I see the red-headed stepchild of D&D has been getting a bit of a kicking here in the blogsphere once again. It’s easy to beat on poor ol’ 2E, isn’t it? It’s the edition that we only loved for its assortment of kewl campaign settings and supplemental material in Dragon and Dungeon magazines anyway, right?
I admit the game certainly had its share of problems. I played a fair amount of 2nd edition AD&D back in the 90′s (and hell, I’m still running a play-by-post game of it today), but I think it only just now occured to me how much of the written rules in both the 2nd edition Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide I’ve completely ignored over the years. Here’s a shortlist of the most notorious offenders…
Half the combat rules: Included in this is weapon vs. armor adjustments for ‘To-Hit’ rolls, different damage dice for small/medium and large creatures, speed factors, the punching and wrestling table, called shots, polearms and weapon frontage, all the crazy modifiers to initiative (“Well, if you want your mage to use his magic wand this round, George, it’s an extra +3 penalty to your init roll…“), and so much more. All of this stuff always seemed like a bunch of nonsense to me. You need a flow chart to keep track of it all, and my goodness, can you imagine how long one round of combat would take if you were juggling all of this crap? I believe this was one of the key reasons I lost interest in my previous 2nd edition play-by-post game (“A Hot Day in L’Trel“), because I figured I’d just run the game ‘straight out of the book’. What a terrible idea that was. It felt like I was judge to a complicated wargame rather than the DM overseeing what should be a fairly simple, cut-and-dried battle between the PC’s and a group of bandits or a pack of giant, rabid rats.
I suppose I’m biased from having been exposed to the combat system in Basic D&D first (or ‘classic’ D&D, or B/X D&D, or BECMI D&D, or whatever you people want to call it this week). It was simple. Group initiative, roll to hit, roll for damage, spells are cast, roll for morale (if applicable), move on to the next round. The supplemental rules were easy to remember: your opponents get an attack bonus if you turn and run away, etc. Individual initiative was optional.
I admit I did use individual initiative in my 2nd edition games back in the day, but I ignored all the modifiers and rolled a straight d10 (unless you had a monster like a zombie, which is supposed to take its turn last because of how slow they move). I also used the optional ‘hovering on death’s door’ rules, because… I don’t know, really. I reckon the first DM I played 2nd edition with used them in his game and I just took it from there. I’ve certainly had a reversal of opinion on this rule in recent years (nowadays I much prefer something like Robert Fisher’s injury table, which I seem to use in every game I’ve run recently).
Spell components: Nope. No way. Your 1st level mage is already weak enough as is, I’m not going to further hinder you by making you go around collecting bits of fleece or powdered iron or rose petals and then tell you that you can’t cast your one lousy spell anymore if you run out of them.
Yes, I know they were part of 1st edition too.
I also ignored them there.
Priests of a specific mythoi: They were just clerics in my games, thank you very much. Even in campaigns of my own creation, with my own pantheon inserted into the game world, I still didn’t want specialist priests thrown in there. There never seemed to be anything wrong with the 2nd edition cleric as-is, why do I need to give them specific powers and allow them to use battle axes because the god of such-and-such deems it appropriate?
It might be fair to say that I’m something of a hypocrite here, given that I did use specialist mages. Ah well.
Training: Like spell components, this is another carry-over from 1st edition. It doesn’t seem as strict as 1E’s rules regarding leveling up, but it’s implied that the DM may not allow a PC to increase in level after gaining enough XP until they seek out some form of training. I’ve always hated this idea.
Let’s say I’m a 3rd level fighter and I whip up on a band of hobgoblins all by my lonesome, earning enough experience to move into the 4th level. I’ve improved my skills in the field, why am I not automatically considered better at what I do (fighting)? Instead, I have to go home and spar with Duke, the stereotypical grizzled, eyepatch-wearing vet for five sweaty hours until I become a better swordsman.
It’s like if you had a rookie baseball player, and he hits ten home runs over the course of a three game series and yet the sports media won’t even think about considering him a better player until he goes through batting practice the next day. What the hell?!
Now, if I was using the proficiency system and the player wanted to learn a new weapon or a new skill, fair enough, seek out a trainer… but all that stuff happens in downtime anyway, so it never became an issue.
Dual class humans: Not that I outlawed or scrapped the rules for this, but nobody I played with EVER bothered with this. It just wasn’t on our radar at all. I guess if you wanted multiple class skills you went with a multi-class gnome or dwarf or half-elf.
As a flip-side to this, I can think of one rule I always enforced that every other 2nd edition player I knew seemed to ignore when they ran their games, and that was the racial ability requirements table.
Everyone used the class ability requirements (you need to have a DEX score of at least 9 to be a thief, for instance), but many DM’s seemed to care not if you needed a minimum STR of 8 and CON of 11 to qualify to be a dwarf. Well, I surely did care. I was somewhat of a Nazi about those rules. I remember a player looking crestfallen, almost coming to tears because they didn’t have good enough stats to be a halfling (who the hell wants to be a halfling by choice, anyway?). Okay, it wasn’t that bad… but I do recall a little argument and a slight hissy fit from the player in question over that one. (who went on to play a half-elf instead and rose to become one of the most powerful characters in the game, by the way).
I enforced this rule to keep the demihuman quotient in check. Unless you’re on a world where elves or gnomes are the predominant race, I always figured humans should be the most common type of PC race selection. I didn’t do this to be a bastard, I just wanted it to be something special when you saw a dwarf PC roaming about.