Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The AD&D Death Dial

After four sessions in a row with no player character deaths, something just did not seem right. And I am not talking about the players’ mysterious capability to roll high whenever I ask for a save versus poison and I can’t watch them roll, either!

In a real D&D game, you are typically going to have one or two character deaths every couple sessions. Zero deaths after four sessions is pretty nuts. That sure makes it seem like that AD&D is completely pathetic when compared to Moldvay Basic! What’s going on here?

Well, turns out that if you thought that AD&D was a game where ALL the player characters could drop down to -10 hit points and stay in the game, you’ve got it all wrong:

Notice that the “drop to -10” rule only applies to characters that were dropped to zero hit points exactly. That -10 rule is really more of a clock that can run out if the combat the players are in starts to drag out. Note that Gygax gives Dungeon Masters latitude to allow this special case to be extended to include hits that drop characters down to the -1 to -3 range.

So if you want to dial back the meat-grinder you get in the early levels of D&D, crank this setting up to -3. If you’d like a game where player characters die at rates comparable to those in #BasicLevel games, then leave it at zero!

One response to “The AD&D Death Dial

  1. MishaBurnett April 26, 2020 at 10:16 am

    “Binding wounds” is a phrase I haven’t heard in a long time. I remember it as a regular part of combat–we made it into a transitive verb (“Your action–what are you doing?” “I’ll bind wounds on the fighter.”)

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