Dungeons and Dragons and Caving – a look at 2nd Edition…


What Am I Reading: Dungeon & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th edition

Part Two: Dungeons, Dragons and Caving …

I started to write a simple review of Dungeon & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th edition, but it grew into a series of blogs about the history of the game itself! If you are confused about some of the terms and initials – I define them in my previous blog: https://michaelgcurry.com/2014/09/03/a-brief-history-of-dungeons-and-dragons-being-an-eventual-review-of-dd-5e/

I pick up in 1982 …

The game in both its versions – D&D and AD&D caught on among us nerds like the plague! We played and played and bought supplement after supplement and module after module. Modules were scenarios and maps of a complete adventure the DM’s could use for their game sessions. I still love reading modules and imagining characters going through the game. It’s like reading the outline of a book and coming up the details on my own! Much like a ghost writer for most celebrity fiction…

New classes were introduced – the barbarian and the thief-acrobat. There was a Saturday morning cartoon.

D&D cartoon

                There were also complaints.  Lots of them. “I have an 18 Dex and I can’t roll for squat! Why should the Magic User make HIS Dex roll of 9 when he jumps and I can’t with my 18?”

“That’s the way the dice rolls,” says the DM.

“It’s not fair!” whines the poor roller…

And then there were the Christians…

Jesus D&D

Since neither D&D nor AD&D mentioned Jesus every third sentence it was deemed Satanic. They said the books taught youngsters how to actually invoke devils and demons – which of course explains their proliferation in the skies of the mid-1980s. D&D replaced Judas Priest as the chief cause of teen suicide. “That’s cruel, Mike.” True; and I apologize. I shouldn’t make light of such a serious subject – but to use D&D or Judas Priest as the straw man is also unfair. Those kids needed help from the adults around them and didn’t get it.

OK, back to the Christian nonsense: read Dark Dungeons – I’ll wait. http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0046/0046_01.ASP

So between the whiners with bad dice and the kooks with bad divinity, TSR (the parent company that published D&D and AD&D) came out with a Second Edition in 1987. It came with a new Player’s Handbook, Monster Manuals (several of them) and Dungeon Master’s Guide.

The classes and races were toned down to satisfy the kooks (like you can ever satisfy the kooks) – Magic Users became Mages, Assassins were removed altogether. So were any references to devils and demons. Some changes weren’t so puritanical and made a bit of sense – Rangers became a sub-class of Fighters. Druids became a subclass of Clerics.

2nd edition introduced THAC0 – “to hit Armor Class Zero”. Players and monsters had armor classes – the thicker your hide or armor the better your armor class and the harder it is to take damage. Too much damage and you die. Fighters clad with metal plates ala Ivanhoe and King Arthur had ACs of 1 or less. Magic Users – er – mages in robes has AC 9 and were easier to hit – if you could get around the fighter in plate mail. Dragons had ACs in the negatives. A particular goblin had a THAC0 of 18, say. A player with a fighter with an AC 1 would be hit if the goblin rolled a 17 or higher (18 – 1) – not too good. The fighter had a THAC0 of 14 and this goblin had AC 7, so he could hit on a roll of 7 or better – which has pretty good odds of succeeding. This won’t be much of a fight…

I have yet to mention the dice used in the game – it started with what the rest of the world calls dice – a six-sided cube with dots on it you found in all the board games and in every scene of “Guys and Dolls”. D&D and other role-playing games use a lot more than those. There are 4, 8, 10, 12, 20, and even 30 and 100-sided dice available. You can always tell a gamer by the way they refer to a standard dice with the dots on them. We call them “six siders”. By the time I got into the game – d6s (six-sided dice) was used for rolling stats and some hit points – mostly the d20 was used. If I had a Dex of 15 and had to “beat Dex” (see my previous blogs), I had to roll a 15 or less on a twenty-sided dice.

Anyway, back to THAC0: once you got used to it, and you used your fingers and toes, it wasn’t so bad.

Magic and Clerical abilities were divided into “spheres” – your character concentrated on only a few spheres. You couldn’t cast just anything. Whether this is good or bad is an individual choice. Personally, I think we should be leery of any rule that limits play. On the other hand, it makes for more of a challenge in selecting how best to overcome a game’s obstacles. “Blast the orc with a fireball!” “But I’m an illusionist! All I can do is turn him purple!’ “What the hell good is that spell!?” “You didn’t mind when we hid in front of that purple tapestry!” “Shut up!”

They also added proficiencies. A fighter could no longer just pick up an axe dropped by that ogre and use it to slice necks. He had to be proficient in the weapon. The character learned proficiencies as he got higher and higher in level (note: as a character plays, he gains experience points and goes up in levels – this means he can gain hit points, gain more spells, gets tougher and better at what he does, etc.).

There were also non-weapon proficiencies. Here is where the rot set it, in my opinion.

Remember the scenario from Part One?

“I try to grab the vine and swing over the chasm.”

“Beat your Dex,” says the DM.

“I have the Jump Proficiency, so I can subtract one from my roll. {Roll} Good thing, I just made it!”

“It’s about time, Mr. Poor Roller. Now the Magic User – er – Mage, sorry, you roll your Dex.”

“I only have a Dex of 9…” {Roll} “Made it!” says the Mage.

“You always make it,” says Mr. Poor Roller.

“Whiner,” mumbles the Mage.

The Jumping Proficiency. Jumping. Anybody can jump! My grandmother could jump! Roll your Dexterity – if you roll shitty, you fall, if you roll low, you make it. You don’t need to be proficient in jumping…

And Jumping was only available to the Rogue class. If you were a Rogue, you got a plus to jump if you selected Jumping. The rest of us had to rely on our die roll. Between the four base classes there were about 68 skills to choose from.


It gets worse.

But in the meantime 2nd Edition was an even better success that 1st! Character kits were introduced – there are different types of thieves (an urban pickpocket vs. a Robin-Hood-esque-good-guy) and with the different non-weapon proficiencies you add lots of different flavors to the basic classes. Classes had their own supplements. A mage could be a chronomancer and cast spells based on time. Different worlds and venues developed – Aztec-like rules and scenarios to play along with the Oriental Adventures (a 1st edition supplement); Dark Sun – set in a ecological-disaster-desert world; Ravenloft – a gothic horror setting, Spelljammer took the players into outer space: all were available as 2nd edition play.  The supplements filled the shelves.


It was huge. Huge! So huge the fat and bloated company that was TSR sold the company lock stock and dragon hoard for $25 million to Wizards of the Coast.

And WotC took the game and changed everything…



Copyright 2014 Michael Curry


A brief history of Dungeons and Dragons (being an eventual review of D&D 5e)

What Am I Reading: Dungeon & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th edition

Part One: Making History!

The Dungeon Master looked up from his notes and pushed his glasses further up his nose. “The tunnel finally ends in a huge cavern – you can’t see very far. But before the entrance to the cavern there is a crack in the ground making a huge hole blocking your way.”

“How far is the gap?” A player says.

“About thirty feet – you can’t jump it.” The player checks his character sheet.

Another player asks, “I look above the gap to the ceiling, what do I see?”

“Several bleached white dangling roots – some are thick as tree trunks, some as thick as a person’s arm, some very thin.”

“Are they within reach?”

“No, you’d have to jump.”

“Can I make a running jump and use the vines to swing to the other side? I promise not to yell like Tarzan.”

“Roll …”

This blog started off as a simple review of the new Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook (Fifth Edition), but most of the changes made in this edition required an explanation of what went on before. The review turned into a history of the game itself.

Like the archaeological City of Troy, the information at the top of the site was built upon a lower city with its own information. This was built on the city before that, which was built on the city before that.

To explain the good and bad of Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook (Fifth Edition) and to really appreciate or discredit what they had done, I had to dig into the treasure and trash of its past incarnations.

It started with miniature gaming – those fellows (let’s face it, miniature gaming – especially in the 1960s and 70s – was a y-chromosome activity) who would lay out model train terrain on a huge table or piece of plywood in a garage or basement and place small-scale soldiers in Napoleonic or Civil War gear and equipment, take out their tape measures and rulebooks and become omniscient generals of historic battles.

Sometimes the gamers would take medieval troops or earlier-era figures for their miniature battles. Instead of Waterloo or Gettysburg, they would re-enact Bosworth Fields or the Battle of Alesia.


Rulebooks for these types of game were plentiful. One such rulebook published in 1971 was called Chainmail by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perrin. It did well.


The authors wanted to have some fun and added fantasy elements to their medieval miniatures. Instead of Charlemagne and his troops, elven soldiers took the fields. Wizards blasting bolts of fire took the place of ballista. Dragons flew overhead instead of boulders. Rules for such magical beings were informally written out.


But what if the gamers wanted to storm the keep? What if they wanted to go after that dragon in his lair – deep within the bowels of the earth? Mass miniature battles were joined by individual characters exploring caves and castles. More rules were to help move groups of individuals instead of a mass of armies. Sometimes the gamers played the individual characters while the miniature figurines and terrain stayed in their cases.


The individual rules took on new type of game and required a new game system. Gygax and friends called it Dungeons and Dragons (“D&D”). D&D had simple rules that were easy to follow. With some dice, a piece of paper and a pencil, you could imagine playing a Lord-of-the-Rings elf or wizard (called a magic-user) or a Conan-esque or Fahfrd-and-The-Grey-Mouser-like fighter or thief. You could wander castles and its dungeons or deep into the bowels of the earth to root out a dragon’s lair. You could use miniatures, true, but you could do without them as well!


Your character was based on the following attributes – basic physical and mental abilities – strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution and charisma. You rolled three dice and the total was your level of that attribute – 3-18. The higher the roll, the better the attribute. Fighters needed high strength, Magic Users, not so much – they needed a higher intelligence to cast their spells. Thieves? Dexterity.

And to add to the Tolkien flavor you could also become an elf or a dwarf. If you played a human you chose which class you wanted to play – the aforesaid fighter, magic user, thief, cleric (a holy healer/ fighter – think Knights Templar). Elves and dwarves had no classes – you either played an elf or a dwarf.


                In 1977 or so, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) debuted. It was had new rules and changed bits of the original. It wasn’t a different, improved edition to the original. In fact for a time it was its own game. But it expanded the basics: any race (elves, human, dwarves, halfling – non-copyrightable hobbits – half-orcs, gnomes) could be any class they wanted with some limitations. Elves can be fighters and magic users now. Dwarves can’t be magic users or clerics, though. They can be thieves! Anyone can be a thief.  AD&D had its own Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide and book upon book of extra rules, stats on monsters and other characters one might meet in their imaginative play. It added monks for the ninja-wannabes, rangers for the Strider-ites, and bards so one can be a wandering minstrel, I …

This is about where I came in. I learned of D&D and AD&D through, of all places, church camp. I learned the basics without actually playing the game. That came in 1981 when our high school science teacher started a Dungeon & Dragons club. There I played the game for the first time – a human wizard named Mylock. The group even made the yearbook!

The game was still basic and had lots of role-play. Theater of the mind, so to speak. But the dice were still important. Let’s go back to the opening paragraphs.

“… your Dex,” says the DM (meaning roll the dice and if it is less than your Dexterity score you can, indeed, swing across on a vine).

{Roll} “Made it!” says the player.

“I throw a rope across to him,” another player says, “and tie it to the Magic User. You’re next.”

The player playing the Wizard rolls. He has a low Dexterity and the odds of him rolling below that number is smaller than the others. “Missed it!”

“You fall into the chasm, but you are tied to a rope and splat against the wall for {roll} 2 hit points (you also roll a certain amount of “hit points” – this is how healthy you are and how much damage you can take before your imaginary character dies. Magic Users don’t have a lot of hit points – fighters do to help them survive all those sword fights).

“I pull him up,” says the first player.

“Make a strength roll,” the Dungeon Master says. (Note: the Dungeon Master – DM – is the person who oversees the players, sets up the scenarios, arbitrates the rules, etc.).

{Roll} “Argh! I have a 17 Strength and rolled an 18!”

“Those are the breaks – the Magic User dangles above the abyss! But no other harm comes to him.”
“Get me outta here!” shouts the Magic User.

“I swing across,” the second player says. He also has a high dexterity and is not too worried about his odds. “Made it. I help pull up the Magic User.”

“With both of you working together, you don’t have to roll Strength, the Magic User is out of the crack and standing beside you.”

The first player says, “I throw the rope across the chasm – let’s get everyone else across before something bad spots us.”

“Too late for that …” mumbles the DM to himself, who rattles his dice and smiles.


Copyright 2014 Michael Curry