had tough encounters, and it required a good DM to make the proper transition and run encounters to fit the group playing it so that they would be ready. This thing was an excellent teacher! A very very long game, but a well written and rewarding one all the same.

In my list I also put “Night of the Walking Dead”, this is my favorite module of all time. A very very short and direct 1st level adventure that was tough and dangerous, but at the same time it avoided all of the regular misconceptions of what an entry level dungeon should be. No goblins or orcs running around waiting to be stabbed. This one put you against a serial killer, and a legion of undead! It presented a mystery, and could be played in just a session or two.

I think that every DM keeps at least one module around him at all times, and this, for me, is that module. This was the one that I cut my teeth on, I ran it several times and it gave me the skills I needed to move on and try new things. Learning to DM isn’t easy, especially learning to DM a system that requires a good one in the first place. I still refer to this module from time to time. I like the way that it was printed, the order of everything, how it is compiled. It isn’t very big, only about 15-30 pages, a couple of little maps, and a few handouts, to me it is the perfect game.

Another one of my favorites is The Bleak House. This is another box set which takes everything that you know about what D&D can do, and turns it on its head! It hurts the characters, but not in a silly way, which Ravenloft modules tended to do. I don’t know how many of them start off with the players dying and being brought back as Flesh Golems or talking and floating brains, it was terrible (and not scary terrible either). This box set had you stuck on an island insane asylum, and before you know it, you become not just stranded, but a patient as well. The game mentally tortures you, and escaping this island is one of the hardest things that a roleplayer can do. If you succeed, you get to enjoy probably the best haunted house modules of all time. But what makes this game unique is that it isn’t combat driven, but purely Role Playing Driven . . . imagine, Role Playing in a RPG. I know, the very thought of it these days is mind-numbing.

I suppose that that is what makes a good module to me. A philosophy of Role-Playing, I mean, if you try and take on Night Below with full-frontal attacks every time, you aren’t going to live very long. You have to form alliances with races (some are very dangerous alliances at that!), you have to master hit and run tactics, you’ve got to watch out who you offend and who wisely chose who you are going to trust. Nothing is straight forward, 8 different parties can play that game and come out with 8 different ways to go about doing it.

Sure, there is always fun to be had in a good old fashion dungeon crawl or hack and slash massacre, but when the chips are down at the end of the night, I will always take true role-playing over any other style of game out there. I get that from 2nd edition AD&D. My friends and I can sit down and have a great time for hours, and I think that that is where the true sweet spot is at, don’t you?


Brooser Bear said...

I think that Creative Campaigning was the best DMs grey handbook they wrote. It's up there with Catacomb Guide. They also had a series of green books historical settings for AD&D 2nd: DMs cans et their games in Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Celtic World, Viking world, Charlemaigne's Empire (a paladin campaign), and I think that the last one was Cromwell's England with firearms. Some good illustrations, some good background reading. not as corny as some of the stuff in Compleat Boo of Rangers and Elves. I never used them though.

Two of the 2.5 player's Options' Books I really liked and incorporated into my AD&D 1st Edition game are the Skills and Powers and Combat and Tactics. I revamped the fighter class using the combat and tactics (weapons specialization and specialized skils open only to fighters). I think that the Complete Book of Druids and CB Ninjas were excellent supplements.

As to teh AD&D 1st ed assassin and the Monk character, the are examples of weaving the player background into the settings: Different thieves guilds train different skills differently. Four of the thieves guilds will produce slightly different thieves and will demand different things from members. Players have hints and can choose from a band of streetperformers who will collect no dues and have acrobatocs, to a strict hierarchy to an AD&D Assassing guild that will enslave the party. They can still join despite all the warning, but they will have to fight to scape and it will probably be end of them as they will be hunted as traitors by a powerful organisation. Ergo for Monks - there is a special secret monastery in the woods that players eventually might discover.

Noting ebats the fun of writing your own adventure and runnign players through it.

Unknown said...

Just a few general comments that occurred to me at various points while reading your post:

1. I liked parts of the Humanoids book a lot because I wanted to pursue the notion that not every orc is evil. I liked my D&D a lot less black and white. I abhorred the very idea of 'dinosaur people' though.

2. I bought and am buying 2E stuff post facto. I agree with you wholeheartedly that the 'supplements' (not to mention articles from Dragon magazine, etc.) should at least be considered source material.

3. I love the whole idea of elementalists and also loved the Tome of Magic!

Much of the products above all served a purpose, no matter how small or pointless that purpose may be. Why anyone would require an entire book to learn how to play a barbarian is beyond me, but the fact is that people bought them and that kept TSR open for at least another hour.

4. I have to agree. I actually sorta liked the barbarian in the 1E Unearthed Arcana because of the weirdness of the class (sound imitation for example). I own the Complete Book of Barbarians but can't recall it's usefulness at all.

RipperX said...

Thanks for the great comments guys! I think that the only books that I ever bought brand new were the three core books, the rest I dug out of the used bin at gaming stores back when they were still open.

You can still find some old copies in Comic book shops and here and there, but for the most part, now that PDFs are illigal to download, pirate copies are notoriously terrible. It is getting hard to find new stuff, but then again, who really needs new stuff anyway?

Brooser Bear said...

I got all of my D&D books from e-bay, especially the Complete Book Of series. Back in 2003-2004 for $4-$8 per book. Built a complete collection I never buy anything new wher in comes to D&D. Why pay $40.00 for a brand new book whe you can get the same book for $15?

Solonor said...

One of the great points ever made! You need to trust the DM. I do not think trust can be emphasized enough.

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