Sunday, June 7, 2009

2nd Edition AD&D...How I Loathe Thee

Let me count the, I'd be here all day.

Actually, I'm feeling pretty generous right now as I sit eating a french toast doughnut from Mighty-O and enjoying my morning coffee.  But charitable or not, I wanted to veer off the Blackrazor love-fest and get this subject out of the way.

I had a regular gaming group right up until 1987 or so.  We played mainly AD&D, though we would venture into other games from time-to-time (Marvel, ElfQuest, Twilight2000, James Bond...a pretty mixed bag when I think about it).  However, this core group split up just prior to high school, and my gaming has been varied, eclectic, and sporadic ever since.  And the vast majority of that gaming has NOT been D&D.

Fact is, I haven't had or run a long-term "campaign" anywhere near my old D&D games.  Sure I had a Vampire saga that lasted a couple years, but it limped along for most of its life, providing nowhere near the drama and engagement of my old D&D buddies.  Ahh, such is life.

The upside to this is that I got out of D&D just prior to the 2nd edition of AD&D being put out by TSR.  

Wow, 2nd edition.  Because I stopped playing D&D for the most part, I never invested in these game books at the time they were released. Later on (post college, circa 1997) I had the urge and opportunity to run some D&D games, but the players available were playing 2E, and so I purchased the books from a used book store. Yow.

I collect RPGs; its just something I do, much to my wife's chagrin. I own dozens (nay, scores!) of games, some of which I have never played.  I enjoy the creativity that goes into writing them, I enjoy the care and attention of the authors, I enjoy the art...heck, most are fun to read and can show you different perspectives of the gaming hobby.  Very few of the games have I gotten rid of over the years (though some have been loaned out and permanently lost).

2nd edition D&D is one that I sold back to the used game store.  

Look, I'm not a total grognard.  I enjoyed the Dragon Lance novels when they came out, and they certainly informed some aspects of our gaming to the better; certainly we used the extensive maps from the DL modules as designs for our own strongholds (High Clerist's Tower, I'm looking at you!).  In a long term game, the player characters do have the opportunity to rise out of the "grittiness" and become truly heroic.  I wish more of my players had enjoyed affectations like winged helmets (that's a subject for another post).  But 2E, while pushing story, really shot itself in the foot in my opinion.

I guess the main thing I disliked was the simple removal of the grittier elements from AD&D.  Folks know what I'm talking about here: assassins, half-orcs, demons, and devils.  In my opinion, removing these things was the equivalent of turning the game into a Saturday morning cartoon, of the kind acceptable to the Christian know: He-Man (where folks carry swords they never stab people with).  Grittiness provides conflict and drama...or at least a particular type of conflict and drama that I enjoy, to balance against the "high adventure" stuff.  What? A man can't love him an orc wench?

The second thing and larger reason for chucking it though was the incoherence of game design...and here I'm talking about the reward mechanism (i.e. the experience point rewards).  In a nutshell, reward systems encourage player behavior.  The different methods of awarding experience encouraged different behaviors dependent on class.  This is fine with those rewards can still be met in the principal game setting (for a good example, see Top Secret, pre-SI).  

But if the name of the game is (literally) Dungeons and Dragons, the experience awards for certain classes (namely clerics and magic-users) are vastly inferior to the reward system of the other classes (fighters and rogues) least if you come from a traditional background of D&D gaming that involves dungeon delving.  If you want to run a game of proselytizing priests...well, then you should probably be playing a different game (like GURPS Inquisition or something).

There were certainly other issues...the original 2E "monster manual" was a binder of loose pages that I thought was miserable (fortunately, I had waited long enough that I could purchase the one book MM later printed).  Old systems that I had used in the past had been removed or re-worked.  Like others, I felt the blue ink was an eyesore.  I believe they removed psionics, which I had often employed with good results.

But the deal breaker, on top of everything else, was the total nerfing of the Bard class.  I loved the bard, I still love the bard, when I wasn't the DM, my main character was a bard.  And the new bard was crap, crap, crap.  This deserves its own post. I realize I said that I was feeling charitable.  And even though my doughnut is now gone, I AM still feeling charitable.  There were a couple bright spots that came out of 2E...things that I miss even now from old school games and new school games.

The first is a module: Return to White Plume Mountain.  I felt it was brilliant and a worthy successor to the original.  I still own it, even after selling back my other 2E books. It will get its own post on this blog (in case you hadn't guessed).

The second is a monster: the Mummy Lord.  I love, love, love this monster. I feel the 2E MM handled it exactly right, artwork and all.  I almost saved my 2E MM, but I realized (rightly) that keeping a hardcover book for a single monster was a waste of shelf space. Yes, I know there is a Mummy Lord monster available on the SRD.   I haven't yet posted why I loathe 3E+ but a large part of that has to do with STAT BLOCKS.  Suffice is to say, the SRD version doesn't quite measure up (in my mind) to the original version from 2E.

An honorable mention goes out to the Players Options book which provided some rather interesting options (I had a player that had a Githzerai fighter-wizard!), and some excellent artwork (the ork with the axe and blade, the hobgoblin with the falchion were both quite inspiring).  However, this one I had no difficulty letting go.

By the way, lest anyone is wondering, I did in fact play 2nd edition AD&D on at least three occasions.  Once as a player (I ran a fighter), once as a DM (with a self-created adventure), and once just running a solo game for myself through Return to White Plume Mountain to see "how it played."  I know I started at least one or two more campaigns that never quite got off the ground (characters were created, but I don't remember any game play).