Decrepit Dragons

An Introduction to AD&D, 2nd edition

So why review AD&D (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons) 2nd edition more than ten years after it was issued? First of all, for old times sake. Second, since although the 3rd edition is already out, it is still a huge game with many players all over the world. And third, for completion’s sake. When I opened this section of The Ogmios Project I set out to review all the games I’ve played over the years. Now that I’ve reviewed my more heavy and recent games (HERO, Vampire: the Masquerade and Mage: the Ascension), I feel the need to return to my roots and at least mention AD&D.

Some Dry Statistics

AD&D is a class/rank based game. Each character must choose a character class which will determine its powers, abilities and weaknesses. In AD&D classes are total and unchangeable – a fighter could never cast a spell or learn to pick a lock, simply because he is a fighter. The basic Player’s Guide contains eight character classes – fighter, paladin, ranger, wizard, priest, druid, thief and bard. Non human characters can have multi-class characters and human characters can (under certain limitations) change their class throughout the campaign. If you consider all the specialized character classes and kits in all the various source books, AD&D can easily offer several hundred classes.
A character has six attributes – strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom and charisma which range between 3 and 18 (although non human characters can have slightly lower or higher attributes).
Most rolls (hit rolls, saving rolls, proficiency roles) are made with a twenty sided die (d20), although this system uses virtually any dice known to man, and then some.

Settings and Support

Without a doubt, AD&D’s greatest asset is its huge range of supporting products. AD&D is probably the system with the most published sourcebooks. Besides sourcebooks for the various game races, the various game character classes and numerous campaign settings and source material, AD&D has even issued books about pure roleplaying concepts, such as “The complete book of Villains” and “Creative Campaigning” (the best AD&D product, in my humble opinion).

Realism and Roleplaying

You can say a lot of things about AD&D, but that it is realistic is not one of them. A system that grants hit points as the character’s level advances, that considers the armor more than the shield when determining defense rates and that allows armored fighters to charge into an orc village and to survive can not be a realistic system. Be warned.
On the other hand, AD&D doesn’t encourage good roleplaying either. AD&D is based on an alignment stat that is made up of two axes – good-evil and order-chaos. Characters tend to be templated into one of the nine possible options, and good roleplaying is thrown out of the window.

Final Words

AD&D is an old system, by far surpassed by newer systems. Sure, every problem in it can be fixed, but the question is whether or not it is worth it. Personally, I’ve filled more than three large binders with improvements and corrections to AD&D. But if the foundations are rotten, its hard to build towers.
In my opinion AD&D should be used for its main strength, i.e. the huge amount of source material. Although it might take some work, but converting AD&D material to a better fantasy system (such as Fantasy HERO, Rolemaster or even GURPS Fantasy) will probably create a not half bad campaign, if done properly.
One final word of advice – AD&D is used by many players as an introduction to the world of roleplaying, since it is relatively simple to master. This is not a good idea. AD&D is filled with miss-concepts and bad ideas that take good players years to break free of. There are far better ways to make your first steps into the world of roleplaying such as MERP or the World of Darkness games.