Game Mechanics: AD&D to D&D 5E

23 Dec

There are some cool game mechanics differences between AD&D and D&D,5. Here are three…


Sometimes there might be a reason for giving a character a slight edge or a slight penalty on a particular roll. The only way to handle this is AD&D was to give a +/- to the roll. While this always worked well enough, I think that 5E has an elegant alternative to this approach.

A roll made with a slight edge can be rolled with ‘advantage’. Instead of a straight up +/- modifier, two d20 are rolled, and the higher roll is the number used. A roll made with a slight penalty is made with ‘disadvantage’, the same thing as advantage but the lower of the two rolls is used.

Sounds nifty, but how is it used?

One action you can take in combat is ‘Dodge’. When you Dodge, you are focusing on not getting hit. You do not make an attack that round, but attacks made against you are at a disadvantage; your opponent rolls two separate 1d20 attacks and has to use the lower roll. Another action you can take in combat is ‘Help’. When you Help, you are directly assisting a comrade by feinting or distracting the opponent. When your comrade makes his/her roll, they roll two separate 1d20 and use the higher number. Remember the ‘Protection’ fighting style I mentioned last week? Say your fighter with the Protection style is fighting within five feet of…oh…The Ringbearer, and an ogre is swinging a huge club at the Ringbearer. Your fighter can use a Bonus Action (in addition to his regular action) to make the ogre attack with disadvantage. He has to roll two separate hit rolls and use the lower roll.

Simple. Elegant.


I really like the way 5E handles death. In AD&D, when you hit 0 HP you were dead, dead, dead unless resurrected. 5E adds to the drama of life and death situations.

When you are reduced to 0 HP, you usually fall unconscious, but there is still a chance of instant death. If, after reducing your HP to 0, if there are any remaining damage points to allocate, you are instantly dead if those ‘negative points’ are equal to or greater than your HP maximum. For example, my wizard started with 6 HP when healthy. If he started a combat round with 2 HP and takes more than 2 points of damage, he would go down. If he takes less than 8 points, he would fall unconscious. If he takes 8 or more damage, bringing his total to -6 or less, he is dead, dead, dead.

A creature falling unconscious due to negative hit points but not dead, dead, dead has to make a ‘Death Saving Throw’. This is just a straight up roll on 1d20. A roll of 10+ is a save; lower is a fail. You keep rolling once every round and keep track of cumulative totals as we determine your fate. Three successes mean you live. Three fails mean you die. So you see, even though you have been knocked down, your fate hangs in the balance for from 3-6 rounds after you fall! At any time, someone can try to ‘stabilize’ the unconscious player/NPC. It’s similar to what we called ‘binding wounds’ in Bill Hudson’s games that was not part of the official AD&D game. To stabilize the victim, you need to make a successful DC 10 Wisdom (Medicine) check. A successful roll means the unconscious creature stops making Death Saving Throws.

This gives your comrades a chance to stabilize you and save your sorry butt. And it adds to the role playing drama as the fight rages around your prone form while your buddies try to recover you and your enemies try to snuff you.

A very useful aspect to this is that it now becomes easier to capture a foe. In AD&D, you had to attack to subdue to capture an opponent, and then all damage was blunt edged ‘subduing damage’. I don’t really remember a whole lot of subduing going on in those days. In 5E, when you make the roll that drops an opponent to 0 HP or less, you can say you are knocking your foe unconscious instead of killing him/her/it. This makes taking prisoners for questioning a more realistic option than it was in AD&D.

Critical Hits

I know that Critical Hits have been around forever in the RPG world, but they were not an official part of the AD&D world. I remember using supplements from other publishers such as Iron Crown Enterprises (I.C.E.) to determine critical hits. Our favorite DM, Jabba da Hudson, had his own critical hit charts that were very good. Most of these critical hit systems involved rolling once for location and then again for effect.

The 5E critical hit system is simpler than that. It’s a simple double-damage effect…with a potential plus. There is an optional table in the 5E DMG with a chart for lingering injuries resulting from a critical hit. This chart lists effects ranging from ‘losing an eye’ to ‘limp’ to ‘festering wound’. Ahhh…good times!

Also, one of the Martial Archetypes for the fighter class is Champion. One of the abilities of the champion is that critical hits are scored on a roll of 19 or 20. Fun stuff!

So much fun stuff to explore in D&D 5E!

I don’t expect to publish any more this week, so the next post should be next Monday, December 28. (Or…who knows…I might have a Very Special Christmas D&D post for y’all.) Next Monday, I’ll take a look at player races in 5e. Until then, Merry Christmas!


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