AD&D 2e, Dungeons & Dragons, Learn the Game

Learning to Play Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition: Player Character Races (PH 26 – 33)

It has been argued that Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition (AD&D 2e) was a reaction to the criticisms Advanced Dungeons and Dragons First Edition (AD&D 1e) faced from both within the hobby and from outside it. While the introduction and first chapter hinted at those criticisms it is in this chapter where we begin to see the game directly responding to them.

We begin with a short paragraph awkwardly discussing the use of the word ‘race,’ as was noted earlier, and then it moves on to a quick few lines dealing with the broad brush the game uses to describe the various species of the game:

. . . All six of the standard races are described in detail in this chapter. In many cases, broad statements are made concerning the race in general. Players are not bound by these generalities. For example, the statement that ‘dwarves tend to be dour and taciturn’ does not mean that your character cannot be a jolly dwarf. It means that the garden-variety dwarf is dour and taciturn. If player characters were just like everyone else, they wouldn’t be adventurers . . .  

Cook, 26

This is a soft response to the long-held criticism that Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) tends to reinforce stereotyping of the various fantasy species, which are themselves analogues for real-world versions of human beings. They are not admitting a correlation between the fantasy species and the real-world human beings – something I would also argue isn’t present in the game – but they are responding to the idea that each species is uniformly a certain way which is what has given rise to this criticism. To use their example, dwarves are not singularly dour and taciturn instead they tend towards that personality. The argument then becomes that the personality of the various fantasy species are more akin to the regional personalities you interact with in real life than a unifying racial trait.

Moving on we come to the maximum and minimum ability scores for the various fantasy species (see Table 7, on pg 27 of the Player’s Handbook). This whole concept would be removed from Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition (D&D 3e) so it was the first time that I had ever studied it in any form. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the idea in the game, as I’ve yet to play, but I like the idea that it makes the various fantasy species feel unique without providing them with some extraordinary ability. It’s not necessarily something that I want to see brought back but I do like it.

Next we come to Class Restrictions and Level Limits (pg. 7 in the Player’s Handbook). I discussed this a bit more in detail earlier, so I’m not going to rehash the topic here, but suffice to say that I find the idea of Class Restrictions and Level Limits appealing.

Now we come to the actual races. For players of D&D 3e you’re not going to be overwhelmed by the differences, but they are going to be noticeable. For example, dwarves don’t like the sea and elves aren’t fond of boats. What’s most notable here is the absence of the Half-orc who was a part of AD&D 1e would come back with D&D 3e. Why did the TSR design team remove it from AD&D 2e?

Let’s look at the AD&D 1e description for the Half-orc to see if we can figure it out:

. . . Orcs are fecund and create many cross-breeds, most of the offspring of such being typically orcish. However, some one-tenth of orc-human mongrels are sufficiently non-orcish to pass for humans . . .

Gygax, 17

That is an unfortunate passage that has not aged well. While it is not referring to real-world individuals the terms used, ‘cross-breed’ and ‘mongrels,’ have such a negative racial context today that it’s hard to read them without feeling uncomfortable in the context of someone taking on that role within the game. I can fully understand why Gary Gygax would have written about them in that way, but I can also understand why there would have been a growing backlash against the terminology used.

When the Half-orc was reintroduced in D&D 3e they came in a more placid way:

. . . In the wild frontiers, tribes of humans and orc barbarians live in uneasy balance, fighting int times of war and trading in times of peace. The half-orcs who are born in the frontier may live with either human or orc parents, but they are nevertheless exposed to both cultures. Some, for whatever reason, leave their homeland and travel to civilized lands, brining with them the tenacity, courage, and combat prowess that they developed in the wilds . . .

Tweet, 18

I’m glad that the Half-orc was reintroduced to D&D because they’re my favorite fantasy species to choose from. I absolutely love them.

Works Cited

Cook, David “Zeb,” et al. Player’s Handbook for the AD&D Game. USA: TSR Inc, 1996. pg 26 PRINT

Gygax, Gary. Special Reference Work Player’s Handbook. USA: TSR, 1980. pg. 17. PRINT

Tweet, Jonathan et al. Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook. USA: Wizards of the Coast, 2000. pg. 18. PRINT

7 thoughts on “Learning to Play Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition: Player Character Races (PH 26 – 33)”

  1. I actually prefer the 3e version of 5he half orc, and this is my first encounter with them. I had played 1e-2e before leaving AD&D in favor GURPS,. I recently had a long arc in my campaign, recorded on my blog, about PC’s assisting in the marriage of a goblin and an orc in the face of tension between both groups (it was the result of the goblin leaving his team to date the cheerleader for the other team, rather 5han being a “tribal” issue).

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve always wanted to play a half-orc cleric/assassin. But the DMs I knew didn’t allow evil alignments, AD&D 2e didn’t have them, D&D 3e made half-orc barbarians the default and assassins a prestige class, D&D 4e ruined everything, and D&D 5e assassin archetype is lame… either make it a full-fledged class or just drop it.

        Liked by 1 person

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