I've introduced my 5th ed group to AD&D 2E

By the rules, backstab was very hard. By the DM...it ranged from "oh yeah, sure go ahead" all the way to "if you can perform a triple backflip while on fire, and can reach the vital nerve area on the dragon's body 8' above you, there's a 23% chance you can backstab. Then the dragon will eat you. I think that's a fair ruling."

Yeah, my experience was that the victim had to be unaware of you. You had to move silently, hide in shadows, or be invisible. Which is ironic because it means the best backstabber is now the thief/magic-user with improved invisibility, and as an added bonus you get lightning bolt, mage armor, charm person, silence, knock, detect magic, alter self, etc.

Your description also seems to apply to how racial level limits worked in actual play. In my experience, every table 100% enforces racial level limits... at level 1. However, when you actually have PCs hitting the limits, the DM magically forgets that they exist. Or, sometimes, applies a penalty. 10% to 20% XP penalty seemed to be standard in my area. Because stopping progression was obviously dumb. It meant you should just retire, and neither the player, nor the rest of the party, nor the DM were ever interested in that.
 

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James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
It was mostly because of the trip combo where a player could soft lock opponents or abuse of the 5' step to stay permanently out of range of opponents that lacked reach.
The one time I played a spiked chain character, I was often facing multiple foes, so I was more worried about keeping them attacking me instead of anyone else, so the 5 foot step thing was never a tactic I employed- I wanted the enemy stuck to me like glue.

And by 5th level, I was facing enemies that were darned near impossible to trip, due to being big and strong. My first fight with a centaur, I just gave up trying, lol.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Yeah, my experience was that the victim had to be unaware of you. You had to move silently, hide in shadows, or be invisible. Which is ironic because it means the best backstabber is now the thief/magic-user with improved invisibility, and as an added bonus you get lightning bolt, mage armor, charm person, silence, knock, detect magic, alter self, etc.

Your description also seems to apply to how racial level limits worked in actual play. In my experience, every table 100% enforces racial level limits... at level 1. However, when you actually have PCs hitting the limits, the DM magically forgets that they exist. Or, sometimes, applies a penalty. 10% to 20% XP penalty seemed to be standard in my area. Because stopping progression was obviously dumb. It meant you should just retire, and neither the player, nor the rest of the party, nor the DM were ever interested in that.
What I saw done a lot was requiring double xp to advance beyond the level cap. Not that I ever saw a lot of characters actually reach said level cap!
 

What I saw done a lot was requiring double xp to advance beyond the level cap. Not that I ever saw a lot of characters actually reach said level cap!
Oh, yeah it was very rare for us as well. I literally remember one character of mine hitting the limit before, and I think it was in 1e when they were much lower. And the DM still let me progress.

I do remember playing a one-shot 1e game where the multiclass thief/magic-user was level 11/10, and the party's human paladin was only level 9. Once I saw that I don't think I ever played a single class character ever again. Though my experience is a bit odd because I played 2e before I ever played 1e... I went BECMI or B/X --> 2e --> 1e --> 2e --> 3e.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Yeah, my experience was that the victim had to be unaware of you. You had to move silently, hide in shadows, or be invisible. Which is ironic because it means the best backstabber is now the thief/magic-user with improved invisibility, and as an added bonus you get lightning bolt, mage armor, charm person, silence, knock, detect magic, alter self, etc.
Not just unaware, surprised by the thief - if you were a stickler for the conditions. And that meant that even if you successfully moved silently and hid in shadows (or were invisible), there was a flat out 30% chance they weren't even surprised in 2e and completely negated the possibility of backstab.

Most of the time we were not sticklers on all that.

So, no wonder people initially kind of freaked out that a rogue in 3e got sneak attack so much easier and often. If they played anything close to AD&D's restrictiveness on it, 3e was a huge leap forward in rogue combat effectiveness.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
That's not a 2E thing, it's a D&D thing, regardless of edition.

I told a story a while back about how I was trying to talk a guy I knew, who loved comic books, into giving D&D (5E, which isn't my edition of choice, but which seemed like the easiest access point for a newcomer) a chance. He asked if he could make a character who was just like The Flash. I hesitated, then started to describe how there were certain builds (which I was reasonably certain were out there) which could get him up to more than twice the movement speed of most characters, along with one or two extra attacks per round. He just shook his head and said "That's not even close to what The Flash can do."

And he was right. If you've got a particular inspiration from some other media, including most comics, video games, or anime/manga, then most of the time D&D isn't going to let you play what you want, particularly at 1st level. Heck, just look at the differences between Vancian magic and how magic works in most other media; that one's been a sticking point for decades.

The game is what it is, and there's always going to be a gulf between that and what people want it to be, at least in terms of when they start playing their first character.
Yeah. That’s the biggest weakness of class- and archetype-based games. They limit what you can do to the point of constraining your imagination. A free-form approach lets people imagine more broadly and create what they want to play, but you run the risk of not fitting the premise of the game. High fantasy vs superheroes. As much as 5E tries to be fantasy superheroes, it’s really bad at actually doing fantasy superheroes.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Yeah but then 3e got you with all the monsters who were just plain immune to sneak attack for various reasons, lol.
Same with 2e, really, because there they had to be generally humanoid (so the same oozes and elementals immune in 3e were immune in 2e too) and you may have needed the ability to reach the vitals, so no backstabbing giants unless you were up off floor level (or the giant was sitting down...). The nature and specific rules behind the restrictions may have changed, but the restrictions weren't exactly new.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Yeah. That’s the biggest weakness of class- and archetype-based games. They limit what you can do to the point of constraining your imagination. A free-form approach lets people imagine more broadly and create what they want to play, but you run the risk of not fitting the premise of the game. High fantasy vs superheroes. As much as 5E tries to be fantasy superheroes, it’s really bad at actually doing fantasy superheroes.
And, honestly, this is perfectly reasonable. Some genres may overlap a little, but an RPG that goes fully into the comic superhero genre is going to do it better with a speedster concept than one that doesn't. And the Flash is a poor fitting concept for fantasy heroes, even if they do overlap a little with the superheroic genre.
 

MadArkitekt

Eternal
Epic
Subtract AC from this number to find what you need to roll to hit. (If you don't mind giving out AC)
THAC0 subtracts attack roll to determine what AC is hit. (If you don't)

It's not exactly rocket science.
Huh, I say a buddy down and played Baldur‘ s Gate 2 and you would have though the game was written in Sanscrit and I was speaking Aramaic
 

MadArkitekt

Eternal
Epic
Not long at all. It's not quantum physics. Their sheets have a chart so all they have to do is compare the roll to it and see what AC they hit, anyways.
ah, never played the tabletop version or seen the sheets. Learned from Baldur’s Gate II. That’s pretty cool the sheets have the formulae
 

Celebrim

Legend
Yeah. That’s the biggest weakness of class- and archetype-based games. They limit what you can do to the point of constraining your imagination.

It depends on just how badly you implement a class or archetype based system. A well implemented one allows for just about any character your can imagine that is also a character that is gameable - by which I mean it is social, balanced, and does things that can be handled at a table. Any system whether skill based or class based for example will tend to have problems with characters that can prophetically see the future, because that's really hard to game.

The limitations in free form approaches are typically just as tightly constrained it's just less obvious what those constraints actually are at first. Typically point buy systems also have a limited pool of powers to buy from and although at first you feel unconstrained, the more familiar you become with the system the fewer viable choices you tend to find. Often point buy systems suffer heavily from lack of balance so that spending your points on X is vastly more efficient than spending your points on Y, effectively making Y a non-choice. And typically even more so than in a class based system, you are punished point by systems for spreading your points across different archetypes so that you are vastly less powerful with a complex build than you would be with leaning into Johnny One Trick and putting all your points into that one thing that you do.

I'm happy enough with my 3.X homebrew to think my homebrew classes cover all possible characters that are gameable with two known exceptions - a character who has luck as their superpower and "Sherlock Holmes". I have concepts for implementing both, but getting the balance right is really hard and I haven't yet had a player excited enough for those concepts to put in the work to get it right. Getting away from a class based system and having some sort of point buy wouldn't make those problems go away, nor do they necessarily even go away in abstract build it yourself systems based on keywords.
 

How long did it take to explain THACO?

THAC0 isn't hard to explain. The explanation is easy. The trouble is that It's harder to execute. Like the fact that you have to stop and read these to figure out which one is right is part of the trouble:
  • THAC0 - (die roll + modifier)
  • THAC0 - (die roll - modifier)
  • THAC0 - die roll - modifier
  • THAC0 - die roll + modifier
Doing it in your head correctly when sometimes you have a circumstantial -1 or +2 or -2 or +1 that varies from round to round and that sometimes you forget until after you think you're done is not easy. Worse, because AC basically "reflects" around 0, it's easier to miscalculate without noticing. If you get a result between -3 instead and 3 as the AC you hit, that generally feels always about right with THAC0. It's harder to look at your die roll and say, "wait a minute, that doesn't make any sense because it's lower than the die roll".

THAC0 isn't difficult, but it's precise and that makes it cumbersome. It's just as cumbersome as the attack routine tables from AD&D 1e. That makes it error prone in ways that adding numbers isn't. Because it's literally the most common roll in the game, being rolled as often as 3 or more times in a single round every round, having the mechanic be even slightly more complicated than it absolutely needs to be is a failure of design.

Remember: Nobody ever made a THAC0 wheel for 5e.
 

Orius

Hero
Oh yeah, pre-3e thieves suck. They suck at combat, and at low levels they're terrible at picking locks, disarming traps and pretty much anything else they're supposed to be good at. Then there's the issues with backstab, where everything is vague and left up to the DM, who's usually advised to take the most restrictive approach possible. Even allowing generous backstabbing, the damage output really isn't that impressive. The 3e rogue was a huge improvement in every way.

Several times I have thought about doing a reworking of the NWP system to make it more useful for adjudicating skill challenges, reworking the class balance, cleaning the initiative roll and cleaning up the surprise rule, clean up the rules for when opponents get free attacks on you, fixing monster balance, fixing infravision to produce fewer table arguments, fixing the detect invisibility rules to account for animal senses, reworking THAC0 to be a little more intuitive, and so forth. And I get really excited for a few minutes imagining what this system will be like that retains the feel of 1e/2e but with all the warts removed, and then I realize two things. First, that it's a like 400+ hour project, and secondly that at the end of it you'll be like 90% of the way to 3e anyway. It would be easier to change out the XP system in 3e to make it work more like 1e, have HD caps like 1e, and bring back segments and casting times than it would be to try to turn 1e/2e or a retroclone into something that plays smoothly.

Tell me about it. I might not take the same specific approaches you would but for me fixing the things I want to fix in 2e would push things close enough to 3e that I might as well just use 3e. It's less work to ban 3e's most egregious crap, limit available options, and tweak a few other things than to hammer out 2e's legacy problems, work out the inconsistencies, and reconcile the differences where certain parts of the rules have multiple independent systems.

I already use some 3e elements in my current 2e game. First off, initiative. I had some combat planning sheets that I used in an earlier 3e campaign that I grabbed to use in the game before remembering that 2e's initiative system was different. But modern D&D initiative works well enough for 2e that I kept it. Then I switched to 3e's healing amounts though I kept the 2e levels for the spells. It makes them a bit more potent, and the party cleric doesn't need to load up on a ton of heals. I do 3e critical hits too, except without the specialized crit ranges or multipliers though I think crits are too powerful for 2e.

Oh and ascending AC. I've been using that since it got previewed in Dragon as an upcoming feature of 3e in late 1999. THAC0 itself isn't bad, it's just that using subtraction on the fly is less intuitive than addition.
 
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tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
THAC0 isn't hard to explain. The explanation is easy. The trouble is that It's harder to execute. Like the fact that you have to stop and read these to figure out which one is right is part of the trouble:
  • THAC0 - (die roll + modifier)
  • THAC0 - (die roll - modifier)
  • THAC0 - die roll - modifier
  • THAC0 - die roll + modifier
Doing it in your head correctly when sometimes you have a circumstantial -1 or +2 or -2 or +1 that varies from round to round and that sometimes you forget until after you think you're done is not easy. Worse, because AC basically "reflects" around 0, it's easier to miscalculate without noticing. If you get a result between -3 instead and 3 as the AC you hit, that generally feels always about right with THAC0. It's harder to look at your die roll and say, "wait a minute, that doesn't make any sense because it's lower than the die roll".

THAC0 isn't difficult, but it's precise and that makes it cumbersome. It's just as cumbersome as the attack routine tables from AD&D 1e. That makes it error prone in ways that adding numbers isn't. Because it's literally the most common roll in the game, being rolled as often as 3 or more times in a single round every round, having the mechanic be even slightly more complicated than it absolutely needs to be is a failure of design.

Remember: Nobody ever made a THAC0 wheel for 5e.
At the time the sheets themselves had slots for the math to be done ahead of time beside your weapons. If you had some kind of one off or situational temporary modifier you could just start a point or two up/down & if your die roll was not good enough it was easy to see at a glance. If it was a long term thing like an attrib change or a new weapon you would redo the math.
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Not having those on the 5e sheets was a strange choice despite all of the efforts to simplify things was a strange choice
 

At the time the sheets themselves had slots for the math to be done ahead of time beside your weapons. If you had some kind of one off or situational temporary modifier you could just start a point or two up/down & if your die roll was not good enough it was easy to see at a glance. If it was a long term thing like an attrib change or a new weapon you would redo the math.
View attachment 255410

Not having those on the 5e sheets was a strange choice despite all of the efforts to simplify things was a strange choice

The trouble is those charts don't really work that well with the amount of circumstantial modifiers you'll see from flanking, charging, long range, etc. One guy casts bless or prayer and they're all wrong for everyone. I know they're useful, and I know they suck when you level up or find a new weapon (or get to the level where you typically face things with negative AC) because I used them, too.

They don't exist on 5e character sheets because... you really don't need them. Nearly always, you take your ability modifier, base bonus, and any permanent passive bonus and write "+X" on your sheet and it stays that way for 2-4 levels. Then your attack is adding just that number and the die roll together. Usually your circumstantial bonuses are either advantage or bonus dice, so it's difficult to forget them and you're always adding (barring rare exceptions like Bane). The only common flat bonus in the game is cover and firing into melee, both which could easily be replaced with a d4 (and arguably should be). You never feel like you have to think about confusing ideas like "bonuses subtract and penalties add".

You also never have a scheme where rolling lower is better like with ability checks adding further confusion. Just having a scheme of "higher is always better" is a remarkable level of simplification that eliminates a significant amount of mental overhead. You don't go from needing to roll an ability check with a +4 bonus to get under a 10 to rolling an attack with a +2 charging bonus and higher is better but your target number is on scale where lower is better.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
ah, never played the tabletop version or seen the sheets. Learned from Baldur’s Gate II. That’s pretty cool the sheets have the formulae
It's still a little counterintuitive, and some people have trouble with it. I know I still sometimes do, which is amusing since I've had many decades to get used to it.

But any time I visit my buddy who refuses to switch from 2e (and will still rant about that "WotC edition" despite the fact we're on 5e by now), there's a few fun moments.

"Ok, his AC is -2."

"Uh, I rolled a 8...but have +4 to hit so that's 12 and my Thac0 is 10..." does math

"Jimmy, you hit."

"Oh did I? Cool!"

"Why is this so hard, it's just math."

grumbles unintelligibly
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
"Why is this so hard, it's just math."
Yep. That's just it. It's math. Some people have a good relationship with it, and some really don't. And, truthfully, some people only have a good relationship with parts of it - cross that 0 line and all hell breaks loose for them. This is why ascending ACs was such a user experience improvement in D&D.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Yep. That's just it. It's math. Some people have a good relationship with it, and some really don't. And, truthfully, some people only have a good relationship with parts of it - cross that 0 line and all hell breaks loose for them. This is why ascending ACs was such a user experience improvement in D&D.
I'm not entirely sure why OD&D settled on these systems. Ability checks to roll under your ability score, ok, that makes sense. But there's so much else that can trip up newbies, lol.

DM: "Ok, so, your AC goes down, based on what armor you wear, and your defensive adjustment from Dexterity lowers your AC."

Player: "Right, ok, so in that case, my Platemail gives me 3, my 15 Dex reduces that to 2 and my shield...oh!"

DM: "Oh?"

Player: "So that magic shield +2 is cursed then! I want to get rid of it!"

DM: "No, it's not cursed, it lowers your AC by 2."

Player: "Wouldn't that be a Shield -2 then?"

DM: "....."
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I'm not entirely sure why OD&D settled on these systems. Ability checks to roll under your ability score, ok, that makes sense. But there's so much else that can trip up newbies, lol.

DM: "Ok, so, your AC goes down, based on what armor you wear, and your defensive adjustment from Dexterity lowers your AC."

Player: "Right, ok, so in that case, my Platemail gives me 3, my 15 Dex reduces that to 2 and my shield...oh!"

DM: "Oh?"

Player: "So that magic shield +2 is cursed then! I want to get rid of it!"

DM: "No, it's not cursed, it lowers your AC by 2."

Player: "Wouldn't that be a Shield -2 then?"

DM: "....."
The idea was cribbed from a naval wargame, so the story goes. In that naval wargame, a ship's armor class was something akin to 1st rate, 2nd rate, 3rd rate, etc with 1st rate being the best and things descending in quality from there despite the numerical value ranking increasing.
 

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