1st Edition Dungeons and Dragons gives its players a few strategic options during character creation, many of which are restricted by randomly generated attributes. With this in mind, what are some ways to maximize a character's effectiveness, even with a mediocre set of attributes?

For instance:

  • What weapons and equipment available at start are most efficient and/or effective?
  • Are there especially potent race/class combinations?

10 Answers 10


Choosing a ridiculously over-powered race is important. There is no level adjustment in 1E.

Svirfneblin, Drow and Derro all gain innate spell casting powers, numerous bonuses and magic resistance! Dragonlance Minotaurs gain enourmous Str and Con.

The first edition Bard is also tasty... but I can't believe no one mentioned Psionics. Stupid and arbitrary rules thankfully prevent most from becoming Psionic... but the powers are basically free and overpowered.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Psionics: First-level characters can kill & incapacitate large numbers of high hit die, low INT creatures instantly with Psi Blast. I played for quite a while in a campaign where about half the PCs had psi, based on an eccentric reading of the rules to calculate chance of have psi - it required a whole lot of house ruling to maintain game interest, \$\endgroup\$ – Alticamelus Apr 3 '11 at 4:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ The Svirfneblin summon earth elemental power is really nice, and Drow can choose to be Cavaliers (very good with the Drow two weapon fighting ability). Was there a reference for Derro as PC? Svirfneblin and Drow are in the Unearthed Arcana. \$\endgroup\$ – ucbpaladin Nov 18 '19 at 21:16

Honestly, the Hackmaster Gamemaster's Guide is full of cheese, and is almost completely compatible with 1st Ed. AD&D, that being the system it is largely based on. Ridiculous magic items can bridge any gap in ability scores early on. If you're looking to really push your AD&D over the top, I can think of no better reference or inspiration.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with Zack all the way on this one. HM GM Guide is a great source of inspiration and a ton of fun to read. \$\endgroup\$ – no thanks Aug 29 '10 at 15:07

Most old schoolers curse Unearthed Arcana, because most of the player classes within (particularly, as mentioned, the Barbarian) are far more powerful than classes in the regular Players Handbook.

Weapon specialization, particularly the dreaded double specialization can be ridiculous when applied to bows. An elf with a bow and double specialization (if your clueless DM allows it!) will be a one-man wrecking crew.

And of course there is the old chestnut of having your 18+ STR fighter carry a bunch of darts around to use as missile weapons....three attacks a round, and as they are hand-held the fighter can include his damage bonus. A +3 dmg bonus leads to 4-6 pts per dart, for a whopping 12-18 pts a round in dart damage! Better than a longsword!

If your fighter can get away with not having a shield, choose a two handed sword or trident as a weapon. The damage vs "Large" creatures is ridiculous, and a couple of fighters swinging two handed swords (with the 3-18 dmg vs large creatures) or tridents (3-12 dmg) can quickly chop an ogre or even a giant to pieces in a few short rounds (even if the fighters are low level).

These are just combat "fixes", and just the tip of the iceberg, but remember that less "cheese" inhabits old school D&D than later editions.

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    \$\begingroup\$ AD&D rules do not apply Str to thrown weapons unless the DM provides such specialty weaponry. \$\endgroup\$ – Todd Sprang Sep 20 '14 at 2:15

I won a AD&D fight tournament back in the mid 80s with a high-level druid and a selection of magic items. I picked it because the combination of the druid's special powers and items made for a pretty broken combination. Special abilities + can use a scimitar + adequate spell casting (including entangle and other movement hindering spells) + the right items made the druid about the best class to powergame.


Play the barbarian from Dragon Magazine / Unearthed Arcana. They have the remarkable benefit of rolling 9d6 and keeping the three highest for Strength, with similar methods for Constitution and Dexterity. No magic items, but great surprise rolls. In general, Dragon is a good source for less balanced material.

However, you're not going to find the same degree of cheese you'd find in later editions of the game, for better or worse.


This depends on a host of factors.

The first thing to consider is what rulebooks are you using. Next you need to consider what ability score method is being used. Third the level you're starting at. Finally, the context.

To start I'll assume Player's Handbook, 3d6 in order, level 1, campaign play.

When you're doing 3d6 in order, it's really the dice that determine the class and race combination to - you need to pick what's optimal to increase your survivability.

If we make one tweak, and take one of the alternate rolling methods, like 3d6 6 times for each stat and pick the best one, you get a few more options. At this point multiclassing becomes a good option.

Another variation would be 3d6 arrange to taste, or 4d6 drop the lowest, arrange to taste. Here you might get one or two high scores. If your highest score is 13 or 14 a good choice is Cleric - you get good armour, Splint Mail puts you at AC 4, good weapons - Mace and Flail are always a good choice, and you get 1-2 bonus spells, making you among the most versatile characters possible.

If you've got scores in the 15-16 range, especially more than one, some of the other classes become viable. Thief with high scores in Con and Dex gives you a boost to hit points as well as AC on top of a boost to your regular thieving abilities.

If you're hitting 17-18, and especially 18, then Fighter and Wizard become some good options. Fighter thanks to percentile strength, Wizard thanks to having a good chance to learn spells and the potential to cast 9th level spells (if you start at 17, you'll probably get an age boost to 18 at some point).

Obviously the Cleric still benefits from higher scores as well, but is the optimum choice in the 13-14 range. Thief and Cleric are both options in the 15-16 range and all the base classes are good options at 17-18.

If you're stuck with 12 or lower, strangely the Thief ends up the best option. A Wizard is useless, a Fighter can wear barely any armour at that strength, a Cleric starts making mistakes, only the Thief can still do what it's good at with low scores across the board.

If you're starting at a higher level, or thinking about a tournament rather than campaign play, things change. Also, if you're taking non-core supplements, simply picking an overpowered race or class (especially in a front loaded game at low levels) will be easy, but I wouldn't consider that particularly sophisticate powergaming. The best kind is making use of the resources you have.


One way to raise effectiveness in AD&D is to reach outside the system; For example, where 3e would call for an Intimidate or Diplomacy skill check, AD&D has no mechanic for social coercion. In one game I ran, a character negotiated a deadly, trap-filled corridor by taking a knowledgeable NPC hostage and forcing him to lead the party past the traps.

While this is not a character build issue, it is a very effective way to "win or break" the game. (The only defense is for the GM to play NPCs as suicidally resistant.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ No upvote here: AD&D isn't an all-inclusive "system", so going outside the "system" is normal. This hostage example is good play, not broken play. That'd earn a -1, but the first line is correct and cancels it out: playing well does raise effectiveness. ;) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 6 '11 at 15:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hmm... no judgement was meant -- this is just the closest I can think of to "powergaming" for AD&D. (Other than lying about your stat rolls and having a monty haul GM.) \$\endgroup\$ – Sean McMillan Sep 7 '11 at 15:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think in the absence of skill checks, judicious use of attribute checks could be used on the fly in 1st AD&D - for example rolling 1d20 and adding Charisma + Strength modifiers to intimidate an NPC if the modified roll exceeds the difficulty level. \$\endgroup\$ – RobertF Nov 19 '17 at 16:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ What do you mean the only defense is for the GM to play NPCs as suicidally resistant? Among other things, the necessary NPC may not exist at all. A clever NPC could also probably find some way to lead the PCs into a trap he could evade. There may be traps the NPC didn't know about. Etc. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Aug 20 '19 at 19:24

just a passerby, having bought Carcosa recently and wanting to see how the ODD world taste... So, in the old days we used to play ADD 1th ed in a very hardcore and higly powered setting. Our basic dungeon level was level 12-14.

How to twink a fighter for instance ? (some of the stuff listed downthere is essential for all classes in these power dungeons. Like the scarab of protection):

  • 1 - is to get a girdle of giant strenght ( get to frost giant 21 to get the +4 to hit bonus)

  • 2 - reach high dexterity (wishes and gauntlet of dexterity might do the trick if you start low, 18 in dex is good as you get only -1 on the to hit dice of your "left" hand) equip a dagger or an hand axe in your left hand and you'll get your full attack cadency. A seven level fighter for instance will get 3 att/round : 2 with the right hand and 1 one with the secondary in the first round and alternatively 2 left h att and one right hand in the second round ans so on.

  • 3 - big pluses on the 2 weapons researched of course

  • 4 - ring of regeneration, the vampiric type permit you to "drain" half the HPs you'll do...

  • 5 - the scarab of protection is a must have : it has charges but it basically negate life level drain an magic death and grant you a saving throw when there isn't one (Otto's irresistible, destruction ...) this save start at 20 and get only your cumuled magic bonuses : ex : +3 ring, +4 cloak, +1 ioun stone, +1 stone of good luck, you get a saving throw at 11 against anything without saving throw...

and a lot more !...

Nota : we where "in character" but we used to play high end game, it was really fun, and I could go on and on, because twinking was nearly infinite just with the somewhat gamebreaking stuff found in official DD modules (Blackrazor anyone ? ^^) and the arefacts/relics...


convince your DM to let you roll until you qualify for "Paladin" then use the Unearthed Arcana notes for the Cavalier modifiers to the Paladin class, see if you can get permission to start with max HP as well.

Alternatively, play a Black Robed Wizard from Dragonlance Adventures. Take Wish at 13th level.

Or play a Wujen from Oriental Adventures to 21st level, learn the Wujen wish - it's like a wizard wish but better - start the wujen with martial arts and some kind of weapon like needles or darts.

Or play a barbarian with exceptionally high physical stats, and learn to brawl with improvised weapons. The ability to strike as a magical weapon will have stunning results when you run into weapon resistant creatures not expecting it. They will be even more shocked if you can wrestle them, such as via a girdle of giant strength you haven't smashed for bonus experience points.


Half-Elf Ranger/Cleric fully specialized in the composite longbow with a NWP of Bowyer and working until you get a Masterwork composite longbow. You now have two attacks per round that-at first level-will deal ((1-6)+2)*2+STR bonus, with both DEX and STR used to increase to-hit roll, not to mention the average of (2-16) and (1-8) hit points plus your CON bonus. Don't forget the first level Clerical spells of Bless, Curse, and Protection Fr Evil. Add in the free shot with your bow at the beginning of an encounter and your +1 damage per level to Giant-class creatures, and you're golden. THAC0 of 10 with 14-24 damage on three attacks in one round at first level, anyone? If it weren't for dragonfear, you could kill many dragons in one round before they can really sven find you. At. First. Level.

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    \$\begingroup\$ New user first answer? Although I think I can guess, it would be nice if down voters at least gave some indication as to their reasons... \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Mar 16 '14 at 10:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ OK, I could just down vote plain and simple, but I truly believe that by commenting you'll be able to better understand why you got so many down votes. First of all it's they way in which you refer to the fellow writers in here. Calling someone else silly is not the way to act, and so is to say that the question is just plain wrong. If you have a problem with the motive behind the question, there are ways to say it. Secondly is your presentation. Everything here is so disorganized that it makes it hard to even understand what you're saying, and I really tried to. These are my main issues. \$\endgroup\$ – Yosi Mar 16 '14 at 11:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Phil Condescension is pretty much a guaranteed way to secure downvotes. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Mar 16 '14 at 11:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ This seems like an example of an optimized character, but there isn't any clear advice for how to optimize a character. \$\endgroup\$ – indigochild Aug 21 '19 at 18:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ wrong edition. NWP and THACO is 2e AD&D \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 17 '19 at 20:18

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