Which is good in one way: advancement becomes less of a priority in itself and instead becomes just an occasional reward for the play you'd be doing anyway. Campaigns, as a result, can last longer and thus weave in more than one story.
Given the high lethality/low durability of low levels in AD&D, strict by the book advancement in 2E is, IME, unacceptably slow. The DM has to be aware that he needs to max out the quest/goal bonuses, and probably should use one of the optional extra XP awards- GP for XP or individual awards.
With the charts the way they are, the more or less geometric progression, advancement still slows down in the mid levels to allow for the multiple stories and occasional advancement you're talking about. I've seen this reliably in the old school open table I've been running for the past few years. The highest level PC is 7th, IIRC. PCs advance fairly quickly up to around 4th, then slow down (this is with XP for treasure and relatively generous XP for monsters; more than TSR D&D generally award after 1974, though not as much as the 1974 set did).
Er...Thieves had d6 hit dice in 1e. MUs had d4.
Good catch, thanks. I was thinking of BECMI (which I started with), B/X (which I've played a bunch of during the pandemic), and post-Greyhawk OD&D (also played a bunch lately). Thieves get a d4 in these and it's another kick in the ribs for an already weak class. The d6 helps a little in AD&D, though due to their poor AC and the strict limitations on backstab, Thieves still rarely want to be in combat, and their poor skill percentages keep them cruddy outside combat too.
And in so doing they made casters even more powerful, so to balance this they had to nerf or outright gut a lot of combat spells.
Re: 4E making utility spells into rituals, I would say 4E temporarily reversed the power trend for casters, being the one edition in which casters and non-casters are inarguably well balanced. Yes, they weakened a lot of combat spells and watered down and weakened a lot of utility spells too, for example splitting Fly into two different spells- Fly and Overland Flight (IIRC). In combat everyone can be good, non-casters get lots of options and cool maneuvers and abilities, and casters don't make non-casters irrelevant at high levels. 4E was the first edition in which I ever enjoyed playing single classed Fighters. Though OSR experience in subsequent years has definitely put them in a new light.
I don't know if I'd characterize it that way. I mean, yes, the various guidelines for non-combat XP awards were easy to overlook, and often relied on DM judgment calls (which I suspect led to arguments about whether or not a DM was assigning XP correctly), but I suspect that if applied liberally they had a fairly decent overall chance of replacing the XP-for-GP standard fairly well (though that's based purely on my eyeballing it).
I'm aware of the individual XP awards but was deliberately excluding them, since they're an optional rule like GP for XP. Yes, if a DM does the work to track and implement those, they can make up the difference. But they have to know already that they need to use one of the optional extra XP systems, not just rely on the core rules. The DMG fails to tell a new or inexperienced DM that, sadly.
We can also note that the Common Individual Awards in table 33 don't scale with level. So they can help a bit in the first couple of levels, but start to become trivial at mid levels.
As I recall, the Thief in AD&D took the least amount of experience to level up precisely because they were the weakest class. Am I remembering wrong?
No, you're correct. But because of the geometric progression tables, they're still normally only 1 level ahead of other classes at most, sometimes not at all. And with their weak HD, terrible AC (until they get magic leather armor and protective items, the latter of which they will have to dicker with the magic users or other characters for), strict limitations on backstab, and terrible skill % chances, being one level ahead rarely matters.
They did, but it wasn't fantastically less xp than the Cleric. It got even stranger with the 2e Bard...but here's the problem. The Thief gets the second worst attack bonus progression, and 6 sided hit dice. The way the xp tables were set up, you'll be about a level higher than a Fighter for awhile, then pull ahead when you hit 9th before they hit 8th. You'll probably hit 20th when the Fighter is 16th.
But here's what that gets you (going off of memory mostly)-
Exactly. And in most campaigns you rarely get up to 9th level. That's normally a multi-year game right there in the TSR editions.
Now, I’ve never played AD&D myself, but I’ve read a bit of it, and some retroclones, and my understanding was that failing a climbing check meant you made it half way up and then fell. To my knowledge, nothing prevented you from trying again (apart from the fear of falling again and taking even more damage in the process). Is this perhaps one of those things that depended on who was DMing?
No, you're right. But that can be a lot of damage for a Thief with either d4 (B/X or BECMI or OD&D) or d6HD, especially because you needed a high Con for any bonus HP, and non-Fighter classes were capped at how much bonus they could get.
Incidentally, a fun DM suggestion I saw recently is to stack the D6s as the Thief climbs higher, to give a visual reminder to everyone of the danger they're in, before having them roll the climb check.
That Sage Advice is really interesting. It flat out says nobody can do what the Thief does (even though the DSG reverses this somewhat), and that while you could allow it, that would "mutate the adventure or campaign" and make it such that what you are playing "isn't an AD&D game any longer."
The DSG is from 1985 (right?), and that Sage Advice was written for 2nd edition (1989). So 1E allowed for some limited climbing abilities for non-Thieves, then in 2E they seem to be aiming for more niche protection for the Thieves. But as I recall individual modules certainly were written to allow for "easy" climbs which any character could do.
Light was supposed to obviate the need for torches but became a combat spell. Fly is largely utility but can also greatly help in a fight; Spider Climb is more toward utility. Unseen Servant is utility all the way. Defensive spells like Alarm, Hold Portal, Wizard Lock, etc. are utility only. And so on.
Light didn't last long enough to obviate the need for torches (though once you got Continual Light that could, and was extremely valuable), but it could be a lifesaver if a gust of wind or magical darkness or something put out your torches.
It must be a disconnect, because a party sneaking into a castle, putting guards to sleep or even casting sleep on an already sleeping boss so they don’t wake when you’re stealing their treasure and leaving is not what I would consider combat. Combat means fighting with intent to harm or kill. Using sleep in this manner doesn’t meet that definition. It’s the opposite because you’re literally and intentionally avoiding a scenario that puts any participant in danger.
*edit it’s also an excellent survival spell. Don’t have a ranger around? Cast sleep on prey animals and boom. Super easy food source that doesn’t and can’t run away not requiring an attack roll.
I agree with Sacrosanct generally on this fine-point dispute. You can certainly think of putting the guards or prey animal to sleep as engaging in combat with them, and it certainly breaks Invisibility, this fulfilling Lanefan's test. But it's a spell which also allows you to achieve goals without rolling initiative or killing anyone. If you can put the guard to sleep and then ransack the corrupt merchant's house for the evidence to solve the mystery, then you've found a way to progress the plot/achieve the goal without killing someone. If you can put the deer to sleep and give it the coup de grace to have needed rations on your overland trek, again the spell is fulfilling a utilitarian need. If you can put the ogre guard on the goblins' treasure chamber to sleep, or knock out the guard with a horn up on top of a watchtower (under cover and out of melee reach), you can often slip into the place you need to go and steal the treasure or the McGuffin without having to kill anyone. Or at least fewer people. As Sacrosanct wrote, that's circumventing bloodshed.