the cycle of repudiation and reclamation, and the 2nd coming of 2nd edition

September 18th, 2012 by paul

Here's why 2nd edition is due to make a comeback.

For a long time, Original D&D was largely forgotten. Some people never stopped playing it, of course; that's a given with any version of D&D. But it wasn't a part of the public conversation about D&D. It was reclaimed in the 2000s by bloggers like Philotemy Jurament, whose analyses helped a lot of people realize how they had undervalued the OD&D game.

Nowadays on the Internet, the "Old School Renaissance" is a big thing. Most Old Schoolers revere the Original White Box game above all, although the early basic sets by Holmes and Moldvay come in for a lot of love. James Mal of Grognardia calls the White Box/Holmes/Moldvay period the Golden Age of D&D. The post-Gygax TSR period is generally ignored or dismissed: according to James Mal, the mid-to late-80's is D&D's Silver Age, and the 90s the Bronze Age. Of course, there are people still playing Second Edition, Dragonlance, Planescape, Spelljammer, and other products of the Silver and Bronze Age, but they don't have the same control over the public conversation.

Reclamation occurs when someone rediscovers the value of something that's usually ignored or sneered at. Right now, late-TSR D&D is the most undervalued property on the D&D Monopoly board. Today's Edition Wars are fought primarily between the OSR, Pathfinder (3e) and 4e fans. The 2e supporter doesn't have nearly as loud a voice.

I believe their day is coming. I predict that, within two years, some blogger will come along and express, with the persuasiveness of a Philotomy Juramont or James Mal, what was so special about the story-based, Elmister-infested, roleplaying-over-rollplaying Silver and Bronze Ages of D&D. We'll learn why Spelljammer was actually awesome. THAC0 will stop being a punchline. People like Zeb Cook and Douglas Niles will finally get some praise for carrying the D&D banner for a while.

A hitherto silent piece of the D&D population will have a voice, and people who fondly remember the gaming 80s - and new converts - will flock to the 2e banner. They'll have a movement.

I'm not the blogger who is going to bring that about. I wasn't playing D&D during the 2e period, and I can't even imagine the arguments that will make 2e sound like the Best Edition Ever. But the cycle of repudiation and reclamation is inevitable in literature, political science, high fashion, and in D&D too. I think there's a mass of 80s and 90s D&D game material that's waiting to be re-appreciated.

(By the way: I know that there are a lot of people currently playing 2e. I'm proposing that it's currently undervalued, not that it's unvalued.)

18 Responses to “the cycle of repudiation and reclamation, and the 2nd coming of 2nd edition”

  1. katre says:

    I played 2e back in the early-to-mid 90s. It had its good points, and its bad points, compared to 1st edition AD&D (which was the only other D&D I’d played then, since I missed Basic).

    I don’t recall anything specific I missed when I switched from 2e to 3e, though. Clearly I am also not the missionary 2e is waiting for.

  2. Jason says:

    I’ve always found it strange that 2e attracts so little interest online. It was my first edition, at the very tail end of it.

    The 2e era was home to a lot of D&D’s greatest successes in video games – the Gold Box games, Planescape: Torment, and the Baldur’s Gate series are an incredible legacy on their own. Maybe BG’s forthcoming re-release will spur some renewed interest in the 90s.

  3. ramanan says:

    My friends and I were all 2nd Edition gamers, but I don’t think any of us really look back on the game that fondly. I think we all played it because that was the edition TSR was selling at the time. I miss all the settings and splat books more than the edition itself, if anything.

  4. camazotz says:

    2E was the edition I played the most of and its what got me back into the AD&D fold, so maybe I should think about trying to toot its horn a bit more. I think 2E suffered because it wasn’t different enough from 1st edition in the ways needed to really distinguish it; it fixed a great deal with the game, and let me adopt an edition that felt different from 1E, which I associated with my turbulent middle school years. Maybe its like that for a lot of people with 2E? No idea. But I think you’re right, the way the pendulum swings we ought to see more 2E revivalists showing up soon (as their kids head off to college, I imagine, and free time rears its ugly head).

  5. ramanan has it right. The “good stuff” lurking in late 80′s/early 90′s RPGs is all in the settings: Planescape, Ravenloft, Spelljammer, Al Qadim, products like Hollow World and Orcs of Thar for Basic D&D, and, beyond TSR, games like Shadowrun and Vampire. This was the era when I was most actively running games, and our group’s cycle at the time went something like this and repeated several times a year:

    1 – This is the coolest game world ever; let’s play this!
    2 – The rules that go along with this cool game world are sub-optimal to say the least, but we will persevere, because the setting is so cool.
    3 – Ugh! I can’t deal with this any more. Let’s find another game and go back to step 1.

  6. Philo Pharynx says:

    Maybe when this happens they’ll correct the rounding error and call it what it truly was – AD&D 1.5. I bought the PHB and then relized that this was mostly the same game I was growing disenchanted with. I left D&D and didn’t return until 3rd edition.

    The 2e era had some great material, but it was the setting material that rocked and not the rules. I’m currently in a Planescape game using Pathfinder rules and a 4e Dark Sun game.

    When I look at this, my feelings are that it’s more complex than OD&D, but the complexity doesn’t have the structures of 3e and 4e. I’m not saying it can’t be a fun game, but I can see why it’s not being talked about as much.

  7. Brendan says:

    I share Ram’s opinion, and I also started with Second Edition. The main strength of 2E was the diversity of settings. Original Dark Sun remains one of the most interesting published RPG settings. The splat books tended to be only okay, though some of them had interesting subsystems that could be leveraged by a referee (such as the thief guild stuff in the complete thieves book or the cleric faith design guidelines in the complete clerics book). Kits were a great idea with a terrible execution.

    The “story based” adventures, while they occasionally had some interesting ideas and maps (I love the Xak Tsaroth map in the first Dragonlance module!), are really pretty poor structurally, and I don’t think reclamation will ever change that. These products do have an underlying reality; it’s not all fads.

    I do think the rules style of simple defaults with lots of options will probably return (though sometimes 2E eschewed the “simple defaults” part of that equation — for example, check out the rules for starring spells in 2E).

  8. Shieldhaven says:

    While I’m not about to be the One Whose Coming Has (Just Now) Been Foretold, I got my start in 2e, and I frequently reference its rules when I comment on the history of D&D in my blog. A link, in case anyone is interested: http://harbinger-of-doom.blogspot.com/search/label/2e%20DnD

    Planescape and Ravenloft have never truly fallen from popularity, and there are still Birthright die-hards like me around. Those are the legacy of 2e that can be reclaimed – though Sword & Sorcery published Ravenloft 3e, and Planescape sees intermittent references (though nothing I could fully call “support”) from WotC. I am excited about the possibility of revisiting these settings in D&D Next, myself.

  9. I think that 2e is the Best Edition Ever. My homebrewed D&D version is largely based in the 2e, with some 3e rules simplification.

  10. Michael (Gronan) Mornard says:

    “the Original White Box”

    BROWN BOX!!!!!!!!!!

    BROWN BOX!!!!!!!!!!

    BROWN BOX, BROWN BOX, BROWN BOX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    BROWN BOX, DO YOU HEAR ME? BROWN BOX!!!!!

    GRAAAAAAAAHHH!!!! GRONAN SMASH!!!!!!!

  11. Peter K. says:

    Sort of similar feelings to those already expressed: loved some supplements and settings, but mechanics . . . Meh.

    Even the some of the supplements that were in reality problematic, held such promise and interesting player options. Despite their flaws I still look fondly on the complete books of Psionics, Humanoids, and Ninjas. Aurora’s Whole Realms Catalog was brilliant.

    Dark Sun was my favorite setting (sorry, no Spelljammer love), the 3E and 4E versions never quite captured it the same. Also had almost the only tie-in novels that I’ve actually enjoyed. Krynn had a neat idea, but the novels ruined it for me. Toril seemed like a neat idea with it’s Earth culture analoss, until I realized the place was an overcrowded cesspit of kitchen sinks.

    3E did most things more elegantly (my main issues being feat related and, much later, LFQW). And it gave rise to the only fantasy-in-space setting I’ve really liked: Dragonstar.

  12. Peter K. says:

    As a side note: Gamma World 4th Ed. Seems to occupy a similar forgotten niche to AD&D 2E. Interestingly the two were pretty close to compatible, and arguably GW 4E was making slight shifts in the direction of D&D 3E.

  13. Androlphas says:

    I feel that we who started with RPGs (particularly AD&D 2e) circa late 80s to early 90s are the “Lost Generation” of RPG gamers. Too young to be “Old School”, but too old to be “New School”. The problem with us is that we too have fragmented between the different D&D “camps”, but as you say, perhaps it’s time we had a unified “voice” on the RPG blogosphere.

  14. [...] at Blog of Holding, Paul has just posted “The Cycle of Repudiation and Reclamation, and the 2nd Coming of 2nd Edition“: It puts forth his theory that a lost generation of 2nd Edition gamers, who have hitherto [...]

  15. Brendan says:

    I wrote a brief defense of 2E on my blog here: http://thebedrockblog.blogspot.com/2012/02/brief-defense-of-2nd-edition-ad.html

    However I doubt you will see a serious call for a return to the kind of story GMing 2E encouraged because it many of the products explicitly encouraged railroading and giving script immunity to NPCs. The strength of 2E was its focus on settings and characters. But a lot of the GM advice had issues. I think we can restore 2E by embracing the good and throwing out the bad. In fact my prefered edition these days is 2E.

  16. [...] of Holding talks about why 2nd Edition is due for a comeback. Agree or disagree, some interesting thoughts [...]

  17. How about a forum dedicated exclusively to 2e?

    http://www.purpleworm.org/forums/index.php

    And a 2e podcast as well (same people): http://thacoshammer.info/

    I started playing in 1981 with 1e GW and Moldvey B/X. I did play some 2e, but it was a mishmash of B/X, 1e, and 2e. The older I get and the more dissatisfied I become with both ends of the spectrum (in “Today’s Edition Wars”) the more I realize how superior 2e is. It cleans up much of the vagueness of 1e without the excruciating detail of 3e. Two, it is a “closed” system; there is nothing else to buy to “keep up” with the game. Three, generally the supplements are rockbottom in price. There are a couple of expensive ones, but not many. And, lastly, Undermountain was designed for 2e. :D

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