Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Keeping the Flame Alive

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving holiday...well, for the readers who happen to celebrate that one. Other than being sick the last week or so (been passing the holiday colds around Ye Old Family Unit this month), mine was pretty good. Not spectacular perhaps...but does it have to be? Food on one's plate, family in attendance, a minimal amount of bickering. Definitely satisfactory. Everyone should be so fortunate.

Not a lot of time to write at the moment (what else is new), but wanted to say a few words. It was my birthday this month (turned 44 this year, though I daresay I look younger, despite the hairline) and in a fit of self-indulgence I picked up a few things from my favorite game shop. A handful of books, including a full set of 2nd Edition AD&D (PHB, DMG, Monstrous Compendium...plus a couple of the 2.5 "Options" books). I've been thinking of these ones over the last year or so (I have owned them in the past), and when I saw they were available in the "used" section, I decided to splurge. More for research than nostalgia.

[though I have been feeling nostalgic lately...my birthday hit me kind of hard this year. And I had a whole "nostalgia post" teed up on the blog before I decided to have mercy on you all and the pull the plug on the thing. It was even more self-indulgent than usual]

It's been a while since I've read 2E, and while they do have some good stuff going for them (including what must be the best interior artwork of any edition...really, the overall quality of their color plates are excellent), my opinion of this particular edition has dropped even lower since reacquiring the books. I mean, for all the stuff they "clean up" they are fairly terrible at explaining how to play the f'ing game. Remember my series of posts comparing the 1st edition DMG with the 5th? Maybe not...I mean, it was two years ago.

[see here, here, here, here, and here if you're interested]

Well, 2E provides absolutely NO information on how to craft a campaign, or an adventure, or how to run a game. It's PHB provides rules (and spells) while the DMG provides supplemental rules (and magic items). But if you wanted to learn Dungeons & Dragons with only the 2nd Edition books for reference? You'd be shit out of luck. They basically tell you to find an existing group or look for a copy of the basic set (I suppose this would have been Mentzer's red box at the time). Hell, while the term "campaign" is used a couple-four times in the text, it doesn't even appear in the glossary. Like, WTF, dudes?

And yet I have it on good authority from an industry insider that 2nd edition remains one of the most popular versions of the game still selling (when it comes to "obsolete editions") right up there with 1st edition. Not because of the system, mind you, nor even nostalgia, but because of the plethora of settings that TSR published to go with 2E: Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Spelljammer, Planescape, Birthright, Al-Qadim, Kara-Tur, Ravenloft, etc. Even Dragonlance (first created during the era of 1st edition) had substantial setting material released with 2nd edition. For folks who enjoy these settings and who possess neither the time nor inclination to do straight conversions, 2E is the system of choice.

Mm. Sad.

I've been thinking a lot about 1st edition AD&D lately (I told you, I've been feeling nostalgic), the version I used for most of my "formative gaming years." There's a lot of cool stuff in it, especially the asymmetry of the thing. I find it's lack of balance so charming...kind of like the unfairness of life.

Mm. That's pretty sad, too.

Anyway, I was having breakfast by myself the other day at a local hipster hangout (in the Ballard neighborhood, which is plenty hipster by itself), reading through my newly acquired 2E books. The waitress...an amiable young woman in her (early) 20s asked me, politely, what I was reading. When I explained ("Dungeons & Dragons") she wanted to have a whole conversation about the game and how she wanted to learn how to play, how she had always been interested in the game, but how watching the Netflix show Stranger Things made her even more curious. Wanted to know if the game was accurately depicted in the series (as to how the game was "back in the day").

[I haven't bothered writing anything about Stranger Things on the blog as I figure any reader of mine who has access to the show will have already devoured it. Definitely my favorite Netflix offering, and I'm a fan of a LOT of their original programs]

So I gave her the discussion she was interested in and provided her with a list of games to check out and where to acquire them, including B/X and its various retroclones. I figured it was the least I could do. You know: just "keeping the flame alive." Giving the newbies the insight into the most accessible editions of the game.

Which is important. At least to me. Still. One of these days I'm going to get back into gaming and I'd like to see the ball is still rolling out there.

EDIT: Probably should have written "dice are still rolling," right?
; )


  1. Damn, I love Ballard. I spent a month there, about two blocks from where the Ballard Coffee Works is now. There used to be this great independent burger place on Leary Ave, but I can't remember the name and it's probably gone.

    I love Seattle.

    I continue to argue, with meetings like you had with an ordinary waitress, that D&D is far from "declining." Far, far from it.

  2. I love it, too, and indeed consider myself fortunate to live in such a lovely city (my own home is in the Greenwood neighborhood, just north of Ballard).

    You’re right, Alexis: the game isn’t in decline, not in the sense of fading away or something. To me, it feels like we’re in a bit of a pupa stage...similar to where the game was in the mid-late ‘90s. Just getting ready to start the next cycle (whatever form that takes).

  3. As much as I enjoy 2e, you're absolutely right about the lack of guidance on how to run a campaign within the core books. If I hadn't had prior experience with the Pathfinder Beginner Box (as well as the benefit of dozens of YouTube videos, even back then), I would have had no chance at figuring it out... and I had to apply a lot of lessons from B/X along the way.

    I think the idea was to sell more copies of the introductory sets specifically tailored to 2e. Possibly handy from a marketing perspective, but terrible from the perspective of the people who actually want to run the game from zero.

  4. I remember loving 2e, but then I was about 12. You're right about it being useless as an intro to roleplaying. What I did like was that it promised the possibility of making the game your own in a way that 1e didn't. Mages could belong to different specialisms, clerics - sorry, priests - had different spell sets depending on the kind of god they worshipped. I never had any of the 'Complete X' books, but I loved the idea of being able to tweak a particular class to fit a given setting. I found 2e a bit of an antidote to Unearthed Arcana (my least favourite 1e book) with its increased complexity and creeping setting assumptions (all Paladins are Cavaliers? Ugh!).

  5. JB, I'm reading your back-posts now and commenting on old material. That's probably bad form. If so, sorry. I’m doing it anyway though.

    Add my voice to the couple of others supporting 2e. For my group, this was hardly any change from 1e, but as a DM I got a toolkit that opened up game, or at least my eyes. It was great for me, the experienced DM; maybe not so much for someone trying to learn the game. I never saw this as a different game from AD&D. Sure a couple of the rules changed materially, but all of that stuff is up to the DM anyway, and a lot of it had already come in via Dragon magazine. Like never before, I realized just how much was open to my tailoring. It’s unfortunate that the closed narrative style of play was becoming more the mode of play at about the same time this edition was released and that the rules catered perhaps more than they should have to that camp. On the other hand, it’s a big tent and lots of different styles of play can be supported well.

    1. @ Sterling:

      I certainly don't mind comments on old posts of mine, though with close to 2000 posts on Ye Old Blog, you've got your work cut out for you!

      [I was much more prolific back in the days before my children were born...though that doesn't mean it was all incredibly substantive]

      I will say that many of my views have changed/evolved over the years I've been doing this, even some of my more...*ahem*..."passionate" posts ("rants," I suppose). Just in case you're reading something from 2009 or 2010 that you find especially disagreeable.

      Anyway: you were probably square in the middle of 2E's target demographic. Versed well enough in the game that you weren't saying "huh?" but young enough that 1E hadn't grown on you to the point that you found 2E distasteful. I would have probably been in the same boat if my gaming group had started a couple years later (with Mentzer's version of Basic instead of Moldvay, and Dragonlance in full swing). Probably. But who really knows?