Maybe the best way to see some of the most fundamental differences between AD&D and D&D, 5E is to compare character creation. I recently came across an old AD&D Players Handbook (PH) at a local used bookstore, and I picked up a PDF copy of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (DMG) at the Dungeon Masters Guild. The trip down memory lane was pretty fun—and I was reminded of why I never played magic-users in AD&D.
I decided that a character creation comparison between wizards, or in AD&D terms, magic-users, would be fun. I will create a first level human wizard using the different systems, but using the same dice rolls and stats for each character.
Let’s start with AD&D:
The stats rolls are:
STR: 11 DEX: 15
INT: 17 CON: 11
WIS: 11 CHA: 13
Since humans are considered the ‘base’, or ‘normal’, my wizard gets no modifications to the rolls for stats. These attribute stats give him:
STR based stats: Hit Probability: 0 (Modifier to To Hit roll) Damage: 0 (Modifier to Damage roll)
DEX based stats: Reaction: 0 (Modifier to Initiative roll) Defense Adjustment: -1 (Modifier to AC)
CON based stats: Hit Point Adjustment: 0 System Shock: 75% Resur. Survival: 80%
INT based stats: Chance to Know Spell: 75% (Chance to actually learn any given spell) Min./Max. # of Spells/Level: 8/14
WIS based stats: Magical Attack Adjustment: None (Defense modifier for certain spells such as beguile and charm)
AD&D magic-users use d4 for hit dice. The adjustment for CON is 0, and I rolled a 4, so I start with 4 hit points (HP).
Proficiencies: Magic-users can only use daggers, darts, and staves for weapons. A first level magic-user can only know one first level spell at a time. We learn from the DMG that a magic-user can actually start with four first level spells in his/her spell book: read magic, and then one each of offensive, defensive, and miscellaneous spell.
Some of the options with first level spells:
Magic missile: creates one missile that automatically hits its target for 1d4+1 of damage. The magic-user gets one extra missile at 3rd level, and another every second level after that.
Burning hands: Shoots flame from the magic-users fingertips to a range of 3 feet, doing one point of damage per level of the magic-user.
Shield: An invisible barrier is cast in front of the magic-user, giving him/her AC 2 against hand held hurled missiles, AC 3 against small device propelled missiles, AC 4 against all other forms of attack, as well as giving the magic-user +1 on saving throws vs. attack coming from his/her front arc, and negates magic missile attacks.
I decide to take read magic, magic missile, shield, and find familiar.
Magic-users start with 2d4x10 gold pieces. I roll 6, for 60 gold pieces, to start. I buy a quarter staff, two daggers, basic clothes and provisions, and my magic-user is now ready to play. Of course, I can make my background anything I’d like to that’s consistent with the DM’s world.
One last thing—my wizard cannot use armor, so he starts with the basic non-armored AC or 10, and his DEX bonus improves that to 9.
Okay, now the same character in 5E:
STR: 11 DEX: 15
INT: 17 CON: 11
WIS: 11 CHA: 13
The first character creation difference between AD&D and 5E shows up right here. Other races get +1 or +2 in certain attribute stats, and this was the same in AD&D, but humans in 5E get a +1 across the board to all of their basic attribute stats. Since I come from Old School D&D, in which humans are the norm, this really rubs me the wrong way, but it is the way they want it in 5E. Okay. Therefore, from the same rolls, my wizard actually becomes:
STR: 12 DEX: 16
INT: 18 CON: 12
WIS: 12 CHA: 14
The 5E system also uses these stats slightly differently than AD&D. These base numbers generate a modifier that will be used frequently and applied to die rolls based upon the stat. The way this looks on a typical character sheet is:
STR: 12(+1) DEX: 16(+3)
INT: 18(+4) CON: 12(+1)
WIS: 12(+1) CHA: 14(+2)
Instead of most of the stats such as Hit Prob, Damage, and Reaction which we saw in the AD&D character, the number in parenthesis will be the die modifier in many applications. For instance, a character might need to Roll vs. DEX to succeed at an action. The DM will assign a number to beat based upon the task’s difficulty. An Easy task would need to beat a 10 on a d20; a Medium task would need to beat 15, and a Hard task would need to beat 20. This particular character would get +3 to those die rolls.
Wizards in 5E have d6 for hit dice. 5E shows mercy on first level characters and allows them to have maximum HP for the appropriate hit die at first level. Therefore, my wizard starts with 6, and I add my CON modifier, +1, for a total of 7 HP for my first level wizard. For every level gained after first, the character will actually have to roll the appropriate hit die and add the CON modifier.
Now we come to a significant part of 5E: proficiencies. All characters have a ‘proficiency bonus’, which is 2 at first level. This bonus is added to die rolls when the character is proficient at a skill or task.
Wizards in 5E are not proficient with armor, the same as AD&D.
Wizards are proficient with daggers, darts, slings, quarterstaffs, and light crossbows. Unlike AD&D, this does not mean that wizards cannot use other arms. When characters have proficiency with a weapon in 5E, it means they add their proficiency bonus to the attack roll.
Wizards have proficiency in making INT and WIS Saving Throws. This means that when making a ST versus those stats, they get to add the modifier from the stat plus their proficiency bonus. When my wizard makes a ST vs. INT, he is given a number to beat with the roll (say 15), and he gets to add his INT modifier (+4) and his proficiency bonus (+2) to the roll.
A 5E character sheet lists eighteen different ‘skills’. A first level wizard can choose two from the following skills in which to be proficient: Arcana, History, Insight, Investigation, Medicine, and Religion. I will take Investigation and Arcana. These are skills based upon INT. When searching for clues or recalling magic lore, I can add my INT bonus and proficiency bonus to the roll. For the skills in which I am not proficient, I use only the stat modifier. For instance, when rolling for Insight or Medicine, which are based upon WIS, I add my WIS bonus (+1) but not a proficiency bonus.
Two stats for wizards are Spell save Difficulty(DC) and Spell Attack Modifier. MY wizard’s stats in these are:
Spell save DC: 14 Spell Attack Modifier: +5
For starting equipment, I choose a quarterstaff, a spell component pouch, and a scholar’s pack along with my spell book.
Now we get down to spell choices.
First level wizards can know three cantrips and two first level spells.
I know that most of you all might remember when cantrips first appeared in The Dragon. They really went a long way to making magic-users more playable. They have since become a permanent part of the game. To refresh your memory, a ‘cantrip’ is a minor spell learned by wizard apprentices. They are effectively Level 0 spells, and apprentices learn them in their very first studies. They usually allow the apprentice to be more useful in performing chores to the wizard he serves.
Cantrips have evolved considerably. They are still considered minor spells, and they cost no spell slots to cast. This is one of the strongest enhancements to wizards, and makes them competitive even at lower levels. Recall in AD&D that a first level magic-user only has one first level spell. When that spell was used, the magic-user became pretty useless in combat, and more often than not a liability, since the other characters had to protect him keep to him alive to get him to the higher levels where he really did become useful. In 5E, even when a wizard has expended all of his spell slots, he still has his cantrips. Cantrips in 5E do include the useful apprentice tools such as prestidigitation, light, mending, and mage hand, but they also include such useful spells as fire bolt, ray of frost, and shocking grasp. Fire bolt is a ranged attack that does 1d10 damage and ignites flammable objects not carried or worn if it hits. Ray of frost is a ranged attack that does 1d8 damage and slows an opponent if it hits. Shocking grasp is a melee attack that inflicts 1d8 damage and prevents the victim from taking reactions until their next turn. My wizard would add his Spell Attack Modifier of +5 to his hit rolls for these attacks.
First level wizards have become much more useful.
My cantrips for this character will be prestidigitation, fire bolt, and friends.
Wizards in 5E start out with six first level spells in their spell book. I will take magic missile, shield, find familiar, burning hands, sleep, and alarm.
Some spell differences between AD&D and 5E:
Magic Missile: creates three glowing darts of magical force, instead of one. They automatically hit, inflicting 1d4+1, and they can be targeted against the same or different targets. The wizard gets an additional missile for each spell slot over 1.
Burning Hands: Shoots flame from the magic-users fingertips to a range of 15 feet (instead of 3), doing 3d6 damage if the target fails a saving throw, but still half damage if the target makes the save (instead of 1 point of damage for each level of the wizard). When my wizard casts burning hands, a fifteen foot cone of flame shoots out of my fingertips and everyone in that cone rolls a 1d20, adds their DEX bonus, and needs to beat my wizard’s Spell save DC of 14 to take only half damage.
Shield: An invisible barrier is cast in front of the wizard, giving her a +5 bonus to AC until her next round, and negates magic missiles. Shield can be cast as a reaction, taken when the wizard is either hit by an attack or targeted by a magic missile.
Okay, at this point in AD&D character creation, we would be ready to go. However, 5E adds a whole chapter covering Character Personality and Background. More depth to character creation is achieved by adding personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws into character background.
Based upon charts in the 5E PH suggested backgrounds, my wizard’s background is:
He was apprenticed to a wizard who lived as a hermit high in the mountains. My wizard dedicated himself to uncovering the arcane secrets of the cosmos. He often gets lost in his own thoughts and forgets his surroundings. He believes that inquiry and curiosity are the pillars of progress. His wizard master died suddenly (maybe from natural causes, but maybe not), and my wizard was surrounded by books and equipment that were far too advanced for him to use. He was forced to abandon his mentor’s mountain enclave to search out ways to advance his arcane skills. Accumulation of arcane knowledge is now his lodestone.
It’s true that I could have come up with this entire background on my own with AD&D, and that really was how we did it back then, but 5E is abundantly helpful in pointing the way to further creativity.
Wow. Now I really want to play this character!
And that, my friends, is the difference between an AD&D and 5E wizard.