AD&D 2nd Edition – System Mastery 75

Advanced_Dungeons_and_Dragons_2nd_Edition_Player's_Handbook

It’s our three year anniversary here at System Mastery!  Jon and Jef entered the bonds of holy podcastimony in August of 2013 and it’s been wonderful ever since, except for those times we’ve cheated with One Shot.  As per tradition, every 25 episodes it’s D&D time, and episode 75 is no exception as we take a long hard look at the classic 2nd edition of AD&D.  You know the one, it’s got all that bad blue art of nothing in particular and that weird picture of a giant fat guy looking at a tiny lady in his palm?  That one!  Enjoy!

24 responses to “AD&D 2nd Edition – System Mastery 75

  1. This is a great antidote to The Spoony Experiment’s D&D 5e review, which is full of that groggy tone you guys point out. Noah Antwiler spends much of the review comparing 5e unfavorably with 2nd edition AD&D, and he starts out by accusing the current generation of gamers of being “coddled” by modern RPGs. He talks about how point buy character creation has been detrimental to the hobby, which is odd considering that 5e’s default method is rolling for stats (and if I’m not mistaken, his favorite RPG Pathfinder uses point buy). At one point, he goes so far as to hold up the AD&D PHB and say in a condescending taking-to-an-upset-child voice, “Is this game too hard? Do you think it’s unfair? You didn’t like that?” He then holds up the 5e PHB and says, “Do you wanna play an easier game?”

    So, yeah, there’s a good example of how that grognard tone really infected the hobby thanks to this book.

    One of my least favorite things about 2nd edition AD&D is a complaint I’d level at any pre-3rd edition version, descending armor class. Descending armor class is balls. It’s an archaic relic of its wargaming roots that should have been dropped as soon as TSR decided to turn it into a standalone product that didn’t require the combat rules from a tabletop miniatures game. It annoys me that a lot of OSR games stick with descending armor class, and I can’t imagine there’s any other reason for it besides, “Because that’s the way what I learnt it!”

    • The main justification I heard for why it carried over to AD&D 1e was because Gygax preferred functional rules now over perfect rules in a year. (I’m guessing because of how competitive the small wargame publisher market was.)

      The only reason I could see carrying it over to 2e was for backwards compatibility, but you can provide a table for adapting old material in the DMG, couldn’t they have?

    • Noah Antwiler is a creep who sends rape threats to women over the Internet, so I’m not sure why we’d consult his opinion on *anything.*

      • I wasn’t aware of that, but a quick Google search shows that he is definitely a man with lots of problems! Jeez!

        I became aware of his 5e review because a friend of mine is a fan of The Nostalgia Critic—for some godforsaken reason—and found the links for his Dr. Insano reviews through Channel Awesome. He then started watching the Counter Monkey stuff, and he sent me the link to the 5e videos as a, “What do you think of this?” (My reaction: “It’s a lot of knee-jerk, uninformed bullshit.”

        But yeah, I see that he apparently went off the deep end after a breakup and revealed himself to be a pretty huge creepy asshole.

      • “Noah Antwiler is a creep who sends rape threats to women over the Internet, so I’m not sure why we’d consult his opinion on *anything.*”

        You mean he made a singular rape joke four years ago? That invalidates his opinions on everything? Hopefully you’re judging yourself as quickly and harshly as others.

      • That’s the kind of assertion that needs proof to back it up, otherwise you’re treading in libel territory.

      • What the damn hell why are people arguing about libel regarding some presumably youtube jackass I’ve never even heard of on my ding-dang website. I proclaim this whole thing over. Instead someone get mad at us, k? Presumably we said something in that one to anger one of our various casually racist or fully woke listeners?

      • For instance someone could tell me what fully woke means, I think it’s the written equivalent of a fedora with a leaf village headband on it, right?

  2. “Don’t worry, you’ll get your talking points out of us.”

    Hell yeah. What, did anyone expect the rest of us to actually read all these crap games?

  3. The reason why Skills & Powers is so reviled among 2E purists is that it shifts the focus of the game from the game itself onto the point-buy build-a-class system. The basic game lets you pick a race and a class, but they’re both gated behind random stat requirements, so building your character isn’t really part of the game.

    Skills & Powers lets you trade class and race abilities in and out in order to min-max, and both of you are extremely aware of how easy it is to min-max in a point-buy system. It appeals to the kind of player who wants to build a powerful character, and it was more-or-less a market test for the feat system in 3E, in much the same way that the Book of Nine Swords was a market test for martial maneuvers prior to 4E. (And the 3.x purists hate Bo9S exactly as much as the 2E purists hate Skills & Powers.)

  4. The deal with the restrictive rules that they didn’t expect anyone to follow is that it reduced cheating to an acceptable level. It’s like Barney Fife said – “Give them 40, and they’ll take 45; give them 45, and they’ll take 50.”

    The game works way better with above-average stats than with 3d6 down-the-line, but by claiming 3d6 down-the-line as the base, it meant people would cheat to get above-average, but if they cheated to get amazing stats then someone would call them on it. Or the DM could be nice, and tell you to roll with a better method, and it would still give you reasonable-but-not-crazy stats. They want you to have 45, so they give you 40, because if they gave you 45 then you’d take 50.

    For evidence of how that goes wrong, look at 3E with its 4d6-drop-lowest as base, and how quickly that turned into every spellcaster starting with an 18+ in their casting stat. It wasn’t the biggest problem with casters in 3E, but given how everything grew exponentially with casting stat, it was definitely a contributing factor.

    • Was cheating more prevalent in those days, or were its effects just more broad-ranging? Nowadays a lot of systems will suggest point-buy as a first option or at least a very close second, so it’s very easy to police obvious cheating on a character sheet. (That and calling out cheating when it happens.) But then again one of the original intended methods of playing D&D was to bring your character along to whatever was being run at the time, so if GM A hadn’t spoken to GM B then you could totally claim that GM A had given you a +5 sword or something similarly bonkers.

  5. Is it a bad thing I want you to look for the little brown booklet 1974 edition of D&D?

    I’m sure you could rip it apart just for the sheer lack of rules. (combat doesn’t even give you initiative, and everything is just 1d6 damage. And stats don’t really do anything beyond a boost of experience points)

    • I think the sheer befuddlement they would experience at the hands of the little brown books would be a delight to listen to! Seriously, those things are a damned mess. I don’t know how anyone learned to play D&D back then without being taught by someone who already knew how.

      • Part of the problem is that Gygax assumed you already knew how to play wargames, meaning your Referee would just take the rules they already liked and could apply them on top of what was in the LBBs. And that your referee was capable of making shit up on the fly, because actually making grappling rules that covered every situation just creates a mess.

        As long as you take the time to read between the lines, you could actually learn some of the rules (though you’ll still have to make rulings on the fly). For example, weapon damage actually wasn’t explicitly printed until a year after release, so you had to infer how much damage a hit does from the monster descriptions; they mention doing multiple dice of damage or dice +1 one, and he’d helpfully point out how much damage the modified range became. He’d write something like “This adds +1 to their damage (2-7 points of damage,)” and that would tell you, “oh, damage is usually 1-6, or a d6”.

  6. Great review! Made me all nostalgic.

    First thing that came to mind is how much I miss the “high-level fighters get a castle and a personal army” rules. It wouldn’t be perfect, but something like that would really help make fighters cooler in 5e. Along with weapon specialization.

    Will you be reviewing a D&D movie for Movie Mastery like last time, maybe the Dragonlance cartoon movie?

  7. Those books of magic items you mentioned were largely created by somebody basically going through the entire decade or so worth of Dragon Magazine articles and collecting every new magic item in them. I don’t know if it was laziness or a deliberate editorial decision to include the April Fools issue article, but that’s what happened…

    The most shennanigans thing I remember for 2nd edition was darts. In late 1st edition, Unearthed Arcana days when anyone could take weapon specialization, a magic-user could pick darts and, because nobody did the math properly, wind up doing more combat damage than a sword-swinging fighter. The dart wizard is probably the reason that specialization was restricted to fighters, but at it happens the dart fighter in 2nd edition was by far the best option at least until you start running into monsters that can only be hurt by magic weapons…

  8. 2nd edition, my favourite except perhaps Mentzer’s BECMI line. Ok, first off, errors:
    Thieves started with +60% split amongst their 8 abilities and get +30% per level to split. This means when the wizard hits level 3, the thief was level 4 and could be 80-85% success rate at both hiding in shadows and moving silently. This was a massive improvement over BECMI or 1st edition thieves who did just follow a chart. Thieves are still bad though.
    Bards only started with +20% and got only +15% per level. They didn’t get open locks, find/remove traps, or either stealth option, so they got none of the best thief abilities. I still liked them.
    The odds of rolling a paladin (the most difficult) by 3d6 is 0.1% they lowered the stat requirement from 1st edition, but 1st wanted you to roll 4d6 drop lowest.
    Multiclassing splitting only cost you about 1 level. since most levels are just double the previous level, having half the xp in each class just costs you 1 level in each class, making a lvl 6 cleric, a multiclassed lvl 5 cleric lvl 4-5 fighter.
    And other edition errors: 1st edition AD&D also suggested mostly ignoring spell components in the DMG. 3rd edition bards were bad compared to 9lvl casters, but were still either 6lvl casters with a ton of skills, or talented skill monkeys with 6lvl spells, and in either case they also get a bunch of bonus crap. This made them still much better than non-casters or 4lvl casters, but they were easy to play horribly (by focusing on the song and ignoring your spells and skills and splitting yourself super thin trying to be everything).

    That was basically it, good job. Now for something else:
    You said in another afterthought or comment that you don’t understand why everyone says 2nd edition is the immersion/setting/narrativist setting. Here is why:
    First off, the edition was designed by David “Zeb” Cook. He was well known for designing the first expert set, which both established a setting for the BD&D line and taught how to make your own setting. He then went on to make the Oriental Adventures campaign (and thus also the Kara-tur setting) for 1st edition AD&D, thus being the first non standard fantasy setting for D&D, and he would later design Planescape after the Spelljammer line ended (and Spelljammer was the first setting designed for 2nd edition, releasing in 1989, the same year 2nd edition released). So as you can see, the designer was very invested in world building and integration being a core part of the D&D experience. As such he designed 2nd edition with a lot of the same assumptions he was using in his own play. How this was implemented was…
    Optional Rules: In the rulebook, the way you roll up your character is optional, the races are optional, the classes outside of the core 4 are optional, multiclassing is optional, proficiencies are optional, equipment availability is optional, spell components are optional, experience rewards are optional, weapon type mods are optional, initiative styles are optional, parrying is optional, healing methods are optional, movement options. This wasn’t just some non committal statement, but rather a way to allow the rules to fit to any setting rather than trying to fit a setting onto one set of rules (the way the d20 system attempted). As such they were independent systems that could be changed so that when the DM built the world, if he wanted a slow gritty dark game, he could strip paladins and higher stat options and high movement options out of the game and know that the rules outright said it was ok. If you wanted to run a teamwork focused game, take out the hybrids and use group initiative. Most of this is unnecessary, but he seems to have decided that if it wasn’t core, it should be optional just in case. [side note, I want to give the PHB a pass on some of the combatitive tone on justifying the unpopular player limiting options as letting the book take some of the flak for the decision, but I can’t be sure this is why]

    the DMG: the 2nd edition DMG is often criticized as a book of advice for world building and campaign management with little to no guidance on how to DM, or tools for how to create a dungeon or run adventures in a dungeon or situational events that might come up. It was wall to wall building a world and managing the larger campaign, and often did not give hard yes’s or no’s, and instead just discussed what the pros and cons of each type of decision. Bad for gameplay but good for world building.

    Monstrous Compendiums: 2nd edition had their easy to lose but expandable binders. not only so that you didn’t need to carry a full book around, but also so it could be more readily expanded with setting specific monsters.

    Non-Core support: 2nd edition released setting book after setting book, each giving you new tools to play. Modules are almost all designed to fit into one setting that they gave instead of being a stand alone dungeon you can just toss in anywhere. The player option guides introduced kits which modified the classes to fit new archetypes, with a very large number being new cultural archetypes. Campaign books added a ton of new cultural specific kits or suggested kits from the other books.

    Priests: 2nd edition expected that DM’s would design their own pantheon of gods to fit in with the vast complex world they created. So the domains were added so that a priest of one god could have different spells than priests of other gods, and if you read, the druid was supposed to be just an example of a specialty priest with DM’s doing the work to make each priest fit a world view. This is also why the Druid segment has so much focus on the domains each druid controls on a world map. [note, I think Zeb just slapped together the alignment section because he figured moral relativists and cultural assimilation were going to take place far more than actually happens. But I have never actually asked him]

    Keeping level caps: having 300 year old elves that are low level wizards make no sense. level caps keep your long lived races from stomping everything in the meta-world while still making sense on the individual level.

    Now the rules in no way enforced this style of play, it but the game certainly supported it the most, though they could have benefited from a section on the assumptions of the new game so that this could be better communicated. And also a segment on how to avoid just making a world that is interesting to play in vs read about since most DMs make a campaign world and write a history before giving up on world building when no one reads it.

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