Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master Guide (1995)

In the spring of 1995, there appeared on shelves new editions of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons second edition core ruleboks. Gone was the 2E blue, white and red; in its place was black, red and yellow. There were new Jeff Easley paintings on the cover, sporting improbable anatomy, comical sinews and a rather large amount of splintered wood. My high school group at the time (what I still assume was an accurate microcosm of the world at large) had a mix of reactions.

The largest faction declared it a cash-grab — there was nothing new inside, just a fresh coat of paint. The forwards to both the Playe’rs Handbook and the Dungeon Master Guide both admit that on the front page! Then there was me, who genuinely liked them. I generally think the original 2E rulebooks are deadly boring, especially compared to their 1E predecessors. I wouldn’t call these exciting either — they seem sort of consciously generic, in fact — but I find that weirdly appealing (echoes of GURPS). I was always able to use the art in here as a good starting point for my own brainstorming. Fab art like Mork Borg is great, of course, but sometimes you want to start with a blanker slate. These books do that for me and I tend to like the roomier layouts. 

A few folks saw these books and despaired, though. They hinted darkly that 2E was over, that 3E was coming. And, even though Steve Winters’ foreword of the Player’s Handbook explicitly says this is not a third edition, everyone relax, it turns out in the long run, my friends were kind of right!

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