I miss being “Advanced”

The OSR is a playground filled with every toy you can imagine. Systems as far as the eye can see filled with tables, ideas, Passion & Brilliance (with a Capital P & B respectively). It’s a wonderful landscape that has everything a GM could want.
We often espouse the virtues of the “Rules Lite” System. B/X and OD&D being the big two in the game that function as core inspirations for a multitude of systems. On paper this makes perfect sense. They function as perfect seeds from which each of us may grow our own little special gem…

Here I stand. I’ve experienced the essentials of Old School, I’ve gone into the odd, I’ve lived in the Electric Bastionland. I’ve been everything from a roaming Knave to a ritt’d Mouse. I’ve seen Stars, Worlds, and even Cities without number… All of them grand. Everything a Master of Games could want.

And Yet…In my heart of hearts…Deep where I dare not speak. I miss the “Advanced”ness of AD&D. I miss the pointless rules and the needless complexity. I miss reading rules that spark the imagination at the same time they inspire the guttural reaction that “nobody would ever actually play that way.

AD&D 1e had not only rules for aging, but rules for Disease. And not just magical special diseases. Normal everyday “you just came down with something” Diseases. Rated at a base chance of 2% rolled each month. Even more amazing is the fact that this rule is not some hidden away back of the book side thought. This was front and center on Page 13 of the AD&D DMG. Before the game explains what Ability scores are and what they do. Before it explains Classes. Before it even gives you Attack Matrices that are needed for every combat in the game(Combat Matrices that weren’t even available in the first year of the game because the PHB didn’t have them and came out a year before the DMG). Before all the essential wonder of that great book: It tells you that you have at least a 2% chance of contracting a disease every month.

That my friends is nonsense. You know what though? It’s BEAUTIFUL nonsense. It’s the kind of nonsense that you read and it instantly puts a seed in your head. A seed of dark things. Dark…beautiful things. It tells you that the PC’s of this adventure may indeed be heroes(for on Page 2 within the forward it warns that each player will experience a cornucopia of fantasy and Heroic adventure), but even though they are heroes, they may still have a monthly roll go badly and end up dying of dysentery. If nothing else: that sets a TONE.

Reclaiming “Advanced” Play

I’d never say that B/X is a childs game, in the way that some in the past viewed it. Obviously B/X, OD&D, and all the myriad hacks out there are plenty advanced. Filled with richness of play that can occupy the imagination for generations to come. That isn’t what this is about. Those games are great and well deserve their place in all our hearts.

What I will say however is that I miss those pointless rules. The needless complexity. Recently I have begun working on my own hack and for it I’ve decided to use the AD&D’s (both 1e and 2e) as the seed. So I’ve been deep diving and really internalizing the rules for both 1e and 2e, so I can feel out what they are trying to accomplish and strip away some the needless. I want to keep all of the rules I can, but re-interpret them into things that accomplish their stated goals in easier to digest ways.

So whats first? Combat.

Let us take AD&D combat and admit that if you need a literal 20 Page primer (Google AD&D 1e A.D.I.C.T if you don’t know what I’m talking about) to explain initiative, then your combat is perhaps, Just maybe. A tiny bit too complicated. Just a little.

So lets talk about the idea’s behind Segments, Weapon Speed, and Weapon Length. Why they are beautiful and good, and also terrible and bad.

Segments and Initiative

Segments and the initiative system in AD&D 1e are two of the most beautiful ideas I’ve read in the history of being a Game Master. The problem is to really understand it you have to read the DMG five times, Read a twenty page document someone put together to help people understand what the DMG is saying. Consult five different AD&D communities on their best practices, then reread the DMG another five times.

For the un-initiated segments are a way of breaking a round of combat (1minute) into 10 neat bite sized pieces. The idea being that each round each side in a struggle declares all their actions, roll initiative, and then based on some modifiers and the difference between the two initiatives: Each side acts starting at a certain segment of the initiative order. The problem is: Ranged Attacks always go first, whoever has the most attacks Always goes first(Fighters that can attack multiple times, Monsters that can bite and claw)…And outside of that…99% of the time the segment you go on doesn’t actually matter.

Despite the fact that it often feels like a waste of time to track, what Segments are trying to do is actually very interesting. They are trying to give a sense of timing to events that allows you to picture multiple actions happening all at once. As the arrow is flying through the air to hit the kobold the Fighter is already sprinting to attack the evil shaman, and the Magic User has already begun to cast their spell. This creates a sense of drama that is lost in the tactical “Turn by Turn” initiative order of modern day systems, and is also glossed over in the highly procedural but not quite “advanced” enough combat of something Like B/X which essentially has the same combat system but sands off the rough edges in a way that makes it feel like two squads of colonial soldiers taking turns reloading and firing at each other.

AD&D combat though is not an idea that allows for any individual piece to stand alone. So next we have to look at

Weapon Speed Factor & Weapon Length

Weapon length is largely not a conversation in most circles. it is not viewed as controversial while Weapon Speed factor is talked about like a creature from the abyss sent to steal your children and all of your left socks(I mean, it can have the children, but did it have to take my favorite socks? Its winter and its cold).

The problem is, you really can’t talk about one without the other because they are the same thing. Two parts of one coin. Yet often they ARE talked about separately. Or rather, to re-iterate: WSF is talked about endlessly and nobody bats an eye at weapon length either to praise it or to condemn it. They are both part of the same goal though, to figure out in very niche situations who has an advantage.

Many people prone to analyze, and also those involved in HEMA, have said that weapon speed factor makes no sense. The idea of WSF is that a dagger is faster to attack with than a battle axe. The arguments against this idea is that in reality most weapons have an advantage based on their length, not how light they are. The advantage you gain from a weapon with longer reach far outweighs any advantage you may gain. Which is true. Sort of.

The thing is that the rules already account for that advantage with weapon length. Weapon length comes into play when one opponent is charging at the other(Key word here is charge. This does not come into play when one side is slowly and carefully advancing.) When involved in a charge, be it as the charger or the chargee, whichever combatant has the greater weapon length attacks first.

Additionally due to their very nature, Ranged weapons basically always attack first, simulating their advantage over people running at them with pointed objects. This is just an aside though so people know I’m not ignoring the issue.

Now back to WSF. The weird thing about this rule is that it is the most niche of the niche rule there is. So much so that i think its insane niche-ness is part of the reason people missuse and misunderstand it so much. WSF Comes into play in two very specific situations.

The first is when two combatants are engaged in melee, and due to random chance of an initiative die (Initiative is rolled every round after actions are declared) two combatants end up attacking on the same initiative. In this event, the weapon with the lower WSF attacks first, and if the difference between their speed factors is high enough the faster weapon attacks multiple times. I admit to being initially swayed by the argument that in this situation the weapon with the longer reach should have the advantage…But I’ve reread the combat rules in the DMG upwards of 30 times at this point. Not Skimmed. Fully re-read. And not just in one sitting, over the course of several months. Letting all that data percolate while I contemplate better combat solutions for my own hack.

It finally clicked. As gritty as it is: AD&D is a game of heroic fantasy, the rules serve to push that fantasy forward. Now you may think, as many do, that a dagger beating a battleaxe to the punch is so illogical that it ruins the fantasy rather than enhances it, but the reality is this: Combat in AD&D is an abstraction. In the world of the fiction it is meant that two combatants are sizing each other up, testing blows. Circling the wagons and looking for an opening. The attack that is made is the cinematic conclusion to a round of combat, and that is the key to why a dagger beats a battleaxe.

The specific scenario. The VERY specific scenario of when initiative is tied is the only time when WSF between two melee combatants matters. it is the moment where both sides see an opening at the exact same moment. The thief with the dagger is already in motion as the warrior with the battle axe raises their weapon for a wind up. In that cinematic moment, the one moment that matters in the combat round: The dagger is already poised and ready plunging for the open side of the person wielding the axe as they have committed to an attack and can’t bring up their defenses in time. The multiple attacks the dagger might get if the opponent is slow enough? Imagine scenes from countless prison movies where the guy jumps out with a shiv and stabs his target 3-4 times before anyone can react. That is what is being portrayed here.


At this point I don’t have solutions. I had some very firm ideas in place before one last re-read of the DMG convinced me I needed to do some more consideration. This is an ongoing thought experiment that may never yield results.

Overall I think I’ve found that 1e combat makes a lot of sense, even though none of it really makes any sense. I can’t say I want it to be my one true combat system. Rules that only come into play in very certain circumstances are easy to forget about. Do they really add all that much? No, it doesn’t, and yet…It also does?






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