Thursday, 10 January 2019

2nd Edition: The Friendship Edition

The 2nd edition of AD&D is almost universally disliked. It is too bowdlerized for those on one side ("old schoolers"), and too complex and cobbled-together for those on the other ("Pathfinders"). It is also probably the least distinctive of D&D's editions; whether you love or hate 3rd edition, 4th edition, 5th edition, or indeed 1st edition, I don't think you can argue that they don't each have a certain character all of their own. 2nd edition does too, but its character is best summarised as: bland, 1980s high fantasy Tolkien-derivative kitsch. It is basically The Sword of Shannara: The Role-Playing Game.

All that said, I have a big soft spot for 2nd edition and its aesthetic. One of the strongest themes running through that era of D&D - it is all over the art, the fiction, the way the rules are presented - is friendship. 1st edition AD&D PCs are rogues and ruffians who are thrown together through pure self-interest. 2nd edition AD&D PCs, on the other hand, are buddies. They get along well together. They are Tanis and Flint - Legolas and Gimli. They have each other's backs. They make jokes about each other. This is what 2nd edition AD&D PCs look like:


The utter ludicrousness of this painting (who are they supposed to be posing for? Are there cameras in Faerun now - or are they standing for a painter with an easel?) shouldn't detract from its charm. This is a group of people saying yes, we are not alike, but we are comrades and friends who achieved something together. We are more than the sum of our parts.

It is a short step from there, of course, to PCs having plot immunity and fudging dice rolls to keep them alive, and so one should certainly tread with caution, but I think the central message is an interesting one. It is not just making the superficial point: people of different races and backgrounds can get along. When one thinks of what is undoubtedly the beating heart of 2nd edition, the Dragonlance novels- if you'll forgive me for bringing up that topic - it is actually saying something a bit deeper: people who have fundamentally different views (Raistlin, Flint, Tas, Sturm) can also get along. Friendship and loyalty to the group trump personal differences of opinion. There are bonds of comradeship which are stronger than arguments about points of principle. (The entire thrust of Planescape seems to be a statement of this position writ large.) I am sympathetic to that idea, and I think it is what genuine community (more about that in a future post, maybe) is all about. It is a good tenor to adopt, I think, with the kind of audience 2nd edition was aimed at - i.e. older children and adolescents.

24 comments:

  1. That’s a very good thesis. Thank you for talking about it. It’s so hard these days because there are certain topics that are just off limits. It prevents people from really getting to know each other. I can’t inagine being a cop with a new partner these days.

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    1. It seems over in the US you've taken that problem to another level.

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    2. The last election drove about 20% of us completely insane, and that is inclusive of the entire media. Most folks are fine but there’s an edge underlying public discourse.

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  2. Thank you for that post. I've never understood why I keep being so enamored with 2nd edition, but now that I've read your article it suddenly makes perfect sense, even with your mocking remark about 2E being "Tolkien-derivative kitsch". if I think about it, "Friendship and the loyalty of the group" is the main reason I love LotR so much. And yes, it might also be the reason why I like Shannara, the Rob Salvatore books, the Wheel of Time novels and so on, even when everyone else is talking those things down pretty much all the time. And as you pointed out, 2nd edition fits very well into my preferences.

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    1. These days, fantasy books in which the main characters are friends and loyal to each other are almost counter-cultural.

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  3. That is my favorite piece of RPG art of all time.

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  4. Two words that make 2nd edition awesome: Dark Sun.

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  5. D&D with love, loyalty, tolerance, and cooperation? Now you have my attention.

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    1. Cf Against The Wicked City - "this is a game about love"

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  6. You could argue that the design goals, of keeping the same basic game as AD&D while changing mostly in the direction of character customization, are part of the same parcel -- don't shake things up too much for the older players while making things more attractive for people who know other RPGs.

    And let it not be forgot that backlash from the Satanic Panic, most obviously seen in the reskinning of demons and devils, probably contributed to the friendlier face of 2e.

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  7. It is a perfectly fine D&D edition... until you figure out the previous ones were much better, and you have been cheated. (Which was my experience.) It is the support that stinks. I don't claim this as a matter of aesthetics, even if I like the old stuff much better, warts and all. High Fantasy Trilogies were popular, and Dragonlance and FR junk sold like hotcakes. TSR was just following the money, which it had the right to.

    But they did terrible things with the generic AD&D line, the meat and potatoes of D&D. The early 1990s AD&D modules are not simply a poor man's version of the TSR classics - that could be forgiven. They are actively bad for a campaign in a way even weaker post-2000 old-school modules aren't. The GA (General Adventures) line is an atrocity; the example adventure in the GM's screen is a railroaded, stupid mess; the intro adventure in the Forgotten Realms set is downright insulting. And if you read ten issues' worth of Bryce's Dungeon magazine reviews (the man suffered for all of us), you will see they mostly encouraged bad practice among their freelancers, too. Everywhere you reach, you are bound to reach into crap.

    That's the main problem with 2nd edition, not the lack of grime. It plays like dogshit and actively gives you advice which is likewise dogshit.

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    1. I'm not sure your complaints about bad adventure modules suggest that the actual *edition* "plays like dogshit." IME it's pretty indistinguishable from AD&D from a play standpoint. (THACO instead of tables, oh my!)

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    2. You are right - I meant the support material. The rules are fine, and hold up well.

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    3. The marketing and presentation of the era was that if you weren’t using official products then you were doing it wrong, so the modules did go hand in hand with playing 2e.

      That said, the system was fine. Good, even. It cleaned up 1e very nicely at the expense of 1e’s charming character.

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    4. I don't remember the marketing being like that, and we never used pregenerated modules. I think you might be projecting a bit. This is what the Player's Handbook said:

      Adventure modules contain complete game adventures. These are especially useful for DMs who aren’t sure how to create their own adventures and for DMs who need an adventure quickly and don’t have time to write one of their own

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    5. Yes, perhaps. I was a Dragon Magazine junkie aswere my friends.

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    6. Fair enough. I might also be looking back through the rose-tinted glasses of my more imaginative youth.

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  8. I've only played 1st and 2nd editions of AD&D but we did like 2nd edition better. We especially liked how the priestly spheres of spells enabled us to create colourful priestly characters, whereas the previous 'clerics' were all basically the same.

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    1. Priestly spheres is my second favorite thing about 2e; the first being the wonderful Monstrous Manual, arguably the best monster book ever published for D&D by its parent company. It's my go-to book when I need inspiration for my games.

      2e birthed my first "great" campaign and was the cornerstone of all my gaming from '90 through to 2009. Yeah, it has its warts, but it can be made to sing with the right touch, and its compatibility with nearly everything written during the TSR-era of the game goes far to patch the rough spots.

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    2. The backwards-compatibility of 2nd edition is very much to its designers' credit I think.

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  9. Your post made me go and flip through my 2E books.

    For the most part, I do NOT see a lot of "buddy-buddy" in the artwork, though it's definitely in the fiction/novels of the era.

    That being said, despite any shortcomings of the edition itself, I find the interior color plates of this edition to be my favorite of ALL the editions. For me, 2E was the high water mark for color art in D&D (except for the damn, stupid covers).

    [and FWIW, the interior illustrations in Mentzer's Expert and Companion sets are my favorite in the "black and white" category...sorry Erol]

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  10. AD&D2e does have an alarmingly sunny aesthetic, just flipping through the player's handbook (one of my players, an elder of 47, happened to have it on his shelf and loaned it to me to gawp at for a weekend). While not very oh ehss arrgh, that does have its advantages. Here in America a lot of our universally known modern myths feature a man in cape and underpants or John Wayne creating a universe of archetypes (the gangster; the mad scientist; the callow would-be hero; the hooker with a heart of gold;) sort of radiating out from the central "Lawful Good" character. When you're trying to convey A WORLD to five guys at a table not necessarily of literary bent and giving you half their attention, this appeal to our modern mythos of comic books, horse operas and Lord of the Rings can achieve a lot of the heavy lifting, esp. if you hope your players will latch some kind of real attachment to the fiction--if they can perceive the thing opposing them not as a block of hitpoints but as Lex Luthor or Lee Van Cleef, fine.

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