Game Spotlights

Published: May 30, 2021

Andrew B.

Dungeons & Dragons Editions Guide (Part 2)

This is Part 2 in a multipart series. You can also start with Part 1 or jump to Part 3.

What’s with all the different versions of D&D? Are there really 5 editions? If you’re new to the hobby, or maybe stopped playing back in the 80s, there can be a lot to sort out when it comes to the world’s most popular tabletop RPG. This time around, we’re going advanced and taking a look at 1st and 2nd edition AD&D.


AD&D 1st Edition Player’s Handbook

History: The origins of Advanced and Basic Dungeons & Dragons both stem from the same motivation: Publisher TSR‘s desire to clean up and reorganize the existing D&D rules into a more manageable set. However, where TSR originally intended Basic D&D as an introductory game, Advanced was aimed at the needs of experienced players.

The first AD&D book TSR released was not the Players Handbook, but the Monster Manual, which came out in 1977. It was followed in 1978 by the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Masters Guide in 1979. Together, these three books made up the “core set” of rulebooks necessary for playing D&D. This pattern would continue through subsequent versions of the game.

Interestingly, the publication of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons did not bring about the end of the Basic D&D line. TSR would continue to publish the two games, side-by-side, until the 1990s. AD&D did, however, mark a shift in the game’s philosophy. Specifically, Gary Gygax saw the Basic game as a looser set of rules vs. AD&D’s more comprehensive and rigid system. Eventually, AD&D edged out Basic as the bigger seller and became, in the minds of many gamers, the de facto version of Dungeons & Dragons.

Appearance: The cover of the AD&D Players Handbook features a famous piece by Dave Trampier depicting a large, demon-like idol. Later printings replace the Trampier art with a wizard illustration by Jeff Easley. All three core rulebooks of AD&D First Edition are hardcover books.



It is difficult to write about Second Edition AD&D without at least acknowledging some of the controversy surrounding its publication. By the time the game was released in 1989, Gary Gygax was no longer a part of TSR. The man who wrote the brunt of the AD&D books was gone, and it thus fell on a different group of game designers to write the new version of the game. The main designers who took on this challenge were Dave “Zeb” Cook and Steve Winter.

At it’s heart, 2nd Edition AD&D is a reorganized 1st Edition, and the two games are very similar. However, in creating a new version of D&D, the authors did make a number of editorial choices both in how the game worked as well as how it was presented. The 2E Player’s Handbook, for example, contains a lot of rules that previously appeared in the Dungeon Masters Guide.

The designers also cut certain races and classes (half-orc and assassin), tweaked or clarified familiar spells, and made other small changes. They upgraded THAC0 from an optional method of resolving combat to the game’s default, and cut psionics from the core rules. The end result was a new game that still very closely resembled its predecessor.

Appearance: AD&D Second Edition follows the D&D standard of presenting three core books. However, rather than a Monster Manual, the designers chose to call the book the Monstrous Manual. The first version of the Monstrous Manual was actually a large, three-ring binder with loose, hole-punched paper. TSR published a number of monster supplements, also printed on loose paper, that players could add to the binder. Eventually, TSR replaced the binder with a traditional hardcover book.



This is an ongoing series of articles. In Part 3 we examine 3rd Edition and its revised version (3.5). Or you can check out Part 1 of this series.