Category Archives: Making the Change: AD&D to 5E

Splitting the Party

DMs Block Episode 111: Let’s Split Up the Gang mentioned what I see as one of the major differences between AD&D in the 1980s and D&D 5E today.

To be brutally honest, the D&D world back in the day was much more lethal. All of us DMs back then tended to follow Gygax’s lead of setting up an adventure and letting the dice roll how they may. Most DM die rolls were in secret, and if a DM got caught fudging rolls in favor of the party, that DM hung his head in shame at being a softy.

Today, the emphasis is even more on role playing and building a story in a cooperative world between the DM and players. And I think this is a good thing.

This is very evident in this podcast’s topic of ‘splitting the party’. Splitting the party was a huge no-no in AD&D. DM Mitch (or Ian, I can’t remember) pointed out that back in the day, if a party split up and went into a room with monsters, the now reduced party faced the full monster roster in the room. If the room was written to contain 16 orcs and 3 ogres, and the thief and a fighter split off from the rest of the group of eight players, they now had to face the full 16 orcs and 3 ogres by themselves. And this is how the ‘never split the party’ philosophy was born.

Today, a DM would be expected to scale the encounter back to take into account the reduced number entering the room. A DM might scale that encounter back to a handful of orcs and one ogre. It seems like DMs today are expected to make things up on the fly even more than they were back in the ‘80s.

There are many valid reasons to want to split the party, and DMs Mitch and Ian over at the DMs Block have a great episode here looking at those reasons to split the party.

In one way, I think this is an awesome advance in the way the game is played. It does make a lot more work for the DM, but I think it pays off in the long run and gets even more buy-in from the players.

And I don’t have to feel bad as often over a TPK.

If you missed the link above, here’s another way to get to that podcast episode…

DMs Block Episode 111: Splitting the Party




The New Kid in Town

We played our first D&D game in about three weeks last Wednesday night. The Pub hasn’t been updated in that long, either. Last Wednesday’s game didn’t really give me any material for a post either, but I do have thoughts on a D&D creature that I believe has been underutilized.


I’ve only seen hobgoblins used a few times in D&D campaigns. It seems to me that they are always played as tougher orcs. That might have been the case in AD&D. I don’t know how hobgoblins were handled in D&D 2E, 3E or 4E, but in 5E, hobgoblins have some great traits that can make them particularly brutal. In particular, I like the Martial Advantage of hobgoblins.

Hobgoblins use Martial Advantage to inflict extra damage when they hit a target and an ally is within 5 feet. Hobgoblins inflict this extra damage because they are disciplined soldiers who stay in close support of one another. The extra damage is a way to reflect the mass effect of a disciplined hobgoblin unit.

The question is—how should this play out on the tabletop? Read the rest of this entry »


Levelling Up

Last Wednesday was Josh’s Icewind Dale campaign. My wizard is not far from 4th level. This brings us to a difference between AD&D and 5E.

At 4th level, my wizard gets more hit points and another 2nd level spell, just like in AD&D. However, in 5E, players can also increase Read the rest of this entry »


AD&D vs. 5E: It’s a Harsher World Out There

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons players moving into D&D, 5th Edition might think that because their characters are beefed up in 5E, the usual adventurer-fodder of orcs, kobolds, and goblins would be even more of a pushover in 5E.

Not so.

Take your average orc. AD&D orcs had one hit die for 1-8 hit points. Orc guards had 11 hit points, and chieftains had 13-16 hit points. Most weapons are going to be able to kill your average orc in one swing. Guards and chiefs lasted a little bit longer. AD&D orcs inflicted 1-6 points of damage, or by weapon type. They had no other special abilities or talents not even guards or chieftains. The experience point value for beating one was 10+1/hp.

Orcs in 5E have 2d8+6 hit points, making them tougher off the bat, or maybe the ‘mace’ in this world. They are normally armed with a great axe, inflicting 1d12+3 damage. Ordinary orcs have two special abilities. The have the Intimidation skill at +2, which is rolled when attempting to influence anybody through “overt threats, hostile actions, and physical violence”. (5E Player’s Handbook, p.179) (This would be rolled versus NPCs.) They are also Aggressive, and can move faster than you would expect under normal circumstances. Orcs normally move thirty feet in a turn. As a bonus action, which is a free action in addition to its regular action, it can move an additional thirty feet towards an opponent it can see. I have seen this play out interestingly in games. The player said “I honestly didn’t think he could get to me there.” Oops. The experience point value for beating a 5E orc is 100.

Orc war chiefs are even tougher. They have 11d8+44 hit points. (Yes. You read that right. An average one will have 88 hit points.) They are also Aggressive. They have Intimidation +5. They also get multi-attacks, giving them two attacks per turn with a melee weapon. Once per day, they can also Battle Cry. “Each creature of the war chief’s choice that is within thirty feet of it, can hear it, and is not already affected by Battle Cry gain advantage on attack rolls until the start of the war chief’s next turn. The war chief can then make one attack as a bonus action.” (5E Monster Manual, p.246) The experience point value for beating an orc war chief is 1100. (I would imagine that this is so high because they are never encountered alone, but are always surrounded by a good sized band of orcs and are a force multiplier.)

Orcs in 5E are more Tolkien-ish than cartoon-ish.

These improved abilities apply to other creatures as well. Goblins have Nimble Escape, which means they can disengage from a melee without triggering an opportunity attack against them. Hobgoblins have Martial Advantage. They train to work together as a fighting team. Once per turn, they can inflict an extra 2d6 damage if their target is within five feet of a hobgoblin ally. Bugbears have Brute (one extra dice of damage for the weapon used in melee attacks—a morning star that normally does 1d8 damage does 2d8 in the hands of a bugbear) and Surprise Attack (surprised targets take an extra 2d6 damage from an attack). Yes, if you are surprised by a bugbear and he lands his blow, you are taking 2d8+2d6 damage. Even lowly kobolds now have 3d6-3 hit points and Pack Attack, giving them advantage on attack rolls if they have an ally within at least five feet of their target.

And if that is not enough for sadistic creative Dungeon Masters, you can give ‘special creatures’ abilities that player characters might have. Fighters in my group were really beating up on creatures with their Second Wind and Action Surge abilities. Then they met a band of orcs whose leader, while not technically a ‘war chief’, had maximum hit points for an orc plus the same Second Wind and Action Surge they had been using to run roughshod over poor monsters. Boy, where they surprised!

In all, 5E monsters really are new and improved over their AD&D counterparts—and they come with more surprises!

*Creature statistics are from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide (TSR; 6th printing, January, 1980), and Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast; 1st printing, September, 2014).


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Wizards: AD&D vs. 5E

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.



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A Tale of the Green Dragon

We had an interesting encounter at last Wednesday night’s D&D game. On Thursday, I mentioned the fight with a green dragon at the Friends of the Dwarf Gaming Guild, and an old role playing grognard observed “Dragons? What level are these stalwart adventurers?” He knows that we have not been playing very long, and dragon encounters with low level characters, to maintain any sort of credibility, are likely going to end with the adventurers in the dragon’s tummy.

Here’s how it went down, with some behind the scenes notes. I won’t give a blow-by-blow description…or, should I say a roll-by-roll description…but I will relate enough for you to understand how it played out.

This post will blow away my general rule that no blog post should be more than one thousand words. Enjoy!

This story occurred in the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure included in the D&D 5th Edition Starter Set. Be forewarned…here there be spoilers for this section of the adventure!

The adventuring party consists of six players. Their ages range mostly from 16 to 21, with one perhaps in his 30s. Most of the players are playing pre-generated characters included in the Starter Set. This is the first game most of them have played of D&D, but they all have prior RPG experience. We have been playing this adventure since June or so: weekly over the summer, but every two weeks since school resumed.

My son, Josh, plays a human fighter (LN), Halador Clamont. This is his first D&D adventure, but he has been gamemastering Star Wars RPGs for over ten years, since he was eight.

My daughter, Grace, plays a high elf wizard (CG), Naivara Amastacia. She has been a regular player in Josh’s Star Wars campaigns.

The next two players are brother and sister who are friends of my kids, and they are long time players in Josh’s Star Wars campaigns. Corrie plays a Halfling rogue, Corrin (N). Her younger brother Cameron plays a hill dwarf cleric, Tordarrak Rockseeker (NG).

The next two characters are played by replacement players. The original players dropped out, and the characters were assumed by other people wanting to get into the game.

Tyler is a friend that my kid’s Star Wars group made at our local game shop, Matrix Cards and Games. I don’t think he actually played in Josh’s Star Wars games, but they hit it off just hanging out at the store. Tyler is about 21 and is a long time gamer, with experience in earlier D&D editions and Pathfinder. In this game, he plays human fighter Mulan Shore (LG). This character’s background is important to understanding his actions in this story. Mulan originally came from the now-ruined town of Thundertree. Thundertree had been destroyed by an erupting volcano, and then a wave of zombies. Mulan’s parents fled with him as an infant and drifted from town to town. Mulan has spent the last few years working on the docks in Neverwinter, but he wants to go back and reclaim his hometown from the monsters who dwell there now. It has long been known that the ash zombies are a scourge to anybody visiting the ruins, and there are now rumors that a dragon has settled into the ruins of the Old Tower. From the character sheet: “Slay the dragon or drive it off, and you’ll prove—to yourself and everyone else—you’re a real hero, destined for greatness.” Mulan’s ambition is to have his statue in the Thundertree town square some day. This type of heroic Lawful Good avenger is outside of Tyler’s typical character range, but when the original player dropped out, Tyler took up the role playing challenge with relish.

The last player is the newest addition to the group, and also the most experienced gamer in the party. Pat is probably in his late 20s or early 30s has been gaming for a long time, going back several editions in D&D. He Dungeon Mastered officially sanctioned D&D Adventurers League games at Matrix. Pat assumed the character of wood elf ranger Adirammillis Hiloscient (CN) when the original player dropped out. This is the only totally original character in this band. All of the others are pregenerated characters designed for the adventure. Like Tyler, Pat had to exercise his role playing skills with this character, since there were elements to the character that Pat would not have picked for a character he created. Tyler has played in Pat’s D&D games before, including Adventurers League games. Pat actually owns this adventure in the Starter Set. He had been role playing well, not taking advantage of any prior knowledge he might have had about the adventure.

All of the characters were third level.

The party’s current goal is to locate the dwarf cleric’s cousin, Gundren Rockseeker. Gundren has been captured by goblins and is being held captive in the ruins of Cragmaw Castle. Gundren knows the location of the lost Wave Echo Cave, an abandoned but still lucrative mine. He was captured by goblins, but a more nefarious foe only known as Black Spider seems to be in charge. Nobody knows exactly where the ruins of Cragmaw Castle are located, but the party was advised by a townsmen that the druid Reidoth would probably know, and he was last known to be heading north to the Thundertree ruins. The party set out to find Reidoth.

Sure enough, they found Reidoth at Thundertree. He told them they should leave Thundertree as soon as possible, as the ruins were “dangerous—very dangerous.” He mentions “folks in black masks and cloaks” skulking around the eastern side of the ruins, but his main concern was figuring out a way to get the dragon to leave the ruins. He hadn’t gotten too close to the dragon yet, but he figured it must be a very young dragon trying to establish a lair. He would just like the dragon to leave.

Funny he should mention the dragon. Mulan would like the dragon to leave, too! Mission accepted!

The party stood at the base of the hill, at the end of the road leading up to the ruined tower.

This was the opening of the game session. At the last session, the party had concluded an encounter in the building across the road from the end of the tower road. The cleric had been able to heal most of the damage to party members except a few points to the ranger. As this session opened, Pat (playing the ranger) was late joining us. He had a new class at the community college and would be about thirty minutes late. Other party members have a hard curfew on the back end (I certainly understand those! I had them myself with my Mom!), so we only had about two hours to play. Pat told us to start without him.

When I DM and I am using commercial modules, I have no problem changing story elements or details as I see fit. The adventure as written had the ‘dragon cultists’ hiding out in a building on the east side of town. It said “they have been spying on the dragon from afar, trying to gauge its demeanor and needs…(t)hey are not interested in fighting anyone and prefer to be left alone.” The leader, Favric, “hopes to rise through the ranks (of the cult) quickly by earning the allegiance of the green dragon.” As far as interacting with the adventuring party, “If the characters talk to the cultists, Favric explains that they have come to treat with the green dragon. If the characters express a similar desire, Favric suggests an alliance. He really plans to offer the characters to the dragon as part of his tribute, and if a fight ensues, the cultists side with the dragon.”

This was the raw material I had to work with.

This party has dealt handily with the encounters as written so far, so I have been beefing them up as I think necessary. I decided to give Favric a little extra clerical ability, especially some spells.

I know that my party’s plan was to investigate the dragon and get the heck out of Dodge. They had no reason for ever going to the east side of the ruin, and they do have a pressing need to find Gundren Rockseeker while he is still alive, so this should be an in-and-out affair in Thundertree. As written, that meant they would miss out on the entire dragon cultist element if the cultists stay holed up in their assigned building until the adventurers stumble across them. I didn’t want that.

I reasoned that if the cultists had been spying on the dragon, they probably would have noticed the adventurers approaching the hill. The cultists had never noticed the druid in the ruins, because the druid was being stealthy. The party came into town lighting brush fires (getting rid of twig blights) and making other ruckus while fighting giant spiders. They were lucky the dragon hadn’t noticed them, but I decided the ‘skulking cultists’ had. As the party looked up the hill at the tower, I decided the cultists spotted them from around the corner of a nearby building. I figured that the closest two party members to that building would make perception checks to notice the masked figure peering around the building before ducking back. The closest two were the rogue and the ranger. Pat wasn’t here yet, so I had Corrie roll for her rogue. Fail. Hmm. I went ahead and rolled for the ranger. Fail. Oops. They were too intent upon watching the tower.


As the party gazed up at the ruined tower, they discussed their plan. Mulan, the fighter from Thundertree was anxious to get started in evicting the dragon. He saw no reason to waste time talking. Force would be necessary, and the sooner they started, the better.

Halador said, “This is a dragon. I’m not fighting a dragon.”

Mulan said, “But it’s not going to get any smaller. We have to get rid of it.”

“Look, we can go scout it, see if it’s there. If it is, we can note that, and come back when we’re stronger.”

Mulan sighed heavily. “Well, let’s get started.”

As Mulan led the way and Halador fell in behind, but before the others could start up, a voice from behind them to the right called out “Hail, friend!”

The party spun to see four figures approaching, scabbarded scimitars on their belts, but hands out and open. The four figures wore stylized dragon masks and cloaks. The lead person said “I see you’ve business with the dragon.”

Halador said “Business…of sorts.”

“Maybe we can resolve this peacefully.”

Mulan said, “Why would we want to do that?”

“Well…it is a dragon. Even if it only is a little one, it would be hard to fight.

Since it wouldn’t have much treasure to steal, my guess is that you would simply like the dragon to be gone. We would like it to leave here, too.”

“Why would you like it to leave?”

“We have prepared a place for him to live far away from civilized lands, far from trouble.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Why, so we can worship His Majesty in the manner befitting his splendor, of course!”

The party considered the offer.

Halador said, “We are not negotiating with a dragon!”

Tordarrak said, “If it leaves, then when it becomes an adult dragon, it will only cause problems for somebody else in another time and at another place.”

Mulan replied, “But it would not be here, and now. And if we can convince the dragon to leave peacefully, without any of us getting killed today, we will still be strong enough to rescue the dwarf’s uncle.”

Halador said, “We are not negotiating with a dragon!”

Mulan said, “We have to.”

They turned to the cloaked figures. “I like to know the names of those with whom I deal.”

The leading cloaked figure said “I am Favric.”

“Favric, we will help you convince the dragon to leave.”

Halador sputtered at Mulan, then shook his head and sighed.

The party started up the road, the cultists falling in trail behind them. Favric moved to the front alongside Mulan.


Well, this was turning out easier for the cultists than I thought it would. I figured Favric would have to cast a Charm Person spell on somebody to get the party to go along with them. Nope.


The party climbed the hill and approached the cottage attached to the tower. The tower entrance was through the cottage. The party entered the building. The room was dusty with cobwebs everywhere.

Tordarrak said, “I don’t think it would do our cause any good for a dwarf to try negotiating with a dragon. Why don’t I wait down here?”

Halador said, “Well, we’ve got elves, too, so I don’t think this is going to be easy no matter how we try it. But, stay here if you think it best.”

“I do,” said Tordarrak as he fell out of line and let the adventurers and cultists pass. Corrin, the Halfling rogue, discreetly passed him a small stone as she walked by.


Corrie’s character had acquired a set of Sending Stones. They are two small polished stones that allow the owner to communicate telepathically by means of a Sending spell with whoever holds the other stone. Only short messages of twenty-five words or less can be sent, and they can only be used once a day. As one of the players said, “Just enough for a jam.”

About this time, Pat arrived at Matrix. He asked the party to fill him in. “We’re going up into the dragon’s tower with some cultists to negotiate with the dragon.” Pat’s horror-stricken eyes said it all. “Oh,” was all his mouth could say.


 Favric led the group into the tower and started up the stairs circling to the right up the inner wall. The tower’s middle was empty. The stairs wound up past a landing at the second floor, which only led to a catwalk around the circumference. The stairs led up to the third floor. At the third floor, there was a landing and a small antechamber. Favric and Mulan led the way into the antechamber.

Naivara (the elf wizard) and the ranger followed. The ranger moved away from the doorway. Corrin stayed at the anteroom door, just outside, but close enough to peer through and see inside.

The other cultists filed in last.


The remains of the fourth floor above hung mostly in tatters. A large section hung secured to the wall by iron and brick. Laying on this section, was a green dragon. He lifted his head and yawned. The dragon had been sleeping.

“Yes?” the dragon said. An acrid plume escaped his lips as he spoke.

Favric said, “I trust you enjoyed your sleep, My Lord.”

“Sleep is good, but one had best not become too enamored of it. What have you there?”

“Friends, Your Majesty. We found them in the village below. We thought you should talk.”

“Talk?” The dragon considered. “Yes, we should talk.” The dragon rose, spreading his wings. “Leave us, to…talk.”

“Yes, My Lord.” Favric said as he turned to go. The other cloak-clad cultists preceded him.

Corrin thought a message to Tordarrak via the Sending Stone: “Things are going downhill. Get up here!” Tordarrak started up the stairs.

Halador subtly dropped his hand to his sword hilt. The ranger leaned on his bow, rehearsing in his mind which arrows in his quiver were the poisoned ones.

The dragon extended his wings and hopped down to the third floor, controlling his decent with his wings. “Now…we can talk.”

Naivara asked, “Why did you make your followers leave?”

“Because I always dine alone.”

Halador glared at Mulan, as Naivara hurled three rays of fire at the dragon.


That’s my girl, getting the first shot off!!

Favric and the cultists could not believe their luck up to this point. Favric had not had to cast any spells to get the party to go along with the plan. The cultists had not had to draw their weapons. They were happy about that. Favric figured that his dragon will get a good meal, and the appreciative dragon will remember this as he grows in power and majesty. Favric hopes to get in on the ground floor on serving a powerful dragon, thereby increasing his own power and prestige.

The adventure script says that the dragon “does not want to give up such a promising lair, but if the characters reduce it to half its hit points, it climbs to the top of the tower and flies off to fight another day.” The dragon had 136 hit points, so they can drive the dragon off by inflicting 68 points of damage. If they can last long enough to inflict 68 points, that is.

There is a significant difference between AD&D dragons and dragons in 5E. If I recall correctly, a dragon could only use its breath weapon a limited number of times a day—two or three, as I recall. Then it couldn’t use its breath weapon at all until the next day. 5E dragons aren’t limited on the number of times a day the breath weapon can be used, but they do have to reroll to recharge them when they have been used. After using its breath weapon, a dragon rolls a d6 at the beginning of its next combat round, and the breath weapon recharges on a 5-6. The dragon rolls every round until the breath weapon recharges.

I am still new to 5E, but it seems to me that this difference changes a dragon’s tactics a little bit. In AD&D, a dragon had two or three guaranteed shots with its breath weapon, and I remember using them early in a combat. In 5E, when a dragon shoots its breath weapon, there is a good chance it will not have another shot right away. A dragon, especially a young and inexperienced dragon, might want to conserve that shot for the right moment. In the long run, a 5E dragon will get more shots off than an AD&D dragon, but not necessarily as quickly. This is what I had in mind as I fought the dragon in this battle.


Naivara’s three rays of fire hit the dragon. The dragon reared back and roared. Mulan drew his two scimitars and flung himself with his whirling blades at the dragon.

Halador charged with his longsword and shield. Corrin and the ranger unleashed a volley of arrows, the ranger’s arrows having been dipped into the poison sacks of the great spider they had defeated earlier that day.
The dragon roared and gnashed at Mulan, causing him grievous injury…or what would have been grievous injury in somebody not as stalwart as our hero.


The dragon bit Tyler’s character pretty hard. A young dragon bite does 2d10+4. I don’t recall exactly how much damage the dragon rolled (which is one reason I can’t recreate this fight blow-by-blow, or roll-by-roll), but it did knock down over half of Tyler’s hit points in one blow. On Tyler’s next turn, he used one of the fighter class’s special abilities: Second Wind. It is a bonus action that allows a fighter to regain hit points equal to 1d10+his fighter level, three in this case. Tyler regained about 11 HP and shook off that first hit. Before Tyler’s character can do this again, he needs to have at least a short rest to recover the ability, so he cannot use it again in this fight.

The ranger is using arrows that he dipped in the venom sacks of a giant spider they had killed earlier that day, but green dragons are immune to poison. Nice try, though.

That was the first round of combat. By this time, I was thinking, “You know, guys…running away is an option.”

Naivara loosed a salvo of Magic Missiles from her fingertips into the dragon, causing the dragon to rage more intently. Mulan and Halador skillfully played their blades, getting hits past the dragon’s mighty claws. More arrows found the dragon. The dragon again threw his slashing jaws at Mulan, but Mulan masterfully skipped away from the maw…this time.

Tordarrak ran up the stairs and met Favric and the cultists on their way down. Tordarrak cried, “My friends!” as he made his way past them. The cultists hugged the wall as the dwarf made his way by.

Slash. Feint. Parry. Strike. Roar. The battle raged. Naivara, deciding that the swirling claws were getting too close to her, spoke the words to create a field of Mage Armor about herself. More arrows flew. Mulan slashed mightily with his scimitar, hitting the dragon on the wrist of his right foreleg, and cleanly sliced the dragon’s foot right off.


Tyler rolled a natural 20 for a critical hit for double damage. I also started using the Lingering Injuries Chart for additional effects, and it came up 2: ‘Lose an arm or hand.’

And then the dragon reared back its head, and blew forth a choking cloud of green gas which filled the room.

The suffocating cloud was too much. Naivara, Corrin, and the ranger fell. Mulan and Halador remained on their feet and continued to swing cutting steel towards their foe. The dragon spread his wings and leaped into the air. The blades continued working at the dragon as he lifted and turned. One thrust of his wings, and the dragon cleared the wreckage and was gone.

The dragon’s breath weapon is chlorine gas. The party had inflicted a lot of damage to the dragon in a little bit of time. I don’t think it was more than three rounds into the battle when the dragon used its breath weapon, and that was the same round that it reached 68 points of damage.

Everybody in the blast zone of the breath weapon, which was everybody in the room, had to make a DC14 CON saving throw. That means the number to beat was 14, and everybody added his/her CON modifier to their rolls. The three that dropped failed their saving throw. The other two took half damage. The damage was 12d6…and I rolled 27. Well, good for the party. That was enough to drop Grace’s, Corrie’s, and Pat’s characters to below 0 hit points. It was really bad for Pat. Because of the damage he had already taken that hadn’t been healed, the damage to him dropped him to exactly -17. A character whose HP drops below 0 still has a chance. However, from the Players Handook: “When damage reduces you to 0 hit points and there is damage remaining, you die if the remaining damage equals or exceeds your hit point maximum.” Pat’s maximum hit points at that time was 17, so at -17, he was really and truly dead.

The other two had to start rolling Death Saving Throws. Every round, they had to roll a d20. A roll of 10+ is a success, and they tic off a ‘success’. Lower than 10 is a fail, and they tic off a ‘fail’. This continues until one of three things happens:

  • Somebody stabilizes them, basically administering first aid;
  • They have three ‘fail’s, in which case they die;
  • Or they have three ‘success’s, in which case they become stable.

Grace and Corrie’s characters were able to be stabilized and lived. The brave ranger, alas…

Meanwhile, back on the stairs…


Tordarrak, having just passed the cultists on the stairs, saw the green cloud billowing from the anteroom. He screamed, “Nooooo!!!” as he spun to his left, bringing his war hammer around from his right and swinging wildly at the first thing he saw…Favric.

Tordarrak’s hammer crushed Favric’s chest and blasted him back against the tower wall. Favric slumped and fell to the ground. He pitched forward and fell over the edge of the stairs to the ground, two stories below.

The four remaining cultists fled for their lives down the stairs.


Cameron rolled a natural 20 here. Double damage and broken ribs. The double damage alone was almost enough to kill poor Favric. I really needed a Wilhelm Scream to play here as Favric pitched over the edge. The script said that the cultists flee if Favric went down, and I thought it was perfectly fitting here.

And this is where we wound up for the night. We were at the hard curfew for some of the players, and with the parents I had, I am particularly sensitive to those hard curfews. We will deal with the aftermath in the tower when we play again in two weeks.


As an afterward, the party would not have stood up much longer to this dragon. There were only two left standing in the room. They had been damaged. One more dragon bite or claw to either one would have been enough to end him. Another dragon breath blast surely would have finished it. The critical hit that took the dragon’s foot, and the direction that the dragon would leave after taking half damage, are the two things that saved this party.


And now there is a three-legged dragon out there with a grudge.


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AD&D to 5E: Saving Throws

The one mechanic in 5E that has been the hardest for me to get through my head is the Saving Throw. I keep wanting to default back to the AD&D method, and it has created some awkward moments in games.

And, to be honest, I might just be remembering AD&D incorrectly.

IIRC, in AD&D, you actually wanted to roll low for saving throws versus an ability. For instance, if you were saving versus CONSTITUTION (CON), you wanted to roll equal to or lower than your CON. Let’s take my example of my wizard casting the Thunderwave spell at the dwarves. They needed to pass a saving throw versus CON, which was 16. Therefore, they would have needed to roll 16 or less to save according to AD&D rules, as I recall them. Simple.

Saving throws are a little different in 5E. When a character makes a save versus an ability, you have a number you need to roll against, and you add your ability modifier to the die roll to save. Let’s take the Thunderwave spell versus dwarves again. The number the dwarves need to roll to save is based upon my wizard’s spell casting ability, which makes sense. The base number for the saving throw is 8 + (spell casting ability) + (proficiency bonus). Since Thunderwave is a wizard spell, the spell casting ability is equal to the casting wizard’s INT modifier. (If it is a cleric spell, he/she would use the WIS modifier.) My wizard’s intelligence was 17, carrying a +3 modifier. The proficiency bonus is usually +2. Spell slingers are going to get this bonus whenever they cast a spell. Spells cast through other means, such as magic items or scrolls used by non-wizards, do not get this bonus. So…when my wizard cast the Thunderwave spell, the base number the dwarves needed to save against was 8+3+2=13. The dwarves had 16 CON with a +3 bonus, so they added +3 to their saving throw. Therefore, they needed to roll a 10 or better to save, instead of the 16 or less that I think they would have needed in AD&D.

Not quite so simple, but not hard, either, and it makes a lot of sense. It also saves confusion from knowing when you need to roll high, and when you need to roll low. You always need high in 5E.

I’m sure my AD&D players will let me know if my memory fails me on this. 🙂

More on Saving Throws next time…


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