AD&D 2e, Learn the Game

The Combat Round in ADnD 2e

I know that I’ve mentioned several times that there are drastic changes between AD&D 2e and D&D 3e but no where is this more apparent than when we’re talking about combat. So please forgive me if this sounds a bit over the top: but the AD&D 2e combat round is 1 minute long.

Let that sink in for a minute.

When we’re talking about the round in D&D 3e we’re talking about 6 second segments of time within the game world. It completely changes the way that you think about the game when you change the length of the round.

In D&D 3e it isn’t uncommon for the player to conceive of each round being a single hit in that time and for them to “call” where their shots hit. AD&D 2e completely flips that concept on it’s head by expanding the length of time. But AD&D 2e isn’t done there as the round and turn (10 rounds) are actually just approximations because “. . . precise time measurements are impossible in combat” (pg 122).

The book then gives the best example of how time works in the game by examining drinking a potion in combat:

. . . The potion is sagely stowed in the character’s backpack. First, he takes stock of the situation to see if anyone else can get the potion out for him, but, not surprisingly, everyone is rather busy. So, Sword in one hand, he shrugs one strap of the pack off his shoulder. Then, just as two orcs leap toward him, the other strap threatens to slip down, entangling his sword arm. Already the loose strap keeps him from fully using his shield.

Holding the shield as best as possible in front of him, he scrambles backward to avoid the monster’s first wild swings. He gets pushed back a few more feet when a companion shoulders past to block their advance. His companion bought him a little time, so he kneels, lays down his sword, and slips the backpack all the way off. Hearing a wild cry, he instinctively swings his shield up just in time to ward off a glancing blow.

Rummaging through the pack, he finally find the potion, pulls it out, and huddling behind his shield, works the cork free. Just then there is a flash of flame all around him – a fireball! He grits his teeth against the heat, shock, and pain and tries to remember not to crush or spill the potion vial. Biting back the pain of the flames, he is relieved to see the potion still intact.

Quickly, he gulps it down, reclaims his sword, kicks his backpack out of the way, and runs back up to the front line . . .

Cook, pg 122

In game terms the player was able to withdraw their character from combat. During their withdrawal their character avoided a blow from an attacking orc and managed to successfully save vs spell when the Wizard dropped a fireball in the middle of combat. They then drank a potion. All of that in a single round!

The way the Combat round presents itself in AD&D 2e leads me to believe that combat is to be played in a more narrative fashion than I’m used to with D&D 3e. Especially with the above example. Can any of my 2e readers confirm this suspicion?

Works Cited

Cook, David “Zeb,” et al. Player’s Handbook for the AD&D Game. USA: TSR Inc, 1996. pg 116, 122 PRINT


6 thoughts on “The Combat Round in ADnD 2e”

  1. That’s correct, and follows AD&D 1st Ed which also had a 1-minute round, but divided into 6-second segments which have a complex turn order. There’s extensive arguments by Gary in AD&D and Dragon Magazine of the era about this, which was never particularly convincing to me.

    Original D&D didn’t specify, though Chainmail uses a 1-minute combat turn, OD&D has a 10-minute exploration turn, and there are places that suggest a 1-minute combat turn or round.

    Holmes D&D Basic Set, and Moldvay’s Basic D&D following his example, as well as most other TSR games like Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World, used a 10-second round where one or a few blows are exchanged per round.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The one minute combat round turned my group off to AD&D back in the day, or at least me and the DM, which was enough. The down side is that your fighters will usually take *several minutes* to defeat even minor foes, when you consider how often you miss, and how many hits it takes to kill things.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. (2e DM & player here)

    Just a little bit further on there is also this in the PHB: “When making an attack, a character is likely to close with his opponent, circle for an opening, feint here, jab there, block a thrust, leap back, and perhaps finally make a telling blow. A spellcaster may fumble for his components, dodge an attacker, mentally review the steps of the spell, intone the spell, and then move to safety when it is all done. It has already been shown what drinking a potion might entail. All of these things might happen in a bit less than a minute or a bit more, but the standard is one minute and one action to the round.”

    So, a fair bit more going on than simply “uh, I hit it with my axe”.

    This is also another example of some of the abstracting that EGG did – combat isn’t a precise sequence of individual swings and blows, but instead a whole big dance number. That there is only one _effective_ action per round is just abstracting all the non-effective actions away.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nah, in the end it’s still just “I swing. I miss.” for the fighter or “I cast burning hands” for the mage. More imaginative players will try to elaborate, but it just slows things down.


  5. Our current DM, who is great and keeps things moving, sometimes skimps on combat descriptions. I try to elaborate on combat, even in games with shorter rounds. For me, it keeps me interested in combat and (hopefully!) encourages players to try interesting stunts and tactical thinking. Endless repetitions of “I swing, I miss”, takes me out of the character. I need the extra cinematic detail to keep me in character.

    I’m also not a fan of silly fumbles. I’d rather a 1 be a spot of bad luck or being bested, even momentarily, by a foe than, “You slip and fall, spinning around until you’re too dizzy to stand,” or the like.


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