What is Dungeons and Dragons?

What is D&D?

Dungeons and Dragons

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (commonly known as D&D) is a fantasy role-playing game (RPG) first designed by Gary Gygax and David Arneson in the early 1970s. It was published by Gygax's company, Tactical Studies Rules (TSR). Dungeons & Dragons evolved from the Chainmail system of wargaming rules. D&D was one of the first role-playing games and it is by far the most well-known and best selling. D&D has exerted a massive influence over its imitators and successors, in many ways defining what an RPG was — to some extent, the game continues to define the RPG genre. Gygax and Arneson designed Dungeons & Dragons to take place in a fantasy fiction setting based upon popular fiction and mythology. It was influenced by The Lord of the Rings, popular Greek and Norse mythology, the pulp fiction stories of Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and many of the more contemporary fantasy authors of the 1960s and 1970s, such as Jack Vance and Fritz Leiber. The game solidified the RPG concept of a referee (the "Dungeon Master" or DM) who creates the fictional world of the game and writes the storylines for the other players to explore.

The original D&D game allowed players to assume the roles of fighters, magic-users (wizards), thieves, clerics (priests), or elves. The players would embark upon imaginary adventures, where they would battle all kinds of fictional monsters from goblins to dragons to ten foot gelatinous cubes, while gathering treasure and experience points as the game progressed. These character classes, monsters, and fantasy world settings were greatly expanded and improved with further editions of the game.

D&D took the world of wargaming by storm, creating its own niche and giving birth to a multitude of role-playing games, based on every genre imaginable. Science fiction, horror, superheroes, cartoons, westerns, spies and espionage, and many other fictional settings were adapted to role-playing games, with several of these games also being published by TSR. However, "fantasy role-playing," loosely based on the world of D&D, continued to dominate the field of role-playing games, and this state of affairs continues to the present time (as of 2003).

DnD Versions

D&D has gone through several revisions. The first edition featured just a few character classes and monsters. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) was published between 1977 and 1979, and greatly expanded the character classes, monsters and spells. In 1980, Dungeons & Dragons was republished as a simplified version of the game. During the late 1980s, AD&D Second Edition was published, which revised the rules again, consolidating the character classes, and revising the combat system somewhat.

In 2000, a third revision, simply called Dungeons & Dragons, was published by the game company Wizards of the Coast, which had purchased TSR two years earlier. This version has informally been referred to by fans and players as a "third" edition of D&D, often abbreviated as "3E D&D." It is based on a role-playing system designed around 20-sided dice, called the d20 system. It rationalizes movement and combat (especially ranged combat), removes lots of arbitrary restrictions (now players can use previously forbidden classes, such as a half-orc monk), and incorporates skills and feats to allow players to customize their characters. The d20 system is an open source version of the D&D core rules that allows others to create D&D-compatible content.

In 2003, Dungeons & Dragons v.3.5 was released as a revision of the 3rd Edition rules. This release incorporated hundreds of rule changes, mostly minor, and expanded the core rulebooks.

In early 2005, Wizards of the Coast's R&D team started to develop Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, prompted mainly by the feedback obtained from the D&D playing community and a desire to make the game faster, more intuitive, and with a better play experience than under the 3rd Edition. The new game was developed through a number of design phases spanning from May 2005 until its release.

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition was announced at Gen Con in August 2007, and the initial three core books were released June 6, 2008. 4th Edition streamlined the game into a simplified form and introduced numerous rules changes. Many character abilities were restructured into "Powers". These altered the spell-using classes by adding abilities that could be used at will, per encounter, or per day. Likewise, non-magic-using classes were provided with parallel sets of options. Wizards of the Coast is releasing other supplementary material virtually through their website, including player character and monster building programs.

On January 9, 2012, Wizards of the Coast announced that it was working on a 5th edition of the game (simply referred to as "5e"). The company planned to take suggestions from players and let them playtest the rules. Public playtesting began on May 24, 2012. At Gen Con 2012 in August, Mike Mearls said that Wizards of the Coast had received feedback from more than 75,000 playtesters, but that the entire development process would take two years, adding, "I can't emphasize this enough ... we're very serious about taking the time we need to get this right." The staggered release of the 5th Edition, coinciding with D&D's 40th anniversary, was during second half of 2014.

Other Mediums

A movie, Dungeons & Dragons, very loosely based on the gaming conventions, was released in 2000. This was preceded in the eighties by an animated cartoon series of the same name. Another movie, Mazes and Monsters, also very loosely based on the gaming conventions, was released in 1982. This made-for-TV movie was the direct result from not only a popular 80s table-top game whose players had trouble separating reality from fantasy, but also from the social controversy surrounding the game players' participation. The movie title was originally Rona Jaffee's Mazes and Monsters.

A number of computer RPGs (role-playing games) such as Pool of Radiance (1988), DragonStrike (1990), Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures (1993), Dark Sun Shattered Lands (1993), Baldur's Gate (1998), Planescape Torment (2000), Neverwinter Nights (2002), Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition (2012), Baldur's Gate III (2020), Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance (2021) use Dungeons & Dragons-based rules. In these computer games, the rules are often modified to enhance PC-based game play.

A number of console and arcade games such as Warriors of the Eternal Sun (1992, Sega Genesis), Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom (1993, arcade), and Slayer (1995, 3DO) were created with the D&D theme in mind, all of which barely touched on the dynamic role-playing nature of the D&D system, but all of which were designed and marketed under the D&D license. Some of the more recent consoles also feature D&D games, such as Xbox and Playstation.

Other Settings

TSR created many fantasy worlds in which D&D games can be based, although Wizards of the Coast has ceased product development for some of them. These fantasy worlds include:

* No longer officially supported
1 Still regarded as a d20 game, but no longer viewed as part of the D&D game

Several competitors to TSR and D&D became successful in their own right. A number of alternate role-playing systems include Call of Cthulhu by Chaosium, Champions by Hero Games, and GURPS by Steve Jackson Games. But D&D was the first and most successful role-playing game, and all of the RPGs of today can be traced back to the original creation of Gygax and Arneson. (Interestingly, Call of Cthulhu d20 was released in early 2002, using the core rules of the D&D game.)

Many criticize Dungeons & Dragons for fostering unhealthy obsessions with the occult and suicide. Often this connection is pointed out when young people are indicted for crimes, such as a 2001 murder of a Robert M. Schwartz, a prominent scientist in Loudoun County, Virginia. Nevertheless, studies conducted by Michael Stackpole show that the suicide rate is lower among gamers than non-gamers.

External links

Wizards of the Coast's D&D site
Dungeons & Dragons Wikipedia Entry

Visit the Thieves Guild for more Resources