The Foresight of My Father’s AD&D 1st Edition House Rules

AD&D 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide CoverI inherited my passion for roleplaying games from my father. He played the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons with a roleplaying group based in Sydney. When I was in my teens, he Dungeon Mastered my first games. Many years on we’re playing the original 1st Edition AD&D scenario, The Temple of Elemental Evil, using the original 1st Ed rules. Sort of. You see, I inherited my 1st Ed books from my dad, who carefully imported them from the US in 1980 (they weren’t available locally for a very long time) and made many notes and house rules as he tromped through dungeons through the ‘80s and ’90s. It has struck all of us as being interesting to see the thoughts of people playing the same game over 30 years ago…

What follows is a summary of the house rules that my father devised to ‘fix’ what he saw as broken in the AD&D system. A lot of what he came up with would later become official rules (THAC0 for instance) much later after he first scribbled them down in the margins of his books.

Balanced and Mathematically Valid XP Tables

The modified tables are now available as a pdf

I love the XP system in AD&D. The approximate doubling of XP allows elegant multiclassing rules, and the separate tables for each class allow interesting balancing.

The fact is, however, the XP tables in the original AD&D were borked. They were poorly balanced, and mathematically, well, stupid. Here iss a plot of the original 1st Ed AD&D XP tables:


…yeah. D&D wasn’t written by maths nerds. When the Druid hits level 12, the poor Paladin is still on level 8. Magic-Users also get it pretty easy for most of their career. The classes with god powers spells need less XP for many levels than Paladins, Rangers, and Monks. There’s not much sense here, and it is certainly very unbalanced.

But I am a maths nerd, and more importantly my dad back in the ‘80s was also a maths nerd, so lets see how he fixed these level progressions:


Paladins are still a bit behind (they are pretty powerful in 1st Ed), but not so bad. The Magic-User’s XP requirements are closer to their actual power. Druids aren’t broken. All by applying the concept of the XP tables (doubling each level) and actually doing it with some sense of mathematical correctness.

Mathematically Valid Spell Tables

The modified tables are now available as a pdf

The spell tables suffer the same problem as the XP tables: no sense. Have a look at this:


In addition to a very favourable XP table, Druids got more spells, faster, than any other class. Go figure. There’s also some weird halts in spell progressions.


That’s more like it. Astute readers will note that this progression (1/3/5/etc) is exactly the same as 3rd Edition. The Druid quirk at level 12 is because the druid XP table stops at 14, and the modifications try not to change final spell numbers, just initial acquisition levels.

Bonus Spells for Magic-Users

By the 1st Edition rules, only Clerics get bonus spells for high Wis. Magic-Users and Illusionists get nothing. Druids are vague. This means your poor level 1 Magic-User has a whopping… ONE spell. Yup.

Neatly pencilled next to the bonus spell table is this sentence: “Use for Magic Users also, based on INT”. Right there is a 3rd Edition rule, in the early ‘80s.

No Racial Attribute Penalties

Straight out of 4th Edition comes this house rule: removal of racial ability penalties. So if you’re an Elf, you don’t suffer –1 Con. The hard limits on attributes are still kept (although also changed), so you still can’t have an 18 Con Elf, but the fact is, back in the ‘80s, people were thinking: penalties are not fun. It took over 20 years for official D&D rules to catch up.


To Hit Armour Class 0 (THAC0) was introduced in 2nd Edition as a way of removing the rather complicated tables that you needed to work out Hit vs AC in 1st Edition. But enterprising gamers worked this out long before 2nd Edition was ever published…

It wasn’t originally called THAC0, of course: whilst THAC0 is a neat acronym, the version my dad had mirrored Armour Class: it was called “Combat Class”, or CC. Naturally, it’s mathematically accurate in a way that THAC0 never was: the official version mirrored the (with hindsight) unfortunate jumps and breaks in progression found in the original 1st Edition tables. Fighters, for example, increase their combat ability by 1 point every level, instead of 2 sometimes and 0 others. Wait, where have I heard that kind of progression before? Oh, right: 3rd Ed D&D, when they realised that sensible mathematical progressions make people more sane.

We may as well face it though: THAC0, while easier than its predecessor, was kind of stupid too. The correct way of doing Attack vs AC in D&D is still the 3rd Ed system. If you take AC = 20 – AD&D AC, and Attack = 20 – AD&D THAC0, then you have the 3rd Ed system. A fix in the wrong way is still wrong.

Armour limiting Dex bonus to AC

A useful rule that made its way into D&D in 3rd Ed, the house rules start very forward thinking: armour is split into Light, Medium, and Bulky, which affects AC mod. Except then it goes very 1st Edition: there’s an overly complex table where you compare Str, Dex, and Armour to get your AC bonus from stats. While it’s more simulation-ish dealing with the effect of Str, it is still overly complicated.

Dungeons & Dragons Classics

Clerics Stabbing People

Apparently my dad was none too happy with the weapon restrictions on Clerics. They’re opened up to all weapons. While it was historically accurate to priests who donned armour in the Middle Ages, it is not necessarily sensible to apply that restriction to all clerics regardless of the gods they follow. Evil Clerics were still restricted, but if you multiclassed to Fighter you were allowed to stab people with pointy objects. Go figure. Anyway, this is yet another rule that was only truly expunged in 4th Edition, although 3rd Edition tried its best.

Critical Hits (and Threats!)

The fact that my dad had critical hit rules was not surprising: it was so common that in the 1st Edition books, Gygax (who famously didn’t like critical hit rules) even commented about their non-inclusion, and the existence of house rules.

What is interesting is the way they were implemented almost exactly mirrors 3rd Edition. A threat (20 normally, 19-20 for “impaling” weapons) then requires a second confirmation roll, which must be a normal hit to confirm the crit.

The same rule, decades apart. Weird, eh?

Equal Opportunities

It was a pretty standard house rule to remove rules about different ability score caps for male and female characters. What’s more interesting is my dad was so certain about this that there is white out in the book.

Height and Weight

Actually I’m kidding. The house rules for these are so complex that we couldn’t work out how to use them, and gave up.

And More!

There is so much more than this. The rulebooks are littered with pencilled annotations, and various notes apart from them add even more house rules.

What’s even more amazing is when I talked to him about The Temple of Elemental Evil, my dad managed to dig up not only his notes, but original computer files of house rules. He’s been working at the same place for the last 30+ years, and it’s had consistent mainframe computer system the whole time. The files he found are ancient RTF files from the mid ‘80s. It’s rather incredible.

Just think about it: nerds have been using computers to write D&D house rules since the dawn of the game itself.

About Duncan

Ellisthion is currently loving 5E D&D, whilst still running the original 1st Ed AD&D Temple of Elemental Evil. He's also spending way too much time playing Dota 2.
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  • RupertG

    For those of you interested in Gygax’s opinions of house rules, including his distaste of Critical Hits, there is an awesome post about it over on Anthony Pryor’s blog.

  • Steve

    Will you guys be releasing your dad’s house rules at all? Like maybe as a PDF or something? I’d be really interested to read through them.

    • Ellisthion

      I’m considering trying. Some stuff is separate from the books and easy to publish, but a lot is spread through the books in notes and corrections, which is trickier. Sooo… maybe. :-)

  • Felonious Ham

    Those XP progression charts and spell charts are pretty amazing. I guess they didn’t have the advantage of being able to use computer spreadsheet programs to display the tables like that.

    • Ellisthion

      And yet my dad still managed, lol. I really have no idea how Gygax derived the original XP tables, they really make no sense.

    • Scrivenerof Doom

      Like a lot of Gygaxian things, there was no rhyme nor reason. Look at saving throw categories. They overlap and the progressions are random. And the thief has the –LOWEST– chance of actually jumping out of the way of a breath weapon attack.

      Anyway, great posts and I love the new XP progressions. That’s how they should be. :)

    • NotPayingAttentionTax

      XP needs tweaked still to compensate what I mentioned. It was the jealousy of non-fast leveling classes that drives this “balancing” belief, in truth it simply makes some weaker classes even more inferior.

      HOWEVER, the saves were messed up, except if you assume the thief is always going to be a higher level, then they are only a bit off kilter (this is where a bit of math could help if it respected leveling speed as a class ability/penalty)

    • Stephen D. Patterson

      The’re based basic D&D.

    • NotPayingAttentionTax

      There was an intent though. For instance, the thieves relatively weak combat ability was balanced by near meteoric level progression, which had the interesting effect of party balancing, you aren’t supposed to compare a level x class with the same level in another class, think more in terms of a experience point amount in a class vs. another class. This is the way it was intended to balance making progression linear also does not take into account some classes monumental power gains at certain levels (every one knew about how much more dangerous a magic-user became at 5th level,due to the 3rd level spells opening up, especially the infamous fireball). Balancing the level based progression does not take this into account and breaks this aspect of the system. Arguments can (and have been ) made regarding what level each party character should be at for a given xp level. This concept broke down over time largely due to the mechanic of using level for a party average or total to gauge against a particular adventure. This then morphed the use of speed of progression into the generic everyone levels at the same xp we have had in later editions, but it leaves behind the ability of a “weaker” class to level faster and eventually become equal or more powerful at a given xp (paying ones dues playing a weaker character being rewarded with faster leveling). This is a mechanic that is sorely lacking since d20 3e, and has no “fix” trying to get a thief to be as interesting during the first few levels of a party eventually leaves them behind. While these charts leave a separation intact it dulls the edge of it effectively punishing the classes it helped and rewarding the classes it held back, intentionally. I agree there can be some sense worked in better, but only with the concepts I mentioned steering it, not just math.

    • Christian Donner

      You sir, Get it.

    • MattyP

      Boom! That was always my understanding. Paladin had a ton of special abilities; took more experience to go up. Ranger, similar. Thief, really weak to begin with (young street urchin?); shoots up in levels.

  • Monsta Ward

    Awesome stuff. Wish I had your dad growing up :(

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  • tlhonmey

    My group shares Gygax’s distaste of critical hits on a single D20 since the probabilities tend to be totally unfair. For a while we experimented with different combinations of dice to get a proper bell curve, but finally we went with simple. If you get a roll in the critical threat range, roll again and add. If you roll a 1, subtract 20 and roll again. Critical hits and misses become based on how badly you beat the other guy’s AC instead of the number. So far it seems to make for much more believable combat, and allows critical successes on skill checks without making the idea of an “escape proof” jail laughable.

  • james

    Actually, on the To-Hit table for Fighters, there is a text box below the table that addresses the 2-point increase every 2 levels…it says the DM may, if he wishes, increase by 1 point every level. It’s worded kind of weird, but that’s what it says.

    • Ellisthion

      You’re correct, and I had noticed that. However, it’s only one of a pile of random side rules and notes surrounding the pile of tables in that section of the book, and just adds to the confusion. It’s a very strange “rule”.

  • Nicholas Warcholak

    Great article. I love what your Dad did with the XP and spell progression. I can read the spell progression graph clearly, but not the XP one at lower levels. Would you be willing to share the tables for XP?

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  • narg

    I tried to read this, but it seems to me that the author doesn’t really ENJOY AD&D. There is a lot more to the game than the numbers. a WHOLE lot more. If you don’t get that then the numbers don’t mean shit.

  • Sancho Rodríguez

    No racial penalties? So… Why bother being human?

    • Ellisthion

      There’s still the hard racial caps (like Elf caps at 17 Con), Humans get dual classing instead of multiclassing which is sometimes *very* preferable, and humans tend to get frequently played by a lot of players just because they like being human. It’s really not a problem.

    • Sancho Rodríguez

      You mean — all those things that are invariably the first things out the window?

    • Ellisthion

      Not everyone is trying to min max. As I said, many people play humans because they like playing humans.

  • Christian Donner

    With that whole druid being 12 vs paladin 8. You’re right about that save 1 thing. A there can only be 9 druids of 12th level (Titled Druids) at any given time. So once a character hits 12th level the powers are temporary and go away unless they fight a druid of same level. Which if they lose you either 1. Die and good bye beloved character or 2. Lose enough xp points to make take you to beginning of 11th level. That’s why they get spells and level up faster man cause they can lose it just as quickly, where as a paladin doesn’t have to do such things. On top of which the xp jump for druids sky rockets after 12 and paladins start catching up. You gotta really read the classes man there is a rhyme and reason the DM just has to utilise what’s there.

    • Ellisthion

      The problem is that’s a stupid rule that doesn’t work in practice. What will actually happen is the Druid player will hit the levels where there are a “limited number”, and the DM will either handwave it or the player and/or DM will go out of their way to make sure all the challenges happen.

      If the player wins the challenge (likely), then absolutely no disadvantage to the player. If the player loses, the penalties are pretty standard adventuring risks. It’s not like the Paladin won’t be risking death and level loss as well.

    • Christian Donner

      A DM who waives potentially incredible RP opportunities is a fool and lazy. 2nd as a DM you are obligated to make sure the druid PC has a difficult time to achieve that status due to the fact that the druid PC is so far ahead. Not saying make it impossible but certainly not likely chance of success. And 3rd as a DM you have the choice of killing the PC or not you can just as easily say the druid he fought heals him after the fight preventing death. These are easy fixes that take no longer than 3 seconds of fore thought. D&D isn’t supposed to be only about fighting its about RPing as well. Now if you don’t like that system that’s fine but you can’t call it broken cause there are fail safes in place that in my and many other people opinions make the game that much more involved and phenomenal.

    • Stephen D. Patterson

      The “limitations” placed on 12th+ druids is plain stupid. A “simulated” combat is far more advisable. “Dead Druids” don’t improve the vitality or the quality of the Druid Order; what if an external disaster or plague wipes out several small countries’ worth of Driud assets’ groves and populace? Or a large war, against an infernal or demonic power?

    • Christian Donner

      Then those below them would be blessed by nature and empowered. That is how it works, if lets says by some crazy chance all druids of 12th level and higher died, then those underneath would gain in strength. That is why during those duels if one loses, the lose power and the other retains/gains new powers. Nature will keep the force of balance within its own realms, in D&D nature is a divine entity and will do what it was always about letting the strong survive, and keeping the balance. Also the druid does not have to die in the duel, it merely states if the loser does not die they lose a level. So if druids dying isnt your thing simply have another druid heal the downed one. Boom, noone dies, and the balance of nature is kept with the strong ruling and leading (As nature through evolution intended.)

    • Stephen D. Patterson

      “The strong ruling” sounds like a crock, personally. Nature isn’t about strength; it’s about adaptation, food, water and similar needs being met.

    • Christian Donner

      The Strong Ruling is simply a phrase, as anyone knows strength can mean more than the physical. For instance Strength of Mind, Strength of Will, and Power of Personality. Nature has a food chain, whether you like it or not, and there is always one at the top. Take humans for instance, we are at the top because of our minds. Our Strength of our minds placed us at the top because we knew how to shape our surroundings so as to help us survive in areas we would not be able to otherwise. And as we all know every form of animal life has a Leader, the one who stands above the rest and if you want to be the head dude you have to either wait till he dies or defeat him in a fight. That my friend is commonplace, even in society today.

    • Christian Donner

      P.S. Paladin doesn’t risk death or level loss by fighting another of his order for status within it which is what makes assassins and druids such awesome RPing classes. And this is all easily practical within the game just need to plan a little and you’re fine.

  • darkgreenheart –

    I used that spell bonus for high INT too. Another really good one we used was that instead of characters with high ability scores getting bonus XP, we did it the other way around, giving bonus XP to characters with low scores (a sort of bonus for managing to survive).

    • Ellisthion

      That’s an interesting way of solving the low-stat issue. The way bonuses work in AD&D, even average statted characters are royally screwed by comparison to high stats.

      One of the earliest 1st Edition games I DM’d had a player roll 3,3,3,5,4,18. In order. Since 1E doesn’t have Cha classes, that roll is not legal for _any_ class. We let the player run the character as a bonus character alongside his real one, and thus was born ‘Bobby the Bimbo’, the human Fighter. That character was already awesome and memorable: a scaling XP bonus for bad stats would be amazing to help the longevity of even ‘joke’ characters like that!

    • darkgreenheart –

      Low-stat characters can be pretty fun. One of my favourites was a fighter that started out amazing – an 18.99 strength rolled right in front of everyone, the rest of the stats were okay, but he had a 4 WIS I think.

      On his first adventure, we bravely battled our way through an outpost of raiding orcs, only to come to a very deep hole leading down into darkness and hopefully, lower levels filled with treasure. While the others began discussing how we could possibly go down it, and did we want to go down it; he lets out a great mad roar and leaps in.

      Remarkably, he managed to survive, as the orcs had been tossing old caravan goods down the hole, including something that was relatively soft, maybe thatch. The look on everyone’s faces as he jumped was priceless.