YOU ARE DEAD (or Hardcore/AD&D for D&D 5e House Rules)


To keep the game feeling like sword and sorcery (and challenging the whole campaign), the following AD&D-inspired rules will be in play.

General Changes

  • Everyone starts at level 0 as a nobody.
  • Character stats and races are determined randomly via a character funnel.  Though there is no restriction on class, your ability scores should influence what you pick – no point in becoming a cleric with 8 Wisdom.
  • There is no Darkvision, all references to Darkvision are replaced with Infravision:
    • Infravision.  Infravision is the ability to see into the infrared spectrum. Thus heat radiation becomes visible, and temperature differences allow infrared sight. Warm things are bright, cool things grey, and very cold things are black. Dungeon-dwelling monsters tend to have infravision to 120 feet. All infravision is spoiled if a light source is shedding illumination upon the creature possessing the infrared sight capability. Similarly, great heat will spoil the capability. Thieves hiding in shadows are successful concerning infravision only if there is a heat/light source nearby to mask their body heat or a very cold object or radiation to provide similar cover.
  • Ability score bonuses from class progression cap out at 18, not 20.
  • Max HP level is 10. This is to avoid the silliness of high-level play and keep the math simple. No more HPs after this except through in-game rewards. You do get max HPs at level 1. Monsters are unchanged, which makes them truly deadly at higher levels. Martial characters get 3 hps for each level after 10, and non-martial characters get 1 hp per level from 11 to 20+; others get +2.  CON bonus no longer applies to hps from level 11.
  • When reduced to 0 hit points, your party has until your next turn to save you; if not, you die.
  • Resurrection magic exists, but it always drains 1 “will to live” from the target and permanently fails if the target fails to make a DC 15 CON saving throw. Will to live is your original CON score. Familiars and animal companions can be automatically be resurrected and automatically lose 1 CON. True resurrection grants advantage on the CON saving throw. Reincarnation always works (no saving throw required) but its a one time spell.
  • Every character gets one action per round only. There are no bonus actions; reactions are OK. Edge cases will be adjudicated by the DM. Examples:
    • Disengage bonus action for rogues is fine.
    • Healing word bonus action is fine.  Though 5e has a ton of healing, the other rules already make the game deadly.
  • Martial classes with extra attacks are a little different. For each attack they make, they instead add a die of damage to their attack. This extra die can be applied to the same or adjacent target. The following exceptions/changes per class:
    • Monk. No change; they work exactly like the 5e class reflecting their speed with their fists and feet.
    • Fighter. You gain the through damage trait. If you overkill an enemy (do more damage than the target has), additional damage spills over against another target within range and of the same AC.
    • Ranger. You gain your full complement of attacks against your favoured enemy.
    • Paladin. You gain your full complement of attacks against the “unholy” creature of your oath/religion.  This will usually be undead.
  • Thou shall not feats (i.e., no feats). Feats are narrative-driven and rewarded via story/gaming directly. For example, a colossal magic axe that provides the iron-hand feat.
  • Encumbrance is a thing. You can carry a number of items equal to your STR with no issues. These slots represent your backpack/storage items on hand. Carrying over this amount means you are encumbered, and all ability checks (and related skill and combat checks) have Disadvantage – your movement is reduced by 5′ for every point of encumbrance over your STR.  For more generic items like treasure (or other edge cases), 500 gp or 5 items is equivalent to 1 slot.  Backpacks give you a bonus of 5 slots. To retrieve an item in combat, you roll 1d6; you retrieve your item on a 6 and can use it the same turn.  You get a +1 per free slot you have, and +1 for each round spent rummaging.  Fighters (and their subclasses) can add their STR and CON together to determine the number of slots they can carry.
  • There is no attunement.
  • Shooting into melee is done with disadvantage. On a natural 1, the archer rolls a 1d6, on a 1-4 they hit another target instead of the intended target.  Determine the new target randomly.
  • All natural 1s are automatic failures, all natural 20s are automatic successes. Critical hits do an additional 1d12 damage.
  • Only Rogues can disarm/detect/set traps.
  • There is a 100 gp per level per month of living expenses to be paid on the 1st of each month. This cost covers mundane things but also covers the cost of identifying magic items (either through a sage or the spell).
  • GP = XP.
  • Magic items also provide XP (per the 1e DMG or C&C CK Guide).
  • Use 1e AD&D style XP progression charts (link). Once you gain enough XP to reach your next level, you stop gaining XP until you train (if you use the 5e xp tables, all monster xp should be reduced by 90%).
  • Characters with 16 or more in their “prime requisite” get a 10% XP bonus.  A prime requisite is the two ability scores the class is proficient in when it comes to saving throws.
  • Item wastage due to massive damage can happen when a character is struck with enough force. If the attack affords a saving throw and you fail, you must roll for each item you carry to see if it’s destroyed.  You do this by slot, but containers that make the saving throw protect items stored in them. The DC is the CR of the attacking creature or a minimum of 10 by default. Magic items have an advantage on this saving throw and can add their plusses (if any) to the roll.  A natural 1 is always a failure, and a natural 20 is always a pass. Examples of damage types that can cause item destruction:
    • AOE. Any effect that requires a saving throw to avoid or mitigate the damage can destroy items on a failed saving throw – fireballlightning boltdragon breath etc.
    • Blow, Massive. If you suffer massive damage that causes instant death.
    • Force. For example, disintegration spell. If the damage type is force, non-magical items are instantly destroyed, and magic items only get their plusses (if any) to the item saving throw.
  • It costs time and money (training) to level up, similar to AD&D 1e/2e rules. You use your current level for all calculations.
      • It takes 1 week per level modified by your WIS ability score bonus to train for your next level (1-week minimum, 4 weeks maximum).
      • It costs 100 gp per level per week.
      • You can self-train for free, but it always takes you 8 weeks.
      • You can also condense the training to 1 week by doubling the final cost of training. For example, to train for level 5 as a fourth-level character it will cost 400gp (current level * 100gp) and take 4 weeks for a character with a +0 WIS bonus. Say the same character wants to push themselves and finish the training in 1 week. The final cost will be 800gp.
      • Once you get to named level (level 10), you no longer need a mentor to train, and it costs the following:
        • DIVINE/HYBRID = 2,000/level/week (vestments & largess).
        • MARTIAL = 1,000/level/week (tithes & largess).
        • ARCANE = 4,000/level/week (equipment, books, experiments, etc.)
        • THIEF/MONK (Rogue) = 2,000/level/week (tools, equipment, etc.)

Classes and Multiclassing

  • Standard rules apply for multiclassing (link), with the following qualifications:
  • Demi-humans are level capped but can take a second or even third class. See this table for details.
  • Humans have no level limit and have both multiclassing and dual classing as an option. However, they can only take one extra class.
  • Humans can dual class. Unlike multi-classed characters who are of non-or semi-human race, the character with two classes must be human. To attain the second class, the character must switch his or her profession at some point. Thereafter no progression in the original class is possible. You must have a 13 in the class you are switching to’s prime ability score (INT for magic-users, WIS for clerics, STR or DEX for fighters, STR and DEX for monks etc.) You retain the hit points and HD of the original class but otherwise lose all class abilities of the original class until your new class is higher level.  So a 10th-level thief that switches to become a wizard gains back all the class abilities of the thief at level 11.
  • XP is just split between the classes, but progression is tracked seperetly.  Alternatively, for simplicity’s sake, players are free to combine the XP total per level for both classes and both level up at the same time once this amount is reached.
  • For humans, dual/multi-classing and demi-humans taking a second or third class after level 1 will have to have a narrative reason to do this. Multiclassing requires DM approval.


  • Concentration exists but concentration spells stack.  That is, you can cast multiple concentration spells at once, but if you are forced to make a check, you make a check for all of them.
  • Spellcasting and shooting a bow in melee reach of an enemy provokes an attack of opportunity.
  • PHB spells only.  Other spells may be discovered via adventuring, a mentor/master/teacher, or research. Wizards do not gain spells automatically – they must discover them through adventuring, learn them from a master or research them themselves (divine casters can also research new spells).  Research rules are here(replace any mention of silver pieces with gold pieces).
  • Cantrips and Orisons (level 0 spells) can only be cast if the caster makes a DC 10 ability check using their casting ability; otherwise, they are lost for the day.
  • Magic is different by class:
    • Wizards and Druids use Vancian  That is, spells are memorised by slots; once cast, they are gone.
    • Clericsuse standard 5e rules.  However, their spells fail on a natural 1, and they lose them for the day (or long, at the DM’s discretion) and must pay penance.  During a long or short rest, the cleric can spend 100gp per spell level (representing sacrifices) to appease their god and get their spell back.
    • Sorcerers are a unique class that can be found here.
    • Warlocks also use the base 5e class but are more heavily customised to match their patron, an example here.
  • NPC spell casters exist and will charge based on level + material component.  A spell caster will charge 500gp per level of the caster + material components.  This exact cost should be flexible and paying in magic items or favours (quests) would work as well.
  • If you move in your turn as a spellcaster, you can not also cast a spell – it’s one or the other.
  • Spells that use an action or bonus action always go last in a turn. That means if the spell caster is hit during the turn they need to make a Concentration check to see if they lose the spell.  They do not benefit from DEX when casting a spell if attacked (you can not doge while casting). You must also declare what you are casting after initiative is rolled but before it’s executed. These rules do not apply to the innate spellcasting trait but do apply to NPC spellcasters.
    • Exception, any time a spell caster wins initiative their spell triggers on their turn.
    • Exception, this rule does not apply to magic items (for example wands and scrolls).  They trigger on the casters turn and do not have to be pre-declared.
  • Arcane magic can misfire on a natural 1; roll on the miscast table here.
  • Where there is a mechanical effect or flavour related to a spell in AD&D that does not exist in 5e, the restriction/mechanics from 1e take precedence.  Notable examples:
    • hasteages the caster one year,
    • resurrectionmagic cripples a cleric for one.
    • goodberryprovides sustenance for one meal OR heals for one hp.

Healing & Death

  • Use the gritty realism rules from the 5e DMG (link). That is, a short rest of 8 hours and a long rest of 7 days. This puts the brakes on the campaign, requiring the players to carefully judge the benefits and drawbacks of combat. Characters can’t afford to engage in too many battles in a row, and all adventuring requires careful planning.
  • A character that is dropped to 0 hit points but is then brought back through magic has disadvantage on all d20 rolls until they take a long rest. This reflects major physical damage taken by the character that magic can not fully heal on the spot.

Rules of Convenience

All loot will be measured in gp and the gp price quoted is the item’s sale price. Purchasing goods and services will still use all denominations (cp, sp, ep, gp and pp).

Ninth World Specific changes

  • Real-time passes in between sessions.  That is, one week of real-time means one week has passed in the game world.  At the table, any number of days can be abstracted away.
  • We use group initiative. Everyone rolls a raw d20; the highest number goes first, and then combat proceeds clockwise around the table. The DM may use advantage or other mechanics to even the playing field, but typically, it should just roll a single d20.  If a player is running multiple characters (including henchmen or summoned creatures), the PC can decide the order their characters move in. However, if it ever matters, for example, order matters for death, initiative is rolled normally (1d20 + DEX).
  • I use Target DCs for all encounters, that is, 1 number representing all the creatures, traps etc., AC and DCs. A boon and/or bane may influence this number. A 1d4 timer will also be used to indicate how many rounds before something (usually) bad happens.
  • Rangers may add their proficiency bonus to damage rolls against their favoured enemy.
  • Clerics are pure spell casters.  They do not start with any armour proficiency.  However, their spells are not limited by armour.  This puts them in the same camp as priests at a church/temple or cathedral.  The warrior priest and undead hunter archetypes are filled by the paladin class.
  • When used, all non-consumable magic items (including items with charges) fail on a natural 1 in 20.  This reflects the fact that all magic is actually ancient technology with the current population of the world, with some exceptions like magic users, have no idea how to recreate or recharge these items.  There may be ways to recharge them, but it won’t be easy.  The exception are “plusses”.  Even if other traits fail, items with plusses always retain them.
  • Carousing is a generic term used to reflect a PC’s downtime activity.  If a character spends downtime doing things appropriate for their class, they gain xp equal to the number of gp spent.  For example, a wizard building a laboratory and spending time researching would gain XP, a rogue doing a heist, a fighter training a squire and so forth.
  • Magic items with the relic tag (that is, technological items) or any magic items that use charges can deplete. By default, anything with charges can deplete (e.g. wands). Everything from The Star Fortress (Luna Castellum) also depletes. I will do that going forward. Items can be recharged using a silver disk or another technological device – like a Plasma Fornax. All are very rare and limited.

Reaction Rolls

A modified version of the 1e reaction rules.  The DM should use this table whenever he is unsure what a monster or NPC would do in a particular situation.  The PC makes a Charisma (Persuasion, Deception or Intimidation) check as appropriate and consults the table below:

Adjusted Die Score Reaction
1 Violently hostile, immediate attack (or morale check if appropriate)
2-7 Hostile, immediate action (or morale check if appropriate)
8-14 Uncertain, but 55% prone toward negative
15 Neutral – uninterested – uncertain
16-19 Uncertain but 55% prone toward positive
20-24 Friendly, immediate action
25+ Enthusiastically friendly, immediate action

14 thoughts on “YOU ARE DEAD (or Hardcore/AD&D for D&D 5e House Rules)

  1. Changed CON drain to will-to-live, the idea being you have a hard limit when it comes to resurrections, but it doesn’t make you weaker over time. Since I am already capping hit points and have multiple ways of insta-killing already.

  2. Group Init updated to avoid gaming the death system:

    We use group initiative. Everyone rolls a raw d20; the highest number goes first, and then combat proceeds clockwise around the table. The DM may use advantage or other mechanics to even the playing field, but normally, it should just roll a single d20.  If a player is running multiple characters (including henchmen or summoned creatures), the PC can decide the order their characters move in. However, if it ever matters, for example, order matters for death, initiative is rolled normally (1d20 + DEX).

  3. Change log

      Use the gritty realism rules for healing (change from slow healing which really didn’t have an impact).
      Spellcasting changes – can’t move and cast, always go last in a turn unless spell caster wins initiative.
  4. Added:
    Characters with 16 or more in their “prime requisite” get a 10% XP bonus.  A prime requisite is the two ability scores the class is proficient in when it comes to saving throws.

  5. Added:
    A character that is dropped to 0 hit points but is then brought back through magic has disadvantage on all d20 rolls until they take a long rest. This reflects major physical damage taken by the character that magic can not fully heal on the spot.

  6. Updated:

    I am also restoring multi-attack for everyone and removing the “one action” limitation. I initially changed this to reduce the number of dice rolled and therefor speed up combat. But, everyone is very good at keeping on top of their turns. Just adding damage also has downsides for both DM and PC:

    • The PC has actually less chance of hitting a target, but when they hit they hit hard but do less damage overall. When you roll multiple times to hit as a PC you have an increased chance of hitting and doing more damage as weapon damage is higher than the bonus damage.

    • All my robots have damage reduction, when you hit in one big hit, it bypasses some of this damage reduction so its not as effective as I originally designed it to be. And since robots are consistently present in my campaigns its a big difference over time.

    • Finally, I think the less I change from the original 5e the better, as thats simpler. Their are some non-negotiables, like removing death saves, but, extra-attack is an edge case I think can be removed without hurting the 1e experience/aesthetic.

  7. For those interested, in 5e, the benefits of dual-classing over multi-classing for a human in 5e when using 1e XP tables:

      Depending on the combination of classes you will end up with more hit points.
      It allows you to control how xp is distributed.