D&D 1E Giving an AD&D feel to 5e


Victoria Rules
There was a fair amount missing from the Hussar's analysis, which, while you and Sacrosanct have engage with, I still don't see the major issue addressed.

Let us put aside, for the moment, the many ways in which OD&D and 1e AD&D was more deadly than 5e. Among those are:
1. Level draining.
2. Save or die.
3. Traps that would kill you (save or die again).
4. Massive damage (a 6d6 fall for a MU or even a Fighter in 1e is a lot different than in 5e).
5. You didn't get death saves. You went to 0, and you died. Yeah, some tables played with "house rules" or misreadings to let you go as low as -10, but 0 was death.
Not a houserule, a supported option (via an early Dragon magazine?). There was a death at -3 option as well.
And then, ANYTIME YOU CAME BACK , you had to roll or die permanently AND lose a point of Constitution.
Yes, and IMO this should never have left the game in any edition!
B. Disparity of hit points was equalized. Yes, an Ogre only had 24 hitpoints. But you know what? Your MU, who was 5th level, only had 13 hit points. Because he didn't have a CON modifier, and got d4 hit points per level. So maybe the Ogre didn't last very long, but neither did your MU.
MU could have a Con bonus if it had two good stats (as the highest would logically go into Int, assuming rearranging was allowed). And even though that bonus capped at +2, when you're only rolling d4 per level every point matters. :)

That said, the disparity only got worse as the levels advanced. A 10th-level MU would average 25 h.p., which means even on a made save vs an AoE spell from a peer you'd be in trouble and a failed save meant death even if using the -10 rule.

log in or register to remove this ad


Victoria Rules
Not just that, we have to remember the healing rules. In 1e, you didn't heal overnight (HA!), you didn't have an ever-ready wand of cure light wounds, and your cleric (or sometimes druid) had limited healing.
That said, individual experiences could differ. With all the house rules, and regional and table differences, not to mention the prevalence of Monty Haul campaigns, it was certainly possible to play 1e on "easy mode" (just like you could really hammer a party in 5e by putting some effort into it). It's just not how the game is normally set up.
We'll all define "Monty Haul" differently, I suppose, but it's possible to make 1e a bit more survivable at low level without putting it on easy mode for the rest of the run. It's a delicate balancing act.


Victoria Rules
It's not identical. Ability checks are in the rule book as a DM tool in 5e (not a player tool, btb they are called by the DM) but ability checks do not even exist as a mechanic in 1e.
Er...I dunno, the roll-under-stat mechanic came from somewhere and that sure looks like a (better version of an) ability check to me. But it was always driven by the DM, players couldn't just do it proactively as such things simply weren't accepted practice at the time.
There were some campaigns I was aware of in the late 70s and early 80s were the players did not have character sheets at all. They had notes, but they did not have any hard rules information regarding their characters. Not just the rules (which the players had not read) but even the character sheets were all in the hands of the DM.
Now this I've never heard of. It'd take a lot of trust in the DM, for sure, but I do find myself curious as to how this would look in play.


Victoria Rules
I know 3e presumed 20 levels in one year of gaming, although, honestly, I never met anyone who actually met that and it certainly wasn't my experience, but, is 5e based on the same assumption? I don't remember seeing that for 5e.
Somewhere in the memory banks (from playtest reports?) I recall something about reaching 20th level was intended to be an 18-month-ish process in 5e. I think.
See, sure, I agree that your thief and you MU (outside of some big booms) isn't doing a lot of damage. But, you've got three fighters and a cleric in your six person party - that's the assumption. Or, three fighter types anyway. All of them are double specialized for +3/hit and +3/damage from 1st level.
Assuming the DM had adopted UA as written, or at all, which IME very few if any did.
But, yeah, going back to the Giants thing - two fireballs pretty much cuts most of the baddies in half, if not outright kills them - and the fighter types play mop up with bows. And, no, a "slight distraction" didn't spoil casting. You had to take damage.
I think RAI was that any physical disturbance, even someone bumping or jostling you, was enough to spoil a spell. RAW, of course, was unclear. Whether or not it caused damage wasn't a factor, though many DMs ruled it was for simplicity.
I totally agree that 1e's lethality was due to things that bypassed HP. Totally agree. My point was that outside of those things that bypassed HP's - Save or Die, that sort of thing - AD&D wasn't all that lethal.
I have a very long list of killed-by-damage characters in my game world whose spirits would like a word with you on this one. :)
I know that I was absolutely shocked when 3e rolled around and I had to actively try not to kill PC's with damage. It was so easy. A single orc in 3e could do over 30 points of damage in a single hit. An orc could outright kill 2nd and 3rd level PC's with a lucky die roll. And, when you toss in 10 orcs into an encounter, that lucky die roll came around more often than not.
3e was lethal as hell at low levels, no argument there; and at higher levels if the DM didn't pay close attention to the steepness of the power curve.


Victoria Rules
Yes, paying for training was a MAJOR slowdown if you played it as written. And not just in non-adventuring time. It sucked away the cash, sometimes to the point you might need to go adventuring just to make enough cash to pay for training. That poor 1st level thief had to amass substantially more cash than XPs to make level 2.
If you were using TSR modules or similar and your party wasn't insanely huge you'd usually come away with enough to pay for training for all and some left over...assuming your DM let you convert magic items into cash or use them as cash equivalent to train.

If the DM wouldn't allow liquidation of magic items you were probably hooped.


Er...I dunno, the roll-under-stat mechanic came from somewhere
Apart from being intuitive, it's suggested as an optional rule in 1981 Moldvay Basic D&D. But I think when I ran 1e AD&D in the '80s I just used it as something that 'seemed obvious', without it appearing or even being implied anywhere in the 1e PHB or DMG. It did come in officially with Non-Weapon Proficiencies - OA, DSG, WSG - which became core in 2e AD&D.


Somewhere in the memory banks (from playtest reports?) I recall something about reaching 20th level was intended to be an 18-month-ish process in 5e. I think.

The 5e XP system as written seems to imply around 18 months of weekly 4 hour games to go from 1 to 20, and that's about the rate I saw in my first two big 5e campaigns (Ghinarian Hills & Runelords) - about 75 sessions/300 hours of tabletop play, or roughly double that for text-chat online gaming. But the DMG's suggestion that PCs level up 1, 1, 2 then every 2-3 sessions is much faster, playing 4 + 17x2.5 levels is 46.5 sessions, under a year, more like the 3e D&D rate (assuming no PC deaths).

My current 5e game has a much slower advancement rate, simply from using less generous non-combat XP awards and having most monster encounters be with groups of low-challenge creatures, plus large PC groups of around 7 PCs with a few NPCs. The longest playing PCs have gone 1st-5th in 8 months of weekly online play, I count 39 sessions so far, with last session being their first at 5th level. So 38 sessions to level up 4 times; 9.5 sessions per level. But those are online text chat sessions averaging 3.5-4 hours, you could halve that for the equivalent tabletop time.

Edit: I remember in 4e D&D they explicitly discussed expected levelling rate as 10 hours of play. IME when played as written the rate was about half that. I tended to give a bunch of bonus XP to get the rate down to around 15 hours. 5e seems fairly similar; without forced power levelling via bonus XP, or levelling by GM fiat, the actual advancement rate is much slower than the designers seemed to expect. You can get PCs to level 2 in one 4 hour session by using a lot of 50 XP Goblins (and probably 'forgetting' their bonus action Disengage/Hide ability) :D but after reaching level 3 the natural rate of advancement tends to be about half what's expected. The only way to keep it at 2.5 sessions/level would be using mostly solo monsters at or above CR = Party Level, lined up in convenient adventuring-day packets.

Edit 2: Checking some logs I see PC Hakeem Godslayer went 1-20 in 132 sessions of my online Wilderlands campaign, which would be around 66 tabletop sessions, but that was unusually fast and involved a lot of solo adventuring and taking on much higher-CR opponents often single handed.
Last edited:


Wow there's some weasel words in this one jesus, I don't even know what to say to that.

Overall I have no idea what your point is, and I've been playing TT RPGs since 1989, and played some which were close to rules-less all the way, to well, Rolemaster.

As for "it's not a mechanic", mate, half of how people played 1E wasn't in the rulebook (was your point? weird way to approach it is so), but it's functionally identical, and conceptually very similar. If you want to let people avoid certain things by rolling, you will, people have been doing it forever.
So you didn't know what to say and decided to go with vaguely insulting and playing your grognard card?

Ability checks against 1 of your 6 scores wasn't a mechanic until Moldvay, several years after AD&D, and skipped by many people who were already playing AD&D (as was the case with myself and the groups I played with). And if I recall, Moldvay only mentioned rolling under your ability scores in an example - it certainly isn't something you can find in the table of contents. I know it's there because it is in Old School Essentials but I'm halfway through a martini and I'd like to enjoy it and not waste any more time looking for the barely mentioned mechanic in an otherwise very explicit step by step instruction for playing D&D.

Why is it not existing as a mechanic relevant? Because with few defined mechanics or character abilities, especially outside of combat the main mode of play was the DM describing the environment, the players choosing how to react to that description and the DM describing what happens. I didn't mentioned dice rolls there because there often weren't any. Players engaged with the imagined environment without referencing the rules or their abilities. DMs rolled dice if they wanted to. Players didn't say, "my character solves the puzzle". The players themselves solved the puzzle.

Our brains were not limited to the "1 action, 1 bonus action, 1 item interaction, 1 move, 1 reaction", with the options within those categories explicitly delineated. We imagined how to react to the dungeon and narrated it without having to reference or describe those reactions within the confinement of rules.

Before there was a specific players handbook, as it was with OD&D, the players often didn't own or even hadn't read the rules. And even with the 1E players handbook, the mechanics of the attack tables and saving throws were still in the DMG. Adjudication was solely in the DM's hands. Players couldn't feel entitled to use a mechanic that they don't know exists.

I never myself played at a table where the players didn't even keep their own character sheets, but I knew of a group that did and passed up an opportunity to play that way at a convention (it was supposedly "more realistic"). I certainly played many sessions of my first campaign I played before I got my hands on a Players Handbook. I kept a character sheet (1st few were just 3x5 cards), but what I wrote on it was basically what the DM told me to write on it. Not knowing the mechanics of the game certainly contributed to a sense of mystery and exploration of the unknown.

I punched the first chit in my grognard card in 1977. I normally don't wave it about. I know there are others with older cards than that on this forum and that's certainly one reason why I don't.

So you didn't know what to say and decided to go with vaguely insulting and playing your grognard card?
Dude, you played the grog card first. You literally aren't allowed to complain about it. :p

As for the rest of it, well, I'm very jealous of your martini (in the whole of COVID I think I've maybe had three beers - I only drink socially and it seemed like this would be baaaad time to change that lol), but I feel like maybe I'd need a number to martinis to really get what you're saying. But maybe not let's see.

Players didn't say, "my character solves the puzzle". The players themselves solved the puzzle.
THEY DON'T SAY THAT NOW!!! ARRRRGH! Why would anyone say that??!?!?!!??!?!

Ruin jumps into 60' deep pit with spikes at the bottom and dies

I mean for god's sake nobody says that now except in an RP sense. They describe how they solve the puzzle, otherwise it's not a puzzle for the players, it's just some kind of challenge for the characters, which is a different thing. The old-skool equivalent would be writing in a in-setting language which wasn't a code-cipher, and which required either a PC to speak that language (and often the DM could be sure none could, because it was some obscure dead language), and which required magic to read. The players don't "work out the translation" because they can't, they just say my character casts [appropriate spell] and then the DM tells them what it says (yes I can't remember which spell translates text - like I said I need a martini too!).

You're apparently complaining about something that's not a real problem. This is very internet. And very "get off my lawn", except the kids aren't on your lawn, they standing on the sidewalk and you just think they're on your lawn!

Players couldn't feel entitled to use a mechanic that they don't know exists.
This is the most interesting point I'm getting here, but the reality is, that's still effectively how it works in most groups. You can't just say "I roll an investigation check", you have to say what your PC is doing, then the DM says "roll an investigation check", or maybe you describe it so well, that's not even necessary, and the DM just says "Oh you said you looked under the front of the desk? Then you see a scroll stuck there!", with no need for check. Very modern-style TT RPGs actually reinforce this point - fiction first - the player describes what they want to do, the DM is there to tell them what to roll, if they even need to roll, and often they don't.

That's really the same way as ever.

If anything, there was a period in 3.XE, when that approach did decline a bit in favour of "everything has a DC, everything can be rolled on", and when the advice to DMs was perhaps a little less clear on the fiction-first approach, but that's in the past now, and I've seen people new to D&D playing 5E, and they play it the fiction-first way - i.e. description of action, then roll dice if the DM tells them to. I mean, just go watch YouTube of people playing 5E or whatever.

There is a I think a genuinely interesting underlying point here, which is mostly to do with spells. In early D&D, spells were basically the only time you got to tell the DM what happened, as it were. I mean, he/she was still in charge, but if you wanted to do something without a spell, it was kind of "Mother May I?". Whereas if you had a spell, it said it what it did, and the DM kind of had "put that in his pipe and smoke it", as it were. And what we've seen evolve is characters who don't have spells gradually get access to more abilities which aren't "Mother May I?", but rather stuff like, "My character can jump 30ft", so you don't have to say "Oh DM, can my character jump 30ft?" "No.", because it's on your character sheet that you could.

But spellcasters have always had that.

And I think did we just find the root cause of LFQW? Kinda? Of the basic imbalance between casters and non-casters? I'm sure it's actually a well-visited place with a gift shop and so on, but I think this is a kind of key point - casters got to say what happened (which is thematically kind of appropriate from a sort of Sparrowhawk-ish/TH White Merlin-ish perspective especially), whereas other people had to ask.

Feels like there's some kind of experimental indie RPG in there - where you have some players who can tell the DM, and some players who have to ask the DM.
Last edited:


If anything, there was a period in 3.XE, when that approach did decline a bit in favour of "everything has a DC, everything can be rolled on", and when the advice to DMs was perhaps a little less clear on the fiction-first approach, but that's in the past now

I think people who came in with or got used to 3e carried that forward into 5e - and 5e can be run that way if you want, but you're right that it's not mandated by the system. So arguably 1e grognards & 5e newbies tend to play more alike, and it's the 3e Millennials who play different. :D

Remove ads


Remove ads

Upcoming Releases