Even More Reasons Why You Don’t Want To Play AD&D 2nd Edition (Classes)

Sheesh, this series is getting hella long, eh?

So we’re covering classes today. For the Basic B/X rules check out here, here, and here, for the AD&D attributes overview have a look here, and for the races overview check out here. But lets assume you’re up to date. Also, you might wanna grab a big glass of water because this subject today is gonna be as dry as a dead dingo’s donger.

First up, we need to cover the difference between classes and kits. Y’see, classes were broad umbrella categories of which there were four; Warriors, Wizards, Priests, and Rogues (Psionics got included as a fifth later, but lets leave them alone.) Within those classes were kits, which are what we would recognise as being classes as we more commonly know them; eg. the Warrior class included the Fighter, Paladin, and Ranger kits, whereas the Priest class covered Cleric and Druid. This meant you could assume certain norms across all kits within a class, such as:

  • Hit Dice (or HP gains after 10th level)
  • THAC0 progression
  • Saving Throws
  • Nonweapon Proficiencies
  • Weapon and Armour restrictions (for the most part)

(Just before we go further, Nonweapon Proficiencies were points you could spend on what passed for the skill system in this edition. I’ll cover them another day, but be advised that’s what they were.)

It also covered what books you could buy to find more kits in, such as The Complete Book of Rogues. Ka-ching! There was generally one baseline kit per class and a few others you could play that were better but required you to roll well enough to enable you to play them.

Warriors

Hit Dice: 1d10 per level (+3 per level after level 9)
THAC0: Improves by 1 every level
Weapons: All
Armour: All
Nonweapon Proficiencies: 3, with an extra one every 3rd level
XP for Level 2: 2000 (2250 for Paladin or Ranger)
The Warrior class was pretty straightforward but they did get some nifty benefits. The first was that they were allowed to have that exceptional 18(XX) Strength we mentioned in the Attributes article. The second was that they were the only class to be allowed to gain better than +2 HP for Con when gaining levels.

The third and final benefit was gaining extra attacks. From seventh level Warriors got two attacks every second round; from 13th level it became less cumbersome to track as they got both attacks every round.

The base Warrior kit was the Fighter and there was only one truly good reason to play them; you simply couldn’t play anything better (either because you had poor stats or had chosen to be a dwarf.) A Fighter’s big benefit was the ability to use the optional Weapon Specialisation rules. This enabled Fighters to sacrifice their skill in other weapons in order to gain bonuses and extra attacks with their weapon of choice. The bonuses were kinda naff, but the extra attacks made this worth the effort.

Probably the coolest thing was that a Fighter who hit 9th level attracted a whole slew of followers, provided they had thought ahead and saved to buy a castle or fort or somesuch. Rocking up to a dungeon with (and I just rolled this randomly on the chart in the book) 60 infantry, ten mounted knights, and a 5th level Fighter with a +2 battleaxe to help lead them was a pretty solid way to see it completed in a hurry. Not that this rule really got used much.

If you had rolled some decent stats, had an amazing Charisma, and didn’t mind playing a human you could be a Paladin. They could Turn Undead as if they were a cleric two levels lower, could detect evil, cure disease a couple of times a week, lay on hands at least enough to stop someone dying, and from 9th level they could cast a few Priest spells. Probably the most intriguing benefit was their super fancy loyal steed they got at 4th level. Hi-ho, Silver! There were limits on their wealth and the number of magic items they could own and if they ever committed a chaotic or evil act they were kinda screwed, but on the whole their funky Priestly stuff was more than enough compensation for the loss of weapon specialisation.

If most of your stats were pretty great, though, you might as well have gone with a Ranger (which allowed you to even be an elf or half-elf which made them even better.) Rangers got a special tracking skill, had a bonus against a favoured enemy, and could even cast a few Priest spells of the Animal and Plant variety as of 8th level. At 10th level they got a bunch of followers which could be some wolves or bears, possibly a band of fellow rangers, or even a satyr, pegasus, or treant. If they were wearing light armour they could use the Thief Skills Hide in Shadows and Move Silently which was nice, but the big drawcard was that they could dual wield without penalty.

Later kits included stuff like Barbarians, Samurai, Swashbucklers, Gladiators, and Cavaliers. Some settings had their own unique kits (such as Solamnic Knights in Dragonlance.)

Wizards

Hit Dice: 1d4 per level (+1 per level after level 9)
THAC0: Improves by 1 every three levels
Weapons: Dagger, staff, dart, sling
Armour: None
Nonweapon Proficiencies: 4, with an extra one every 3rd level
XP for Level 2: 2500
For Wizards we can pretty much repeat what we said about the Magic-User from Basic; it was a bit of a useless class until you got a few notches on the belt. The standard 1st level Wizard was limited to one spell a day (two if they were a Specialist, but that had some pretty specific limitations, too.) Forget about cantrips. They were a later addition.

The benefit of being a Mage (the go-to spellslinger) was that you could learn and cast any spell once you’d stuffed it in your ever-fragile spellbook… and that’s about it. It was once more built on the promise of “aww, don’t worry; one day you’re gonna grow up and become a beautiful swan if you can survive that long.” It should be noted that only humans, elves, and half-elves could be Mages; the shorter races had to resort to the Priest class to get their spells.

The other option was to become a Specialist Wizard type, which was a bit of a catch-all kit which covered Necromancers, Enchanters, Illusionists and all the other Wizards that focused on a school of magic (which became the norm in 5th edition.) The schools of magic are mostly familiar to the modern ones with a few exceptions. Transmutation was called Alteration, Evocation was called Invocation/Evocation (with its specialists called Invokers); Conjuration was called Conjuration/Summoning; and Divination was split into Greater and Lesser versions, the Lesser one being a ninth minor school which covered what seemed to be basic training stuff like Detect Magic that they didn’t want to make off-limits to anyone.

And that off-limits thing was the big drawback of being a Specialist; between one and three schools of magic were completely out of bounds for you, depending on your chosen branch of wizardy. Not only that, but the schools not outright banned were harder to learn. To compensate, you could cast one extra spell per spell level per day provided it was of your preferred school. This was a massive benefit early on; it literally doubled your magical capabilities at first level. But the lack of versatility later on became a huge drawback.

Each Specialist type required its own prerequisite attribute score and restricted certain races. Elves and half-elves could be about half of the different Specialists, but only humans could be Necromancers, Invokers, or Abjurers. The weird one was gnomes in that they were permitted to be Illusionists but no other Wizard at all. It was just how it was.

Later Wizards had stuff like Mystic and Witch added, and the Dark Sun setting took a totally different tack with their Preservers and Defilers. There was even a big black book offering options and alternatives for Necromancers, but this was considered for DMs only. Rats!

Priests

Hit Dice: 1d8 per level (+2 per level after level 9)
THAC0: Improves by 2 every three levels
Weapons: Any blunt/bludgeoning weapon or those approved by their deity (Druids could use club, sickle, dart, spear, dagger, scimitar, sling, and staff)
Armour: All (Druids could only use wooden shields and leather armour)
Nonweapon Proficiencies: 4, with an extra one every 3rd level
XP for Level 2: 1500 (2000 for Druids)
Where Clerics in Basic D&D had to pretend they were totally divorced from the whole concept of religion, AD&D 2nd ed Priests embraced the idea entirely. The Cleric kit was much like its Basic D&D counterpart in that it got respectable fighting talents and divine magic as expected, except it was even better because you didn’t have to wait until 2nd level to start casting. Mind you, you’d mostly still be casting Cure Light Wounds and Hold Person for a few levels, so it really wasn’t that exciting. They could turn undead, of course, which required this chart and a high d20 roll.

Where Clerics were fun was that they had the potential for the DM to tweak ’em and get really creative. The Players Handbook encouraged ideas such as adapting the weapons and spells permitted by a deity, the prerequisite attributes required to be permitted into the clergy, special powers bestowed unto them, and behavioural ethics they were forced to uphold. Sounds neat, but the key word there was that the core books encouraged these ideas, for I’m sorry to say that neither direction nor rules were given as to how to implement these ideas aside from some general advice effectively coming down to “try to balance it out, ‘kay?” The Complete Priest’s Handbook eventually went into detail on this, but I can’t remember it being anyone’s favourite accessory.

The Druid kit served as an attempt to show the DM what could be done by tweaking the Cleric. Their weapon and armour list was restricted and their spell list was adapted to be more nature-oriented. They also received a whole bunch of weird and wacky abilities as they gained levels, such as shapechanging, passing without trace through wooded areas, and eventually the ability to hibernate.

Humans and half-elves could become Druids, but not elves for some reason. Later kits for the Priest class tended to focus more on the cultural aspects of their calling (such as the Outlaw Priest or Barbarian Priest) but honestly unless it involved more healing spells they were considered superfluous by most players.

Rogues

Hit Dice: 1d6 per level (+2 per level after level 9)
THAC0: Improves by 1 every two levels
Weapons: Any blunt/bludgeoning weapon or those approved by their deity (Druids could use club, dagger, dart, hand crossbow, lasso, shortbow, longbow, short sword, longsword, and staff (Bards could use anything)
Armour: Leather, studded leather, and elven chain (Bards could wear anything up to chainmail, but no shields)
Nonweapon Proficiencies: 3, with an extra one every 4th level
XP for Level 2: 1250
It might seem weird to the modern player to see that Rogues received less points in the skill system than other classes; after all, that (and backstabbing) is kinda their schtick these days. But 2nd ed Rogues compensated because the skills they needed were cordoned off in a subset of rules that only they had access to (uhh, apart from the Ranger who got a couple of them… and some of the later kits… sigh.)

Thieving Skills were judged on percentile ranks and it should come as a shock to nobody that the Thief kit was the master of them. There were a couple of differences from the Basic D&D Thief. First, Find Traps and Detect Traps were melded into one. Secondly, your Dexterity and race adjusted your capabilities. And thirdly, you were able to customise your increases rather than having set raises. At character creation you could allocate 60 points between the Thieving Skills and every level you got another 30. This allowed Thieves to be one of the more interesting kits of the 2nd ed PHB.

You can see that halflings made for great Thieves. Humans had no modifiers either way, but didn’t suffer a level cap. Yay humans…

The Thief’s Backstab ability was far less dramatic than it is today. It doubled damage dice if you could pull it off (which increased to triple at level 5, quadruple at level 9, and quintuple at level 13) but actually managing such a feat was really tricky. First your opponent had to be vaguely humanoid and literally have a back (no sneak attacking on, say, dragons or beholders or even animals… though apes probably fit the profile.) Secondly, your target had to be completely unaware of you and thus only your first attack against them would manage to get the benefit. Admittedly this attack would be at a +4 to hit, but it still didn’t manage to excite like the modern ability does.

The other key Rogue was the Bard and for here lets take a diversion into 1st ed AD&D for a moment. In that edition it was the final destination of a crazy winding path kinda similar to a 3rd ed Prestige Class. After achieving five levels in Fighter you’d have to turn into a Thief, and only after five levels in that could you go off and become a Druid except you were actually a Bard instead. Confused? Don’t worry. Since the requirements to become a Bard also meant you had to have rolled 15 or more in four different attributes and fairly good scores in the other two, you probably weren’t ever going to have the chance to walk down that road anyway.

The 2nd ed Bard ditched all that and became available from 1st level, and was actually a pretty fun all-rounder kit. It only had half the Thieving Skills (Climb Walls, Detect Noise, Pick Pockets, and Read Languages) and no Backstab, but it had a better selection of weapons (might as well go a bastard sword or two hander since you couldn’t use a shield) and could even pull off a few arcane spells come second level. They had a few special abilities such as countering song-based attacks, the chance to identify magic items, modifying NPC reactions through entertainment, and a minor buff to allies through inspiration if certain conditions were met. Most Bards were half-elves because there was literally no benefit for being a human in comparison.

Probably the most prolific kits for the Rogue class were the Assassin and Acrobat which both had a strong representation in 1st edition. Assassin became a Prestige Class in 3rd and is now an archetype in 5th. The Acrobat (or Thief-Acrobat as it was first introduced) pretty much got folded into the modern Monk.

The Complete Completionist’s Complication

Well, that was a dreary old trudge, wasn’t it? But I might as well end this by mentioning the Player’s Handbook Rules Supplement series which got a few mentions above (they were each named The Complete X’s Handbook.) These were a set of books which each elaborated on the options available, adding details, options, kits, tweaks, spells, and abilities that you could add to your game to make it even more complex and specialised. Sometimes these were great; other times less so.

The first four for Warriors, Thieves, Priests, and Wizards were pretty reasonable and had been designed together in an attempt to ensure they were balanced. But later books rapidly fell into the trap of becoming overpowered with each new book being more ridiculously game-breaking than the last (one TSR writer dubbed this phenomenon “power spiralling.”) After these initial four Psionicists got their own book, which became essential to anyone wanting to run Dark Sun, followed by Bards, Paladins, Rangers, Druids, Barbarians, and Ninjas. Races also got in on the action; we mentioned the popular The Complete Book of Humanoids in the last article, but there was also one each for dwarves and elves while halflings and gnomes had to share one between them.

The rub was that once you had one or two of them they’d start to commandeer the game. If you only had the Paladin book, Paladins were gonna be the most interesting and powerful characters in your game. That’s fine if everyone’s a Paladin, but anyone with half an interest in balance was gonna want to fill their shelf with sourcebooks, supplements, and guides…

And that, my friends, is ’90s rpg publishing philosophy 101.



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