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Original ‘D&D’ and 5th Edition, Some Side-by-Side Comparisons Part II

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Original ‘D&D’ and 5th Edition, Some Side-by-Side Comparisons Part I

In the previous post in this series, I began a comparison of elements from the Original Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D, 1974) boxed set to today’s 5th edition D&D (2014).  The original box shipped with three booklets:

Volume 1: Men & Magic
Volume 2: Monsters & Treasure
Volume 3: Underworld & Wilderness Adventures

Three volumes

For Part I, I selected elements for comparison from the 35-page Volume 1: Men & Magic relating to character classes, races, experience and spells. This same subset of subject matter can be found in the 5e Player’s Handbook, a 318-page book.

I’ll say it again — as I read through these early booklets,  I am continually amazed at how the early game players and referees took these three booklets (and the most basic of information and rules they contained) and used them to both entice new players and expand the system with homebrew rules and charts. What I wouldn’t give to sit in on a few of those early Blackmoor and Greyhawk adventures as a new player…

What’s interesting about Volume 1: Men & Magic was just how few choices players had at the time for classes and races. Of course, they didn’t know any different. While today’s D&D player might find it difficult to imagine having only three options — fighting-man, magic-user, or cleric — those 1970s players didn’t even get a choice! The rules for OD&D had the referee (DM in today’s terminology) roll the dice (in order) for specific ability scores rather than allow the players to allocate the rolls to ability scores that best suited a favored class.

Monster Manual and OD&D Vol 2

But let’s now jump to the challenges and rewards that those early OD&D players faced. For this, an examination of the OD&D monsters and magical items is needed, and that information was found in Volume 2: Monsters & Treasure. Let’s take a look at this 40-page booklet and see how it compares to today’s 352-page 5th edition Monster Manual.

Note: Back in 2013, Wizards of the Coast (the company that bought TSR and the D&D brand in 1997) released a wooden box filled with reprints of the first three booklets plus the additional four supplements. It’s these reprinted booklets that I’m using as my sources.

I’ll start with the monsters. Volume 2 is more of a reference book than a rulebook, and this is no more apparent than with the first page after the Index (Table of Contents). On pages 3 and 4, Volume 2 begins with a chart labeled The Monsters — Monster Reference Table, Hostile & Benign Creatures.

Six columns provide everything an OD&D referee needed when it came to encounters. These columns include:

Monster Type — a simple one or two word description
Number Appearing — a ranged value, with an * letting the referee know they could increase or decrease as necessary
Armor Class — with OD&D, the lower the number the better
Move in Inches — with OD&D, movement was based on 1 inch = 10 feet
Hit Dice — number of six sided dice to roll for Hit Points
% in Lair — only a monster encountered in its lair would have treasure
Type or Amount of Treasure — a “Type” would let the referee know which chart to reference later in the booklet

OD&D Monster ChartThe total number of unique creature types listed in this first table (and “Men” was a listed type along with Gnomes, Dwarves, Elves, Mules, four types of Horses, and a mix of small or large “Insects”) was 59. Compare this to the over 400 monsters found in the 5e Monster Manual.

Note: Of interest to some players might be the fact that with OD&D, the following creatures were linked and typically considered swappable in terms of deadliness, numbers encountered, and hit dice: Goblins/Kobolds, Hobgoblins/Goblins, and Skeletons/Zombies.

Two interesting rules are found on page 5 that relate to the Chainmail combat rules. For OD&D, miniature combat rules weren’t included and the referee and players were instructed to reference the Chainmail rule booklet. If a referee was using Chainmail combat rules, then these two extra rules explained how to handle Special Abilities of creatures and how to calculate a monster’s Attack/Defense characteristics versus “normal men.” Chainmail special ability rules were in play unless superseded by Volume 2, and since Fighting-Men, Magic-Users, and Clerics were considered “Hero” or “Superhero” types in Chainmail, all other “normal men” soldiers meant a substantial bonus to creatures when it came to Attack and Defense values — basically, a monster could attack a specific number of “normal men” that equaled the creature’s hit dice value!

If you read about any of the dungeon romps in the early days of OD&D, you’ll often hear of parties encountering hundreds of a monster type. (You’ll also frequently hear of them discovering chests filled with 10,000 gold or even larger amounts.) I don’t think labeling early delves as “Monty Hauls” is a fair assessment. Looking at this first chart, you’ll find that Kobolds, for example, would normally be encountered in groups of 40 to 400! But it’s important to keep in mind that dungeon delves in the 70s were often undertaken by 20, 30 or even up to 50 players at a time. Today’s games usually see a group of 4-8 players, so monster encounters are often based on character number and level. The same is obvious for OD&D, so a group of 10 or 20 level 4-5 characters encountering an army of 400 Kobolds probably wasn’t all that unheard of at the time.

Compare this to today’s 5e Monster Manual where there is no Number Appearing option. With 5e’s Challenge value, DMs are encouraged to use this value along with an equation or two and some charts (found on pages 81-85 of the 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide) to determine the proper number of a creature to pit against a group of players.

Pages 5 through 22 contained the creature descriptions — typically a single paragraph in length. Dragons and Lycanthropes were the only two creature types that were given significantly more detail due to their being different sub-types of each. Dragons got a whopping four pages — of interest are the rules related to subduing a dragon and even selling them! It wasn’t uncommon for OD&D players to own a dragon (or two) for use as transport or a weapon against another player.

Given OD&Ds infancy, it’s also no surprise to find that “Other Monsters” are discussed on page 21, minus any specific attributes or inclusion in that first chart. Players of AD&D will smile when they see a list of a half a dozen monsters including some that finally DID make their way into the official AD&D Monster Manual — Titans and Gelatinous Cubes are two that jump out immediately.

Note: Anyone who has been reading some of my recent DM Reports will also know of my fondness for mixing fantasy with science fiction such as the official AD&D adventure titled Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. On page 22, the OD&D rules actually list Robots and Androids as possible creature types that can be used, but not much else in terms of characteristics is provided. Instead, referees get “Self-explanatory monsters which are totally subjective as far as characteristics are concerned.” 

The OD&D rules are specific about whether treasure is recovered after a battle — a creature must be in its lair for the Treasure Type chart to be of use. Let’s take a look at the Orc monster type for an example of how this chart worked.

Treasure Type Chart

Orcs were typically encountered in groups of 30 to 300, and players had a 50% chance of running into this group in their lair. Should they defeat the orcs in their lair, the referee would consult the Treasure Types chart on page 22 for a Type D treasure. There was a 10% chance of finding between 1000-8000 copper, a 15% chance of finding 1000-12000 silver, and a whopping 60% chance of finding 1000-6000 gold! But we’re not done yet.

Two additional columns exist — Gems and Jewelry and Maps or Magic. For an orc lair, players had a 30% chance of finding 1-8 gems or pieces of jewelry and a 20% chance of finding any two magical items plus one potion.

Let’s look at Maps or Magic first. Referees are instructed to roll 100% dice — 01-75 resulted in a magic item while 76-00 finds the players a map. For maps, referees then roll 100% dice again — 01-60 nets a treasure map, 61-90 gets them a “Magic Map”, and 91-00 gets the players both a “Magic Map” and a treasure map. Jumping forward to pages 26 and 27, referees were given additional tables that used % dice to determine a treasure map’s hoard value or a magic map’s mix of magical items and potions.

Note: It’s easy to see how early games with players defeating creature after creature would start to find treasure and magic maps over and over again, leading to more and more adventures in the dungeon. The rules state “All items will be guarded by appropriate monsters.” Obviously!

When rolling for magical items, referees had a number of useful charts. It all started with the Magic Items chart on page 23. A % dice roll would point the referee to eight or more different charts that included Swords, Armor, Misc. Weapons, Potions, Scrolls, Rings, Wands/Staves, and Misc. Magic.


OD&D magic items were heavy on the +1, +2, and +3 items, with bonuses often applied to specific creatures such as the +1 sword/+2 vs Trolls , for example, or the generic “Armor +2” listing. There was a chart with over a dozen magical (non-sword) weapons. The Potions, Rings, and Wands charts all offered an amazingly large mix of options. What player wouldn’t want to find the Dragon Control potion, right? A lucky referee might roll a 00 and one player could be the proud owner of a Ring of Many Wishes — 4 to 24 wishes in all! If your referee rolled a Misc. Magic item, over two dozen amazing items could potentially be rolled up, including Boots of Speed or a Helm of Teleportation or even a Mirror of Life Trapping. Pages 27 to 38 contained descriptions of all the rings, scrolls, and other magical items from the tables… typically a paragraph each, but some items did get lengthier coverage. Swords, for example, got almost four full pages that covered rolling for a sword’s alignment, its intelligence, special powers, extraordinary ability, its ego (!), and its origin and purpose. I’ve heard of OD&D players having swords with lengthier back stories than most of today’s player characters!

Note: Today’s D&D players might see OD&D as lacking in a large variety of magical items, but I would respond that OD&D players probably had more opportunities to wield magic items than today’s players. I can imagine a party of 10-20 level 5-10 players in the 70s all heading into the dungeons with half a dozen magical weapons and items each. Monty Haul, maybe, but probably also incredibly fun for both players and referee.

Treasure charts haven’t disappeared from 5e D&D, but they are presented and used a bit differently. These new charts are also found in the 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide, not the Monster Manual. Whereas OD&D awarded treasure based on players defeating creatures in their lair, 5e provides both Individual charts (for what treasure is carried on a randomly encountered creature) and lair charts. To determine both Individual and Lair chart treasure, DMs select a chart based on a creature’s Challenge value. The Individual Treasure charts are found on page 136 and Treasure Hoard charts are found on pages 137-139, and results from these charts point a DM to specific tables found on pages 144-149. Magic item descriptions begin on page 150 of the 5e DMG and continue to page 227 — 77 pages of magic items with most of them having a matching full-color piece of art.

Volume 2: Monsters & Treasure finishes up the final two pages with some basic info on treasure valuation — exchange rates for coins, a chart for generating a random value for gems, and another chart for jewelry. (Pages 134-135 contain similar charts in the 5e DMG for determining random values and descriptions of gems and artwork.)

When comparing Volume 2: Monsters & Treasure to today’s 5e Monster Manual, it might be a bit too tempting to shake our heads and be grateful for the full-color, 350+ page behemoth that includes amazing artwork (lacking in Volume 2) for each creature. But examine Volume 2 from the point of view of those early RPGers who really started with zero source material (and nothing with which to compare) and Monsters & Treasure really shines as an incredible historical document.

I welcome your comments, and if you have any additional observations about OD&D, please share them here. I’ll be concluding this series with Part III where I examine Volume 3: Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. 

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1 thought on “Original ‘D&D’ and 5th Edition, Some Side-by-Side Comparisons Part II

  1. Great articles! I look forward to the last one. I think one thing that too easily dismissed, as you pointed out, is the simplicity of OD&D. Some say that there is barely anything variety in what players can do. But I would almost argue the opposite. The “simplicity” of a system allows players and DMs much more freedom. That’s why we play https://fyxtrpg.com/. It’s a simple system but it opens up the ability to unleash your imagination which is what truly makes RPGs so fun to play. I think a lot of modern RPGs, 4e was really bad, tell us exactly what to play and how to play. Kind of micro-managing it so much our imagination is pushed out for what the “books say” we must do/be/play etc. 5e helped that some by stepping back and giving players more choices in what their individual player wants to do with their character. That is good. But it really is nothing compared to the openness a players imagination of a simple game system. Then when you look at the treasure/loot systems. They have almost been reversed from OD&D to 5e. I think it is telling on what the “focus” of the game is.

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