Oops! To tide you over: First Edition vs. Second

I'd hoped to write the next installment of reading AD&D today over my lunch break, but got caught up talking with some friends.

This week, I promise, it's coming.

To tide you over, here's the text of the conversation between Bill and I.

Jason: Second edition AD&D reprints in May

Bill: Oh, hey, man.

Bill: You know, I've never even read through the 2E core books fully. Have had them on my hard drive for a while now.

Jason: Heh.

Jason: 2E is not bad. It's really not all that different from 1E

Jason: Just better organized, a bit more intuitive in some ways, and they removed the monk, assassin, and half-orc from the core book.

Bill: That's what I gathered from the parts I did read. It all feels a bit more sterile than 1E, though. It's like it is missing that gloomy weirdness that made 1E 1E, you know?

Bill: There is a certain...self-awareness...to 2E, I guess.

Jason: Yes, it's definitely more polished in its presentation, more slick and I guess more corporate

Jason: Well, definitely more corporate.

Jason: It was sanitized to remove offensive elements and be more family friendly, with more of an emphasis on epic story rather than gritty dungeon crawls.

Bill: You're hitting it, for me. In 1E, there is good and there is evil, but mainly, you're really there for the XP and the loot. To do good isn't necessarily built into the game. With 2E, I definitely get the feeling like there is an unspoken "Now, you guys all know that you're supposed to play good or nice neutral, right? RIGHT?"

Jason: Yes, absolutely

Jason: In fact, TSR stated that as one of their goals

Jason: It was to help disarm parents groups who thought D&D was a satanic influence on kids

Bill: Did they really? Emirkol the Chaotic does not approve.

Jason: That's why Devils and Demons became tanar'ri and baatezu

Jason: The other design goal, which only came out much later (like, after WotC, later) was that the bitch who bought TSR out from under Gygax wanted to be able to produce a version of the game for which she didn't have to pay him royalties

Bill: Who was that again?

Jason: Lorraine Williams

Bill: Right. She's the one who nearly tanked the whole company, right?

Jason: Gygax hired her to manage the company, and she bought it out from under him, then drove him out

Jason: She did really well with second edition for about 10 years or so, but then yeah, they went bankrupt

Bill: I guess, then, that what I loved most about AD&D was the Gygaxian nature of it. Not always to my liking, sometimes creeped me out, but it's what made AD&D AD&D for me.

Jason: Understood. That's partially why I can't get into a lot of the retro clones

Jason: They get the rules right, but not the feel.

Jason: Labyrinth Lord is probably the sole exception, but that's Moldvayian, not Gygaxian.

Bill: You know how AD&D feels to me? Like how the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings looks.

Jason: Heh. When I think of Bakshi I always think of Wizards

Jason: But I get what you mean.

Jason: AD&D Second Edition feels like a game that grew out of the D&D cartoon, while AD&D first edition feels like the game that influenced people like Bakshi to put the visuals in their style that they did.

Jason: Honestly, as great as he is, second ed is Elmore, where first edition is Frazetta

Bill: YES! You totally nailed it. Exactly.

Bill: Not saying one is better than the other, mind you. But one definitely speaks louder to me than the other.

Jason: Right, right

Jason: I've got perhaps an even better analogy

Bill: hit me

Jason: First edition conjures images of a bunch of shaggy-haired gamers huddled in someone's basement with yellow incandescent lights, munching on lay's potato chips and trying desperately to map the dungeon that the DM put together. Second edition is playing in your folks' dining room at the dining room table on a Saturday afternoon with sunlight filling the room.


  1. That reads like Beat poetry. And I can dig it, man! Dig it!

  2. That last comment is almost exactly how we play 1e, sans the basement.

  3. I'd like to say a word or two in defense of Lorraine Williams. Like everyone else, it irks me that she pushed Gary out of TSR, but we should bear in mind that in the years since, we've heard nothing but his side of the story, and he was not an objective type observer. You hear basically nothing from Lorraine about what happened, but David Ewalt's "Of Dice and Men" features an interview with her about it all. I gather from what she said that Gary wasn't entirely the sober sensible fixer who was pushed out for no reason. It seems he balked unreasonably at some cost-cutting measures Lorraine proposed when she brought him on, such as that TSR had a house on the Isle of Man and he blew his stack when she suggested selling it. I'm not suggesting Lorraine was blameless or even that she was necessarily justified in pushing Gary out - but it does sound as though the situation was more complex than he made it out to be.

    1. I read Of Dice and Men. And certainly you're correct that Gary was not a perfect human being--he had his dark period and he had is foibles. Still, Lorraine Williams was possibly the first example of a businessperson who had no knowledge of gaming, trying to run a gaming company, and ramrodding her own interests into it.

      There's no arguing that D&D's popularity fell sharply during her tenure at TSR, and that it resulted in the company's bankruptcy and buyout by Wizards of the Coast. In addition, her disdain for her own primary audience is well documented in many interviews and quotes from the era. So while I respect and acknowledge your thoughts, I stand by the above.


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