Standing up for D&D's Gen X: 2e (Part 2)
This is part 2 of a 2 part series. Part 1 is about 2e rules. Part 2 is about 2e 'culture'.
Here's my dirty little secret that I never told anyone before:
I actually really liked the Complete Book of Elves.
I am just going to leave that bombshell hanging in the air and return to it later in this post, in the hope that the shock value of that statement will minimise the impact of what I am going to say next.
The aesthetic of 2nd edition expanded and improved the D&D genre of fantasy.
I am going to interject here and say that this post covers two 'cultural' parts - Genre/aesthetics and Style of play. Right now we're obviously talking the first part, but I will get to the second further down. Alright, back to the topic at hand:
Let's ignore the masochistic"I prefer the cheapass sketches to top of the line artists" argument that you see 1st editioners espouse every now and then as insular nostalgic nonsense and go to a second point:
Most 1e grognard complaints in this department seem to be that 2e is basically Paladins & Princesses - After all, they removed half-orcs and assassins and renamed devils and demons.
Those are, honestly, improvements. Assassins and half-orcs was the 80s version of edgelording. People who genuinely think they were missed in 2e are the same kind of people whose favourite marvel characters are Gambit and Carnage (would be wolverine except for how mainstream popular he is). As gaming fantasy goes, it's about as naff as anything can be. Also, no one cares if your devils and demons now have a new name even though everyone knows they are devils and demons. Grow up.
Now, let me start by saying I have a lot of appreciation for the Sword & Sorcery genre. And I think it is an excellent baseline for D&D fantasy. But there is a critical element of fantasy very under-represented in the 1e aesthetic. Arthuriana.
As a child, I loved Ivanhoe, Prince Valiant and Arthurian tales. I enjoyed Ladyhawk and Willow. And Three Hearts & Three Lions is absolutely a D&D tale in my view.
Now, that is not to say that I am secretly yearning for AD&D to be Pendragon-in-drag(on), although it bears mention that Malory's La Morte D'Arthur and Prince Valiant are, in fact, metal as fuck (Valiant in particular - sacks cities, sells people into slavery and casually kills people he doesn't need to - also, his arthurian world is the definition of crapsack).
But I want them to be a part of the D&D fantasy genre without dissonance. What place does a paladin actually have in the murderhobo looting gaming aesthetic of 1e AD&D? None. The paladin is honestly a really weird fit for the 1e alleged style of play.
But it has a place in second edition. The same way Tolkien's brand of fantasy does. The 2e aesthetic is probably the most medieval one of all editions and somehow that's a bigger tent. But let's also put this in perspective. Yes 2e gave us Larry Elmore and his epic landscapes, but the most used artist in the 2e era is probably Jeff Easley.
The guy whose art framed the covers of all three 2e core books, all three revised 1e core books, the rules cyclopedia, the black box D&D set, the revised 2e core books, the revised black box, the Player's Option covers and more.
I mean, it's crazy how many core books he did the covers for. Basically all of post B/X ones that wasn't BECMI. No one defined the post 1e TSR aesthetic more than him. And he was metal as fuck. Look at this shit:
|He smashes the door with a full body flex? WTF.
Also, I want to play that thief behind him.
|Fly, you fools
|A rare 2e heroic ambush
But there's a few Easley pieces I feel really encapsulates the defining tone of 2nd edition, what I call "Knights in Grimey Armor".
|The PHB cover is basically how I envisioned 9th+ level fighters to look after they've attracted followers and established a stronghold. Riding out to dish out the pain.
I do believe that one reason that 1e old schoolers proudly proclaim the virtues of the old style of play whilst no one sticks up for 2nd edition as being good for anything is simply to do with the generational gap. Those who grew up on 0D&D and 1e were late boomers/early Gen Xers.