Fixing AD&D

Nobody actually played AD&D the way it was written, including Gygax himself. We all had (or have) house-rules, sections we ignore, other sections we embellish, etc. All my musings on this blog thusfar have been geared towards some sort of new game (although that was not my intention when I began the series), and I’d like to see how I can apply my thoughts to my favorite RPG; Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (oft’times referred to as 1E).

Right off the bat, out go psionics. I’ve never liked the concept, and don’t think it’s necessary in a fantasy game. Why bother when you have magic? Pick one or the other; I could see doing an AD&D game without magic-users or clerics, but where psionics took their place. But “mainstream” AD&D doesn’t need it.

And hot on those heels, in come more character classes. I know, I know; I was toying with the idea of paring down the core character classes to a mere two just a couple of days ago. But if it’s AD&D I’m talking about, more classes are better. Not necessarily willy-nilly; I’m not talking archers and anti-paladins, but it definitely seems like there’s room for another magic-user sub-class (necromancer? invoker?). A straight-out bard would be welcome. I’ve always loved the idea of the mountebank as a sub-class of thief; essentially a con man who dabbles in minor magics. I wrote a jester class earlier this year, and I’d probably toss that in as well. I’d keep clerics, if for no other reason than I think they’re too iconic in D&D terms to jettison. I’d get rid of monks, though; they don’t make a lot of sense in a medieval setting. I happen to like cavaliers, myself, but I’d probably put them under fighters as a sub-class.

Combat needs some work. I’d change initiative to make it individual for PCs. Make the difference between armor type and armor class more obvious, so the weapons vs. armor-type table makes more sense. Give some sort of option for “active defense” that would make parrying a real option. And I would split hit points into wounds and fatigue. The former heal more slowly, the latter are recovered quickly. But I wouldn’t want to go overboard; if it ends up slowing down combat with a jillion modifiers, I’d toss it out and start over.

Gnomes would be history. I know the removal of gnomes from the 4E Players Handbook caused a minor ruckus, but there’s just not a need for a half-dwarf half-elf demihuman. I’d include all the sub-races from Unearthed Arcana.

Magic would pretty much stay the same, although I’d beef up some of the magic-user spell lists with some more other-planar spells. And (f)lame arrow would get a complete re-write. Obviously the magic-user sub-classes would need spells of their own, and the bard would get songs with magical effects.

Monsters would have some of the worst of the Fiend Folio excised, fill in some of the more obvious gaps (special familiars for all alignments, for example, and more Upper Planes creatures). I’d pare down the dinosaurs, and include the “missing dragons” that Richard Lloyd wrote about in Dragon magazine (filling in the color wheel with evil dragons). I like the crystal dragons for neutral ones, too.

Would I include skills? Probably not. With a heftier supply of character classes, they just aren’t needed. Maybe a section on character background would do the trick; roll for (or choose) some pieces of personal history, and let that act as a guide.

How would you “fix” AD&D?

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Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

8 thoughts on “Fixing AD&D

  1. I like most of the changes you’re suggesting. I never cared for psionics, either. Personally, I always felt low level magic users were a little too weak compared to the other classes; I’d want to beef them up a little.

  2. Psionics only appeared once in a campaign. It was interesting, but didn't stick around. For low level magic users we gave them the bonus spells (as per clerics) only based on Intelligence. So that gave them a little more firepower in the beginning. We never used components although Rob (Bat in the Attic) recently wrote a simplified way to handle them that I like.

    We never used weapon speed or armor class adjustment. It was just roll a d6 and then cleave away.

    The one thing I would change for AD&D were the limitations of max level and what classes races could take. Why couldn't a gnome be a 20th level paladin? Speaking of gnomes they were 'in' the campaign but rarely made an appearance.

    And after messing with Castles & Crusades I think I like ascending AC much better.

    Good question Joseph.

  3. I ended up writing "Piecemeal the RPG", having a lot of the fixes you describe, and some other ones. Its designed to be as much Plug and Play as I can make it, so you might be interested in seeing what bits you want to pull out.

    you can read alot of descriptions of various rules over at or download a copy of the rules for free.

    The systems of active defense, personal initiative and "Body Points" vs "Luck Points" might appeal to you, while the wizards magic system probably wouldn't.

    Hence the name, Piecemeal.

  4. Monsters would have some of the worst of the Fiend Folio excised<

    That is the beauty of AD&D 1st ed. Don't use it, and it's considered "excised." I throw out about 50% of what is in the DMG, 40% of what is in Unearthed Arcana, and 10% of what is in the PHB. As for the monster books, if I don't like it then It don't exist in my world.

    I've been doing AD&D 1ed. since it came out up till this present day. Most of my mods have been in regards to the weapons speeds and lengths (I use common sense in tight or crowded spaces for large or long weapons) and such to speed up combat.

    I try to allow as much character class stuff that is in the books as possible. I try not to go into any kind of "this doesn't make sense in medieval Europe" kind of stuff because that isn't what a D&D world is supposed to be, any more than Middle Earth is. It's just "based" on that. I have no problem with somebody running a monk as is, and a new player of mine has recently done so (I'm not happy with them picking locks, but I allow it).

    I don't want my world to be some Arduin "anything goes" world, but I still want it to be fantastic.

  5. I've batted around a lot of ideas on my blog along these lines. Not literally fixing AD&D, since I go more with an OD&D approach, but close enough. Interestingly, I'd go the opposite way on several of the issues you mention. HP are pure luck, not physical damage; physical damage only happens after you hit 0 hp or as a result of a special attack or a sacrifice. No extra character classes, but rules for modifying the existing classes, thus potentially allowing thousands of classes. And I wouldn't use psionics in most games, but if someone wanted psionics that were close to AD&D/Eldritch Wizardry, I've been redesigning psionics in ways that probably look confusing, but are actually much simpler. They'd be even simpler if I wasn't trying to maintain partial backwards compatibility.

    A lot of the changes I'd use are bundled into two bundles, somewhat like the "plug and play" modules Zzarchov alluded to. I have a "character details" module and an "action/effects details" module in the works which I can slap on any edition of D&D or retroclone, or potentially on other games as well. I figure that's the best way to get what I want.

  6. I've never used psionics, but I had an idea for a campaign (either as part of Greyhawk, or my own world), where one of the cultures has no magic, and psionics instead. It would make for an interesting meeting. I toyed with the idea of having psionics not work on people who use magic, and vice versa, but that's a LONG way off. 8)

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