Standing up for D&D's Gen X: 2e (Part 1)
This is part 1 of 2 about 2nd edition. Part 1 will focus on the rules aspects. Part 2 on the nebulous 'culture' aspect of 2e.
Out there in real life, I just about made the cut for an elder millennial. But in terms of DnD generations, I am very much Gen X - The Forgotten Generation.
Is the un-championed generation X of 2nd edition romantic railroaders and the sad fools who learned their naive D&D at the teat of Frank Mentzer coupled with Larry Elmore's ren-faire art.
|Beloved by all except Erol Otus diehards.
One of my favourites from 2e, but there's a few I like more
And what's not to hate? It's got kits, XP-for-roleplaying, THAC0, Non-Weapon Proficiencies, Skills & Powers, Dragonlance, Tanar'ri&Baatezu and no harlot table in the DMG. Just about the only thing worth speaking up for is the range of settings produced during this era.
Let me start on a tangent to my main point, by saying that 2e is a straight up superior ruleset to 1e (and 3e, for all the old school reasons I won't go into here). For starters, it was written by Dave Cook. A name even most grognards award grudging respect for his B/X work, though for some reason, all the grognards who lament his unpretentious and succinct prose in the 2e core books as prosaic, have no problem with the very same prose when he wrote the Expert set for the Classic D&D line.
|My favourite from the PHB!
It always takes me right into the tavern there with them
"But kits! The splat! Proficiencies!"
First of all, there is such a thing as good clean splat. The four volumes of the Wizard's Spell Compendium and four volumes of the Encyclopedia Magica is a smordgasbord extragagavanza unlikely to be repeated in our lifetimes. And 2e gave us that. So there.
Secondly, let's talk about the depravities of Unearthed Arcana before we go into the the "Complete..." series, shall we? The book that gave us: Weapon and non-weapon proficiencies. Comeliness. Cavaliers, Barbarians, thief-acrobats. Gray Dwarves. Deep gnomes. Gray Elves. Wood elves. Wild elves. Valley elves. Dark elves.
Don't try to deny using it, grognards. Unearthed Arcana was one of the best selling supplements of the 1e era. Everyone's dirty little secret.
Hell. The Assassin, the D&D equivalent of the "X-men comics in the 90s" aesthetic, was in the 1e Player's handbook! Complete with an awfully Gygaxian "minimum fees for assassination" table. gargh.
I think the Myrmidon kit granting an extra weapon proficiency slot stands pretty tame in comparison to the excesses of 1e.
The point here being that what grognards eviscerate 2e for, they wilfully ignore for 1e, as if all these things were never even part of the game.
Here is the thing about 2nd edition that most people seem to overlook. 2e had all those parts, but unlike 1e, 2e was modular by design.
|This piece utterly fascinated me as a teenager.
Still does today.
But 2nd edition is the only TSR D&D game that is actually modular by design. A lot of the rules in the two core books are actually marked as optional, and clearly so, sectioned off in blue boxes and clear language to make the case. Moreover, every time an optional rule, such as encumbrance, is mentioned elsewhere in the books, it is clearly emphasised as an optional rule.
It's one of the defining features of the core books (and a philosophy doubled down on through the various supplements) and something that it does not get nearly enough credit for.
"I don't need a book to tell me what to houserule thankyouverymuch" the grognard indignantly growls.
"All proficiencies are additions to the game. Weapon proficiencies are tournament level rules, optional in regular play. and non-weapon proficiencies are completely optional. Proficiencies are not necessary for a balanced game."
If you go through the 2e Player's Handbook, identify all the parts that are explicitly marked as "optional" and take them out, you end up with a system like this:
- 3d6 six times in order for attributes. No Shenanigans.
- Only Fighter, Thief, Wizard and Cleric as allowed classes.
- Easy-to-learn-and-run side-based initiative and combat
- No Weapon or Non-Weapon Proficiencies.
- No Encumbrance
- No spell components
- no casting times
- no weapons vs armor modifiers
- death at 0 hp
- No weapon speed
- No critical hits
- no individual xp awards
- no training
|Yes to all the things about this art piece. Fuck yeah, Easley.