The Alexandrian

Over 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 been silent, will emerge in the near future:

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.

I started gaming in the summer of 1989: A brief period of BECMI followed by an almost immediate leap into 2nd Edition. So I’d be pretty much the definitional poster child for this “lost” generation.

But I think the reason no movement or “voice” has coalesced around this generation is that it’s never actually been been lost and it’s never really gone away.

For example, the OSR has been primarily driven by revisiting/rediscovering:

(1) Out of print systems

(2) Different ways of prepping and running adventure material

(3) Different ways of organizing your players and your campaign

And the exploration of these older ideas have resulted in the publication of new products using these lost methods. Many of which have also found new ways to explore these concepts.

With that in mind, let’s consider what these elements are during the 2nd Edition era:

  • Narrative-oriented / scene-based adventures.
  • Encyclopedic presentation of campaign settings.
  • Splat books.
  • Campaigns defined by a consistent group of 4-8 players who all attend each session.

And what you quickly realize is that the distinctive elements of the 2nd Edition era are still the distinctive elements of the bulk of the RPG industry. I mean, I basically just described Paizo’s entire focus and product line. There’s nothing to rediscover here: People never stopped publishing this stuff. People never stopped playing like this.

(I mean, yes, the late-3E/4E Delve Style adventures can be seen as beginning to depart from the classic narrative forms set by Call of Cthulhu and the original Dragonlance modules. But Paizo’s adventure paths are still being published every single month. And most other RPGs haven’t followed the path of 4E.)

So when you’re talking about something being “lost” from the 2nd Edition era, all you’re really talking about are the actual rules for 2nd Edition. And maybe a specific campaign setting that’s been allowed to malinger out of print.

And that simply isn’t enough material for a movement to really gain traction on. Particularly because 2nd Edition doesn’t actually have a lot of mechanical distinction from 1st Edition. Once you’ve said “let me count the ways I liked 2E” a couple of times, you’re basically asking a movement to coalesce around the glories of a proficiency system and three-hole punched monster manuals.

More likely would be strong communities forming around the out of print campaign worlds. But, of course, that’s already happened.

And to be perfectly clear here: I’m not trying to diss 2nd Edition. I actually think some of the best D&D products ever published were published during 2nd Edition.

What I’m saying, to sum up, is that the conceptual stuff from the era never went away: Which means there’s nothing “new” to rediscover and add to your games. And there’s no vacuum in the market waiting to be filled (because lots of people are still publishing products like that). So the only thing a “2ER” could be built around is a nostalgia for very specific products. And that’s why it hasn’t happened. And why it isn’t likely to happen.

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7 Responses to “2ER! – The 2nd Edition Revolution (Will Not Be Happening)”

  1. EvilGardenGnome says:

    I’m a 2e baby, and I endorse this message.

    Really, about the only thing I expect you’ll see is some riffs on the rules, which we’ve already seen in Myth & Magic, and For Gold and Glory.

  2. LS says:

    A very well considered and thoughtful response. As someone who started playing right as 3.5e came out, I’ve always been curious about 2nd edition. Largely because many of my players complained about how much better it is than 3rd.

    In looking back through it, I’ve really enjoyed all of the settings and modules from that period. The three Vecna modules are pretty genius, I think. But like you said, nobody ever stopped loving the campaign worlds/modules. And the rules haven’t really caught my attention from what I have read.

  3. John says:

    As someone who started gaming on the tail-end of 1E and did most of my DM work in 2E, I have to agree with this assessment. The nostalgia I feel for 2E has nothing to do with the rule-set – and not even that much to do with the settings – but rather it’s nostalgia for the specific home-brewed campaigns and gaming group dynamics that simply happened to coincide with that particular era in D&D’s evolution.

  4. Aaron says:

    I like 2e for the same reason I like my minivan. It’s eminently practical.

  5. Jack Colby says:

    I like the edition. It was “my” D&D growing up. But I’m playing OD&D now, and 2e holds no real attraction beyond nostalgia. I certainly don’t want a clone of the rules (although they are out there already, they just… you guessed it… have not caught on.)

  6. Chris S says:

    This an astute breakdown of my beloved 2E. My gut had me fighting every point… but on every point you’re exactly right. All the great stuff about 2E became the foundation for all gaming since. The stuff that was less good simply faded away when it was no longer needed.

    I have to image that running a game with THAC0 and the 2E proficiency system is a bit like conducting Catholic mass in Latin… sure it’ll have some appeal to some older fuddy-duddies, but ultimately it’s just more complicated than it needs to be.

  7. S'mon says:

    Makes sense, yup.

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