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AD&D 2e rendered grognard-friendly

July 2, 2014

Apparently, there’s a fifth edition of (A)D&D coming out. It’s a big deal because this edition is designed to appeal to absolutely everyone. Good luck with that, WotC.

Meanwhile some people are still struggling to come to terms with the first major reboot 25 years ago.  AD&D 2e doesn’t get much love in OSR circles. Indeed, it comes in for quite a bit of stick. We hate nonweapon proficiencies, cry the naysayers. Where’s my half-orc assassin? Demons and devils are called tannery and batzoo or something. THAC0 involves subtraction! The artwork is hatefully bland. And so on, and so forth.

But does 2e really stray so far from old-school sensibilities? Does it, in fact, differ much from the Gygaxian splendour of 1e? Let’s take a look at the core books and see if there’s a system in there that a dyed-in-the-wool (yet open-minded) grognard could conceivably enjoy.


Chapter 1: Player Character Ability Scores

Use Method I (3d6 in order) – page 13, column 1. Crybabies use Method V (4d6, drop the lowest, arrange as desired) – page 13, column 2.

Chapter 2: Player Character Races

Use as written. But, you bleat, where is the half-orc? Nowhere, I reply. Just like it’s not in OD&D or Basic D&D and no one complains about that. If you really can’t bear to play anything else, get The Complete Book of Humanoids and play half-orcs, dinosaur-folk and wemics to your heart’s content.

Personally, I’d dump half-elves and probably gnomes too.

Chapter 3: Player Character Classes

Look at page 25, column 1. What does it say in the blue box?

Fighter, mage, cleric, and thief are the standard classes. They are historical and legendary archetypes that are common to many different cultures. Thus they are appropriate to any sort of AD&D game campaign. All of the other classes are optional.

So you don’t like specialist wizards or priests? Don’t panic; they’re optional. Stick with the four core classes. Dump the thief too, if you feel you must – although the 2e thief is probably an improvement on 1e. Add rangers or bards to taste; they’re improved too. But it’s up to you. That’s what optional means.

Chapter 4: Alignment


Chapter 5: Proficiencies (Optional)

Look, there’s that word again. Right in the chapter heading. And underneath (page 51, column 1) it says:

All proficiency rules are additions to the game. Weapon proficiencies are tournament-level rules, optional in regular play, and nonweapon proficiencies are completely optional.

Need I say more?

Chapter 6: Money and Equipment

Note the encumbrance rules on pages 76-79. Guess what? They’re optional.

Chapter 7: Magic

Spell components (pages 85-86) are optional. It’s your call.

Chapter 8: Experience

We’ll come back to this.

Chapter 9: Combat

There are lots of blue boxes filled with optional rules to increase complexity and reduce playability. Ignore  them.

Use THAC0. Don’t like it? Change it. Make combat charts or, if your old-school scruples will let you, convert to ascending AC. It’s easy. For AD&D purposes, 20 – AC = AAC. Then extrapolate the attack bonuses by class from Table 54 (page 91). Here, I’ve made a chart for you. Click to make it (slightly) larger.


Initiative is a bit weird – roll 1d10 per side, low roll wins – but perfectly functional. Either use it as written (applying the modifiers from Table 55) or substitute your favourite version. It’s hard to go wrong with 1d6 per side, high roll wins. Again, ignore everything in blue boxes.

Chapters 10-14 and Appendices

All fine.


Most of the 2e DMG is what Joesky would probably call BLAHBLAH BLAH. For the most part, you can safely ignore it. If it’s in a blue box, be especially wary. Only one thing really concerns us here:

Chapter 8: Experience

There is some tosh in this chapter, it must be said. Experience points for surviving? Er, I don’t think so. XP for “playing intelligently”? Too subjective. XP for achieving “story goals”? Don’t get me started. (You see? I’m a grognard too.)

But wait! After the bit about XP for defeating monsters (which is fine) there’s another one of those blue boxes containing optional rules. You can ignore pretty much everything else in the chapter and pay attention to this little box (page 47, column 3):

As an option, the DM can award XP for the cash value of non-magical treasures. One XP can be given per gold piece, or equivalent, found.

That’s it. That’s everything you need right there.


It’s a monster book. I don’t have much to say about it. As for the wailing and gnashing of teeth about demons and devils being called something different, here’s a thought. Change them back. Happy now?

To sum up, AD&D 2e is already quite grognard-friendly. It’s important to note that the rules are presented in a modular format. Many of the elements that seem to cause some people consternation are entirely optional and clearly labelled as such. It’s a matter of picking and choosing from among those options to achieve the desired play style. The point is, you or I can cheerfully disregard all the rules we don’t like and we are still playing 2e by the book. At its heart, stripped of all those blue boxes, it’s a fairly streamlined iteration of the game, not vastly different in either complexity or tone from B/X, Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry Core.

As for the hatefully bland artwork, with the exception of Tony DiTerlizzi’s fine contributions, I concede the point. I can’t do anything about it. Draw your own succubi.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. mikemonaco permalink
    July 2, 2014 4:45 pm

    You mean we don’t have to use all the optional rules? Why didn’t anyone tell me that in 1987?!?

    • July 2, 2014 4:51 pm

      I’ll let you in on another secret. You don’t have to use the published settings either. 😉

      By the way, sorry about the half-orc bashing. I know you’re fond of the blighters.

  2. kelvingreen permalink
    July 2, 2014 7:29 pm

    Well said.

  3. Jack Colby permalink
    July 3, 2014 1:35 am

    I agree with you about the rules, played more 2E than any other edition, but I don’t think rules are the real issue here. It seems the feel of the thing is what throws 1E grognards off most and makes them dislike it. And I can totally understand that. If you love the way Gygax writes, and read the DMG for enjoyment alone, the 2E books aren’t ever going to cut it. Also, and perhaps the main point, just because 2E can be played similarly to 1E is still no reason for anyone who loves 1E to play it. They have 1E. 🙂

    I do, however, feel that the bashing of 2E is pointless. Out of all later editions, it’s still the closest to 1E and earlier games, and that should be acknowledged. As you explained, the differences are relatively small unless you insist on including ALL the additional material, which isn’t a fair assessment of the core game.

    • July 3, 2014 9:46 am

      I pretty much agree with you, except that I have heard people (including some of the “leading lights” of the OSR) moaning about 2e from a rules standpoint. Particular bugbears seem to be non-weapon proficiencies (which were of course introduced in 1e, though not in the core books) and specialist priests/wizards. My point, I suppose, it’s that it’s perfectly possible to play 2e without those things and, if you do, you’re not playing some houseruled version; you’re playing the game as written.

      Part of the reason for writing this now is that people are talking about 5e as a “modular” system, with the basic rules (four core classes, etc.) supplemented by optional rules for adding complexity and choice. It seems to me that’s exactly what Zeb Cook tried to do with 2e. I also feel he largely succeeded, but for some reason he doesn’t get the credit in OSR circles. Looking at it in 2014, I regard the 2e Player’s Handbook as somewhat akin to a combined S&W Core/S&W Complete rulebook, with the “Complete” bits in blue boxes. It also reminds me of the “Big Gold Book” for BRP, which presents a fairly streamlined, uncluttered game system with hundreds of optional rules in sidebars for those who want something as complex and crunchy as, say, RuneQuest. Looks to me like Cook was way ahead of everyone else in terms of organisation and presentation.

      You’re absolutely right about the appeal of 1e’s style, not just Gygax’s inimitable prose but also the artwork by Trampier and others. I’m a child of the 1e era myself, and haven’t played much 2e. However, if I were to run AD&D today I’d use the 1e DMG for inspiration and the 2e PHB for rules. And it would be easy. (AD&D 1.5, anyone?)

      Thanks for your feedback. Much appreciated.

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