D&D General Lethality, AD&D, and 5e: Looking Back at the Deadliest Edition

Voadam

Legend
Point of order. I assert that B/X was a deadlier edition.

All the save or die and energy drain of AD&D.

3d6 in order with lower stat modifiers in B/X. AD&D had multiple stat options including the amazing best three of 9d6 for top stat, best three of 8d6 for second stat, etc. 1e UA human rolls.

Lower HD across the board for PCs while monsters still had d8 HD.

Clerics in 1e got bonus wisdom spells at 1st level. Clerics could not cast cure light wounds until they got that first once per day spell at 2nd in B/X.

Death at zero hp period, no alternative negative options like in the 1e DMG or in 2e.

Roll your hp at first level in B/X, 1e AD&D UA gave minimum starting hps.

B/X asks What is this PC extra attacks that AD&D speaks of? Oh wait they do have rules for that. "Fighters: As they reach higher levels, fighters will be able to strike more than once per round. A suggested increase is that for every 5 levels above 15th, the fighter gains another attack that round. No more than 4 attacks per round may be gained."
 

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nevin

Hero
We, and everyone we knew (we learned to play from my friend's college-aged brother and his group) used a number of house rules to make AD&D less deadly. One that I think was pretty widespread was letting everyone start with maximum hit points at level 1 - my first character was a ranger with an 18 constitution (he rolled a 17 then got +1 for his age, which was an AD&D thing) and so had 24 hit points at level 1. Take that, 5e!

On that note, we also used the "roll 6 dice and keep the best three" ability score method from the DMG, so our scores were pretty high. We almost always had hirelings with us, which was a fairly standard part of many campaigns back then, I believe, and routinely used them for anything risky; when we got to higher levels we had followers for the same purpose. I don't remember being super cautious, and characters seldom died, but it did happen. I played that same ranger for years.

Also, characters would travel between campaigns. So, for example, when they needed a few extra people for the college-aged game (we were in junior high school, so this was very exciting) we would just bring our regular characters. It was quite a different method of play than is common now.

I did just insta-kill one of my player's characters fairly recently: their level 6 cleric was low on health and got hit by an adult green dragon's breath. There's a caveat though: another player could have revivified them, but the cleric's player decided this seemed like a fitting and heroic end for that character's story and refused the revivify.
I started in 1976 I remember playing games where if you died you rolled a level 1 character and had to survive the bad stuff till you got high enough level to be able to do anything. By 1980 I didn't know anyone anywhere that did that or rolled stats with 3d6. by the 80's Most tables I played at and the games I ran everyone would decide what character class they wanted to play, rolled stats and if they weren't good enough we just bumped them up so the player could play what they wanted. I'd played enough games where the only thing I could play was a thief that I wasn't going to do that to anyone again. To this day i don't play thieves because I was force to play them everytime I rolled poorly on stats during the 70's/
 

nevin

Hero
Point of order. I assert that B/X was a deadlier edition.

All the save or die and energy drain of AD&D.

3d6 in order with lower stat modifiers in B/X. AD&D had multiple stat options including the amazing best three of 9d6 for top stat, best three of 8d6 for second stat, etc. 1e UA human rolls.

Lower HD across the board for PCs while monsters still had d8 HD.

Clerics in 1e got bonus wisdom spells at 1st level. Clerics could not cast cure light wounds until they got that first once per day spell at 2nd in B/X.

Death at zero hp period, no alternative negative options like in the 1e DMG or in 2e.

Roll your hp at first level in B/X, 1e AD&D UA gave minimum starting hps.

B/X asks What is this PC extra attacks that AD&D speaks of? Oh wait they do have rules for that. "Fighters: As they reach higher levels, fighters will be able to strike more than once per round. A suggested increase is that for every 5 levels above 15th, the fighter gains another attack that round. No more than 4 attacks per round may be gained.

By skill. Haste still took it up.
 

Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
Level Drain. Some monsters, usually undead, had the ability to actually drain levels when they hit a PC. So you level 6 character might fail their Save versus Bull^%$# and suddenly find himself at level 4 with fewer abilities, spells, and hitpoints needed to survive the fight.
What save? There's no save when a vampire or a spectre drain levels... :devilish:
 
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Clint_L

Hero
Another point, not really done in 5E, is all the Gray. In 5E all encounters are "bad"....and "hostile" to the PCs. In AD&D you had a mix of good, neutral and evil encounters. some encounters might be some wandering gnomes that would help the PCs, and some where things like isolationist elves that just wanted to be left alone. As long as the PCs were not Murderhobos, they had a chance of getting past the good and neutral encounters with no combat.
We have the opposite experience. We don't use alignment, so any encounter is potentially hostile...but also potentially not. Well, except for mindless predator types and things like zombies. But for the most part, players have more options for cleverness, not less.
Also true, but also part of a bigger point that the focus was more on adventure too. Not only were their more retreats, but there was more avoiding encounters. A LOT of players did not feel the need to hack and slash through everything. If they could avoid an encounter, they would.
Again, this does not track my personal experience of AD&D. Mostly, we wanted to kill everything and get its treasure, because that's where the experience was. It was seldom possible to get that loot without a fight - look at a typical AD&D module.
True enough, though I'd say it was more Common Sense. Character Death made players careful. When they would encounter a rope bridge over a gouge they would be aware that it was a great place for an ambush and take some actions to be ready for it. More then one adventure had an "on the edge" encounter, where foes would try to knock PC off a cliff or into acid pools or such. 5E does not even come close to such encounters.
Say what? I use them regularly. I don't see how edition has anything to do with choosing to use those sorts of scenarios. They are pretty standard in every edition, in my experience.

Another huge point is AD&D had a LOT more negative effects. Poisons, curses, sickness, magical effects and more. Plus, loosing limbs. And, for the most part, few could be taken care of on the adventure. If your character got cursed by an Evil Altar effect, your buddy cleric could NOT just cast the 'remove curse' reset button. Sure he could remove a curse cast by a goblin wokai, but not an ancient temple of evil. AD&D had a LOT of negative effects that could hit PC, and even more so for dungeon adventures.
This is definitely true. But we also had hirelings to throw in front of a lot of that stuff.
5E, of course, has very little "negative" anything. And even should a PC get effected by anything, there is a quick easy button fix. And few players feel the need to be careful in 5E, and they can dance through any encounter and not fear character death, any negative effects or any type of loss.
I will agree that D&D is less lethal than AD&D (hello healing word), though ultimately this comes down to the DM in any edition, but your characterization of 5e is pretty hyperbolic. Players can and do feel various types of loss, in many ways more so than AD&D because there is greater emphasis on story, and characters do die.
 


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