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Dungeons & Dragons

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This article is about the role-playing game. See also the movie Dungeons & Dragons and the cartoon series Dungeons & Dragons, both of which were based on this game.

Dungeons & Dragons (abbreviated as D&D, DND or DnD) is a fantasy role-playing game (RPG) created by Gary Gygax and David Arneson in 1974. It was first published by Gygax's company, Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) and subsequently spawned the RPG industry. D&D is by far the most well-known and best selling RPG game, with an estimated 20 million players and over $1 billion in book and equipment sales as of 2004.

The rights to D&D were sold to Wizards of the Coast in 1997, a company later bought by Hasbro. Owing partially to heavy marketing, products branded Dungeons & Dragons, including small lines of subsidiary products developed by Kenzer & Company (Kingdoms of Kalamar) and White Wolf Game Studio (Warcraft : the Role-Playing Game), made up over fifty percent of the RPG products sold in 2002.

Cover of the D&D Basic SetEnlarge

Cover of the D&D Basic Set

Table of contents
1 Overview and history
2 Editions
3 Manuals
4 Modules
5 Dice
6 Miniatures
7 Other media
8 Controversies
9 Other settings
10 Legacy
11 See also
12 External links

Overview and history

Dungeons & Dragons evolved in the early 1970s from the Chainmail system of wargaming rules by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren; Gygax and Arneson designed D&D to take place in a fantasy 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, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and many of the more contemporary fantasy authors of the 1960s and 1970s, such as Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock. The game developed the RPG concept of a referee (the Dungeon Master) who creates the fictional setting of the game, plays antagonists and supporting characters, and moderates the action of the adventures.

The game evolved from wargames with soldiers, especially those in the format of Dave Wesley's "Brownstein" game, in which onlookers were given characters to play during the battle. Gygax and Arneson were playing an Arthurian Knights version when someone decided they wanted to play Merlin. Later, they decided to hide in a cave and they decided that if Merlin existed, then a monster might be in the cave.

The original D&D game allowed players to play characters in three classes: fighterss, magic-users (wizards), and clerics (priests). Players could choose to have their characters be Hobbits , Dwarves, or Elves; later versions termed these three "races" and "demi-humans". The players would embark upon imaginary adventures, where they would battle many kinds of fictional monsters from goblins to dragonss 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, continues to dominate the field of role-playing games as of 2004.

Cover of the D&D Expert SetEnlarge

Cover of the D&D Expert Set


D&D has gone through several revisions. The first edition (1974) featured just a few character classes and monsters. Supplements published in the next two years (Greyhawk, Blackmoor, and Eldritch Wizardry) greatly expanded the character classes, monsters and spells. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) was published between 1977 and 1979, collecting rules from the original version and the supplements into three volumes, and extensively revising the system. In 1980, the Dungeons & Dragons name was used for a simplified version of the game that was incompatible with the more mainstream AD&D.

In 1989, AD&D Second Edition was published, which revised the rules again, consolidating some character classes, disposing of some fan favorites, and revising the combat system slightly. It was during this time that the current owners of TSR (Gygax and Arneson had earlier left) angered many fans with several extreme practices intended to make up for declining sales, such as inflating prices, excessive split pricing of individual game products, and relentless copyright infringement lawsuits. A long decline in popularity followed into the 1990s, resulting in TSR filing for bankruptcy in 1998; TSR never emerged from bankruptcy, and was in the end purchased by former competitor Wizards of the Coast.

In 2000, a third revision, called Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition (or 3E for short), was published by Wizards of the Coast. It is the basis of a broader role-playing system designed around 20-sided dice, called the d20 system. The edition removed old arbitrary restrictions on class and race combinations, and included skills and feats to allow players to customize their characters. It also rationalized movement and combat, though some thought these latter changes complicated matters by adding tortuous rules regarding "attacks of opportunity" and putting all movement on a square grid.

The introduction of the d20 system made it also possible to use the system for other worlds than fantasy, such as Modern and science fiction. The d20 system is an open source version of the D&D core rules that 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, AEG, and Malhavoc Press.

In July 2003, a revised version of the 3rd edition D&D rules (termed version 3.5) were released that incorporated numerous minor rule changes. Officially, the new version of the game is simply a "revision" and not a new edition of the game.


Several manuals are required for D&D. With the first edition, the popularity of these (often pricey) volumes of books encouraged TSR to publish more and more editions of increasingly esoteric rules for the game. At its height, the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons offered as many as fourteen different hardcover rulebooks, which often contradicted with one another and caused friction among game players attempting to properly interpret the rules for different situations. The publication of the second and third editions of D&D negated the "official" status of the previous rulebooks, though game players often still refer to the earlier editions as reference guides.

As of the second edition, manuals available for the game included:

The third and 3.5 editions tried to clarify the hierarchy. The Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide and Monster Manual were clearly labeled as the three core rulebooks. However, other manuals such as The Psionics Handbook and The Manual of the Planes, kept the same general design.

Previous manuals, though no longer official, are highly-prized by collectors. Examples in good condition (which is rare since these books got a lot of use from players) can fetch prices many times their cover value.

The pen-and-ink illustrations within these volumes, especially the Monster Manual is uneven—some artwork is amateurish (as was all D&D art in the early days), while some show skillful use of lines and media. Despite their uneven quality, some fans regard these illustrations as the best in the series.

S1: Tomb of Horrors moduleEnlarge

S1: Tomb of Horrors module


See List of Dungeons & Dragons modules

TSR produced numerous "modules" for AD&D. These modules were pre-made adventures for users to play and use. They contained a backstory, maps and one or more objectives for the players to achieve. While they still needed to be moderated by a Dungeon Master, these modules allowed players to experience adventures without the tedium of creating and testing adventure content. Many modules were play-tested at conventions such as Gen Con prior to publishing, so were fairly refined and balanced.

Many modules were produced over the years and some popular ones went through several printings.


Dungeons & Dragons is noted for introducing the use of polyhedral dice. While the game uses traditional six-sided dice from time to time, many other types of dice are used more frequently. D&D's popularity prompted its competitors to adopt the use of many-sided dice, though this trend has been reversed with the introduction of "third generation" role playing games.

The new "D20" system bases most rolls around a 20-sided die, which allows for more accuracy than a six-sided die, but the second most common die for use is the "Percentile Die" - a roll of two 10-sided dice, one with 0-9 and one with 00, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, and 90. a roll of "00" and "0" is treated as 100, so these are useful for determining chance and for randomly generating treasures.

The dice used, and what they are used for are:


Dungeons & Dragons introduced the widespread use of miniatures to aid in gameplay. These miniatures are scale-sized models of elements found in most adventures, such as fighters, mages, dwarves and a variety of monsters. The figures can be placed according to party order and relative position of characters. Used together with non-player character and figures for monsters, they added to the immersiveness of the game. Though D&D can be played without such miniatures, it is almost universally played with them.

The original miniatures available for use with D&D were made of lead, but due to the dangers of lead poisoning, they are now made of lead-free pewter.

In the 1980s, numerous companies sprung up developing lead figures for D&D and related role-playing games. Some of the most respected were Ral Partha and Citadel, noted for their high-quality and attention to detail. TSR even partnered itself with one miniature manufacturer, Grenadier, and released their figures under the D&D brand. Despite this clever marketing partnership, Grenadier figures were usually derided for poor quality and unrealistic proportions.

Miniatures, early on most often referred to as "lead figures," were used in a variety of ways to aid in the immersiveness of the game. Often they were placed on acetate-covered graph paper with walls and other entities drawn with grease pencils. As the adventurers advanced, the grease pencil markings could be wiped off and a new area drawn. Some players would build entire floor tile and walls sets from wood or cardboard and would invest in large inventories of trees and other location objects to make the gaming even more immersive.

As with dice, many players became attached to certain figures in their collection. Many players spent hours carefully painting their figures with exacting detail. This attachment and hobby still exists today, but has ebbed with the widespread availability of pre-painted figures.

Other media

A movie, Dungeons & Dragons, very loosely based on the gaming conventions, was released in 2000. It was a box office bomb.

A much more popular Dungeons & Dragons Animated Series preceded this in the 1980s, which involved comparatively rich plots, engaging ethical storylines, human character flaws, etc.

While not technically a D&D product, the anime Record of Lodoss War is closely related to D&D and strongly influenced by it.

A number of computer role-playing games such as Pool of Radiance (1988), DragonStrike (1990), Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures (1993), Baldur's Gate (1998) and its sequels, (1999), Icewind Dale (2000) and its sequels, and Neverwinter Nights (2002) use Dungeons & Dragons-based rules. Forty-nine computer RPGs have been released and sold under the D&D license as of October 2002. Some use licensed Second Edition AD&D rules, while others use the more recent open-source d20 system for game mechanics as well as trademarks licensed from Wizards of the Coast. In these computer games, the rules are usually modified to enhance PC-based game play. Some players go so far as to say that computerized versions are so different from PnP (pen-and-paper) games that they really are different experiences, and shouldn't be lumped together.

A number of video game console and arcade games such as Warriors of the Eternal Sun (1992, Sega Genesis), (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. Seven console and two arcade games have been released and sold under the D&D license as of October 2002. While the game is not officially credited, the popular 1980s arcade game Gauntlet is also seen as being influenced by the D&D game.

Seven board games were also sold under the D&D license. One of them, Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labyrinth Game in 1980 was the original board game which was a computer/board game hybrid and the first D&D licensed game that contained digital electronics.

Magazines devoted to supporting Dungeons & Dragons include Dungeon Magazine and Dragon Magazine.


The game's commercial success led to lawsuits between Arneson and Gygax starting in 1979, over issues of royalties, particularly for AD&D for which Arneson was not given credit by TSR. Those suits were settled out of court by 1981.

Beyond lawsuits, greater controversies have surrounded D&D due to allegations of its connections to devil worship, as well as claims that RPGs in general lead to suicide. These allegations were popularized in a novel called Mazes and Monsters by Rona Jaffe. The book was turned into a TV movie featuring a young Tom Hanks in the key role of a mentally unstable collegian who experiences psychotic episodes and loses himself in the game world.

Such negative portrayals of role-players, ironically, may have originated from an initial inability of some outside observers to properly differentiate between reality and the immersive role-playing aspects of game play. Perception, or rather misperception, has been the major prejudice that role-players have had to face over the years. For instance religious fundamentalists have found the fact that roleplaying characters, for all that they existed solely in imaginary fantasy worlds, were given the "ability" to cast "spells" and use "magic" to be anathema and anti-God. Unfortunately such unwarranted accusations continued well beyond the 1980s and into the 1990s. There have been numerous studies exploring this allegation that have generally concluded that not only does it not seem to encourage suicide, but players of this kind of game are in fact less prone to take their own lives. For example, studies conducted by Michael Stackpole show that the suicide rate is actually lower among gamers than non-gamers.

Often this connection is pointed out when young people are indicted for crimes, such as a 2001 murder of Robert M. Schwartz, a prominent scientist in Loudoun County, Virginia.

The Swedish National Board for Youth Affairs has published a report on "Roleplaying as a hobby." The report describes roleplaying as a stimulating hobby that promotes creativity. [1]

The controversy involving occult influences on Dungeons & Dragons led TSR to remove lengthy references to demons, devils, and other supernatural monsters commonly associated with "sorcery" from the Second Edition of the game. Players and fans of the game reacted to the move with complaints and ridicule, seeing this as a move towards political correctness on the part of the publishers. These supernatural (and popular) monsters were returned to the game with the release of the Third Edition. Nonetheless, even the change of ownership and management at TSR have not removed the stigma of "demons" from the game, and as of 2004 the published books of monsters that include listings of "demonic" and "angelic" monsters have warnings printed on the books' covers noting that they are For Mature Audiences Only.

Other settings

TSR created many fantasy realms called campaign settings in which D&D games can be based, although product development has ceased for most of them. These fantasy worlds include:


Several competitors to TSR and D&D became successful in their own right. A number of other role-playing systems include Call of Cthulhu by Chaosium, Champions by Hero Games, GURPS by Steve Jackson Games and by White Wolf Game Studio. Some players prefer to forgo set systems and rules entirely, preferring freeform roleplaying. 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 D&D-derived d20 System, and many other successful RPGs have followed suit).

See also

External links