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Tabletop Game: Dungeons & Dragons
aka: Advanced Dungeons And Dragons

The original Tabletop RPG, Dungeons & Dragons was first published in 1974 by TSR (Tactical Studies Rules). TSR founder Gary Gygax based the system of the game on TSR's miniatures combat system, Chainmail. The game revolves around the now-classic set-up of a Game Master (known in official D&D terms as the Dungeon Master), who controls all the non-player characters, and the players, who each control a Player Character and deal with the challenges provided by the Dungeon Master.

The core rule books contain no "official" background setting material. Dungeon Masters are invited to either make up their own setting or use one of a number of published campaign settings. Of course, stuff from some settings leaked in anyway — after all, one cannot roleplay in a vacuum. Basic D&D and AD&D has elements of Gygax's own Greyhawk as the implied setting (the wizards whose names attached to spells of the core list are classical Greyhawk characters), 3.0 even included the top of Greyhawk's pantheon and 4th edition books' assumptions unofficially form a vague setting called "Points Of Light".

The history of D&D is more than a little complicated. It started as a companion book to a miniature-based tabletop wargame called Chainmail.note  Due to Creative Differences between the creators, the original game became split into Basic Dungeons and Dragons and the ultimately more popular (and more complex) Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in 1981. Then Battlesystem was added — a mass combat supplement for both D&D and AD&D. That is, it's Chainmail reborn as an expansion of its own grown-up derivative.

In the early 1980's a corporate power struggle inside TSR caused Gary Gygax to be ousted from the company. In 1989, the group left behind codified the official rules tweaks and unofficial suggestions that had accumulated in the mean time into Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition. It was intended to be less complicated and more flexible than 1st Edition, but still managed to include things like the THAC0 system note note , wildly imbalanced nonweapon proficiencies (an early attempt at a skill system), zero attempts to make the level advancement smoother (eg, level 10 rangers suddenly have hordes of bears following them around) and leaks of the default setting into the core rules (such as druid organisations appearing in game mechanics and tied to levels in-world).

Optional core rules Dungeon Master Option and Player's Options (1995) were an attempt to unify the system and lessen the power discrepancy. It has a plain structure and included a good compilation/rewrite of earlier options, house rules, Gamma World and Battlesystem elements alike. Sadly, not only were many basic problems (like checks) not fixed, but the central part (Skills & Powers) was obviously rushed, thus including plain bad and/or non-tested elements (e.g. new psionics), hasty changes in dubious directions (e.g. some subabilities), and editing problems (that's how we know about changed subabilities). Accordingly, "AD&D 2.5" books one-by-one attracted the interest their promising novelties deserved, but this new set of rules wasn't fully usable as a coherent whole and failed to become the new standard.

After TSR was bought by Wizards of the Coast (makers of Magic: The Gathering, and a subsidiary of Hasbro), they published Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition using the d20 System. A major overhaul of the entire rules set, 3rd edition cleared off the crust that had accumulated around 2nd and unified a scattered assortment of rules and procedures into something more coherent. Characters are at their most customizable thanks to the feat system and a standardized skill system, a loose multiclassing systemnote  note  with Prestige Classes (including making them a named and common mechanic), and the dropping of racial restrictions. It became easier to get into the game from a novice player's level, and added in the idea of "iconic characters" for the first time. Then came an incremental edition known as "3.5", which was largely concerned with fixing a few very obvious Game Breakers and Spoony Bards in 3rd Edition.

The newest edition is known as 4E, short for Fourth Edition, which has created quite a big amount of discussion, with haters, lovers, people who don't care and everything in between. The changes are many, from the inclusion of dragonborn (draconic humanoids from a 3.5 splatbook), the mainstreaming of tieflings (humans with distant fiendish ancestry), the replacement of three classes with two new classes (and the reinstatement of those three classes in a second Player's Handbook), stripping down the alignment system, and much much more. Overall, its rules have a much greater emphasis on mechanical balance and action than any previous edition: all classes are equally useful and viable in combat, all characters could perform impressive feats regardless of whether the source of their power was mundane or magical, and threats could be easily scaled to the players' level.

A fifth edition of D&D is now on the horizon, under the production alias of "D&D Next", as Wizards of the Coast seeks to revitalize the brand. In an effort to try and heal the divisions in the player community, they are actively soliciting players for ideas about the new edition, with an open playtest (which began in 2012 and ran through the end of 2013). At present, it combines elements from all previous editions - extremely simplified classes and combat rules (making "theater of the mind" gameplay feasible once again) is closest to 1st and 2nd edition, the magic rules combine a low-powered version of 3rd's slot system with 4th's ritual casting system, and skills and feats are still present, but are much less prominent than before to the point of technically being optional. The two-axis alignment system is back, and while fans of 4th's Powers system were not pleased to learn that it has been left out of this edition, the absence of its skill challenges has been welcomed.

Issues with wildly different editions prompted the development of third-party adaptations. E.g. Castles & Crusades as D&D 2.99 without D&D 3 specific elements, or Pathfinder as "D&D 3.75".

Dungeons & Dragons is one of the Trope Codifiers of the modern era, having single-handedly mashed swords and sorcery and epic high fantasy into the fantasy genre as we know it today, and having been the source of more than a few of the Roleplaying Game Terms and RPG Elements that the influential computer RPG genre was founded on. Many, many excellent computer games (especially RPGs) have also been made directly off the D&D license.

Though a number of D&D-based MUDs and other online games existed prior, most notably the original Neverwinter Nights, in 2006, Wizards of the Coast and Atari released the MMORPG Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach, set on the fictional continent of Xen'drik in the campaign world of Eberron. The game has since been renamed Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited, and uses a free-to-play model with optional microtransactions. It later added a Forgotten Realms expansion. Temple Of Elemental Evil received a computer game adaptation via the late Troika Games, and is notable for being the only "proper" use of the 3.5 rules (fully turn based, all special options, bar grapple and counter spell, intact), Knights Of The Chalice is an unofficial indie successor to this adaptation built by using the OGL license, with a sequel coming eventually.

Two companion magazines — Dragon and Dungeon — have been published since 1976 and 1986 respectively, offering additional content, articles and resources for D&D. Since 2007, the magazines have ceased paper publication and can now be found in digital format on the Wizards Of The Coast website. AD&D has "Core Rules" toolset sold on CD. With the release of 4E, a set of virtual tabletop software called D&D Insider was set to be released that will give gamers a official way to play D&D over the Internet, but now the idea seems dead, as a new edition is in the works.

Whole libraries of novels have been published with D&D tie-ins, most of them linked to specific game settings such as the Forgotten Realms. While writing quality is inconsistent at best, sheer quantity testifies to these novel lines' profitability. The best known novels are R.A. Salvatore's Legend of Drizz't series. In addition, IDW Publishing, famous for their Transformers and G.I. Joe comics, have obtained the license to an ongoing series based on D&D - which have been well-received, mainly due to being written by the writer for DC Comics' Blue Beetle.

For the animated series based on the game, see Dungeons & Dragons. For the Bally pinball game, see Dungeons & Dragons. There are also three movies. The first (Dungeons & Dragons) is In Name Only. The second (Wrath of the Dragon God) is a lot better, despite being made on a low budget. The third, Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness, was a made-for-cable-TV affair that premiered on the SyFy channel in November 2012. A reboot of the Dungeons and Dragons film franchise is currently planned by Warner Brothers.

Now has a Referenced by page.

Please note that, since this is a very open-ended game, with millions of people playing it in one form or another, you can find any trope if you look hard enough.


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     Individual Campaign Settings 
  • Birthright: The game on a larger scale: international politics run by demigods. Player characters are encouraged to be the scions of ancient gods who now rule domains through divine right, dealing with courtly politics in between dungeon crawls. The main enemies are the Awnsheighlien, or Blood Abominations, the twisted scions of the gods of evil.
    • The original rules and setting were created for 2nd edition. AEG created a 3rd edition sourcebook, "Empire", that updated/reprinted a large amount of the rules (but not the setting).
  • Blackmoor: The first campaign setting. Later tied to both Greyhawk and Mystara. It's complicated. (See here for more.)
  • Council of Wyrms: Dragons are feudals ruling everyone else. They retain Character Alignment inclinations, but those are less important than matters of honor and politics. If the Council send a party with a Gold dragon as a substitute of paladin and a Black dragon as a substitute of thief on a mission, they'll fly. Dragon slayers (created by Io to punish his errant offspring) don't see much difference either.
  • Dark Sun: Desert Punk, Psychic Powers, and Black Magic After the End by way of Dune. A world ravaged by misuse of magic, Athas is now a vast desert wasteland. Psionics are extremely common, while wizardry is outlawed. The world is ruled by a cabal of evil god-kings, each of whom controls their own city-state with an iron fist.
  • Dragonlance: The purest High Fantasy setting of them all and hews closest to J. R. R. Tolkien's works, arguably. The most major difference would probably be Tolkien preferred to imply the influence of Providence, while in Dragon Lance the intervention of deities tends to be much more explicit. More popular for its series of novels, which have come out non-stop for years, than for its sporadically-published game products.
  • Eberron: Magitek and Dungeon Punk. Magic is a part of everyday life, to the point that airships and magic-powered locomotives are a common sight. A world war has devastated the globe, and an uneasy peace reigns — for now. The world is in the grips of an age of exploration, with new treasures to be found around every corner.
    • Supposedly, the creator of the setting and others who have worked on it specifically deny that magic was supposed to replace technology in this way. You can imagine the response of some people to this...
    • The Eberron setting puts a unique spin on the concept of alignment as well. There are no Always Chaotic Evil races; any intelligent creature (including sentient undead) can be of any alignment, and even clerics don't necessarily have to be of the same alignment as the god(s) they worship ... or don't, Eberron divine magic being not actually tied to any specific deity. There are "angels" in the setting, and that's what a cleric gets if he casts a spell like Commune. However, if pressed, the angels will admit that even they haven't ever actually seen any deities.
      • About the closest the world comes to Always Chaotic Evil is the aberrations. Changelings aren't, but are treated as such by most other humanoid races.
  • Forgotten Realms: A world of Fantasy Counterpart Cultures, partially shanghaied from Earth, prominent features are constant conflicts between numerous and very active deities, the world being one big Gambit Pileup between dozens of factions, and scads of high-powered Non Player Characters (mostly the stars of the setting's popular novel lines) running around. The most popular setting, and the most developed.
    • Arcane Age: The same, but thousands of years in the past, with a lot of Magitek on top.
    • Al-Qadim: Arabian Nights style fantasy mixed with Muslim Arab culture. Genies, magic carpets, Evil Viziers, secret societies, haggling and fame. Peculiar magic (tied to genies, astrology, magical weaving, and so on). Play occurred in the land of Zakhara.
    • Kara-Tur: Oriental adventures — martial arts and all. Peculiar magic (based on oriental five elements, of course).
    • Maztica: Central & South American style setting. Very peculiar magic (feather vs. fang).
  • Gamma World: While technically a different game line, uses identical mechanics and is often seen as a subset of vanilla D&D. (The AD&D 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide even has sections for converting AD&D characters to Gamma World characters and vice-versa.) Scavenger World After the End inhabited by Mutants constantly trying to win the Super Power Lottery and usually either Cursed with Awesome or Blessed with Suck.
  • Ghostwalk- The first campaign setting for 3e, and ironically the one which almost nobody remembers. It is a setting where the underworld is a real, physical place, and the ghosts of the dead walk the earth on the way to their final journey, and the main villain race is the Yuan-Ti. It mostly focuses on the city of Manifest, which resides near the entrance to the underworld.
  • Greyhawk: Your basic Medieval European Fantasy, the base Dungeons & Dragons setting for 1st and 3rd Edition. A high-fantasy world ravaged by war, where the forces of evil are stronger than in other settings. The City of Greyhawk stands at the center of the world, its gates always open for adventure. Features strong forces of active neutrality.
  • Historical Reference: The Time of Myths of "our world" — divine quests, fairy folk in the hills, and so on. "Vikings", "Charlemagne's Paladins", "Celts", "A Mighty Fortress" (1500-1660, "Elizabethan age"), "The Glory of Rome", "Age of Heroes" (Ancient Greece), "The Crusades". Did introduce, improve, or polish some game mechanics elements for the themes emphasized at settings in question, which could (and occasionally were) used elsewhere — such as Rune Magic for Viking setting, fencing styles and duel rules, Rhetoric proficiency, etc.
  • Kingdoms of Kalamar: A third-party setting from Kenzer & Co. officially first released for 2nd Edition and endorsed by Wizards during the 3rd Edition era. A standard high-fantasy style setting that sells itself on its depth and verisimilitude. Though no longer an official setting, Kenzer has released an updated version for 4th Edition.
  • Lankhmar, City Of Adventure / Nehwon: The adaptation of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Low-magical.
  • Midnight by Fantasy Flight Games is a darker (but not necessarily edgier) setting. It basically asks the question "What would happen to Middle Earth if Sauron had WON the War of the Ring?" The player characters are agents for The Rebellion against the Big Bad and his evil orcish minions. Spellcasters are rare because the bad guys actively hunt them.
  • Mystara / The Known World: Wooden Ships and Iron Men on the surface of a Hollow World full of lost worlds inside of it. Notable for the Immortals, incredibly powerful beings which stand in for gods in this setting, and which player characters could become if they got to the highest levels. The default setting of BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia-era D&D (and the setting of the Capcom Beat 'em Up games). Lots of cool airships — from a floating city carrying a fleet of WWI style planes powered by gnomish Magitek to big wooden birds of prey kept in the air by sacred relics and armed with long-range Disintegrator Rays to a flying icosahedron (i.e. d20) plated with one-side mirrors.
  • Mythic Vistas: D&D 3.5 based series by Green Ronin. Includes The Black Company adaptation, Damnation Decade (the world of The Seventies' movies for d20 Modern), Mindshadows (Dark Sun x Hungry Jungle and Yuan-ti x D&D3.5 Psionics Handbook), The Red Star Campaign Setting (adaptation of The Red Star comics for d20 Modern), Sidewinder: Recoiled (The Wild West, an original system) SpirosBlaak (survival mixed with Birthright influences). Also includes what amounts to a remake and expansion of Historical Reference for D&D3.5 mechanics: Egyptian Adventures: Hamunaptra, Eternal Rome, Medieval Player's Manual, Skull & Bones (the golden age of piracy note ), Testament (Biblical times), The Trojan War. It introduces advanced models for things like politicking and chariot driving, formal dispute mechanics note  and luck; variant magic modified and expanded to different flavours — e.g. Voodoo, Medieval Catholic, Ancient Egyptian, etc.
  • Planescape: Walking The Multiverse in a setting where belief and philosophy can reshape the very cosmos. Everything else exists within its framework. All Myths Are True, as far as possible, even if many are stretched.
  • Points Of Light: Default setting for 4th edition. The great empires of mortals were destroyed in a magic war, leaving behind scattered remnants of civilization in small pockets surrounded by dangerous monsters and abandoned and forgotten magic and technology.
  • Ravenloft: Gothic fantasy and Hammer Horror in a maybe-sentient demiplane that seems to exist solely to inflict The Punishment on its inhabitants.
  • Rokugan: Jidai Geki style fantasy. Licensed from the makers of the Legend of the Five Rings card game.
  • Spelljammer: Dungeons and Dragons IN SPACE! Prominently featured the extended solar systems of Dragonlance, Greyhawk, and Forgotten Realms. All Cosmologies Are True... at least, somewhere. Most relatively normal  are accessible this way. Spelljammer and Planescape are stitched together well enough, but don't cross much, being alternate ways to handle transit between worlds: Spaceflight and Jules Verne-ish exploration, or magical portals with linking worlds.)
  • Thieves' World: The adaptation of a book setting much grittier than most. Has early adaptations for different systems. Later d20-isation from Green Ronin has its own magic model including rituals and mana levels present in the novels. Has rules for injury (though not splattered as far and wide as PO:C&T) and curses (Ravenloft -like approach), but doesn't use an universal psionics model for abilities of Bandaran Adepts, S'Danzo Seers and northern barbarians (probably because corresponding rules in core d20 are nearly unusable for most settings).
  • Plus all the Homebrew settings that DMs create!

    Editions 
  • "Original" Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D) - 1974-1976: The original set was written by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, and was published by TSR in 1974 as a digest-sized boxed set including three digest-sized books (the "little brown books" a.k.a. lbb): Men & Magic, Monsters & Treasure, The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. There were three original classes (Fighting-Man, Cleric and Magic User) — and Hit points and damage were all rolled with 6 siders. This first set went through many printings and was supplemented with several official additions, including Greyhawk (which introduced the Thief and Paladin) and Blackmoor in 1975, Eldritch Wizardry, Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes, and Swords & Spells in 1976.
  • Basic Dungeons and Dragons - 1977-1989: Of note is that Dwarf, Elf and Halfling counted as classes, not races that could choose a class separately the way humans did; so only humans could play anything but a standard version of their species note . The first release only covered levels 1-3, players were intended to move on to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons after this, though an expansion in 1981 let players keep with these simpler rules. Various editions after that expanded the setting, and compiled the rules into easier-to-use booklets, with minor additions. The last version of this particular incarnation was the BECMI series of boxed sets (Basic, Expert, Companion, Master and Immortal, respectively) by Frank Mentzer, the rules from the first four of which were later compiled in 1991 into the Rules Cyclopedia written by Aaron Allston, which is still considered a classic.
    • The Elf class was the closest these rules came to the notion of multi-classing: Elves posessed all the abilities of a magic-user and all the abilities of a fighting man, at the cost of slower experience progression.
    • One "turn" lasts 10 minutes, with each melee round lasting 10 secondsnote . Resolving a round and determining initiative is simple, split into phases by the resolved action.
  • Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (1st edition) - 1977-1979: The more complete rules, including more character classes, the first appearance of the classic Dungeons and Dragons alignment system. More or less completely compatible with the simpler Dungeons and Dragons, and many gamers mixed and matched at will. As well, Character Class System was unified — non-human races can now select class (so you CAN have a dwarven fighter, and no "fighting man" anymore) — but some classes are human-only, others forbidden to certain races.
    • Multi-classing came in two flavors: True multi-classed characters, which could not be human, and "characters with two classes", which had to be human. The latter had to gain levels in one class and then, at some point, give up all further development in that class and start gaining levels in a new classnote . Bards — an optional class described in an appendix — were characters with three classesnote .
    • The round lasts a full minute and is divided — now the true time quantum is the 6 sec. segment; initiative is adjusted by segments (carrying over into the next round if needed), unless one or more of the combatants is entitled to 2 or more attack routines in a melee round, in which case arguments ensue.
    • Unearthed Arcana - 1985: A codification of many of the new rules and options introduced in various magazines up to that point. Added 3 classes: Cavalier, Barbarian, and Thief-Acrobat — which were also the same 3 classes that appeared in the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon show that didn't already exist in the Player's Handbook. While thief-acrobat was just a specialization of thief, and barbarian was another fighter subclass, cavalier was a whole new top-level class category in its own right; paladins were now subclasses of cavaliers instead of subclasses of fighters, which meant that some previously legitimate paladin characters no longer had high enough stats to be paladins any more. Also added a boatload of new spells and magic items. Clarified some rules, but also had several misprints and introduced as many new problemsnote  as it solved.
    • Oriental Adventures - 1985: A supplement designed to play Dungeons and Dragons campaigns set in the Far East rather than Medieval European Fantasy. While it came with a brief setting description (which eventually became Kara-Tur, mentioned above) the rules were very much designed to create a generic oriental setting. The ninja class allowed you to take levels in it without having to "switch away" from your main class, a notion that 3rd Edition would later codify as a Prestige Class.
  • Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (2nd edition) - 1989: The first full-scale revamp. Stripped out Renamed all demons, devils and the like to avoid the Satanic Panic idiocy that hit the game in the 80s, tweaked the combat system, threw out material they thought parents might object to, like half-orcs and assassins (who returned with Satyrs and Bandits in Complete Humanoids and Complete Thief respectively), and other smallish changes.
    • The multi-class vs. dual-class system from 1st Edition was continued in 2nd Edition, with the exception that a dual-classed human character could change classes any number of times. Bards were now a ground-floor class in their own right and no longer required any kind of multi-classing or dual-classing. Unfortunately, they were now closer to what would eventually become the Spoony Bard trope, although extremely rapid level progression helped them somewhat.
    • The 1 min. round is monolithic, initiative adjustments affect only the sequence in a round.
    • Advanced Dungeons and Dragons "2.5" (Optional Core Rules) - 1995-1996: ("Player's Options", "Dungeon Master Option"): Unified and highly detailed set of rules intended to expand AD&D 2. Included new interesting rules, mainly customization via character points system allowing to easily build variants of basic classes note  and guidelines on creating new kits, combat options averting Padded Sumo Gameplay and even Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards trend note , re-integration with Chainmail battle rules and new material note . However, fatal flaws in its central part Skills & Powers due to noticeable lack of proper coordination and playtesting note  made it barely usable "as is", which demoted PO from the new generation to one more cherry-picked set of sourcebooks.
      • The 10-15 sec. round is split into initiative phases, initiative adjustments converted into phase selectors.
  • Dungeons and Dragons (3rd edition) - 2000: Arguably this, and the revised 3.5 edition, are currently the best known by all but the oldest gamers. 3rd edition made major simplifications to the rules by using the d20 System (which was originally created specifically for D&D 3.0) based on roll-over used in Gamma World long ago. The simplification was comprehensive enough to mean that nearly all character actions will fall into one of three areas - combat, skills and magic. This means that 3rd edition is also more flexible than 2nd; skills and abilities are more universal, with every class being able to attempt actions like "bluff" or "hide", where as only specific classes had access to them before. This time Character Class System dominates weaker race system and for powerful and unusual creatures what was racial HD is treated as "class". The standard level limit was set at 20 (higher levels were covered in the Epic Level Handbook), again without racial restrictions of any kind. The previous, crufty system of "weapon proficiency slots" was revamped into a somewhat-less-crufty system of Feats. Overall, the game became a lot simpler to use without losing very much of its depth. In addition, much of the material thrown out in 2nd edition - half-orcs, monks, battles with demons, and so on, were added back in (some in the core rulebooks, others in supplements). The most obvious flaws: indecisive unification note , skill rank inflation, feats handled separately without any common meaning to themnote  and Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards on steroids.
    • The old dichotomy between multi-classing and dual-classing was unified into a single system. Every character starts out at level 1 in a single class. Whenever you gain a character level, you can choose to gain a "class level" in any class, including not only your existing classes but also any classes you had never been before. You can multiclass without any racial restrictions, but any time classes not "favored" by your race get more than a level apart, you suffer XP penalties.
    • The 6 sec. round is not phased, the actions as such are classified by duration and/or effort required. For example, "free" actions took little effort and almost negligible time, while "full-round" actions required that you stood in one spot and did only that one thing (such as making several attacks at once or casting certain spells).
  • Dungeons and Dragons (3.5 edition) - 2003: Rebalancing and fixing up of 3rd edition. Lots of little fixes. However, the gradual shift from attempts to model the game world to an abstract "chess rules balance" approach becomes rather obvious. Individual settings are routinely treated much more invasively at this point, starting with "how to shoehorn this into X" advice on everything.
  • d20 Modern: Official adaptation of Dungeons and Dragons 3.0/3.5 for settings in the modern day. Not considered entirely successful - the classes are a bit weird, and not very well balanced (the base classes are... based on and named after individual stats, like Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and so on, making a game mechanic into the entire basis for your character. Eventually, you get access to advanced classes... some of which are just bizarre: for instance, is it possible to take the Superstar, a class where you are a famous rock singer, in a game about fighting magical threats to the modern earth, and not instantly have a Mary Sue?
    • Star Wars Saga Edition is based on a highly improved version of d20 Modern, and is considered to be of high quality and reasonably successful.
  • Pathfinder is a continuation of 3.5 mechanics updated and rebalanced a little more (it basically does to 3.5 what 3.5 did to 3.0 and is sometimes dubbed 3.75) with its own campaign setting, produced by Paizo - the former publishers of Dragon and Dungeon magazines before those properties were reassumed by Wizards of the Coast. Pathfinder started out as just a campaign setting in the late days of 3.5. See the article for more details.
  • Dungeons and Dragons (4th edition) - 2008: A major adaptation that changed a lot of the mechanics, making it easier for new players to get used to the basic D&D concepts. Its setting and rules are a lot less varied than 3.5 - there's no more crafting system, most magic and attacks are made into "powers" that vary by each class, and magic items have been slimmed down - and there's more pluses in the game rather than minuses (i.e. most races get two + 2 to abilities, rather than the usual 3.5 one of +2 to one, -2 to one). To this end, the game is more fitting (and clearly designed) for a heroic campaign that is combat-heavy and very fantasy-oriented, with very few guidelines on the role-playing portion. Combat itself has been highly revised so that each class is equally capable, but in different roles: Wizards have area-attack spells and debuffs, fighters draw attention and punish enemies who don't attack them, rangers do heavy damage with an assortment of multi-attack powers, etc., and all of these are presented in a standardized format to keep classes more or less balanced. The main problems scaring fans away included intrusiveness to existing settings, an "MMO" feel to combat and class power mechanics that some felt were an oversimplification, and plain weird elements clashing with believability in new ways note 
    • Initially, 4th Edition abandoned the notion of multi-classing, except in an extremely limited way (you could take so-called "Multiclass feats" at level 10, and thereby gain a few abilities that normally belonged to a different class in lieu of pursuing a paragon path in your own class). When Player's Handbook 3 was added, though, true multiclassing (called "Hybrid characters") was reintroduced. In either case, you are still limited to combining the abilities of at most 2 different classes in a single character; three-class combinations like cleric/fighter/thief are not allowed.
  • Dungeons and Dragons Essentials (4th) - 2010: A new line of products launched in 2010, compatible with 4th edition rules. Essentials has the stated intent of offering new players a means of introduction to the game. It is, for the most part, a simplified 4E. There are some differences (for example, fighters and thieves have scaling class features that modify their basic attacks, instead of special attack powers) but nevertheless uses all the same core mechanics from 4E. It's a set of ten products (the new Red Box, dice, three tile sets, and a few extra books). The reintroduction of certain game elements removed from the making of 4th edition, and the confirmation that these changes will become standard from the end of 2010 on, has already led many players to calling it "4.5" edition. Naturally, the already-fragmented base was broken further over this.
  • Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: A new edition has been announced. Tying to recapture and unite some of the fractured fanbase, Wizards claims the new edition will strive to be more inclusive, and is running an open playtest starting Spring 2012, concluding at the start of 2014. Only time will tell if they are successful.

Also worth mentioning is Hackmaster, an officially licensed parody of 1st edition, De Fictionalized from the popular comic strip Knights of the Dinner Table. From Kenzer & Company. In addition to all this, some die-hard gamers have elected to go back to the roots of D&D, launching an "Old School Renaissance" that consists of writing new adventures for the older games and using the OGL to provide "retro-clone" games that do their best to recreate the feel of the original games for the gaming audience of today.

  • Basic Fantasy: Another first-edition retroclone, this one takes the tack of having the player choose races and classes like in AD&D while keeping things as simple as in OD&D. It also uses ascending AC.
  • Castles & Crusades: A retroclone from Troll Lord Games and SmiteWorks. The general idea was to have mostly AD&D2 with straight roll-over checks of d20, lesser unified attribute adjustments, but without d20 specific elements, while compatible enough to import such materials. Its fans consider these goals achieved as well as enough of both customization (to avoid typical pre-AD&D2 problems) and unification (to avoid typical pre-PO problems) and keeping paperwork to minimum — saving throws are as simple "defender's attribute vs. attacker's level" checks. Also, Gary Gygax approved it, which in itself is a good resume for many old-time players. StarSiege is its sci-fi counterpart on the same SIEGE engine. Quickstart version is downloadable from Troll Lord Games site.
  • Dark Dungeons: Named after the infamous Jack Chick tract, this is a very faithful retroclone of the BECMI / Rules Cyclopedia edition of classic D&D, that covers all five boxed sets (including the Immortals rules, although from RC's Wrath of the Immortals supplement rather than the BECMI box) in one book, merging in the optional rules from the later sets directly into the core rules and including a Spelljammer inspired cosmology.
  • Labyrinth Lord: Another retroclone based on old-school D&D, this one uses the Moldvay/Cook edition of D&D as its base, which introduces the Thief, turns the Elf into a fighter/mage, and uses different-sized hit dice for classes. There are also two supplements which recreate White Box D&D (Original Edition Characters) and AD&D (Advanced Edition Companion). Goblinoid Games, the publisher, uses a modified version of the rules of this game for their post-apocalypse game called Mutant Future, a close-as-you-can-get-it homage to Gamma World.
  • OSRIC: One of the first "retro-clone" games, this game is a faithful recreation of the first edition of AD&D with a few (extremely minor) differences. It still got all the characteristic traits, from time segments to alignment languages, though the names of Greyhawk NPCs are stripped from spells. Freely downloadable from the developers' site.
  • Swords and Wizardry: One of the more well-known retroclones, this game goes all the way back to the original D&D, with the Cleric, the Fighter and the Magic-User, taking inspiration from sword and sorcery. Notable for having only one saving throw as opposed to the five used in regular old-school D&D. You get to choose whether you want to play with original AC or ascending AC. There is three version of this game:
    • The WhiteBox Rules which closely emulates the rules of the core box of OD&D.
    • The Core Rules which also incorporate the Greyhawk supplement (most notably adding the Thief class).
    • The Complete Rulebook which incorporates all the supplements, resulting in something of a middle-road between BD&D and AD&D that is quite easily compatible with much of the contents for both.
  • Microlite20: A free, extremely streamlined and rules-lite version of the d20 system, designed to be compatible with existing d20 monsters and adventure modules.
  • Magic Sword: An in development edit/modification/improvement of Fourth Edition, with more of a Nordic and Celtic feel. See here.

Tropes in this System:

    Items 
  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Vorpal weapons and the swords of sharpness.
  • All Beer Is Ale: Nearly every mention of beer lists it as "ale". Pretty much the only drinks available in most games are ale and wine.
  • All Swords Are the Same: Played to different extents in different editions. The original rules started with sets of weapons given to the classes and ended with much the same. In the pre-Advanced-D&D blue book edition, all weapons — big or small, slow or fast — did 1d6 damage. 1st and 2nd edition AD&D generally avert the trope, with large numbers of different weapons all of which require proficiency. 3rd edition restores it to some extent, only requiring proficiency for exotic weapons and drawing less of a distinction between different sorts of swords.
  • Bag of Holding: The Trope Namer.
  • BFS: Shows up here and there, particularly in 3rd edition, where it was possible for a character to wield swords created for creatures much bigger (a human wielding a sword designed to be used two-handed by giants, for example). 3rd and 4th edition has the "Fullblade", which is explicitly an even bigger greatsword, ala Berserk and Final Fantasy VII.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The Bag of Holding and Portable Hole, Baba Yaga's hut and the Tent of Luxury.
  • Blade on a Stick: The original writers had a thing for polearms. A stock Overly-Long Gag is simply listing them.
  • Blow Gun: The 1984 Dungeons & Dragons Companion Set' introduced the blowgun as a 6"-4' tube. Darts don't do damage, but are instead poisonous. AD&D supplement Unearthed Arcana introduces the blowgun, where needle only does one Hit Point of damage, and is therefore only effective if poisoned.
  • Breakable Weapons: Four Shield Weapons weer introduced in Dungeons & Dragons Master Set. The three larger shields have multiple blades that break during combat.
  • Cold Flames:
    • Module I4 Oasis of the White Palm. In the Temple of Set the PCs can find a brazier filled with violet flames. The flames don't give off heat and don't burn wood. However, if they touch living flesh, they burn it, causing serious damage.
    • The Continual Flame spell creates a permanent fire that doesn't burn or use oxygen and is used to make Everlasting Torches.
  • Dangerous Phlebotinum Interaction: Putting a portable hole into a Bag of Holding causes very bad things to happen, although precisely what effect results depends on which is put into which. Putting the bag into the hole sucks both into the Astral Plane and renders both items Lost Forever. Putting the hole into the bag opens a dimensional breach into the Astral Plane, destroying both hole and bag and sucking anything in a ten foot radius into space.
  • Destroyable Items: In AD&D, items get appliable saving throw when their carrier's saving throw fails. In the third edition, getting a critical hit on a creature with a spell also critically hits an item the creature was carrying. This can lead to valuable items being destroyed without the PCs knowing they were there. And of course, if you just wanna take a smack at someone's sword, shield, or armour, you can.
  • Elemental Crafting
  • Elemental Weapon:
    • Tales of the Lance. A Frostreaver is a heavy battle axe made of ice gathered from a secret location on Icewall Glacier. One full day of above freezing temperature or 1-6 hours at warm temperatures (50 degrees Fahrenheit) causes the Frostreaver to melt.
    • Module Rary the Traitor. Lord Robilar wields the Blade of Black Ice, which was created by the demigod Iuz himself out of ice.
    • Legends & Lore.
      • The avatar of the Japanese deity Ho Masubi has a sword made of fire. It does 10 extra Hit Points of fire damage per hit and if the target is wearing armor, the armor must save vs. magical fire or be destroyed.
      • The avatar of the Hindu deity Brihaspati carries a bow that fires arrows of brilliant light that can render the target blind for 1-10 days.
      • The avatar of the Hindu deity Indra has a bow that fires lightning bolts that do 2dl0 points of damage and have a range of 1,000 yards.
    • Deities & Demigods Cyclopedia. The Native American deity Hastsezini has a lance made of fire and a bow that can shoot arrows made of fire.
    • Dragon magazine #127. The bow Ice Fang can create and fire arrows of ice out of water vapor in the air. The arrows do double damage against creatures that use or dwell in fire. In temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit or higher the arrows have half normal range.
    • Gods, Demigods, & Heroes. The Norse Mythology deity Valis had a shortbow that could fire an arrow of lightning.
  • Fantastic Fragility: Destroying artifacts, which require extensive research. In Dungeons & Dragons Master Set, you can try bashing it directly, but it is highly resistant to attacks (taking only minimum damage), and it gets recalled by the immortal rather than being destroyed.
  • Fantastic Nuke: Several, with the Sphere of Annihilation and Staff of the Magi being amongst the most blatant.
  • Flaming Sword: One of the most common weapon enchantments, though Freezing Swords, Electric Swords, Holy Swords and others are also common.
  • Flying Weapon: Multiple examples, starting with the sword of dancing in 1st Edition.
  • Gender Bender: The Girdle of Femininity/Masculinity is a cursed item which permanently switches the gender of the wearer the moment it's put on. The only way to change back is to use a (very powerful) wish spell, or find another Girdle of Femininity/Masculinity. Worse, 10% of these remove all sex from the wearer.
  • Glass-Shattering Sound: The "shatter" spell, from AD&D 1st Edition on.
  • Glowing Gem: Certain magic items, gems with Continual Light cast on them, and the Star Stones in I5 Lost Tomb of Martek.
  • Gorgeous Garment Generation: In 1st Edition the Rod of Splendor could garb the wielder in magical noble's clothing - the finest fabrics, plus adornments of furs and jewels, worth 7,000-10,000 gold pieces.
    • Third Edition has an item that does the same thing, but with a variety of other effects.
  • Hand-Hiding Sleeves: In The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun module, the PCs can find robes with very long sleeves. The robes and their oversized sleeves are useful later in an extremely cold underground area the party must explore, because if their hands are exposed, they'll get frostbite.
  • Hologram: The Judges Guild supplement Wilderlands of the Magic Realm had an artifact that projected a laser hologram of an elven princess.
    • Wizard spell Project Image.
  • Homing Projectile: Ranged weapons with the "seeking" enchantment.
  • Instant Armor: Tessellated armor from earlier editions.
  • Interdimensional Travel Device: Many, many examples, including the Amulet of the Planes and the Cubic Gate.
  • Item Amplifier:
    • The 2nd Edition chronomancer spell Item Supercharger could increase the number of times a magic item could be used per day and the duration of the item's effect(s).
    • In the Dragon magazine #56 article "Singing a New Tune", bards were given the class ability to increase the effects and duration of several magical musical instruments.
  • Kukris Are Kool: And have a hideously wide critical hit range.
  • Legendary Weapon: The game has had many of these, from the Axe of the Dwarvish Lords and Sword of Kas in the 1st Edition Dungeons Master's Guide to the swords of the Forgotten Realms as described by Ed Greenwood (Adjatha, Albruin, Demonbane, etc.).
  • Lucky Rabbit's Foot: The supplement Book of Marvelous Magic has a magical Rabbit's Foot gave a +1 bonus to all saving throws. However, all herbivores seeing it took an instant dislike to the wearer (−2 reaction penalty).
  • Made of Indestructium: Artifacts and relics.
    • In first edition, they qualified due to them only being able to be destroyed in a very specific manner. Even if you did damage them with conventional weapons, they were recalled to the immortal that created them. (Not sure what happens if the immortal no longer exists...)
    • In the second, it's either disenchantment by an uber-mage with great risk, or an unique method of destruction. Melted down in one specific volcano, crushed under the heel of one specific god, submerged in the tears of a hundred elven princesses and left to dissolve for the next 1001 years — that sort of thing.
    • Ditto with 3rd Edition Major Artifacts. At this point they say if you destroy one, you also attract the attention of whatever created it. They are probably not happy you destroyed their Magnum Opus. And are many levels higher than you if not a god. If you're lucky, they may be dead, but something powerful enough to create a major artifact tends to not just die...
  • Magic Compass:
    • 2nd Edition Tome of Magic: The Elemental Compass glows yellow when its owner is headed in the direction of a planar portal or planar boundary the owner is seeking.
    • The Arrow of Direction could be thrown in the air and commanded to point toward the nearest example of one of eight things: stairway (up/down), sloping passage (up/down), dungeon exit/entrance, cave, cavern. When it fell to the ground it would be pointing the correct way.
    • Al-Qadim setting spells
      • The Wind Compass spell allows the caster to know when he's facing in a particular compass direction (south, north by northwest, etc.).
      • The True Bearing spell allows the caster to know the direction in which a specific landmark or geographical site (city, town, significant land feature etc.) lies. It only works if the caster has been there before and the location is on the same plane of existence.
  • Magic Map:
    • Dragon magazine #125 had the following magical maps.
      • Map of Illusion: Detects and shows any illusions within range.
      • Map of Magic: Magical auras are highlighted in pulsating red.
      • Map of Secret Doors: Secret doors appear as yellow dots on the map.
      • Map of Traps: Detects and shows any traps within line of sight.
    • Kingdom of Nithia: The artifact map Master Plan shows the current position of all burrowers in the Hollow World who have been paralyzed by the Spell of Preservation.
  • The Magic Touch: Many items, such as "The Helm of Brilliance" work this way.
  • Magical Accessory: Many hundreds, if not thousands, spread out across the books. Popular ones are girdles and bracers of giant strength.
  • Miracle Food: Magic users in all editions of D&D have spells that can conjure food and water. Some magic items can do this as well, and most deities have it as one of their basic powers.
  • Mirror Morality Machine: The Mirror of Opposition, which creates an opposite alignment clone of you to do battle with. Helm Of Opposite Alignment does it to the wearer.
  • Mithril: Spelled "mithral" to avoid potential lawsuits from the Tolkien estate. In 1st Edtition, all +4 weapons and armor were supposedly made out of mithral-alloyed steel.
  • Moody Mount: The Obsidian Steed animates into one of these. If the rider is good-aligned, they must roll to control the beast or it goes to the Lower Planes and dumps them there.
  • Mundangerous: Marbles are mundane items that don't even cost a single gold piece, rolling on from The Complete Thief's Handbook. They are quite effective against anything with legs not noted for amazing agility. Instead of a saving throws (automatically going up as you level up), victims fall down, becoming vulnerable and losing time to get up, unless they made in AD&D2 a Dexterity check, in D&D3 a DC 15 balance check (the balance is a skill most classes can't practically invest in) — and even if they make it they are "flatfooted" (as they are trying to balance) and can be hit by sneak attacks.
    • On a similar vein is soap. At a mere 5sp/lb, is one of the most useful mundane items. It's flammable (there's about a million ways to use fire), slippery (and so can be used much like marbles in any place that's damp), and you can clean with it. Always buy at least 10 pounds.
  • Naginatas Are Feminine: In Oriental Adventures (1985), the description of the naginata said it "is often the preferred weapon of women."
  • Orbiting Particle Shield: Animated Shields fit.
  • Pimped Out Cape: Several items, including the "cloak of lordliness".
  • Plunger Detonator: Could be found in the Ravenloft setting's Masque of the Red Death campaign expansion.
  • Precision-Guided Boomerang: A number of magical and mundane items. Specifically, melee weapons with the throwing and returning properties.
  • Rapid Hair Growth: Dungeons & Dragons module EX1 Dungeonland. A fountain's water turns into randomly determined potions. One of them is Hairiness: if drunk, the drinker's hair immediately grows longer and thicker.
    • Dungeons & Dragons, 1st Edition supplement Unearthed Arcana. The Hairy cantrip caused a creature's hair to immediately grow 2-12 inches.
  • Requisite Royal Regalia: Loads of magic items can be imbued on cool crowns, ermine capes, scepters, and rings.
  • Ring of Power: Too many to list.
  • Rock of Limitless Water: There is a magical decanter that one can purchase or craft. Though not the cheapest or most common of items, wizards can craft them without too much difficulty.
  • Self Guarding Phlebotinum:
    • Adventure C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness. The Soul Gem is surrounded by an invisible force sphere which must be broken by the PCs if they want to retrieve it.
  • Set Bonus: Various magic items and artifacts:
    • The Hammer of Thunderbolts. This is nominally a +3 weapon. But if the wielder is also wearing Gauntlets of Ogre Power and a Girdle of Giant Strength, it becomes +5, automatically kills any giant it hits, and (in early editions) was the only case in which the to-hit and damage bonuses from the Gauntlets and Girdle would stack together.
  • Silver Has Mystic Powers: Silver makes a good ingredient for so many magical items. There are also many creatures who take substantially reduced damage from any weapon that isn't silver.
  • Skeleton Key: Several exist in the game, including the Key of Opening, the Silver Key of Portals and Skeleton Keys (I and II).
  • Socketed Equipment: "Augment Crystals" and similar magical items are arguably somewhere between Socketed Equipment and Power Crystals.
  • Soul Cutting Blade: The Nine Lives Stealer. The Silver Sword.
  • Spell Blade: Many spells exist solely to power up other items.
    • shillelag causes a club to become (temporarily) magical. flame arrow can set arrows on fire. flame blade doesn't really count, though, because it conjures up the weapon ex nihilo.
    • Also, the actual spell storing magic weapon property.
    • In 4E Forgotten Realms, the Swordmage class qualifies. A High-AC class proficient with both swords and magic, and who uses magic to power up his own attacks.
  • Spell Book: The hallmark of the Magic-User/Mage/Wizard.
    • Additionally, the wu jen (from 1E, 2E, and 3E). The archivist (from 3E) uses divine magic (the kind clerics and druids use) this way.
  • Sphere of Power: The Prismatic Sphere.
  • Stepping-Stone Sword: Climbing daggers, as introduced by The Complete Thief's Handbook.
  • Stock Ninja Weaponry: The 1985 Oriental Adventures stats out a bunch of ninja weapons.
  • Stuck Items: Cursed magical items in general are examples of these, as they will return to you and force you to use them even if they have been physically destroyed. It takes specific spells or combinations of spells to get rid of them.
  • Sword Cane: Several examples
  • Truth Serums: Multiple examples
  • Unholy Nuke: The Talisman of Ultimate Evil. In the hands of an Evil High Priest, it could be used to open a flaming crack at the feet of a Good priest and send him or her to the center of the planet.
  • Unique Items: In early editions, most magic items were generic and you could find any number of them.
    • Artifacts and relics were unique: only one of each of them existed in a game universe. Thus there could be only one Eye of Vecna, Codex of the Infinite Planes or Ring of Gaxx.
    • Some magic items of less power than artifacts and relics were also one of a kind. For example, in the Forgotten Realms there was only one Albruin (sword), Reptar's Wall (shield) and Mierest's Starlit Sphere.
  • Weapon of Choice:
    • In 1st Edition Unearthed Arcana with fighters and rangers, and in 2nd Edition with just fighters, a character could choose one type of weapon to specialize in. This cost one or more Proficiency slots, but allowed greater accuracy, extra damage, and even more attacks in a melee round.
    • In 1st Edition Unearthed Arcana, Cavaliers and Paladins got a "weapons of choice" at 3rd level, and another at 5th level. Attacks made with this weapon gain greater and greater accuracy bonuses as the cavalier/paladin gained in level, and (like fighter/ranger weapon specialization) allowed extra attacks per melee round.
  • 3rd Edition has feats like "weapon focus" and "weapon specialization", which only work with one specific type of weapon.
    • In 4th Edition, many fighter powers offer a bonus when used with a particular weapon type, encouraging fighters to pick their powers based on their favored weapon type.
  • Zombify The Living: The 3.5E supplement Sandstorm has the Dead Throne, an Artifact of Doom that brought the desert warlord Ten-Ap back from the dead and gave him the ability to turn the living into mummies.

    Gaming 
  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: Multiple examples in adventures.
  • Adjective Animal Alehouse: Multiple examples, especially in the Forgotten Realms.
  • After-Action Patchup: Healing is generally concentrated after the battle.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Multiple examples.
  • Arboreal Abode: In Dragon magazine #73, The Horde boxed set and module UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cavern.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: A few examples across editions:
    • This was the ultimate goal in the last version of BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia-era D&D, complete with a ruleset for those that ascended. To ascend further, an ascended entity needs to max out his ascended level at 36, reincarnate himself as a level 1 character, ascend once again, max out the ascended level again, and proceed to ascend past some great barrier. The result is a character that cannot be contained by a D&D rulebook.
    • In 4th edition, when your characters reach max level (30) the rulebooks encourage them to do this so you can start new characters.
    • Sort of averted in 3/3.5 edition. Standard class progression stops at level 20, but the Epic Level Handbook contains rules for advacing beyond that, with no actual cap. The easy multiclassing in that edition also meant that you could simply add new classes and prestige classes pretty much forever. However, by this point game balance is pretty much non-existant so few games ever hit epic levels, and even those that do rarely go very far into them. Deities and Demigods allows your character to engage in this trope rather than just advance forever.
  • As Lethal as It Needs to Be: The game usually does this with its abstract combat system, varying the method with each edition. In 4th edition, the final attack is supposed to declare whether it was meant to be lethal or nonlethal.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The 3.X monk. On paper, you've got a monster ninja who can move faster than anything, run up walls, teleport, jump so far he can effectively fly, become completely immune to poison and disease, block and catch enemies, grapple and trip forever, stun or kill enemies with a single blow, punch through castles, and talk to animals. In practice, he can't hit anything, and is squishier than the wizard (Who gets lots of good buffs to avert that).
    • 3.0/5 metamagic feats raised the power of spells but treated them as higher level, essentially making them more expensive to use. With very few exceptions, the result was actually slightly less powerful than just using a higher level spell. Several feats and classes reduce the cost of metamagic (Arcane Thesis, notably), making it capable of dealing several thousand damage per round with ease.
  • Beat Still, My Heart: Multiple examples
  • Blood Brothers: Played straight in a barbarian ritual in CM1 "Test of the Warlords" and a Vistani ritual in the Ravenloft supplement Van Richten's Guide to the Vistani. However, it becomes slightly dangerous in DA3 City of the Gods, where doing it with the sand folk is slightly poisonous to the player characters.
  • Boring Yet Practical: Several, especially in Complete Arcane, which (among other things) details how to counter casters. For example, the best defense against an invisible intruder? A dog.
    • Of all the crazy stuff Gestalt can allow you to do, just adding Warblade or Factotum on the other half a typical Wizard build allows you to run almost anything off your intelligence.
    • Of all the new tricks you can learn with a feat, Improved Initiative is still a great choice for anything, because moving first lets you use those tricks before you die in rocket tag.
  • Boxed Crook: Almost all of the pre-generated characters for the tournament module C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness are released from prison to take on the mission.
  • Cave Behind the Falls: Module UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave. In the title cave one wall has a waterfall that magically falls in slow motion. Behind the waterfall is a hidden observation room carved out of the rock.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Every character with a few levels under his belt who does not use magic or obviously supernatural abilities. Having a 10 in all stats is defined as the human average in an ability score, and 18 as the strongest on earth. Since you can get an 18 in a stat at character creation if you're lucky, characters can go far and above the maximum human potential through levelling up.
    • Pretty much the entire point of Epic Levels (i.e. level 21 and higher) in 3rd and 4th edition. By training long enough and defeating enough monsters, any fighter or rogue or barbarian can attain a balance check high enough to walk safely upon clouds, or a tumble check high enough to survive re-entry into the atmosphere, or gain the ability to turn invisible while standing in the open under broad daylight. They're just that good.
  • Combat Medic: Certain cleric or fighter/cleric builds could be like this; most Leader classes in 4th Edition function as Combat Medics by default.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: The Beholder Mage and Illithid Savant Prestige Classes in 3.5 were intended to be used only by the DM to make monsters able to stand a chance against 4 PCs with their 4 times as many actions. Naturally Munchkins have figured out ways to get into them without taking the large amount of racial hit dice that Beholders /Mind Flayers have.
  • Concealing Canvas: Multiple examples
  • Crazy-Prepared
    • In 3.5E, there were two major instances of this trope:
      • The wizard had effectively unlimited access to spells, provided it was willing to pay for the scrolls and wands. Lower-level spells and scrolls were cheaper than higher-level ones, meaning any given wizard would probably have the majority of his collection of spells known, wands, and scrolls, in the lower level region. Now, when your budget is measured in values like 18,000 gold, is it really a problem to spend 12.5 gold to have odd, corner-case spells available like Tenser's Floating Disk? The practical upshot of it is that a wizard will typically be walking around with a veritable library of spells that have no practical purpose except to make him look like Batman. This means the Wizard can spend the rest of his time and money on having those really hugely powerful spells that turn the rest of the party into his personal audience.
      • The funny part was that the balance was supposed to be that you could only prepare a certain amount of spells per day, and you had to do it in advance. Unfortunately, they kind of broke this by allowing a single spell to be prepared in an empty slot in 15 minutes. Sure, you need your combat spells in advance, but leaving a slot open at strategic levels for "something without a time constraint" could give you access to something like 3/4 of it all at once.
      • Also, in rules supplements like the Arms And Equipment Guide you'd find a variety of little bits-and-pieces items, like a stick of chalk, a hacksaw blade, extremely long pieces of string, a piece of ebony wood, and a bag of marbles. Each of them individual items that had shown up in a variety of different other modules by one lone, clever writer, and since they were mundane items they were remarkably cheap (some not even breaking a single gold piece). It only takes a player willing to comb through the book and dedicate maybe a hundred gold of his budget (which, again, represents thousands and thousands of gold) to always have the right tool for an obscure job.
    • The 4E Artificer is essentially Batman plus magic. His style of healing spell is one of two potions that heals allies through different mechanisms. As for which potion he has prepared at the moment? The player gets to decide that...retroactively.
  • Damage Over Time:
    • Module T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil. A PC in one of the four Nodes of Elemental Evil took 1-4 Hit Points of environmental damage per turn.
    • According to the Manual of the Planes (1987), the same thing happened on some of the Inner Planes.
    • Characters in the Elemental Plane of Earth took 1-2 Hit Points of damage per turn (from the pressure of the surrounding rock).
    • PCs on the Paraelemental Plane of Ice took 1-6 Hit Points of cold damage per round.
    • Fourth edition also features "Ongoing Damage", which is calculated at the start of each turn.
  • Death Is Cheap: Potentially, as of 4e it's considerably harder to die but relatively cheap to come back from the dead. That is until you hit epic levels, when it become free to most characters via "Once per day, when you die..." powers.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Deicide is a common practice in epic-level games. In 1st, 3rd and 4th Edition, gods even have combat stats just like any other monster, and are fully punchable. At least in 3rd and 4th, they can't be killed except by extraordinary circumstances, not to mention 3rd edition deities typically had 20 levels in three different class with another 20 outsider hit dice (and each of these gets the max amount, rather than the 1/2 or random most get). For those not in the know, that means they can take a lot of punishment and resist a lot of effects even without their divine immunities and powers. A Call of Cthulhu d20 book not only statted out Cthulhu, but had a sidebar addressing why Cthulhu might have a suit of +3 chainmail lying around.
  • Difficult but Awesome: Controllers in 4E. Poorly played, they're a liability due to their squishiness and lack of damage output. Played by a good tactician, their ability to debuff and mez everything to the point of complete ineffectiveness will make the DM cry.
  • Empty Levels: The earlier editions had this problem. While spellcasters got new spells every few levels, fighters and thieves were mainly limited to the advancement in Hit Dice and to-hit that all characters got upon leveling up, in addition to skill percentages if you were a thief and being able to cut down another 1 HD or less mook per round if you were a fighter. Combine this with the increasingly horrifying supernatural enemies that players encountered at higher levels, against which sharp-sword-swinging was a decreasingly recommendable tactic, and it was no wonder that Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards set in.
  • Endless Winter: Several examples:
    • The epic spell "Ice Age" lasts until it is dispelled.
    • In It's Cold Outside, there is an item you can make called "Iceheart, Major" that creates winter.
      Thus, the mere presence of a major iceheart generates a 15-mile-radius zone of eternal winter; the majority of frostfell regions that appear in temperate or tropical climates are the result of the introduction of a major iceheart into the region.
    • The D&D spell Fimbulwinter does this, much like the Norse equivalent.
    • The supplement Elder Evils has the Killing Frost of Ghulurak, which is meant to end the world by freezing it in an eternal ice age.
  • Escape Battle Technique:
    • The Deck of Many Things. One of the cards was Fates, which allowed you to avoid any situation, once.
    • There were also items like Teleport rings or the Helm of Teleportation that could send you to another location.
  • The Face: The game (and by extension, all other RPGs) refers to this character role as The Face (also called "the party face"). This is the character that handles the public relations for the party. They have skills in Diplomacy and Bluff, and only rarely in Insight.
  • Failed a Spot Check: The Trope Namer.
  • Flamethrower Backfire:
    • Dragon magazine #67 article "Modern Monsters". A hit by a firearm on a flamethrower's fuel canister will cause an explosion doing 8d8 Hit Points of damage (with a saving throw for half damage) to all within 10 yards.
    • The Necklace of Fireballs is the magic equivalent of a bandolier of grenades. If both the wearer and necklace fail their saves against a magic fire attack, all remaining fireballs activate immediately.
  • Friend to All Living Things: People who use Charm Person and Charm Monster a lot. Or the people who Min Max their diplomacy skill, forgoing most combat ability in favor of talking their way out of any fight you can name.
  • Holy Hand Grenade: Clerics and Paladins can mess up the undead.
  • Hostile Weather: Multiple examples
  • Knockout Ambush: Module A3 Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords. If the PCs will be playing in module A4, at the end of A3 the entire PC party will rendered unconscious by a green gas and captured by the Slave Lords.
  • Knockout Gas: Modules A3 Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords and S1 Tomb of Horrors both feature sleeping gasses.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang: Module I10 Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill. If any of the NPCs at the Weathermay estate have been transposessed by an undead they will suggest splitting up the PC party and NPCs to search the grounds more quickly.
  • Magikarp Power: Wizards in 3.x, due to Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards.
  • Make Them Rot
    • Necrotic/negative energy damage, which overlaps with Casting a Shadow.
    • If a Violet Fungi monster hit a living creature with one of its branches, the creature had to make a saving throw vs. poison or have its flesh rot and its body decompose.
  • Mind Rape: The "psychic" damage type in 4E is implied to be exactly this. It can kill people.
  • Mundane Utility: Cantrips. Especially prestidigitation, which can be used to color your hair, flavor your food, or clean up around the house a bit.
    • Subverted with smart players. You can pull the [[Big Bad Big Bad]]'s cape up with Prestidigitation to get a bonus or use Mage Hand to retrieve a very useful item that has fallen down the volcano.
    • Light is also very useful.
  • Never Found the Body: Used in the original Dragon Lance campaign and module I6 Ravenloft.
  • No-Gear Level: Stripping gear tends to occur if you get captured or contained. The impact varies based on edition: Basic has fighting-classes hit hard, 1e and 2e also impact spells that require somantic components, 3e also has unarmed attacks provoke attacks of opportunity (unless you have a feat), and 4e allows all weapon or implement powers to work (unless the power explicitly requires one) with no special penalty (beyond lack of proficiency bonus.)
  • Only Shop in Town: In the modules Dark Tower (Judges Guild), I6 Ravenloft and O2 Blade of Vengeance.
  • Outside-the-Box Tactic: Casting Remove Blindness/Deafness on an Eye of Gruumsh (a one-eyed, mad orc fighter) restores its other eye and negates its magical abilities as well. As well as countless other DM-annoying examples.
  • Platform Hell: The entire point of the Tomb of Horrors (see trope page), Dungeon and Dragons' most infamous module. You will die before even getting into the damn dungeon if you don't know what to do. Have fun.
  • Rainbow Motif: Multiple examples
  • Retirony: Ravenloft campaign expansion Masque of the Red Death, adventure "Red Tide". A sailor about to propose marriage to his girlfriend is killed by a vampire.
  • Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: A few modules are hilariously lethal. Also, Dragonlance and later Forgotten Realms settings were hammered apart so thoroughly that instead of dealing with the future additions, fans switched to playing either classical versions or their own timelines.
  • A Round of Drinks for the House: In the 1st Edition Dungeons Master's Guide, buying a round of drinks for the house was part of the cost for "Frequenting Inns and Taverns", one of the techniques for finding potential henchmen.
  • Shields Are Useless: A commonly held opinion about shields in 3e due to what they give you (a linear increase to AC compared to extra attacks or double Power Attack damage), the fact that most magic attacks ignore your shield bonus, and the existence of animated shields.
    • Which was basically a simple misconception, caused by not reading the rules. Out of the basic player handbook, you could take feats that allowed you to fight with two weapons. That includes bashing things with your shield Using another feat thatlet you keep your shield bonus while doing this turned them into a fairly effective build.
    • Mostly averted in 4E — except for some fighters. A fighter who uses two-handed weapons and focuses on regeneration and self-healing powers instead of boosting his AC (and, to be honest, in 4E anything you'd want to avoid getting hit from will hit you anyway, because of bosses ridiculously high to-hit values) is a fearsome enemy. And also one who _defends_ better, because ignoring him means you're in a world of pain. So he is usually stickier than the classical sword-and-board fighter. Shields don't even get a magical enhancement bonus.
    • Played straight in 1st and 2nd Edition AD&D. A nonmagical shield improved your armor class by only one (1) step, and then only if the attack comes from the front or front-flank and the shield-user isn't stunned or knocked prone. A fighter, paladin, or ranger was always far more effective with a weapon in his off-hand than he was with a shield in it. Since clerics and assassins could use shields, but couldn't wield two weapons at the same time and didn't have many two-handed weapons to choose from, they wouldn't have anything to lose by equipping a shield, but the gain was still minimal.
  • Shoot the Mage First: 1st Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting boxed set booklet Cyclopedia of the Realms, section "Pirate Isles of the Inner Sea". On pirate ships it was a standard procedure for archers to make anyone who was appearing to cast a spell their first target.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Evil: The challenge rating system is designed for this.
  • Spell Levels: Probably the Trope Codifier. Both arcane (wizard) and divine (cleric) spells were split into nine and seven tiers, respectively, with characters of certain level getting only so many spells of certain levels to memorize.
    • In 3rd Edition clerics, druids, sorcerers, and wizards had ten spell levels (0-9); bards had six, and paladins and rangers had four.
    • 4th Edition did away with the concept, instead simply listing the minimum class level to gain a "power" in the description.
  • Spontaneous Weapon Creation: A number of spells and psionic abilities do this.
  • Spoony Bard: Some base classes, many prestige classes (though many seemed better for NPCs than PCs)
  • Supernormal Bindings:
    • Basic D&D adventure IM 2 The Wrath of Olympus. A group of Immortals (minor deities) illegally interferes on the Prime Plane. The forces of Entropy capture them and secure them with chains that not only render them helpless but drain their internal power (Life Energy) as well.
    • Basic D&D supplement The Book of Marvelous Magic. Irons are magical confinement devices combining manacles (wrists) and shackles (ankles). The Irons of Imprisonment can only be broken by a Wish spell or a blow from a plus 4 or better weapon.
  • Trojan Horse: In the modules X12 "Skarda's Mirror" and OA 2 Night of the Seven Swords.
  • Weapons-Grade Vocabulary: In the Fourth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, bards have an at-will "spell" called Vicious Mockery, which inflicts damage and status effects. Some bard players will use insult generators every time they use this attack.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: Multiple examples
  • Windbag Politician: Ronin Challenge: During the opening ceremonies of the Kumite tournament the contestants march onto a field and take martial arts stances. A series of long-winded dignitaries then begin to give lengthy welcoming speeches. This is actually a Secret Test: the authorities are trying to weed out unqualified participants. Any of the contestants who moves even slightly during the speeches is immediately disqualified.
  • Wizarding School: Multiple examples

    Meta 
  • Adaptation Distillation: Capcom managed to apply the rather complex D&D system into two very competent Dungeons & Dragons arcade BeatEm Up games that no company has ever been able to do right since.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: All over the place as far as sourcebooks go. Heck, look at the name of the game!
    • In source books: Dungeons & Dragons, Monster Manual, Deities and Demigods, Creature Catalogue, Monster Mythology, Elder Evils, Fiend Folio, Heroes of Horror, Savage Species, Primal Power? The Will and the Way, Gold and Glory, Elminster's Ecologies?
    • Also, spells: Melf's Minute Meteors, Mordenkainen's Magnificient Mansion, Waethra's Warm Welcome, Elminster's Effulgent Epuration, Ruby Ray of Reversal, Fallion's Fabulous Fireball, Geirdorn's Grappling Grasp, Samprey's Sensible Sea Sphere, Fistandantilus's Firequench, Flamsterd's Flamestrike, Nulathoe's Ninemen...
    • And Sepia Snake Sigil.
  • Another Story for Another Time: The DA1 module Adventures in Blackmoor has a DM background section written like a narrative, which uses this.
  • Character Tiers: A unique variant, the classes are tiered not on their power, but on their versatility (and thus ability to solve traps, social encounters, and other non-combat stuff given by the DM), then broken up into how well they can do that. Thus a fighter is low tier not because he is bad in combat (though he may be), but because he is complete dead weight outside of combat (He may rarely get usage out of intimidate), while Rogue is higher because he may work at social encounters, traps and combat, but he isn't fantastic at them. invoked
  • Creator Thumbprint: Gary Gygax had several, including mushrooms, various shades of the color purple, H.P. Lovecraft, his extensive vocabulary and polearms. On the unfortunate side, problems with ranged weapons from slings to wheellocks.
    • ...and only in D&D3 his fascination with polearms was finally dropped... to be replaced with some new developer's spiked chain fetish. These things wormed their way everywhere, even underground.
  • Everything's Better with Rainbows: Lots of "Chromatic/Color/Prismatic Blank" spells, up to Prismatic Sphere and Prismatic Wall that raise barriers so dangerous an avatar would hesitate to cross one.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Some encounters consist solely of fighting a dragon in a dungeon.
  • Follow the Leader: Inspired many, many other tabletop games and video games.
  • Gender Neutral Writing: Uses Take a Third Option to this trope. Instead of awkwardly avoiding pronouns or always using one gender or the other, each class has an example character, and the classes description uses pronouns that reference them.
  • Genre Popularizer: For pencil-and-paper roleplaying games.
  • Hollywood Masochism: According to the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 module "Book Of Vile Darkness", only evil people can have a sadomasochistic sexuality. Also, all sadomasochists have evil superpowers — sexual masochism and sadism are evil superpowers in this setting, and sexual masochism is defined as being the same thing as the trope Combat Sadomasochist.
  • I, Noun: There's an AD&D sourcebook about beholders called I, Tyrant.
  • Lava Adds Awesome: Invoked by a number of spells and magic items, such as "Vulcan Bomb," which hits a target with a stream of lava.
  • Licensed Pinball Table: Released by Bally in 1987. Click here for details.
  • Painting the Medium: AD&D 1st edition, Monster Manual. The Leprechauns on page 60 play around with the page headings. They also ride the giant leech to their left as well.
  • Purple Prose: All D&D books are written in a somewhat formal and archaic style, but 1st edition was probably the worst about it.
  • Retcon: 4ed recently had a relatively minor one concerning the war between the Gods and Primordials.
  • Retraux: An "old school renaissance" has sprung up recently, with a number of retro-clones (OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy, and others) based on Basic, Original and First Edition D&D.
  • Rule 34: The Book of Erotic Fantasy (third-party and unofficial as hell, but still) codifies this. Fairly tactfully, thankfully. Before this, it was "The Complete Guide To AD&D Unlawful Carnal Knowledge". As a netbook, it got stuff from "quite in-character in a normal game" (blow-a-kiss-with-effects spells may be a must-have for a love goddess' church, finding out how long it takes to blow your money on the hookers part of booze and hookers is also usable) to "where'd I put my Brain Bleach again?".
  • Scunthorpe Problem: During editing, one book had a search-and-replace run to change "mage" to "wizard." Unfortunately, it also changed "damage" and "image" to "dawizard" and "iwizard."
  • Sdrawkcab Name: Multiple examples.
  • Sequel Number Snarl: * The various Dungeons and Dragons editions are titled Dungeons and Dragons, The Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Basic Dungeons and Dragons, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (with Second Edition inside the book), Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition, Dungeons and Dragons v3.5 (also referred to as 3rd Edition Revised by the fans), Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, Dungeons and Dragons Essentials, and the upcoming D&D Next, whose unofficial title is Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, despite actually being the 10th version of the game.
  • Seven Year Rule: Every time a new edition comes out, it is the worst thing ever. People also completely forget that the current edition, which you would be led to believe is almost perfect by the standards of everyone, was ridiculed just as badly. People also neglect the difference between the amount of content a newly released edition has and the amount of content the current edition with over a decade of supplemental material has. The internet has naturally multiplied this effect.
  • Shout Out: Way too many to list here.
  • Single-Use Shield:
    • Stoneskin in older editions of Dungeons & Dragons.
    • Module C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan. A fighter can receive a scroll that gives him a Death Servant. At any time thereafter, if the fighter is about to be killed, the Death Servant will push the fighter to safety and accept the attack that would have killed the fighter. It will only do this once.
  • Tutorial Failure: Many examples given are flat out wrong.
    • One notable instance is an article with explanations of some of the harder rules, the page states everyone is proficient with splash weapons, then describes an example with a character taking a non-proficiency penalty when using a splash weapon.
    • One 3.5 Prestige Class that fits this trope would be the Abjurant Champion; a Magic Knight class that grants a character bonuses to Abjuration spells (such as Shield). It mentions Mage Armour as being another such spell, seemingly disregarding the fact that Mage Armour is placed in conjuration.
      • 'Armor' has this bug back from AD&D1 even though other school assignments were fixed by AD&D2. Most DMs, if asked will allow the spell as either an Abjuration as a "protective barriers" and/or Evocation (Force subschool) as one more force field; either one fits better than "create/call stuff".
    • Any time the flavour department decide to try writing about 'realistic' stuff, it falls prey to being Wonkish. You'll see a piece that realistically describes military tactics as they'd be changed by the presence of things like Ogres and Werebears, then go on to completely forget about things like supply lines and waste disposal.
    • Complete Psionics includes feats that make a character a descendant of the Mind Flayers. This completely ignores the process Mind Flayers reproduce by note .
    • The "Apostle of Peace" class is required to take the crippling "Vow of Poverty" which disallows the character from owning almost any wealth. The picture of the class has quite a few magic items (which are very expensive) in it.
    • The Ruby Knight Vindicator example character worships Saint Cuthbert, but the class requires Wee Jas worship (It suggests DMs should make versions for other deities the deity requirement, but it's officially just a suggestion).
    • In 3E, The Epic Level Handbook has a creature it claims even the gods can't stand against, but that seems questionable when that creature's stats are compared with some of the gods' stats in Deities and Demigods. Judging from the Dieties and Demigods stats and the stats of the titular creatures of the book Elder Evils, the gods could easily crush the elder evils even though the latter's book's intro describes them as so powerful that even the gods would think twice before fighting them.
      • It's less the creature's combat abilities and more their existance that makes the gods nervous. Most of the Elder Evils are highly resistant or even immune to divine effect and one elder evil specifically mentions that it's greatest powers only work on gods (since he was defeated by Asmodeus who is not a deity) so it's most likely that the Elder Evils have other effects that do not show up in the books because they would not affect a PC in any meaningful way.
  • You All Meet in an Inn: Generally thought of as the inventor of this trope.


Disclaimer: Wizards of the Coast is not responsible for the consequences of splitting up the party, sticking appendages in the mouth of a leering green devil face, accepting a dinner invitation from bugbears, storming the feast hall of a hill giant steading, angering a dragon of any variety, or saying yes when the DM asks, "Are you really sure?"
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