Although I came into D&D just before it was released (heck! the first few Dragon magazines I ever bought had full page ads for the shiny newness pictured to the right) I've never been a great fan of AD&D2E as a rule set.
Even when our avowedly neophile neophyte gaming group made the move from the classic orange spine 1E books to the newer (and thus - to our teenage minds - self-evidently better) black spine 2e books we were really always playing the same old cargo cult mash-up of BD&D/1E during the 2E era that we had been before. We couldn't have given you page references for anything other than the most obvious stuff, and we certainly couldn't have discoursed learnedly on the differences between editions 1 and 2.
Sure, a lot of the organisational issues and odder rules holdovers of the AD&D 1E rulebooks were 'rationalised' by the 2E books, and the Monstrous Manual - when finally released - was probably the definitive D&D monster book of all time. But we still always had the sense that 2E was just a revision and reprint, rather than an entirely new game system. Even as teens we could tell that 2E was really no more than "AD&D, revised and reprinted". It certainly wasn't the mental revolution that later edition shifts were.
In my opinion the greatest virtue of AD&D 2E wasn't the clarification of the core rules, and it certainly wasn't the interminable stream of largely interchangeable "Complete" splatbooks that regularly dropped steaming from the cloaca of the TSR release engine. The true jewel in the crown of 2E was its settings.
Yes, yes. Purge the heretic! Burn the unclean! Bury him in his own sandbox that his evil might not warp the minds of others. :p
All edition snobbery aside, the numerous campaign settings released during the 2E era (1989-1999) were some of the most imaginative, thought-provoking settings ever released for D&D. For the purposes of this argument please disregard the splatbook bloat that ultimately afflicted the various settings and helped to destroy TSR as a force in the gaming industry, and just look at the initial boxed sets for Spelljammer, Planescape, Dark Sun, Birthright, Al-Qadim, etc. in isolation. Each of these boxes offered you the chance to extend your D&D game in ways that the core rulebooks only ever hinted it:
- Did you love Expedition to the Barrier Peaks? Here's a whole setting full of space-borne wackiness we like to call Spelljammer. Go nuts!
- Did you always look forward to the playing house / fantasy battles elements of the D&D endgame? Here stands Birthright, ready to serve.
- Hankering for a bit of Arabian Nights / Sinbad magic in yer D&D? Al-Qadim is here to service all your orientalist cliche needs effendi.
- Want more sword-and-planet pulp adventure and Dune elements in your game? Dark Sun! I choose you!
Now, if you'll excuse me, I feel a plundering spree coming on. Time to get the old boxed sets out of storage.