The Core Rules of Parrying

COMBAT IN THE Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition game is a very odd thing. It is highly abstract, rounds last for about 1 minute. Some times, for a variety of reasons, players want to focus more energy on parrying, or deflecting enemy blows with your weapon. This has always been an optional rule, because it can complicate things, and I’ve seen lots of tables play home-brewed parrying methods that were completely broken, complicated, and generally, unfair. The system does offer a variety of different systems to solve these little dilemmas, and I find that they work much better then clunky house-rules.


The 2e combat round is roughly 1 minute. This is done to help us measure spell casting times and spell durations. One turn is 10 rounds, or ten minutes. Now many players think that this is too long of a time to be realistic, but they are basing this opinion on a false assumption, this assumption being that all blows and attacks made are accounted for, and they aren’t.

During a combat round, you are making several attacks, but only a few (# of Attacks per round) are going through the opponents defenses. He is constantly parrying your blows, as you are also countering many of his attacks. The only weapons where every attack is accountable for are missile weapons. This is why, when a thief enters melee combat with a warrior, the warrior has more attacks then the thief, the warrior is just a better fighter and is capable of delivering a telling blow.

Parrying naturally happens, unless a character chooses specifically NOT to parry, such as a magic-user casting a spell, and this is where you are totally compounded by parrying rules. How do you reflect this in regards to an enemies THAC0? I would say that he is being protected by his peers. They are staying near him, hopefully, and protecting him, but we really don’t want to think of what would happen if an enemy breaches the wizards defenses while he’s completely open to attack, fizzling his spell and forcing the lose of it is punishment enough without outright killing him as well. That isn’t fair, nor fun for anybody, and once the players have this strategy used against them, then they’ll naturally employ it themselves and wizards will be even more easier to slay, nor will they represent the threat that we need them to for our stories.

This is why parrying rules aren’t present in the system. But if we forget this dogma, then we should still stick to the rules, or at least as close to them as possible. Choosing not to parry gives you the worst Armor Class (AC) possible, 10. Once the spell has fizzled, the wizard is free to move again, and his defense is back to normal. Perhaps great magical forces protect him from being slain, who knows? We don’t need/want to understand magic too completely else it will lose its charm.

Why all of this happens really doesn’t matter, the fact that it must is what really counts. It isn’t that big of a request, nor out of line, for a player to want to hold all, or some of his attacks to focus more on Defense.

For this article, I want to point out that the best AC that any character can have is –10, and I am including Rangers and Paladins in the Fighter Class.


This is the most common, and the most fair for everybody involved. Choosing to not attack that round, and focus on Parrying improves your AC. Cleric, Rogue, and Mage classes who give up all attacks gain a bonus AC of half of their level.

We’ll always be rounding fractions down, but the AC will always be improved by at least 1. A 10th level cleric who chooses to parry will improve his AC by 5. Thus, if he has a current AC of 4, by parrying he drops his AC to –1.

Now, if the character is a fighter, he is much better at parrying. Makes sense, right? The fighter improves his AC by half of his level +1, thus, a 7th level fighter with an AC of 2 can improve his AC by 4, giving him an AC of –2.

All attacks and other actions must be sacrificed to parry, a fighter can’t simply say that he is going spend 1 attack on parry. A character cannot move, drink a potion, or do anything except for parry enemy blows. Parry is also only effective against front and front-flank attacks. It doesn’t work against ranged weapons or spells.

Naturally this is quick and easy, thus making it an awesome optional rule which has been approved by the core rules. This is the method that you want to use under most circumstances, but what do you do if you want to have a highly dramatic sword fight between a hero and his most hated rival in the flavor of your favorite Movie?


This method is much more complicated, and comes from The Complete Fighter’s Handbook. In this method, again, before initiative is rolled, the player must declare that he is going to parry. A fighter, under this system, will be using his attacks themselves to attempt a parry. The fighters weapon is counted normally, however a shield grants the fighter a +2 to hit.

In this system, a fighter can pick which attack he is going to parry, and treat the parry as an attack. As soon as the enemy scores a hit, the fighter throws an attack die against the attackers AC, if he scores a hit, the blow is parried.

A magic shield does grant its defensive bonuses to parry, as do magical weapons, but they do no damage.

Now, under this system, there are additional rules and allowances: A polearm can parry an enemy polearm, even if it is attacking another character; and if a character who is using a missile-weapon, such as a bow, and is successful, the weapon is destroyed.

Now, this is clearly a more clunky and clumsy system. Overall, the best one is the first, but if you want to add a bit of drama, then using this is definitely worthwhile. Both the players and the DM have to know what is going on before this system is used as an alternative. That just wouldn’t be very nice! Also talk to the players, or the DM and get a chance to play test this method before you rely on it to solve a major fight scene. It is clunky, and you might want to throw some more rules into it to kind of flesh it out and make it do what you need it to do.

It can make a fight very dramatic, especially if your villain has more attacks then the hero does, but the negative side is that it does take longer to decide and can isolate the rest of the players if not playing 1-on-1 so we’ll always want to keep the other players busy as well. Used once in a while, and only for specific characters, this method works fine! But not on a full-time basis . . . at least not for me, but you and your group might be different.


There are some weapons which were designed to make parrying easier. These should be factored into whatever rule that you are using, simply holding a parrying dagger in your off hand can equal the same AC as a shield, and can fall under the same rules; or if you are using method #2, you can give them a bonus of +1 to parry.

Of course we have to control damage caused by exploiters who try to “win” the game, if the player tries to use a Buckler and a parrying weapon in his off hand, he must choose to benefit from one or the other, not both. No system is perfect, but both of these are supported by the AD&D 2e rules.

Bonus Link:Magical Parrying


Timeshadows said...

Golly, that's why I went back to the simpler games. Whew!
Thanks, though. You refreshed my memory on some of it and taught me other bits from my late-80's/early-90's days.

Keith S said...

Good info, thanks for posting it!

In my homebrew, which is d20-based, players using the full-attack option (that is, not moving) that have some training in the parry skill can choose to use one of their two "attacks" to parry a shot from an opponent.

They roll a d20, compare it to their parry-skill score, and if they've bested that, the parry is successful.

RipperX said...

These rules do come in handy for a variety of reasons. Deciding jousts and contests of skill, or for strategic reasons (goblins forming a blockade while pears attack with polearms from behind), so these rules are used under specific circumstances. Most folks try to home-brew it and it becomes overly complicated and clumsy.

Thanks for the feedback everyone!

DMWieg said...

I've never tried to come up with a consistent rules set for parrying; I find that too many situations come up that just don't work. For instance, how can a man sized character parry the axe of a frost giant, or the massive talons of a red dragon? I could also see myself telling a PC with a dagger that he can't parry an opponent with a halberd. I think I'll just stick with the abstract system outlined in option #1. Now, I haven't played the 2nd edition of AD&D in probably ten years, but I seem to recall that Warrior types were much better at parrying than (1/2 level +1). I don't have any 2nd ed books to check anymore. I'll probably allow parrying of this sort next time I run AD&D1.

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