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2e, the most lethal edition?

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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?
Not at all (he said, taking the rhetorical bait). Remember the wargame root. In a wargame, you don't have characters, you have *units*. You only care about the survival of a unit in terms of its tactical value in the wargame scenario - you expect units to die, and you just move on. The old rules are not far from that. As time goes on, the game evolves away from that, to having a different concept of what the character is, and thus a different conception of when it is fun to have them die.
 

the Jester

Legend
Have you factored in wether or not helmets were worn in 1e?
You know, I've long thought that helmets should work like shields, offering a bonus to AC on top of that offered by armor- maybe +1 for a coif or +2 for a great helm. Possibly at the cost of disadvantage on Perception checks. [/digression]
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
Not at all. Remember the wargame root. In a wargame, you don't have characters, you have *units*. You only care about the survival of a unit in terms of its tactical value in the wargame scenario - you expect units to die, and you just move on. The old rules are not far from that. As time goes on, the game evolves away from that, to having a different concept of what the character is, and thus a different conception of when it is fun to have them die.
I was being ironic with the "weird" comment.

It is not at all surprising to me that lethality in D&D has declined over time through the editions. :)
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
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.
No, it's not. As has been pointed out, 4d6 drop lowest was Method I in 1e; in 2e, it was method V. Method I in 2e was 3d6 in order. The 1e PHB didn't default to OD&D, but referenced the DMG:

Each ability score is determined by
random number generation. The referee has several methods of how this
random number generation should be accomplished suggested to him or
her in the DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE. The Dungeon Master will inform
you as to which method you may use to determine your character's
abilities. The principal abilities are detailed as follows:


And in the DMG says that 3d6 is a bad way to go, so use Method I instead (4d6 drop lowest).

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.
And 2e didn't even have a rule for that. At 0, you died. Full stop. Ergo, 2e was tougher

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.
I used two iconic monsters, but the trend was pretty consistent for most monsters. If you're going to talk prof, then 2e didn't have anything near double or triple weapon specialization that 1e had. And if you're gonna bring up expansions of optional rules, then 2e didn't have ability stat generation method that was in UA, which essentially guaranteed 18s in your top three abilities, with everything else being high as well.

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.
UA was not a switch to 2e. Not even remotely close. It came years before, and none of the uber rules in UA were in 2e. I'm sorry, you know I love 1e better than 2e, but the facts seem to be the facts.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
Looking at the rules and how they are written, it seems pretty clear that 2e was, "We're gonna keep the really brutal things like save or die, and level drain that came from 1e. Then we're gonna make it even harder by saying 3d6 in order is the number one option, get rid of the 0 hp bleed out rule, and make you make a save or die if you take 50 or more points of damage, and then beef up the monsters' combat abilities."

Not sure how one can argue 2e is not more lethal, when looking at the actual core rules. If you factor in 2e's Player's Options into the argument, then to be fair you have to factor in 1e's Unearthed Arcana rules as well. And suffice to say, UA make PC's superheroes by comparison.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
No, it's not. As has been pointed out, 4d6 drop lowest was Method I in 1e; in 2e, it was method V. Method I in 2e was 3d6 in order. The 1e PHB didn't default to OD&D, but referenced the DMG:

Each ability score is determined by
random number generation. The referee has several methods of how this
random number generation should be accomplished suggested to him or
her in the DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE. The Dungeon Master will inform
you as to which method you may use to determine your character's
abilities. The principal abilities are detailed as follows:


And in the DMG says that 3d6 is a bad way to go, so use Method I instead (4d6 drop lowest).
*sigh*

When was the PHB published?

When was the DMG published?

Now, here's what I wrote-
"When 1e was released with the PHB, it defaulted to OD&D state generation since the DMG wasn't out."

Do you understand what I wrote now? Good.

The other part you wrote is incorrect as well- it did not say to use method 1, and I quoted the exact part stating there were four alternatives.




Look, your "argument" is basically, "Look guys, I just learned that 2e increased the toughness of dragons!"

Good for you. The rest is BS, but you're welcome to your opinion, as incorrect as it may be. I mean, when you keep making statements like:

"Not sure how one can argue 2e is not more lethal"

It's clear you're not looking for discussion, but validation. And you're not getting that from me.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
*sigh*

When was the PHB published?

When was the DMG published?

Now, here's what I wrote-
"When 1e was released with the PHB, it defaulted to OD&D state generation since the DMG wasn't out."

Do you understand what I wrote now? Good.
I quoted the text in the PHB. Don't like it, take it up with Gary. Besides, there were only a few months between the PHB and DMG. Are you really arguing that most people defaulted to 3d6 in order because that's what they knew in 1978 in those brief months between the publications, as opposed to an exponentially higher number of gamers over the following 10 years when they had both book available? Needless, so say, I'd find that very dubious. How many D&D players were there in 1978 compared to the amount that started after 1979? And then also assume that when the DMG did come out a few months later, all of those gamers from 1978 kept 3d6 in order instead of doing what the DMG advised?

And please refrain from the condescension. It's unbecoming. Especially when you can't refute my arguments with actual evidence.

The other part you wrote is incorrect as well- it did not say to use method 1, and I quoted the exact part stating there were four alternatives.
Yes, yes it did. It literally said that 3d6 wouldn't get good results, and if you're serious, to use the other methods instead, starting with Method I: 4d6 drop lowest. It's right there in the DMG, look it up. There is a reason 4d6 drop lowest was Method I, instead, of say...method V like in 2e.


Look, your "argument" is basically, "Look guys, I just learned that 2e increased the toughness of dragons!"

Good for you. The rest is BS, but you're welcome to your opinion, as incorrect as it may be. I mean, when you keep making statements like:

"Not sure how one can argue 2e is not more lethal"

It's clear you're not looking for discussion, but validation. And you're not getting that from me.
I don't know what your problem is, but of the two of us, it seems like it's you who isn't looking for a discussion. I haven't just said, "Look guys, I just learned that 2e increased the toughness of dragons!" I gave a pretty detailed list of examples. Examples you seem to be ignoring. Then you accuse me of being wrong when I literally pointed out to you where it's coming from. This isn't my opinion. And it's not BS. It's text literally from the rulebooks.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
Wait, what? It looks like lowkey13 blocked me. I don’t mind if people put others on ignore for whatever reason, but this strikes me odd because over the past 10 years, we’ve agreed and got along on 99% of our posts. We’re both 1e fans as our favorite edition. I don’t know if there is something going on outside of here that caused him to be so aggressive in his response, but if there is, I sincerely hope he gets resolution. Just odd to have someone you’ve agreed with and got along with for so many years to suddenly block you because you don’t agree that with confirmation bias of 1e. A confirmation bias I shared myself until I looked at the actual rules.
 

Seramus

Explorer
Wait, what? It looks like lowkey13 blocked me. I don’t mind if people put others on ignore for whatever reason, but this strikes me odd because over the past 10 years, we’ve agreed and got along on 99% of our posts. We’re both 1e fans as our favorite edition. I don’t know if there is something going on outside of here that caused him to be so aggressive in his response, but if there is, I sincerely hope he gets resolution. Just odd to have someone you’ve agreed with and got along with for so many years to suddenly block you because you don’t agree that with confirmation bias of 1e. A confirmation bias I shared myself until I looked at the actual rules.
If he blocked you, doesn’t that mean by default that your account auto-blocks him? And since you are the OP, he can no longer get into the thread? Which means none of us can reply to him and get a response in this discussion.

Huh. I blame too many gnome paladins in his lawn.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
If he blocked you, doesn’t that mean by default that your account auto-blocks him? And since you are the OP, he can no longer get into the thread? Which means none of us can reply to him and get a response in this discussion.

Huh. I blame too many gnome paladins in his lawn.
Used to be that way. Not sure if it still is. Used to be if he blocked me or I blocked him and I created the thread, and anyone who quoted him, he would get a notification he was quoted, but “post hidden” message would display.

Either way, it feels like a long time friend just blocked me over this, which is why it feels like a bummer (normally I couldn’t care less if someone blocked me; it happens). If I could, I’d apologize if my responses were harsher than they should have been
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
At low levels, I'm inclined to agree with the OP.

However, in the case of high level play, I'd consider 3.x the deadliest edition by a wide margin. In 1e/2e/BECMI your saving throws genuinely got better as you leveled up. In 3e, saving throws typically kept pace with DCs or fell behind. Also, monster damage rose considerably, while the maximum negative hp remained at -9. Admittedly, raising the dead was arguably a bit easier without system shock and the like, but I'm only considering frequency of death, not how often you might repeatedly die.

I played a good amount of BECMI and 2e back in the day, and from what I recall death happened but was relatively infrequent. In 3e, there were campaigns where people were rolling up new characters almost every session. I remember one ill fated campaign that had two TPKs in the first game! The majority of these campaigns were with the same group, so it's not like I had a softie DM running 2e and a RBDM running 3e. This is admittedly anecdotal, but it's my experience.
 

Hussar

Legend
Of course this also ignores the fact that a by the core 2e fighter does about six or seven times more damage per round than virtually any other edition fighter of an equal level.

I mean even without a str bonus a 2e fighter with longsword specs and a short sword vs a dragon pumps out potentially 36 points of damage on even rounds and 24 on odd rounds.

Let’s see any edition first level fighter do 50 points of damage with no strength bonus in two rounds.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
At low levels, I'm inclined to agree with the OP.

However, in the case of high level play, I'd consider 3.x the deadliest edition by a wide margin. In 1e/2e/BECMI your saving throws genuinely got better as you leveled up. In 3e, saving throws typically kept pace with DCs or fell behind. Also, monster damage rose considerably, while the maximum negative hp remained at -9. Admittedly, raising the dead was arguably a bit easier without system shock and the like, but I'm only considering frequency of death, not how often you might repeatedly die.

I played a good amount of BECMI and 2e back in the day, and from what I recall death happened but was relatively infrequent. In 3e, there were campaigns where people were rolling up new characters almost every session. I remember one ill fated campaign that had two TPKs in the first game! The majority of these campaigns were with the same group, so it's not like I had a softie DM running 2e and a RBDM running 3e. This is admittedly anecdotal, but it's my experience.
3e is kinda tricky, because by RAW, you can have a character that mops the floor with enemies with several builds. Hardly deadly to the PCs. Then factor in you got rid of save or die, level drains, instant death at X amount of points in a single attack, and then you’re hard pressed to convince that 3e is more lethal than previous editions. In TSR D&D, a dragons breath weapon would kill most of the classes even if they made saving throws straight up

Of course this also ignores the fact that a by the core 2e fighter does about six or seven times more damage per round than virtually any other edition fighter of an equal level.

I mean even without a str bonus a 2e fighter with longsword specs and a short sword vs a dragon pumps out potentially 36 points of damage on even rounds and 24 on odd rounds.

Let’s see any edition first level fighter do 50 points of damage with no strength bonus in two rounds.
How is a 1st level 2e fighter doing 50 points of damage with no strength bonus?
 

Hussar

Legend
Honestly I think the math here is right out to lunch. Because 3e monsters have stats and stat bonuses, by and large the do about three times more damage per round than 2e monsters. While 3e did give pcs some more hps, they certainly don’t have three times as many.

Try this for a test. Single 1st level fighter vs 5 orcs. Which edition fighter survives? My money is on the 2e fighter. He can kill five orcs in 2 rounds if he’s lucky. Every other edition takes a lot longer.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
Honestly I think the math here is right out to lunch. Because 3e monsters have stats and stat bonuses, by and large the do about three times more damage per round than 2e monsters. While 3e did give pcs some more hps, they certainly don’t have three times as many.

Try this for a test. Single 1st level fighter vs 5 orcs. Which edition fighter survives? My money is on the 2e fighter. He can kill five orcs in 2 rounds if he’s lucky. Every other edition takes a lot longer.
I'm still curious how you're figuring out a fighter does 50 points of damage with no strength bonus. Weapon specialization in 2e gives you a +1 to hit and +2 damage, and an extra attack on the 2nd, 4th, and subsequent even rounds. If you choose to have 2 weapons like you're saying, you suffer a -2 penalty to your primary weapon, and -4 penalty to your off hand weapon. Certainly you should account for that?

Speaking of accounting for things, you're not accounting for save or die in TSR D&D. I see your test against orcs and raise you one against a venomous creature (like a snake, spider, etc). How many 3rd-5th editions fighters would fall to those? Pretty much none. How many TSR edition era ones would fall, even at higher level fighters? Quite a few. What makes a game lethal is more than just how many hp can be soaked up.
 

Zardnaar

Adventurer
I'm still curious how you're figuring out a fighter does 50 points of damage with no strength bonus. Weapon specialization in 2e gives you a +1 to hit and +2 damage, and an extra attack on the 2nd, 4th, and subsequent even rounds. If you choose to have 2 weapons like you're saying, you suffer a -2 penalty to your primary weapon, and -4 penalty to your off hand weapon. Certainly you should account for that?

Speaking of accounting for things, you're not accounting for save or die in TSR D&D. I see your test against orcs and raise you one against a venomous creature (like a snake, spider, etc). How many 3rd-5th editions fighters would fall to those? Pretty much none. How many TSR edition era ones would fall, even at higher level fighters? Quite a few. What makes a game lethal is more than just how many hp can be soaked up.
Weapon specialization and increased weapon dice.

1d12+2 and 1d8+2. Max damage 24

Round two.
Extra attack with longsword. 1d12+2 max damage 38 a round.

Two rounds 52 damage.

Dart specialists could also put out around 4 or 5:attacks.

The dual wielding fighter with the fighter handbook could offset all of the dual wield penalty.

2E you tended to level up a lot slower relative to 1E and B/X. No xp for gp. You notice it a lot running 1E or B/X adventures for 2E.
 
Last edited:

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
3e is kinda tricky, because by RAW, you can have a character that mops the floor with enemies with several builds
And and, monsters could pull the same tricks.
... got rid of save or die, level drains, instant death
3e had SoDs, and vs bad saves that only got worse relative to rising (let alone optimized) DCs, and negative levels worked a little differently, mechanically, but we're still pretty awful.
 

cbwjm

I can add a custom title.
With high level spells able to deal up to 20 dice (or would it never cap in 1e?) of damage in 1e and earlier rather than the 10 dice in 2e, I'd say that helps the lethality of that edition. Even if players didn't often get to high levels, their opponents might still be up in the upper levels so if your opponent is a high level wizard, you could be toast when that 18th level archmage flung a fireball (Say goodbye to the 11th level party wizard if he doesn't have any protections up).

These are interesting to look at. I can't recall many of the options from 2e as options, until it was pointed out (and until I looked because why would I believe the internet), I would have sworn that the -10 hit point rule was a rule, not an option.
 

Zardnaar

Adventurer
1E may be deadlier due to adventure design but if you designed like that in 2E you would be just as dead.
 

Hussar

Legend
I'm still curious how you're figuring out a fighter does 50 points of damage with no strength bonus. Weapon specialization in 2e gives you a +1 to hit and +2 damage, and an extra attack on the 2nd, 4th, and subsequent even rounds. If you choose to have 2 weapons like you're saying, you suffer a -2 penalty to your primary weapon, and -4 penalty to your off hand weapon. Certainly you should account for that?

Speaking of accounting for things, you're not accounting for save or die in TSR D&D. I see your test against orcs and raise you one against a venomous creature (like a snake, spider, etc). How many 3rd-5th editions fighters would fall to those? Pretty much none. How many TSR edition era ones would fall, even at higher level fighters? Quite a few. What makes a game lethal is more than just how many hp can be soaked up.
Ok, let's use Snakes. Medium viper in 3e deals d6/d6 Con damage DC Fort 11. Fail the save and you could lose up to 12 con from each bite. You die at 0 con. That 2e viper was only lethal about 15% of the time:

Poisonous Snake
All poisonous snakes deliver toxins automatically through their bite. Roll on the table below (or choose) to determine what type of poison is present.

Die Modifier Onset Result of Failed
Roll to Save Time Saving Throw*
1-4 +3 1-4 turns Incapacitated for 2-8 days
5-6 +2 2-5 rounds Death
7-11 +1 2-12 rounds 2-8 points of damage
12-14 None 1-6 rounds 3-12 points of damage
15-17 -1 2-8 rounds Incapacitated for 1-4 days
18-19 -2 1-4 rounds Incapacitated for 1-12 days
20 -3 1 round Death
And even then you were generally at a +2 to your saving throw - that's a what, 7 for a 1st level fighter?

I'm getting the feeling that [MENTION=6799753]lowkey13[/MENTION] was maybe closer to right than not.
 

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