Dungeons & Dragons

Dungeons & Dragons (abbreviated as D&D or DnD) is a fantasy role-playing game (RPG) originally designed by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, and first published in 1974 by Tactical Studies Rules, Inc. (TSR). The game is currently published by Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro. It was derived from miniature wargames with a variation of the Chainmail game serving as the initial rule system. D&D's publication is widely regarded as the beginning of modern role-playing games and, by extension, the entire role-playing game industry. Players of D&D create characters that embark upon imaginary adventures within a fantasy setting. A Dungeon Master (abbreviated as DM, also known as a Game Master or GM) serves as the game's referee and storyteller, while also maintaining the setting in which the adventures occur. During each game session, the players listen to descriptions of their character's surroundings, as well as additional information and potential choices from the DM, then describe their actions in response. The characters form a party that interacts with the setting's inhabitants (and each other). Together they solve dilemmas, engage in battles and gather treasure and knowledge. In the process the characters earn experience points to become increasingly powerful over a series of sessions. D&D departs from traditional wargaming and assigns each player a specific character to play instead of a military formation. Miniature figures or markers, placed on a grid, are sometimes used to represent these characters.

The early success of Dungeons & Dragons led to a proliferation of similar game systems, such as Tunnels and Trolls, Traveller and RuneQuest. Despite this competition, D&D dominates the role-playing game industry, enjoying a nearly unassailable market position. In 1977, the game was split into two versions: the simpler Dungeons & Dragons and the more complex Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (abbreviated as AD&D or ADnD). AD&D 2nd Edition was published in 1989. In 2000, the simpler version of the game was discontinued and the complex version was renamed simply Dungeons & Dragons with the release of its 3rd Edition. Dungeons and Dragons v. 3.5 was released in June 2003. The current version of the game, Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition, or D&D4e, was released June 6, 2008.

As of 2006, Dungeons & Dragons remains the best-known and best-selling role-playing game, with an estimated 20 million people having played the game and more than US$1 billion in book and equipment sales. Dungeons & Dragons is known beyond the game for other D&D-branded products, references in popular culture and some of the controversies that have surrounded it, particularly a moral panic in the 1980s falsely linking it to Satanism and suicide.

Play overview

Dungeons & Dragons is a structured yet open-ended role-playing game. It is normally played indoors with the participants seated around a table-top. Typically, each player controls only a single character. As a group, these player characters (PCs) are often described as a ‘party’ of adventurers, with each member often having his or her own areas of specialty. During the course of play, each player directs the actions of his or her character and its interactions with the other characters in the game. A game often continues over a series of meetings to complete a single adventure, and longer into a series of related gaming adventures, called a ‘campaign’.

The results of the party's choices and the overall storyline for the game are determined by the Dungeon Master (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, the settings in which these interactions occur, and the outcomes of those encounters based on the players' choices and actions. Encounters often take the form of battles with 'monsters'—a generic term used in D&D to describe potentially hostile beings such as animals or mythical creatures. The game's extensive rules—which cover diverse subjects such as social interactions, magic use, combat, and the effect of the environment on PCs—help the DM to make these decisions. The Dungeon Master may choose to deviate from the published rules or make up new ones as he or she feels necessary.

The most recent versions of the game's rules are detailed in three core rulebooks: The Player's Handbook, the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Monster Manual. A Basic Game boxed set contains abbreviated rules 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. The current editions also assume, but do not require, the use of miniature figures or markers on a gridded surface, items that were optional in earlier editions. Many optional accessories are available to enhance the game, such as expansion rulebooks, pre-designed adventures and various campaign settings.

Game mechanics

Before the game begins, each player creates his or her player character and records the details (described below) on a character sheet. First, a player determines his or her character's ability scores, which consist of Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Each edition of the game has offered differing methods of determining these statistics; as of 4th Edition, players generally assign their ability scores from a list or use points to "buy" them. The player then chooses a race (species) such as Human or Elf, a character class (occupation) such as Fighter or Wizard, an alignment (a moral and ethical outlook which may have a Good or Evil component, a Lawful or Chaotic component, or something in between), and a number of powers, skills and feats to enhance the character's basic abilities. Additional background history, not covered by specific rules, is often also used to further develop the character.

During the game, players describe their PC's intended actions, such as punching an opponent or picking a lock, and converse with the DM in character—who then describes the result or response. Trivial actions, such as picking up a letter or opening an unlocked door, are usually automatically successful. The outcomes of more complex or risky actions are determined by rolling dice. Factors contributing to the outcome include the character's ability scores, skills and the difficulty of the task. In circumstances where a character does not have control of an event, such as when a trap or magical effect is triggered or a spell is cast, a saving throw can be used to determine whether the resulting damage is reduced or avoided. In this case the odds of success are influenced by the character's class, levels and (with the 3rd edition) ability scores.

As the game is played, each PC grows and changes over time as they gain experience. Characters gain (or sometimes lose) experience, skills and wealth, and may even change alignment or add additional character classes. The key way characters progress is by earning experience points (XP/EXP), which happens when they defeat an enemy or accomplish a difficult task. Acquiring enough XP allows a PC to advance a level, which grants the character improved class features, abilities and skills. XP can also be lost in some circumstances, such as encounters with creatures that drain life energy, or by use of certain magical powers that require payment of an XP cost.

Hit points (HP) are a measure of a character's vitality and health and are determined by the class, level and constitution of each character. They can be temporarily lost when a character sustains wounds in combat or otherwise comes to harm, and loss of HP is the most common way for a character to die in the game. Death can also result from the loss of key ability scores or character levels. When a PC dies, it is often possible for the dead character to be resurrected through magic, although some penalties may be imposed as a result. If resurrection is not possible or not desired, the player may instead create a new PC to resume playing the game.

Adventures, campaigns and modules

A typical Dungeons & Dragons game consists of an 'adventure', which is roughly equivalent to a single story. The DM can either design an adventure on his or her own, or follow one of the many additional pre-made adventures (previously known as "modules") that have been published throughout the history of Dungeons & Dragons. Published adventures typically include a background story, illustrations, maps and goals for PCs to achieve. Some also include location descriptions and handouts. Although a small adventure entitled 'Temple of the Frog' was included in the Blackmoor rules supplement in 1975, the first stand-alone D&D module published by TSR was 1978’s Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, written by Gygax.

A linked series of adventures is commonly referred to as a 'campaign'. The locations where these adventures occur, such as a city, country, planet or an entire fictional universe, are also sometimes called 'campaigns' but are more correctly referred to as 'worlds' or 'campaign settings'. D&D settings are based in various fantasy subgenres and feature varying levels of magic and technology. Popular commercially published campaign settings for Dungeons & Dragons include Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Mystara, Spelljammer, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Planescape, Birthright and Eberron. Alternatively, DMs may develop their own fictional worlds to use as campaign settings.

Miniature figures

The wargames from which Dungeons & Dragons evolved used miniature figures to represent combatants. D&D initially continued the use of miniatures in a fashion similar to its direct precursors. The original D&D set of 1974 required the use of the Chainmail miniatures game for combat resolution. By the publication of the 1977 game editions, combat was mostly resolved verbally. Thus miniatures were no longer required for game play, although 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. Other licensed miniature manufacturers who produced official figures include Grenadier Miniatures (1980–1983), Citadel Miniatures (1984–1986), Ral Partha, and TSR itself. Most of these miniatures used the 25 mm scale, with the exception of Ral Partha’s 15 mm scale miniatures for the 1st edition Battlesystem.

Periodically, Dungeons & Dragons has 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 by using miniatures.

Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition (2000) assumes the use of miniatures to represent combat situations in play, an aspect of the game that was further emphasized in the v3.5 revision. The Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Game (2003) 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.

Game history

Sources and influences

The immediate predecessor of Dungeons & Dragons was a set of medieval miniature rules written by Jeff Perren. These were expanded by Gary Gygax, whose additions included a fantasy supplement, before the game was published as Chainmail. Dave Arneson used Chainmail to run games where players controlled a single character instead of an army, an innovation that inspired D&D.

Many Dungeons & Dragons elements also appear in hobbies of the mid- to late twentieth century (though these elements also existed previously). Character-based role playing, for example, can be seen in historical reenactment and improvisational theatre. Game-world simulations were well-developed in wargaming. Fantasy milieus specifically designed for gaming could be seen in Glorantha’s board games among others. Ultimately, however, Dungeons & Dragons represents a unique blending of these elements.

The theme of D&D 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. Gygax maintains that he was influenced very little by The Lord of the Rings (although the owners of that work’s copyright forced the name changes of hobbit to 'halfling', ent to 'treant', and balrog to 'Type VI demon [balor]'), stating that he included these elements as a marketing move to draw on the popularity of the work.

The magic system, in which wizards memorize spells that are used up once cast (and must be re-memorized the next day), was heavily influenced by the Dying Earth stories and novels of Jack Vance. The original alignment system (which grouped all players and creatures into ‘Law’, ‘Neutrality’ and ‘Chaos’) was derived from the novel Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson. A troll described in this work also influenced the D&D definition of that monster.

Other influences include the works of Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber, L. Sprague de Camp, Fletcher Pratt, 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), Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” (vorpal sword) 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 (now referred to as OD&D) was a small box set of three booklets published in 1974. Amateurish in production and written from a perspective which assumed the reader had familiarity with wargaming, it nevertheless exploded in popularity, first among wargamers and then expanding to a more general audience of college and high school students. This first set went through many printings and was supplemented with several official additions (such as the original Greyhawk and Blackmoor supplements, both 1975) and magazine articles, both in TSR’s official publications and countless fanzines.

In 1977, TSR created the first element of a two-pronged strategy that would divide the D&D game for over two decades. A Basic Dungeons & Dragons boxed set was introduced to clean up the presentation of the essential rules, make the system understandable to people who had never played wargames before, and put it all in a package allowing the game to be stocked on common retail shelves. In 1978 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) was published, an attempt to bring together all the rules, options and corrections spread across the various D&D publications and expand them into a single unified and definitive game. The original plan was that the ‘basic’ game would be targeted to toy stores and the general public, while the ‘advanced’ game would be marketed to existing hobbyist gamers. Players who exhausted the possibilities of the basic game were directed in that set to switch to the advanced game. However, this plan went awry nearly from inception, as the basic game included many rules and concepts which contradicted comparable ones in the advanced game. The cause of this seems to have been a difference of design philosophy; Gygax, who wrote the advanced game, wanted an expansive game with rulings on any conceivable situation which might come up during play, a document which could be used to arbitrate disputes at tournaments. J. Eric Holmes, the editor of the basic game, preferred a lighter tone with more room for personal improvisation. Confusing matters further, the original crude D&D boxed set continued to be printed and sold well into 1979, since it remained a healthy seller for TSR. Thus three different versions of the game were being published concurrently.

In 1981 Basic Dungeons & Dragons was revised by Tom Moldvay. However, for reasons that are debated to this day, the game was not brought in line with AD&D but instead was made even more different. Thus the Dungeons & Dragons game (sometimes called Basic D&D to distinguish it from AD&D, though TSR never referred to the entire system as such) became a separate and distinct product from TSR’s flagship game AD&D. Discrete sets of increasing power levels were introduced as expansions for the basic game.This game was promoted as a continuation of the tone of original D&D whereas AD&D was an advancement of the mechanics. Although simpler overall than the ‘Advanced’ game, it included rules for some situations not covered in AD&D. There were five sets: Basic (1977, revised in 1981 and again in 1983), Expert (1981, revised in 1983), Companion (1983), Master (1985), and Immortals (1986, 1991) each covering game play for more powerful characters than the previous. The first four sets were later compiled as a single hardcover book, the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (1991).

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (or AD&D) was a more complex version of the game. It was designed to create a tighter, more structured game system than the loose framework of the original game. While seen by many as a revision of D&D, AD&D was at time declared to be “neither an expansion nor a revision of the old game, it is a new game”. The AD&D game was not intended to be directly compatible with D&D and requires some conversion to play between the rule sets. The term Advanced describes the more complex rules and does not imply “for higher-level gaming abilities”. 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 published throughout the 1980s, notably 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 to remove aspects of the game which had attracted negative publicity. This edition removed references to demons and devils, sexually suggestive artwork, and playable, evil-aligned character types (such as assassins and half-orcs). The edition moved from an underlying basis of 1960's and 1970's "sword and sorcery" fantasy fiction to that of a more medieval historical and mythological view. Aside from these revisions the rules underwent a number of minor changes including the addition of non-weapon proficiencies (which are skill-like abilities that originally appeared in 1st Edition supplements) and the division of magic spells into schools and spheres. Another major difference in this edition was the promotion of a variety of game settings beyond that of traditional fantasy. This included blending fantasy with other genres such as horror (Ravenloft), science fiction (Spelljammer), and apocalyptic (Dark Sun), as well as using alternative historical and non-European mythological settings. 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.

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 new release folded the Basic and Advanced lines back into a single unified game. It was the largest revision of the D&D rules to date, and also served as the basis for a broader role-playing 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.

Dungeons & Dragons v.3.5 (also known as Revised 3rd Edition or D&D3.5) in 2003 is a revision of the 3rd Edition rules. This release incorporated hundreds of rule changes, mostly minor, and expanded the core rulebooks.

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, announced at Gen Con in August 2007. The initial core three books were released June 6, 2008. 4th Edition brought many fundamental rules changes, including restructuring many character abilities into 'Powers'. This especially altered the spell-using classes by adding abilities that could be used at will or per encounter as well as per day (while in previous versions they were limited to a certain number of spells per day), and provided parallel sets of options for nonmagical classes (that had previously had very limited options). In other respects, 4th Edition streamlined the game into a much more simplified form. In addition to printing the books, Wizards of the Coast is also releasing other supplementals virtually through the Wizards website.


The various editions of Dungeons & Dragons have won many Origins Awards, including All Time Best Roleplaying Rules of 1977, Best Roleplaying Rules of 1989 and Best Roleplaying Game of 2000 for the three flagship editions of the game. Both Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons are Origins Hall of Fame Games inductees as they were deemed sufficiently distinct to merit separate inclusion on different occasions. The independent Games magazine placed Dungeons & Dragons on their Games 100 list from 1980 through 1983, then entered the game into the magazine’s Hall of Fame in 1984.


Dungeons & Dragons was the first modern role-playing game and it established many of the conventions that have dominated the genre. Particularly notable are the use of dice as a game mechanic, character record sheets, use of numerical attributes and gamemaster-centered group dynamics. Within months of Dungeons & Dragons’s release, new role-playing game writers and publishers began releasing their own role-playing games, with most of these being in the fantasy genre. Some of the earliest other role-playing games inspired by D&D include Tunnels and Trolls (1975), Empire of the Petal Throne (1975) and Chivalry and Sorcery (1976). The role-playing movement initiated by D&D would lead to release of the science fiction game Traveller (1977) and fantasy game RuneQuest (1978), and subsequent game systems such as Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu (1981), Champions (1982), GURPS (1986) and Vampire: The Masquerade (1992). Dungeons & Dragons and the games it influenced also fed back into the genre’s origin—miniatures wargames—with combat strategy games like Warhammer Fantasy Battles. D&D also had a large impact on modern video games.

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 games and game supplements. The OGL and d20 Trademark License also made possible new games, some based on licensed products like Star Wars, and also new versions of older games, such as Call of Cthulhu.

During the 2000s, there has been a trend towards recreating older editions of D&D. Necromancer Games, with its slogan “Third Edition Rules, First Edition Feel” and Goodman Games ‘Dungeon Crawl Classics’ range are both examples of this in material for d20 System. Other companies have created complete game systems based on earlier editions of D&D. An example is HackMaster (2001) by Kenzer and Company, a licensed, non-OGL, semi-satirical follow-on to 1st and 2nd Edition. Castles & Crusades (2005), by Troll Lord Games, is a reimagining of early editions by streamlining rules from OGL that was supported by Gary Gygax prior to his death.

Director Jon Favreau credits Dungeons & Dragons with giving him "...a really strong background in imagination, storytelling, understanding how to create tone and a sense of balance."

Controversy and notoriety

At various times in its history, Dungeons & Dragons has received negative publicity, in particular from some Christian groups, for alleged promotion of such practices as devil worship, witchcraft, suicide, and murder, and for naked breasts in drawings of female humanoids in the original AD&D manuals (mainly monsters such as Harpies, Succubi, etc.). These controversies led TSR to remove many potentially controversial references and artwork when releasing the 2nd Edition of AD&D. Many of these references, including the use of the names ‘devils’ and ‘demons’, were reintroduced in the 3rd edition. The moral panic over the game also led to problems for fans of D&D who faced further social ostracism, unfair treatment and false association with the occult and Satanism, regardless of an individual fan’s actual religious affiliation and beliefs.

Dungeons & Dragons has also been the subject of unsubstantiated rumors regarding players having difficulty separating fantasy and reality, even leading to psychotic episodes. The most notable of these was the saga of James Dallas Egbert III, which was fictionalized in the novel Mazes and Monsters and later made into a TV movie. The game was also blamed for some of the actions of Chris Pritchard, who was convicted in 1990 of murdering his stepfather.

The game’s commercial success was a factor that led to lawsuits regarding distribution of royalties between original 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' production of D&D compatible material. This attitude changed in the mid 1980s when TSR revoked these rights (even from publishers they had earlier officially licensed, such as Judges Guild), and took legal action to prevent others from publishing compatible material. This angered many fans and led to resentment by the other gaming companies. TSR itself also ran afoul of intellectual property law in several cases.

After publishing the 3rd Edition, the then-license holders reversed the stance on 3rd party material with the introduction of the Open Gaming License, which allows compatible material (though technically not Dungeons & Dragons material) to be produced.

With the release of the fourth edition, Wizards of the Coast has introduced its Game System License, which represents a significant restriction compared with the very open policies embodied by the OGL. In part as a response to this, some publishers (such as Paizo Publishing, with its Pathfinder RPG) who previously produced materials in support of Wizards of the Coast D&D books have made the decision to pursue a directly competitive path instead.

International editions

The Dungeons & Dragons franchise was translated and published in many languages around the world.

One particular challenge was the word dungeon, which in standard English means a single prison cell or oubliette originally located under a keep. Some languages directly translated this meaning, e.g. Spanish Calabozos y Dragones (Dungeons and Dragons) or Dragones y Mazmorras (Dragons and Dungeons).

In gaming jargon, however, a dungeon is not a single holding cell but rather a network of underground passages or subterranea to be explored, such as a cave, ruins or catacombs. Some translations conveyed this meaning well, e.g. Chinese 龙与地下城 (Dragons and Underground Castles, or Dragons and Underground Cities).

Some translations used a false friend of "dungeon", even if it changed the meaning of the title, such as the French Donjons et dragons (Keeps and Dragons). Other languages adopted a more liberal translation to keep the alliteration, e.g. Swedish Dunder och Drakar (Thunder and Dragons).

And many languages, including Finnish and Italian, left the English title untranslated.

Related products

D&D’s commercial success has led to many other related products, including Dragon Magazine, Dungeon Magazine, an animated television series, a film series, an official role-playing soundtrack and computer games such as the MMORPG Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach. Hobby and toy stores sell dice, miniatures, adventures 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 1970s and 1980s, the game was referenced more and more 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 derogatively as the epitome of geekdom. References to the game are used as shorthand to establish characterization or provide the punch line of a joke. Many players, irritated with this stereotype, embrace the fact that professional basketball player Tim Duncan, comedian Stephen Colbert, musician Moby, and actors Vin Diesel, Matthew Lillard, Mike Myers, Patton Oswalt, Wil Wheaton and Robin Williams have made their D&D hobbies public.

See also



Further reading

External links

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