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Background: I've been playing RPGs for a long time and I've been playing AD&D for years. I enjoyed both the original D&D and D&D3/3.5/Pathfinder, other than (especially) tons of other games that are not relevant for this question.

What advantages are there to choosing AD&D over D&D3? At face value I can only see:

  • nostalgia
  • already knowing the rules
  • going on with an old campaign
  • wanting to play specific difficult-to-convert module(s)

What reasons exist beyond the above reasons I've already identified?

To me it feels like it has very complex and senseless rules, patches over patches over patches, and most of those have been cleanly fixed by D&D3. It feels like the worst of both worlds between the (relative) neatness of D&D3 and the primordial ooze which was the Original D&D.

In comparison while I feel that D&D3 has many many flaws, I cannot think of any such flaw which isn't also present in AD&D, while the opposite doesn't hold true. Despite playing it for years, I couldn't find any single feature which AD&D does better than D&D3 with the exception – which might or might not be an house or optional rule – of Clerics not being required to pre-select the spells like the Mages.

Since many people still play it, I assume there are some features that make it preferable in some situations over D&D3, and I'd like to know what they are.

Disclaimer: This is not a rant. If you think it is, then please accept that I didn't mean it to be, and I just wasn't able to convey my question clearly enough. My mistake.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 36 down vote accepted

This question is very much about personal preference; therefore there isn't going to be a "right answer" or "solution." Here are my reasons for still playing:

  1. AD&D 1e is the last edition where a player's skill during the game mattered more than their skill during the character creation process (if we ignore some of the changes introduced by Unearthed Arcana, which I do). Standard character creation methods leave no room to min-max or optimize character builds.
  2. AD&D is a far more modular game than more recent D&D iterations -- bits and pieces of it can be hacked or removed (and completely new bits inserted) without upsetting the system's balance. Some would argue that this simply reflects a lack of balance; I think it's because the core experience of the game has nothing to do with many of these systems.[1]
  3. AD&D often plays better not as a combat-centric game, but as an exploration-centric game in which the outcome of combat must occasionally be adjudicated. This explains the XP system, the rigorous systematization of movement outside of combat (rather than inside), the resource management/encumbrance rules, and perhaps even the organization of the rule-books themselves.
  4. AD&D does not make the player feel heroic by default; it is a bloody and desperate affair until the party earns their money/power. It also doesn't pre-judge what activities should be the domain of adventurers -- anything that makes a buck is fair game (except for paladins).

Of course, there's plenty more that could be said -- and other people will have completely different lists and/or look at this list and only see evidence that 3E is superior. Like I said at the beginning, there are no right answers.

[1] OD&D has this too, of course, but AD&D comes pre-packaged with systems (e.g., psionics, grappling) just begging to be hacked.

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Very nice, concise summary. And without getting into value judgements! I'm impressed, and I now feel no need to write an answer of my own despite this subject being near and dear to my heart. –  SevenSidedDie Mar 25 at 18:03
Why was 1e, and not 2e, the last edition where skill at playing meant more than skill at creation? What do you believe made the difference? –  The Spooniest Mar 25 at 21:38
@TheSpooniest 2e added many more customisation options, even in just the PHB, but especially if you consider the supplements. It also added point-buy stats as an option. You could play it very much like 1e, but the defaults were much more like 3e and gave much of the same ability to tune and tweak a new PC "for success" before play even started. –  SevenSidedDie Mar 25 at 23:32
@Spooniest What SevenSidedDie said; the problem started with Unearthed Arcana and went into overdrive with the 2e splat-books (e.g.m the Complete series). –  Craddoke Mar 26 at 1:28
+1 for point out different style vs "better". –  Allen Gould Mar 26 at 20:03

There are three reasons I can immediately think of that apply to new players - they're the reasons that my group started with an earlier edition of D&D, rather than later ones. Early D&D has much simpler and faster combat, with most attacks just being a roll of 1d20, a table lookup, and a damage roll if successful. Spells require a save or attack roll, and maybe a damage roll. For new groups or large groups, it flows easier. Also, new DMs don't need to learn as much to have simple combat. Mostly at higher levels, WotC D&D takes a lot more time, especially for player decision-making, and the higher complexity also requires more system mastery of the DM and players.

D&D 3.x also has many more classes, spells and other options with strange interactions. First edition didn't have as much focus on RAW, so a rules-based exploit would be quickly shut down by a DM, even a new one, if it didn't make sense in-world. But 3.x has a fair number of Pun-Pun possibilities, which are often hard for a new DM to avoid easily, especially since (to a novice) they don't always seem so dangerous until after it's too late.

Lastly, when my group started, we wanted to play without miniatures. Nowadays we use them for large battles, but they aren't ever necessary and most fights go just as smoothly, and even a little quicker, without them. The lack of necessary investment makes it easier to play AD&D out of the box.

None of this is necessarily true for every group, but it's what worked for us, and I think in our case we made the right choice.

A lot of the time, though, people simply started with an earlier edition of D&D and don't want to move on. It sounds like you might not like D&D 4e, or 3.5e, since you don't mention playing them, or simply didn't bother trying them because you were happy with the edition you were already using.

Lastly, some of the things you may like about 3rd edition (and some of the 'flaws' in AD&D) might be viewed differently by different groups. I personally don't like the encounter xp budget systems in later editions, even though other people really like them, because it makes the world fit the party rather than the party adjust to the world. I like my group to judge threats and decide whether to fight or run, rather than just operating under the assumption that everything they meet is something they can kill. Similarly, other people don't like how long it takes to heal back HP, while I think having consequences last for a week rather than until the next rest makes combat more interesting, as the stakes are higher.

In the end, it's a matter of personal opinion for a lot of people.

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I mentioned 3.5e and Pathfinder in the "Background" preface, and I encompassed 4e in the "tons of other games that are not relevant for this question" expression, since I feel it is too different from the other ones to be relevant about that ;) –  Lohoris Mar 25 at 17:26
Having read it two times, I like and appreciate this answer, thanks :) –  Lohoris Mar 25 at 17:32
I agree with all, but want to emphasize the lack of miniatures. I simply prefer a theater of the mind type experience, and avoiding both the expense and complexity of miniatures was a big deal. –  TimothyAWiseman Mar 25 at 18:24
Every version of DnD has suggested the use of miniatures or character representation. 1e measured movement in inches so you could measure it out on a table. It's rules do stem from war gaming, after all. :p –  Squish Mar 26 at 16:07

I've stuck with an older version of the system for one simple reason: investment.

Rules, campaigns and adventures for older editions of D&D can be obtained at ridiculously low prices either second hand on in e-format direct from the publishers. For a tiny outlay, you can accumulate a vast treasure trove of material for your games.

A lot of this material is very good (not to say that modern stuff isn't, just pointing out that in terms of plot and imagination, the years haven't significantly raised the bar of progress). Some of it - like the best material in back issues of Dungeon - has no equivalent in the modern game in terms of style: there's an innocence and exuberance in it that's missing in more recent material.

If, like me, your GM skills don't extend to writing quality adventures, it's an absolute life (and money) saver.

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Very interesting take, I totally didn't consider the monetary aspect! –  Lohoris Mar 26 at 13:02
Thanks. It isn't just a financial decision, but a stylistic one. There's a fantastic innocence about some of the earlier material that's just not present in a lot of modern equivalents. I'll edit the answer to make this clear. –  Matt Thrower Mar 26 at 15:21

The reasons I would give are vary similar to Craddokes answer. I will comment that most gamers don't play AD&D by the book. In my experience the most common variation is the AD&D character options, items, spells, and creature combined with OD&D/BECMI style combat leavened with a handful of rules from the DMG.

This is due what I considered the poor presentation of much of the combat system in the DMG. You can read one detailed interpretation of the by the book rules in the ADDICT Document.

However this variation has proven very popular and allowed AD&D to endure in popularity to this day.

The OSRIC, Adventure Dark and Deep or Advanced Edition Companion, are some example of cleaned up retro clones of AD&D first edition.

I will advise anybody using AD&D first edition for the first time to read Matt Finch's Old School Primer. It very helpful in understanding how to apply the rules light older editions in a campaign.

And for those interested, like all RPGs AD&D abstracts combat, and characters to make a playable game. What many don't realizes that AD&D is a result of several years of development starting with Dave Arneson's original Blackmoor campaign. This development is why AD&D has the mechanics it does.

When Dave Arneson wanted to run a Welsey style Braustein game of his own he opted to set it in a medieval castle and town called Blackmoor. The starting point for his rules was the Chainmail miniature wargame.

Chainmail had a fantasy supplement that not only allowed for fantastic monster to be incorporated but hero types (or anti-heroes as the case may be).

A Hero was worth four normal chainmail figures and took four hits to kill. A super hero was worth eight figures and took eight hits to kill. The one hit = one kill system proved too deadly so a d6 roll was substituted for damage. And hits to kill became 1d6 hit points.

In addition intermediate points were added to character progression. In the development of the Blackmoor and later the Greyhawk campaigns, characters no long jumped form being a veteran to a hero. But went through a progression where they jumped to being worth two veterans, then three, then finally they became a hero worth four veteran warriors.

The same system was applied to magic users. Later when the players of Blackmoor found it difficult to handle another player who became a vampire, David Fang, the cleric class was created. A combination of Van Helsing and Charlemagne's Bishop Turpin.

Knowing this helps a gamer realize that AD&D isn't just a random assemblage of mechanics but rather was grown through numerous play test campaigns in response to what the players were doing. Even when this is understood a gamer still may opt to pick another system that better suited to his sensibilities.

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It took me a while to figure out how this answers the question. Maybe that's just me, though. –  GMJoe Mar 26 at 3:45

Advantages are more of a subjective matter. What you consider pros/cons I may consider cons/pros. Having said that, these are the main differences from what I remember:

  • AD&D has less 'customization'. This is an advantage for the DM as there is less chance of a 'munchkin' character overshadowing other players. But some players will prefer this as they can come closer to the character they had in mind (instead of 'Joe the fighter' he could be 'Joe the dragon knight berserker').

  • AD&D magic items availability is much more restricted. This is an advantage for the DM as he/she can control what magic items the party has, no surprises. Some players will prefer the magic availability of D&D 3 in which they basically decide what magic items they want and many even plan their characters assuming they will have specific items (like characters specializing in critical attacks and knowing they will have a +critical sword).

  • AD&D is less 'tactical mat' required. You can easily play AD&D with just a small pad to throw dice on, and sketch rough maps on paper. D&D 3 almost requires you to use tactical battle mats.

In my case, I like D&D 3 but restricting it to core rules (thus lessening problem 1) and also removing/restricting magic item creation (problem 2)

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These limitations of AD&D help the DM in another way, in that it requires much less DM prep time when there's less customization available to your NPCs and monsters. One of the things I liked least about D&D3 is that it took too long for me to prepare feats, spells, etc. for major NPCs and some monster (like dragons). –  Bradd Szonye Mar 26 at 22:52
In some circumstances, lack of 3e-style "customisation" can also reduce the ability of players to create characters that come close to their concepts. While having elements of a character's concept being represented mechanically is definitely a benefit, it also sets the expectation that that's how elements of a character concept are represented, and thereby invalidates to some extent any character whose concept isn't adequately supported by the rules that are available. –  GMJoe Mar 27 at 1:46

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