Is AD&D 2nd edition still oldschool?

There was another discussion started by curious people from outside asking what the deal is with this OSR thing that some fans of Dungeons & Dragons keep talking about in their corners of the internet. Which is always great to see, as it means some new people have already caught interest and they want to be given a sales pitch. And as usual, once the initial questions had been answered, it went on with the typical nitpicky debates about what exactly is oldschool and what isn’t.

And big surprise: It actually went in directions that had me consider some new thoughts. It stil happens. Usually the assumed default cutoff point for oldschool and not oldschool is the shift of D&D from TSR to WotC and the first major overhaul of the rules with the d20 system. But as the discussion moved toward oldschool roleplaying being most importantly about how GMs set up the game and players engage with the game world, it had me wondering whether the shift might have happened even earlier.

The two things in contemporary D&D that for me set it the most apart from OSR gaming are character optimization and adventure paths. Character optimization as it exists today really started with the d20 system, but the idea of having a prewritten story that the players follow goes back much further. My first hunch was that Forgotten Realms set a precedent that became the TSR paradigm for the second edition of AD&D. The old first edition books seemed much less metaplotty than those from second edition. But when I looked it up, it turned out that Dragonlance, which was first an adventure and then a setting while simultaneously being a novel series, preceded Forgoten Realms by three years. This makes it seem more like the Realms where published as a setting in response to the shift already having taken place.

And then Black Vulmea at brought up this little “gem”.

By 1986, you have Doug Niles writing in the 1e AD&D DSG, “The story you design for your players is just as important as the world setting you create. In fact, the story line may be the most important element in your campaign. In fact,* the DM’s function may be viewed as that of a bard or storyteller who creates the stuff of heroic fantasy . . .” followed by a five-page of discussion of ‘story structure’ that could be cribbed from a Learning Annex seminar on, “How to Write Short Fiction That Sells!”

So yeah. I am really not surprised that second edition is almost never talked about in an OSR context. This is very strong evidence that as far as TSR is concerned, the oldschool era was already done and over by 1986. Which is 14 years before the launch of the third edition and about the same time the Known World setting was worked over into Mystara.

One thought on “Is AD&D 2nd edition still oldschool?”

  1. My conclusion from this would be, “Yes, 2nd Ed. is still oldskool because you still had the option to take it in that direction.”

    Even though the meta had encouraged “railroad DMing” years earlier. The oldskool sandbox-style campaign that preceded it wasn’t over until it was over. In my 2nd Edition campaigns, there is no predetermined outcome, and player choice really matters.

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