How Playing 2nd Edition AD&D is Different to Playing Pathfinder


As you’ve may know, I’ve recently started a (sporadic) 2nd edition AD&D campaign—Adventures in Shadow. After only the first few sessions, I’ve been struck how the game play differs to our normal Pathfinder game.

Obviously, mechanically the two systems are wildly different. This post is not about these differences. (It would be rather long and rather boring, if it was.) Rather, I’ve been fascinated about how actual play differs between the two editions. The play’s the thing, after all!

Fragile Characters

Having rolled up (not designed) our first set of characters it’s fairly safe to say 2nd edition characters are way more fragile than Pathfinder characters. The differences are legion. Now, to be fair, these differences were exacerbated by the stat rolling methods we use:

Playing Pathfinder we roll two sets of abilities using 4d6 (drop the lowest), pick the best set and arrange as desired.

Playing AD&D we rolled 3d6 twice for each ability and kept the best result. To ensure a balanced party, each player could swap two stats around. (This helps ensure everyone gets a class and race they want to play).

Still, even taking this out of the equation, the PCs are undoubtably less capable and less robust…and it turns out that’s a good thing! In their first foray into Greystone, the party had two encounters which would have gone markedly differently if we’d playing Pathfinder.

In the first encounter, the party met—and retreated from—some kind of sentient seaweed creature. If we’d been playing Pathfinder, they would have made knowledge checks and then slaughtered it. Playing 2nd edition, they immediately backed off and talked things through before deciding to leave it alone (for now). By then, no doubt, they’ll have plotted some kind of tremendously clever plan to deal with it.

In the second encounter, the party released—or almost released—three ghouls from their den. In Pathfinder, one of the fighters would have blocked the corridor, gone total defence and let the cleric destroy it with channel negative energy. In the actual session, the appearance of potentially powerful undead caused consternation—and a smidgeon of panic—among the party. We rolled initiative and combat began but before the ghouls could escape their lair one of the party slammed the door shut. (We left the session there so I don’t yet know what they plan to do).

Inventive Play

It seemed the party were more inventive in general game play—probably because they didn’t have loads of skills and feats to fall back on (although we use the nonweapon proficiency rules). I didn’t hear the words “I make a (insert skill name) check” at all during the session (except—sort of—from the thief).

That was tremendously refreshing. Several of the players in particular hurled themselves into this “new” way of playing and went to town coming up with inventive solutions to problems.

Actually Listening

It seemed the players listened more to the various area descriptions and suchlike—and to the answers to their fellows’ questions. To my mind, we spent less time focusing on mechanics—“I make a (insert skill name) check”—and instead listened to each other before asking pertinent follow-up question or observations.

Again, this was tremendously refreshing as everyone seemed a little bit more engaged than in a normal session. (Of course, this could be wishful thinking on my part).

No Shiny Devices

When we play Pathfinder, most of us use iPads—Shiny, shiny and wonderful (and distracting) iPads—to run our characters.

Playing 2nd edition AD&D the players all used physical character sheets and pencil—the horror! Cue loads of bad jokes about finding a new app called “pencil” that was compatible with character sheets etc.

Still, there were no glowing screens at the table to distract us. (Perhaps this helped with “Actually Listening” above.) Don’t get me wrong, many of us swear by iPads when running our complicated Pathfinder characters. However, the siren’s call of the other apps—and the web—lurking on an iPad leads to distraction and confusion. It’s somewhat harder to get distracted by a pencil and a piece of paper.

What Do You Think?

We’ve only had a couple of sessions, and so these are my initial thoughts. They may change—they may not. If they don’t, however, I’ll certainly be giving more thought about how to incorporate the positive above into our normal Pathfinder game.

In any event, I’m looking forward to more Adventures in Shadow!

What do you think? Am I right about the way the different systems play or am I talking rubbish? Let me know, in the comments below.