The Lost AD&D (2E) Classes

One of the problematic design decisions that went into AD&D 2nd Edition was the loss of the Monk. It was admittedly a problematic class in 1E, pitifully weak at 1st level but quite powerful later on, and it was, as we say, not quite as thoroughly baked as most of the rest of the classes.

However, the far less playable Bard was not only retained in 2E despite being clearly optional in 1E, it turned into a quite serviceable and useful class. The Assassin, it is commonly assumed, was omitted as part of the effort to made D&D less controversial — an effort which cost us demons and devils as well, at least for a while. I surmise, then, that leaving the Monk out was left over from Gary Gygax’s aborted plan for a second edition, wherein monks and other Asian-inspired character classes (like those from Oriental Adventures) would be shunted into their own book.

This seemed at the time to perfectly reasonable on the face of it. D&D was considered, for a long time and by a lot of people, to be a fairly generic fantasy in a lot of ways, despite its reliance on, for example, the relatively arcane (har, har) Jack Vance’s tales of the Dying Earth for inspiration for its magic system. As time’s gone on, though, and we have seen more different types of fantasies, particularly those varying from the old standards of Tolkien, Moorcock, Anderson and Howard, and as Vancian magic has become more and more an outlier, it’s become increasingly clear that D&D is in no way generic in any sense. It represents, in fact, a very specific type of fantasy, one inspired by the above-mentioned masters but also deveoping its own tropes and conventions… and even, in time, exerting some influence of its own on fantasy outside itself.

The Assassin was another problematic class. What the “assassination table” actually meant at the table was hotly debated at one point. Personally I would, in retrospect, treat it as a way of resolving assassinations which happen more or less entirely off-camera. There was no real infrastructure, much less mechanics, for handling the Assassin’s work leading up to an assassination: the casing of the target until his moves were predictable, the study of his defenses of guards, the acquisition of untraceable weapons, and so on. (Gygax’s Assassin is undoubtedly inspired by Leiber, but for an excellent depiction of this kind of thing in a fantasy context, by the way, see Steven Brust’s Jhereg.)

D&D’s Third Edition understood that these two classes were an indispensable part of the D&D mythos, and included both; the Monk as a class in its own right, and the less obviously Assassin as a prestige class. And it included a revision of the fan-favorite Barbarian from Unearthed Arcana, although the other creations from that volume, the Cavalier and Thief-Acrobat, didn’t make the cut… I suspect because no one really knew what to do with them or had a reason they should be in the game and distinct from the other classes.

There is probably room for specialist Magic-Users along the lines of the Illusionist, although the precedent for such is far less clear, though not nonexistent. But there’s three “missing” classes that have been part of the mainstream of D&D for good chunks of its life, but which are missing from some editions. Classes, I would say, that any self-respecting clone ought to make provisions for. Or any upcoming new edition, if it’s trying to be a unifying revision that brings everyone back together into the same game system again. You’d include the Bard and Illusionist, too, for completeness. That’d be a nice class selection.

Re-Evaluating AD&D’s Second Edition

Wizards of the Coast’s upcoming release schedule has, slated for May 21 2013, premium reprint versions of the AD&D 2nd edition Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monstrous Manual… much as last year they released fancy editions of the earlier 1st edition books. Relative newcomers and those nostalgic for the old days ought to be pleased.

2ephbNow, I don’t know that I am personally in the market for these. I didn’t pick up the 1E reprints, for example, although I was tempted. And I have quite serviceable copies of the AD&D2E core books on my shelf. Two sets, actually. And a shrinkwrapped copy of the first Monstrous Compendium. But that itself is noteworthy because I always thought it was AD&D2E that chased me away from D&D for nigh on two decades. The old line was that 2E didn’t solve any of AD&D’s problems but sucked out lots of flavor — assassins, demons and devils, all that stuff. Even the innocuous monk was cut. In the years that I disliked D&D I hated 2E, and I was vocal about it in the local gaming community and on the internet.

But, you know, stuff looks different in the cold light of passed years and you start seeing features instead of problems. I’ve been looking over my 2E books lately, and I feel very differently about it after moving in a direction more favorable to 2E for several years. Sure, the AD&D2E DMG was less useful as a general reference than its 1E counterpart — but we have the internet now. It contained some suboptimal GMing advice — but so did its predecessor. And granted that during the 2E era the game crufted up a great deal with a bazillion settings and broken rules addenda like Skills & Powers, but the core — the game in the Player’s Handbook — is really quite nicely designed and retains virtually all of the character of the editions of D&D that preceded it.

2edmgSecond edition gave us a Bard that was playable, partially alleviating that hard feelings causued by cutting two classes. A lot of things I found objectionable at the time, like non-weapon proficiencies, are clearly marked as optional, although it was hard to see that at the time. It cleaned up a lot of little broken things and streamlined some other stuff. Most importantly, it’s the same game, only tighter.

I still don’t like THAC0, that crime against Man and God. But in going over a lot of the old systems and thinking about designing what would be a customized retro-clone, starting with AD&D2E as a baseline really isn’t all that bad an idea. Drop proficiencies entirely, work back in tidied-up versions of the lost classes along with maybe the Barbarian, provide attack matrices alongside THAC0 for those who want them, and maybe flip a switch or turn a knob here or there and you’d have a rock-solid and pleasingly old-school game engine to work with.

I was where I was for those years, and all that time away is probably part of the reason I’ve changed my mind. I don’t actually regret choosing to play Rolemaster during most of the 2E era, but I do regret not keeping some of the considerable amount of 2E (and other D&D, to be sure) product that passed through my hands over the years. The current D&D climate filled with retro-clones offers has helped to show just how close AD&D1E and 2E really are: closer than AD&D1E is to B/X or BECMI, for example. Now that the first generation of retro-clones is part and all of the other old versions of D&D systems are thoroughly emulated, maybe we ought to start taking a closer look at 2E.