Sunday, April 21, 2013

Second Chances or More 2E

Being a fan and player of AD&D 2E I’ve been a bit disappointed the edition often gets skipped over by the gaming community at large, whether mainstream, OSR, indie, or what have you.

The rising juggernaut of Pathfinder champions the spirit of 3E/3.5E. Their support includes volumes of gorgeous full color books, ample primary and third party publisher support (probably the best in the industry), competent and convenient digital retailing, and print distribution with increasing prominence in many brick and mortar stores.

It can be argued the forthcoming 13th Age is a divergent adaptation of 4E using the OGL. It has a growing community and we will see how well it fares when its released into stores giving all gamers outside of the pre-order folks or convention goers a chance to look at the system.

OSRIC, one of the earliest OSR games, claims direct descent from the ideas offered in AD&D (1E). Other games emulating earlier pre-Advanced versions have supplemental and companion books (S&W Complete, LL AEC) easily scaling up the basic systems to approach AD&D. All these games are reaching out to their audiences and in some instances making headway towards new player-bases. Their growth is made evident by the response to Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day and other indicators, such as Wizards’ reprinting earlier editions in premium or collector formats.

Where does 2E fit into this? There’s not as much activity as far as I know. Two games always pop up when I search for a 2E ‘retroclone’. Both have been around for a couple of years, but none of them have reached the self-sustaining critical mass like some of the other OSR games have (third party adventures, subsystems, genre variants). One is For Gold & Glory and the main website hosting it appears to have expired.

The other is Myth & Magic and my personal experience (or lack thereof) goes back to Late March, Early May of 2012 with the conclusion of a very successful Kickstarter project. Things were looking up. The supportive community helped the game complete a crowd-funding project with an abundant surplus. Maybe this was the catalyst a 2E-style game needed to gain traction with the gaming community.

I mean, in their DIY scrappiness the OSR games have found ways to gain solid footholds in traditional distribution channels and were always adepts at digital distribution — and self-publishing, and crowd-sourcing, and print-on-demand, all the publishing hot topics that have several industries dizzy, giddy, and panicky from the whirl of activity — always pioneers to begin with.

At the time, the next pioneering wave seemed to be Kickstarter as it was riding off the high of its first mega-projects. It was THE platform with which to launch a creative project and games in particular. It was essentially self-publishing ground-zero, not just self-publishing which other platforms could do, but came prepackaged with expanding an audience as well.

Well, I joined that herd and I can say the experience was especially unmemorable. I promptly forgot about Myth & Magic in the midst of more exciting and better updated projects. Not that New Haven Games didn’t update, I just found a lot of them didn’t raise my interest beyond the surface level of "Oh, that’s nice to hear". Others were focused on the Game Master’s Guide Kickstarter, which I didn’t bother backing as other things again seemed more interesting at the time.

I neglected this project until reading Tenkar’s Tavern updating on the progress on this and the developing history of trouble facing this project, a history which had skipped over my head entirely due to my absence of attention. Previously, I had downloaded the direct upload of the Players Guide, but the password locked PDF annoyed me and I never went beyond a skim of the table of contents. I missed the RPGNow coupons for the regular PDF as it was sent along with the flood of Kickstarter update emails. I have those emails turned off. By now New Haven Games had grown silent and non-responsive, so my request for another coupon is not likely to be heeded.

In a recent update, we at least know the reason for the lack of communication. In the face of mounting pressure from the project and real life issues, the project creator blanked out. The whole situation, what was once a positive experience, became an unpleasant weight.

You know what? I’m perfectly fine with that explanation. Having experienced similar situations and pressures, and falling flat on my face, I can understand. Glad to hear the designer realize it and claims he’s taking steps to resolve the remaining issues with the project. I hope to get what I backed for, sooner rather than later. We’re coming up on a full year now for a project that already had a draft and now a completed PDF but seemingly no where near completion in terms of physical goods. Tom Ryan, the one-man show behind New Haven Games also admits to making a publishing miscalculation choosing the print option of glossy pages. Art for one of the supplements is going to be non-existent and shipping is going to eat into the GM Guide funds or he has to pony up the difference. Doesn’t help that postal rates rose. Another stumble in the long line of slip ups, but publishing dilemmas have plagued far more experienced and well organized projects than this one.

One thing Tom said in his update, "Myth & Magic is likely doomed now because of my mismanagement of the campaigns", may hold true. Honestly, 2E may not be the most popular of D&D editions and a 2E retroclone probably doubly dubious in its position. With the extent of problems disrupting it, M&M may very well be dead in the water. The thing with retroclones is they have to reach out to a large enough segment of the gaming community to warrant groups adopting the rules, at least for gamers like me who play solely online in either PBeMs or PbPs. I don’t have a tabletop group I can convince to play a retroclone they’ve never heard of. Convincing a GM online to run a retroclone he’s never heard of is even more remote.

Funny thing is right around this time last year when Myth & Magic seemed like it would rekindle 2E’s flame, I joined an actual 2E game with members of my group left over from a shuttered 3E game. It’s a lot of fun and probably the best time gaming I’ve had in years. So do I really need a retroclone? Probably not.

What else is right around the corner, a year after Myth & Magic’s funding? The WotC produced official AD&D 2E premium reprints. Not only are 2E books easy to find in used bookstores, flea markets, or eBay, we’re going to have a set of brand new reprints available in May. Steve Winter already received his copies (some of the first off the press) and posted a picture on his Twitter account. They’re handsome books. I may get them just to support 2E.


  1. I have done some comparisons of BD&D, 1E AD&D, 2E AD&D, 3E AD&D and my style seems to gel with 2E the most. It has a bad rap, I think, because it is seen as the corporate version that was made to spite Gary Gygax. The extensive number of splat books and addons is seen as a money grab by some.

  2. I think some people are, in addition to the things Random Wizard said above, annoyed or put off by the 'sanitation' of the edition. No Half-Orcs because that implies rape. No Assassin class because that implies a morally grey game at best. No "devils" or "demons" because that will upset the fundamental Christians.

    There are actually a lot of things in 2E I like, and I still use my 2E books as references from time to time even though my own game's houserules are based in BECMI.

  3. The perception of it being lesser (legitimate, frank, real, old school, etc.) is unfortunate especially since it hews closer to 1E than it does to 3E. The "flavor" of an edition contributes significantly to its life and legacy, but one of the positives of the glut of splat books meant most of the edited elements returned to the edition in short order. Coming into the game in its later years, I saw all the grey or dark bits already reintegrated and even expanded in some instances.

    I also notice mentions of 2E's focus on non-Gygaxian settings rubbed certain fans the wrong way, especially with the dichotomous combination of 'Castle Greyhawk' and 'Greyhawk Wars' pulling apart the established tone of the setting. Some may feel the older material was purposely invalidated to make way for the "new school".

    I could empathize, FR faced a similarly farcical transition into 4E and it will take herculean efforts to draw me back to the setting for the 5E iteration. Poor Dragonlance has gone through even more upheavals. Important to note, both settings were founded in 1E or even earlier.

    The tone of a setting is not dictated by the rules (provided the rules are flexible enough, which AD&D 1E or 2E is). The tone of those settings isn't even consistent given the drastic changes inflicted upon them over the years, so I feel much of the arguments saying the tone emphasized in the settings (or even within the rules themselves) ruined the old school feel of the game are false.

    It will be interesting to see what effect the 2E reprints will have if any.

    On RPOL, where the PbP games I'm playing in are hosted, I've noticed an equal number of 1E and 2E games, roughly equivalent again to 3E, 4E and Pathfinder. Somewhat less B/X type games. I also noticed an increasing number of OSR games, so those games do have some active impact on the overall gaming community. There are more examples in other locales and sites no doubt.