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Dungeons & Dragons

The Dungeons & Dragons logo

Dungeons & Dragons (abbreviated as D&D or DnD) is a fantasy tabletop roleplaying game (RPG) published by Wizards of the Coast. The original Dungeons & Dragons, designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, was first published in 1974 by Gygax's company, Tactical Studies Rules (TSR). Originally derived from tabletop games, D&D's publication is generally regarded as the beginning of modern roleplaying games, and by extension, the roleplaying game & MMORPG industry.

Players of D&D invent fictitious characters who embark upon imaginary adventures in which they battle many kinds of fictional monsters, gather treasure, interact with each other, and earn experience points, becoming more and more powerful as the game progresses. D&D departed from traditional wargaming in this regard by assigning each player a specific character to play, as opposed to legions and armies. D&D also developed the concept of a Dungeon Master (DM), the storyteller and referee responsible for creating the fictional setting of the game, moderating the actions of the players' characters, and roleplaying the supporting cast of non-player characters.

A game usually continues over a succession of meetings among the players and the DM, in which case it is called a "campaign". Usually, each player plays one character, although some games allow a player to play more than one character. The players and the DM keep track of their characters' activities, attributes and possessions using paper and pencils, or the electronic equivalent. The published rules of the game explain how to create and equip a character for adventure, how the powers and abilities of the characters work, how interactions and combats work, and describe the many magical spells and items that characters are likely to encounter. However, the rules encourage DMs to make modifications to suit both their own campaigns and the group they are playing with.

The early success of Dungeons & Dragons quickly led to a proliferation of similar game systems, such as RuneQuest, Tunnels and Trolls, Traveller (sci fi), and Arduin. Despite this competition, D&D has continued to dominate the roleplaying game industry throughout its existence, enjoying a nearly impenetrable market position. In 1977 the game was split into two slightly different versions: the simpler Dungeons & Dragons and the more complex Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (abbreviated as AD&D or ADnD). In 2000, the simplified version of the game was discontinued and the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons was released as a major revision of the AD&D game. The current version of the game, released in July 2003, is Dungeons & Dragons v3.5 (also known as the Revised 3rd Edition or D&D3.5).

As of 2006, Dungeons & Dragons remains the best-known and best-selling roleplaying game, with an estimated 20 million players worldwide and over US$1 billion in book and equipment sales (according to a BBC news report). Products branded Dungeons & Dragons made up over fifty percent of the RPG products sold in 2002. Outside of the gaming community, "D&D" has become a metonym used to refer to roleplaying games in general.

Play overview

The Player's Handbook for D&D version 3.5, one of the game's three core rulebooks

Dungeons & Dragons is a structured, yet open-ended, "make-believe" game. Each player in the game typically takes on the role of a single character. During the course of play, each player directs the actions of his or her character and their interactions with the other characters in the game. As a group, these player characters (or PCs) are often described as a "party" of adventurers.

The results of the party's choices and the overall storyline for the game is determined by the Dungeon Master (or DM) according to the rules of the game and the DM's interpretation of those rules. The DM selects and describes the various non-player characters (NPCs) the party encounters in the game, the settings in which these interactions occur, and (based on the players' choices and actions) the outcomes of those encounters. The game's extensive rules guide the DM in making these decisions, covering everything from social interactions, magic use and combat, to the effects of weather on the PCs. In some situations, the DM may choose to substitute or override one of these rules.

The most recent version of the game's rules are detailed in three core rulebooks: The Player's Handbook, the Dungeon Master's Guide, and the Monster Manual. Additional rulebooks, such as the Complete Warrior, contain additional optional rules which can be used if the DM permits it. Abbreviated versions of the rules, such as the Basic Game boxed set, are available to help beginners learn the game.

The only items required to play the game are the rulebooks, a character sheet for each player, and a number of polyhedral dice, although there are many optional items which can be used to supplement or enhance the gaming experience, such as pre-designed adventures and campaign settings. Special gameboards or cloth mats are sometimes used to visually depict the situations in the game, and miniature figures can be used to provide a three-dimensional representation of the characters. [1]

Game Mechanics

A set of standard D&D dice: (from left) d4, d6, d8, d12, d20, and two d10s for percentile: ones and tens.

Before the game begins, each player creates his/her own character, or PC, recording the details on a character sheet.

First, a player will determine their character's ability scores, which consist of strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom and charisma. Some supplements suggest adding additional ability scores, such as comeliness, & psionic ability. This is typically done by rolling dice, but optional methods include a points buy system. The player then chooses a race (species), a character class (similar to a profession) and an alignment (a moral and ethical outlook). In the core rules available races are dwarf, elf, gnome, halfling, half-orc, half-elf, or human and available classes are Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, or Wizard, though many others of each are available from different suplements.

The player also selects a number of "skills" and "feats" for their character, which enhance the character's basic abilities. Some players develop a detailed background for their character (a "bio"), covering his or her circumstances of birth, family, upbringing, nationality, personality profile, moral outlook, and other topics.

During a game, players describe their characters' intended actions, such as punching an opponent or picking a lock, and converse with the Dungeon Master in character. Trivial actions such as picking up a letter or opening an unlocked door are usually automatically successful, although more complex or risky actions may either succeed or fail. Multiple factors may be relevant in the rules governing the outcome of these attempts. These include the character's abilities and the difficulty of the task, but the final outcome is typically determined by rolling dice.

As the game is played, each PC grows and changes over time as they gain experience. Characters develop new skills, learn new feats, gain (or lose) wealth and prestige, and may even change alignment or add additional character classes as they progress. Different PCs will therefore become capable of accomplishing different types of objectives, and the game is designed to reward a well-balanced party of specialised characters.

To represent this process, PCs are awarded an appropriate number of experience points (XP) when they defeat an enemy or accomplish a difficult task. Attaining a certain number of experience points allows a PC to advance a level, granting the character enhanced abilities and often permitting the player to choose new skills and feats for his or her PC.

If a PC dies it may be possible for the dead character to be resurrected, alternately the player will create a new PC and resume playing as the new character.

Adventures and campaigns

Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was one of the few adventures released by TSR to include science-fiction elements, such as ray guns and robots.

A typical Dungeons & Dragons game consists of an "adventure", which is roughly equivalent to a single story. Adventures are usually designed by the Dungeon Master, but throughout the history of Dungeons & Dragons, numerous pre-made "adventures" or "modules" have been published. These modules allow DMs to run a game without needing to create their own adventures, and typically include a backstory, maps, and one or more objectives for players' characters to achieve. Some modules include illustrations or hand-outs to supplement the basic gaming experience.

A series of adventures played through by a common group of characters is commonly referred to as a "campaign". As a result, the fantasy settings in which D&D games take place are often known as "campaign settings". Like the individual adventures themselves, many Dungeon Masters create their own fantasy settings, but there are also many official campaign settings which can be purchased. These worlds range from magic-rich to magic-poor, from European medieval settings to east Asian realms, from sword and sorcery to swashbuckling adventure to futuristic or post-apocalyptic settings. A campaign may be site-based, event-based, or a combination of the two. For example, in a site-based campaign, the players might defend a town throughout a long war without ever leaving it. In an event-based campaign, the players might pursue and defeat a warmongering villain through several locations over a long period of time.

Miniature figures

A Dungeons & Dragons miniature figure

Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition (2000) assumes the use of miniatures to represent combat situations in play, an aspect of the game that was even more empahsised in the v3.5 revision. The Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Game (2003) which is sold as sets of plastic, randomly assorted, pre-painted miniatures, and can be used as either part of a standard Dungeons & Dragons game or as a stand-alone collectible miniatures game.

The wargames from which Dungeons & Dragons evolved used miniature figures to represent combatants. D&D continued the use of miniatures in a fashion similar to its direct precursor, Chainmail, with each figure representing a specific character or monster. While the original rules of D&D required the use of miniatures to resolve combat situations, the rules quickly evolved to a point where by the 1977 editions combat could be resolved verbally and miniatures were no longer required for gameplay. Although no longer required or assumed by the rules, some players continued to use them as a visual reference.

In the 1970s, numerous companies began to sell miniature figures specifically for Dungeons & Dragons and similar games. In 1977, the British manufacturer Miniature Figurines Limited became the first company to partner with TSR and release miniatures under the official "Dungeons and Dragons" label. [2] Other miniature manufacturers licenced who produced official figures include Citadel Miniatures (1984 - 1985) [3], Grenadier Miniatures and TSR themselves. Most of these miniatures used the 25 mm scale, though those for 1st Edition Battlesystem were 15 mm.

Periodically, Dungeons & Dragons returned to its wargaming roots with supplementary rules systems for miniatures-based wargaming. Supplements such as Battlesystem (1985 & 1989) and a new edition of Chainmail (2001) provided rule systems to handle battles between armies as miniature battles.

Game History

Chainmail, a Dungeons & Dragons predecessor.

Sources and Influences on the Development of D&D

The fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons, designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, evolved in the early 1970s from a naval wargame system, and certain rules of early D&D versions reflect this history. The game was influenced by mythology, pulp fiction, and contemporary fantasy authors of the 1960s and 1970s.

The presence of halflings, elves, dwarves, half-elves, orcs, dragons and the like often draw comparisons to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, although Gygax maintains that he was influenced very little by The Lord of the Rings (although the owners of Lord of the Rings copyright forced the name change of Hobbit to Halfling), stating that he included these elements as a marketing move to draw on the then-popularity of the work (Kuntz 1978, Gygax 1985).

The magic system—where wizards memorize spells which they then forget when they cast them—was heavily influenced by the The Dying Earth stories and novels of Jack Vance.

The original alignment system (which grouped all players and creatures into "Law" and "Chaos") was derived from the Three Hearts and Three Lions novel by Poul Anderson, where a troll is also described from whence is derived the D&D description of the monster—although the novel Stormbringer has been cited as an influence as well.

Other influences, according to the original edition of the Dungeon Master's Guide, include the works of Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber, L. Sprague de Camp, Roger Zelazny, and Michael Moorcock. Monsters, spells, and magic items used in the game have been inspired by hundreds of individual works ranging from A. E. van Vogt's "The Destroyer" (the Displacer Beast) to the Book of Genesis (the clerical spell "Blade Barrier" was inspired by the "flaming sword which turned every way" at the gates of Eden).

Edition history

Dungeons & Dragons has gone through several revisions. Parallel versions and inconsistent naming practices can make it difficult to distinguish between the different editions.

The original Dungeons and Dragons was a box set published in 1974 with several supplements and magazine articles of official rules published over the next few years.

The original Dungeons & Dragons set

In 1977, TSR released two new versions of the game: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) and Dungeons & Dragons (sometimes called Basic D&D to distinguish it from AD&D, though TSR never used that term).

The version called Dungeons & Dragons (1977 - 1999) was, by virtue of being published as discrete sets with increasing complexity, was seen as "introductory" version of the AD&D. It actually it was a similar complete game, and though often simpler than AD&D, this game in full included rule areas not in AD&D. In 1977 the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set was published as a boxed set. This set was revised in 1981, to coincided with the release of an Expert Set, and again in 1983 when the series was expanded to five boxed sets adding the Companion Rules, Master Rules, and Immortal Rules. The Dungeons & Dragons game was revised again in 1991, with a hardback book Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia consolidate all the core rules in a single volume, though several versions of intoductory boxed games were available through the 1990's

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (or AD&D) was a more complicated version of the game in many ways, designed to collect, revise, and expand on the rules from the original version and its supplements. Between 1977 and 1979, three hardcover rulebooks, commonly referred to as the "core rulebooks", were released: The Player's Handbook (PHB), the Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG), and the Monster Manual (MM). Several additional books were published throughout the 1980's, noteably Unearthed Arcana (1985) included a large number of new rules.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition (sometimes referred to as AD&D2 or 2nd Ed) was published in 1989, once again as three core rulebooks. The Monster Manual was replaced by the Monstrous Compendium, a loose-leaf binder which was later replaced by the hardcover Monstrous Manual in 1993. The release of AD&D2 also corresponded with an effort was made to remove aspects of the game which had attracted negative publicity. Removing references to demons and devils, suggestive artwork and playable “evil” character types like assassins and half-orcs from the core books. In 1995, the core rulebooks were slightly revised and a series of Player's Option manuals were released as "optional core rulebooks". Although still referred to by TSR as the 2nd Edition, this revision is seen by some fans as a distinct edition of the game and is sometimes referred to as AD&D 2.5.

First edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition (also referred to as D&D3 or 3E and not to be confused with the 1983 edition of the basic D&D game) was released in 2000 following three years of development which began when a near-bankrupt TSR was bought by Wizards of the Coast in 1997. The 3rd Edition was the largest revision of the D&D rules to date, and also served as the basis for a broader roleplaying system designed around 20-sided dice, called the d20 System. The 3rd Edition rules were designed with the intention of making them more internally consistent and significantly less restrictive than previous editions of the game, allowing players much more flexibility in creating the characters they wanted to play. Skills and feats were introduced into the core rules to encourage players to further customize their characters. The new rules also standardized the mechanics of action resolution and combat. In 2003, the 3rd Edition rules were revised as Dungeons & Dragons v.3.5 (also known as Revised 3rd Edition or D&D3.5). This release incorporated numerous minor rule changes and expanded the core rulebooks.

A wide variety of optional supplements have been published for every edition of D&D. These supplements commonly include new rules, items, spells, and creatures. Other supplements include new adventures or detail entire fantasy worlds. The various editions of Dungeons & Dragons have won many Origins Awards, including All Time Best Roleplaying Rules of 1977, [4] Best Roleplaying Rules of 1989, [5] and Best Roleplaying Game of 2000 [6] for the three flagship editions of the game.


Dungeons & Dragons was the first modern roleplaying game, establishing many of the conventions which have dominated the genre. Particularly notable are the use of dice as a resolution mechanic, character record sheets, progressive character development, and game-master-centered group dynamics.

The elements which made up Dungeons & Dragons can be seen in many hobbies of the time, though they had existed previously. Character-based roleplaying, for example, can be seen in historical reenactment and improvisational theatre. Game world simulations had been well-developed in wargaming. Fantasy milieus specifically designed for gaming could be seen in Glorantha's board games and M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel, among others. Ultimately, however, Dungeons & Dragons represented a unique blending of these elements, creating its own niche and leading to the development of a multitude of roleplaying games. Science fiction, horror, superheroes, cartoons, westerns, spies and espionage, and many other fictional settings were adapted to roleplaying games.

Over the years, many gamers have criticized various aspects of the Dungeons & Dragons rules. In previous editions, clunky and inconsistent mechanics were often seen as inefficient and confusing. Trying to find solutions to these problems led to other game developers to expand on and modify aspects of the game. Within only months of Dungeons & Dragons's release, new roleplaying game writers and publishers began releasing their own roleplaying games. The first arrivals to achieve lasting influence were the science fiction roleplaying game Traveller, released by Game Designers Workshop in 1977 and RuneQuest, released by Chaosium in 1978. Some of the later systems include Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu, Champions by Hero Games, GURPS by Steve Jackson Games and Vampire: The Masquerade by White Wolf Game Studio. These games also fed back into the genre's origin, miniatures wargames, with combat strategy games like Battletech, Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Warhammer 40,000. Collectable card games, like Magic: The Gathering, were also heavily influenced by Dungeons & Dragons and its legacy.

With the launch of Dungeons & Dragons's 3rd Edition, Wizards of the Coast made the d20 System available under the Open Gaming License (OGL) and d20 Trademark License. Under these licenses, authors are free to use the d20 System when writing their own games and game supplements. The OGL and d20 Trademark License are also responsible for making possible new versions of older games, such as Call of Cthulhu, using the new system.

Some fans have felt that the game has changed too dramatically over the years and has lost its connection to its roots. Consequently, Kenzer and Company produces the Hackmaster line of gaming products, a semi-satirical follow-on to 1st and 2nd Edition D&D differing in tone and content from the current official version of the game.

Related products

D&D's commercial success has led to many other related products, including (but not limited to) Dragon Magazine, Dungeon Magazine, an animated television series, and computer games such as the MMORPG Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach. Hobby and toy stores sell dice, miniatures, modules and other game aids related to D&D and its game offspring.

References in popular culture

As the popularity of D&D grew throughout the late-'70s and '80s, references to the game often began to appear in popular culture. Numerous games, films and cultural references based on D&D or D&D-like fantasies, characters or adventures have been ubiquitous since the end of the 1970s. Typically, though by no means exclusively, D&D players are portrayed as the epitome of geekdom, and references to the game are used as a shorthand to establish characterization or provide the punchline of a joke. Many players, miffed with this stereotype, embrace the fact that the film star Vin Diesel and comedian Stephen Colbert have confessed to playing D&D (Johnson et al. 2004).

Controversy and notoriety

In Dark Dungeons by Jack Chick, a girl gets involved in witchcraft through the "occult training" she receives while playing D&D. Later she converts to Christianity and rejects the game, burning the materials.

At various times in its history, Dungeons & Dragons has received negative publicity for alleged promotion of such practices as devil worship, witchcraft, suicide, and murder. These controversies led TSR to remove references to demons, devils, and other potentially controversial supernatural monsters from the 2nd Edition of AD&D. In the 3rd Edition, some of the books that contained references to this type of material bore a "For Mature Audiences Only" label.

Dungeons & Dragons has also been the subject of unsubstantiated rumors regarding players having difficulty separating fantasy and reality, even leading to psychotic episodes. The novel Mazes and Monsters and especially the 1982 CBS made-for-TV movie adaptation helped fuel these rumors.

The game's commercial success led to lawsuits regarding distribution of royalties between the initial creators Gygax and Arneson. Gygax later became embroiled in a political struggle for control of TSR which culminated in a court battle and Gygax’s decision to sell his ownership interest in the company in 1985.

Early in the game's history, TSR took no action against small publishers producing D&D compatible material. This attitude changed in the mid 1980's when TSR revoked even publishers they had officially licenced, such as Judges Guild, and took action to prevent others from publishing compatible material to a level that angered many fans. TSR itself also ran afoul of intellectual property law in several cases.


Further reading

External links

  • Dungeons & Dragons – official website.
  • Wizards of the Coast – owner and publisher of Dungeons & Dragons which is owned by Hasbro.
  • TSR Archive – a catalogue of (almost) everything produced for D&D (all editions, including d20). Started as a catalog of TSR titles, but has grown to include just about every publisher of D&D works. Presents cover pictures, back cover blurb and publishing info.
  • The Acaeum – detailed information on pre-AD&D2 editions of the game
  • Order of the Stick – popular webcomic based in the D&D world.