It's been a long time coming, but tonight [in October 2004] I found the missing 2nd ed. AD&D editorial I had written for TitanGaming.com. For anyone who might still be perusing this site, enjoy...
AD&D, 2nd Edition
by Scott Casper
So, where was I? Last time, I tried to make the case that AD&D, 1st ed., was a great game system. So why replace it with 2nd ed.?
Dragon magazine was full of promotional pieces for 2nd ed. back in the mid-80’s (though nothing compared to the hype machine for 3E!). I won’t try to summarize them all here (I seldom re-read the Dragons from the late ‘80s anyway and have most of them boxed up), but will instead try to summarize the most significant changes that were made to the rules.
Some changes were only cosmetic, such as interior color art and name changes. It is worth mentioning first that the cosmetic changes made to 2nd ed. turned out to be the most controversial changes. Although all the OD&D and AD&D 1st ed. books were black and white, no one cared at the time (indeed, some people used their Monster Manuals as coloring books!). When 2nd ed. AD&D was released partially in color, buyers balked that they only went halfway! Name changes made in 2nd ed. seemed at best arbitrary and at worst embarrassingly lame. The change from clerics to priests may have seemed arbitrary at the time, but was actually symptomatic of something slightly more sinister. It is no secret in the industry that post-Gygax TSR had a condescending attitude towards its customer base (you know, like Marvel Comics today) and wrote down to a lower grade level than TSR had previously done. Granted, TSR was looking to attract fresh blood to the gaming market, but few would agree that clerics should become priests just because cleric isn’t a word in common usage. Worse still was what happened to demons and devils. It was also no secret that the presence of demons and devils in the Monster Manual was ammo for the game’s (mostly religious) detractors. Changing the names to baatezu and tanari was a shallow attempt to dodge the issue, which backfired and raised the ire of many fans (TSR had actually become quite good at dodging issues; many fans were aghast when one of Dragon’s previous editors told us at a GENCON seminar that TSR actually had a policy of never mentioning suicide in their products because of D&D’s past -- and false -- association with suicides).
Some changes were good ones. Gone was the exclusiveness of the Illusionist sub-class -- now every "school" of magic had its own specialists. Despite exacerbating some old problems (Can an illusionist cast spells from a diviner’s scroll? Can a necromancer train a transmuter?), the new specialty magic-users opened many new options for players. Likewise, the notion of specialty priests (tailored to individual deities) may have been 2nd ed.’s most-needed, and best-loved, innovation. The Cleric class had come a long way from the thinly-veiled Christianity of earlier editions, and could now accomodate any fantasy religion.
AD&D 2nd ed. displayed a shift, not only towards younger gamers and more options, but towards favoring the players over the Dungeon Master as well. The THAC0 game mechanic (a number needed to hit AC 0) was not new to AD&D 2nd ed., but had been floating around unofficially in Dragon magazine for several years. Yes, it helped simplify combat in that the DM no longer had to look up the "to hit" number off a chart, but adjudiating combat was always part of the DM’s job. Now, players told the DM whether or not they hit their opponent, instead of the other way around. Likewise, saving throws went from being covered in the 1st ed. Dungeon Masters Guide to being covered in the 2nd ed. Players Handbook. The power to decide if a PC survived a poisonous bite had shifted to the player. And these are only examples from the rulebooks. They were followed by endless supplements called Complete Guide to Fighters, Complete Guide to Elves, ad infinitim. Then came more hardcovers called the Players Options series. If a Dungeon Masters Options was ever in the planning stages, the notes must have become lost.
It must be pretty clear by now what I think of 2nd ed. AD&D as a game system -- and I’ll freely admit that some of that is biased by disappointment with the company that produced it at that time. Back then, when my friends were jumping on the 2nd ed. bandwagon and starting up campaigns using the new rules, I clung all the more tightly to good ol’ 1st ed. AD&D. So, when I try to think of something nice to say about 2nd ed. AD&D, it’s how it turned me into an even more devout 1st ed. fan.