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Running Your First AD&D Campaign

It's taken a long time (more than 40 years) to learn that you can tell a person what you dislike just by telling them what you like. If you tell me all the things you like, it's akin to visiting your favorite coffee shop at 7am every day. People know where you're not.

Learning this lesson intellectually is one thing. Getting it settled into your spirit where it turns into a personality trait takes even longer. All of that is a long-winded way of saying I have not yet mastered this principal? But I am working on it? And oh, by the way, D&D works in many incarnations...but you know where I'm not.

That said, you don't need to run it my way to have fun.

So, I do want to explain that this post was requested by a reader of the site. I'm offering it not as THE take on how to get into 1st Ed AD&D but MY take. The funniest thing about 1st Ed is the people playing it? They disagree with each other and attack one another almost more than they do adherents of other VERSIONS!

SO: the framework for this is going to be simple. This is not a pitch. I assume what you hear about 1st Ed AD&D has you interested. But the DMG is a mess and the rules are daunting. How do you begin? How do you take the first steps and what are the essentials?

As you may know, I run as close to RAW as possible, but I do have tweaks that make following the spirit of the rules easier without descending into madness. I don't know much about OSRIC but my understanding of that system is that it "tries" to be AD&D without actually embracing all the minutia that I embrace. My argument is the minutia ADDS value to my game.

I will therefore call out obscure (but essential) rules and attempt to organize them so you can, theoretically, print this out and use it to help you navigate the common stuff. As it turns out, the "common" stuff is also the most esoteric because of (dis)organization and contradictions [or] even incompleteness. Therefore, I have often relied on modules written by Gygax to help contextualize and mold my interpretations.

I'll do my best to give you citations.

I've read all this stuff more than twice, but that doesn't mean you should automatically agree with me. By all means, do it your way. But know that what I list below is 100% game tested and every ounce of it is important to my campaigns (god I I run TWO of them) ongoing since 2014. So, these explanations aren't speculative suggestions. They are call-outs on rules with explanations about EXACTLY how we play. I and my players can therefore vouch for them. My players read this blog and they aren't great with bullshit. They will say, that although the rules are not perfect, the net result is good and that even if they sometimes fail to grok everything that happens and why, they rely on me to move them through the system in a way that is recognizably consistent. They will also say they have come to love at least SOME of the things that 1st Ed does well.

I'm going to divide this into TWO SECTIONS:

  • Character Creation

  • Adventuring

In both cases, I assume you have a basic understanding of D&D and know how to play. Therefore my references will be light on explanation except where I feel it really matters.

Where it really matters is in relation to combat stuff and in the more general "the way things are done" philosophical elements of play [or] the "approach to the game," you could say, which hopefully gives you an idea on how to punt when rules fail you. Because rules will always fail you.

Finally, understand that this is NOT exhaustive. This is going to be JUST THE BASICS. I am not going to remind you that exceptional INT makes your character immune to certain spells or tell you where to find that information (ok, it's Deities and Demigods p7 in both Cthulhu and non-Cthulhu editions). But point is, this blog post is about how to get you rolling AFTER you've read the rules and are still confused.

The Character Creation section, for example, is going to assume you are capable of reading and that you are reading the PHB to figure out how to make your character. 1st Ed Adherents know hard work. I'm just going to cover the things you might miss or not even realize because they are either easy to miss or you might think they are non-essential.

There's your clue. EVERYTHING I list below is going to be stuff that I believe is essential.

So, my internet friends, this one's for you. Strap in, cuz yeah...


Character Creation

Ability Checks: a Preface (Philosophy)

  • In 1st Edition AD&D Ability Checks are not common. Often, the DM will assess the challenge and if the PC's corresponding score is above average or well above average, the PC is assumed to accomplish the feat without resorting to dice.

  • If however, success seems like a stretch (the PC is engaged in combat while simultaneously attempting to leap over a glacial crevasse [or] get a grieving widower to fund the party's expedition now that their backer----his deceased wife----is no longer calling the shots) checks may be called for.

  • Ability checks evolved in the 80's as the game evolved. In the early days, 3d6 were often used for moderately difficult feats. 4d6 were used for very difficult feats. There might be a reference to 5d6 for nearly impossible feats. Never call for a roll unless you understand the probabilities FIRST. DMs that THINK they understand probabilities (but don't) will screw up a game faster than you can pack your dice. The use of a single d20 to make an ability check, I think, began appearing in the mid-80's and to me is less interesting but I still do it. What you decide to use is a personal choice. I mix it up.

Ability Scores

  • 4d6 drop the lowest.

  • Arrange as desired and then modify by age (DMG13)

  • CMS

  • CMS is optional but occasionally useful (UA6). Fascination can be great for groups that like to ROLE play. After all, fascination is a real thing.

  • STR

  • Only Fighters and Fighter sub-classes (including Ranger, Paladin, etc.) qualify for exceptional STR. (PHB9) (EXCEPTIONAL means any ability score over 18)

  • If a Fighter type puts an 18 into their STR slot, they automatically get to roll 1d100 to determine their exceptional STR score. Yes this applies to multi-class with a FTR type.

  • Open Doors (1d6) is used for small feats of STR, like doors that have swollen shut

  • Bend Bars Lift Gates (d100) is used for large feats of STR, like lifting an enormous sarcophagus lid.

  • INT

  • Chance to Know Spell is your odds of learning and adding a found spell to your repertoire. If you fail this roll, you can NEVER learn that spell (unless you fail to learn SO many spells that, after trying to learn ALL spells for a given spell level, you find yourself BELOW the Minimum Number of Spells/Level. In this case, you can re-roll until you hit minimum (PHB10)

  • WIS

  • Magical Attack Adj is the bonus or penalty applied to magical mind-affecting saving throws (Charm Person, Hold Person, Fear, etc.) E.g. If your WIS is 17 and some jerk casts Charm Person on you, you get to add +3 to that saving throw. On a Fireball, you do not get this bonus. (PHB11)

  • Spell Bonuses are Cumulative

  • Chance of Spell Failure is real. Use it.

  • DEX

  • Reaction Attacking Adjustment applies to two things:

  1. To-hit rolls with missile weapons. E.g. DEX of 18 means you get +3 to-hit with your bow, sling, crossbow, etc. (note you do NOT get +3 dmg)

  2. Modifies your individual PC's chances of being surprised.

  • Unlike initiative, Surprise is often rolled individually depending on the situation and implications.

  • Normal odds of being surprised are 2in6. If your PC rolls a 1, she is surprised for 1 segment. If she rolls a 2, she is surprised for 2 segments. Yes, rolling a 2 is worse than rolling a 1. Rolling a 1 is referred to as "Surprise". Rolling a 2 is referred to as "Complete Surprise".

  • If your DEX is 18, you get to add +3 to your surprise roll, meaning you will always roll a number between 4 and 9. Ergo, your PC will NEVER be surprised under normal circumstances.

  • Often, however, due to ambush situations, monsters may surprise 3in6; 4in6; or even 5in6. Sometimes surprise is listed as automatic (6in6). In these cases a PC with high DEX might still be surprised. A roll of 2 (+3 DEX adjustment) = 5. Therefore the PC with DEX 18 would still be surprised if conditions state the monster surprises 5in6.

  • Although the odds of surprise can change depending on the encounter, the number of surprise segments are capped at 2. "Surprise" is always 1 segment and "Complete Surprise" is always 2 segments. I use the lowest positive roll as Surprise, and anything greater as Complete surprise. E.g. If the monster surprises 5in6 and the PC with 18 DEX rolls a 1 (+3) = 4, that indicates Surprise. If they roll a 2 (+3) = 5, that indicates Complete Surprise. A roll >2 obviously means the PC with 18 DEX is NOT surprised. Remember, if you are a detractor, I'm just telling you how we do it.

  • Defensive Adjustment is applied to the PC's AC, regardless of armor type. Leather or Plate doesn't matter; you get the bonus. This bonus is also applied to saving throws vs AOE attacks like breath weapon. (PHB11)

  • CON

  • Hit point adjustment is added or subtracted from each HD roll. Note that ONLY Fighter-types gain additional hp bonuses from CON scores >16. All other classes are capped at a maximum bonus of +2/HD. It is important to remember that once the PC reaches max HD (9 in the case of a Fighter) the CON bonus does not modify further progression.

  • System Shock is diced for whenever the PC magically ages, is turned to stone, or suffers some other extremely traumatic event. If the System Shock check fails, the PC dies on the spot. Good Game. (PHB12)

  • Resurrection Survival is diced for EVERY time the PC is brought back to life. If the check fails, the PC is dead forever. If the check succeeds, the PC comes back to life but their CON score is reduced by 1 point AND CAN NEVER BE INCREASED AGAIN, WISHES NOT WITHSTANDING. This represents the maximum number of times a PC can be raised from the dead.

  • CHR

  • Max Henchmen and Loyalty Base should be self-explanatory.

  • Reaction Adjustment is applied to Reaction Checks of all kinds, from parley to barter to flirting. To conduct a Reaction Check, simply roll a d100. Results <46 are unfavorable. Results >55 are favorable. (DMG63) E.g. Paladin with a 18 CHR flirts with the stableboy and d100 roll = 30 (+35% from CHR bonus) for a total of 65%. This means the stableboy is uncertain but there is a 55% chance he will ultimately swoon.

Armor Class (PHB36)

  • Second only to initiative, this is one of the hardest to wrap your head around. AC gets better the LOWER it is. AC 10 = farmer in overalls. AC 3 = Knight in Plate Mail. AC -1 = Red Dragon.

  • Why?

  • In the old days, in order to hit an enemy with your weapon, you needed to roll a 20 on a d20. Wuuuut? That's a 5% chance!!! Correct. But you also got to ADD the AC of the creature to your roll. E.g. Farmer with AC 10 means you add +10 to your to-hit roll. This means you hit him on a 10 or better. Makes sense right? You also got to add your level to the roll if you were a fighter. So, this is why High AC is bad and Low AC is Good. A red dragon's AC SUBTRACTS from your roll.

  • But Anthony, Why does DEX 18 give me +3 to AC? (*sigh* I know, I know) In this case the bonus is subtractive. E.g. Plate Mail (AC 3) with a magical bonus of +3 (becomes AC 0) combined with a DEX of 18 (becomes AC -3) combined with a shield (becomes AC -4). That's just how it works.

  • Note that Shields of various size have corresponding durations of protection. Small shields offer their AC bonus against only ONE attack each round. Medium shields offer their bonus against TWO. Large shields protect against THREE (PHB36)

  • Armor Class is often adjusted due to circumstances:

  • Surprised, Rear or Flanked = Ignore DEX and shield bonuses to AC

  • After a Charge = Ignore DEX [or if no DEX bonus] penalize by 1 (DMG66)

  • Large missiles (Giants throwing boulders, Siege Weapons, = Ignore DEX bonuses to AC (DMG64)

  • Touch: Attempts to touch a target treat the target as AC 10 minus any DEX bonuses or magical modifiers.


  • There are none

  • Your character can can try anything regardless of their class. While Fighters will certainly fail at reading magical texts, they are capable of trying to sneak into a building and hide in the shadows just like any thief. Your DM should encourage and support Player creativity regardless of class stereotypes. I can wear a disguise. I can climb a tree. I can commit fraud. I can try to do those things because I am human. Not because of a profession. Odds of success should be proposed by the DM and agreed to as FAIR by the player making the roll based on clearly described circumstances.

  • Bottom Line: the answer is not on your character sheet. Be expressive in your creativity and expect the DM to support you within reasonable bounds.

Movement (PHB102)

  • In AD&D, the use of inches (MV 6" for example) is confusing. It is a holdover from wargaming, when 1 inch on the table = 10' (or 10 yards on outdoor battlefields, which is a whole other can of worms you should forget about for right now). Your take-away should be that movement rates for creatures and characters (as well as spell ranges and sometimes areas of effect) do NOT actually mean inches. Ergo:

  • MV 6" = 60' per round.

  • MV 9" = 90' per round and so on.

  • Because we play with miniatures, my rules detract from PHB increments. For ease of use with a 1-inch grid where 1 inch equals 5' we go like so:

  • MV3 = 5'/segment

  • MV6 = 10'/segment

  • MV9 = 15'/segment

  • MV12 = 20'/segment and so on up to the maximum allotted per round.

  • Therefore, if a PC has a MV of 12 and Initiative indicates they have 3 segments to act, the PC can move a maximum of 60' in those three segments (20' per segment). Later, at the end of the round, or when the initiative switches sides, the PC will be able to use the remainder of unspent movement----in this case the remaining half. I usually allow remaining movement to be spent at end of round even if there are not technically enough segments remaining to account for the expenditure.

  • Humans have a base MV of 12 (120' per round). Armor may reduce this. While Leather armor allows for MV 12, Chainmail limits MV to 9, and Plate Mail reduces it still further to 6 (DMG239)

Saving Throws (DMG 79)

  • Saving throws are rolled on 1d20. In order to be successful, the result must equal or exceed the target number.

  • A 2 is the lowest roll that can qualify as success. Regardless of bonuses, a saving throw roll of 1 is always a failure (DMG79)

  • Monsters generally save as Fighters of lvl roughly corresponding to their HD, though they may save as other class types if they have representative skills. (DMG79)

Special Abilities

  • Player Characters have special abilities. You will notice many monsters also have special abilities, sometimes with the phrase "At-Will" along side it. Abilities, such as a demon's Teleport Without Error are "At-Will". Codification of terminology was almost non-existent when the rules were written. In order to make fair's fair, I treat the bulk of Monster and PC special abilities the same way. That is, they can be used with a 1 segment cost if it is your turn to act (initiative). Therefore, if you lose initiative, you cannot use your at-will ability until it becomes your turn. When it is your turn, you can use the ability at a cost of 1 segment in addition to a host of other actions such as attack routines, movement, magical devices, shouting commands, etc.

  • DM fiat bridges all gaps in these rules.

  • Examples: I rule that Paladinic Lay on Hands, Clerical Turn Undead, Dragon Breath and Demonic Teleportation all take 1 segment and are essentially At-Will. Thus they can be used in addition to other activities during the round (such as attack routines, movement, magical device activation and so on)

  • But Bardic Legend Lore implies study of an object (1 turn or more in my opinion). Bardic Charm implies a minimum of 1 round signing so that would be another exception, where the "special ability" is neither instantaneous nor At-Will.

  • Treatment of Special Abilities therefore require both wise adjudication and consistency in your approach but will ultimately enrich the round when timing becomes critical as we will see when we get into Combat further below.

THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class Zero)

  • If you understand Armor Class, THAC0 is a way of calculating your chances to-hit in reverse. (!@#$...yes I know, but I'm going to explain WHY this is so useful) Instead of Adding all your bonuses (as I explained under the Armor Class section), with THAC0 you SUBTRACT them. The advantage to doing this is that it generates the precise target number you need to roll (whereas addition does not). See DMG74 for relevant tables.

  • Example: You have a 1st level Fighter with a STR of 17. She is using a two-handed sword. Out jumps an exceptionally shitty goblin. Despite being crap, he still has an AC of 6.

  • The THAC0 of a first level fighter is 20 (DMG74)

  • So you could roll a d20 and add 6 to the roll and if the result was 20 or higher, you know you hit.

  • But if you use THAC0, it allows you to dump in a bunch of extra modifiers and arrive at a target number like so:

  • Base THAC0 of fighter (20) minus the 17 STR bonus (+1) minus goblin's AC (6) minus two-handed sword's bonus to hit AC 6 (+3) [PHB38]. 20 - 1 - 6 - 3 = 10. You need a 10 to hit the goblin. Let me reiterate the bonuses to hit various armor classes by weapon type are listed (PHB38). If you don't play with these rules, you will have a MUCH harder time hitting enemies.

  • Example 2: Plurb, the 5th level fighter has a 7 STR (because of a temporary curse). He is using a club (a branch really because he was also robbed). Sadly, a Red Dragon has descended on him at this inopportune time. Plurb's Base THAC0 is 16 (DMG74 Special Note Regarding Fighters' Progression). So THAC0 (16) minus the 7 STR penalty (-1) minus the dragon's AC (-1) minus the club's penalty to hit that armor class (-7) = 25. Plurb must roll a 25. This is impossible. Except...

  • (see DMG74). An unmodified to-hit roll of 20 counts for five steps into the "un-hittable" range. Therefore, Plurb can still hit the dragon if he rolls a 20. If the dragon's AC was -3, Plurb would be entirely out of luck.

  • There is a misconception that rolling a 1 to-hit is always a miss. There is no such rule. That rule does applies to Saving Throws. Sometimes a to-hit roll is not necessary as the PC or Monster will automatically hit. There is no such thing as a fumble or critical hit in AD&D. Gygax was against them. And mathematically they are terrible for the game. Like no, you don't understand. Laws of probability mean they are awful for your precious player characters. But that is a whole other discussion. Human's like a LOT of things that run opposite to their best smoking for example. In my game, we compromise by saying a nat 20 deals the maximum possible damage the dice can generate. I have killed characters with this rule because Players want it that way. Smoke up, Johnny!

  • THAC0 is often adjusted by situational modifiers:

  • Cover [or] Concealment (variable) [DMG64]

  • Attacking from the Rear (+2)

  • Flanking (+1)

  • Scared (-1)

  • Thief Backstab (+4)

  • Blind (-4)

  • Raging (+1)

  • Greatly Intoxicated (-5) [DMG82]

  • Medium Range Missile (-2) [PHB38]

  • Long Range Missile (-5) [PHB38]

  • etc.

Weapon Proficiency (PHB37)

  • I recommend my players begin with one or two weapons and reserve any extra slots for weapons they may find while adventuring. Weapons of proficiency encourage the sharing of gear and offer trade-offs when magical objects are found.




  • AD&D tracks duration of spell effects and other events with game-specific terminology:

  • 1 Turn = 10 rounds

  • 1 Round = 10 segments

  • 1 Segment = 6 seconds

Therefore a turn is 10 minutes. A round is 1 minute. A segment is 6 seconds. Memorize this or fail at AD&D.

Many of AD&D's checks and balances rely on imposing time-related costs and tracking time accurately. Let me put this more clearly. If you don't have a calendar and don't track time carefully, many of the principal elements of AD&D's systems will utterly fail.

Casting a Wish ages you 3 years, which requires a system shock check to avoid death. Aging modifies your ability scores. In my current game, I've had a PC die of old age. It was glorious and well-deserved.

Let that one marinate.


  • AD&D makes a big deal out of money. Money = experience points. It also limits whether you can cast certain spells, craft magic items, raise an army, build a keep, and so on.

  • Wall of Force is a ridiculous spell. You should always cast it in every battle each and every time.

  • It's material component is a pinch of powdered diamond for which no price is listed, but:

  • Glyph of Warding lists powdered diamond at 2,000GP

  • Spiritwrack lists powdered rubies at 5,000GP

  • Symbol lists powdered diamond at 5,000GP but you also need powdered black opal for a total of 10,000GP.

  • My personal ruling? Casting Wall of Force is more useful than Symbol. Wall of Force therefore costs 10,000GP

  • Am I a jerk? Wall of Force costs 10,000GP to cast.

Money and Time are SUPPOSED to drive game balance in AD&D. Disregard them at your peril.

Initiative (The number on the die is NOT the number you are looking for)

It may seem inconceivable the most commonly used mechanics of AD&D (Combat) are also the most difficult to parse and most widely contested. Adherents all have their positions and each one is dug in like an Alabama tick. There is NO convincing them to change and I will not try. Here is how we do it in the spirit of the RAW without creating paradoxes and contradictions to which there are no answers. I cannot vouch for other interpretations, nor can I say they don't work as well. Just reminding you this is how we roll and it is fast, agile, smooth and drama-free (unless you're playing with Monte). Sorry, that's a joke for my players and no one else. If you are NEW to AD&D and its concepts, I can assure you the following will not produce a bad time. And, with practice, it will become clear how the whole of the combat systems actually clicks along like a well-oiled get the idea.

  • Initiative is diced for at the beginning of EVERY round.

  • Initiative is a group roll: party die vs enemy die.

  • Roll 1d6.

  • Ties are determined by weapon speed factor (more on that later).

  • The number you arrive at is the number that INFLUENCES initiative but does NOT DETERMINE who swings first.

  • Read that one again. No really. Read it again.

  • So then, you can WIN initiative and STILL strike last? YES.

  • Read that one again. Patience grasshopper. All things in time.

  • After both sides roll 1d6 take the loser's die and subtract it from 6. The result is the number of segments the winner has to work with. (This is taken more or less from DMG65 point #2 under Spell Casting During Melee and is my way of ensuring casters are properly challenged). LOOK HERE. Use it in good health.

  • If the loser's die comes up a 4, the winners have 2 segments before it's the other team's turn. That should be simple enough.

  • After the winners use their segments, initiative is said to change sides and the losers get what's left of the first six segments of the round. So in the case above, after the winners use two segments, the losers can spend 4 segments doing their stuff.

  • The last 3 segments of the round represent my definition of "end of round" where we wrap up residual movement, final attacks, and resolve any spells, devices, potion onset times and so forth.

  • Example:

  • A-Team rolls a 2. B-Team rolls a 6. Therefore, B-Team wins and gets 4 segments (24 seconds) to do stuff. After their turn, B-Team will get 2 segments (12 seconds) to act. After this, everyone gets to move out their remaining movement (if it matters I let initiative winners move their pieces first) and take care of end of round stuff (like the second arrow from a bow).

  • Break the example from above down even more:

  • After rolling initiative, Abner uses 1 segment to close 10' on Balto. Abner then tries to hit Balto. Abner has now spent his 2 segments and is done. Aleksi, on the other hand cast Magic Missile (which launched at end of segment one) and then used segment two to retreat 20' behind a pillar for cover (+2 AC) [DMG64]. Finally, Angus who is not in melee, fired his bow on segment one and then pulled out a Potion of Speed (DM fiat says digging out the potion cost 1 segment so Angus has not drunk it yet but now has it in hand and his turn is done).

  • || Initiative changes sides. After segment 2, B-Team gets 4 segments ||

  • Bertha had also declared Magic Missile. Her missile launched on segment one at the same time as Aleksi's. (This contradicts DMG65 where it states "commencement [of spellcasting] is dictated by initiative determination as with other attack forms" but if the caster must wait 4 segments to begin a 3 segment spell I find this too punishing. Magic-Users in AD&D are relentlessly punished by Gygax. It is a bias taken too far. You will find a more satisfying rhythm to spell casting in the lenience I provide----while still canceling a good amount of spells.) Bertha then, on segment 3, when her team's turn begins, is free to pull out her wand of magic missiles. She does so. Wands take 1 segment to fire. Therefore, on segment 4 Bertha's wand fires one missile at Abner and deals damage. On segments 5--6 Bertha retreats to a position of cover. Meanwhile, Balto already swung his mace at Abner on segment 3 and connected. On segment 4 Balto decided to flee (which gives Abner a second attack at +4 to-hit) [DMG70 Breaking off From Melee]. Sadly, Abner misses. A brief argument breaks out among the PCs who yell at Balto that he should NOT flee. Balto listens to them and moves no further. Balto is now standing his ground. Finally, Bigby who saw Aleksi retreat on segment 2 darts into the shadows. Bigy uses segments 3--5 to cover 60' of terrain along the periphery of the dark hall and comes up behind Aleksi. On segment 6 Bigby backstabs Aleksi. Aleksi dies.

  • || The first 6 segments of the round are now over and it's clean up time ||

  • Angus gulps his potion on segment 7 and rolls 1d4+1 resulting in a 5. 7+5=12, therefore Angus' Potion of Speed will not take effect this round (there are only 10 segments in a round). It will instead imbue Angus with speed on the second segment of the following round (when Angus will have to make a System Shock Check to avoid a heart attack caused by the potion's magic----see DMG127 as the Potion of Speed ages Angus 1 year). But Angus does not have to stand around in the meantime. On segment 8 he fires his remaining arrow and on segments 9--10 he opts to move, repositioning himself at the column where Aleksi just died. Angus is now in base to base contact with Bigby. Bigby might still have movement left and could therefore attempt to flee. But if he does, Angus will get an attack of opportunity. Therefore, Bigby opts for a fighting retreat (aka Falling Back at half speed----see PHB104 last paragraph). Pulling back without exposing himself, Bigby moves right past Balto. Because Agnus has chosen to follow Bigby, Angus is now also in base-to-base contact with Balto. Angus is now in melee with both Bigby and Balto. If Angus pursues Bigby any further (thus breaking off from Balto) Balto will get an attack of opportunity on Angus. Angus, realizing he is tricked, lets Bigby go and remains engaged with Balto. The upside? In cooperation with Abner, Balto is now flanked.

  • That is ONE round of AD&D combat. A lot can happen. It is highly tactical.

  • Breaking a Tie

  • Initiative Ties are broken by Weapon Speed. The lower the weapon's speed, the faster the weapon is. Daggers are SF2. Longswords are SF5. Maces are SF8. Claymores are SF10. (PHB38)

  • If the difference is at least twice the factor of the lower-factored weapon (or five or more in any case) the lower factored weapon is entitled to TWO attacks before the slower weapon (DMG66). Ergo, on Tied dice, daggers go twice vs longswords and maces before the slower weapons are able to strike at all. If the difference is 10 or greater a third attack is allowed at the SAME TIME as the slower weapon. I modify this to divisible by four as it's easier to calculate and generates slightly more opportunity for play.

  • There is no speed factor for claws and bites but such attacks are always faster than weapons. Ergo, vs monsters without weapons the monsters win on tied dice.

  • Tied dice represent a unique round. Therefore, on tied dice, I simply freeze all participants; let missiles fire first; let spells launch on the segment dictated by casting time; force all melee blows to resolve in sequence on the segment indicated by the tied dice; and then (after that segment is over) do a clean up phase with simultaneous movement, final missile fire, device-use etc. If order is important during clean up I give preference to the participant with the faster speed factor.


Here's where I explain how you can win initiative and still not swing first...though by now you might have an inkling related to spells with quick casting times. And you'd be right.

  • Caveat the first: The participant with the highest number of attacks always goes first

  • A Chimera gets 6 attacks per round. Therefore you will NEVER truly win initiative against a Chimera unless you have a sword of quickness. (DMG63 for First and Third / Second and Last Mechanics)

  • If the Chimera LOSES the initiative, I typically let it attack twice on its first turn. Then after the party goes, the Chimera gets to clean up with its remaining 4 attacks at end of round.

  • If the Chimera WINS initiative, the distribution will be even: 3 attacks now and 3 at end of round. You should now be able to read DMG63 and understand first and third / second and last mechanics.

  • Caveat the second: Missiles go first

  • Bows shoot twice per round and therefore would always go first against opponents with only 1 attack per round. I extend this rule to all missiles because:

  • Missiles cannot be used when bases are touching (during melee) but should be able to strike charging opponents before they arrive...much like the rules for Charging (DMG66) which states at the end of a charge the weapon with the longest reach goes first. Missiles have the longest reach. Period. Therefore, I treat all missiles as Spells with 1 segment casting times. This has the following benifits:

  • It makes missile fire part of a routine or "phase" at beginning of round. Once the phase ends, you can move on to the more intricate parts of the round (Just remember to come back at the end for Bows and Darts as they will get the remainder of their shots provided the battlefield has not changed in such a way as to disallow them. E.g. the shooter is now in melee)

  • It provides a chance to interrupt even spells with 1 segment casting times, thus creating a good check/balance vs casters.

  • Caveat the third: Spells are their own thing

  • See Spell Casting Below

  • Caveat the fourth: Sometimes other stuff matters

  • Swords of Quickness, Potions of Speed, Slow Spells, Charging (Charges are fully detailed on DMG66), and other conditions will alter who gets to swing first. The Wise DM will handle all of these in turn fairly and with an eye not toward winning but toward fairness, cooperation and support of his players.

Spell Casting

  • Spell casters launch spells on the segment of the round indicated by the spell's casting time.

  • Therefore, regardless of initiative roll, the PC's Fireball launches at the end of segment 3 during the combat round.

  • Although the DMG says spells are interrupted if the PC takes ANY damage during casting, I rule this extends to any segment prior to the spell's completion during the round in which it is cast. (In other words, damaging the MU during the round on ANY segment prior to the spell's completion ruins the spell) So, if the MU announces prior to initiative (see DMG65 Spell Casting During Melee #1) that she will be casting Mirror Image (casting time 2 segments), the spell will be spoiled (and erased from memory) if the MU is hit during segment 1 or segment 2 of the round. BUT, if the MU waits 4 segments and then casts it (4 + 2 = end of segment 6) the spell will also be wasted if the MU is hit at any point during those 6 segments. Bottom line, delaying spell casting during the round is always risky.

  • Examples and Caveats:

  • Aleksi the Magic-User (before Bigby killed him) was casting Fireball in a different battle. His team won initiative. Aleksi decided to move prior to beginning the 3 segment casting time. Therefore the Fireball would launch after movement + casting time. E.g.: Aleksi with MV12 wins initiative with 4 segments to act. He decides to move 20' and then cast the spell. MV12 = 20' per segment. Ergo, the Fireball will now launch at the end of segment 4.

  • If the PC LOSES initiative and wants to move prior to casting, they would have to wait until it was their turn.

  • E.g. the party lost initiative and cannot act until segment 4. Unfortunately, Aleksi is in a poor position to cast his Fireball. He needs to move position before the spell will be effective. Normally his spell would fire on segment 3. But he must now wait until segment 4, when it is his turn, so that he can move. On segment 4, Aleksi moves across the cavern, climbs a ladder and positions himself on an outcrop prior to launching the Fireball. Based on the map, that movement takes him 4 segments. Therefore, assuming Aleksi has taken no damage during the round, he could finally begin casting the fireball at the beginning of segment 9. Whoa. 9 + 3 = 11. There are only ten segments in the round! So the fire ball will now launch at the end of segment 1 on round 2 (provided the MU is not interrupted for the remainder of this round AND the first segment of the next).

  • If this all sounds difficult to keep track of, it's not. You just need the right tool. I posted it earlier and now I will post it again: LOOK HERE.

  • Even if casting times allow, no more than ONE spell can be cast during the combat round.

Surprise (see Dexterity above for additional important information)

How to roll and how long surprise lasts is also touched on under DEX (Character Creation). Here I cover what you DO during surprise.

  • Surprise is usually diced for by each character at the beginning of combat prior to Initiative

  • Often rolled for each PC individually.

  • If no one is surprised [or] if everyone is surprised equally, skip surprise and move to Initiative.

  • Unequally surprised participants cancel out irrelevant segments:

  • I'm surprised for 1 segment and you're surprised for 2 segments actually means that I'm NOT surprised and you're surprised for 1 segment. I hope that makes sense.

  • Combatants that are Surprised lose 1 segment to their attackers.

  • Combatants that are Completely Surprised lose 2 segments (again, see DEX under Character Creation above)

  • Each segment of surprise is treated like a full round (with some caveats). Therefore each segment can be used to begin casting spells by non-surprised participants [or] to cast a 1 segment spell in its entirety.

  • Magic Missiles can therefore go off once during each segment of surprise and a third time during the first round of combat (if the caster has memorized it that many times)

  • OR you could start casting fireball (casting time: 3 segments) during the surprise segments.

  • If your opponent is surprised for 1 segment, your fireball's casting time rolls over into the first round of combat and launches at the end of segment 2 (unless interrupted).

  • If your opponent is surprised for 2 segments, your fireball launches at the end of segment 1 on the first round of combat (unless interrupted).

  • Each surprise segment could also be spent moving, using a magical device, etc.

  • The distance you can move in 1 segment is covered under Movement in Character Creation (above)

  • If your opponent is surprised, you can automatically flee (and even if you are in base-to-base contact, you can run away without incurring an attack of opportunity----see DMG70 "Breaking off From Melee)

  • You could also try to hide before you are noticed since surprise indicates the enemy is unaware. Or you could just straight up backstab/assassinate.

  • The time it takes to activate or use magical devices is hard to find. (Check DMG potions: p125 | scrolls: p128 | wands: 135 | Rods: 132 | Staves: 133)

  • If a potion is in hand, it takes 1 segment to drink, but 1d4+1 segments to TAKE EFFECT. (Yes, you could drink a potion of healing and die before it takes effect and NO, it will not bring you back to life). Scrolls take longer to read. Rings, Rods and Staves require 2 segments. Wands typically need 1 segment. If these objects are in pouches or packs, the DM will add 1 or 2 segments to the activation time. Therefore, depending on the situation, some devices might be able to trigger during a single surprise segment. Otherwise their times will roll over into the next combat round just like spells.

  • Physical attack routines treat 1 segment of surprise as a full round. Ergo, the Chimera gets to attack the surprised fighter with all 6 of its various attacks during a surprise segment. This DM usually applies a 1 segment cost to special abilities, therefore the Chimera could also breathe on the fighter (but could not then also bite with the dragon head during the same segment).

  • As mentioned above, surprise also means that characters capable of doing so can backstab/assassinate.

  • Missiles can also be fired during surprise segments as if the surprise segment was a full round. There are advanced rules to this but I'm not covering them in this post.

Knick Knack Mechanics and Systems

Look Here. Use it in good health.
  • This will be a "The More You Know" section of hand-picked systems I rely on constantly.

  • Dual Wielding (DMG70)

  • Item Saving Throws (DMG80)

  • Potion Miscibility (DMG119)

  • Turn Undead Charts (DMG75) two options are listed: standard or hard variant

  • Any monster with STR 18.oo or greater [or] any very powerful impact may destroy gear. This is called a Crushing Blow. Refer to Item Saving Throws above.

  • Magic from rings function at 12th level; Rods and Staves at 8th level; Wands at 6th level

  • Memorization of Spells requires rest based on the level of spells to be memorized (DMG40 Recovery of Spells). If that rest is interrupted by random encounters, recovery will not be possible until uninterrupted rest is obtained.

The Big Picture

AD&D was not designed to be a linear story and certainly not a short story. AD&D is designed to account for years, decades, even centuries of game time. The characters are meant to come and go. Some will die young. Others will rise to unbelievable heights. Some will grow old and die. Some will have children who take up the old man's sword.

It is not just the combat and the systems that are different about 1st Ed gaming. It is the approach. This is tactical survival. Win some, lose some. Characters come and go.

Begin small. Begin humble. Characters will achieve greatness over time, allowing you (as DM) to create more of the world between games. Instead of reading my blog, or someone else's blog, read the Dungeon Master's Guide. Go to the source. Devour it. Relish it. It is ungainly. But it is a masterwork.

  • Begin on Page 7 of the DMG at the Preface.

  • Ignore the claim of the Introduction that this book is simple and straightforward. That is a lie.

  • Skip ahead to page 28 and look at the hirelings on offer. Wait what? I can hire an alchemist? A spy? The list is long and should help you understand the scope this game is attempting to simulate. This game is not about a band of heroic characters. It is about an entire world that, through player choice and creativity can be interacted with to bring about stunning events and outcomes. Outcomes that you will not plan ahead of time, but discover through play.

  • Read on page 38 about Time In The Campaign. It will help you understand why it is important and once again underscore the scope of this system.

  • Now skip to page 86 and read about The Campaign. Setting Things In Motion. Climate and Ecology.

  • Move on to page 90 and read about Economics. Muse over Monster Populations and Placement. Read Placement of Monetary Treasure. Placement of Magic Items. Read Territory Development by Player Characters on page 93.

  • Look at the sample dungeon on page 94 thru 96.

  • Read The First Dungeon Adventure on page 96.

  • The concept of a Lead Character is somewhat outdated but read the adventure that unfolds on pages 97 thru 100. By doing so you will come to understand that even a spider is a terror in AD&D and the adventure is perilous, tense, and (despite being a ton of fun) serious business.

  • Magical Research is covered in DMG page 114 but I have expounded on this concept here at the Blue Bard.

  • Take time to actually read and digest the magical items found in the Dungeon Master's Guide (pages 125 thru 169). You will come to learn a great deal about mechanics, about how very little comes for free, about how there are almost always caveats and trade-offs. Why? Because if you have a wand that is 100% spectacular, what's the point of finding another wand? Discovery, exploration, hunger, mystery and threats. These are central to the ongoing game. This sword or that sword should be a question Players ask themselves and perhaps the best answer you can hope for them to reach is, "Well, it depends..."

  • Only after you have read the sections I've listed above would I recommend you to go back and dig into other pages. There are treasures everywhere. Scattered. Hidden. Waiting to fill you with inspiration.

  • There are no short-cuts to this. But you should enjoy every moment of the journey. My advice is to turn off your critical brain for the first delve. Try simply to appreciate the gist of what's being said. Let your thoughts wander over the possibilities being proposed.

  • Once you have a grasp on the core systems I've outlined above, the ones that allow you run combat and explore spaces, both urban and wild, you can and probably should re-read some of my blog posts if they help. Otherwise, just focus on the DMG and PHB. Take notes and use highlighter.

  • After that, find yourself a copy of old school AD&D modules G1, G2, G3, D1, D2, D3. These are the master works from which you will learn about how a campaign can be forged, what terror looks like, and how to pull your players into the world. T1: The Village of Hommlet is another module you should absolutely read. U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, is another. Only after digesting these would I recommend more esoteric fare: WG4: The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun and its companion S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. All of these will help you understand how AD&D works by providing context to the rules we've explored in this blog post.

Thanks, Anthony, I think? I'm honestly still not sure how to get started.

Fair. So do this. Get your hands on U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. Read it and mark it up. Re-read this blog post. Then just try to run that adventure for a brand new crew of players. See what happens. It is a very good adventure, which puts the odds in your favor.

Then, while you are running it, try to expand the world between games. Riff on the content. Extrapolate. Add more NPCs and new locations. Seed the module with trailheads that point to the new content you have created. Lead the players off the module and into your hand-written notes. When you realize they are having even more fun with what you created you will gain confidence.

Finally, remember that as the DM you are not Geased to shoulder all the burden. As you learn the system, include the Players in your attempts to sort out the procedures and resolve thorny combat situations. Through this cooperative approach, your players become even more invested in both the system and participation in general.

I know I've repeated myself here from earlier blog offerings. It's partly why I don't post as often. I don't want to just repeat myself. I'm also SO busy working on the Castle of the Silver Prince. But, like I said, this was a requested blog topic so...I tried my best with the time I could spare.

I hope it helps at least one soul.


And Happy Gaming.

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