I was looking something up for another article and somehow got routed to a wiki page on the history of D&D editions. I had seen it before, but in scrolling through it I got caught up in their list of the differences between 1e and 2e D&D.

I’ve been asked before what those differences were and my off-the-cuff reply was that they added a little, took away a lot, but really didn’t do anything of substance. Not exactly what fans of 2e, let alone the designers, want to hear. In its defense, here is the complete list of differences between 1e and 2e, as taken from the wiki page linked above.

  1. Half-orcs are removed from the Player’s Handbook.
  2. Character classes are organized into four groups: warrior (fighter, paladin, ranger), wizard (mage, specialist wizard), priest (cleric, druid), and rogue (thief, bard).
  3. Assassins and monks are removed from the game as character classes.
  4. “Magic-users” are renamed “mages”.
  5. Illusionists are made into a subtype of the wizard class, along with new classes specializing in the other seven schools of magic (which were first introduced in Dragonlance Adventures).
  6. Bards are made a normal character class, rather than the multiple-classed character that they are in 1st edition, although they still possess elements of fighters, thieves, and mages.
  7. Rangers are changed dramatically, both thematically and mechanically, from a heavily armored, commando-style survivalist and “giant-class” monster hunter, to a much more nature oriented, lightly armored, two-weapon-wielding, druid-influenced nature warrior.
  8. Proficiencies are officially supported in the Player’s Handbook and many supplements, rather than being an optional add-on.
  9. Attack matrices are replaced with a mathematical formula involving a character stat called THAC0, and the table printed only once in the Dungeon Master’s Guide is reprinted in the 2nd edition Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide.
  10. References to “segments” (individual units of time representing one phase of initiative, or six seconds of game-time [simulated time]) are removed from the game; instead, actions are given an “Initiative Modifier”. “Melee rounds” are unchanged, representing one minute of game-time, with a “turn” representing ten rounds (ten minutes). An optional alternative where one “melee round” represents 12 to 15 seconds of “game-time” is presented in the Player’s Option: Combat & Tactics book, first of the so-called “2.5” edition.
  11. Other changes are made to combat including the function of weapon speed, initiative, and surprise rules.
  12. Priest and druid spells are organized into themed “spheres” that are similar to the wizard spell schools that had been introduced in Dragonlance Adventures, with access to spheres being determined by the priest’s class and deity.
  13. Descriptions of artifacts (unique magic items) are removed from the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
  14. Many utilities, including tables for random generation of dungeons, are removed from the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
  15. Exchange rates for the low-valued coins are doubled; it now takes only 100 copper pieces or 10 silver pieces to make one gold piece; coin weights changed from 10 per pound (1st edition) to 50 per pound (2nd edition).
  16. The hardcover Monster Manual was initially replaced by the looseleaf binder-format Monstrous Compendium; but this was eventually replaced by the hardcover Monstrous Manual.
  17. Fiendish and angelic creatures (demons, devils, daemons, devas, solars, etc.) are removed from the game, as are spells that allowed such creatures to be summoned or controlled. These creatures were later renamed and modified in the Monstrous Compendium supplement on the Outer Planes.
  18. Psionics are no longer included in the Player’s Handbook, though they later appeared in their own supplement.
  19. Maximum level is standardized at 20 rather than varying by class.
  20. Magic resistance is changed so that a mage above 11th level would not impose a 5% penalty per mage level above 11th on an unwilling subject the mage is casting a spell on.
  21. My Take on All These Changes


    Half-Orcs, Assassins and Monks were removed. We never played them.

    Bards became much more accessible. We never played them.

    Rangers were revamped. We liked them before. We liked them after. No one got very excited about the changes either way.

    Magic-users were renamed. Never noticed.

    Magic-users could specialize in each school of magic. Clerics specialized in spheres of influence, determined by their deity. Didn’t care for either. Both changes were ignored.

    Non-Weapon Proficiencies were added. Totally ignored.

    All reference to demons, devils, angels, etc were removed and replaced with new names. Lost a lot of respect for the designers over this one.

    Psionics were removed. Never used them. Didn’t miss them.

    What I Liked

    THAC0 was introduced. This really wasn’t that earth-shattering. The previous combat tables were simply presented differently, and given a name. The real change here was that the table was printed in both the DMG and the PHB (not just the DMG). This was a big deal and was greatly appreciated! The later 3e change from a descending AC system to an ascending system was much more significant. If they had done that in 2e, I would be much more supportive of this edition.

    All classes had their max level raised to 20. I prefer this over the varied max level by class that existed before.

    The loose-leaf Monstrous Compendium binders were introduced. I loved this idea! Sadly, a different monster was commonly printed on the front and back of each page, quickly making it impossible to add new monster packs without losing alphabetical listing. :( This was a great idea but they screwed it up.

    What Was Lost

    The DMG took a real hit. The 1e DMG had a reputation for being “an organizational mess”. There are sections where this is true, but only because it included so many unrelated tid-bits that simply could not be organized. Instead of attempting to clean up these sections, they were completely removed: sea combat, aerial combat, random dungeon generation, random demon generation, games of chance, town encounters, properties of plants, castle construction costs, charts and details on so many little things that, although rarely important or necessary, were useful when an odd situation arose and the DM needed some guidance in how to handle these unfamiliar topics.

    Also, Gary wrote the 1e books. They contained his voice and you could hear him describing something he loved. The 2e books were written by a team that were simply concerned with getting the rules across. They were functional but not as much fun to read.

    Lastly, 2e was the beginning of the shift in artwork from the “average joe” grabbing some buddies and trying to make some cash in the dungeons, to Conan and Red Sonja going out and conquering the wilderness. Every edition has always had the comic art as well, but even then I prefer the old to the new.

    An Alternate 2nd Edition

    Joseph Block at Greyhawk Grognard wrote a RPG entitled Adventures Dark & Deep (AD&D – cute acronym), that represents his view of what would have happened if Gary had not left TSR and instead been allowed to create 2e the way he wanted to.

    Whether or not you are a fan of 2e, or even old school D&D in general, Adventurers Dark and Deep is an interesting read.