Editions of Dungeons & Dragons

Over the years, there have been a number of different versions of the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game (D&D). The current publisher of D&D, Wizards of the Coast, produces new materials only for the most current edition of the game. Some D&D fans, however, continue to play older versions of the game and some third-party companies continue to publish materials compatible with these older editions. Parallel versions of D&D throughout its history and inconsistent product naming practices by D&D's original publisher TSR, Inc. can make it difficult to distinguish between the various editions of the game.

Edition and version history

Dungeons & Dragons

The original Dungeons & Dragons was published as a boxed set in 1974 and featured only a handful of the elements for which the game is known today: just three character classes (fighting-man, magic-user and cleric); four races (human, dwarf, elf, hobbit); only a few monsters; only three alignments (lawful, neutral, and chaotic). The rules assumed that players owned and played the miniatures wargame Chainmail and used its measurement and combat systems. An optional combat system was included within the rules that later developed into the sole combat system of later versions of the game. In addition, the rules presumed ownership of Outdoor Survival, an Avalon Hill board game for outdoor exploration and adventure (an unusual requirement, since Tactical Studies Rules was never in any way affiliated with rival Avalon Hill until two and a half decades later, when Wizards of the Coast - the purchaser of TSR's assets and trademarks - merged with Hasbro, which then owned Avalon Hill). D&D was a radically new gaming concept at the time, but the rules provided no overview of the game so it was difficult, without prior knowledge of tabletop wargaming, to see how it was all supposed to work. The release of the Greyhawk Supplement removed the game's dependency on the Chainmail rules, and made it much easier for new, non-wargaming players to grasp the concepts of play. Ironically, the ambiguities and obscurities of the original rules helped D&D's success as individual groups had to develop their own rulings and ways of playing and thus gained a sense of ownership of the game. It also inadvertently aided the growth of competing game publishers, since just about anyone who grasped the concepts behind the game could write smoother and easier to use rules systems and sell them to the growing D&D fanbase (Tunnels & Trolls being the first such).

Supplements such as Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry and Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes (the last predecessor of Deities and Demigods), published over the next two years, greatly expanded the rules, character classes, monsters and spells. For example, the original Greyhawk supplement introduced the thief class, and weapon damage varying by weapon (as opposed to character class). In addition, many changes were "officially" adopted into the game and published in the magazines The Strategic Review and its successor Dragon Magazine.

During this era, there were also a number of unofficial supplements published, arguably in violation of TSR's copyright, which many players used alongside the TSR books. The most popular of these were the Arduin series. For the most part, TSR ignored these unofficial supplements, although a few of the innovations from the Arduin series eventually made their way into mainstream D&D play, including critical hits, and the two-dimensional alignment system (pre-Arduin D&D had only a law/chaos axis, not a good/evil axis). Until the brand unification of D&D and AD&D in 2000, all of the "versions" of original D&D were referred to as editions; the Rules Cyclopedia represented the fifth (and final) edition of Original Dungeons & Dragons.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

An updated version of D&D was released as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (often abbreviated to AD&D). This was published as a set of three rulebooks, compiled by Gary Gygax, between 1977 and 1979, with additional supplemental volumes coming out over the next ten years. The AD&D rules were much better organized than the original D&D, and also incorporated so many extensions, additions, and revisions of the original rules as to make a new game. The term Advanced does not imply a higher level of skill required to play, nor exactly a higher level of or better gameplay; only the rules themselves are a new and advanced game. In a sense this version name split off to be viewed separately from the basic version below. The three core rulebooks were the Monster Manual (1977), the Players Handbook (1978), and the Dungeon Master's Guide (1979); later supplements included Deities and Demigods, the Fiend Folio (another book of monsters produced semi-autonomously in England), the Monster Manual II, and the Unearthed Arcana (which took most of its additional playing information from The Dragon magazine). This was followed by a fairly constant addition of more specific setting works and optional rule supplements.

Dungeons & Dragons, or the Basic Set and its sequels

While AD&D was still in the works, TSR hired an outside writer, John Eric Holmes, to produce an introductory version of D&D. Sold with dice and a module as the Basic Set, the first edition of Basic D&D, published in 1977, collected together and organized the rules from the original D&D boxed set and Greyhawk supplement into a single booklet, which covered only character levels 1-3. The booklet featured a blue cover with artwork by David C. Sutherland III. The "blue booklet" explained the game's concepts and method of play in terms that made it accessible to new players not familiar with tabletop miniatures wargaming. The original Basic Set was notable in that it was intended as a bridge between the original D&D and the AD&D rules rather than a simple introductory version of the game. Unusual features of the original basic game included an alignment system of five alignments as opposed to the 3 or 9 alignments of the other versions. This Basic Set was very popular and allowed many to discover and experience the D&D game for the first time. Although this Basic Set was not compatible with AD&D, players were expected to continue play beyond third level by moving to the AD&D version; evidently the radical changes AD&D would make to the rules were not yet appreciated when the original Basic Set was produced.

Once AD&D had been released, the Basic Set saw a major revision in 1981 by Tom Moldvay, which was immediately followed by the release of an Expert Set (supporting levels 4 through 14) to accompany the Basic Set. With this revision, the Basic rules became their own game, distinct both from original D&D and from AD&D. The revised Basic rules can be distinguished from the original ones by cover colors: the Basic booklet had a red cover, and the Expert booklet a blue one.

Between 1983 and 1985 this system was revised and expanded by Frank Mentzer as a series of five boxed sets, including the Basic Rules (red cover), Expert Rules (blue), Companion Rules (green, supporting levels 15 through 25), Master Rules (black, supporting levels 26 through 36), and Immortal Rules (gold, supporting Immortals - characters who had transcended levels).

This version was compiled and slightly revised in 1991 as the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, a hardback book which included all the sets except Immortal Rules which was also revised and renamed Wrath of the Immortals. While the Cyclopedia included all information required to begin the game there were also several editions of an introductory boxed set, including the Dungeons & Dragons Game (1991), the Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game (1994) and the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Game (1999).

Though often seen as simpler than Advanced Dungeon & Dragons, with the collection of all five boxed sets Dungeons & Dragons players had access to rules for everything from interdimensional and interstellar travel to the cost of hiring an animal trainer, including areas such as domain rulership which AD&D did not cover.

It is widely suspected in some circles that the Basic set was originally created for legal reasons, to give backing to the claim that Dave Arneson was not entitled to credit or royalty rights for the AD&D game. (See the Controversy and Notoriety section in the main article.)

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition

In 1989, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition was published. By the end of its first decade, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons had expanded to several rulebooks, including three monster manuals, and two books governing character skills in wilderness and underground settings. Initially, the second edition would consolidate the game, with three essential books to govern Dungeon Masters and players alike. Periodically, TSR published optional rulebooks for character classes and races to enhance game play.

The combat system was changed to use a mathematical formula, known as THAC0, rather than a table of numbers. Distances were based around real-life units (feet) rather than miniatures-board ones (inches). Demi-human races were given higher level maximums to increase their long-term playability, though they were still restricted in terms of character class flexibility. Critical hits were offered as optional rules.

Moreover, the release of AD&D2 corresponded with a policy change at TSR. An effort was made to remove aspects of the game which had attracted negative publicity, most notably the removal of all mention of demons and devils (although equivalent monsters were later added, now renamed tanar'ri and baatezu respectively). Moving away from the moral ambiguity of the First Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the TSR staff eliminated character classes and races like the assassin and the half-orc, and stressed heroic roleplaying and player teamwork. The target age of the game was also lowered, with most 2nd edition products being aimed primarily at teenagers. The Second Edition art and marketing were also modified to appeal more to female players. For the first few years, this new edition managed to be very popular despite the number and diverse styles of games it now competed with.

The game was once again published as three core rulebooks which incorporated the expansions and revisions which had been published in various supplements over the previous decade. However, the Monster Manual was replaced by the Monstrous Compendium, a loose-leaf binder in which every monster was given a full page of information, the justification being that packs of new monsters (often setting specific) could be purchased and added to the binder without the expense or inconvenience of a separate book. However, this idea was eventually dropped and the Compendium was replaced by the hardcover Monstrous Manual in 1993.

The concept behind the loose-leaf binder was it would allow updating the book. Originally this was considered for all the core rulebook, based on the concept that had been used by Avalon Hill for Advanced Squad Leader. While eventually adopted only for the Monstrous Manual, it was replaced because of the issues of wear and difficulties in keeping alphabetic order when many pages had been printed with more than one monster. Besides the formatting, the major change in the contents of the Monstrous Compendium was greatly increasing the power of dragons. This was done to counter the perception of the relative weakness of the game's "name" monster.

Critics of TSR have suggested that the second edition was produced mainly to have a set of core rulebooks to sell which did not list Gary Gygax as the primary author, and thus deprive Gygax of royalties; certainly, few major changes to the rules were made, aside from the addition of nonweapon proficiencies (which were introduced in various 1st Edition supplements) and the division of magic spells by group into Schools (for mages) and Spheres (for clerics) of magic. Gygax himself had already planned a second edition for the game, which would also have been an update of the rules, incorporating the material from Unearthed Arcana, Oriental Adventures, the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and the Wilderness Survival Guide as well as numerous new innovations from Dragon Magazine in the Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide and would have consolidated the Monster Manual, Monster Manual II and Fiend Folio into one volume.

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.

In 1997, TSR considered filing for bankruptcy but was purchased by former competitor Wizards of the Coast, the creators of Magic: The Gathering.

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition

A major revision of the AD&D rules was released in 2000. As the Basic game had been discontinued some years earlier, and the more straightforward title was more marketable, the word "Advanced" was dropped and the new edition was called just Dungeons & Dragons, but was still officially referred to as 3rd edition (or 3E for short). It is the basis of a broader role-playing system designed around 20-sided dice, called the d20 system. The rules are somewhat less restrictive than the second edition and allow players more flexibility and choice in the character that they want to play. The edition removed previous editions' restrictions on class and race combinations that were supposed to track the preferences of the race, and on the level advancement of non-human characters. Level advancement for all characters was greatly eased, allowing players to reasonably expect to reach high level in about one year of weekly play. Skills and the new system of feats were introduced into the core rules to encourage players to further customize their characters.

The d20 system uses a more unified mechanic than earlier editions, resolving nearly all actions with the same type of die roll. The combat system was greatly expanded, adopting into the core system most of the optional movement and combat system of the 2nd Ed. "Players Option: Combat and Tactics" book. Combat was ideally suited for play as a skirmish-level miniatures wargame (though some feel that adding rules regarding "attacks of opportunity" and standardizing all movement onto a square grid made the game too complex and unwieldy to play without maps). The Wizard class was divided into Wizards and the new Sorcerer class, and in later books such as the Complete Arcane further classes such as Warmage were added. The Thief was renamed Rogue, a term that Second Edition had used to classify both the Thief and Bard classes. Third Edition also presented the concept of the Prestige Classes which characters can only enter at higher character levels upon meeting certain character-design prerequisites or fulfilling certain in-game goals, previously setting specific, such as the three Knights of Solamnia classes introduced in the 1st Ed. "Dragonlance Adventures" hardback book and continued in the 2nd Ed. "Tales of the Lance" Boxed Set. Expansions for the game added to the optional ruleset, including super high-level campaigns with the "Epic Level" campaign options, and psionics.

The d20 system was presented under the Open Gaming License, which made it an open source system for which authors could write new games and game supplements without the need to develop a unique rules system and, more importantly, without the need for direct approval from Wizards of the Coast. This makes it easier to market D&D-compatible content under a broadly recognizable commercial license. Many other companies have produced content for the d20 system, such as White Wolf, Inc. (under the Sword & Sorcery Studios label), Alderac Entertainment Group, and Malhavoc Press.

Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition

In July 2003, a revised version of the 3rd edition D&D rules (termed version 3.5) was released that incorporated numerous rule changes, as well as expanding the Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual.

Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition

On August 15, 2007 Wizards of the Coast created a countdown page for a product called 4dventure, suspending all other Dungeons & Dragons articles on their site in place of the countdown. IVC2 announced on August 16, 2007 that this was the announcement of Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition. Unlike third edition, which had the core rulebooks released in monthly installments, the Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master's Guide were all released in June 2008. Previously it was announced that the three books would be released in May, June, and July respectively. reported that anecdotal evidence indicated "anger" from some players and retailers due to the financial investment in the 3.5 edition and the relatively brief period of time that it had been in publication; However, the fourth edition initial print run sold out so quickly due to preorders that Wizards of the Coast announced a second print run prior to the game's official release.

In December 2007, the book titled Wizards Presents: Races and Classes was released to give a look into the creation of 4th edition. This was followed by a second book in January 2008 named Wizards Presents: Worlds and Monsters.

Core Rules will include multiple Player's Handbooks (PHB), Dungeon Master's Guides, and Monster Manuals released yearly with each new book also a part of the core; including but not limited to certain core classes not being present in the first PHB and certain core monsters being spread out over each installment of the Monster Manuals. Unlike previous editions with just 3 core rulebooks, 4th edition will rely on multiple versions of each of the 3 books to constitute the core system.

Variant games

A faction of long-time D&D fans prefer earlier editions to the current one and continue to play them. In addition, new games have been published which address the perceived inability of the current game to preserve the tone of classic D&D while still fixing some of the faulty rules of older versions. Castles & Crusades is one such example, utilizing the unified D20 mechanic of Third Edition while dropping what are often perceived as complications (Feats, Skills, Prestige Classes, etc.). Another alternative is HackMaster, which is a direct revision of 1st and 2nd edition AD&D with some added parody elements. Some variants have literally been around for decades, such as PrinceCon, which originated as D&D Convention in 1976, but by as early as 1979, its mechanics had already begun to diverge via local tailoring, typicially in the form of streamlining to faciliate convention play. Recently, there has been a trend towards utilizing the permission of the OGL to recreate the rules of earlier editions, and using those recreations to publish new material for the old games. In 2006, Rob Kuntz began releasing new material under his "Creations Unlimited" banner and also under the OGL. Similarly, Paizo publishing has been working on a set of rules based on 3.5 which seeks to smooth out the rules inconsistencies that have grown up after 6 years of supplements. Their effort, Pathfinder, was released at GenCon 2008.

Time line

Dungeons & Dragons Version History
noting key rule publications
1974 Original Dungeons & Dragons
Three volume boxed set: Men & Magic, Monsters & Treasure, The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures
1975 Greyhawk
1976 Eldritch Wizardry
Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes
1977 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition
Monster Manual (December)
Dungeons & Dragons 2nd version
Basic Set (Blue Box) (levels 1 - 3)
1978 Players Handbook (June)  
1979 Dungeon Master Guide (August) - Core rulebooks complete  
1981   Dungeons & Dragons 3rd version
Basic Set (Magenta Box)
Expert Set (Light Blue Box) (levels 4 - 14)
1983 Core rulebooks reprinted with new covers Dungeons & Dragons 4th version
Basic Set (Red Box)
Expert Set (Blue Box)
Companion Set (levels 15 - 25)
1984   Master Set (levels 26 - 36)
1985 Unearthed Arcana (Rules Expansion) Immortals Set (levels 36+)
1989 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition
Player's Handbook
Dungeon Master's Guide
Monstrous Compendium (replaces Monster Manual)
1991   Dungeons & Dragons 5th version
Rules Cyclopedia (levels 1 - 36)
1992   Wrath of the Immortals (levels 36+)
1993 Monstrous Manual replaces Monstrous Compendium  
1996 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition revised
Player's Handbook
Dungeon Masters Guide
2000 Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition
Player's Handbook - Core Rules vol. 1
Dungeon Master's Guide - Core Rules vol. 2
Monster Manual - Core Rules vol. 3
2003 Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition revised (3.5)
New editions of core rulebooks
Errata available to allow continued use of older 3rd edition books
2008 Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition Player's Handbook - Arcane, Divine and Martial Heroes
Monster Manual
Dungeon Master's Guide

Specific differences between versions of Dungeons & Dragons

Below are differences between versions that are not covered above. Only changes to the core rules are mentioned and supplemental material is not covered.

Original Dungeons & Dragons to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition

  • The game rules were reorganized across three hardcover rulebooks (the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual) rather than one boxed set (of three books, Men & Magic, Monsters & Treasure, and The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures), and a series of supplemental booklets, Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes, and Swords & Spells.
  • Supplemental rules retained included the Druid, Monk, Paladin and Thief classes, variable weapon damage by weapon type, weapon to hit modifiers vs armor and psionics.
  • Supplemental rules cut included hit locations.
  • The Chainmail based combat system was completely abandoned.
  • Many details in class abilities were altered and clarified.
  • Character classes (Bard, Illusionist and Ranger) that had only appeared in magazine publication were added to the game.
  • Alignment was broken down into two polarities, "ethics" being Lawful, Neutral or Chaotic, and "morals" being Evil, Good, or Neutral, so there were now nine alignments: Lawful Good, Neutral Good, Chaotic Good, Lawful Neutral, Neutral, Chaotic Neutral, Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil and Chaotic Evil.
  • The Assassin class is added.
  • Fighting Men were renamed to Fighters.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition to 2nd Edition

  • Half-orcs were removed from the Player's Handbook, although they would be again made a playable race in supplements such as the Complete Book of Humanoids.
  • Character classes were grouped into one of four groups: Warrior (Fighter, Paladin, Ranger), Wizard (Mage, Specialist Wizard), Priest (Cleric, Druid), and Rogue (Thief, Bard).
  • Assassins and Monks (from Players Handbook) and Barbarians, Thief-Acrobats, and Cavaliers (from Unearthed Arcana), were removed from the game as character classes. Later supplements would introduce "kits" bearing the names of these classes and/or optional classes from sources such as Complete Book of Barbarians.
  • "Magic-users" were renamed "mages".
  • Illusionists were made into a subtype of the Wizard class, along with new classes specializing in the other seven schools of magic (which were first introduced in Dragonlance Adventures).
  • Bards were made a normal character class, rather than the multiple-classed character that they had been, although they still possessed elements of fighters, thieves, and mages.
  • Proficiencies were officially supported in the Player's Handbook and many supplements, rather than being the optional add-on found in a handful of 1st Edition supplements.
  • Attack matrices were exchanged for "THAC0" (To Hit Armor Class 0) and the table printed only once in the Dungeon Master's Guide was reprinted in the second edition Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide.
  • References to "segments" (individual units of time representing one phase of initiative, or 6 seconds of game-time [simulated time]) were removed from the game; instead, actions were given an "Initiative Modifier". "Melee rounds" were unchanged, representing one minute of game-time, with a "turn" representing ten rounds (ten minutes). An optional alternative where one "melee round" represents 12-15 seconds of "game-time" was presented in the "Player's Option: Combat and Tactics" book, first of the so-called 2.5 Edition.
  • Other changes to combat including the function of weapon speed, initiative, and surprise rules.
  • Priest and Druid spells were organized into themed "spheres" that were similar to the wizard spell schools that had been introduced in Dragonlance Adventures, with access to spheres being determined by the priest's class and deity.
  • Descriptions of artifacts (unique magic items) were removed from the Dungeon Master's Guide.
  • Many utilities, including tables for random generation of dungeons, were removed from the Dungeon Master's Guide.
  • The weight of coins was changed from 1/10 lb. each to 1/50 lb. each, making the carrying of large numbers of coins out of an adventure site much less of an impediment.
  • Exchange rates for the low-valued coins were doubled; it now took only 100 copper pieces or 10 silver pieces to make one gold piece.
  • The hardcover Monster Manual was initially replaced by the looseleaf binder-format Monstrous Compendium; the Monstrous Compendium would eventually be replaced by the hardcover Monstrous Manual.
  • Dragons were increased in strength and power to make the title monsters of the game a more serious challenge to players.
  • Fiendish and angelic creatures (demons, devils, daemons, devas, solars, etc.) were removed from the game, as were spells that allowed such creatures to be summoned or controlled. These creatures would later be renamed and modified in the Monstrous Compendium supplement on the Outer Planes.
  • Changes made in how experience points were calculated and awarded.
  • Changes of varying magnitudes to various classes.
  • Psionics were no longer included in the Players Handbook, though they later appeared in their own supplement.
  • Maximum level was standardized at 20 rather than varying by class.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition to Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition

  • The game system converted to the d20 System, in which task resolution is normalized into a roll of a 20-sided die and adding or subtracting modifiers to beat a Difficulty Class (DC) for the check.
  • THAC0, which many gamers found hard to understand, was replaced with a simple attack bonus. Armor Class now goes up (instead of down) as defensive capabilities increase. (3rd Edition Armor Class = 20 - 2nd Edition Armor Class; 3rd Edition "Base Attack Bonus" = 20 - THAC0.)
  • Ability scores follow a single table and give standardized bonuses (modifier = (ability score - 10 ) / 2). Ability scores are no longer capped at 25.
  • Saving throws are reduced from five categories (based on forms of attack) to three (based on type of defense): Fortitude (Constitution-based), Reflex (Dexterity-based), and Will (Wisdom-based), and also go up instead of down.
  • "Non-weapon proficiencies" were replaced by skills, and became a fundamental part of the game rather than an optional one, with class abilities such as thieving skills being translated directly into skills. All characters are given a pool of points to spend on a wide range of specific skills to further define a character.
  • Special abilities known as "feats" allow greater customization of characters. Fighters are no longer differentiated simply by weapons, roleplay and equipment selection.
  • Magic item creation is simplified, requiring a prerequisite feat, spells, and monetary and experience costs, replacing the obscure rules of earlier editions.
  • Barbarians, monks, and half-orcs return to the Player's Handbook as basic character types.
  • "Mage" renamed to "wizard," and "thief" to "rogue."
  • The thief's backstab ability became "sneak attack," which has a wider range of use.
  • The sorcerer class was added to the game as an arcane caster that uses magic naturally, instead of through study.
  • All character classes use the same experience table.
  • Characters receive maximum hit points at first level (a very common house rule in previous editions).
  • Multi-classing and dual-classing as per previous editions was removed. In the new multiclassing system, multi-classing functioned similar to dual-classing had previously, except that a character could gain a level of any character class upon gaining a level instead of only gaining levels in the second class. Multi-classing was made available to all races, although easier for humans, and characters with multiple classes of differing levels would be penalized.
  • Prestige classes are added, representing special training or membership in an organization outside the generic scope of core classes. Entry into prestige classes requires characters to meet certain prerequisites. Assassins would make their return here, as well as blackguards (fallen paladins) and several others.
  • Any combination of race and class is now permitted, with the exception of some prestige classes. (Previously, characters of some fantasy races/species were not allowed to belong to some character classes.)
  • Spells that belonged to multiple schools of magic now belong to one, and some had their effects altered.
  • The use of "memorization" was replaced with "preparation," removing the connotations of wizards forgetting spells after casting them.
  • Many spells were given descriptors such as "Fire" or "Evil" that could determine how the spells interact with certain creatures and effects.
  • Priest spell spheres were removed from the game; each spellcasting class now had its own specific spell list (although wizard and sorcerer shared a list). Instead, clerics gain domains that allow them to use bonus spells and abilities based on their deity's area of influence, as well as the ability to swap out prepared spells for curative spells.
  • Creatures that were flatly immune to weapons below a specific level of enchantment (for example, +2 weapons) instead had damage reduction: damage dealt by a weapon not of that type would be reduced by a fixed amount instead of being completely negated.
  • Percentage-based magic resistance was replaced by spell resistance, which functions in a manner similar to armor class.
  • Class groups, warrior, priest, rogue, wizard were removed.
  • "Priests of a specific mythos", also known as specialist priest classes, except druid, were eliminated.
  • Each race gains a "favored class" for which they may multi-class with no penalties.
  • Initiative was changed to a cyclic system where the order of resolving actions is determined once per encounter and then repeated, and actions are resolved on the players turn. Previously the order was redetermined each round and many actions did not resolve on the players turn but at the end of the round.
  • Diagonal movement and range are simplified. Each square of diagonal distance is equivalent to 1.5 squares of orthogonal distance, rounded down.

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition to 3.5 Edition

This revision was intentionally a small one (hence the name change of only "half an edition"), small enough so that the basic rules are nearly identical and many monsters / items are compatible (or even unchanged) between those editions. In fact, some players, disliking some changes 3.5 made, use some 3e rules as house rules. Official errata for many of the most popular books are available for download as D&D v.3.5 Accessory Update Booklet.

Major changes

  • The ranger class receives more skill points and new class abilities, though fewer hit points.
  • Druids can cast Summon Nature's Ally spells spontaneously, just like the cleric's spontaneous casting. Their abilities were also reworked and animal companions were improved.
  • The Paladin's Mount is now a magical creature, to be called into service from a celestial plane.
  • Weapon sizes work differently: there are now smaller and bigger versions of weapons for smaller and larger creatures.
  • Damage reduction no longer depends on the enhancement bonus of a weapon, but rather on its material (e.g. cold iron), magical enhancement, magical alignment, damage type, or some combination thereof. DR ratings were reduced to 5, 10, 15, or 20 from a range of much higher numbers (e.g. the iron golem went from 50/+3 to 15/adamantine).
  • New spells and numerous changes to existing spells.
  • New feats and numerous changes to existing feats.
  • Monsters gain feats and skills the same way as PCs, usually resulting in more skill points and feats for every monster.
  • The favored class for gnomes was changed to bard.
  • Some high-end monsters (notably the balor and pit fiend) were altered to make them more powerful and thus warrant higher Challenge Ratings.
  • Many new core prestige classes.

Minor changes

  • The bard receives more skill points per level.
  • Different rate of gaining new abilities for almost all the classes.
  • Bards do not suffer arcane spell failure when wearing light armor.
  • Some player races gain Weapon Familiarity, which allows them to treat exotic racial weapons as martial for proficiency purposes.
  • Sorcerers and bards can change known spells infrequently.
  • The base speed of Dwarves is not reduced by armor or encumberance.
  • There are no longer skills exclusive to certain classes.
  • Some skills changed and a few were folded together: for example, Wilderness Lore and Intuit Direction are now Survival.

Changes to the core books

In addition to rule changes, the core rulebooks themselves underwent changes.

  • The chapter on combat (chapter 8) in the Player's Handbook was modified to increase focus on grid-based movement and combat.
  • The chapter order of the Dungeon Master's Guide was completely changed, and many prestige classes were added. Some magic item traits were changed as well, though they generally remained the same.
  • The Monster Manual's monster entries changed slightly. In particular, the attack line was split into Attack and Full Attack entries. Also, most monsters gained an enhanced version as an example of advancement, with more Hit Dice, a template, or class levels. All of the monsters that the writers thought could be used as player races gained instructions on how to use them as such.

Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition to 4th Edition

Specific changes in moving to the 4th Edition include:

  • A new class list in the Player's Handbook: The Warlock and Warlord classes were added. The Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Monk and Sorcerer classes have not been included, they are intended to be included in subsequent PHBs, as are other classes.
  • Overhaul of the previous grappling rules.
  • Overhaul of the multi-classing system.
  • Increased importance of weapon damage in combat. In previous editions a weapon's damage dice were overshadowed by other damage bonuses for high level characters. Many abilities now deal damage using multiple weapon dice, causing larger weapons to deal significantly more damage even at high levels.
  • Change in per-encounter resourcing with all classes (both spellcaster and noncaster) having an equal number of per-day, per-encounter and unlimited-use abilities. Spellcasters will get an improved version of the "reserve feats" introduced in Complete Mage. Some Fighter-class powers receive bonuses for certain types of weapons. Powers are divided into attack and utility powers, and into at-will, encounter and daily powers, attack powers use separate slots for at-will, encounter and daily powers, while utility powers use a single pool of slots.
  • Casters no longer prepare their spells at the start of the day, except that Wizards learn extra daily and utility spells and choose which to have available in a given day.
  • Revision of saving throws and defense values. Fortitude, Reflex and Will are now static defense values which the attacker rolls against like Armor Class. Saving throws are now rolls made at the end of one's turn in order to end certain ongoing detrimental effects, saving throw rolls generally have no bonus and a target number of 10.
  • Standardized level-based bonus increases. Attack rolls, skill checks and defense values all get a bonus equal to 1/2 level, rounded down, rather than increasing at different rates depending on class or skill point investment. This bonus also applies to ability-score checks (such as Strength rolls).
  • Elimination of skill points. Each skill is either trained or untrained. Being trained in a skill provides a fixed bonus on skill checks, and some skills can only be used in certain ways with training.
  • Revision of the healing system. In addition to the healing powers available to some classes, each character has a number of daily healing surges based on their class and Constitution score. Spending a healing surge generally heals a character for 1/4 of a character's maximum hit points. Generally, characters can only spend one healing surge per encounter, however certain powers allow additional surges to be spent, and characters can spend any number of their healing surges outside of combat. Finally, players recover full hit points after a (once daily) 6 hour 'extended rest'.
  • Many non-combat spells (such as Knock, Raise Dead, Tenser's Floating Disc, and Water Breathing) have been replaced by rituals. All rituals have a financial cost in the form of material components, such as herbs and alchemical reagents. Item creation feats are also replaced by rituals.
  • Rules for varying power sources (Arcane, Divine, Martial, etc.).
  • Extending core rules to level 30 rather than level 20
  • Overhaul of races.
    • Racial abilities that improve with level.
    • Elimination of racial level adjustment.
    • All playable races have positive ability score bonuses and a racial power.
    • Tieflings and Dragonborn have become core races.
    • Halflings are given a river-dwelling background (much like how dwarves are mountain dwellers, and elves come from the forest).
    • Gnomes have been removed from the core race selection, but have been included as a playable race in the Monster Manual, much like goblins in the previous edition.
    • Half-Orcs have also been removed as a core race.
    • Elves are split into three races (excluding Half-Elves) rather than numerous subraces. Eladrin are more civilized, while regular "elves" are forest dwellers rather than city builders and the evil subterranean Drow are largely unchanged. All three elven races are considered Fey.
  • Magic items have been redesigned, sharply reducing their power and limiting many effects to daily use plus limiting the number of daily-item powers characters can activate.
  • Elimination of Challenge Ratings.
  • Monster Manuals officially support leveling monsters down and up to allow for easier encounter design and flexibility. Many monsters have their mechanics redesigned to help differentiate them from others (Gnolls fighting like hyenas and hobgoblins marching like legions). Monsters are also designed to work well in groups fights instead of a solo monster versus players' party.
  • Revision of the critical hit system. Confirmation roll to critical hits has been done away with; a natural 20 is an automatic hit, and critical providing that the roll is high enough to overcome the target's armor class. Critical hits deal the maximum damage for a weapon.
  • The default cosmology has been revised. The planes now consist of the Astral Sea, the Elemental Chaos, the Feywild, the Shadowfell, "the world" (similar to the Material Plane) and the Far Realm. The Great Wheel has been eliminated, with many outer planes converted into astral dominions, although the Abyss is now part of the Elemental Chaos. The Elemental Chaos also incorporates aspects of the Inner Planes of Air, Earth, Fire, and Water with the outer plane of Limbo. Some aspects of the Negative Energy Plane and the Plane of Shadow have been merged into the Shadowfell.
  • Alignments are now limited to Lawful Good, Good, Evil, Chaotic Evil, and Unaligned. The impact of alignment on actual game mechanics has been essentially eliminated.
  • Demons and Devils are restructured with devils being twisted angels organized in a hierarchal society and demons being unorganized beings of destruction.
  • XP budget system for encounter design introduced.
  • In addition to level, each monster has a power tier. Minions are the weakest tier, considered equivalent to roughly 1/4 of a standard monster of the same level, and are designed to be simple to run in large numbers, minions die in one hit, have fixed damage and have few if any special abilities. Elite monsters are considered roughly equivalent to 2 standard monsters of the same level, while Solo monsters are considered roughly equivalent to 5 standard monsters of the same level. Elite and solo monsters generally have more hit points, higher defenses and more powerful and numerous attacks and special abilities than standard monsters of the same level. They also generally have action points and a bonus to saving throws.
  • Characters (and some monsters) gain "action points", which can be spent to take an extra action in combat, or to perform some other special tasks granted by certain classes or feats.
  • Diagonal movement and range are simplified. Each square of diagonal distance counts as one square of orthogonal distance.
  • Text size in the core rulebooks has been significantly increased.



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