Retrospective on 2e style & Blogger

I’ve been doing research lately, and happened to stumble over one of my old comments that I had made. I didn’t always play the way that I do today, I am a 2er, and that reflected in my style. The meta-plot and me were close companions, and I would get frustrated writing because everything was so specific, but that was the way that it was supposed to be. Players wanted a story!

2nd Edition had a specific style, players were some times expected to do the bidding of NPCs, and then at the end, the NPC would complete the task and you’d just get to watch as these world changing events unfolded. That was actually the formula for the perfect game! We enjoyed doing that. We also enjoyed playing games were we really didn’t have any influence on the plot what so ever. We’d go to famous places and experience stuff. Granted, some of these games were actually quite good, even by today’s standards, it can be fun trying to stay alive while a couple of gods are locked in combat! But, I wasn’t ever really happy with them. It can be over done, and a party that consisted of excellent players will often find themselves escaping the module, which I couldn’t handle because it would ruin the rest of the plot, so I had to railroad them back on track, or even stop the game and explain to them that they are doing it wrong.

2e storytelling was very ridged, and domineering, and I wasn’t always happy with the results that I got. I’d put too much importance to a specific PC and ignore the others, and god forbid that they didn’t show up for game day because then I’d have to play their character for them, else we’d have nothing to do that day.

In those days, I protected my NPCs to the point that they were gods. I ignored all of the signs that players weren’t happy and would just tell them to stay with me, because the ending is awesome. This is what we did. I spoke to other DMs at the time and they played the same way. Protect your characters, the DM is the storyteller, the players are just along for the ride, and a successful DM is one who can tell amazing stories. Character involvement meant that you followed the script. We ignored dice, ran multiple DM PCs, and generally played very badly and had no idea.

I formed this blog to defend my ideals during the edition wars. I was right in the middle of the storm too! You had the 4ers vs. old-school and the one thing that they both agreed on was that 2e sucked. I had no idea how others played the game, and reading some of the blogs at the time was eye opening! Thankfully guys like James Maliszewski from Grognardia, and James Edward Raggi IV of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, among others, though none so influential than those two. Both took time out of their day to explain a new way of playing, with advice and the reasons behind it. At first I was arguing with them, but it is hard to argue with a sound idea, so instead of fighting, I started asking questions and they were answering. Everything that they did was different then what I did, but it sounded so interesting, so I began play-testing it. My players at first kind of rejected the idea off hand, they were used to having a sense of clear direction in my games, and I was taking that net away and allowing them to fail. At the end of the night we sat around and talked about what we had done, and we were very happy with the results. I could put together an original campaign much faster and easier with this method, I didn’t have to sit at my computer for months on end writing the thing, and instead just let it flow naturally and see where it goes.

I contacted Maliszewki and told him what had happened, that the players were really excited, more excited than they had ever been! He recommended a list of old-school modules that I should play, which I hid into my current campaign. They were written in a way that amazed me, these weren’t the bossy NPC dependant stories which I was used to, I could drop them in any thing! However this briefness and lack of detail kind of spooked me, there wasn’t any direction and I’d whine to James and he’d say how that was why they were so good. Add my own details, but don’t write anything down. The result was, literally, a game changer. The old modules taught me teaching points which were never provided in modules again.

Eventually I decided to try it. A full sandbox! I used the module “Isle of Dread” which would provide a great backdrop to what we were doing at the time, which wasn’t even true fantasy D&D but a heavily modified setting set in 1890’s earth, and that module still worked! Now I stumbled and fell on my face during it, but Raggi saw where I was going wrong and made it his mission to help me fix it and get back on track.

That turned out to be the greatest, and most rewarding campaign that I had ever ran. My style is even stronger now, my players are excited to play again, and I am a total convert, all because I spoke up and said something, and because I listened. Today I am more apt to try new things, and go into different directions. I’m not a tyrant at the table . . . well, not as much of one anyway. It is funny to see an old comment that I made years ago, and smile at it because I had no idea when I made it, how different I would become because of it.

I am also a more entertaining DM now, I received the tools and the advice that I needed to really push the game into the direction in which it was intended, I can’t stress enough how important that that little comment window is to this game. It allows us to see past ourselves and what we are doing, through it we can strengthen our own games and look at others. It also allows us to help others, not just those that comment, but those who will read those comments in the years to come. Maliszewki & Raggi never once got hostile with me, they never said, “You’re doing it wrong”. They just told me what they do, and what works for them, and why they do it that way. They reinforced a method of play which allowed me to better express myself, to look at what I was doing and keep the story telling elements but keep them in check. They were the loudest voices of their time, and I miss what they had to offer. You don’t see that much in the loud talking heads of today. Today it is about shocking the reader, and berating ideas. They offer very little of anything else, which is sad.

As far as I’m concerned, the Edition Wars are over, and we all won, and the people who complained so loudly about 2e sucking weren’t really complaining about the rules, but how TSR taught us how to use them, which did suck.


Brooser Bear said...

This is an awesome post! Sounds like you had an awesome experience. I never even knew that AD&D 2nd Edition was played differently. I.e. railroading and more embedding in the story.

RipperX said...

I think that all versions of the game had their own flavor, didn't they?

Dragonlance really set the tone for 2e. Typically you could play the characters in the novels. Novels played a big part in the era, escaping the Gygaxian era of weird high fantasy to creations of fantastic, highly detailed worlds. Older DM's kept the Gygaxian flavor of their games, but those of us who learned 2e exclusively fancied ourselves and what we did as mini novels. I didn't even know who Gary Gygax was until the blogger era.

Today it is much easier to learn the history of the game, but back then all of that stuff was still hidden. Especially when you were as isolated as we were.

Brooser Bear said...

Yup, each edition had its own flavor. When I started playing D&D again as an adult, and in my college years, I read every role playing game from Traveler to Espionage! and everything in between. I decided on D&D, then I gave each version a try - White Box D&D, Basic Expert D&D, and AD&D. I decided on AD&D First Edition, because it offered the richest playing experience. BTW, I too was isolated, on the constant watch for players and time to play.

Cyric said...

I'm still a great fan of 2e because next to railroaded adventures it has a great bunch of campaign settings that really differed, an easy to modify rules set und a hell of a lot supplyments.

I agree with your post even though as a FR player the few adventures beside the Times of Troubles series where not really railroading ones but more or less just lame. Plain and simple.

Now I'm more or less the sandbox DM but not all of my players are happy with this. Because in a sandbox there allways waits an encounter your charakters may not be able to handle with swords and spells... and some players don't like this idea at all. Having to flee or wait for another day just don't seem to be some idea that fits into a world, where modern computer games scale the challange level of dungeons to the level of involved player charakters.

RipperX said...

Greetings Hauke Stammer!

Videogame logic and D&D doesn't mesh well together. I suppose that some people will try to make it work because that is there inspiration, but I think that a lot of people have come back to the table to escape that logic, and the limitations which are always present when dealing with a computer. While a computer can manage combat, that is all it can do.

In regards to players not wanting to play the game, I think that if you suddenly took it away so that they could win every encounter, they would hate it. You can't go back. I could go all montey haul on my players and most of them would correct this problem themselves by selling stuff and donating the gold to a church.

I do kind of cheat in regards to Random Encounters, my lists are more than just creature names, I also have little stories or at least provide motivations to the creatures or people on them. Truly deadly encounters are tough as I prefer the 1d6 or 1d8 method of encounter generation, I've toyed with the idea of having an additional table for deadly ones. True danger should exist in the world, that is what makes the game exciting, I just want to do it in a logical and fair way.

The Dale Wardens said...

I have to say I love-love-love your blog. All the 2nd edition goodness that it brings. I must admit I have not checked it out in a while! You took a long break. This is the first post I have read where I really feel I need to respond.

I have some contention with some of the assertions in this post.


I play 2nd edition AD&D and I have to say: I have had a completely different experience than you. I do not see where the game itself is of a scripted type lending itself to one type of play. 2nd edition for me was and is a very free flowing and open game. I have DMed 2 campaigns (1 current), I have played in a number of short campaigns (1 year or less), 3-4 long running games (1989 - 1998) and am currently playing in one that has been going on since 1997.

This playstyle/lack of flexibility/script you talk about is not inherent to 2nd edition. It's not. Perhaps it's the modules you ran? Did you only run modules? Or is it the play style your group adopted? Those have nothing to do with 2nd edition as a game... If a DM doesn't want to complicate a module by killing a certain NPC (or a player), or the let players off the railroad track, has DmPCs, then that's the DM's choice. This same argument can be said about 3e, Pathfinder, 4e. OD&D etc etc. Any game. If you have a script, and you are not deviating from it for fear of breaking it, it does not matter what system you are using.

If you are playing a Pathfinder Adventure path, and you want to buy the tavern of the murdered innkeeper, and the DM doesn't let you because it's not completely in line with the grand story of the adventure, it's not the Pathfinder rpg's fault. It's not even the module's fault. Either the players have free agency, or they are on a railroad. And the point of modules is to send you down a path. It's up to the DM what he does with that and the player interactions.

Why would the players want to play second fiddle to NPCs? If they do that's the DM's call not the system's. Ed Greenwood's PC aka Elminster does not interest me. My PCs should be the key to whatever power level the story should be about.

Did you ever play TSR's Birthright Campaign? That background has to have some of the most expansive player agency in any rpg as, in addition to all the normal things PCs can do, you are running a kingdom with provinces, that has an economy, can fight wars and trade with other lands, spread your religion or magical power, etc etc. It's a 2nd edition product. It's a sandbox.

AD&D has a lot of good stuff in it. It cleaned up a lot of stuff from earlier versions and Dragon articles. It has some nice optional rules that a group can use to develop its own playstyle. What a group and DM does with that framework is really -up to them.


It's really good to see you have found a style that suits you. You seem like you are very pleased with the path that you are on, and I am looking forward to more enthusiastic posts!

David S.
Minnesota, USA

PS: The best DM advice I have ever heard when starting a new campaign is to "Kill Elminster." Have Greyhawk City sink. Throw all the cards in the air (aka pre-conceptions) and let the players wonder what's going to happen next.

The Dale Wardens said...

Hello Ripper X!

I have a neutral to positive view on random encounters. If they have a logic to them, they can be quite interesting. Some of the can be too prolific with monster frequency, and it makes me wonder why all the villagers or travelers have not been killed.

The thing about random encounters, that can either be fun or drag on the game, is that they take some of the control from the Dm and the players. When the roll for the encounter occurs, no one knows what is going to happen next! Something unplanned... :) In that way they can make games a bit more unique.

I don't always use them, but I must say some very interesting things have happened because of random encounters.


RipperX said...

Howdy Dale Wardens! Welcome back, and thanks for responding; I can't agree with you more! As far as I'm concerned, 2e is the holy grail of Role-playing systems. With a little effort, you can do anything that you want with the game. If you want to make a modern setting, all you need to do is make the proper modifications, and off you go! I've played Old West, Sci-Fy, 1920's, and have thought about a private detective type of game set in the late 40's, early 50's, but I'll probably never do it.

As far as fantasy, the system is perfect as is. You can always port your NWP in, develop unique weapons and fighting styles, your encouraged to write up your own spells, but it also gives you enough to work with so that you don't have to do that if you don't want to.

In regards to Random Encounters, I have actually been doing a lot of thinking about these things, and in the near future I'll be posting some of my thoughts on them.

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