Thoughts about 2nd Edition Players Handbook

Product 2101, The Player’s Handbook! Again, like the DMG, it is a large book filled with so much information that it is impossible to break down into sections to really talk about the basic parts in one sitting, this blog has been doing just that for years!

Originally, Gary Gygax wanted to write this book, however that didn’t happen because of inner turmoil at the TSR office; as a result, Dave Cook took over the project and the goal was, as mentioned in earlier posts, to gather up all information into three books, which proved to be impossible. Cuts were made, some for reasons of space, some for political reasons. Mom was cool with violence, but she don’t want us looking at pictures of boobs, today TSR probably would had been charged with providing porn to minors, else the books would be kept behind the counter in paper bags, but we all know how messed up the US is in regards to bodies and that wasn’t the only thing that got cut. In 2e it encouraged players to be of Good alignments, which I feel makes the game better. Nothing sucks worse than to have players murdering shop keepers just to save a gold piece or two. I think that the alignment system itself was what saw the most improvement; one has a hard time playing a cooperative game with someone who plays Chaotic Evil. One of the dumbest 1e rules, I feel, was that rogues had to be evil alignment; thankfully they fixed that in this book.
They also made None Weapon Proficiencies more enticing, you didn’t have to use them if you didn’t want to! But, check these guys out! Yes, they were awesome. Most tables included their use right away.

I feel like I am just repeating myself, so I’ll stop! The book is made in the exact same specs of the DMG, which is tough and very usable. I have seen some of these things beat up to the point where they had to be replaced, but I have no idea how those players did that. I’ve used the same book for over 20 years and it is still glossy and beautiful.

Instead of talking about the PHB, about the changes that were made, which is information that one can find elsewhere, let’s talk about the book itself and how people have used it, or, more specifically, how they don’t use it. As a Dungeon Master, I have read this book, cover to cover, more times than I care to admit to. When I say that players weren’t allowed to read the DMG back in the day, people scoff, but here is the deal! Players don’t read the PHB either. It is a rare player who will actually go out and buy his own copy of the book, as a DM I keep several copies and I buy more as I find them. One can’t have too many copies of the PHB! The fathers of this game would not like the fact that I do this. According to them, there is a price of admission and that price is purchasing a Players Handbook! I get it, if it was a perfect world, then that is exactly what would happen! I tell my players all the time, if they see a copy cheap, pick it up! But what separates players from Dungeon Masters is the fact that to most players, the only time that they put any thought at all into the game is when they are sitting at the table and are playing.

So, you haven’t read the Players Handbook, I get it! It is full of too much information. I myself have missed stuff, even though I have read it so often; it just disappeared because I was thinking of something else when I was reading it; maybe I was pondering a rule just before it, or I was thinking about making a sandwich, who knows? One can always pick up this book and find new things. Then you have the players, the only thing that most of them have read in any detail are the tables, and only then because they are using them all the time.

Now I can say that this is a modern happening, but I would be wrong. Before playing the game, I purchased my books, and I read them! I didn’t retain much information the first read, as much of this information is best learned through practical use, but the point is that I read them. I got a quick education in the game, and learned what I can do as a player, and I was already ahead of most of the players at the table because I had sat down and read the book. Folks who had played the game for years didn’t even know that you could make bombs out of lantern oil, or that you can improve your AC by giving up an attack to parry. Obviously, the Dungeon Master Guide holds secrets, but when players don’t read the PHB, we can say that there are secrets in there too.

Is this a good thing? Well, as a DM, it kind of is. It can be said that the best way to become a great player is by trying new things, and just learning on your own. If the players read too much, then that can put our jobs as Dedicated DM in peril. We DMs would probably prefer an uneducated player over one who goes out and looks for information, that researches the web (the HORROR), that knows more about the interworking’s of the game than the DM. This is a power struggle, isn’t it? I recognize that as a player, I totally suck! I know too much about the game and how it works, and I get irritated with other DMs, and it isn’t right, and it is a personal failure, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t do it.

Does one need to read the PHB to play the game and become an expert player? No! Does it help if one reads the book? Of course it does. The book has options and tactics that can give you an edge during all levels of play, not that the DM has to use all of the rules, but it does help if the players are aware of them.

How would I rate this book? It is a perfect 10. It contains more spells than you will ever need, the art in this version is superior to the black reprinting, and I personally feel that it is easier to find what you want from memory alone, but that is just because I’ve used it for so many years. There are some facts that they got wrong, and errata that need to be hand written into it, but those things are minor in comparison. I own the last printing of 2101, and it says that it is newly revised, expanded, and updated; but I also own other printings and to be totally honest, I have never figured out if there is any difference in subsequent printings. There are many in the Black PHB, it has a totally different layout and no longer matches the index that one finds in the 2100 DMG, which is irritating. I suppose that the Black Book has superior content, but I don’t care, I always stick with this version of the book, as it is the perfect companion to my DMG.

Should all players purchase this book? In the perfect world, yes they should. It would be nice if everybody owned their own copy, but since the book is out of print, and even at one table you’ve got two different copies in use at the same time, players may not know which one to buy, or even be able to find it. DMs are bigger nerds then they are! We hunt the web looking for this stuff, and enjoy talking about it more than is probably healthy, but we are what we are and we can’t expect miracles. As long as the players show up and they are in the mindset to play, I think that we are all doing well!   


Travis Casey said...

Regarding alignment: 1e didn't require rogues to be evil. 1e PH, p 27: "All thieves are neutral or evil, although they can be neutral good (rarely), and of lawful or chaotic nature. Most thieves tend towards evil."

So, they had four non-evil alignment options, one of which was actually a good alignment.

Assassins were required to be evil, but they were completely eliminated from 2e.

RipperX said...

I understand alignment restrictions on specialized character classes, such as Paladin and Ranger, but to force those restrictions on an entire class is an unexceptionable limitation to me.

When one plays a basic class with no kits, one should have free reign over what that character is or isn't capable of, we make our own kits that are explored through play, particularly the Thief class where we can assign our skills as we see fit. If we want to play a soldier who is an archer and is good at sneaking around, this is the class to pick. To say that you have to be NG just because you want the skill set over high hit probability is no good. I have no desire to steal to make my living, and why do I have to play any character like Gygax wants? If I want to work for a king in a LG capacity, it doesn't make any sense that I can't do just that. Any rule that forces a player to play one way and one way only is a bad rule.

Unknown said...

None of my new players bothered to read the PHB I made available to them since I started DM'ing again, except one, who is a veteran and read most books back-to-back. We make characters when they are around the table, they sort of blindly roll their dices and I say what happens. We had a blast, but sometimes I'd like my players to be a bit more independent, and explore all the options available to them, because I hope it will give them a more enjoyable experience, even if it means slightly more headache for me, because they are smarter.

RipperX said...

That would drive me crazy. At our table, experienced players teach basic mechanics. I've got 3 players who have definitely read the book,but we did quit playing for many years until life settled back down. Once we hopped back on the wagon, it took some time to get those skills back. This is a hobby, and your goal is to get really really good at this. Part of your job as DM is to challenge the players themselves.

What got this started was last game, one of my newer players was flipping through the handbook, trying to help another player find a fact, when she suddenly says, "You can take cover? I've really got to read this book."

Mattia said...


I am playing 2nd edition since 1989, our group was composed of boys aged among 9 and 14. Being Italians and in absence of a local edition the translation effort was of the group. We did so many mistakes at the time,you could not believe. We we're spending entire mornings of our summers with the vocabulary in our hands. So we cut our teeth on PH and we all became advanced English speakers, such was our excitement with the game! Each one of us possessed a PH.
We played for some time 3rd edition, a year or so,but it did not feel the same. I left the hobby for almost 13 years, then we rediscovered our old books and started again. 2nd edition PH is a masterpiece, much better than 1st edition one (except for the original cover). The same cannot be said for DM guide, 1st edition one is much more informative (the gap is covered just w/the addition of other DM's handbooks ).


RipperX said...

9 to 14-year-olds, teaching themselves English by using the manual of a complicated game. That is hardcore! I simply can't imagine doing that, especially at such a young age. That is cool as hell Mattia!

Evil Genius said...

I very much enjoyed reading this article an absolutely agree that the 2ed PHB is indeed the best manual ever devised for AD&D. I always thought that 2ed AD&D was a much improved gaming system and my group quickly embraced it when it first became available.

Mattia said...


I was not completely transparent! ;)
We learned to play with the red box, that had been translated at the time. So, for us, AD&D was just D&D allowing the combination of races and classes, ThAC0 instead of table and a lot of additional spells.
And that what AD&D really is in my opinion: flexible and quick as D&D if you take just the core, with very minor enhancements that do not slow down the game play.

That was its greatness, that is why I never fell in love with 3rd and later editions.

1st edition fans state frequently the difference was the flavor and I have to admit I think that is right. Older modules are more mature and intrinsically provide more freedom to the players.

We both know 2nd edition expanded rules leveled any gap (half-orc, monk and assassin were back in different form and concepts) and that is why Cook’s edition is still my preferred.

Also, I think, after so many years playing a game, I am not interested anymore in reading rules and system (do I really care what are the powers of cavalier in new 5th edition? No, not really), I am interested in stories. That is why I have not bought 5th edition core books, but I own all their adventure tomes (which in my honest opinion are not playable unless you do not have other interests in life). Still are gorgeous books, and I like to see them on my shelters.

Said that…I am sorry you cannot read Italian. I made a few changes to 2nd edition that I would like to share to somebody who likes the edition so much.
Let me know, in case I can make a little effort and share those options with you.


RipperX said...

Mattia, I have checked out your blog using a translator, once I get some more time, I'll really go through it. Looks like you've got some interesting stuff in there!

Unknown said...

My new players (mostly girls) weren't really interested in the mechanics, but greatly enjoyed the story and the roles they played. They talked "in-character" from almost min 1, which surprised me a lot, but it created such a fun atmosphere, but when it came to combat, me and another guy, just dictated what they should roll and we called what happened. It's both good and bad, because they don't know what they can do, but they also don't know what they "can't do" so they are sort of also experimental. Besides, it was their first game, and wasn't sure what they were getting into. They voiced intrest in learning how they actually hit stuff and why stuff happened the way they did, so hopefully they will be more involved by next session.

Mattia said...

Hello again,

I think you probably looked at, however I was referencing to the blog that, with my players, is used to track the progresses of the campaign. This is, there is menu called "Regole della casa", which means houserule; here you find a couple of new (old?) classes: a revised Monk similar to 1st edition and the Sorcerer stolen from the 3rd edition (a kind of restricted image specialist ). You can find also weapons damage revised by class (kind of dungeon world here), new way of dual class, a weapon style for pole arms, and the house rule I like the most and is working well with the current party: ascending hit points.

Mattia said...

Hey Martin,

There were a few girls in my previous party too, and, I agree, they we're not really interested in mechanics or powers, let say. Combat especially was at minimum level, they we're always trying to interact and mediate.
In some way I think new by women are the best players you might have, taking the game to it's roots where the DM was doing almost everything (throws, etc.)
I recall an episode of "Community " tv show where the group plays D&D to help a father and son to interact by means of the game. The DM of the episode does everything for the players they do not have even the character sheet. That is the spell of RPG, a game you can play with no knowledge of rules.

RipperX said...

RE: Evil Genius

Thanks for the encouragement! I've looked at other systems, but have come to the conclusion that all I really want to do is play. I think that 2e is the closest that you can possibly get to perfect, in the sense that one can use it to play multiple genres, and modify what needs to be modified without much harm trickling down.

RipperX said...

RE: Mattia

Okay, I got it bookmarked! I love hearing how other people play the game. I don't get out to conventions, so the internet is my only way of seeing others.

RipperX said...

Woman in gaming. That is a topic that I have plans on writing a post about! I have three female players who started playing the game at our table, and still play regularly. Again, they got help from other players until they didn't need it anymore. There is a lot of misconceptions about women in our hobby, and they have a lot of unfair, and uncool situations happen to them that nobody should have to deal with.

Post a Comment


Contact me at

Search This Blog

Blog Archive