Saturday, December 29, 2012

Understanding AD&D 1st Edition Combat

After a first look through of the combat system in the Dungeon Masters Guide, I boldly went to the gaming table thinking that I understood how to run things. Boy, was I wrong. Well, not necessarily wrong, mind you. But I froze up pondering potential corner cases in the system. Thank goodness that it was just a test encounter because the game ground to an absolute halt. I wasn't anywhere near confident enough to start make rulings since the intent was to run things according to the rules as written.

Determined to learn the way of 1st edition, I trawled the major old school forums looking for clarification. I didn't find a whole lot of specific advice but I did find some pointers. One such pointer was to ADDICT which is short for the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® INITIATIVE AND COMBAT TABLE. Don't let the name fool you. It's not just a table. It's a step by step explanation of first edition's combat system with examples. It's a well done resource and it got me oriented but at times my head started to swim while reading. It is almost 20 pages of explanation after all.

After giving ADDICT a careful read-through I went back to the DMG. That really didn't help. The text there seemed ever more dense but I was determined enough to slog through. Then a lightbulb came on. What about OSRIC? I've had the PDF for years and even have the book on my shelf. I wondered how close it was to 1st edition. I never tried to play OSRIC but instead used it as a general resource supporting my other D&D-like games.

After reading the combat section in OSRIC I finally got it. I was already 80% of the way there but the clarity of presentation was invaluable. I now feel confident enough to start running the game and eventually work some of the niftier corner cases into my 1st edition gaming routine.

The AD&D 1st edition state machine is an amazing thing to behold but observing it to understand it is sometimes a bit difficult.


  1. The more I hear about the efforts of people to understand and make work the 1e combat system, the more I start to suspect that the way I play it (which I learned in my first group back in the late 70s and early 80s) is wholly different from the version that Gygax originally envisaged. That having been said, my system seems to work well when used by five 10-year-old boys so I must be doing something right.

  2. I'm not surprised at all that it's different and that it works. A myriad of flowers bloomed from that which is 1st edition's combat system.

    The other night we sat down and gave the combat system as written a whirl with the corner cases filtered out. It's actually quite good.