I have ranted and raved about Dungeons & Dragons constantly, here and elsewhere, since 1996 when a classmate sold me on the concept during a middle school science class when we should have been paying attention to a lecture on the Periodic Table. While I never ended up memorizing any of the data on that table, there is an abundance of information from D&D that is indelibly tattooed upon the wrinkles of my brain.
Part of what makes the game and its history so awesome to me is the artwork from its books and publications. The newer versions have very crisp, heavily stylized art that speaks more to an MMO flavor; I have always valued the old school art more, both for its “purity” of style and for its plain beauty. When the intellectual property was in the hands of TSR, creativity was unbound and wild. This not only applied to the worlds presented in the various products, but the images used to represent those worlds. This article is a small love letter to that purity of expression. I’ve found five pieces of artwork by five iconic D&D artists, each of whom are synonymous with the game itself in the minds of old school fans everywhere.
Note: Many pieces of official art were re-used by TSR to fill out multiple RPG products they published over the years; this was done most frequently in their later years as the company waned in fortunes and sought to get mileage out of old assets while pushing the limits of the game itself. I will provide all the information I can about each image, but at the very least I have made sure to correctly name the artist and at least one known product the image was used in.
The Illithids, or mind flayers, are iconic monsters that came directly from the lore of D&D and were not drawn from external myth, legend, or literature. Terrifyingly intelligent creatures, these fiends both consume and control the minds of other sapient beings in order to further their own existence. Armies of brainwashed slaves furnish both cannon fodder and food. With their “mental blast” attack and various other psychic abilities, illithids present a daunting challenge to mid-level adventuring parties and can annihilate the very hopes and dreams of unprepared rookie groups. Any veteran of the hobby knows that a battle against mind flayers will require both courage and caution. They’re not to be casually fucked with, unless being a brain-dead portable meal or servant appeals to you as a career path.
Fred Fields has rendered one of these horrible beings in nearly photographic detail, while preserving the fantastic nature of the subject for us to marvel at. And be afraid of. Very afraid of.
“Ooh, finally some fresh brai- OH SHIT WHERE DID ALL THESE BUGS COME FROM SORRY SORRY DO OVER OUCH OW FUCK”
“Creeping Doom” is a powerful spell available to druids and other priest-type characters in D&D that calls forth massive swarms of bugs to devour anything remotely edible in their path. In this example by the legendary Erol Otus, the spell is being turned upon one of the aforementioned mind flayers. The monster does not look too pleased to be snuggling one of the Old Testament plagues, and may be reconsidering its options.
Erol Otus’s style is phantasmagorical and cartoonish at the same time. I love the exaggerated expressions and the weirdness of every detail… and there is always so much detail. Otus is a master of illustrating strange things in a memorable way. His work for D&D was mostly limited to 1st edition, which was a bit before my time, but I have developed a love for his style nonetheless. This illustration is my favorite of his; it has immediate impact and conveys the action so well you can almost envision it moving.
The wild sense of panic on the face of the normally inscrutable and soulless mind flayer is what anchored this drawing in my mind for years after seeing it.
I remember the first dragon I helped bring down as a player. It wasn’t even evil; it was a sapphire dragon (lawful neutral) that simply gave us no other choice after we accidentally intruded upon its territory, refusing to listen to what we had to say. Unfortunate, but it made for a memorable encounter during my formative years as a player. Most of us who play D&D can tell you about our first dragon kill if we’ve ever had one. Even young dragons of “weaker” types make for challenging foes. They are intelligent, powerful, versatile, and have centuries to plan for visits from foolhardy heroes who would claim their hoards of treasure.
Look how tired but proud they are, having bagged a young green dragon after what we can only imagine was a pitched and tense battle. I especially love the female warrior, leaning on her sword, dirty and scuffed but absolutely thrilled to have conquered he beast. There aren’t (normally) any cameras in D&D worlds, but they look like they’re posing for a photo, like fisherman with a huge catch. Lots of pathos and identity in this image. Larry Elmore captures well here what it really means to be an adventurer. And don’t feel bad for the dragon; greens can ruin an otherwise idyllic forest and are very much evil creatures. Think of this dragon-slaying as an act of ecological conservation.
You may immediately recognize that monster’s face. Yes, it served as the basis for the design of DOOM’s cacodemon. That’s how far-reaching the influence of Jeff Easley’s fantastic art really is. Easley is one of the most talented and prolific contributors to D&D’s art library, and easily in my personal top three fantasy artists, period. Here we see the actual creature, an astral dreadnought, chasing a very unfortunate mage through the silver void of the Astral Plane that connects the Prime Material (D&D’s “real world” dimension) to other dimensions known as the Outer Planes (Limbo, the Nine Hells, the Abyss, Elysium, etc.). Dreadnoughts are horrifically powerful creatures that prowl the Astral Plane looking for food. This wizard needs to hope he can escape before he becomes a chicken nugget to this gigantic terror. That won’t be easy, since it’s one of the most potent creatures to be found on any of the planes and it cannot be reasoned with.
Easley produces classical-quality art, bringing fantastic things to life in a realistic yet cinematic style. Light, shadow and texture are represented expertly, lending depth and terrifying tangibility to his scenes. One can open almost any major TSR publication from the 80s-90s and see at least one piece of work by Easley. Whether it’s a painting like this one or a black and white ink drawing, it fucking pops. Just like this busted-ass wizard’s gonna pop like a cherry tomato in the dreadnought’s unspeakable mouth.
Athas, the dry and barren world of the Dark Sun campaign setting for AD&D, is a stark departure from standard fantasy. It’s like Mad Max and Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards animated film cross-bred with Star Wars’s Tattooine and mixed in a bevy of real-life Earth’s cultures from Antiquity. The world is dying, every living thing has psychic potential, life is brutal, and survival itself is a dire struggle. The magic of wizards is fueled by the dwindling energies of the barren earth, and the closest thing to gods are the four elements themselves. Water and metal are scarce and valuable, and even the more “civilized” areas such as city-states are chaotic places where death is only a heartbeat away. Dark Sun is hardcore as fuck. Be ready.
Two of the protagonists from the novels (which I heartily recommend to any fantasy reader with a taste for the unusual) are represented on the right hand side of this panorama; Agis of Asticles, Tyrian nobleman and master mind-bender, wipes clean his precious steel sword as the human-dwarf hybrid Rikus steps up behind him, ready to deal death with the honed expertise he has learned in the slave arenas of Tyr. The twin moons, Ral and Guthay, shine down on a scene of battle in the wastes outside the city, showcasing the unique flavor of the setting and illustrating the desperate struggle that is life on Athas.
Brom’s art is well-loved even outside of D&D. He is another artist in my top three of all time, with a gritty sense of texture and a knack for creating unique-looking figures within stark landscapes. Brom can make anything look badass or creepy, and his art became the lens through which D&D fans would come to see the world of Dark Sun. Nearly every DS product until the second/revised box set features cover art by Gerald Brom, and this allowed him to shape Athas for us at a glance. No one could have done it better.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at classic RPG art, and I will continue to revisit tabletop gaming from time to time in order to add variety to the normal video-gaming fare I write for NRW. Keep your eyes peeled for more gaming-related content, and Stay Retro!
Keith Parkinson (died 2005) Daniel R Horne
Clyde Caldwell, Larry Elmore, Jeff Easley, Keith Parkinson and Daniel R Horne......
These were arguably the most prolific and popular artists in D&D during the 1980s and 90s. Most of the D&D manuals, source books, adventures, novels and magazines of the 80s and early 90s featured the works of one of these four artists on their covers.
Each edition of D&D had a different type of art that was unique to that version of the game. Art of the original D&D consisted of a lot of line drawings. They were two dimensional and simple. With AD&D, the art was taken to a whole new level. It took on a realism that was, until then, uncharacteristic in role-playing games. Artists working to illustrate AD&D understood that just because dragons don’t really exist doesn’t mean they can’t be depicted as if they do.
This realistic approach was applied to more than the monsters. The heroes of various races and classes were shown battling these monsters of fantasy. You believed that this scene could really exist. The details were exquisite. The weapons and armor were authentic and accurate. With these works gracing the covers for D&D rule books, modules, magazines and novels it made you want to buy these books.
The artistic giants of AD&D were, unfortunately, left behind when the game was reinvented as 3e D&D. The artistic direction changed. Third edition D&D paid less attention to the art and more attention to the new rules. Just look at the covers of the 3e books. For the first time they didn’t depict dragons or adventurers.
In AD&D Caldwell, Elmore, Easley, Parkinson and Horne were the best of the best. The images that these five created set the stage for D&D. You’d look at the heroes in their paintings and think, that’s how I want my character to look like.........
For almost 10 years Clyde's work graced the covers of TSR, Inc.'s game and book lines. For TSR he did paintings for the 1985 through 1993 calendars, including the covers for the 1987 Dragonlance Calendar and the 1990 Forgotten Realms Calendar. He was also the cover artist for the D & D Gazetteer module series, and the popular Ravenloft series, and has had work included in several TSR Art Books.
In 1992 Clyde left TSR to pursue a freelance career.
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Editions of Dungeons & Dragons
Fantasy role-playing game history
Several different editions of the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) fantasy role-playing game have been produced since 1974. The current publisher of D&D, Wizards of the Coast, produces new materials only for the most current edition of the game. However, many D&D fans continue to play older versions of the game and some third-party companies continue to publish materials compatible with these older editions.
After the original edition of D&D was introduced in 1974, the game was split into two branches in 1977: the rules-light system of Dungeons & Dragons and the more complex, rules-heavy system of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D). The standard game was eventually expanded into a series of five box sets by the mid-1980s before being compiled and slightly revised in 1991 as the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia. Meanwhile, the 2nd edition of AD&D was published in 1989. In 2000 the two branch split was ended when a new version was designated the 3rd edition, but dropped the "Advanced" prefix to be called simply Dungeons & Dragons. The 4th edition was published in 2008. The 5th edition was released in 2014.
|1974||Dungeons & Dragons—original edition|
|1977||Advanced Dungeons & Dragons—1st Edition||Dungeons & Dragons—Holmes Basic|
|1981||Dungeons & Dragons—BX version / Moldvay Basic|
|1983||Dungeons & Dragons—BECMI version / Mentzer Basic|
|1989||Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition|
|1991||Dungeons & Dragons—Rules Cyclopedia version|
|1995||Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition—Revised|
|2000||Dungeons & Dragons—3rd Edition|
|2003||Dungeons & Dragons— 3rd Edition Revised (v.3.5)|
|2008||Dungeons & Dragons—4th Edition|
|2010||Dungeons & Dragons Essentials (compatible with 4th Ed.)|
|2014||Dungeons & Dragons—5th Edition|
Original Dungeons & Dragons
Main article: Dungeons & Dragons (1974)
The original D&D was published as a box 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, and hobbit); only a few monsters; only three alignments (lawful, neutral, and chaotic). With a production budget of only $2000 to print a thousand copies, the result was decidedly amateurish.: 26
Only $100 was budgeted for artwork, and TSR co-founder Gary Gygax pressed into service anyone who was willing to help, including local artist Cookie Corey; Greg Bell, a member of Jeff Perren's gaming group; D&D co-creator Dave Arneson; Gygax's wife's half-sister Keenan Powell; and fellow TSR co-founder Don Kaye.: 20–26 Each artist was paid $2 for a small piece or $3 for a larger piece, with an identical amount paid as a royalty every time another thousand copies were printed.: 20–26
The rules assumed that players owned and played the miniatures wargameChainmail 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, a board game by then-unaffiliated company Avalon Hill for outdoor exploration and adventure. D&D was a radically new gaming concept at the time, and it was difficult for players without prior tabletop wargaming experience to grasp the vague rules. 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. 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 & Heroes, 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 additions and options were published in the magazines The Strategic Review and its successor, The Dragon.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
"Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" redirects here. For the "Community" episode, see Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (Community).
An updated version of D&D was released between 1977 and 1979 as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D). The game rules were reorganized and re-codified across three hardcover rulebooks, compiled by Gary Gygax, incorporating the original D&D rules and many additions and revisions from supplements and magazine articles. The three core rulebooks were the Monster Manual (1977), the Player's Handbook (1978), and the Dungeon Master's Guide (1979). Major additions included classes from supplements like assassin, druid, monk, paladin, and thief, while bard, illusionist, and ranger, which had previously only appeared in magazine articles, were added to the core rulebooks. An alignment system with nine alignments[note 1] was used, rather than the previous three-alignment system in the original D&D rules.
Later supplements for AD&D included Deities & Demigods (1980), Fiend Folio (another book of monsters produced semi-autonomously in the UK - 1981), Monster Manual II (1983), Oriental Adventures, Unearthed Arcana (1985), which mostly compiled material previously published in Dragon magazine, and others.
Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set and revisions
Main article: Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set
While AD&D was still in the works, TSR was approached by an outside writer and D&D enthusiast, John Eric Holmes, who offered to re-edit and rewrite the original rules into an introductory version of D&D. Although TSR was focused on AD&D at the time, the project was seen as a profitable enterprise and a way to direct new players to anticipate the release of the AD&D game. It was published in July 1977 as the Basic Set, collecting together and organizing the rules from the original D&D boxed set and Greyhawk supplement into a single booklet, which covered character levels 1 through 3, and included dice and a beginner's module. 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. Unusual features of this version included an alignment system of five alignments[note 2] as opposed to the three or nine 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 the Basic Set is not fully compatible with AD&D, as some rules were simplified to make the game easier for new players to learn, players were expected to continue play beyond third level by moving on to the AD&D version.
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 written by David Cook, to accompany the Basic Set, extending it to levels 4 through 14, for players who preferred the simplified introductory ruleset. With this revision, the Basic rules became their own game, distinct both from original D&D and 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 Immortals Rules (gold, supporting Immortals—characters who had transcended levels).
This version was compiled and slightly revised by Aaron Allston in 1991 as the Rules Cyclopedia, a hardback book which included all the sets except Immortals Rules which was discontinued and replaced with the Wrath of the Immortals boxed set accessory. While the Rules Cyclopedia included all information required to begin the game, there was a revised introductory boxed set, named The New Easy-to-Master Dungeons & Dragons Game, nicknamed "the black box". A final repackaging of the introductory set, titled The Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game was released in 1994. By the end of 1995, TSR ended its support for the line.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition
In 1987, a small team of designers at TSR led by David "Zeb" Cook began work on the second edition of the AD&D game, which would take two years to complete. In 1989, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition was published, featuring new rules and character classes.
By the end of its first decade, AD&D had expanded to several rulebooks, including three collections of monsters (Monster Manual, Monster Manual II, Fiend Folio), and two books governing character skills in wilderness and underground settings. Gygax 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, and numerous new innovations from Dragon magazine in the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide and would have consolidated the Monster Manual, Monster Manual II and Fiend Folio into one volume. Initially, the 2nd edition was planned to consolidate the game, but more changes were made during development, while still aiming at backwards compatibility with 1st edition.
The release of AD&D 2nd Edition corresponded with important policy changes 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 fiendish monsters were included, renamed tanar'ri and baatezu, respectively. Moving away from the moral ambiguity of the 1st edition AD&D, 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 game was 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 is given a full page of information. It was the intention 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, allowing the book to be updated and customized as needed. This format proved highly susceptibile to wear and tear, however, and presented difficulties in keeping alphabetic order when pages had been printed with monsters on each side. Subsequently, the loose leaf formatting was abandoned and the Compendium as a core book was replaced by single-volume hardcover Monstrous Manual in 1993, collecting popular monsters from the Compendium. The edition also greatly increases the power of dragons, in order to counter the impression of relative weakness of the game's titular monster.
Numerous mechanical changes were made to the game. The combat system was modified. The minimum number required to hit a target uses a mathematical formula in which the defender's armor class (AC) is subtracted from the attacker's THAC0 ("To Hit Armor Class '0'") number, a simplification of 1st edition's attack matrix tables that had appeared as an optional rule in the 1st edition DMG. Distances are based on in-game units (feet) rather than miniatures-board ones (inches). Critical hits are offered as optional rules.
Character creation is modified in many ways. Demi-human races are given higher level maximums to increase their long-term playability, though they are still restricted in terms of character class flexibility. Character classes are organized into four groups: warrior (fighter, paladin, ranger), wizard (mage, specialist wizard), priest (cleric, druid), and rogue (thief, bard). Assassins and monks were removed from the game as character classes, "magic-users" are renamed "mages", illusionists are made into a subtype of the wizard class, along with new classes specializing in the other schools of magic. Proficiencies are officially supported in the Player's Handbook and many supplements, rather than being an optional add-on. Psionics are no longer included in the Player's Handbook, though they later appeared in their own supplement.
Player's Option series
In 1995, TSR re-released the core rulebooks for 2nd Edition with new covers, art, and page layouts. These releases were followed shortly by a series of volumes labelled Player's Option, allowing for alternate rules systems and character options, as well as a Dungeon Master Option for high-level campaigns. They consisted of:
Some of the optional rules included the introduction of a point-based system to allow players to pick and choose parts of classes to make their own class, and a more tactical combat system including attacks of opportunity.
Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition
A major revision of the AD&D rules was released in 2000, the first edition published by Wizards of the Coast (which had acquired TSR in 1997). 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 named just Dungeons & Dragons, but 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.
Monte Cook, Jonathan Tweet, and Skip Williams all contributed to the 3rd edition Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual, and then each designer wrote one of the books based on those contributions.
The d20 system uses a more unified mechanic than earlier editions, resolving nearly all actions with a d20 die roll plus appropriate modifiers. Modifiers based on ability scores follow a standardized formula. Saving throws are reduced from five categories based on forms of attack to three based on type of defense.
The combat system is greatly expanded, adopting into the core system most of the optional movement and combat system of the 2nd edition Players Option: Combat and Tactics book. Third edition combat allows for a grid system, encouraging highly tactical gameplay and facilitating the use of miniatures.
New character options were introduced. The new sorcerer class was introduced. The thief is renamed rogue, a term that 2nd edition uses to classify both the thief and bard classes, and introduces prestige classes, which characters can only enter at higher character levels, and only if they meet certain character-design prerequisites or fulfill certain in-game goals. Later products included additional and supplementary rules subsystems such as "epic-level" options for characters above 20th level, as well as a heavily revised treatment of psionics.
3rd edition removes previous editions' restrictions on class and race combinations that were intended to track the preferences of the race, and on the level advancement of non-human characters. Skills and the new system of feats are introduced replacing non-weapon proficiencies, to allow players to further customize their characters.
The d20 System is presented under the Open Game License, which makes it an open source system for which authors can 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.
Dungeons & Dragons v3.5
In July 2003, a revised version of the 3rd edition D&D rules (termed v. 3.5) was released that incorporated numerous small rule changes, as well as expanding the Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual. This revision was intentionally a small one focusing on addressing common complaints about certain aspects of gameplay, hence the "half edition" version number. The basic rules are fundamentally the same, only differing in balancing. Many monsters and items are compatible (or even unchanged) between those editions. New spells are added, and numerous changes are made to existing spells, while some spells are removed from the updated Player's Handbook. New feats are added and numerous changes are made to existing feats, while several skills are renamed or merged with other skills.
Jackson Haime, for Screen Rant, highlighted that "Wizards of the Coast printed 12 different core D&D rulebooks between 2000 and 2007. At the same time, they published over 50 supplements that added additional rules, features, races, and magic items to the game".
Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition
On August 15, 2007, Wizards of the Coast announced the development of D&D 4th edition. In December 2007, the book Wizards Presents: Races and Classes, the first preview of 4th Edition, was released. This was followed by a second book in January 2008 named Wizards Presents: Worlds and Monsters. The Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master's Guide were released in June 2008.
Slashdot reported anger from some players and retailers due to the financial investment in v3.5 and the relatively brief period of time that it had been in publication. Although many players chose to continue playing older editions, or other games such as Pathfinder by Paizo Publishing (itself based on D&D v3.5 via the Open Game License), the initial print run of the 4th edition sold out during preorders, and Wizards of the Coast announced a second print run prior to the game's official release.
Unlike previous editions with just three core rulebooks, 4th edition core rules include multiple volumes of the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual that were released yearly, with each new book becoming a part of the core. In the first Player's Handbook, the warlock and warlord are included, while the barbarian, bard, druid, sorcerer and monk are not present. Of those classes, the first four were included in Player's Handbook 2, while the monk class appears in Player's Handbook 3.
Mechanically, 4th edition saw a major overhaul of the game's systems. Changes in spells and other per-encounter resourcing, giving all classes a similar number of at-will, per-encounter and per-day powers. Powers have a wide range of effects including inflicting status effects, creating zones, and forced movement, making combat very tactical for all classes but essentially requiring use of miniatures, reinforced by the use of squares to express distances. Attack rolls, skill checks and defense values all get a bonus equal to one-half level, rounded down, rather than increasing at different rates depending on class or skill point investment. Each skill is either trained (providing a fixed bonus on skill checks, and sometimes allowing more exotic uses for the skills) or untrained, but in either case all characters also receive a bonus to all skill rolls based on level. A system of "healing surges" and short and long rests are introduced to act as resource management.
The system of prestige classes is replaced by a system in which characters at 11th level choose a "paragon path", a specialty based on their class, which defines some of their new powers through 20th level; at level 21, an "epic destiny" is chosen in a similar manner. Core rules extend to level 30 rather than level 20, bringing "epic level" play back into the core rules.
Dungeons & Dragons Essentials
This product line debuted in September 2010 and consisted of ten products intended to lower the barrier of entry into the game. Essentials uses the D&D 4th edition rule set and provides simple player character options intended for first-time players. Many of the new player character options emulated features from previous editions, such as schools of magic for the wizard class, as to appeal to older players who had not adopted 4th edition. "The goal of Essentials was to provide a new core of rule books that were simplified, updated, and errataed, so that they'd be easier to use".
The Essentials line contained revisions to the ruleset compiled over the prior two years, in the form of the Rules Compendium, which condensed rules and errata into one volume, while also updating the rules with newly introduced changes. The player books Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms contained rules for creating characters, as well as new builds for each class described in the books. Other Essentials releases included a Dungeon Master's Kit and Monster Vault, each also containing accessories.
Shannon Appelcline, author of Designers & Dragons, highlighted that the Essentials line was "primarily the brain child of Mike Mearls". Appelcline wrote, "though the first goal with the release of D&D 4e had been to draw in established players, Wizards now wanted to bring in new players as well. [...] Essentials was more than just a chance to approach a new audience. It was also a revamp of the 4e game. Mearls was insistent that Essentials would not be a new edition, and so should remain entirely compatible with 4e to date. However, 4e had been heavily errataed in the two years since its release [...]. Essentials provided an opportunity to incorporate those changes and errata back into a set of core rulebooks".
Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition
In January 2012, Wizards of the Coast announced that a new edition of the game, at the time referred to as D&D Next, was under development. In direct contrast to the previous editions of the game, D&D Next was developed partly via a public open playtest. An early build of the new edition debuted at the 2012 Dungeons & Dragons Experience event to about 500 fans. Public playtesting began on May 24, 2012, with the final playtest packet released on September 20, 2013.
The 5th edition's Basic Rules, a free PDF containing complete rules for play and a subset of the player and DM content from the core rulebooks, was released on July 3, 2014. The Starter Set was released on July 15, featuring a set of pre-generated characters, a set of instructions for basic play, and the adventure module Lost Mine of Phandelver. The Player's Handbook was released on August 19, 2014. The fifth edition Monster Manual was released on September 30, 2014. The Dungeon Master's Guide was released on December 9, 2014. The edition returns to having only three core rule books, with the Player’s Handbook containing most major races and classes. Since 2014, there have been over twenty 5th edition Dungeon & Dragons books published including new rulebooks, campaign guides and adventure modules. In January 2022, an Expansion Gift Set will be released which will include reissued versions of Xanathar's Guide to Everything (2017) and Tasha's Cauldron of Everything (2020),  "the two most significant expansions for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition" along with a new sourcebook, Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse (2022). This sourcebook will include "over 250 monster stat blocks alongside 30 playable races pulled from a variety of sources" such as Volo's Guide to Monsters (2016) and Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (2018).
Mechanically, 5th edition draws heavily on prior editions, while introducing some new mechanics intended to simplify and streamline play. Skills, weapons, items, saving throws, and other things that characters are trained in now all use a single proficiency bonus that increases as character level increases. Multiple defense values have been removed, returning to a single defense value of armor class and using more traditional saving throws. Saving throws are reworked to be situational checks based on the six core abilities instead of generic d20 rolls. Feats are now optional features that can be taken instead of ability score increases and are reworked to be occasional major upgrades instead of frequent minor upgrades.
The "advantage/disadvantage" mechanic was introduced, streamlining conditional and situational modifiers to a simpler mechanic: rolling two d20s for a situation and taking the higher of the two for "advantage" and the lower of the two for "disadvantage" and canceling each other out when more than one apply. The power system of 4th edition was replaced with more traditional class features that are gained as characters level. Clerics, druids, paladins, and wizards prepare known spells using a slightly modified version of the spell preparation system of previous editions. Healing Surges are replaced by Hit Dice, requiring a character to roll a hit die during a short rest instead of healing a flat rate of hit points.
Jackson Haime, for Screen Rant in 2020, compared the amount of rulebooks released for the 3rd/3.5 editions to the amount for 5th edition and wrote, "Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition has been released for almost as long as 3 and 3.5 now, and only has 3 core rulebooks and 4 supplemental books in the style of 3.5". This edition also has "setting guides that add some setting-specific rules as opposed to complete supplements that are intended for inclusion with any Dungeons and Dragons game". In September 2021, it was announced that a backwards compatible "evolution" of 5th edition would be released in 2024 to mark the 50th anniversary of the game.
Dungeons & Dragons variants
Kenzer & Company received permission from Wizards of the Coast to produce a parody version of 1st and 2nd edition AD&D. They published the humorously numbered HackMaster 4th edition from 2001 until they lost their license. The game was well received and won the Origins Award for Game of the Year 2001. A new edition of Hackmaster was released in 2011 that no longer uses AD&D mechanics as Kenzer & Company's license expired.
Open Game License
Main articles: Open Game License and Game System License
The publication of the System Reference Document (SRD) for 3rd edition under the Open Game License (OGL) allowed other companies to use the rules to create their own variants of Dungeons & Dragons, providing that they did not use anything Wizards of the Coast considered trade dress or signature content, known as "product identity" under the terms of the OGL. In January 2016, Wizards of the Coast published an updated SRD for 5th edition D&D.
"Retro-clones" are variants created to even more closely simulate previous editions, part of a movement known as the Old School Renaissance.Castles & Crusades, published in 2004 by Troll Lord Games, is an early example of the OGL and SRD being used to recreate the experience of older editions. Prominent retro-clones include Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, and Swords & Wizardry.
The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game was first published in 2009 by Paizo Publishing. It is intended to be backward-compatible with D&D v. 3.5 while adjusting some rules balance, and has been nicknamed "v. 3.75" by some fans. Pathfinder has been one of the best-selling role playing games in the industry. A second edition, which moves away from the v. 3.5 mechanics, was published in 2019.
13th Age is a game designed by Jonathan Tweet, a lead designer of the 3rd Edition, and Rob Heinsoo, a lead designer of 4th Edition, and published by Pelgrane Press in 2013.
The D&D franchise has been translated and published in several languages around the world.
A particular challenge has been the word dungeon, which in standard English means a single prison cell or oubliette originally located under a keep. Some languages, like Spanish, Italian, Finnish, and Portuguese, didn't translate the title of the game and kept it as it is in English: Dungeons & Dragons. In Spanish-speaking countries, the 1983 animated series was translated in Hispanic America as Calabozos y Dragones and in Spain as Dragones y Mazmorras (calabozo and mazmorra have in all Spanish-speaking countries the same meaning: a dungeon). In Brazil, the same animated series was translated as Caverna do Dragão (Dragon's Cave). This still brings great confusion amongst Spanish-speaking and Brazilian gamers about the name of the game, since all Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese translations of the game kept the original English title. 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). In Hebrew, the game was published as מבוכים ודרקונים (Labyrinths and Dragons). Additionally, some translations adopted the English word "dungeon" as a game term, leaving it untranslated in the text as well.
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And classic art dungeons dragons
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