D&D General Understanding the Design Principles in Early D&D

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
As per usual, I saw something in another thread that captured my attention. Specifically, it was the issue of game design- and how early D&D (OD&D and AD&D, aka 0e and 1e) were designed, and the ways in which they differed greatly from the design principles that we are more familiar with today.

I think that the conversation is useful, but I wanted to do a slightly deeper dive into why TSR-era D&D, and especially 0e and 1e, can be so inscrutable to modern players. I think this can be for three reasons- first, the rules themselves are difficult to parse, especially in comparison to modern rules. Second, the people who tell you who the game was played back in the day lie ... they lie like rugs. Not knowingly, of course- but if you ask three different grognards how games used to be, you'll get four different answers. Finally, the gestalt is completely different- in effect, the surrounding culture is different enough that it can be hard to comprehend some of the decisions that are implicit in those games; after all, it's not just that the games were designed in the 70s, it's that the people who made those games grew up in the decades before that - Gygax (for example) was 36 by the time the LBBs for OD&D was released in 1974.

The fundamental thing to understand is that 0e and 1e were never designed to be complete systems, or designed to be complete- they were always intended to be used as toolkits. As detailed further below, it is only with that basic approach that you can begin to make sense of early D&D's design principles.

Please note that while I am using information learned from various great sources, I don't have my books handy, so I will be doing this mostly from memory.

A. RAW as Applied to Early D&D
I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me. -Pat Boone, assuredly.

One thing we often see here is continual debates about RAW (rules as written) and RAI (rules as intended). But ... here's the thing .... OD&D ... the LBBs ... they don't work RAW. They just don't. Even something like combat (whether you're using the "Chainmail" rules or the alternative combat system ... aka, the combat system that we would end up using) is a total mess, because values are inconsistent. Famously, D&D only began to take root after people saw other people playing the game. It wasn't completely impossible to teach yourself just using the LBBs and a vivid imagination, but ... nearly so.

And why was this? Well, arguably it's because of the way the game was invented. Arneson was running a very ad hoc, black box game (with rulings being determined and written on the fly) and Gygax attempting to make the game into a set of rules to be printed up and promulgated. It was kind of a mishmash- a little bit of Chainmail, a little bit of Arneson's notes, and a little bit of Gygax's attempts to make it more of a game (such as the emphasis on the leveling) and more systematized (from his wargaming roots).

For that reason, you couldn't view the original D&D as a way to play the game- you had to get exposed to even more material. You needed to read The Strategic Review (later renamed Dragon), you needed to check out the supplements as they came out, there were prominent hobbyist clubs and 'zines, and there was 3PP (such as Judge's Guild, who realized before TSR did that people might want such quaint things as "adventures" or "campaign settings"). But to use a common example, the second issue of The Strategic Review published a column that had to explain things like what initiative was, explaining that dice are rolled and "dice scores are adjusted for dexterity and so on."

For this reason, modern players looking to play OD&D will often look to Holmes Basic (a cleaned up version of OD&D) or will look to other streamlined or edited rules. Importantly, though, at the time .... the idea that you would be playing completely "RAW" was not just unlikely- it was laughable. Having scores of pages of notes and modifications was so common that many of the early TTRPGs were simply house-ruled versions of D&D- in fact, one of my favorite bits of trivia is that the first superhero TTRPG (Superhero: 2044) was just the published houserules of an OD&D game that went to to a parallel world with superheroes.


B. The Modular Approach to 1e
Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously. -Daniel Day Lewis, assumedly.

And then there was 1e (AD&D). By 1979, with the publication of the DMG, the core three books of 1e were complete. Now, looking back it's very hard to understand the intent of 1e just by reading what Gygax wrote in the core books and his columns in Dragon Magazine. One reason for the difficulty is that Gygax contained multitudes, and would often contradict himself by the end of any given paragraph. More importantly, however, you have to understand the internal battles that he was going through; we all have the struggle between the angels of our better nature and the demons that drive us, and Gygax was no different. Specifically, he came from a hobbyist background, where rules and ideas were exchanged freely, and people were expected and encouraged to tinker. But by the time of 1e, he had interests to defend; he had a product, and he didn't want competition riding on his coattails. It was a strange dichotomy, and one you can see playing out- he both encourages people to tinker with the game and make it their own, while claiming that 1e is a complete system.

Ahem. It's not. Instead, 1e is exactly what the title suggests it is - Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It's Dungeons & Dragons (the original LBBs), plus the supplements, plus some material from TSR's house magazines, plus some additional stuff thrown in. It's a cornucopia overflowing with ideas. It is amazing, and inspires awe, and I love every bit of it.

...but as a cohesive whole, it doesn't work. Not exactly. Let me explain- a modern system, like 5e, is designed from the beginning to have things work together. To have general systems to resolve situations (DC etc.). But that's not what 1e was. Instead, 1e was, for the most part, a system that organically evolved.

Think of it this way- start with OD&D and the most basic of rules. Now, every time something new comes up, you make a new rule. Do you want a class to play Aragorn? Okay, make the Ranger. Feel like doing some mental powers? How about throwing in a psionics subsystem? Want to make weapons more realistic - how about give them speed factors? Not realistic enough? How about adjusting their properties against different armors!

....and so on. Instead of starting with design principles and working from those, the game simply made additional bespoke subsystems as needed. Which can be very cool- after all, the systems were bespoke. But ... as you make more and more and more awesome bespoke systems, you quickly realize that these systems don't work well together.

One example of this is the A.D.D.I.C.T. sheet, which shows you how encounters and initiative is supposed to work in AD&D. There's a copy of it here. But it just goes to show- things are complicated. Real complicated. And this isn't even taking into account some of the weird non-weapon rules, or targeting of the head.

The point of all of this is that no one, and I mean no one, and I include Gygax, played the RAW- both because it's absolutely impossible, and because that was never the real intention of AD&D. Instead, it is best viewed as a modular system. As a tool kit. You take the parts you want, modify what you need to, and leave the rest.


C. Modern Game Design is a Different Beast Entirely
Yesterday’s weirdness is tomorrow’s reason why. -John Wayne, indubitably.

I've seen people repeatedly mention some variation of, "Rules should work without using Rule 0." To a certain extent, I agree with that- no one like broken products. Nevertheless, the idea that we are buying product to be used as-is as opposed to a product to be modified extensively, is different than the past ethos.

Not worse, but different.

And I think it's important, when discussing the early versions of the game, to try and keep that in mind.



I would write more, but I have things to do. So I'm throwing this out for general comments. Have fun!
 

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Lyxen

Great Old One
While I appreciate your article as always, I don't think that basic games were toolkits. They were complete games but for a much more simple environment, dungeon delving. Of course, you needed to customise them for wider uses, and interpret things, but I don't remember a lot of customisation.

AD&D, on the other hand, I completely agree with, it was a huge toolkit.
 



Voadam

Legend
It was clear for me that AD&D was an accreted Frankenstein's monster of accumulated add on systems such as bend bars lift gates, added on expansion classes, multiple surprise and listening systems, and such that had accumulated over time. This was not surprising, it was a greatest hits all accumulated into one (three) place(s) with some lessons learned over years of play and expansions.

What surprised me when I eventually bought the OD&D PDF was how incomplete of a game OD&D was, even with Chainmail. Also how opaque it was in trying to describe its rules and systems.
 

I didnt understand 1E until I read OSRIC. Goign back and looking at 1E now that I "get it" makes it mroe clear.

I also think basic 1E is very simple (and fun to play) once you seperate out the chaff.

A Dwarf knows mines etc. A thief knows ropes. A Ranger and Druid know nature lore. Etc you didnt really need to roll. And if you did, you roll under the related stat. Does my Gnome know this stuff? Roll a D20 under your INT of 16. Or he wants to tie someone up really well, roll under your Dex. Easy! No need for skills. Your Race/Class simply "knows" related stuff and if they dont they roll under a stat. Easy.

Keep AC simple.

Everyone rolls the same for iniative. One side goes first etc. The new The One Ring RPG reminds me alot of this form of RPG combat.

So much more simple before skills and sub classes and a billion HP etc etc.

IMO anyways
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
A Dwarf knows mines etc. A thief knows ropes. A Ranger and Druid know nature lore. Etc you didnt really need to roll. And if you did, you roll under the related stat. Does my Gnome know this stuff? Roll a D20 under your INT of 16. Or he wants to tie someone up really well, roll under your Dex. Easy! No need for skills. Your Race/Class simply "knows" related stuff and if they dont they roll under a stat. Easy.
The 5e DMG has a skill variant that does this kind of thing, especially to drop skills, and assume one is good at anything relating to their background.

The DM decides if something sounds plausible, and if it does, just do it. Only occasionally is there a sense that something might or might not work, and only then roll the ability check.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Second, the people who tell you who the game was played back in the day lie ... they lie like rugs. Not knowingly, of course- but if you ask three different grognards how games used to be, you'll get four different answers.

Indeed, there's a solid argument that the same could be said of the game today, that things have not really changed in that regard.


Instead, 1e was, for the most part, a system that organically evolved.

Except, evolution produces results that mostly work together, by making incremental changes and testing them in the field.

I think of it more as a system that has had repeated visits from Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Indeed, as you put it, it is a "Dr. Frank's Build Your Own Monstrosity Kit". The Doc doesn't expect you to use all the limbs provided in the package. And he personally never uses that second spleen he includes in the kit, but figures you might like it, so...
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
I learned to play D&D from 1e die hards whose houserules include borrowings from other editions, but whose player options are 1e. It is a, ahem, "system", that I know and appreciate.

1e is an oral tradition, not a written tradition. One learns it by observing a group that is already playing it. And it is an esoteric tradition, because each group is doing the tradition differently, improvising new rules that come up, ignoring old rules that get in the way, and sometimes comparing notes with other groups.



The same thing that is true for its Do-It-Yourself mechanics, is also true for its Do-It-Yourself setting. There is no such thing as a setting in 1e. At least, no such thing as an official "canon" for a setting.

There is especially no such thing as a Greyhawk canon in 1e. 1e gamers really do invent their own settings from scratch. Each adventure is like a different thought experiment. Eventually such experiments accumulate to form a defacto regional setting, or maybe even a world setting, if the thought experiments are sufficiently farflung. But every table ends up with their own unique setting. Players may or may not use an "official module", an adventure. They might plug in some and not others, or none at all. Even if in use, the adventure may or may not undergo heavy revision. The City of Greyhawk regional setting, and the World of Greyhawk continental setting did come out during the 1e era. But there was no concept that people would use these because they were "official". It was more like, here is some more stuff that you might want to riff off for you own table. You might want to compare your notes with the notes for the campaign that Gygax is in.

The concept of a "setting canon" is a 2e development. Its 2e World of Greyhawk setting was itself a thought experiment: What if? What if everything published in 1e was somehow all simultaneously true? What would that look like? But that way of thinking is alien to 1e. Gygax himself was surprised when some people would rather play in his setting, rather than create their own settings.

The 1e ethic is: Explore a world whose only limitation is your own imagination.

This 1e-style freedom of DM world building and freedom of player character concept invention, are what I cherish most of all in all D&D.
 
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Mezuka

Hero
Many buyers didn't understand how to play D&D reading the LBB. They wrote letters to TSR. Which led to Holmes, then to Moldvay and finally to Mentzer who solved the problem for the most part.

Many groups cobbled together the LBB (or Holmes) with the Monster Manual. They created their own version of D&D.

For decades I thought I had played AD&D as written. When I reread AD&D two years ago I realized we had not. Turns out we mixed and match rules with Basic Moldvay.

We were all hackers.

AD&D is Gygax's 'hack' of the game he created with Arneson - with many things added because he didn't want Arneson to get royalties on AD&D.

Gygax was a hacker.

AD&D2e is a hack of AD&D. Reformulated to be more palatable. It is a toolkit offering many optional rules. To me only 2e is an actual, voluntary, toolkit - as in build your own D&D LEGO kit.
 
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Voadam

Legend
I've seen people repeatedly mention some variation of, "Rules should work without using Rule 0." To a certain extent, I agree with that- no one like broken products. Nevertheless, the idea that we are buying product to be used as-is as opposed to a product to be modified extensively, is different than the past ethos.

Not worse, but different.
I do not agree with this.

I know when I got the Moldvay Basic set it was in part to learn how to play D&D and when I got the 1e PH and DMG I read them to learn how to play AD&D. To the extent they fail to allow that I considered that a failure, not a different goal.

Initiative rules should ideally be defined rules.

I expected different worlds and adventures and experiences to be unique from one table to the next, but not really the baseline rules of the game out of the box.

There was a lot of effort spent reading and cross-referencing rule sections like it was statutory code and common law. I remember the term rules lawyer from the 1e era.
 

Remember that video game, We Heart Katamari? AD&D is like the katamari of game design. That said, unified resolution has its own flaws. For example, lost in discussions of racial ASI is that ability scores are far more central to everything you do in 5e compared to pre-wotc editions. That makes the game easier to learn because almost every roll is d20+ability [+prof] in some way, but also makes it harder to separate out different systems. For instance, associating saving throws with ability scores vs having them be an entirely different subsystem.

One example of this is the A.D.D.I.C.T. sheet, which shows you how encounters and initiative is supposed to work in AD&D. There's a copy of it here. But it just goes to show- things are complicated. Real complicated. And this isn't even taking into account some of the weird non-weapon rules, or targeting of the head.

The point of all of this is that no one, and I mean no one, and I include Gygax, played the RAW- both because it's absolutely impossible, and because that was never the real intention of AD&D. Instead, it is best viewed as a modular system. As a tool kit. You take the parts you want, modify what you need to, and leave the rest.

A recent trend in the OSR (I'll spare you the links) is to act like AD&D is actually this perfect but misunderstood system. I understand the impulse, as it is behind a lot of the OSR's reconstruction of earlier playstyles. But it quickly devolves into Gygax-worship and out and out dismissal of any newer games. And then gets more reactionary from there.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
People who played AD&D quickly worked out for themselves how to run and play the game. Whether they realize it or not, they have accrued tons of rulings and "house rules" that they insist "everyone plays by" or even attribute them to the system itself.

I've been playing since the 80's, and I read the same rulebooks as a lot of my older gamer friends, yet they still argue with me about what the rules say. When people pine for the fjords of OD&D, I often just take screen shots of my books or PDF's and point out "this is what the rulebook actually says, btw", and get told "well, if you look on page XX of this other book, or if you have issue 31 of Dragon Magazine, you'd know that's not how it worked."

And most people didn't own all the books back in the day. A lot of DM's just wanted to dive into telling stories, not reading about how to tell stories. I've read the 1e DMG cover to cover scores of times, but every time I look at the thing I go, "oh would you look at that, rules for games of chance!"

Now when most people played with the same circle of friends, a sort of "rules consensus" developed. Or if one DM insisted that magic missile was an area of effect spell due to misunderstanding the spell layout, we just said "ok, in his campaign, that's how that spell works".

But if you traveled and encountered other groups of gamers in the wild, you ran into some pretty crazy stuff. My personal favorite was when I encountered a group that insisted that Fighters got extra attacks with both weapons when two-weapon fighting. Didn't even think it was unbalanced at all, just that's how the game was, and anyone who used a shield or two-handed weapon was just dumb (I mean, sometimes that still the case, but I digress). So when I pointed them at the exact rule that states you get one extra attack and that's all, they looked at it, shrugged, and said "we don't play it that way" and continued having their Elven Fighters get hasted for 10 attacks a round.

It's a lot like Monopoly really. Most everyone "knows" how to play it. Almost everyone plays it wrong, but for them, it's more fun that way.

Or some years back when the makers of Uno posted official rules online, and had people who had played the game with their families for years tell them that they were wrong!

"Death of the Author" in game design.
 

Insulting other members
As per usual, I saw something in another thread that captured my attention. Specifically, it was the issue of game design- and how early D&D (OD&D and AD&D, aka 0e and 1e) were designed, and the ways in which they differed greatly from the design principles that we are more familiar with today.

I think that the conversation is useful, but I wanted to do a slightly deeper dive into why TSR-era D&D, and especially 0e and 1e, can be so inscrutable to modern players. I think this can be for three reasons- first, the rules themselves are difficult to parse, especially in comparison to modern rules. Second, the people who tell you who the game was played back in the day lie ... they lie like rugs. Not knowingly, of course- but if you ask three different grognards how games used to be, you'll get four different answers.
There is so much wrong with your article, I didn't read it all the way through because thats probably a waste of time.

Lets just take a couple "first, the rules themselves are difficult to parse, especially in comparison to modern rules."

Not really, just kids reading comprehension is far lower now since they need everything delivered in memes for them to have the attention span to focus off their phone. I comprehended 1e just fine at age 17, as did all my friends who played.

"they lie like rugs. Not knowingly, of course- but if you ask three different grognards how games used to be, you'll get four different answers."

I know its hard to use your imagination, but imagine a time where there was no social media, no internet. Believe it or not in those days we just read the rules and played the game. We didn't jump on the internet and try to find videos of "how everyone else is playing". We didn't post questions on forums "how do I build a good character". Blows my mind how much kids today can't do anything at all unless they google it first. Everyone played their OWN WAY !

" 0e and 1e were never designed to be complete systems, or designed to be complete- they were always intended to be used as toolkits."

and at this point I realized I needed to stop reading for fear of finding myself dumber than when I started.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
There is so much wrong with your article, I didn't read it all the way through because thats probably a waste of time.

Not really, just kids reading comprehension is far lower now since they need everything delivered in memes for them to have the attention span to focus off their phone. I comprehended 1e just fine at age 17, as did all my friends who played.

I know its hard to use your imagination, but imagine a time where there was no social media, no internet.

and at this point I realized I needed to stop reading for fear of finding myself dumber than when I started.
Mod Note:

One can disagree with another without becoming disagreeable. Clearly, you’ve failed at that task in this thread. Make incivility a habit, and you won’t be welcome here.
 

Yora

Legend
The first D&D game is an absolute mess. It's not rulebooks as we understand them today, but more reference tables for people who already know to play the game.

AD&D is also a trainwreck of editing. I think it's more a complete game where everything is somewhere in the PHB and DMG, but the presentation and organization is attrocious.

I don't know about Holmes Basic.

But the very important edition not really mentioned yet is the Moldvay Basic Rules from 1981. If you want to understand TSR D&D, this is the one to go! It's only 64 pages, but once you understand this game, AD&D suddenly becomes comprehensible.
It's also a much smaller and streamlined game than AD&D. Which is why when the early AD&D Revival began to transform into the more creative and experimenta OSR around 2010, the 1981 Basic/Expert rules became pretty much everyone's edition to go.

The most important thing about D&D in the first 10 years or so (the pre-
Dragonlance period) is that it's neither a game about combat, nor a game about epic stories. It's a game of exploration, with a solid exploration system at its very core, and everthing else build around it. This is why combat is so dirt simple and you don't have feats or social skills or any such things in the game. That's not what the game is about. It's been a somewhat controversial statement that "combat is a fail state", but it does point at a fundamental design principle of the game. Combat is designed in a way to be unpreferable.
OD&D, AD&D 1st ed., and Basic all revolve around three main mechanics: XP for gold, random encounters, and encumbrance. Which people will notice as probably the three mechanics that are today commonly regarded as the weirdest and most annoying nuisances of RPGs. That is why the old games seem so strange compared to D&D from the last 20 years. Ability scores, classes, and hit dice mask the fact that they are really completely different games.

My theory is that the first thing that was thrown out was XP for gold. People wanted to play Lord of the Rings and Wheel of Time, and those stories just aren't about gold. And they were right, tying character advancement to loot makes no sense for such games. (Shouldn't have played D&D then, but that's a completely different topic.) The other source for XP in D&D was defeating monsters in battle. Though the game was designed so this would only be a fraction of the XP you get for treasure. The idea was that if you can creatively steal a monster's treasure without fighting it, you get 75% or so of the XP, but get to keep all your hit points and avoid your character getting killed. Fight the monster and you would get 100% XP, but lose some hit points in the progress that can spell your death. Either right now or in an unavoidable fight later on. Sneaking through the dungeons and trying to avoid the monsters is a critical design element.

Here is where random encounters come into play. Monsters don't carry all their gold with them all the time. That stuff is kept in a stash in the monster's lair. Wandering monsters have no treasure. That means if you run into wandering monsters and fight them, you will get only 25% XP, but still have the full risk of losing hit point and getting killed. And they are not just annoying little critters. They can be as big and deadly as the big bad boss in the great lair at the bottom of the dungeon. You really don't want random encounters. Random encounters are tied to a timer, which means you want to minimize your time in the dungeon and grab as much treasure as possible (without fighting!) as quickly as possible.
Once XP for gold is discarded and wandering monsters give 100% XP, they are no longer something to be avoided. Also GMs don't want the PCs to die because they are required to tell The Story, so they are made weak and mostly harmless. At that point random encounters are just an annoyance and also dropped.

Which brings us to encumbrance. Encumbrance is all about slowing characters down. Bring a lot of supplies and tools to be prepared for any situation: You get slowed down. Carry everything of value you find to maximize XP: You get slowed down.
When you're slower, you spend more time in the dungeon. More time in the dungeon means more random encounters. Which means you run out of hit points while having explored fewer areas and are at a greater risk of death. So what do you do? Pack less supplies? Drop supplies?! Leave some treasure behind? Those are critically important factors of creating tension in early D&D. But when you don't have to worry about random encounters, and don't get to haul literal wagon loads of treasure back to the surface (and then back to town), what's the point of tracking encumbrance? So out this went as well.

At this point, what is left of the original exploration game? Basically nothing. Which is why everyone is complaining that exploration in 5th edition sucks. 5th edition only pays lip service to the hazy cultural memory of exploration, but actually has no exploration system in place at all. Neither did 3rd edition. Because post-Dragonlance, that wasn't what D&D was about anymore.

There is no better explanation of this in greater detail that I know than All Dead Generations. And 1981 Moldvay Basic, of course.
 
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Voadam

Legend
OD&D, AD&D 1st ed., and Basic all revolve around three main mechanics: XP for gold, random encounters, and encumbrance. Which people will notice as probably the three mechanics that are today commonly regarded as the weirdest and most annoying nuisances of RPGs. That is why the old games seem so strange compared to D&D from the last 20 years.
I would disagree.

In AD&D xp was in the DMG, the ideal presented was for players to not know the DMG mechanics except through exploring in game. So xp structure incentives were mostly a black box to reward and penalize certain playstyles after the fact, but not primarily to telegraph to players up front what the game was about by incentivizing specific math with monster kills. Many players would just know they got x xp after a game, not what for or what the opportunity costs of their choices were, so the comparative math incentives were not apparent.

B/X was fantastic and a much more straightforward presentation of rules and playstyle advice.

However while the game can be focused in on a neat survival exploration in a dungeon where you balance weight of loot versus speed and such, encumbrance was explicitly an optional rule.

1648912360105.png

My group in the early 80s sometimes figured out encumbrance when creating a character and buying individual waterskins and such but then quickly not sweating it in actual games when we were focused on exploring a dungeon where there might be hidden giant spiders or poison gas traps in the next chamber. We focused more on description clues and less on optional encumbrance math tracking systems at that point.

Group focus varied a lot on what was central to their D&D experience.

Combat was a big focus in my experience from the beginning.

One of the class names was fighter after all. :)
 

Hussar

Legend
There’s another change here too. You were expected to make multiple forays into that dungeon. Which meant tracking what you carried mattered.

But if you clean out a dungeon first then encumbrance doesn’t really matter anymore because now you have all the time I the world and can lug around wheelbarrows and the like.

And of course things like bags of holding meant that encumbrance largely stopped mattering.

In other words the design principles didn’t account for how the game was being played. Large multi level dungeons became more and more rare as players and dms looked at published modules as a model for how adventures should look.
 


James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
That's because it wasn't a thing for most of the game's history. Consider- in early D&D, the thing Fighters had (strong hit points, good chance to hit, high AC) was a thing other classes didn't have. A Fighter had the best chance to survive without support of any character (barring the Dwarf and maybe the Halfling, since they were just Fighters with racial bonuses, I think?).

They didn't run out of spells, they could take more hits to kill- these are clear advantages.

Later, they got access to a large pool of men at arms in the base building minigame, and weapon specialization (which doesn't look like much today, but accruing extra attacks faster was a big deal). Oh and very good saving throws.

It's literally only during the 3e and 5e eras that you can say "Fighters can't get nice things" (but keep reading for 3e). Certainly that wasn't true in 4e- sure, they were locked off from magical things like teleportation, but they still had strong abilities available to them.

In the 1e DMG, Gary talks about what he felt was the equalizer for Fighters- magical equipment. Specifically, the intelligent magical weapon, with it's host of supernatural powers, was meant for melee combatants to get the extra utility their class lacks.

This is even spelled out for Paladins, where their ability to use a Holy Avenger is considered a class feature! (Sadly, the ability to GET a Holy Avenger was not).

I'm sure in many games, the smart thing to do is upgrade your party's melee with magical items first, since they are the first line of defense.

It's actually only now, in 5e, that Fighters are limited to what magic items they can attune to that prevents them from collecting items to shore up what their class does not give them natively.

3e and 4e were designed with the idea that yes, of course the Fighter will eventually gain access to things like magical flight at some point, why wouldn't they?
 

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