Advanced Dungeons and Dragons appeared to me during a most chaotic period in my life. Soon it became the way for me to find order and escape reality. Surrounded by like-minded friends, I was in control of a universe where the teenagers were Heroes.
Being pre-computers, pre-Internet, and pretty much pre-everything, we made our own way. For me, it was in AD&D that I found something solid and stable to cling to.
I appreciate the work done by all those creators and collaborators; of course E. Gary Gygax, but all those people that he drew upon for ideas and inspiration.
I would also like to make a special thank you to the YouTube creators captcorajus and Black Belt Gaming for their vlogs on 1st Edition AD&D, they inspired me to put into writing what I knew of the game.
For anyone with an interest in AD&D 1st edition should also include Grogtalk podcasts (also on YouTube). An excellent source for new players wanting to start a game and also for the older players looking to get back into it.
The Players Handbook
To begin with let’s start with the obvious: AD&D is cool. Very cool; it is surprisingly complex (probably more than even the creators thought) and can be lengthy. Lengthy, not in a lot of rules – its complex, not complicated – but in its open-ended nature. The limits are really the imagination of the players of the game, meaning that in many cases, there are no limitations except those we impose on the game.
To have a fun game, the game needs to be played by like-minded people or people willing to work within a ‘zone’. Being a ‘D&D-er’ is about opening the floodgates to your mind and looking for inspiration (read that as: read books and plenty of them, search for as much source material for your characters and campaigns as required).
The main purpose of this document is to attempt to deconstruct the rules and assist new players with what seems to be a difficult task – learning to put together a character. The Players Handbook is not about learning to play, and hopefully with this document, some of the key rulesets will be covered but also the Author hopes readers will try to understand where the originators wanted their game to go.
Unlike newer versions of the game, or even every Role-playing game that followed it; there is no character sheet attached to the book. Most players used paper, and a few with some word processing skills made a character sheet on their own. Character sheets were available as a separate product, and these were some very comprehensive data sheets that if filled out correctly could speed up play and allowed the players to assist the Dungeon Master.
The same character sheets are currently freely available and exist as Adobe Acrobat documents (a quick search on the Internet and they can be easily found).
The aim is that almost everything contained in this Players Handbook Deconstruction ought to be enough to fill out one of these character sheets and give the new player a sense of confidence of where, on the page, to look for the information - and importantly, how to use it.
One thing can’t be said enough: This game is about having fun with some people; and hopefully, by having a deeper understanding of ‘The greatest game on Earth’ players can also build an appreciation of the game.
A simple note on interpretation:
There are a great many ‘house rules’ that have been applied to this game, some rules that exist inside the core books have been misinterpreted, misread, completely ignored, or fallen by the wayside; different groups made changes as required, and all of this OK. The best way to play Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st Edition, is to have fun while doing it.
Whenever a conversation between two players of AD&D are talking, a common phrase overheard would be: “We did it this way…” or “That’s not how we did it.” It’s not a criticism of the game or the different playing groups, but an insight to the difference of playing style.
This document will attempt to highlight a ‘Rules as Written’ approach, and help players move their game to a new level. It is the Author's hope that some players, who have been long time players, will gain an understanding of at least one of ‘those rules’ that always seemed overly ridiculous or complicated and give it a try.
The Basics and simple Premise
With regards to reading the Player’s Handbook: once a person has read though a topic, the most common question after reading is often “Did I miss something here?”
In many games that followed AD&D 1st ed. (as we call it in the circle), the rules on how to play the game are found in the book players pick up first (sounds simple and logical). The Games Master and Player would use the same book and have access to the same information.
That’s not how AD&D worked. There was the DM, and there were the Players. Which is why after reading the 1st Edition AD&D Players Handbook, one feels that reading the User Guide on a stereo system could have been more useful.
From the creators’ point of view, how to play was in the hands of the Dungeon Master (DM), it is this ‘Being’ referred to throughout the Players Handbook as the world builder, the scenario maker, the one who creates the towns, cities, monsters and people that inhabit the world. The players look after one character and his/her survival, the DM looks after… well, pretty much everything else.
Point of fact: There are holes in the rules and it is almost impossible to get one’s head around the complex nature of every rule; dropping one rule here and there in order to move the game along is the prerogative of a good DM (onto that later).
NOTE: two phrases that never make it into the books are ‘maintaining gameplay’ and ‘balance of play’, these are concepts not yet put down on paper in 1978; having said that, the spirit of these important concepts lay inside. Which lead to some of the larger points of contention in the game.
At its core, AD&D is a role-playing game (RPG) – in fact it is THE role playing game upon which all other RPGs have been trying to copy ever since, proving how powerful the imagination is; at the core of all RPGs whether online or hardcopy, the DNA is traced directly back to AD&D.
Deconstructing ‘The Basics’
The best example of ‘What are the Basics’ can be explained in the first pages of the Players Handbook; the reader is given a few brief words from the designers and publishers of the game and then move into how to build a character and begin by defining the basic statistics.
The first entry is regarding the statistic Strength where it reads: ‘Furthermore, fighters with an 18 strength are entitled to roll percentile dice in order to generate a random number between 01 and 00 (100) to generate exceptional strength’.
The assumptions that one knows what a Fighter is, what percentile dice are (and how they are rolled), and as it continues, the introduction of the idea of differing modifiers for races and gender are also some of many assumptions. Start as you mean to go on, they say, and this book certainly does; there are topics of assumed knowledge springing from the left and right, however, we carry on with the faith that all will be revealed in due time (which sometimes it doesn’t).
Before beginning to play the game, there are some items needed to start with, a good set of dice is needed for the game, all in all, the best mix is: five 4-sided dice, six 6-sided dice, two 8-sided dice, two 10-sided dice of differing colours, one 12-sided and one 20-sided dice. Some paper and pencils will also help to write things down and keep some notes (everything being covered in this deconstruction is designed to fill out one of those official TSR Character Sheets in almost its entirety).
Percentile dice are made up of the two 10-sided rolled together, with one colour being the ‘tens’ and the other being the ‘units’. A player may declare that the red dice are ‘high’ or ‘tens’; therefore a roll of 5 and 8, where the red dice was the 8 result, would be 85. A player not declaring their intent may have their last choice enforced by default, or the DM may force a re-roll even if it was a double result (“It doesn’t matter the result was 88 anyway…”). NOTE: Should an event have an 85% chance of succeeding, usually a result of 01 to 85 is success. In a bizarre positive mind set kind of way, AD&D is a game of concentrating on chances of success rather than that of failure.
The 4-sided dice is a small triangular pyramid, and unlike most dice, it is not the result that appears on the top most face of the dice, but the bottom (just a handy point to throw out there, while we’re talking about basics).
This is a game where players take on a career as one of a few broad categories of Class (or occupation) for the travelling years. In some cases, an apprenticeship has ended, or the Character has been living off ones wits for a few years, now a special finger of destiny has turned one of the world’s un-special and regular members of the population into something that can be far more.
As a Character adventures, he or she gains experience, and this is reflected in the Experience Points a character generates. The idea of Experience Points means that if a character overcomes a challenge the DM may award points for what the character has learned. To confuse things in some editions, and parts of the book it is called EP (clearly from an early concept), but is most commonly XP (eXperience Points). These points accumulate to then allow the character to grow and become stronger (read: gaining levels).
The player must select a class, a race, and even gender – it can be important for calculating statistics.
The book (and game) itself doesn’t make any apologies for being human centric, it cites that players understand Humans (probably true), and creates limitations in the other races (such as class limitations, language limitations, etc), highlighting that for the short-lived Human anything is possible. In effect, the special ability of the human race is that it has the focus and discipline to stay on task.
Each character possesses Hit Points (HP), these represent the amount of physical punishment a character can take before falling unconscious (0 HP), the idea is that the more physical you are trained the more HP you have – therefore Fighters (the guy with the swords and sometimes armour) will have more HP than a Magic-user (the one that casts spells and at higher levels can do lots of damage). Each weapon inflicts a number of points based on some otherworldly classification (meaning it doesn’t fully make sense on the face of it – but that’s also for later).
To defend the characters in the harsh world, a character has two defence attributes; the first is called an Armour Class (AC), which provides the difficulty of being hit in combat.
A player rolls ‘to hit’ and comparing the result of the die, to a chart against the Opponent’s AC will determine success (the lower the AC the better); and the other is a list called Saving Throws (such as throwing a dice instead of rolling one – I throw the dice).
The Saving Throws are what protects the character from devices, poisons and magic. Both of these charts are in the DM’s Guide and require a 20-sided dice (d20). All of this is never mentioned in the Players Handbook and the (what seems endless) list of charts and tables are found in the DMs Guide.
The aim of this document is to assist players in gaining a deeper understanding of their character and at low levels that feeling of how dangerous the world is and provide an understanding of why a group of Adventurers band together, hoping that together they are stronger than being alone.
Armed with this guide, it is the Author's hope that a Player may be able to comfortably fill out a Character Reference sheet - something if done correctly can assist the DM greatly.
So if you dare to take the challenge: Read on!
One of the key concepts of building a character are the Character Abilities (or Statistics as they are sometimes called) and the idea of maximums and minimums. One of the first points to notice is that males and females have their limitations separately. This is not to be mean or ‘put people in their place’ just that in 1978, it was OK to say men have the potential to be stronger than women. It's always worth remembering the average human has Statistics in the range of 9 to 12. Keep that in mind when making a character.
The nuts and bolts of the Character Abilities are 6 statistics:
Strength – combined brute force and fighting finesse;
Intelligence – speed of thought and deft of mind;
Wisdom – common sense and practical application;
Dexterity – fleet of foot and deft of touch;
Constitution – robustness and physical health;
Charisma – leadership, aura and presence.
Creating Character Statistics
The simplest means for one to create Character Abilities (colloquially ‘stats’), is by rolling three 6-sided dice for a result of 3 to 18. In the first paragraph of making a character, it states that the DM has ways and means so don’t bother looking or asking here, go and see your DM first.
This first-class buck passing is there because it’s not hard to imagine that high stats mean a higher chance of survival (which, in reality, is not the case); the two most common methods of generating stats are:
- Rolling four 6-sided dice (also shortened to 4d6) and ignoring the lowest value
- Rolling three 6-sided dice (3d6) 12 times and using the best six dice results
The book is right though; check with whomsoever will be DM to see which method best suits (it’s good to have witnesses to see that Fighter with 18 Strength roll a 00).
With a flat 3d6 roll, the average is 10 to 11, meaning that ‘common folk’ are between 9 and 12. An argument exists that Player Characters (PCs) ought to be slightly higher on average (around the 14 to 15 mark). Usually, most stat bonuses start at 15 and penalties start at 8.
NOTE: This game is all about the law of averages, and when so many dice are being rolled, sometimes they're high, and sometimes they're low - it's just the way it is.
Once the base dice rolls are generated, then apply in whatever order you want to be able to make your character. At this point you (the player) ought to have an idea of what image the character is taking. For the most part, the base Character Classes (Fighter, Cleric, Magic User and Thief) have a minimum of 9 for their primary stat and most gain XP bonuses for high stat values (usually 16 or higher).
Some classes have very strict requirements regarding their Statistics, and a nice DM may allow for one Statistic to be increased to the minimum value (thereby allowing you to play the character you want).
Modifiers, Minimums and Maximums
Humans have a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 18 for all the stats. Other races aren’t so lucky.
Some races gain modifiers to the stat rolls, and some even have maximums of 19 (with no real explanation of what a score of 19 means by the way).
Example: A Dwarf has a +1 to the Constitution roll, and -1 to the Charisma roll; but a maximums of Dexterity 17 and Charisma 16… which means that there is no modifier for Dexterity, just a maximum the value may be (don’t bother putting that 18 on Dexterity, it will be reduced to 17).
The Dwarf and Half-Orc Charisma values are based on the world’s attitude to them. This part is made quite clear, that a Dwarf with 18 Charisma has 18 Charisma for all dwarves, but a 16 for the rest of the world and therefore is listed as 16(18). The poor Half-Orc has a -2 to the starting value and a maximum of 12; therefore Charisma could be listed as 12(14) or 12(18).
A quick scan of the chart shows that Halflings have a maximum Constitution of 19, but no modifiers to alter the Constitution. How can this be? The answer lies in the DM’s book, and also depends on how realistic he or she wants to be. The idea is that the Characters are beginning their adventuring lives at a certain age. In Human terms the age of an adventurer may start as young as 16 (Fighters) to 40 (Magic Users), plus there are potions, rings and other magic that can bring a Character back in age. Modifiers are applied to stats based on the age of the Character. Therefore a Young Adult Halfling Adventurer of 30 years old (about the same as an 18 year old in Human terms) has a +1 to the Constitution stat and suffers -1 to Wisdom.
Errata: the Halfling does have a maximum Dexterity of 19, there’s an error in the chart.
Charts and Stats
In most cases, the charts and tables are self explanatory, the maximum number of Languages one can learn, spell bonuses, etc.
There are some areas that need further clarification:
Encumbrance or Weight Allowance: There is a modifier for weight allowance and in the description it states “If a character’s normal Weight Allowance is 500gp weight…” this is code for: The starting Weight Allowance is 500gp weight.
Weight is all based on coins. To make this even odder, 10 coins is about 1 pound weight. How this works is that if your Strength Stat is between 8 and 11, you can carry 500gp weight or 50 pounds of kit before being encumbered. Sometimes it's not always about the actual weight, but the bulkiness or volume. A blown up balloon doesn't weigh much, but it takes up space.
As a point of interest, a Roman Legionnaire carried 45 pounds of standard kit - including armor weapons and rations. Therefore, to be a Roman Legionnaire required a minimum of Strength 8.
So what hasn’t been introduced here is movement, and how it is measured. The idea is that there is an indoor scale and an outdoor scale; inside, an unencumbered normal person moves 12” where 1” = 10 feet; and outside, 1” = 10 yards (or 30 feet). Therefore an unencumbered person (carrying 500gp or 50 pounds or less) has a starting movement of 120’ indoors or 120 yards outside.
Later the concept of arms and armour alters these base rates, so encumbrance does become important eventually. Your maximum allowance is 4 times the base rate and means that movement is reduced to 0”. Which, by the way, means that if a Character possesses 18/00 Strength (base Weight Allowance of 3,500gp), this character can bench press almost three quarters of a ton. Now it seems impressive – and more akin to the near-Ogre level Strength that it really is.
Additional number of Languages – A Human Character can start with more languages, and this number reflects how many extra languages a Human can speak. All Human characters speak in a basic tongue called Common and everyone speaks an Alignment Language (don’t think too hard about it, it never made any sense). The non-human races speak a few other languages as standard and have a limited capacity to learn more languages once they’ve started their adventuring career (and only with a high INT score).
For Magic Users, there’s a ‘%chance of knowing a spell’ figure. These are for spells that the character comes across during the career, don’t start rolling off on everything yet (even though I think the book says to do so), there are some further explanations in the DMs Guide and it explains quite clearly a Magic User is learning new spells along the way. For a Magic User, the important numbers are Minimum and Maximum number of Spells that are known per Level. A failed understanding for a spell at one level can be tried again next level.
Reaction/Attacking Adjustment is related to different categories, however, for space reasons, kept them linked and in the process, confused everyone.
The Reaction Adjustment modifier is used in three separate combat related instances:
- First, after determining if a character suffers Surprise, the Reaction Adjustment is used to minimise the amount of time in the surprised state;
- Next, the Reaction Adjustment is used to improve the Initiative roll of the missile firer in combat. This can mean the Character goes before everyone else when firing or throwing a weapon;
- Finally, the Reaction Adjustment is used to offset penalties for using two weapons or using your off-hand (most people have a preference for being right or left handed, this being your primary and the other being the off-hand).
Using two weapons modifies -2 ‘to hit’ with the primary hand, and -4 ‘to hit’ with the off-hand; therefore it is reasonable using two weapons if a character has a +3 Reaction adjustment, as the adjustment becomes 0 and -1 respectively - important to note the modifier never becomes a positive value, only brought to a 0 value.
For those wanting to push the point, at creation of the character, the DM may ask everyone to roll a d10 and if you roll a 1 – you are ambidextrous! However, even if the character is ambidextrous a -2 is applied to both hands (then modified by the Reaction Bonus). While in reality ambidexterity is 1% of the population, in AD&D, the characters are special people.
The Reaction Adjustment is also used as a modifier to Saving Throws that may affect the character, and this modifier also becomes a Saving Throw bonus – only mentioned briefly in the Players Handbook and DM’s Guide – against direct fire spells and effects such as Lightning Bolt and Fireball.
The Attacking adjustment is for missile weapons, a modifier ‘to hit’ as we say. With a +2 modifier, for example, the Character gains +2 'to hit' with throwing weapons (stones, daggers, darts, etc) and missile weapons (slings, bows, crossbows, etc).
Thrown weapons use any Strength bonus for damage adjustment only, and bows (not crossbows) have to be made specifically to allow for Strength bonuses – another nice point mentioned deep within the DM’s Guide that often doesn’t see the light of day – this specially made bow for a character with high strength will use the Strength bonuses 'to hit' and damage and the bow may only used by someone of that Strength or better (think Odysseus).
The Defensive Adjustment is the bonus to the character’s Armour Class (AC) in order to avoid damage from attacks that are known and can be avoided. Important to note that if a character is surprised, then no defensive bonus is applied, and quite often attacks from behind are also without the Defensive Adjustment bonus.
19 Dexterity has a Reaction/Attacking Modifier of +3 and Defensive Bonus -4.
Thief Bonus for Dexterity 19:
+15% Picking Pockets; +20% Open Locks; +10% Locate/Remove traps; +12% Move Silently; +12% Hiding in Shadows
Just to be complete.
Probably worth mentioning (for completeness), the number between the () is for Fighter classes, so +2(+3) bonus, refers to a +3 HP Adjustment for Fighter, Ranger, and Paladin classes, and +2 for all other classes.
One of the most important modifiers in the game is the HP adjustment bonus. A fighter rolls a d10 for Hit Points every level, combined with 18 Constitution the character gains an additional 4HP per Level; which means that at 5th Level, the Fighter will have +20HP just from the Constitution bonus alone!
This bonus is applied to something labelled a ‘Hit Die’ – and it is mentioned that the Constitution bonus is a Hit Die bonus. In almost every case the Hit Die is the level of the Character. As a Fighter moves from Level 1 to Level 2, the Fighter gains another Hit Die of Hit Points.
In all but two Classes available to the players, characters start with 1 Hit Die at 1st Level. The two exceptions are Ranger and Monk, both start with 2 Hit Dice at 1st Level. Therefore, a Ranger of 18 Constitution has 2d8 +8 hit points at 1st Level.
19 Constitution has a +2(+5) HP adjustment and 100% for System Shock, and 100% Resurrection Survival; also, any 1 being rolled for Hit Points counts as a 2 being rolled.
Number of Henchmen – who doesn’t love henchmen?
These are Characters that stay with the PC and have their own stories (unlike hirelings, that can be bought and paid for en masse), commonly called a Non-Player Characters or NPC. These are not people who flock to the Character because of the good pay and conditions - that's considered a Hireling; the Henchmen are the people that just want to hang around with the PC. A classic example is Robin Hood and his Band of Merry Men, the few stand-outs are most likely henchmen (think Little John and Friar Tuck), who have identified with the cause and follow their leader wherever he goes.
Charisma also has modifiers to something called a Reaction Adjustment. This number comes into play when trying to convince others, for persuasion, seduction, and for other activities when a Character might try to use charm and wit to their advantage.
The exact percentages are in the hands of the DM, and exist as a base chance modified by the situation, then modified by the Reaction Adjustment of the Character doing the persuading.
Putting the numbers together
There are more to the stats than numbers; they can be interpretations of how that character interacts with the world and the world with the character.
Intelligence and Wisdom, because one is related to quick thinking and analytical skills, and the other is practical and applies a sense of self and others, or ‘common sense’; it is entirely possible to be highly intelligent with no (or little) thought to consequences or to others.
Another way is to compare book-learning vs. practical application. A Blacksmith may have ordinary Intelligence stat, but a higher Wisdom, same too can be said for farmers and other trades. This is the reason why Magic Users rely on Intelligence (book learning), and Clerics rely on Wisdom (understanding people) so, think Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory – a character with a very high Intelligence and a lower than average Wisdom.
A high Intelligence score does not automatically point to the ability to read and write lengthy tomes, it is the capacity of the mind to react and reason. A beast may have a high Intelligence and Wisdom to reflect a cunning mind and strong instincts.
A good Thief will have high Dexterity and reasonable Intelligence scores, in order to be able to analyse problems and learn new tricks; a Thief with a good Charisma may also be a confidence trickster (con artist); by comparison, an Assassin with good Intelligence and an ordinary Dexterity score, may be a spy or agent, especially if the Charisma is also at a good value.
Having scores of 14 and 15 do not limit Characters from being different and special. As mentioned earlier, gaining XP is about expanding the PC and testing one’s own ability to overcome situations. With experience come advantages, and it’s good to remember that after a handful of adventures and a few Levels of experience, stat based modifiers don’t become as important.