D&D: OSR or 5th edition?

There are many versions of D&D and there are things to be aware of before you just go with the latest and very popular 5th edition.

All versions of D&D and the so called Old-School-Revival retroclones share many things. Characters have hit dice depending on class (1d4 to 1d12 per level), with slightly more generous dice in newer versions.

Monsters also have hit dice (usually number of d8 HP). Look at this little table of average HP for different monsters in different versions:

AD&D 1eAD&D 2eD&D 3eD&D 5e
Men/Bandit1-6 (4)2d8+2 (11)
Bugbear3+1 (15)3+1 (15)3d8+3 (17)5d8+5 (27)
Hydra (5H)5 (23)5 (23)5d10+28 (55)15d12+75 (172)
Owlbear5+2 (25)5+2 (25)5d10+25 (52)7d10+21 (59)
Werewolf4+3 (21)4+3 (21)3d8+7 (21)9d8+18 (58)
Zombie2 (9)2 (9)2d12+3 (16)3d8+9 (22)

Weapons make roughly the same damage (Longsword 1d8) in all versions.

About Men/Bandit, Monster Manual for 1e states: For every 20 bandits encountered there will be an additional 3rd level fighter. Compare this to 5e, where every bandit essentially is level 2.

Consequences for fights

Fights in 1e/2e are faster because enemies have less hitpoints. They are also less detailed than 3e/5e where special abilities, feats, action economy, bonus actions and reactions are part of every round. In 1e/2e it is more like you have one attack and you can move.

You can argue however you want: rolling/counting to 21 (werewolf 2e) is quicker than rolling/counting to 58 (5e).

Sometimes this difference is called “fighting as battle vs fighting as sport”.

5e is more demanding on the DM and the Players when it comes to tactics. It is more like a miniature war game or collectible card game where it pays of for the players to create combos, optimize characters and prepare tactics for their group or characters.

Consequences for the World

AD&D 1e/2e comes with the idea that most people in the world are common people. They have no class and no special abilities. This applies to bandits, soldiers but also to orcs and goblins that the PCs may encounter. Veteran was the title of a 1st level fighter in Basic D&D.

D&D 5e comes with the idea that common enemies are much more than ordinary people. Veteran in 5e monster manual has 9d8+18 HP.

Consequences for your Campaign

Don’t be mistaken and believe that 5e is deadlier and more difficult. HP is not everything, 5e is balanced differently when it comes to AC, saving throws and other things. Many people witness that the characters become super heroes quite quickly in 5e.

5e allows you to throw in more powerful goblins to challenge your more powerful characters. AD&D expects you to challenge the players with genuinely more powerful monsters, or more goblins using other tactics.

To me, AD&D feels like the PCs are becoming heroes in the same world as they started. But 5e feels like a game where the PCs travel to new places where everything is much more powerful and dangerous than where they came from (like in World of Warcraft, with different regions for players of different power).

OSR – Old School Revival

I would argue that this difference between AD&D on one hand, and 3e/5e on the other hand is significant. You can not quite play the same way in AD&D and 5e, and if you try you may end up disappointed.

After many years of not playing D&D at all, I just bought D&D 5e without thinking too much about the differences. I expected to use it like AD&D 2e. I think that was a mistake, I am not happy with 5e, and I am going back.

I am not alone. Many people prefer older versions of D&D and old style of play (Old School Revival). You and your group can make your choice!

When it comes to OSR there are many options to AD&D 1e/2e! Basic D&D (or Classic) was a simplified version of AD&D 1e (that is a simplification) that for the purposes of this article is similar to AD&D 1e/2e and different from 3e/5e. There are also retroclones that are newly edited and highly compatible inoffical versions of D&D.

AD&D 1e: Can be bought printed or as PDF from dmsguild.com. I am too young to ever have played it, I bought it for fun recently, and I don’t quite feel like playing it. It is complex in unnecessary ways.

AD&D 2e: Can be bought printed or as PDF from dmsguild.com. If you like a more advanced game, this may be your best OSR option.

Basic D&D: Can be bought as PDF from dmsguild. There are different versions (Holmes, Moldvay B/X, Mentzer BECMI) and the last version was packaged in a single book called Rules Cyclopedia that can be bought as PDF or print from dmsguild.

Basic Fantasy RPG: An entirely free to download clone.

Dungeon Crawl Classics: Based on Basic D&D, it adds a lot of innovation and it is more of a different game. Perhaps not for beginners.

Old School Essentials: A premium B/X clone. You get more content for less money if you go for Rules Cyclopedia. OSE is a arguably nicer if you prefer less is more, it has a better look and feel, and it is probably the best beginners game.


Play whatever version of D&D with your friends that you like! But do not just get D&D 5e assuming it is just the latest, most revised and best version. It is a rather different game from the old games of the 70s-80s-90s that made D&D popular. The differences may be subtle at first, but will become more important over time.

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