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2e, the most lethal edition?

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Any chance your formative play experience with 4e included Keep on the Shadowfell, Thunderspire Labyrinth, and/or Pyramid of Shadows?

(Because, while the middle one was actually mostly pretty good, each included at least one example of completely whacked encounter design.)

...or, y'know, alternately, maybe your DM just liked killing you... ;)


Vs encounters run closely to guidelines, 4e characters were often dropped, sometimes very greatful for the next long rest, but rarely killed outright, let alone TPKd. You could make that happen pretty easily by just dialing it up - EL mostly delivered as advertised - but you could, with enough experience & artistry, make any ed as deadly or survivable as desired.
Sure but dont you figure it actually didn't require as much skill or art because EL delivered..
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Even if you believe 2E was the most lethal edition, how many people remember more of their characters dying in 1E?

I know I had more character deaths in 1E than 2E, by a long shot. Since I played with mostly the same people over all those years between both editions I will rule that factor out.
I don't know about you but back when we were playing 1e, we were younger and dumber than when we were playing 2e. Eight years of player and life experiences made a difference.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
That proves what I said. The AD&D fighter's save improved from needing a natural 14, to needing a natural 9 - and that's vs anything trying to petrify or polymorph him, from a cockatrice to a medusa to a 19th level Lich. He got /much/ better. Your 18 CON 3e fighter goes from needing an 8 at 4th level vs a 4th level DC, to needing a natural 10, vs a 10th level DC. He got /worse/. And, that's his *GOOD* save, at 10th, he might well face a similar DC 21 save against which his bonus could be as low as +2 - maybe +4 or 6 with feat, decent stat, and/or protection item, that's not just worse than he had it at 4th level, that's worse than the 1e fighter had it at 4th level!

You claimed that there were no SoDs in 3e, and that 3e /save progression/ outstripped the AD&D save matrix. 3e /did/ have SoDs, and it has rising save DCs with level, net of which, even good saves fell behind the AD&D save matrix progression.

You brought up the save matrix and claimed that 3e save bonuses outstripped it. That brings in genuinely high levels - the matrix for the fighter topped out at 17+.
I said there were no SoD and I was mistaken about that. But it doesn't change the fact that it was more lethal overall in 2e than 3e, as explained. saving throws in 2e were much harder until you got to high level. We know the overwhelming period of playing the game was before you got to high level. So in actual play, the game was much more lethal for 2e PCs than 3e in the context of saving throws for when it was being played. If 75% of game play was 2e being harder, then you can't really argue that 3e is more lethal just because it happened to be for 25% of the game play. The overall numbers still swing to 2e as being harder. Especially when the penalties for failing a save were much, much worse than in 3e.

Even in 1e, restoration, I think it was, could get you a level back, and you could buy those (there was a table with a price for it, it was steep).
And, remember how bad those saves, above, were? Negative levels required a save to recover from, the DC was set by the creature that bestowed the negative level, and the negative levels /gave you a save penalty/. To that save bonus that was already falling steadily behind the DCs at your level.
And, you wouldn't just get un-lucky and accumulate 1 or 2 now or then, you could have a specter reaching right through your tank-like magical armor as if it wasn't there, layering them on you every round.
I'm not sure what you're misunderstanding here. Everything you have said that was hard in 3e, 2e was harder. Restoration spells were easier to get in 3e, and at lower levels. Penalties for missing saves were not as bad (instantly die is still worse than any death spiral or ability score damage because you instantly died.) You're literally making the argument that 3e is more lethal then 2e because you lived longer than 2e for the same scenarios. Do you even know what "lethal" means?

Don't believe it didn't even exist as an option and/or wasn't /commonly/ used, and also don't care, because: 1) I'm sticking to 1e when I talk AD&D, thankyouverymuch. 2)I've happily acknowledged 2e's relative lethality, above. ,
Not talking about optional rules. As has been pointed out repeatedly, I'm talking about core RAW. And if you're talking about 1e, then why are you even arguing with me, because I've said 2e is the most lethal edition. Are you arguing just to argue? (even if I was talking about 1e, it's still more lethal than 3e for the reasons already given).

It's not like the fighter got to hide in the back while the wizard melee'd the giant. The CR = level Giant was gonna attack someone, and that someone was in trouble.
A) you still havn't shown how the fighter gets clobbered in one round or two, and B) you can't discount all of the other party members. There is no guarantee that the hill giant would always attack the fighter. Did the rogue sneak attack? Did the caster shut down the giant? There are a million scenarios. You're arguing a disingenuous argument to take a CR7 creature (meant for a whole party of level 7 PCs) and only factoring in 1 PC in the equation.

There was no CR in AD&D, so there is no comparing monsters across eds based on CR or HD. The only valid comparison is the same monster. An Orc's an Orc, a Specter's a Specter, a Giant's a Giant - and they're all nastier in 3e than 2e because they have freak'n feats & stat bonuses, and they're all nastier in 2e than they were in 1e. It's just 2e character are hardly buffed from 1e characters to match, while 3e characters /are/ buffed with all the same crazy as the monsters (vice versa really, the 3e PCs got crazy build options, which the monsters also got, but the point stands).
As was pointed out in the other thread, this is not true either. An orc isn't an orc. As in that other thread, 5e took the orc and put it on steroids, making it tougher and designing it to fight higher level PCs. An orc in AD&D was slightly less powerful than a 1st level fighter. An orc in 5e was designed to be more like a 2nd or 3rd level fighter. Again, it's disingenuous to make the argument you're making, and you know this because just a couple days ago you responded to people explaining this to you. HD is a good metric to use because regardless of edition, it tells us what relative level the monster is in PC terms, where CR is based on a challenge for an entire party.
 

Xaelvaen

Explorer
Hmmm....discussion?
I'm actually pretty inclined to agree, in the limited comparisons I can make. I have not played anything prior to 2e, being that it was when I started playing, but comparing it to 3/4/5 - I'm definitely going to agree.

Thanks to recommendations from these boards, I've recently bought the 1e material to go back in time, so to speak, and give it a whirl.

So, I'll explain my experiences - comparisons:

When I played 2e in the beginning (and when I even go back to it now) the groups tended to never make it past level 7 or so - the most grueling levels, in all honesty, with those terribly high-starting saves. Not to mention the 'cliche' (that is incredibly true) of cats being able to one-shot Wizards. So the fact we never really saw anything double digit matters, to my relative perception.

With 3E, we actually made it to level 20 in the very first campaign in which I participated. This was with the exact same DM, so style has little relevance. He always made up his own adventures, so what we have to look at is intent - did his intent change? Nope. Did the system's intent change? Most certainly. 3E was obviously written as the first step to overturn the 'DM vs. Player' mentality, and it worked sufficiently. Not only were my experiences in 3E far less deadly, but I believe that was a design intent.

With 4E, I never had a single character die - ever. I killed one, as a DM, once. The tactical-driven battle made it -feel- very deadly, though. With the right encounter makeup, and a good party, you could feel the threat of death without actually dying, which I have to give it credit for.

With 5E, I've actually had characters die a bit more often, probably moreso than 3E, but that has nothing to do with mechanics whatsoever, so we'll ignore that. I rarely feel the sense of threat like I did with 4E, or 2E when playing Fifth Edition. We've hacked and reverse-engineered half the mechanics to -make- it threatening, but RAW/RAI, as this discussion pertains to, I don't find it really worrisome at all.

So, a recapitulation - Died a lot in 2E and never broke level 7 - 9. Died incredibly rarely in 3E with the exact same DM and the exact same dastardly mentality. Didn't die at all in 4E, and I should practically say the same of 5E. This is, as always, obviously one person's perspective. It is my sincere belief that the deadliness, as written, has decreased from system to system on purpose. They leave it so that we the players can easily control the deadliness to our own desires, instead of having it written in the books - the first step of the multi-pronged attack that is eradicating the DM vs. Player mentality that pervaded the industry for a long, long time.
 
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billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Though hps and soaking damage won't get you far in 3e. A same CR monster like a Giant could demolish a reasonably tough fighter in a round, maybe two - if the fighter was optimized, it was prettymuch even money which do the huge pile of hps to the other first...
Giants are a particularly odd case for the transition between 2e and 3e. Up close, thanks to the weapon bonus damage, crits, lots of hit points and Con bonuses, giants are generally more dangerous. But before Brutal Throw came out as a feat, they got a significant downgrade at range because their throwing was based on Dex, not their upgunned Strength.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I have to not consider subjectiveness when doing a fair analysis.
I think, if you ask "Which edition was most lethal?" that really asks - what percentage of characters did each edition actually kill?

It has nothing to do with whether a 2e fighter could beat a 1e fighter, or otherwise comparing their stats to each other. It asks what power level characters were, *with respect to the challenges they were given*.

Unfortunately, the real numbers are lost to us. Your best bet for a real fair analysis may be to compare characters of a given edition to the published adventures of that same edition. How many characters would be expected to die going through a published adventure?
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
I think, if you ask "Which edition was most lethal?" that really asks - what percentage of characters did each edition actually kill?
I don't think that's an accurate way to measure, because 1e had modules designed to kill PCs as fast as possible because they were designed for tournament play. White Plume Mountain full of deadly traps, Ghost Tower of Inverness, all the way up to the infamous Tomb of Horrors. So you're gonna see kill rates in 1e much higher than any other edition. Ergo, the only fair way is to look at how each of them were designed from a rules perspective, with everything else being equal (DM style, adventure design style, etc).

It has nothing to do with whether a 2e fighter could beat a 1e fighter, or otherwise comparing their stats to each other. It asks what power level characters were, *with respect to the challenges they were given*.

Unfortunately, the real numbers are lost to us. Your best bet for a real fair analysis may be to compare characters of a given edition to the published adventures of that same edition. How many characters would be expected to die going through a published adventure?
You are right in the implication that we can't compare fighters. We should look at all classes. And factor in how magic users in TSR D&D had d4 hp, no armor, memorizing spells wasn't a guarantee, and if you did try to cast, it was interrupted by someone throwing a handful of pebbles at you before your turn. As far as I know, that interruption rule didn't last into WoTC D&D (you had a chance to resist in 3e IIRC), and was huge. And look at thieves compared to rogues and the survivability there. Look at how a level 3 rogue in 3e attempting to beat a DC 15 trap compared to a level 3 thief trying to do the same with a 30% chance. Who has the better chance to succeed, and who has the better chance of getting their hands cut off in a scythe trap?
 
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Tony Vargas

Adventurer
Sure but dont you figure it actually didn't require as much skill or art because EL delivered..
Yeah, that's a given. 4e DMing was phone-it-in easy. I felt like I'd almost forgotten how to run after a few years. ;)
But it's like falling off a bicycle. (something else it turns out I'm good at)

Giants are a particularly odd case for the transition between 2e and 3e. Up close, thanks to the weapon bonus damage, crits, lots of hit points and Con bonuses, giants are generally more dangerous.
And armed ones using iterative attacks, that got brutal, too.

I think, if you ask "Which edition was most lethal?" that really asks - what percentage of characters did each edition actually kill?

It has nothing to do with whether a 2e fighter could beat a 1e fighter, or otherwise comparing their stats to each other. It asks what power level characters were, *with respect to the challenges they were given*.

Unfortunately, the real numbers are lost to us. Your best bet for a real fair analysis may be to compare characters of a given edition to the published adventures of that same edition. How many characters would be expected to die going through a published adventure?
Published adventures varied quite a lot.

With modern eds, you can compare how PCs stack up to the encounter guidelines. But, all you really find out is that some guidelines are more consistent than others.

But, I still think it's plausible to compare characters, in general, to monsters (and other dangers) in general, and make a broad, general, not-quite-meaningless statement about 'lethality.'

And, really, I kinda agree with Sacrosanct: 2e had some uniquely lethal qualities going. PCs didn't jump dramatically in power or durability - but monsters /did/ take quite a jump in both. Later ed monsters did keep getting tougher, but 3e PCs got a /lot/ tougher, too (in everything but saves, WotC-era hates for PCs to make saving throws at high level, for some reasons), 4e more durable at low level, and 5e did pull back from that.

So just on the PC v Monster Dynamic 2e > other TSR eds seems plausible. So does 3e > 5e > 4e. Comparisons between the two eras are trickier, though. Should 2e slot in before or after 3e, for instance? Hard to say for sure.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I don't think that's an accurate way to measure, because 1e had modules designed to kill PCs as fast as possible because they were designed for tournament play. White Plume Mountain full of deadly traps, Ghost Tower of Inverness, all the way up to the infamous Tomb of Horrors. So you're gonna see kill rates in 1e much higher than any other edition.
Ergo, the game of 1e, in practice, was more lethal. You just said it had higher kill rates. Done.


Ergo, the only fair way is to look at how each of them were designed from a rules perspective, with everything else being equal (DM style, adventure design style, etc).
You effectively just said, "This analysis gives me result A. Therefore, I must do another analysis that gets me a different result." That's not solid reasoning.

Games are not cleanly separable from their playstyles. Trying to level set outside of the playstyle introduces a bias - because whatever method you introduce will implicitly represent a playstyle!

This was part of my original comment, actually - the only *really* fair way to see which game is more lethal is to see which one will kill more people when you drop it on them from out of a tree. Yes, this wasn't how the rules were intended to be used. But, you're analysis is also not about how each edition was to be used - why is your arbitrary choice better than mine?
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
Ergo, the game of 1e, in practice, was more lethal. You just said it had higher kill rates. Done.




You effectively just said, "This analysis gives me result A. Therefore, I must do another analysis that gets me a different result." That's not solid reasoning.
I did not say that. I said we need to look at how the rules were built, RAW, without subjectivity. Some of the 1e modules were designed for tournament play with the specific goal of killing the PCs as quickly as possible (since you were scored on how far you got before dying). ToH is the most famous example of that. But 1e rules themselves were not designed that way. That was specific for tournaments. How people used those modules later is the subjective part, because not everyone did. I'm only evaluating the actual core rules themselves.

If you look at how many PCs died per edition, that's flawed analysis because it's not looking at how the rules were designed, but how some instances throw the sample size off. I do data analysis for a living, so I've got a good feel for recognizing things that can screw with sound analysis. And this is one of those things if you include how people used tournament modules for home campaigns. It's why 2e surprised me (and others) because as mentioned, many of us used old 1e rules (like 4d6, and negative healing, and weren't aware of massive damage = auto death). But what's important is how 2e was actually designed, not how some of us played it. That's how you get objective data analysis. And why the result came out a bit surprising.
 

Zardnaar

Adventurer
Ergo, the game of 1e, in practice, was more lethal. You just said it had higher kill rates. Done.




You effectively just said, "This analysis gives me result A. Therefore, I must do another analysis that gets me a different result." That's not solid reasoning.

Games are not cleanly separable from their playstyles. Trying to level set outside of the playstyle introduces a bias - because whatever method you introduce will implicitly represent a playstyle!

This was part of my original comment, actually - the only *really* fair way to see which game is more lethal is to see which one will kill more people when you drop it on them from out of a tree. Yes, this wasn't how the rules were intended to be used. But, you're analysis is also not about how each edition was to be used - why is your arbitrary choice better than mine?
2E was designed to be backwards compatible. 2,E characters in 1E adventures will die slightly more often. 2E had killer dungeons and well but they're not as well known as the 1E ones.

More people played 1E as well so the 1E adventures are played as lot more.

2E fighters got weapon specialization built in, 1E ones didn't but generally 1E PCs are more powerful than 2E.

Objectively though

2E PCs are weaker (without kits)
2E PCs level up slower
2E monsters are tougher.
 
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Tony Vargas

Adventurer
I did not say that. I said we need to look at how the rules were built, RAW, without subjectivity. ... How people used those modules later is the subjective part, because not everyone did. I'm only evaluating the actual core rules themselves.
That's an issue, because we have no guide as to which of the various deadly monsters in TSR eds parties were supposed to face at a given level. We have decades of experience giving us a really good idea, but that's still all subjective, and it would tend to shift the game towards whatever desired level of lethality we were working towards...
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
Tony addressed most of what my reply would have been, so I won't bother reiterating.

However, there are factors that you are not considering. For starters, 2e had a morale system (2e DMG pg 71 - the DMG with the Jeff Easley cover, not the later printing). You didn't have to kill every monster. A group might route from losing as little as 25% of their group. Offering them a chance to surrender would prompt a second check if they were successful on the first.

Additionally, critical hits were optional (DMG 61). Since randomness tends to favor the monsters, this also worked in the players' favor, as anyone crit by a greataxe or scythe in 3e could attest.

As one can see on DMG 73, most poisons had a lengthy delayed onset time and only dealt hit point damage, not instant death. The onset times also gave players time to treat or neutralize the poison.

While death at zero was the default, on DMG 75 you'll see a sidebar labeled "Hovering on Death's Door" that allows PCs to survive until their hp reach -10.

Additionally, DMG 104 has an entire chapter devoted to hirelings and henchmen. You didn't need a feat to find muscle to take risks for/with you! (3e did have a chapter on hirelings in the DMG2, but that was pretty late in the edition lifecycle, when compared with being right there from the beginning in 2e.)

If you disagree that's fine, but I'm still of the opinion that (based on both a reading of the rules as well as my personal experiences) 3e grew far deadlier than 2e as levels progressed.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
Tony addressed most of what my reply would have been, so I won't bother reiterating.

However, there are factors that you are not considering. For starters, 2e had a morale system (2e DMG pg 71 - the DMG with the Jeff Easley cover, not the later printing). You didn't have to kill every monster. A group might route from losing as little as 25% of their group. Offering them a chance to surrender would prompt a second check if they were successful on the first.

Additionally, critical hits were optional (DMG 61). Since randomness tends to favor the monsters, this also worked in the players' favor, as anyone crit by a greataxe or scythe in 3e could attest.

As one can see on DMG 73, most poisons had a lengthy delayed onset time and only dealt hit point damage, not instant death. The onset times also gave players time to treat or neutralize the poison.

While death at zero was the default, on DMG 75 you'll see a sidebar labeled "Hovering on Death's Door" that allows PCs to survive until their hp reach -10.

Additionally, DMG 104 has an entire chapter devoted to hirelings and henchmen. You didn't need a feat to find muscle to take risks for/with you! (3e did have a chapter on hirelings in the DMG2, but that was pretty late in the edition lifecycle, when compared with being right there from the beginning in 2e.)

If you disagree that's fine, but I'm still of the opinion that (based on both a reading of the rules as well as my personal experiences) 3e grew far deadlier than 2e as levels progressed.
I still think with things like worse results on a failed save (poison, level draining, etc), super easy spell interruption, weaker casters and thieves, and a few other reasons mentioned upthread, 2e still takes the crown (or dunce hat, however your preferences align) for the deadliest edition. But I will give you credit for a compelling point about morale. It could make a big difference.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I said method I in 1e was 4d6 drop lowest. I am in fact correct. Since you quoted the DMG, I’m sure you saw the very next sentence was how it labels method I as 4d6. Not method II or V, but the very first method. You also ignore the meat of that paragraph where it says not to use 3d6 if you want decent PCs or are serious about the game
You are in fact wrong. It seems you don't understand what alternative means. By definition, an alternative is not the default. It's an ALTERNATIVE to the default. I'm sure you saw how the sentence right before method I is mentioned, it explicitly says method I is an alternative.

It also seems like you and @Jer are confused by Gygax recommending that you try an alternative to the default. Suggesting an alternative to the default, because the default will often result in PC death does not change the default from 3d6 to another method. It just means that he doesn't like the default.
 
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GreyLord

Adventurer
First four pages...a LOT of picking and choosing here on rules...
When this rule is in use, a character can remain alive until his hitpoints reach -10. However, as soon as the character reaches 0 hit points, he falls to the ground unconscious.

Thereafter, he automatically loses one hit point each round. His survival from this point on depends on the quick thinking of his companions. If they reach the character before his hitpoints reach -10 and spenda t least one round tendint to hiswounds (staunching the flow of blood...etc) the character does not die immediately. If the only action is to bind his wounds, the injured character no longer loses one hit point each round, but neither does he gain any.
(2e DMG, original printing, pg 75).

If you are including the optional rules of 1e, you should also use the optional rules of 2e. 2e also isn't a 0 HP point (at exactly 0 HP you are unconscious, lower than that...you be DEAD...though a DM can allow it as low as -3 I suppose), and a LOT more lenient and nicer overall.

Rogues, Mages, and Clerics also have their THAC0 become better faster in 2e, and Fighters have weapon specialization in the CORE rules (no weapon specialization in the Core 1e rules). If we allow added rules, then we get many more broken combinations from the handbooks and AD&D 2.5 (skills and powers) which were FAR more broken than what we even got in UA.

In that light, I'd say 1e was actually FAR more lethal than 2e if PLAYED like 2e was generally, and especially if played like 3e.

However, if played differently, 2e could be more lethal.

Really...it depends more on your DM's style of gaming overall as the rules are close enough that it was the DM that made more of a difference than the specific rules in many instances.

For example...if the DM used the Death's door rule in 2e (page 75) or the unconscious at 0 HP for 1e, or interpreted the rules to allow you to go down to -10 HP in 1e (we didn't, most groups didn't...but hey...it WAS there...which is why DEATH's DOOR is an optional rule in 2e found in the 2e DMG), or myriads of other factors that could come into play.

In that same light, 3e could also be more lethal. One DM's 3e game could be far more lethal than another DM's 2e or 1e game. it really boils down to what options the DMs used, how they gamed, and how they interpreted various rules in the books.
 
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Raith5

Adventurer
Any chance your formative play experience with 4e included Keep on the Shadowfell, Thunderspire Labyrinth, and/or Pyramid of Shadows?

(Because, while the middle one was actually mostly pretty good, each included at least one example of completely whacked encounter design.)

...or, y'know, alternately, maybe your DM just liked killing you... ;)


Vs encounters run closely to guidelines, 4e characters were often dropped, sometimes very greatful for the next long rest, but rarely killed outright, let alone TPKd. You could make that happen pretty easily by just dialing it up - EL mostly delivered as advertised - but you could, with enough experience & artistry, make any ed as deadly or survivable as desired.
No we had a homebrewed campaign which at low levels was based on B10 Night's Dark Terror. We had a TPK around 5th level were we got caught up in overlapping auras or blasts from from some undead and went down quickly. It was rather embarrassing because by the time we worked out we were in trouble, it was too late.
 

Raith5

Adventurer
I have heard DMs say in 4th they can go full out.... also a level +4 encounter is an acceptable encounter in 4e. Th DM has so much control over how dangerous things are by RAW the comparisons fail
Agree. Different types of pacing within editions in addition to pacing across editions is an issue that makes comparisons really tricky. We had a lot of encounters in mid to high level 4e where were beyond level +4, if you had daily powers or even party synergised encounter powers on tap.

We also used to also get really strung out in terms of long rests in 4e. We once went a whole level/ 8-9 encounters (when we were about 26th level) on one long rest, we had no daily abilities and about 3 healing surges left in whole party by the end. Good times.
 

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