The Unusual Combat of 2nd ED AD&D

Over five editions and 40 years combat systems in D&D have changed drastically. Whether you are used to the combat matrices of 1st Ed AD&D or the modern d20 based initiative system in D&D 5, switching to a new edition usually means that you will have to take an afternoon to learn a new combat system. Luckily, 1st Ed AD&D, D&D 3, and D&D 5 all use a familiar format:

1. Roll initiative

2. During your initiative step you may move and preform actions.

3. Repeat Step 2 until combat has concluded.

It is simple, straight forward and provides for a fairly entertaining tabletop battle.

However, 2nd ED AD&D is kind of the odd one out. And yes I know that D&D 4's combat system is quite different; but seriously why are you still playing the worst version of this game ever made?

So, where other editions attempt to gamify combat for ease's sake, the makers of 2nd Ed AD&D chose to try and create something more like a simulation. Here is how it works:

1. The DM decides the actions and movement of all monsters and NPCs during the coming round

2. Players explain what their characters will do during the round.

3. Initiative is rolled.

4. All chosen actions are executed.

5. Repeat until combat has concluded.

You must choose your action before you know what order you will act in, and you must re-roll initiative each round. This means that there are far more opportunities for your character's actions to be ineffective, or potentially dangerous to the rest of the party. Without proper planning, a fighter could easily charge a group of monsters only to be blasted to pieces by a caster's fireball spell. 

There are no take backs in 2nd Ed AD&D. You do not get a chance to look at the table and decide what you want to do when it comes to your initiative step. It has already been decided and you now have to sit back and watch it unfold over the combat round. For new players I have found this makes 2nd Ed AD&D's combat the least forgiving of mistakes. Even a small encounter, if poorly planned, can turn into a disaster.

This simulative style of combat really does make for an interesting and authentic experience. It just feels a little more real, and adds a little bit of suspense into each encounter, but it is of course not without its drawbacks.

Despite JADE predominantly playing 2nd Ed AD&D, we actually do not use this combat system and prefer the traditional order of Initiative, Action, Repeat. The problem with 2nd Ed combat style is not that it doesn't nor that it isn't entertaining it is that it takes forever.

A small 4v4 encounter can take a full hour to resolve, and larger encounters can take up half the game session for that day. Simply put, having to reroll and record initiative, on top of the players having to sound off  their actions every round takes too much time out of the game. Perhaps if we do another "hard-core" style game like JADE's Hymns of a Vagabond then we will use the proper 2nd Ed system, but for now we'll stick to how we have been doing it.

What do you think? Does 2nd Ed Combat sound exciting to you,, or like too much work?

Written by: Andrew Gregory
The Unusual Combat of 2nd ED AD&D The Unusual Combat of 2nd ED AD&D Reviewed by JADE Gaming on 6/11/2018 02:05:00 pm Rating: 5


  1. First off, I have to say you are severely under representing combat in 1st ed. Check out A.D.D.I.C.T. at for the mess that 1e combat was. In that light, 2e was an advancement and 3e was what we all know and love today.

    What's funny about 2e is all the other game systems that used a declare then roll system around the same time, most notably d6 Star Wars. 2e combat also introduced the optional rule of individual initiative, whereas 1e was group iniative.

    Personally I've run D&D using combat by the book and house rules from 1e through 3.5, and the things my players like best is individual initiative and the weapon vs AC table from 1e.

  2. You are absolutely right! Weapon vs AC table from 1st edition really makes a difference, and can change combat in an incredibly unique way!

    Also it just makes sense. Of course a Dagger isn't going to do as well against Full Plate Mail as a Mace would!

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