Making the Change: AD&D to 5E

18 Dec

I’ve wanted for some time to fill y’all in on some of the differences between the AD&D we all played in the ‘80s, and the D&D 5th Edition of today.

I should probably say that I am relying totally on my memories of AD&D for this comparison. I don’t think my original books made it out to California when I moved in 1986. I did know AD&D well enough to be our gaming group’s regular DM. I had several of the hit harts memorized, and I was the primary go-to guy for rules questions. In fact, when friends bought new games, it was common for them to loan them to me to learn so I could teach it to them.

I have also never played any of the D&D versions between AD&D and 5E. If any reader spot errors…either in my interpretation of AD&D or D&D 5E…please let me know.

Also, I will continue following my blogging policy that it is better to read two posts of 500-1000 words each than one 2000 word post, so I will be posting these in little pieces over time.

So…for starters…

Remember I said that there are no more THAC0 charts? IIRC, in AD&D, there was a separate hit chart for each character class, and your chance to hit improved as you increased in level. Those are the charts that have been eliminated. In fact, I bought a DM screen at the same time I bought the 5E Starter Set, and I was startled when I first saw that the DM screen did not have the familiar-to-me hit charts on the inside. My first thought was “Well…this is kinda useless. I’ll just have to print up some charts and stick them in here myself.” Turns out it didn’t have the hit charts because there are no more hit charts. The armor class is the number you need to roll to hit. And this has turned out to be a good thing.

(Just as a reminder about THAC0: That stands for ‘To Hit Armor Class 0’. I’ll post more about this at another time.)

So what is the actual difference in the character classes now? If leveling up as a fighter doesn’t make you a ‘better fighter’, what benefits do you get? If a wizard has the same chance to hit as a fighter, what’s the point of playing the fighter? Great questions, and I think Wizards of the Coast have done a great job of adding to the role playing aspects of the game.

A first level fighter gets two things that other classes don’t.

First, they get to choose a Fighting Style. There are six different basic fighting styles. ‘Archery’ gives the fighter a +2 bonus to ranged weapon attack rolls. ‘Dueling’ gives the fighter a +2 bonus to damage rolls when wielding a melee weapon in one hand and no other weapons. ‘Great weapons’ are two handed weapons like great swords and great axes, and ‘Great Weapon Fighting’ lets the wielder reroll a 1 or 2 on a damage die roll when he is using the weapon with two hands. ‘Protection’ lets the fighter better able to protect those around him. “When a creature you can see attacks a target other than you that is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the attack roll. You must be wielding a shield.”¹ The other fighting styles are Defense and Two-Weapon Fighting.

Second, first level fighters also get Second Wind. They can use a bonus action to regain hit points equal 1d10+Fighter Level. After using this action, the fighter must rest before being able to use it again.

So you can see, becoming a ‘better fighter’ means more to the role playing aspect and not so much to the numbers crunching aspect of role playing. Wizards of the Coast called it right here.

At second level, fighters gain the ability to Action Surge. They learn to push themselves “beyond normal limits for a moment. On (their) turn, (they) can take one additional action on top of (his) regular action and a possible bonus action.”² The fighter must rest before being able to use this ability again. At third level, fighters choose a Martial Archetype, and then for every level promotion afterwards, they gain either an Ability Score improvement or a new Martial Archetype feature.

First level wizards do have the same chance to hit as fighters with weapons at which they are proficient. The similarities end there. Cantrips have become an integral part of the game, and they are improved over what first appeared in Dragon magazine. (Yes, I was playing that long ago, that I remember when cantrips first appeared in Dragon.) A first level wizard knows three cantrips, and knows a number of first level ‘spell slots’ equal to your wizard level plus your intelligence modifier. So, for instance, the wizard I play in Josh’s game has a 17 intelligence for a +3 modifier, so at first level he knew three cantrips and had four first level spell slots. I had six first level spells in my spell book, so I had a pretty good selection. When I made second level, I gained one ‘spell slot’ that I could know.

Like I said, cantrips have improved. Cantrips are considered minor spells and cost nothing to cast, like they did when they first appeared in Dragon. One of my cantrips was fire bolt, which “hurls a mote of fire”³. It’s a ranged attack that does 1d10 fire damage if it hits. First level wizards are still kind of fragile, having lower hit points and no armor compared to other character classes, but they are not as helpless as they were in AD&D, which I think is a good thing. The damage from fire bolt remains 1d10 for a while, so it gets relatively weaker over time compared to other things the wizard could do. Fire bolt damage increases 1d10 at 5th, 11th, and 17th level. And just to compare spell strengths here: a first level fire spell, Burning Hands, makes creatures in the cone take a Saving Throw vs. DEX. A failed ST inflicts 3d6 fire damage, a successful save takes ½ damage.

At second level, wizards specialize in an Arcane Tradition, choosing one school of magic from Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy, or Transmutation, and they each give their own bonus’ as the wizard rises in levels.

And this is just scratching the surface…more to follow…


¹Players Handbook, p. 72

²Players Handbook, p. 72

³Players Handbook, p.242


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3 responses to “Making the Change: AD&D to 5E

  1. smokeater116

    December 18, 2015 at 7:48 am

    George, After reading the post you made yesterday and then the one you posted today, I don’t remember seeing where you said it straight out, but are you proposing a campaign online? I could be very interested in that.

    • George Parker

      December 19, 2015 at 9:15 pm

      Well…I wasn’t thinking of an on-line campaign, at least not right now. My uber-rural broadband connection would make it tough for me to do in real time. It’s an interesting idea, though, and one I’d like to follow up on.

      My main goal with this mini-series is to encourage people who haven’t played since AD&D was the cutting edge in the ’80s to back into the hobby and take a serious look at 5E.

      • smokeater116

        December 20, 2015 at 11:50 am

        Gotcha, No problem. It just sounded like that’s where it was going. Sorry to jump to a conclusion. Good luck with the 5E, If I get any extra money after Christmas, Maybe I’ll take a look at it. Hope your doing good! And in case I don’t “talk” to you before Christmas, Merry Christmas to you and the family!!!


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