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The dice can kill you: Why first edition AD&D is king

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My group coalesced on roll three sets of characteristics, choose one set of numbers and then reallocate those numbers between characteristics as desired.

 

It retains a level of chance but also the likelihood of making compromises on initial thoughts.

 

Doc

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Our favorite method was roll 4d6-pick-best-3 six times and assign to characteristics as desired. That produced characters with suitably "heroic" stats, on average, and allowed players to aim for their desired class. But that's because we were teenage boys who were mostly interested in playing a (war)game than playing a (potentially difficult) role.

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Nearly as bad was the random Hit Points roll. The magic-user was the worst, with the highest potential starting score less than half of the fighter's and exactly half of the clerics. Even thieves could have 50% more. Painful.

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If I were to play AD&D again, I would go old school. Otherwise I would just stick with 5th ed D&D. If I did go old school, I would not expect a grand campaign.

 

Or I would choose another system entirely.

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By the time Unearthed Arcana came out, there were, what a dozen or more different official methods for rolling your characteristics up? Random characteristics was clearly a source of frustration for many.

 

I prefer the way OD&D de-emphasized characteristics. They mattered, but not very much. OD&D, prior to Supplement 1: Greyhawk, didn't draw much distinction between characters, really. All classes used the same die for hit points, all weapons used the same die for damage, characteristics might get you +1 or a little more experience points, etc. There was no Thief, so no Thief Skills...so any character was presumed to be able to pick locks and do the other stuff that any dungeon delver would need to do. And so on.

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Yeah, for hit points, we took max HP at first level and then minimum of half +1 each level - so a fighter gets 5+1d5 hit points a level...

 

One group I played with gave your CON score as first level hit points, and then you rolled normally for all future hit points. The idea was that your CON was a measure of how physically robust you were, and so having your baseline hit points be equal to that score made a certain amount of sense.

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One group I played with gave your CON score as first level hit points, and then you rolled normally for all future hit points. The idea was that your CON was a measure of how physically robust you were, and so having your baseline hit points be equal to that score made a certain amount of sense.

 

Good, survivable method.

 

Of course, all of these alternate Ability Score and Hit Point generation defy the sentiment written in that article linked in the OP. I can only presume that the actual sub-set of gamers who like that hardcore AD&D 1st Edition RAW approach, is actually a pretty small percentage.

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Stats didn't matter much in AD&D.

 

Str 9 gave you the same as Str 15, except for carrying capacity and who paid much attention to that?

And similar for all stats a dead, no bonus/no negative range from 9-14, depending on the stat.

 

Just sayin'.

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For my boys I said that you can roll but if you want a certain race and or class and didn't make the roll then you got at least the minimum.

 

Star Wars d20 had an interesting idea. It called quick hero stats and it listed 6 numbers. Highest is 15 and lowest 8. You get to then put them in any order you choose.

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Str 9 gave you the same as Str 15, except for carrying capacity and who paid much attention to that?

 

My group. Oh and accounting to the copper piece. Also, I don't remember the breakpoint in which a class Ability score lended itself to an XP bonus. 

 

Also, and not to be rude, if Stats didn't matter, why did everybody try the "I rolled at home and wow, the dice gave me two 18's a 14, a 16, and two 12's. Man I must be lucky!" trick. Meaningless stats would not engender that whole culture of "cheating" (and I use the word very loosely) in order to get a viable character that could ascend to the highest of levels, provide some bonuses on important stats, and maybe qualify the character for one of those classes like Paladins or Rangers or the oh so nifty Bard. As I recall, the first edition Bard was one of those Holy Grail characters, until one actually got to play as one. Then the player learned that the slogging through Fighter, then Thief, and then becoming a Bard with the magic using class just wasn't as rewarding as the player thought. Perhaps the gratification was too long deferred or probably too little reward for the effort.

 

Anyway, I digress. I rather think that the opposite was true. Now groups may have house-ruled changes to those foundational aspects of AD&D, but as written, Stats were actually very important and people cared about them. My experience anyway.

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Well, I said they didn't matter much.

 

You're right, entry to the better classes was limited by stat. And that's important.

 

Obviously at the higher and lower ends there was significance. And that's where the "cheating" came in. (But I swear that when I rolled that 18/00 strength I did it honestly! ;) )

 

But there was little difference between 10 and 14 for most of the stats. Wisdom, for a cleric, started making a difference in terms of bonus spells from Wis 13. For a non-cleric it was 15 (+1 to some saving throw or other.)

 

The XP bonuses kick in about 15 too. I'm pretty sure the particular break point for XP bonus varied depending on class, although I'd have to dredge up my old players handbook to give exact numbers.

 

All of which is kinda academic I gotta say. I'd never play that system again.

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All of which is kinda academic I gotta say. I'd never play that system again.

 

An important point in the discussion. I would, but only for kicks. If I were to go all in on "old school," I'm thinking 2nd Edition, pre-Complete Books of X would be the way I go. Maybe, just maybe, skip those and go straight to Skills and Powers. But then, I prefer later editions entirely and Hero most of all. Maybe FATE for pickup games and because I really want to try the system. But right now, if I had a group offer me a spot at an AD&D 1st Edition table, I would take it. I am starved for the lack of pen 'n' paper gaming these days.

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We got to the point where we'd use 4d6 rolled 7 times throw out the lowest die and total roll, to minimize the unlucky player syndrome (since most of us were in that boat).  You ended up with capable, but rarely exceptional characters.

I really did roll an 18/00 strength once.  Never used the character, though.  It was an NPC.

 

It was the d20 save or die aspect of AD&D that really annoyed me.  THe best you'd get is a bonus to the save from a weak creature.  Remember, originally D&D had no hit points: if you were hit, you died. They didn't even think through that people might be attached to their characters.  It was based off a wargame, so if a unit was hit, it went down.  Eventually, despite E. Gary Gygax's sinister delight in PC death, they dialed it back over the years

 

"You see a sickly gray arm strike the gnome as he's working on the spike, the gnome utters a muffled cry, and then a shadowy form drags him out of sight.  You hear some nasty rending noises and gobbling sounds, but they end quickly..."

 

 

That's how the sample dungeon in the DMG ends.  With a character dying horribly and level 1 characters going up against four ghouls (level II monsters).  That was his vision for the game.

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We got to the point where we'd use 4d6 rolled 7 times throw out the lowest die and total roll, to minimize the unlucky player syndrome (since most of us were in that boat).  You ended up with capable, but rarely exceptional characters.

I really did roll an 18/00 strength once.  Never used the character, though.  It was an NPC.

 

It was the d20 save or die aspect of AD&D that really annoyed me.  THe best you'd get is a bonus to the save from a weak creature.  Remember, originally D&D had no hit points: if you were hit, you died. They didn't even think through that people might be attached to their characters.  It was based off a wargame, so if a unit was hit, it went down.  Eventually, despite E. Gary Gygax's sinister delight in PC death, they dialed it back over the years

 

 

That's how the sample dungeon in the DMG ends.  With a character dying horribly and level 1 characters going up against four ghouls (level II monsters).  That was his vision for the game.

I . . . honestly, I don't know. He was certainly a fan of extremely lethal dungeons --but, at the same time, he introduced all kinds of munchkin-style exploits,some of them so obvious it is hard to understand how anyone could have thought that they were a good idea. I keep a copy of the first edition Unearthed Arcana around somewhere because i) i found it in a secondhand store for cheap, and, ii) because the new player classes at the head ought to be taught in a game design clinic as examples of what not to do. There's a class in it, the cavalier, that gets to roll incremental improvements in primary characteristics at each level (and has 2d10 hp plus some other fluff at first level). It just completely upends the entire design philosophy of the system.

 

But it gets worse. Bowing to those of us who think that psionics in fantasy campaigns are a good idea (Yes, we're wrong, but Witch World, so shut up), he threw in some overpowered rules for psionics (mainly because the psionics abilities are additional to class attributes and increment by the same mechanism), and then made them ludicrously hard to get by random dice rolling as a compensatory mechanism. (Pro-tip on game design: this is not how you should be doing it.) Okay, so far. It's dumb and misguided, but at least it's a philosophy. And because smart people are more likely to have psionic powers --come on, it's obvious!-- he added in a bonus for additional points in Intelligence, Wisdom (don't get me started) and Charisma (What? But then he fixed that by adding a "Comeliness" stat; and fixed that by rooking the stat, because obviously no-one cares about their character's looks, except for every girl ever, and if they started playing RPGs, you'd be selling rulebooks all day long, and that would be . . . bad, I guess?). Ahem. Digression that might be taken as an implicit criticism of someone nearer to home, done. Charisma is a mental stat.

 

Step 3. We've invented a new class. But what if no-one wants to play it? What if someone notices that they're basically paladins? Well, we make paladins a sub-class of cavaliers. Done, and done. 

 

So. . . Paladins have Charisma as a prerequisite. So they roll an incremental increase in Charisma every time they gain a level. Now, the rules don't say that they get to reroll for psionics every time their charisma goes up, because why would you worry about writing clear rules? But it's a logical inference. Now, what are the odds that a 20th level Paladin doesn't have psionics? On the other hand, what are the odds of someone rolling Charisma 17, wisdom 13, strength 12, intelligence and constitution 9 --although, according to the source I just cut-and-pasted that from, the numbers went up with the introduction of the cavalier. 

 

Pretty low, I'd say. Unless you cheat, in which case, they're about 100 percent. Which is why I'm more than half-serious when I suggest that cheating on dice rolls isn't a bug in Gygax-era D&D. The system is written around it. Or, to put it more fairly, it's a lottery in which some very lucky people have almost unlimited potential to build a game-breaking character --and, in our imaginations, at least, that's the character that we all play. 

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Also, and not to be rude, if Stats didn't matter, why did everybody try the "I rolled at home and wow, the dice gave me two 18's a 14, a 16, and two 12's. Man I must be lucky!" trick. 

 

They matter, but for the most part they only matter at lot at the extreme ends of the scale.  Very high is very good, very low is very bad, and everything in the middle is kind of the same.

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There were all kinds of things that I hated about AD&D 1st edition - rolling up a character with three dice in the order of the stats was at the top of the list.  I want to play a character I came up with in my 'head' not something I was forced to play because some *#@)@^ dice rolls. 

 

It's a very different kind of gaming - not entirely dissimilar to playing a convention game with pre-gens.  You get what you get and part of the game is how you run with it.  There are times when I enjoy randomly created characters - for most other times I use Hero System.

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As long as you don't worry about point totals, you can roll random stats for Hero. Sometimes I use random rolls to help guide concept.

 

I suggest 2d6+8 and only for 5th edition and prior. Obviously for Heroic level games.

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But right now, if I had a group offer me a spot at an AD&D 1st Edition table, I would take it. I am starved for the lack of pen 'n' paper gaming these days.

 

You have my sympathy. I'm currently running Pathfinder because it's the game I can get. I even join in the occasional Society game so I can actually play. The adventures are awful. And some of the players are... not people I'd play with under any other circumstances. (Not awful human beings, just not my style of player.)

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Almost nobody I gamed with did the "3d6 down the line" way of rolling, although many rolled for hit points at level 1. I usually allowed maximum hit points at level 1, then roll normally after that. The stats may mean more if you use the B/X bonuses and penalties (similar to the d20 way, but there are differences).

 

I've been stuck in the GM/DM role lately, so I generally run whatever I feel like running. I haven't run 1st Edition in a while, although I enjoy the system. I prefer 2nd Edition, though.

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You have my sympathy. I'm currently running Pathfinder because it's the game I can get. I even join in the occasional Society game so I can actually play. The adventures are awful. And some of the players are... not people I'd play with under any other circumstances. (Not awful human beings, just not my style of player.)

 

I'm an oddball. I would run D&D 4th Edition just to avoid Pathfinder and its similarities to D&D 3.x.  A lot of the background material is okay, but the rules are just not my cuppa. Of course, Hero will remain my game of choice. I am currently working on something that I might actually run someday soon. And of course, if I had the opportunity to play Pathfinder, I would even do that. It just happens to be rather low on my preference scale.

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My group. Oh and accounting to the copper piece. Also, I don't remember the breakpoint in which a class Ability score lended itself to an XP bonus.

I think 16, but it may have been 15.

 

Also, and not to be rude, if Stats didn't matter, why did everybody try the "I rolled at home and wow, the dice gave me two 18's a 14, a 16, and two 12's. Man I must be lucky!" trick.

I think the reality was that the 12s and 14s were largely meaningless - they could have been 10s or 8s for the same impact. But everyone "luckily rolled" some 16-18 stats that provided bonuses, Fighter types always managed to roll 18 STR (and a lot less than half of them rolled 1 - 50 on percentile dice).

 

I can recall looking at 3e, and suggesting translation of 1-2e stats based on bonuses rather than numbers. Your 2e character has 17 STR? That's a 12 in 3e - 1 to hit, +1 damage. He has a 16 CON? That's 14 now for +2 hit points per level. And so on. While it made the range more meaningful, how often did characters have odd numbered stats?

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And for all that, I still sort of want to throw together a 1st Edition AD&D (PHB, DMG, and MM only) game. Except I don't own any of those books any longer. I think I have the second edition Core Rules CD around here somewhere, or at least a backup of it. Probably the closest I will ever get to the first edition without finding a pirate PDF scan online somewhere.

 

I got an email from DriveThruRPG yesterday with the subject line: "The OSR Extravaganza Is Here!"  It goes on to say "In addition to listing over 1,300 OSR titles at 15% off, the OSR Extravaganza features three great bundles for Dungeons & Dragons, all at 80% or more off the total bundle value."

 

Basic D&D — Known World Megabundle (BECMI)

 

1st ed. AD&D — AD&D Core Megabundle (1e)

 

2nd ed. AD&D — Planescape Megabundle (2e)

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