2e, the most lethal edition?

Sacrosanct

Legend
Whenever the lethality of editions are discussed, typically it's usually OD&D is the most, then AD&D 1e, then B/X, then 2e, then 3e, then 5e, then 4e. That seems to be the most common breakdown people do when rating the editions (it's how I would have done it by memory). However, when looking at the rules, it seems 2e just might actually be the most lethal edition. (Yes, I know any edition can be lethal depending on the DM, but this is factoring RAW, all else being equal).

Here is my argument (only comparing OD&D-2e, as we all can agree that 3e, 4e, and 5e rules are not as lethal as previous editions (removal of save or die, increasing ability scores, powers gained at almost every level, assumption of increased magic items, etc):

OD&D: All characters had 1d6 hp (fighting men got a bonus at varying levels), and all weapons did 1d6 damage. Abilities were generated by rolling 3d6 in order. A typical monster level 1 PCs faced were orcs (AC 6, 1d6 damage, 1d6 hp). The ancient red dragon had AC 2 and 66 hit points breath weapon was current hp. You died at 0 hp.

B/X: Hit die varied from 1d4 to 1d8, depending on race/class. bonus to hp only came from a Con bonus. All weapons did 1d6 damage (variable damage was optional). Abilities were rolled 3d6 in order. A typical monster level 1 PCs faced were orcs (AC 6, 1d6 dmg, 1d8 hp). The ancient red dragon had AC-1 and 104 hp, breath weapon was current hp. you died at 0 hp.

1e: Hit dice increased for some classes, ranging from 1d4 to 1d10 (rangers got 2d8 at 1st level, and monks got 2d4 at first level). Weapons did variable damage. Default ability score generation was 4d6 drop lowest. You could go to -10 hp before dying. Typical monster level 1 PCs faced were orcs (AC 6, 1d8 dmg, 1d8 hp). Ancient red dragon was AC -1, 88 hp, breath weapon was current hp.

2e: HD from 1d4 to 1d10, ability score default was 3d6 in order. if you took more than 50 points of damage in one hit, you had to make a save or you died. you died at 0 hp. Typical monster for level 1 PCs was the orc (AC 6, 1d8 hp, dmg 1d8). Ancient red dragon (AC-3, HD: 23(avg 103 hp) breath weapon was 24d10+12 (avg 146)

Looking at those comparisons and factoring how much damage a PC could take vs how many hp they had (and what average ability scores would be), it appears 2e is the most lethal edition. Then B/X. It surprised me that 2e went back to the default 3d6 in order. I had to do a double take when reading that. But yep, it was. B/X is almost exactly like OD&D (both had d6 weapon damage as standard), but monsters went from a d6 for hit dice to a d8. And iconic higher level monsters were tougher (the B/X dragon was more deadly than both OD&D and 1e).


So...when ranking the editions by lethality, it goes 2e>B/X>OD&D>1e>3e>5e>4e


Hmmm....discussion?
 
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jaelis

Explorer
Wasn't 2e the one where the monster manual was a three ring binder? Those things can give a nasty pinch, so I agree, most deadly :)
 

the Jester

Legend
Whenever the lethality of editions are discussed, typically it's usually OD&D is the most, then AD&D 1e, then B/X, then 2e, then 3e, then 5e, then 4e. That seems to be the most common breakdown people do when rating the editions (it's how I would have done it by memory). However, when looking at the rules, it seems 2e just might actually be the most lethal edition. (Yes, I know any edition can be lethal depending on the DM, but this is factoring RAW, all else being equal).
Interesting assertion! Let's see...

OD&D: All characters had 1d6 hp (fighting men got a bonus at varying levels), and all weapons did 1d6 damage. Abilities were generated by rolling 3d6 in order. A typical monster level 1 PCs faced were orcs (AC 6, 1d6 damage, 1d6 hp). The ancient red dragon had AC 2 and 66 hit points breath weapon was current hp. You died at 0 hp.

B/X: Hit die varied from 1d4 to 1d8, depending on race/class. bonus to hp only came from a Con bonus. All weapons did 1d6 damage (variable damage was optional). Abilities were rolled 3d6 in order. A typical monster level 1 PCs faced were orcs (AC 6, 1d6 dmg, 1d8 hp). The ancient red dragon had AC-1 and 104 hp, breath weapon was current hp. you died at 0 hp.
So far so good...

1e: Hit dice increased for some classes, ranging from 1d4 to 1d10 (rangers got 2d8 at 1st level, and monks got 2d4 at first level). Weapons did variable damage. Default ability score generation was 4d6 drop lowest. You could go to -10 hp before dying. Typical monster level 1 PCs faced were orcs (AC 6, 1d8 dmg, 1d8 hp). Ancient red dragon was AC -1, 88 hp, breath weapon was current hp.
Hold on a sec.

I'm at my girlfriend's house so I don't have my early-edition material handy, but I don't think that's all correct.

First of all, I'm pretty sure that default ability score generation was 3d6 in order. There were additional options for it in the DMG, and I think 4d6 drop 1 arrange to taste was one of those.

Second, death at -10 was an optional rule in the DMG. By default, you were dead at 0. I had multiple 1e pcs die at 0 because of this.

2e: HD from 1d4 to 1d10, ability score default was 3d6 in order. if you took more than 50 points of damage in one hit, you had to make a save or you died. you died at 0 hp. Typical monster for level 1 PCs was the orc (AC 6, 1d8 hp, dmg 1d8). Ancient red dragon (AC-3, HD: 23(avg 103 hp) breath weapon was 24d10+12 (avg 146)
Ah, yes, death by massive damage!

That was an optional rule in the 1e DMG, too, IIRC- but I believe that 2e planted it firmly in default rules territory.

Well, despite my quibbling about 1e rules, making massive damage a core rule alone puts 2e above 1e in lethality. Combine that with the powering up of dragons, giants, and fiends, and I have to agree with your evaluation. Which really surprises me- I never think of 2e as being extra deadly. But there you have it.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Hold on a sec.

I'm at my girlfriend's house so I don't have my early-edition material handy, but I don't think that's all correct.

First of all, I'm pretty sure that default ability score generation was 3d6 in order. There were additional options for it in the DMG, and I think 4d6 drop 1 arrange to taste was one of those.
.
Is surprised me too when I double checked. But yes, Method I in 1e was 4d6 drop lowest. In 2e, Method I went back to 3d6 in order.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
I remember that thing. Every time I had to open it up to add or remove a sheet, images of me impaling my hand through the webbing with it danced in my head.

Considering 2e pretty much had most of the save or die checks from 1e and added death by massive damage on top of them, I can’t say I’d dispute that claim.

Wasn't 2e the one where the monster manual was a three ring binder? Those things can give a nasty pinch, so I agree, most deadly :)
 

LordEntrails

Adventurer
When it comes to lethality to characters their are several factors. One of them are default rules. Another is optional rules. Then of course you have house/table rules. You also have attitude/personality of the DM and players. With the DM obviously (?) dominating the tone.

So let's break that down to a few factors/abbreviations;
- RAW
- Other Rules
- People

It seems blatantly obvious to me that the most significant, by far, like a factor or 10 that "People" is more significant than "Other Rules". And "Other Rules" is more significant to lethality than "RAW".

Am I wrong?

If not, then any discussion about lethality that ignores the most significant factor is ... of limited applicability in a wider sense isn't it? And since we all know people very widely, are, we going to try and rank people by character lethality? If so that's a very different discussion than this one.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
When it comes to lethality to characters their are several factors. One of them are default rules. Another is optional rules. Then of course you have house/table rules. You also have attitude/personality of the DM and players. With the DM obviously (?) dominating the tone.

So let's break that down to a few factors/abbreviations;
- RAW
- Other Rules
- People

It seems blatantly obvious to me that the most significant, by far, like a factor or 10 that "People" is more significant than "Other Rules". And "Other Rules" is more significant to lethality than "RAW".

Am I wrong?

If not, then any discussion about lethality that ignores the most significant factor is ... of limited applicability in a wider sense isn't it? And since we all know people very widely, are, we going to try and rank people by character lethality? If so that's a very different discussion than this one.
Which is why I said this:

(Yes, I know any edition can be lethal depending on the DM, but this is factoring RAW, all else being equal).
I'm evaluating the editions on how they were designed and written, as that's the only fair way to do a comparison. And I don't think that's limited in application at all. In fact, that's the only way to do it fairly. Saying 5e is more lethal than 1e because you had a 5 DM who was brutal and a 1e DM that gave everything to the players they wanted and never put them in danger, is what would make it a bad analysis.
 

Jer

Adventurer
First of all, I'm pretty sure that default ability score generation was 3d6 in order. There were additional options for it in the DMG, and I think 4d6 drop 1 arrange to taste was one of those.
(This is one of my pet bugaboos, so I'm going to jump on my horse over here which is very high).

No, actually, it wasn't. In fact in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, Gary Gygax explicitly says something along the lines of "do not use 3d6 in order, you mostly generate awful characters and it turns new players off the game because they don't get to play the characters they want". He then went on to give out 4 better methods of generating stats that you could choose from. He practically begged people to not use 3d6 down the line.

Method I in the original 1e DMG is 4d6 drop the lowest arrange to taste.

To this day the fact that 2e went back to 3d6 in order as the first one they list confounds and irritates me. Because it's terrible - it's a fine method of generating stats for a game where the stats barely matter (OD&D and B/X D&D average stats mean nothing, bad stats mean a penalty to XP) but it's a terrible method of generating stats for a game where the stats are important (AD&D - where your choice of race and class is gated by how you roll the dice).

Gygax understood this, and I've always wondered if the reason why it was the first method listed in 2e was just for historical reasons, or if the guys putting together the second edition just did not understand prob and stats well enough to get why using 3d6 down the line means that either most of the classes in your book are useless, or your players are going to inevitably cheat at rolling up stats (like the guys I knew who played 2e and would generate 50 characters to find the one set of stats they wanted and then play that one).
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Gygax understood this, and I've always wondered if the reason why it was the first method listed in 2e was just for historical reasons, or if the guys putting together the second edition just did not understand prob and stats well enough to get why using 3d6 down the line means that either most of the classes in your book are useless, or your players are going to inevitably cheat at rolling up stats (like the guys I knew who played 2e and would generate 50 characters to find the one set of stats they wanted and then play that one).
To their credit, I think they realized this. This is what they said in the 2e DMG re: Method I:

Method I Disadvantages: First, some players may consider their characters to be hopelessly average. Second, the players don't get many choices.
Using method I, only luck enables a player to get a character of a particular type, since he has no control over the dice. Most characters have little choice over which class they become: Only one or two options will be open to them. You might let players discard a character who is totally unsuitable and start over.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Hmmm....discussion?
I think 3e may be the most deadly edition. I mean, in terms of, say, if it fell on you from out of a tree, the sheer mass of the published materials would crush you. 2e had a lot too, but much of it was softcover, which hurts less.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Second, death at -10 was an optional rule in the DMG. By default, you were dead at 0. I had multiple 1e pcs die at 0 because of this.

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I forgot to respond to this. Then your DM was being unfair to you ;) (or more likely they weren't aware of the actual rule). It's actually a core rule in 1e that you fall unconscious at 0 hp, then begin to bleed out to -10. If you die at 0 hp, that's not in alignment with the rules (even if it's the most common way people played. We certainly played like that).
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I forgot to respond to this. Then your DM was being unfair to you ;) (or more likely they weren't aware of the actual rule). It's actually a core rule in 1e that you fall unconscious at 0 hp, then begin to bleed out to -10. If you die at 0 hp, that's not in alignment with the rules (even if it's the most common way people played. We certainly played like that).
That is not the rule. It is the zero hit point rule. Here, let me show you-


"When any creature is brought to 0 hit points (optionally as low as -3 hit points if from the same blow which brought the total to 0), it is unconscious. In each of the next succeeding rounds 1 additional (negative) point will be lost until -10 is reached and the creature dies."

This was a special rule for what happens if you happened to be knocked down to EXACTLY zero hit points. Now, this might occasionally happen (especially if you add in the optional -3 rider) but this is not the same as the modern interpretation of "blows that reduce you to below 0 = 0."


So to get really deep into it, you would say that there was a weird provision in 1e to cover that circumstance when a character was reduced to exactly 0 hit points, but no less.

(I mean, if you wanted to say that 1e killed you if you were hit to -1hp, and 2e killed you when you were hit to 0hp, but 1e also had a weird rule for when you went to exactly 0hp, then that would be fine, but it was fairly uncommon to get knocked down to exactly 0 hp)
 
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Sacrosanct

Legend
That is not the rule. It is the zero hit point rule. Here, let me show you-


"When any creature is brought to 0 hit points (optionally as low as -3 hit points if from the same blow which brought the total to 0), it is unconscious. In each of the next succeeding rounds 1 additional (negative) point will be lost until -10 is reached and the creature dies."

This was a special rule for what happens if you happened to be knocked down to EXACTLY zero hit points. Now, this might occasionally happen (especially if you add in the optional -3 rider) but this is not the same as the modern interpretation of "blows that reduce you to below 0 = 0."


So to get really deep into it, you would say that there was a weird provision in 1e to cover that circumstance when a character was reduced to exactly 0 hit points, but no less.

(I mean, if you wanted to say that 1e killed you if you were hit to -1hp, and 2e killed you when you were hit to 0hp, but 1e also had a weird rule for when you went to exactly 0hp, then that would be fine, but it was fairly uncommon to get knocked down to exactly 0 hp)
Jester talked about dying at 0 hp, and I talked about hitting 0 hp, so yeah, it was the rule based on what we said in our posts ;)
 
as we all can agree that 3e, 4e, and 5e rules are not as lethal as previous editions (removal of save or die, increasing ability scores, powers gained at almost every level, assumption of increased magic items, etc)
Yeah, I've never known us all to agree. ;) 3e, for instance, was plenty deadly, it went all-in on giving monsters the same options as PCs, so much of the assumed advantages the system quietly gave PCs in prior editions quietly vanished - also 3e retained SoDs, /and/ saves didn't keep up with DCs, in contrast to prior eds where saves genuinely improved with level.

However, when looking at the rules, it seems 2e just might actually be the most lethal edition.
I'd tend to agree. 2e really didn't change the PC side of the equation too much from late 1e. But, it really goosed a lot of monsters, giving them more hps, bigger damage, and the like. I'm not sure, but I think save penalties may have become more common, too.

So...when ranking the editions by lethality, it goes 2e>B/X>OD&D>1e>3e>5e>4e
Hmmm....discussion?
IDK about concluding with a detailed ranking including things you excluded up front. But I certainly see the case for 2e. The case for 3e is also strong: monsters were very deadly, with piles of hps, loads of damage, SoDs, massive STR bonuses to hit, etc - OTOH, /optimized/ PCs were utterly horrific.

And, I think that ranking holds up best a 1st level, when PCs had few spells or other special resources to draw upon, and the lowest hps of their career, across the board. In general, as the eds progressed, 1st level PCs were made more durable (peaking in 4e, though - 5e finally reversed that trend). I suppose that contributes to the earliest eds are most often held up as the deadliest. But, while 2e didn't much buck the trend in terms of starting PCs, it did start a trend of making monsters dramatically bigger & badder.

At higher levels it felt like the older eds really dropped of dramatically in lethality, the same is true of 5e, now, but just out of apprentice Tier lethality drops off. In 3e & 4e, lethality changed less with level, I think - certainly in 4e it stayed pretty stable, in 3e it changed more with system mastery than anything else.

(Yes, I know any edition can be lethal depending on the DM, but this is factoring RAW, all else being equal).
Another thing to consider is how the system facilitates the DM pegging the campaign to his desired level of lethality. TSR eds offered virtually no tools for that, over the years, most of us developed good instincts for it, and we could always take enough of combat resolution behind the screen to adjust an encounter as needed on the fly (if didn't offend your sensibilities). 3e & 5e use CR, which is not at all dependable, and 4e, EL, which was more intuitive & gave more consistent results. But, 3e & 4e were also more likely known quantities to the players, so if you did screw up, your latitude to adjust was limited - that is, it's just as well 4e gave you predictable results, because once you laid out the monsters and displayed their powers, you couldn't readily soft-ball it half way through, it tended to be all above board. the 'fudging' would be very obvious; similarly, the monsters' options were generally known to the players (even if you kept the stats behind the screen, they quickly infer a lot about it), so it's abilities 'changing' at some point in the combat would likely be noticed.

As seems to be usual, 5e found a solid compromise: it's monsters do more damage (and the party has more healing), and while it's CR formulae or complicated and BA makes outnumbering the party very dangerous, the Empowered DM can take much of that behind the screen, and use 'rulings' and narration to salvage an encounter that turns out to be much easier or more deadly than intended...
...though, I acknowledge (before someone points it out), run 'straight,' especially if player options are turned on, and/or magic items in play, it breaks "easy" quite readily.
 
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lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
OD&D > B/X > 1e > 2e > 3e > 5e > 4e

Not only is this true in terms of lethality, but it's also ALMOST completely chronological.

Weird huh?
 
OD&D > B/X > 1e > 2e > 3e > 5e > 4e

Not only is this true in terms of lethality, but it's also ALMOST completely chronological.

Weird huh?
I agree with Sacrosanct that 2e could be shifted to the left in that ranking of lethality. But, as I said, above, there's some truth to it, in terms of relative PC durability at first level. In general, as the eds progressed, 1st level PCs were made more durable, from 3d6 in order to more liberal stat generation, from random 1st level HD to max, from no healing at 1st to bonus spells from WIS, from CON bonus starting at 15 to starting at 12, to +CON /score/ at 1st & Surges.... (peaking in 4e, though - 5e finally reversed that trend). That's exactly the above ranking: a ranking of 1st level PC fragility from most to least.
 
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Sacrosanct

Legend
OD&D > B/X > 1e > 2e > 3e > 5e > 4e

Not only is this true in terms of lethality, but it's also ALMOST completely chronological.

Weird huh?
If it's weird, it's because it's not true ;) That's the same assumption I had. But when I actually looked at the rules (see above), it seems clear that 2e is actually the most lethal. It doesn't jive with my biases, but there you go. Can't argue with the facts.
 

Seramus

Adventurer
OD&D > B/X > 1e > 2e > 3e > 5e > 4e
Not only is this true in terms of lethality, but it's also ALMOST completely chronological.
Weird huh?
The OP made a convincing argument that 2E was the most lethal, and looking at the math and available shenanigans for the monsters... he seems to be right. All other things being equal, of course.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
If it's weird, it's because it's not true ;) That's the same assumption I had. But when I actually looked at the rules (see above), it seems clear that 2e is actually the most lethal. It doesn't jive with my biases, but there you go. Can't argue with the facts.
Yeah, but no. I don't particularly feel like going through your methodology, but I find most of it suspect and/or incorrect.

For example-

1e and 2e both used the same state generation. When 1e was released with the PHB, it defaulted to OD&D state generation since the DMG wasn't out. When the DMG was released, 3d6 was listed as the default with four alternative methods. Here's the pull quote-

"Four alternatives {to 3d6 in order} areoffered for player characters:"

4d6k1 (Method 1) wasn't the default, either- just the first of the four alternatives listed. It's the same with 2e.

Second, as we just discussed, you couldn't just "go to -10hp before dying." Instead, if you happened to have something that knocked you down to EXACTLY 0 hp, but no lower, there was a rule for that.

I don't think that using dragons as the one example for monsters is particularly illuminating, and I also think you are giving extremely short shrift to the extreme change in focus to player-centric options in 2e that started the codification of proficiencies in the PHB and continued on through all the softcover expansion books.

In short, you can't take small parts of the rules in isolation. the switch to 2e (arguably starting with UA) was the start of the kinder, gentler D&D, it just happened to have some of the OSR underpinnings.
 

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