In 1995, just two years before it would be acquired by Wizards of the Coast, TSR released revised editions of the 2nd Edition rulebooks, in addition to a series of "Option" books (three for players and one for the DM). In recent years, it's been fashionable to refer to these as v.2.5, mimicking the computerese v.3.5 revision title used in 2003. These revised rulebooks featured a new logo, graphic design, and artwork. I never owned the revisions in any form, so their actual content remains a gaping hole in my D&D knowledge. My understanding is that the text was minimally altered from the original 2e release in 1989, with the bulk of the changes coming in the Option books, some of which presaged the direction D&D would take in Third Edition five years later.
As I said, my knowledge of the 2e revisions is non-existent. I knew of their existence, as I was still gaming in 1995, but I'd pretty much dropped out of D&D entirely. I'd grown disgusted with the rules bloat, the proliferation of settings, and the general lack of focus the game line had at that point. I was a huge fan of Planescape, but, even at the time, I didn't think it worked well within the context of Dungeons & Dragons and the setting's development was too metaplot driven for my tastes. So I can't really comment on the whys and wherefores of v.2.5, though I'd assume it was a last ditch effort to remake D&D into something "modern," which is to say, able to compete with the latest fads in RPG design. Even before the revisions, 2e was clearly struggling to remake itself into a game that bore no resemblance, thematically and stylistically, if not mechanically, from the little game Gygax and Arneson birthed in 1974.
If that was the intention, the cover of the 2e revision didn't really do a good job of selling it either as something new and "relevant" or something connected to the history of the hobby.
I don't know if the image I've included with this entry really does justice to how awful this piece is, even on a technical level. Jeff Easley is once again the cover artist of the Players Handbook, providing us with what is very likely the worst of all PHB cover illustrations. About the only positive thing I can say about it is is that the barbarian's companions -- one with a bow drawn and one in a hooded cloak -- certainly don't look like members of Larry Elmore's Central Casting; they look scruffy and even sinister. The focal barbarian himself barely looks human, with his left arms twisted in a way that I'm not sure is even possible.
We do at least get a dungeon, so perhaps that's another positive thing I can say about the illustration. The barbarian obviously did really well on his Open Doors roll. The piece has a very "cinematic" air to it, "cinematic" being the latest jargon term for "horribly unrealistic." The planks of the door are all falling over in a nice fan around the barbarian, with just enough splinters flying about to show how strong he must have been to have broken down a metal-reinforced door. We see this door-breaking mid-action, as the pieces haven't yet hit the floor. There's also a strange implication of "light" emanating either from the barbarian's powerful blow comic book-style or perhaps from the corridor outside the chamber into which the barbarian is breaking. The problem with the latter interpretation is that the illumination of the corridor doesn't make this likely. Indeed, light in general is rather strangely used; I can't quite figure out where the light sources are in the picture, as there seem to be several conflicting ones, whose interplay should have produced a very different effect than the one we see. But it's my experience that "cinematic" artwork is all about looking good and not being plausible, so why worry about frivolous details like light sources?
The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons logo (as well as the TSR corporate one) is given a revamp, this time being about as bland as possible. Interestingly, the logo is placed beneath the title of the book rather than above it. That strikes me as peculiar, but then I know little of "branding" and other corproate marketing practices. The cover art is bounded by a frame, which is set on a solid black background. All the revised 2e books, as well as the Option books, were solid black in color. Placed side by side, there was a uniformity of appearance that I absolutely hated, but then 2e itself followed a similar practice for its hardcover volumes. One of the things that I still to this day love about the original AD&D books is how they look when sitting on my shelf. Each one is different and has its own unique look. Mind you, I'm of the opinion that art direction is a dirty word, at least in the way it's developed over the last few years. Modern RPGs are too slick and too uniform, with an emphasis on the look of "the line" that I abhor. The commoditization of esthetics in the name of marketing has no place in the hobby.
I find it very hard to say much more about this cover, because it's just awful. That it was released during a time when D&D, my first RPG, lost its appeal for me only makes it worse. The mid to late 90s was clearly a dark time for the game and the company that produced it. The game lacked direction and had no sense of its own history and origins. Had things turned out differently, there was a very good chance that Dungeons & Dragons would have died as an RPG entirely. As it turns out, that wasn't far from the truth but I'm getting ahead of myself.