Dungeons & Dragons Online

The reasons pre-3e D&D was terrible – from someone who cut his teeth on Basic and 1e.

First, whatever game you play and whoever you play it with is fine. If you have a group of buds who've been doing 2e since 1989 where one of you grandfathered in a 1e assassin, that's fine. It's your table, and I'm not gonna break into your house and kick it over.

However, I believe grognardian nostalgia for the THAC0-based D&D games (pre-3e) is sorely misplaced. It's not the worst D&D system (that would be 4e!); but just because something is older doesn't make it better, otherwise we'd still be wiping our asses with sticks and prescribing leeches for a case of the runs.

Someone recently told me to go back to AD&D 2e if I wanted to do Planescape, and this post came from the reasons I whipped together on the spot that you could not PAY me enough to do so. Wanted to share it with a larger audience and see if I get anyone who agrees with me, or anyone who has items to add to the list. And possibly some converts, but that's not likely.

  1. It uses a d20 in three completely different and weirdly incompatible ways (THAC0! Saving throws! Nonweapon proficiencies!)
  2. Has a percentile system tacked onto it for a limited number of classes and skills that should be nonweapon proficiencies (Climb Walls! Pick Locks! Disarm Traps!)
  3. Has an absolutely garbage balance between the classes that leads to either munchkining or players trapped in hells created by their fellow players that did munchkin (who else remembers going one level in fighter then dualclassing to wizard so you don't die in one hit? And pity the fool that HAS 15+ levels in fighter or rogue when there's a wizard or priest in the party…)
  4. Focuses way too much on random luck at chargen with dice-generated stats locking in your character, RAW forbidding you from doing anything about it without a kind DM, with one in particular (Charisma) being almost entirely unimportant unless you roll well enough to luck into Bard on two other stats. With no way to increase them aside from expensive or rare magical items, if you try and get into high-level gameplay but your attributes are only mediocre you're locked out and crippled, especially if you went spellcaster. Speaking of, those arbitrary and frankly stupid racial restricted classes and maximum levels. Like your elven thief? Well, tough noogies if you want him to go over level 12! Want to play a dwarven ranger? Hahahaha, not if you care about rules!
  5. The splatbooks. A munchkin's paradise, an ordinary player's (or DM's!) nightmare. I understand that a game company needs to make money. But when you churn out a bunch of mediocre power-crept product over a course of a decade with no dedicated editorial oversight or long-term vision, it's no wonder your company collapses so hard you get bought by an upstart group of kids with overgrown Pokeyman cards. (and yes, I know that MtG came out long before the Pokemon TCG).
  6. The spell list… Gods, that spell list. One of the best things that 5e introduced is the idea of upcasting spells; it means you don't need multiple entries for spells that are basically upgraded versions of earlier ones, like Cure Wounds or Bigby's Hand. Yeah, any Vancian spell list is gonna be unwieldy, but 2e was record setting in its unwieldiness.
  7. Saving throws. First, the book buries them in the combat section instead of character creation, despite them having a prominent place on the character sheet. Second, the categories are so bloody arbitrary that they have a whole paragraph trying to explain their priority which is only more confusing! Third, there's a section in the 2e book titled "Ability Checks as Saving Throws", which should have been the rule entirely… BUT WASN'T UNTIL FIFTH EDITION. Even 3e halfassed it with the Fort/Ref/Will save system.
  8. The segment system. Talk about a garbage attempt to put yet more math into the system and make combat even more confusing than it already is. Enough said, no one uses it even though it's the rules.
  9. THAC0. I'm gonna ignore the usual complaints about this (weird reverse math! High is bad and low is good until you get into the negative numbers!) and focus on the gatekeeping aspect of it. See, if someone wants to sit down at a table and slay dragons with a bunch of friends in a fantasy world, they should be able to. Making the core of the game dependent upon a deep grasp of 10th-grade level math is just a damned foolish exercise.
Read more:  Lack of good main story

To sum up: if you enjoy being a grognard and playing a game that you've internalized every rule over decades of play, that's fine. But I'll take a nice, clean, well-edited game that I can teach to a group of ten year old kids – or a grandma that's never rolled a d20 before in her life – any day of the week. If I wanted to go back to 2e I'd already be DOING it, so please don't tell me (or anyone else!) to just "Play 2e".

Thanks for coming to my NERDTalk.


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