Friday, January 7, 2022

Heretical Thoughts

Was the second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons really that bad?

I was thinking about this a couple of weeks ago, when I was going through my collection of TSR D&D products while compiling the Top 10 lists I posted last month. I no longer own almost anything from the 2e era except the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monstrous Compendium, so I don't have a lot to go on. However, in flipping through them, I wasn't overcome with revulsion at the 2e rules, which, by and large, weren't all that different from their 1e counterparts. They're a little looser and more flexible in places – combat particularly – but, re-reading these books for the first time in perhaps a decade, there wasn't a lot I found inherently objectionable.

On the other hand, the presentation of 2e left much to be desired. I'm not even talking about the banal, occasionally conversational way in which it was written, though, to be fair, that is a disappointment, especially when compared to the glories of High Gygaxian. I'm also not talking about the awful layout and graphic design, with its awful rounded fonts and use of blue as a splash color, though, again, these weren't appealing choices. No, the bigger issue, I think, is the artwork, which is almost universally inferior to that of 1e, despite the fact that TSR now employed artists who were far better on a technical level than their predecessors. Despite this, there's very little inspirational in the art of 2e. I mean, take a look at this:

That may not be the worst piece of art to appear in the 2e Player's Handbook, but it's one I've always found off-putting and indeed more than a little silly, despite my fondness for small dragons. In my opinion, it's also pretty emblematic of the artwork we get in second edition: technically good but overwhelmingly mundane.

I wonder how many people's opinions of AD&D Second Edition are rooted largely in its artwork and overall presentation. As I said, I found the rules better than I recalled their being, before the endless churn of Complete X Handbooks and ever more esoteric settings obscured their clarity. Gary Gygax's original rules are still very much present in 2e. I'd suggest that, unless one is devoted to weapon speed factors or segments, it's perfectly possible to use 2e to play a game that is functionally very close to the Gygaxian original. I'd also suggest that, given the changes Gary himself envisioned for his own second edition, very little that lead designer David Cook implemented in the published second edition is too far beyond the pale. Indeed, I think Cook was probably a lot more conservative in his own rules changes than Gygax would have been, had he stayed at TSR long enough to complete his own revision.

But 2e's art and presentation are real problems, at least if you're someone whose conception of fantasy is more steeped in a pulpy, pre-Shannara mold. If one's tastes tend more toward fantastic realism, I would wager that 2e's illustrations were probably very much to your liking. If not, they're distracting at best and repellant at worst. That's too bad, I think, because, as I've noted, I don't think the rules of second edition AD&D are themselves a serious step down from those of first. At the same time, I can hardly fault anyone for disliking the look of the 2e books enough not to give their content a fair shake. I think esthetics are important, vital even, and that's especially true when dealing with imaginary places and creatures. Art helps draw one into fantasy, which is why it's key that it be appealing to its intended audience.

I can't shake the feeling that AD&D's second edition is more disliked in retrospect than it was at the time. I think some of this dislike is bound up in the publishing trajectory the game later took, with endless supplements and settings, as well as the sense that Gary Gygax had been ill-treated by the very company he founded. If so, this isn't fair to the game David Cook actually designed, which is somewhere in the vicinity of 80–90% mechanically identical to 1e, just better organized and explained. Certainly there are aspects of 2e that I'm not fond of, but many of these elements are optional and, once again, I don't think it's any mark against 2e that TSR would later over-emphasize these elements to the detriment of the solid foundation Cook laid down in 1989. 

I played 2e when it came out and into the first half of the 1990s, though not as extensively as I played 1e. I remember having fun with it and indeed being quite impressed with it upon its initial release. My eventual drifting away from AD&D had very little to do with the game itself and much more to do with the fact that, by 1994 or so, I was simply tired of D&D (and traditional fantasy more generally), which I'd played more or less constantly for a decade and a half. Paging through my old copies of the 2e rulebooks reminded me of all of this and I'm glad of it. I'm in no danger of ever playing Second Edition again, but I'm glad to have been given the opportunity to re-evaluate my feelings about an edition of the game that I sometimes think gets more grief in old school circles than it deserves. 

84 comments:

  1. Call me a heretic! 2E is actually my favorite version of the rules, though I agree the presentation was not inspiring.

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  2. It has been said in a lot of other places that the 2e core books on their own are a well designed and robust version of D&D.

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  3. I've never much liked that picture either, but your post here finally made the reason crystalize for me! The adventurers look like they are posing for a photograph, like modern anglers with a big fish they have just caught. Because no people from their technology level would ever be posing for a photograph, it knocks me right out of the fantasy.

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    1. Are you unfamiliar with the concept of a painting?

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    2. I can't imagine a competent painter having this group pose in in such a boring way!

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    3. I'm more bothered by the fact that the dragonling's wings shouldn't be in that position. It's dead, and the legs are drooping pretty realistically, but the wings are posed in a position that requires the muscles to be tensed, not relaxed in death. Even if we assume rigor mortis has set in, how did the muscles get locked in that position? Did the "heroes" string it up and then hold the wings in place till rigor set in?

      I also question how likely it is to inflict mortal wounds on any dragon with breaking bones and tearing membranes on at least one of teh wings (which are clearly intact) but maybe they just got lucky. Or were carefully trying to preserve their trophy.

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    4. That illustration really reminds of this picture here:

      https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0330/1241/6652/files/ULUA--gallery--brothers_large.jpg?v=1594405123

      I just can't see anything else, despite my familiarity with the concept of a painting.

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    5. The art of various D&D editions tells a story about how the creators envisioned the game being played.

      OD&D art was mostly figures in isolation: a dwarf, a barbarian, a monster, a magical sword. Fitting for essentially an experimental add-on to a miniatures wargame.

      Each subsequent edition includes art that is a product of minds that have already played D&D. We now see depictions of “adventuring parties”, and these parties are often shown in /situations/ that might arise in play. We also start to see — especially in AD&D, eg the marginalia in the DMG — the sort of camp/parodic depictions of in-game /situations/ that were common in the comics published in Dragon Magazine. “Put away the wand or your familiar gets it!” and so on.

      This illustration from 2E should I think he viewed in that context. It’s a joke — not a very funny joke, but clearly a joke — about the “adventuring party” as a faux-medieval pointy-eared version of the modern deer hunting party, a trope of photographic portraiture that would have been familiar to the artist and the writers in the late 80s/early 90s, if somewhat less so to the younger readers. It’s camp.

      I think one of the things that’s so off-putting about the illustration is that, in contrast to the dashed-off marginal comics of the DMG, this one is clearly a high-effort drawing. Full colour, clearly drawn from real life models, realistic proportions and clothing, etc. It’s closer to a photograph of cosplayers posing for a “funny” tableau than it is to the sketches in the DMG. I think this is part of what rubs me the wrong way: it seems like kitsch in a way that the 1E art doesn’t, perhaps because the latter, despite TSR’s well-funded and professionalized publishing operations in the early 80s, the 1E books still seemed semi-amateur in some of their contents.

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    6. Maybe. But man, that is still one ugly painting.

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    7. This is a high-effort, low quality painting. While the rendering in full-color, all the other check-boxes of good art (compositions, gesture, dynamism, balance, etc.) are not checked. That's why it's kitchy.

      Furthermore, the Ren Fair normalization of the fantastic in 2e taints it too.

      Just plain bad.

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  4. My first exposition to any form of D&D was the 2e player's handbook. I didn't really consider it but you've managed to articulate what I think of earlier versions of the game and their art and presentation... but in the opposite direction. I tend to find them very basic and crude.

    Sadly it'd be nearly 20 years until I found the original D&D, which I would have understood far more easily than the sometimes convoluted Advanced. Partly because I didn't learn english until I was 13 (41 now), partly because while translations existed, I lived in a small city in South America. Had I lived in Spain things would have been very different. I still like ADnD 2e fine but these days I use either 5e or Aventuras en la Marca del Este.

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    1. Since it is very unclear from my wording, I specifically find the art (and layout, and fonts) very basic and crude. The rules are great, and I wish I'd found them (any B/X iteration) instead of the "Advanced" set.

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    2. Like the label says, Advanced is advance---it does take more effort to learn. That's why I think that a rule-light version (e.g. OD&D, Holmes Basic, B/X) is a good intro before tackling a more nuanced version.

      But stick with 1e. The rot had already crept in with 2e. Too many cooks.

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  5. "Was the second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons really that bad?"

    No. Honestly, this is the first I've heard that anyone had a serious beef with it. It's not talked about much in my circles, and certainly doesn't take the kind of heat that any of the WotC editions have. The worst I could say about it is that it's got way too many rules-oriented splatbooks my tastes - and I as a fan of 4e my bar on that is really high.

    Your points about the core books being unattractive and the art being mundane resonate, but at the same time the rest of TSR's output included some much more evocative art - DiTerlizzi on Planescape, for ex, and Dark Sun's pretty striking.

    And no matter what the mechanical and aesthetic flaws of the core books and the endless rule splatbooks are, 2nd ed was also the era where most of TSR's most innovative settings appeared. FR and GH and Mystara are all well and good, but they're fairly generic kitchen-sink fantasy. Compare them to the list of settings that 2e started (or at least greatly expanded, in Ravenloft's case):

    Dark Sun
    Birthright
    Planescape
    Spelljammer
    Realms of Terror
    Al Qadim, which was very much its own thing despite ties to FR
    Council of Worms

    For me, those are bulk of iconic TSR D&D settings, far more so than anything that came before barring GH, FR, Mystara, and (while I don't care for myself) Dragonlance. Maybe Kara-Tur too.

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    1. Dick, you've been around the block, right? Surly you know a great many of the AD&D folks aren't pleased with what was done after Gygax was pushed out of TSR, and that includes 2e.

      And DiTerlizzi...too cutesy, too comical for me!

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    2. I don't care about their (or your) opinion, Squeen. The fact remains that 2e saw the start of almost half the total settings that TSR published in its entire run, and that most of them were solid sellers that have persisting fan bases to this day. Even the worst of them is leagues more imaginative than FR or GH ever were or will be. I don't ask you to like them, but denying that they're a key part of D&D's overall identity is simply denial based on your subjective dislike for the material.

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    3. I was just responding to "Honestly, this is the first I've heard that anyone had a serious beef with it." which I found incredulous.

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  6. 2nd edition wasn't too bad. It wasn't the superhero fantasy of third. The art did not inspire me as much as 1st.

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  7. I've quite liked 2E. For me the presentation was not a big problem, partly because I was not fully into the pulpy 1E Appendix N culture but also I knew that any set of rules could be set to different settings or moods, so even if some of the illustrations were bland, I knew my games would not necessarily follow in the same vein.

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  8. I am fully in the 2e is better camp.

    The fact that you can read the players hand book and understand how to play the game is the first step. 1e always botherd me that crucia rules were in the DMG

    2e just cleaned up 1e, took out the fidley bits many people ignored, organized it better and was still backwards compatible.

    Yeah it had a lot of bloat but running a game with just the PHB is very much like running 1e.

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  9. One thing that set a bad frame for 2e was the "sanitizing" with the removal of the Assassin, but what really turned me away from it was that when it came out I was at the end of my interest in D&D and I didn't need a new edition. A year or two later I would sell all my AD&D books (except my Players Handbook) though I kept my OD&D and BECM books. I did pick up some 2e modules and settings, and even a few of the Complete splats, though a lot of that has since been sold off since I mostly never used any of it. The loose leaf Monster Manual was also a turn off even if it seemed like a good idea. Ultimately it was a turn off because the other loose leaf gaming products I had showed they didn't hold up as well as a bound book (though one loose leaf gaming book I had was my sister's 1e DMG which had a horrible binding that disintegrated so when she ended up not actually being interested in gaming, I took it and removed all the pages from the binding and three hole punched them - but it didn't hold up well and I have no idea when I got rid of it). By the time I came back to D&D, 3.5 was out and what really got me back in was Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed. With my starting to follow the OSR after that, I completed my collection of early D&D with re-acquiring Holmes and picking up BX (but sadly skipped on the RC - I should have grabbed a copy of that when they were reasonably priced). In my now tradition of preferring early editions of RPGs, I have not got into 4e or 5e (though I have some 5e stuff as useful supplementary material).

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    1. The sanitization is a solid point against 2e, it's true. I'd somehow forgotten that.

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    2. Good point, 2e was also the edition where "demon" and "devil" fell out of use in favor of tanari and baatezu (or however they're spelled properly). So that's a clear negative.

      Loose leaf can be a fine approach, but only if you're willing to stick every page in a plastic sleeve that is, itself, three-hole-punched. That way your wear is all on the replaceable sleeves, which are sturdier than paper to begin with.

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    3. Another frustration with the looseleaf Monstrous Compendia besides the pages ripping over time was that, because monsters were generally printed two to a sheet (with only a select few monsters covering both sides), it became almost immediately impossible to keep the sheets in true alphabetical order as new monsters were introduced that fell alphabetically between the front and back of an existing sheet. Also, because the binders were so big and bulky, it was a hassle to carry them around and so was tempting (and, presumably, part of the intended design) to just pull out the pages that were directly relevant to the game you were going to be running and only bring those along - nice in theory until you forget to put them back in the binder and they get lost.

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    4. It should be noted that sidelining or removing the assassin was part of Gygax's original plans for 2nd Edition.

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    5. If you're still interesting in the Rules Cyclopedia, it's available Print on Demand at DriveThruRpg. So are a lot of other old D&D products.

      https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/17171/DD-Rules-Cyclopedia-Basic?term=rules+cyclopedia

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  10. My dislike of 2e is definitely an “in retrospect” feeling. When I first saw the 2e rules, my thought was, they’re moving toward a simpler, more streamlined class system, with a handful of basic classes and simple alterations to each, a nice, simple additional skills ruleset, and so on.

    And then the “endless churn of Complete X Handbooks” came out. Partly it was easier to go back to AD&D than to deal with ignoring all of those books. But mainly it was that the initial 2e rules were only better in that they had great potential for being far better. When the churn started happening, it was obvious that potential was never going to be realized.

    I never had a problem running 1e adventures in 2e; which may have been a problem for them—I don’t think I own any 2e adventures. I never bought the 2e monster manuals, for example. That, again, was emblematic of 2e’s lost potential. The idea of providing creatures on three-punch sheets was great. And then they had one creature on the front and another on the back, making it impossible to keep them organized. What should have been simpler was much more complex.

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    1. Echoes my experience. Initially an improvement, then drowned in rules splatbooks.

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  11. Speaking only for my own group; there was no need for a 2nd ed. AD&D wasn't perfect, but if you had a good DM (and we did) then the DM could make enough improvements on AD&D to make anything TSR put out superfluous. You said it yourself earlier, the players make the game, not the rules.

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  12. At the time, 2E was like a godsend and major improvement on the 1.5 material. For players in particular the rules seemed to make more sense. I'll take the 2E Priest over the 1E Cleric any day. I even liked some of the Complete X books, but looking back that did introduce a lot of bloat. I play more 2E than any edition so far, but mostly in the first 4 years release before it got super bloated.

    The real failing of 2E is the DMG (which oddly enough is the only 2E book I still own). While it isn't terrible, there's a lot less content than in the 1E DMG, and it CLEARLY moves the game away from OSR style play. Still, with an experienced DM you could use the core books to have a very good D&D experience.

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  13. AD&D 2nd Edition is my favorite edition because the restructuring of clerics, druids, magic-users, and illusionists into specialized priests and mages gave me the flexibility to better present my campaign. For example, giving unique spell lists to each deity is extremely easy in 2e whereas prior to 1989 it was very difficult to differentiate clerics based on their respective cult. And of course the Wizard & Priest's Spell Compendiums are pure gold. All spells from every edition of D&D + The Dragon adapted to 2e. I could also praise the Historical Campaign Supplements, Ravenloft, Al Qadim, etc. In my mind, AD&D 2e is the original OSR -- just like AD&D, only better!

    But I agree with you on the art and trade dress. I have a very strong preference for Sutherland & Trampier.

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    1. What, no love for Otus? Or Darlene and Dee and Willingham, for that matter. :)

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    2. Trampier, Otus, Dee, and Willingham. Those were my favs.

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    3. Me too, probably in that order.

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  14. I'm probably one of the more infamous 2E haters on the internet (an unfortunate side effect of intemperate and over-dramatic things I wrote nearly 2 decades ago still floating around for any Google search to uncover). I don't much like the art or graphic design either (or the fact that TSR started using glossy paper which made it harder to make marginal notes). I also don't like some of the rules changes - in particular the way they handled sub-classes (and the combined single spell list organized by schools/spheres that gave once-subclass-exclusive spells to the "parent" class while also denying the subclasses some of the spells they'd had in 1E), and the way casting time and weapon speed interact in combat (which tends to strongly benefit casters - the opposite of how the rule worked in 1E). But I could look past (in the former case) or house-rule (in the latter) that stuff easily enough, and that's what I did in 1989-90ish. What I dislike most about 2E looking back now is the way it guts the concept of "the campaign" that's so prevalent in the 1E DMG. That whole book is centered around the DM building a fictional world that the players (any number, in any combination) explore and interact with. That world (or, rather, milieu in Gary's preferred terminology) has a life of its own that is much bigger than any single group of players or series of adventures, and the DMG includes tons of rules and sub-systems and essays that might not ever become relevant in a player-facing capacity but still inform that shape and function of that world (stuff like the racial preference table for humanoids, and the mining speeds of different races, and how holy water is manufactured, and so on). The 1E DMG posits and demonstrates a big, living fictional world.

    2E, by contrast (at least as I remember it ~30 years later) dispenses with most of that and instead is much more focused on player-scale adventures, that the world only exists and matters when it's on-stage in an adventure and everything else should be handwaved (and/or arranged by narrative logic). The XP system is an obvious example of this - moving from an "objective" standard of defeating monsters and gathering treasure to a set of loose advice about assigning appropriate story goals and subjective rewards for "good play" (using class skills, roleplaying). Another thing that still stands out in my mind all these decades later is the contrast between 1E and 2E's treatment of henchmen and sages. 1E spends several pages detailing nested mini-game subsystems for each where trying to hire henchmen and/or hiring a sage are almost adventures in themselves and you get a sense of what sages who aren't in the employ of PCs are like, and what default "D&D town" is like - that there are town criers, notice boards, multiple taverns, etc. as well as how common or uncommon adventurer-types are. 2E excised all of that text and instead offers paragraphs that effectively say in the one case "give the players henchmen if you feel they need or deserve them, but make them important to the story - not just someone hired off the street" and in the other "use sages to give the PCs whatever info you feel they should have."

    Because of advice like that, and all the other stuff that was missing or de-emphasized, the "world" of 2E felt smaller and less "real" to me than 1E, and also less wondrous and mysterious and intriguing. In 1E it feels (at least to me) like the DM is in some sense exploring the fictional world alongside the players - that there's room for the DM to be surprised by how things develop. 2E didn't feel that way to me - it seemed much more like the DM was supposed to make up stories and run the players through them, that everything was deterministic and narrowly-focused. And moreso than subjective aesthetic issues or minor rules issues, that change of focus is what I really disliked most about 2E.

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    1. Ha! And here I thought *I* was the most infamous hater of 2E on the internet!

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    2. Those are some very good points, especially with regards to the "size" of the world implied by 2e compared to 1e. I should think more about this.

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    3. When the 2nd Ed PBH and DMG came out, I can remember noting the inversion of book size from 1st Ed. The original DMG had a much higher page count than the PH, whereas the opposite is true for 2nd Ed. Which does seem to map well onto the shift you note from campaign centric to PC centric from one edition to the other.

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    4. Good points, I suppose one goal might also have been to move DMs to use prefab settings instead of their own. (Vide Dragonlance.) The style became less like a wargame and more like a story with a relatively fixed cast (I mean, Gygax experienced that in play and I suppose it was how things usually ended up, but now with more official blessings).

      Regarding the aesthetics, I thought the painting above amusing because it takes us out of the high-drama illustrations we usually get and into the genre of the proud fisherman. Works for me, at least now and then.

      I would in general say the game inspiration also migrated from swords and sorcery to then-contemporary post-tolkien extruded fantasy product (as the term of the art at one point was). This too shows up in the illustrations.

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  15. I'll be controversial: 2nd edition was the best version of AD&D. The original DMG is a treasure-trove of information but it was poorly organized (the combat rules as written are frankly a mess and very few people actually played that way, instead favoring a simplified version that was more like non-Advanced versions of D&D) and the voice of Gary Gygax overwhelmed clarity and playability. The second edition was blander, including the technically better but uninspired art, but it was much more usable and well-presented.

    It was particularly good for players (DMs like me could use the advice in the old DMG and our experience). Particularly with the character classes, you had a system that was coherent but also customizable. The various Complete books with kits and other optional rules would eventually weigh down the system, but did provide options that were not originally available. One of my players had an Arcane Archer build for his ranger that cannot be closely replicated in any other version of the game. And for DMs who did not want to create and run their own campaigns, it had several different campaign worlds to choose from.

    My longest-running campaign was for 2nd edition, basically running the entire life-cycle of the edition, and spawning a world I used for 3rd and 4th edition campaigns (that were not as successful). I even incorporated Spelljammer into my campaign.

    There were missteps for sure. Originally releasing monsters in a binder in theory made it easier to use in play, with full removable pages for each monster, but in practice it did not hold together well and it took up way more space and weight than a simple book. The decision to rename devils and demons and daemons as baatezu, tanar'ri, and yogoloth was just silly (and ignored). And in the end, of course, there were way too many supplements. But it was a very playable and enjoyable game.

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    1. Gotta keep saying it. The art was in color, but not technically better. There is almost nothing there for an art student to learn form or admire outside of Otis' work.

      Trampier's (1e) line-art hatching was a master-class of the style.

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  16. AD&D 2e is my favorite and go-to edition of the game. The rules for priests and magic users and the "Complete X" series gave extensive tools for hacking the game to fit whatever setting or genre I wanted to run it in.

    I'll agree with what many have already said though, the DMG is lacking, but I had (still have) my copy of the 1e DMG, and everything else about 2e is forward/backward compatible.

    As to the art, I am not a very visual person to begin with, so it never bothered me. I have always (even going back to the 80s and 90s) preferred art-less digital formats (or printouts) for actual play, because I find art to be far more distracting than inspirational. Art has nothing to do with the game rules, and the rules are the reason the books exist.

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  17. I have to admit, there was something about the 2E style or look of the books that didn't appeal to me. One artist in particular just made me feel "Bleah" about anything he drew, and he drew a lot of stuff in the 2E books and in the Dragon of the 2E period. The rules were probably fine, but the look just didn't appeal to me. Thanks for making realize that I might not be the only one.

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  18. 2E is better organized, and I rather like some of the artwork and aesthetic choices (including both the painting above AND the blue-splash).

    But it is a BAD game.

    Since I’ve written my reasons for my opinion about a gazillion times (on my blog and elsewhere), I won’t enumerate them here. Besides, folks love what they love…I doubt I’d change any minds just spewing bile.

    However, I think it’s good for everyone to take these once-every-decade-or-so chances to examine things we dismissed in the past, and see if our understanding and feelings on the matter might have changed (especially with the possibility of things turning to the positive). James examination of and admiration for some aspects of 2E isn’t “heresy.” Rather it’s.a sign of growth and maturity, to look back and say, hey, my opinion’s changed.

    That’s a nice thought for the day.
    : )

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  19. 2E appeared just about the time that I finished buying the 1e manuals as I was a Moldvay and Mentzer BX player with crib notes from the PHB spells and class lists and White Dwarf supplementing my core books. So having just forked out quite a lot of money I was starting from a "Hostile, possible attack" position in my reactions. It was also clear that 2e was a tidying up of something that I already had - it was difficult to see why the more expensive books would be useful to me. Therefore the money I would have continued to spend on 1e products was instead spent on others such as Battletech and MERP.

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  20. I entered the hobby with 2nd Edition in 1996 and was blasted away by the game. Even a quarter of a century later, there has been no edition of the game that filled me with the same sense of fantastic wonder than the 2nd Edition Player’s handbook with its mythical examples to illustrate character classes, equipment list, spell appendices and proficiency system.
    I am currently running a OSE/DCC crossover game and a 5E game, but scheming to run my next campaign using 2E rules. It is the edition that exemplifies Dungeons and Dragons for me, with its roll-under ability check, mage and specialist wizard classes and priests of specific mythoi (honestly, why play a cleric when you can be a priest of Heironeous?).
    I think 2E’s bad rep came mostly from rules bloat in the pages of Dragon mag and the Complete X books. And it is the edition known for publishing the most railroads adventures - an accolade which is more appropriate to 3E/PF IMHO. But the amount of creativity during the 90s: blasted desert wastelands with life-leeching magic, mystical higher dimensions ans a city to travel to all of them, divine-blooded kings, magical spaceships - the settings were awesome and continue to inspire my games to this day.

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    1. "And it is the edition known for publishing the most railroads adventures - an accolade which is more appropriate to 3E/PF IMHO."

      Agreed, particularly PF, but the whole "Adventure Path" concept is to play a string of adventures leading directly and inexorably from one to the next. Breaking away from the pre-scripted series of events in any serious way derails the whole thing. You know it's going to be a railroad ride before you even get on the train. It's not my thing at all, but obviously many people like that style of game. They certainly sell enough of the things.

      Thankfully the open license means we have plenty of sandbox setting and one-off modular adventures to choose from. more so than ever, really.

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  21. I agree with James.

    There was, in my view, nothing wrong with the 2e rules, although I personally prefer the to-hit tables of 1e to THACO.

    It was the bland, corporate presentation.

    The 1e DMG was a glorious mess of near-forbidden lore that in turn berated and confided in the reader.

    The 2e rulebooks read like textbooks or corporate training manuals.

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  22. AD&D 2e was the first edition I played to any great extent, as opposed to 1e which I mostly just read. So I have a soft spot for it regardless of its flaws.

    I completely agree that 2e lacks the wild and wooly edge of 1e, that it carries the smell of corporate sanitizer, and that art is often bland and generic.

    But, the sheer creative flood of the campaign settings, mentioned above by Dick McGee, makes up for all of that in my opinion. Ravenloft, Spelljammer, Planescape, Al Qadim, Dark Sun... they all demonstrated that D&D was capable of doing more that just simulating amoral treasure hunters looting ancient dungeons. Not that I have anything against that genre (and I appreciate the work James and others did over the last decade or so to remind us of how fun that genre can be), but I do think that if D&D had remained limited to that, it would not still be thriving today. I think D&D's flexibility is one of its great strengths.

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  23. Ha! For what it's worth, I have a considerable amount of nostalgic affection for the art and design of AD&D2. It was the edition of my youth and while I only ever played it once, I did read the books over and over again in preparation for maybe, possibly playing it one day, so those comfortable, almost twee, colour plates and the all-blue design both please me.

    If you were to get me to pick my top ten bits of D&D art, most would come from first edition and almost none would come from second, but the edition as a whole feels a bit like home for me even if, as I say, I played it only once.

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  24. "...Gary Gygax's original rules are still very much present in 2e..."

    This was the crux for me. Why shell out all that money for a subtle refinement of a rules system I've long ago refined via house rules? Certainly not for the pedestrian art and sterile prose.

    That said, the golden age of roleplaying is 12, to paraphrase Peter Graham. So if you grew up with 2e, no one is gonna talk you out of loving it. :)

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  25. I liked 2e just fine, but I don't get into The Edition Wars. Each edition has something I love about it (even the oft-derided 4e) and something I don't. I'm a big fan of Elmore's art, but 2e had a number of missteps from an art perspective: too many pieces used that weren't commissioned for the book, poor reproductions that made them look far worse than they were, and the later sins of constantly reusing art all over the place.

    2e was also trying to be accessible to players that had never played an rpg before and might be learning without an experienced player to guide them...and that's fair. From a production standpoint, they had some serious missteps: the binding quality on the PHB & DMG were not up to snuff, the loose leaf Monstrous Manual simply wasn't sturdy enough, etc. But as a rules set it was really strong and it took a LOT of product bloat to finally break it. (now, it's also the edition that nerfed my beloved Rangers which sucked...but wizards and priests were more fun than ever.)

    I haven't played 2e in a long time, but I suspect I would enjoy it.

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  26. 1e and 2e were so similar that my group just treated 2e as a source of optional rules, the same way we treated material in The Dragon, UA and the 1e splatbooks.

    I remember we used wizard and priest specialization, and one of us used 2e initiative when he was DMing. And the expanded equipment list, and a few options from the Vikings, Celtic and Reformation splatbooks.

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  27. I knew this was going to be a popular BLOG post. Ive not read any other responses I'll keep it short & sweet (as possible, for me).

    If I'm going to play a game of AD&D ever again, no question in my mind I would play 2E without thinking twice. It's a better version of the rules AFAIC. It cleans up most of the rules issues that bug me about 1E and I have to change, and it's far easier to use as a reference work at the table.

    If I want to read rulebooks for fun and inspiration, no doubt I'll go with Gary's prose.

    2E was hamstringed by TSR management not seeing eye to eye with the design team and thus never was going to be the best it could have been. I think given this major problem, Zeb, Steve, and Jon did an amazing job.

    I have fondness for a great many 2E era products- examples- Ravenloft adventures, Von Richten's Guides, Volo's Guides, From the Ashes, Core Rules CD Roms, The Haunted Halls of Eveningstar, and the Silver Anniversary brown box intro game.

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  28. I started with Red Box in the 70's and moved seamlessly into AD&D in the 80's. And that's all I've ever played. When my sons expressed an interest in the game circa 2010, I made the decision to buy them all of the 2e books. I still had my own 1e books, but additional copies were hard to find or not worth the asking price. I knew I didn't want 3e/4e/5e because those games seemed unrecognizable to me. 2e was close enough to the original game that I knew and loved, and apparently my boys felt the same way. We have played together many times, and it's just D&D. Not OD&D, not AD&D, not 1e, not 2e. Just D&D.

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  29. I hate this picture for all the reasons others have already mentioned, but the main reason is the palpable smugness emanating from the mullet guy. Come off it, man. Paul Bunyan over there could have throttled that runty little so-called dragon without your "help."

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  30. Huh, that painting is one of my favorite D&D paintings. I even have a signed and numbered print of it that I bought from Elmore's website.

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  31. I played 1e from 1980 to about 1983, then we moved on to other games. I never even saw the 2e core books until a friend gave them to me 3 years ago!!!

    When I reviewed the 2e books I decided: 1) yes, they are much easier to read and understand. 2) No, the game is not substantially different from 1e. 3) Yes, the presentation was much more bland, with no sense of wonder.

    As far as us middle-schoolers in 1980, we all learned how to play from the Holmes basic set, so we basically played AD&D as the AD&D Players Handbook races, classes, and spells, using OD&D rules for combat, exploration, etc. I don't think we were alone in this...

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  32. I don't hate 2e at all, I think it rationalizes 1e very well for the most part.
    Its issues, for me, are that it did not clean-up enough in some places, the sanitization (though it was removed over time), the splat book proliferation, the esthetics, and, finally, the workshop DMG ever.
    The esthetics suggest a play stile that is completely at odds with the original D&D mechanics, imho, and this marries to how the DMG explains the game.
    The DMG is really a poor job, it pointlessly duplicates material from the PHB, include a hodge-podge of essays on min/max, handling alignments, creating challenges, but no actually useful guidance on how to create a dungeon or an adventure.
    Terrible.

    In the end, OSRIC or Advanced Labyrinth Lord are a better 2e than the actual 2e itself.

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  33. Post scriptum
    The epic, high fantasy expectations set by 2e immagery are probably best fulfilled by a game like 13th Age.

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    1. Given that 13A is an evolution of D&D 4e, which was itself very high/heroic fantasy in tone, I'd agree. An excellent game if that's the experience you're looking for, but I understand why so much of the OSR mob dislikes both. You'd really struggle to do a grim, gritty, down-to-Earth campaign in 13A, unlike (say) Warhammer Fantasy RP.

      Different games for different groups and all that.

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  34. OSRIC is solely a 1e retro-clone. It intentionally does not include any of the 2e rule changes.

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    1. I guess this was a reply to my post, isn't it?
      If so: oh, I know. And that"s precisely my point.
      Let me rephrase it in a better way, I hope.
      If the sole purpose of 2e had been to make AD&D accessible and clean it up, OSRIC (or better yet ALL) would be a better second edition, imho.

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  35. Can't really speak for the rules as I stopped playing RPGs in around 1990 and didn't return until the mid-noughties....but my taste in D&D art has certainly changed over the years.

    I initially started playing D&D in 1983 shortly after having read Lord of the Rings for the first time...and I think it had a profound influence on how I perceived fantasy, art and D&D. As a consesquence, I didn't think much of the interior art of the PHB that I got in 1984 but I did love that blue wizard cover. And it was the same as the years went on...the covers of books like the MM and DMG, DSG and WSG really spoke to me but often I found the interior art a bit naff. I think I felt that the more 'historically accurate' and 'realistic' the art was, the more it led you to accept the weird and the fantastic...much like in LOTR.

    On my return to RPGing in 2005/2006, I quickly discovered the fledgling OSR scene and learnt to appreciate the old school vibe. I now much prefer art that really embraces the weird and the wonderful, artists like Doug Kovacs, Peter Mullen and Stefan Poag..and I regularly find myself dipping into the DCC and AS&SH books just to be inspired by all the fantastic art.

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  36. My favorite version is 2e but the later reprint with Black Covers where they dropped the "2nd Edition" from the name. I always thought the writing was clear and concise and the layout was strong.

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  37. My own heretical thoughts: (1) The graphic design of 2E made it look amateurish compared to 1E. Black and white has a grace and seriousness. Blue highlights made them look like high school text books. (2) The art was inconsistent and there really isn't any excuse for that by that point in time.

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  38. As context for my comments, I began playing D&D in 1976 quickly followed by AD&D 1E with its roll out starting a year later. At that time my RPG circle consisted of about a dozen people primarily playing TSR (and compatible) products. As we became increasingly disappointed with TSR products (pretty much after Monster Manual II, 1983), more RPGs by other publishers increasingly entered the mix. TSR content was changing in ways that we did not appreciate -- modules were invariably over-scripted and the artwork was increasingly slick and professional. Oriental Adventures and Unearthed Arcana (both 1985) provided clear evidence that the base rules set itself was being evolved in ways that would significantly alter play (skills and specializations). We did not welcome, or adopt, these changes. These trends all reached a crescendo in 2E which we saw as: 1) a completely unnecessary cash grab, 2) introducing changes that altered the roleplaying experience, 3) a neutered version of 1E (TSR caving to the Satanic Panic and other forms of parental hysteria that were afoot), and 4) aesthetically unpleasant. TSR was evolving the game in new directions, but that did not mean we had to follow them. We didn't. Dragon magazine subscriptions were cancelled; TSR products were no longer purchased. We continued to play our house-ruled version of 1E as if 2E never happened. Long after TSR sank beneath the waves and the anger (yes, anger) had subsided, we purchased 2E products from the secondhand market to judiciously mine for any interesting material that would not alter our 1E game.

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    1. This is what I came here to say. Thanks for saying it for me. The only differences are my group was smaller and I started playing in '79--minor details--the remaining narrative almost exactly matches the thoughts and feelings of me and my friends.

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  39. Third try to post, hope it works this time:

    "I can't shake the feeling that AD&D's second edition is more disliked in retrospect than it was at the time."

    I disliked it at the time. :)
    The changes in the rules were minor, but all for the worse IMO. Still, I could easily use things (adventures, items, monsters, spells) from 2E in my 1E game, so I bought 2E products.

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  40. I love specialist wizards! We played 2nd Edition like an extension of AD&D. I remember thinking, when 3E came out, “Hey, 2nd Edition was supposed to be a whole other game… Who knew?”

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  41. When I first played it, I felt 2e was to 1e as Basic was to OD&D; that is, it rewrote the same rules more coherently and filling in some of its notorious gaps. I wish it had been left at the core books, but at the same time I remember the few "splat" books I looked at as being fun to read.

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  42. I liked that picture! Looks like a real D&D party. The ones that I didn't like were all the sort of water color pictures of sort of schlubby real life models with elf ears. Give me Elmore any day over that.

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  43. Me and my friends started playing D&D with second edition and played for around 15 years. With the pandemic we finally got to play again thanks to roll 20 and we are still playing second edition.
    From my perspective, we started with the corerules and then incorporated the handbooks we liked and whatnot as we went along, it sure could get complicated with all the optional rules but it was ok if you did it little by little.
    Personally I think they should have published a new PHB & DMG with certain content from the handbooks (The tome of magic, psionic´s and cleric´s handbook come to mind) instead of the "player´s option" products.

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  44. I don't remember my teenage group at the time having especially negative reactions to it, although admittedly we'd largely switched to the "edgier" Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay by the time it was published.

    This stands in sharp contrast to Unearthed Arcana which we treated as a punchline. (UA is why I'm less convinced than some by the "if Gary had kept control D&D would have remained good" stuff. Maybe. But more likely it would have turned into a fantasy version of Cyborg Commando).

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  45. I started in the hobby with 2e and that picture and Cook's introduction in the PHB were very inspirational and formative to me. I came from reading Robin Hood stories, greek mythology, and classic fairy tales so maybe that's why that art style worked for me. Years later when I picked up the AD&D 1e books I found the art to be charming and though there were plenty of inspirational pieces I found them more illustrative than inspiring. More "this is what happens in the game" than interesting scenes that got me thinking and imagining.

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  46. James, if you want comments and activity, you should be posting more about 2nd ed!

    I find that level of activity more interesting than AD&D 2nd ed and its place in people's heart. So much that I wont even bother post my feelings, which nobody cares for anyway. ;)

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    1. There's no better click bait than the Edition Wars. :)

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  47. Rules-wise, I know 2e gets some flak but at it's base it's really just a reorganization of 1e with a few reworks. I'd say it's like the transition from 0e to 1e. But as other people have noted, you can really use 1e/2e stuff pretty interchangeably and I see no reason why one couldn't use 2e to run a classic styled game.

    Art-wise, I don't mind it, but I'm a bit younger than a lot of you, I started with 3e and then went back to older editions. My dad played 1e and still had (has) his books but didn't have the 2e books so I'm not directly familiar with it from when I was a kid, but it's pretty similar to the cover style some of the fantasy books I did read. However, I do prefer DiTerlizzi and the Dark Sun line over the more generic stuff in the 2e rulebook.

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  48. Oh, the Monstrous Compendium. I have never seen a copy of the loose-leaf sheets as intended. It was a neat idea, but oh it didn't work out. Just too many little issues that kept it from being viable. The Monstrous Manual they released though? Excellent, though there are a few discrepancies to keep in mind if using it for 1e (giants, harpies, and dragons are the biggest ones I can think of, but there are a few little things like dire wolves and worgs having their stats flipped).

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  49. I dislike 2e at the time, although I played the crap out of it. I hated what I viewed as the political correctness of the game (removing assassins, renaming demons and devils, etc.). In hindsight, mostly running 5e games, I find myself wistful for the simplicity of 2e. My gripes at the time are now no big deal. No assassins? So what. They were a dumb class that didn't really work to begin with. Any thief can be an assassin, if they use poison. The demons and devils were still there, in all their glory, just with different names.

    There were aspects of 2E that I didn't care and still don't. I hate psionics. I didn't like the bloat of the complete handbooks, although I used most of them. I really didn't like the bloat of the "Players' Options" books. I didn't care for about half of the settings they produced. But, with all those caveats, I still think it's a better system than the superhero gaming of 5e.

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  50. If you haven't seen it Colin McComb's had to apologize for The Complete Book of Elves during a kickstarter for a spiritual sequel to Planescape Torment.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwDWx1cAqP4

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  51. I never picked up 2e beyond a few monster books and a couple modules since I saw no need to buy rules for a game I already owned. But what I saw I disliked enough that I ended up largely quitting D&D by the early 90s in favor of MERP. And yeah, I loathed both the artwork & the writing, especially the Planescape stuff. Ugh.

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  52. Born with Mentzer edition, my first Advanced D&D was 2nd edition. I played it from 1989 till 1999.

    I tried 3rd edition and, I can tell to all Grognards, it was a different game. I stopped playing D&D in year 2000, despite I felt a new edition was required, as with all supplements released for 2nd edition you really could not tell what was the right soul of the game. Still, despite my initial enthusiasm, 3rd edition looked odd to me. Looked odd because it wasn't a restyle, it was more an hybrid with Rolemaster.

    I skipped 4th. Started playing again with 2nd edition in 2013, moved due to lack of players to 5e in 2015, which is good but still a different experience. In the end, you do not feel as you did in the past, PC are super heroes, and we all know the consequences.

    Start being interested to OSR thanks to James, Grognardia, and other blogs. I recovered all books of first edition, all modules, just in time, before the prices became crazy. I read it 1st edition, and I appreciated especially the DMG. Loved the art of PH cover, loved Otus art of many modules.

    With this introduction,I would like to make something clear, as many of the players of the 1st generation seem not to realize: WITH MY MENTZER AND 2ND EDITION BACKGROUND I COULD PLAY ALL THE MODULES PRE 1989, WITHOUT READING ANY OF AD&D 1ST ED CORE BOOKS. Why? Because the systems were REALLY compatible. Yes, no assassin. Yes, no half-orc (for a year or so). Yes, the round was a bit different. The big picture however was very similar, if not identical.

    If you are fair, you wi probably recognise Unearthed Arcana of 1st edition and many books released after 1984 look very confusing. A new edition was required.

    In general, what I think 1st edition has really better is the quality and inspiration of the modules which I play still today, and are a continuous discovery.

    With your dismay I must make it clear that, even if I now know the rules of the 1st edition, I would still play the 2nd. In reality I would not play 1st or 2nd anymore. Recently the game that makes me have the thrill I was looking for is Forbidden Lands, based on the Year Zero Engine, which I see James appreciate as well.

    I guess a youngster would call us "boomers" after all the comments I read, trying to defend a past which has ended 30+ years ago. The game Ad&d (both 1st and 2nd ed), a byzantine system that only we would force new generation to play, is rusty. Your old Gran Torino is still a good car, the memory of the first kiss with that blond cutie you dated is fresh our heart, but it is not safe as modern cars, and just a rough old experienced driver can handle it. Formula 1 today has automatic gearshift and clutch; yes I loved Jill Villeneuve, but was a different epoque. What is important important instead is the heritage of a gaming style, the culture, the approach to the game. AD&D instead is good for the garage and for 1000 mile race once a year.

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