Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Intimations of Immortality

The second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was an attempt both to clean up the rules of the first edition and to give the game a new look that might appeal to a new generation of gamers. Unsurprisingly, the covers of 2e looked very different than those of 1e. A good case in point is the cover of the Dungeon Master's Guide (again, not the use of the apostrophe in the title).

In my entry two days ago, I noted that I didn't much like the cover of the 1e DMG, especially when compared to the revised cover. The 2e cover I'm fairly ambivalent about. I approve of what it's trying to do, namely, emphasize the role of the DM as creator of worlds. You'll notice that the entire cover has a chaotic, inchoate look to it. It's a swirling vortex of color and light, with flashes and bubbles scattered throughout. The wizard to the right, whose form has a somewhat "malleable" appearance as well, looks as if he's trying to bring order to this mess; he's forging a new reality through the power of his will and his command of magic. Opposing (?) him is a red dragon, who's strangely out of place in my opinion. Not only is it unclear what purpose he serves (other than perhaps brand identification), the dragon is too solid, too well defined. He looks as if he dropped off the cover of a Dragonlance module. He simply doesn't belong in this piece.

I wish there was more I could say about this cover, but I'm finding it hard to do so. The piece simply doesn't do much for me, either for good or for ill. I appreciate what it's trying to evoke, but I'm not sure it achieves it. The illustration hints at why it's cool to the Dungeon Master -- you get to create worlds! -- but fails to deliver the goods effectively. I don't think it's as weak as the 1e cover, particularly since this piece at least has relevance to the book's contents. At the same time, it's certainly not as powerful as the revised 1e cover, which is truly superb. Of course, my recollection of the 2e DMG is that it was a very weak book, strangely thin and devoid of the glorious cornucopia of esoterica found in Gygax's original. Had it not been for the magic item tables and descriptions, it was almost wholly useless to me when I owned it -- a largely forgettable volume.

Much like its cover.


  1. Well for one thing, I'm pretty sure that wizard is the same dude as the revised 1st Edition PHB cover. I'd recognize that beard anywhere!

  2. Heh, heh. I'm pretty sure that this in combination with the 2e PHB cover tells us what AD&D is about. Now that I have had time to think about my youthful impressions, I am pretty sure that my interpretation of this is that the warrior on the PHB is frantically riding to stop this Wizard from summoning forth a dragon. Warrior + Wizard + Dragon. Sadly missing a dungeon, though.

  3. Andrew,

    That's an interesting observation. There's definitely a "family resemblance" between the two. No surprise, I guess, since Easley illustrated both.

  4. I always interpreted the cover as the wizard trying to create the dragon, rather than fight it.

    And yeah, the 2e DMG was a serious waste of paper. I got into the hobby right after 2e came out, so I'd read all these amazing references to the 1e DMG in Dragon Magazine (random castle generation! disease tables!) and I was super-pumped to finally lay my hands on this legendary tome...then I picked up the 2e DMG and my young dreams were dashed. :/

  5. I think it's fair to say that the 2e DMG was simply a terrible book, but then I think all the DMGs that followed the first have been sub-par. There are a lot of reasons why this is the case, but the single greatest is that the role of the DM has changed radically from the early days and not for the better.

  6. Well, I found the 2e DMG absolutely vital, but that was at least partially an artifact of only finding the 1e PHB and the 2e DMG in local stores. The 1e PHB didn't have combat or saving throw tables, and the 2e DMG did.

    And though the content is anemic compared to the 1e DMG, I had no more than vague-reference exposure to the 1e DMG until the late 1990s. The 2e DMG was interesting enough that teenage me did re-read several times it for pleasure and the imagination-firing it provoked.