Ten Suggestions for Survival in AD&D 1e

While reading the reddit forums (especially r/DnD and r/DMacademy) I’ve seen the occasional poster who is interested in trying the  older versions of AD&D to see how it is different from the Latest, Sucktacular 5e.    Usually the 5e hordes try to dissuade them by telling them it is just ‘too hard’ or ‘you can’t survive’ or ‘why not play the newest, everyone does?’.    They are often aided and abetted by old time players that had advesarial to outright hostile DM’s and think that was how ALL 1e was played (A common refrain is ‘we never named a character until 3rd of 4th level’ from these folks).

Modern 5e is homogenized, pasturized, sanitized, politically corrected and balanced into blandness.  1st levels have the power of about a 3rd level PC in 1e terms and it is incredibly hard to die (death saves).   Older AD&D can be combat heavy, and it can be deadly, but it is not the non-stop shit-fest of PC death that modern gamers make it out to be.     So if you want to try the earlier versions, and aren’t afraid that your character will die for doing something stupid, here’s a few survival tips for each class (excepting monk, assassin, bard which few 1e folks played and I am not familiar with their special tactics.    Without further Ado, the Ten Suggestions for Survival in AD&D 1e.


  1. Fighters…you are a low-level character, not Gonad,er, Conan the Barbarian! You do not have Conan’s plot-armor and can die…remember this! Testosterone-laden charges down hallways and kicking in doors without preparation will lead to death in pit traps and outnumbered by monsters death respectively!
  2. Rangers…use your bow! Unless surprised or in immediate melee range, try to get off a shot before engaging. With a longbow, you get 2 arrows/round…and that is a decent amount of damage before the battle even gets going. If they have casters or their own ranged attackers, target them first to minimize risk. In melee, don’t waste time trying to open range, use your melee weapon, you ARE a fighter subclass.
  3. Paladins…stay damned close to your fellow front-line combattants! Remember, your 10′ Protection from Evil will help your party and hinder evil foes, as long as you stay within range of them. Also, if a fellow front-liner goes down, don’t be shy about Laying on of Hands if you are not directly engaged with an enemy…bringing them back to near full health means another blade back on the front line.
  4. Thieves…Use your skills! Scout ahead if in doubt. Move silently, hide in shadows and go out a bit ahead of the party and report back if you see hear anything. Listen at doors, check for traps. If you think there is a battle about to start, hide in shadows and back stab enemy casters/leaders.
  5. Clerics…Yes, you have fighter-grade armor and decent weapons, but you are NOT a fighter! You should only be swinging a weapon if you are out of spells, monsters break through your front line and engage, or to defend your magic-user. You are FAR better utilized keeping the fighters healed, binding downed party members wounds or tossing off hold person if you have it memorized. Later, at higher levels when everyone has more HP to soak up damage, you can wade into the melee, but at low-levels your healing is crucial to survival
  6. Druids…armorwise, you are on-par with a thief, but with better combat skills. Much like the Cleric, initially you should be healing at first. Then concentrate on crowd control (entangle), but be prepared to fill in a gap on the line if a fighter goes down. Consider a missile weapon for those out of spell moments.
  7. Magic-Users…you are squishy and at low-levels and a one-shot wonder. Sure, at higher levels you are going to come into your own, but right now, Merlin you ain’t. My advice, learn magic missile. It auto hits, no save and does 2-5 damage. Not a lot, but with a decent roll, you can drop kobolds or goblins (or at least make them reconsider fighting). You ALSO get additional missiles as you level up. Take dart proficiency first over staff or dagger. That way, when you run out of spells, you can hang back and throw darts at wounded enemies. Yes, your chance to hit is low as is your damage, but you are not going to get melee attacked and you might finish off a wounded foe and that is one less attack on your fellow party members. If the enemy has missile weapons, do not be afraid to take cover…one arrow CAN kill you on a good damage roll.
  8. Illusionists…Same thing as Magic-Users, just swap out Magic-Missile with Color Spray or Phantasmal Forces.   Both have ranged abilities and cast correctly, hit multiple targers.   However Color Spray being a cone-effect, means the Illusionist must expose his character to attack rather than hide behind the front line fighters.
  9. General…ALWAYS have the following items: A few flasks of oil and flint & Steel. Nothing demoralizes a pack of monsters like setting them on fire…or discorages pursuit if dropped behind the party while fleeing. and later on in your career it is good for trolls. Holy Water is expensive at first, but if you accidentally encounter undead and fail a turn undead roll, priceless. Rope, in case you need to climb up somewhere or to haul a party member out of a pit. 10′ Pole, Know the old saying ‘I wouldn’t touch it with a 10′ pole’? You will want to touch things with this, a lot of things! Great for setting off traps at range, checking the floors for pit traps (noisy but doable in a pinch), seeing how deep water is and whether that black ‘portal’ is a portal or a sphere of annilhation before you dive in.
  10. General…Talk to enemies that want to parley, but remain vigilant. They aren’t necessarily very bright, and sometimes will try to ambush you while talking, but they know when they are outclassed and will often negotiate. Sometimes you can get them to leave the area or learn important things about the area, or maybe get help against mutual enemies. Not all encounters have to end with monsters bleeding on the floor.

And a bit of freebie advice for everyone… DO NOT BE AFRAID TO RUN AWAY / FALL BACK FIGHTING / STRATEGICALLY WITHDRAW / etc.   If things are hopeless enough that your party is considering fleeing, then you are most likely correct, it is time to get out.   Live to fight another day and learn from your mistake.   Remember, only YOU can avoid a Total Party Kill scenario.

The Gamemaster

A role-playing gamer / gamemaster since D&D / AD&D. Took a ‘brief’ hiatus from RPG gaming starting around the time AD&D 2e released in 1989 but came back to the hobby.

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