- The Apocalypse Stone
- d20 Modern
- Dark Sun
- Dungeons & Dragons (IDW comic)
- Dungeons & Dragons (movie)
- Dungeons & Dragons (animated series)
- Forgotten Realms
- Baldur's Gate
- Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus
- Demon Stone
- Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance
- Eye of the Beholder
- Forgotten Realms (DC Comics)
- Icewind Dale
- Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden
- Lost Mines of Phandelver
- Neverwinter series:
- Out of the Abyss
- Sword Coast Legends
- Tyranny of Dragons
- Waterdeep: Dragon Heist
- Gamma World
- The Gates of Hell (A fan supplement)
- Gold Box
- Grim Hollow
- Nentir Vale
- Queen of the Spiders
- Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos
- Critical Role: Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting
- Vecna Trilogy
The Tabletop RPG. Or at least, the original modern one. While Dungeons & Dragons may not have created tabletop roleplaying games, it certainly codified many of the mechanics and tropes associated with them.
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 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 & Dragons aimed at beginning players, and the more complex (and ultimately more popular) Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in 1977.
In the mid-1980s 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 meantime into Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition. It continued in popularity for a time, but by the late 90s, mismanagement of the company led TSR into bankruptcy.
After TSR was bought by Wizards of the Coast (makers of Magic: The Gathering, and now a subsidiary of Hasbro), they published Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition in 2000 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. It was a huge hit and revitalized the game, leading to new players aplenty. Then came an incremental edition known as "v3.5", which was largely concerned with fixing a few very obvious Game Breakers and Quirky Bards in 3rd Edition.
In 2008, Fourth Edition was released. It created quite a big amount of discussion, with haters, lovers, people who don't care and everything in between. The changes from 3.5 were many; overall, its rules had a much greater emphasis on mechanical balance and action than any previous edition. Common criticisms of the edition are that it plays too much like a MMORPG, and/or a tabletop miniatures war game. Indeed, the assumption that players use miniatures on a map is even expressed throughout the core rules, such as movement being described in squares, not feet. Though it sold well at first, fan discontentment with the changes led to many people abandoning the edition, with many switching to Pathfinder (itself a D&D derivative based on the v3.5 rules) leading to a decline of the D&D brand.
The fifth edition of D&D was released in 2014, as Wizards of the Coast sought to revitalize the brand. In an effort to try and heal the divisions in the player community, they actively solicited players for ideas about the new edition, with an open playtest (which began in 2012 under the production alias of "D&D Next" and ran through the end of 2013). It combines elements from all previous editions extremely simplified classes and combat rules (making "theater of the mind" gameplay feasible once again) close to 1st and 2nd edition; the magic rules combine a lower-powered version of 3rd's slot system with 4th's ritual casting system; and while skills and feats are still present, they are much less prominent than before to the point of being technically optional. note
The core rulebooks 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 any way after all, one cannot roleplay in a vacuum. BECMI era D&D was wholesale set in The Known World/Mystara. Advanced D&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), 3rd Edition even included the top of Greyhawk's pantheon and 4th Edition books' assumptions unofficially form a vaguely defined setting called the "Nentir Vale". Fifth Edition mostly uses the Forgotten Realms as the main source of fluff material this time around, but also supplements it with elements from other settings like Eberron, Greyhawk, and Dragonlance.
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. It is also commonly seen as the most popular Nerd game due to all the strategic elements involved.
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 counterspell, 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 its "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 would have given gamers an official way to play D&D over the Internet, but now the idea seems dead, as Fifth Edition is in publication. In 2015, Dragon magazine made a reappearance as Dragon+, a free app released for iOS and Android, with new issues of the e-magazine being released every two months.
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 The Legend of Drizzt 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 Syfy in November 2012. A reboot of the Dungeons and Dragons film franchise is currently planned by Paramount, due for release on May 3, 2023.
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 and will find any trope if you look hard enough.
- 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. Set on the continent Cerilia of the planet Aebrynis.
- Blackmoor, a.k.a. The First Fantasy Campaign: The very first campaign setting created for the system, originating from Dave Arneson's wargaming days, the result of a slow weekend in October 1970 consisting of '50s monster movies, "fantasy hero" novels, a slump during his most recent wargame session, and the thought of "I can do better than this". So he drew a six-floor dungeon layout, then created a castle and town from a Sicilian castle model he had lying around. The new setting was a huge hit among his fellow Braunstein players and when he showed the game to Gygax in 1972, the rest, as they say, was history. It was portrayed as a Good-vs-Evil setting, rather than a Law-vs-Chaos one, with the various duchies, kingdoms, and major characters vying for power while the mysterious Egg of Coot pulls strings from the shadows. While the "official" version was a released in 1977 as a combination battle report and gazetteer by Judges Guild, alternate versions appeared in both Greyhawk (as an archbarony near the Land of Black Ice) and Mystara (as a kingdom from the world's distant past that rose to great heights and quickly fell, changing the world in the process). The setting only had four adventure modules released for it during its TSR days: Adventures in Blackmoor, Temple of the Frog, City of the Gods, and The Duchy of Ten. While officially discontinued during AD&D 2nd Edition, Arneson was able to keep the rights for the setting and eventually worked with Zeitgeist Games to release setting books for 3.5 and 4th Editions. Blackmoor proudly has the honor of being one of the longest continuously played fantasy role-playing campaigns in existence, even spawning an epic play-by-post game called The Last Fantasy Campaign, which ran from 2005 to 2015.
- Council of Wyrms: Dragons plus politics. Set on an island chain called the Io's Blood Isles, the dragon residents have a loose democratic government and must work together on issues affecting dragon welfare. 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. There are no native humans in the setting; any humans that appear are dragon slaying adventurers.
- Dark Sun: Desert Punk, Psychic Powers, and Black Magic After the End by way of Dune. A world ravaged by misuse of magic, the planet Athas is now a vast desert wasteland. Psionics are extremely common, while wizardry is outlawed. The world is ruled by a cabal of evil sorcerer-kings, each of whom controls their own city-state with an iron fist.
- Dragonlance: Set on the planet Krynn. 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 Divine Providence, while in Dragonlance 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 of Eberron 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, since divine magic in Eberron isn't 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.
- Exandria: The setting of the popular live D&D stream Critical Role. It became an official setting in 2019 with the Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, which details the cold continent filled with political intrigue and horrible remnants of a Great Offscreen War. It also retroactively ties the events of both seasons of the stream and Matthew Mercer's earlier Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting into the D&D multiverse.
- Forgotten Realms: Technically the oldest D&D setting, due to being made by Ed Greenwood around 1967 as the setting of his childhood stories, but didn't start publication as an official setting until 1987. Set on the planet Toril, and the continent Faerûn in particular: a world of Fantasy Counterpart Cultures, partially shanghaied from Earth (Egyptian- and Mesopotamian-derived at that, to be exact), 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 and most developed setting, although some feel that the setting is overused due to being in the limelight so often. note
- 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 on Toril, to the east of Faerûn.
- Kara Tur: Oriental adventures — martial arts and all. Peculiar magic (based on the Oriental five elements, of course). Kara-Tur is separated from Faerûn by Zakhara.
- Maztica: Central & South American style setting. Very peculiar magic (feather vs. fang). Maztica lies across the sea to the west of Faerûn.
- Gamma World: While technically a different game line, uses identical mechanics and is often seen as a subset of vanilla D&D, to the point that the AD&D 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide even had 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 created for 3rd Edition, 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. The main villain race is the Yuan-Ti, one of the many nonhuman races who's souls immediately go to the underworld, rather than stay as ghosts. It mostly focuses on the city of Manifest, which resides near the entrance to the underworld.
- Greyhawk: Your basic Medieval European Fantasy, Greyhawk was the second created campaign setting and the base setting for 1st and 3rd editions. Oerth is a high-fantasy sword-and-sorcery world ravaged by war, where the forces of evil are stronger than in other settings. The Free City of Greyhawk stands at the center of the world, its gates always open for adventure. Features strong forces of active neutrality. Notable for having two versions of the same setting:
- The first version was the original home campaign, dubbed the "Original Lake Geneva Campaign" by Robert Kuntz, created after Gygax played a game of Blackmoor in 1972. Games in this version ran constantly from 1972 to 1979, slowed down from 1980 to 1985, and completely ceased on December 31, 1985, right after Gygax was ousted from TSR, with the setting itself being "destroyed" in 1988 in the last Gord the Rogue novel. Due to the number of games played each week, Gygax didn't have the time to make a world map completely from scratch and simply used a blank map of North America, filling it in as the campaign went on. Despite the name, the 1975 Supplement I: Greyhawk digest wasn't a Greyhawk setting book, but a rulebook that helped eliminate the game's dependence on Chainmail, setting the groundwork for what would become Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Not much is known about the home campaign version, apart from what is presented in the Gnome Cache novella from the earliest issues of Dragon magazine and the Gord the Rogue novel series. Despite washing his hands of the setting, fans wanted the original home campaign version of the Castle Greyhawk megadungeon to be published, so Gygax finally greenlit the project as Castle Zagyg in 2003. Although its immensely troubled production ended with just two of the proposed seven books and a small number of adventure modules and supplements being released. note
- The second version was released as the main setting for 1st Edition Advanced D&D. Surprised by the sheer popularity of the setting, Gygax spent a number of years recreating and fleshing out the setting to make it different from the OLGC version, with a 32-page folio released in 1980 and the full boxed set released in 1983. Mainly covers the Flanaess region of the continent of Oerik, but was eventually supposed to cover the rest of Oerik and eventually the whole of Oerth. Discontinued after 3.x Edition, although it did receive a "Grand Finale" of sorts with the Living Greyhawk campaign that spanned the entire 3.x Edition production time (2000-2008). Semi-revived in Fifth Edition as reference material, with the setting's first proper 5e outing being the Ghosts of Saltmarsh adventure collection.
- Grim Hollow: A Dark Fantasy and Gothic Horror setting, developed by third-party Ghostfire Gaming. The setting is the continent of Etharis, ruled by old and collapsing kingdoms, ravaged by plague, monsters and worse. The gods died in a great war between each other, leaving only the angels to answer the denizens' prayers, though their power is not great enough to protect the world.
- Hyperborea: The setting of the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea retro-clone. The setting itself is a reimagining of the mythical Hyperborea: a Dying Earth styled flat earth realm in the shape of a giant hexagon, set adrift in space with the Hyperborean Sea cascading off of it in unearthly waterfalls. The realm is lit by a dying red sun; there's a 13 month calendar of 364 days, although the sidereal year itself lasts for 13 calendar years, meaning that the seasons last for years at a time; and an extreme version of the polar circle's day-night cycle where polar night and midnight sun each last a whole year. The lands are harsh and unforgiving, environments ranging from mostly hospitable grasslands and marshlands to nigh uninhabitable deserts and tundras. Magic items are abundant, yet a rare breed all at once: while treasure hordes can contain ancient Atlantean technology and enchanted Hyperborean arms and armor, the means of making them has been lost to the point that the only things that can be made are spell scrolls and alchemical potions and poisons.
- Jakandor: A minor setting from towards the end of AD&D 2nd edition. Pulpy Forever War between nature-worshipping barbarians and scholastic necromancers on an island nation After the End.
- Kalibruhn: Technically the third official campaign setting for OD&D, created by D&D and TSR alumnus Robert J. Kuntz in 1973 as the dungeon "Castle El Raja Key". This was the main setting where Gygax himself played as a player and the "birth home" setting of his legendary archmage, Mordenkainen. The first iteration was originally planned to be the focus of a fifth supplement for OD&D, but a number of problems led to Kuntz leaving TSR in 1977 and the supplement was never published. Due to never signing the IP rights away, Kuntz retained ownership and began work on a second iteration of the setting. Kuntz has been working on both versions constantly since their creation, with some degree of the setting's history included in the El Raja Key Archive DVD, alongside information on the original Greyhawk and Blackmoor campaigns. An oddity among the other campaign settings listed here, Kalibruhn has gone almost completely unpublished, with the only info out there being what little Kuntz has revealed over the years.
- 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 released an updated version for 4th Edition.
- Mystara, originally The Known World: the third internal campaign setting and the first officially released under the D&D brand as the setting for Basic D&D. 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 who 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. Also known for its Gazetteer series, which had multiple authors cover the major kingdoms of Mystara, including Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood, who wrote for the halfling realm of The Five Shires.
- Red Steel: A sub-setting of Mystara released for 2nd Edition AD&D. The campaign book has "Power has a price!" printed right on the cover. Set in the Savage Coast region of Mystara. The land is plagued by the Red Curse: "vermeil", a dust that grants those who ingest it extraordinary power at the expense of crippling deformities. Those affected by the Red Curse must wear jewelry crafted from "cinnabryl" to stave off its effects.
- Nentir Vale: Default pseudo-setting for 4th edition. The great empires of mortals were destroyed in a magic war, leaving behind scattered remnants of civilization in small pockets (described as "points of light") surrounded by dangerous monsters and abandoned and forgotten magic and technology.
- Pelinore: A little-known setting created by TSR's UK branch for both Basic D&D and AD&D 1st Edition and published in Imagine magazine, which ran from 1983-1985. Set in what is presumably a Flat World, at the supposed center lies the rumored Worldheart, the nexus of harmony and peace, with the lands extending beyond it becoming more chaotic until it reaches The Rim, the edge of the world where chaos reigns. However, most gameplay was set within the City League, a metropolis within the Country of Cerwyn, with Cerwyn itself being set in a region of the world called The Domains. A fan-made "collected" version is available here for download.
- Planescape: Walking The Multiverse in a setting where belief and philosophy can reshape the very cosmos. All built around the decadent, gothic city of Sigil in the center of everything that's filled with portals that connect to everywhere. Everything else exists within its framework, although the Outer Planes that function as heavens and hells to the other campaign settings are the main focus. All Myths Are True, as far as possible, even if many are stretched.
- Ravenloft: Gothic fantasy and Hammer Horror in a maybe-sentient demiplane called the "Domains of Dread" that seems to exist solely to inflict The Punishment on its inhabitants, especially the 'dark lord' of each region but also everyone else who was swept up into the demiplane in their wake. Initially a one-off module (the classic "weekend in hell"), it was popular enough to become its own campaign setting. Fifth Edition brought it full circle by releasing an updated and expanded version of the original Ravenloft module, titled The Curse of Strahd.
- Masque of the Red Death: The same setting concept, but transplanted to a low-magic version of Victorian-era Earth ("Gothic Earth").
- Rokugan: Jidaigeki 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. The solar system of each campaign setting that's set on the Prime Material Plane is enclosed within a crystal sphere and flying vessels called spelljammers can navigate the 'wildspace' within the spheres and the phlogiston between them. 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 dimensions.
- Wilderlands of High Fantasy: The first officially licensed and published third-party campaign setting for OD&D, created by Judges Guild after the success of their City State of the Invincible Overlord city setting and released in a collection of 4 32-page booklets. In 2002, Judges Guild ended up working together with Necromancer Games to release a boxed version for 3.5 Edition. Rather than go for the localized "megadungeon" style of very early Blackmoor and Greyhawk, the Wilderlands went the sandbox route: 18 maps that altogether cover an area about 780 miles wide by 1080 miles long, roughly the size of the Mediterranean. Each individual map contains a number of pre-established points-of-interest, with the accompanying books containing entry upon entry for every bastion of civilization, set of ruins, and monster lair within each region. The Wilderlands sticks to the gonzo origins of D&D, a time when the lines between sci-fi and fantasy were very murky and Schizo Tech was everywhere, meaning you could have people who just invented the wheel potentially meet people who use calculus and then have them potentially happen upon a crashed alien spaceship from an age long before recorded history.
- The Planes of the Magic: The Gathering Multiverse: Ever since Wizards acquisition of the D&D brand back in September of 1999, they have kept a strict policy of never crossing their two biggest brands over with each other, keeping them distinct entities. Though a number of fans have been hoping for some kind of cross-promotion for years. This would change when James Wyatt (former member of the D&D Next development team and current narrative head of Magic) decided to compile and release some of his homebrew ideas into a free PDF supplement titled Plane Shift: Zendikar, detailing the temple-and-jungle-filled plane, in April of 2016, as a companion piece to his Art of Magic: the Gathering - Zendikar art book (the book would provide the lore while the PDF provided the rules). This was a rousing success, with Wyatt release more supplements alongside more art books, collecting Innistrad (which included lore conversion rules for Curse of Strahd, as their releases had coincidentally synchronized), Kaladesh, Amonkhet, Ixalan, and Dominaria under the Planes Shift umbrella over the course of the next two years, with each garnering more praise than the next. The D&D team, the Magic team, and the Hasbro higher-ups saw potential in a full-fledged Magic sourcebooks for D&D:
- The Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica, released in November of 2018. Set in the city-plane of Ravnica where ten guilds jockey for control.
- Mythic Odysseys of Theros, released in July 2020 and set in Magic's Classical Mythology-inspired plane.
- Magic then returned the favor in 2021, with its own Dungeons and Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms card set.
- Brancalonia: A third party setting based on a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Italy.
- Plus all the Homebrew settings that DMs create!
- "Original" Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D) - 1974-1976: Also known as "The Original Game". Co-written by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and published by TSR in 1974 as a boxed set consisting of 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 only three alignments (Law, Neutrality, Chaos)note . Humans could choose between all three classes and advance in their chosen class without limit, while the non-human races (Dwarves, Elves, Halflings) were restricted in class options and max levels, but still potent due to their racial abilities. Hit Points, weapon/spell damage, and initiative were all rolled using a d6, there are five Saving Throws that used a "meet-or-higher" roll on a d20, and To-Hit rolls used descending Armor Class (also on a d20). Spell levels were limited to 6th level spells for Magic Users and 5th level spells for Clerics. Received numerous supplements, both officially released and from magazine articles. Combat required the Chainmail rulebook to properly play until Supplement I provided an "alternate combat system" which went on to become the standard system of the game.
- Supplement I: Greyhawk - 1975: Introduced the Thief class, the Paladin as a Fighting-Man subclass, Half-Elves as a playable race, and more monsters. The level and class restrictions for Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings were revised to account for the addition of the Thief class and new rules for high ability scores. Magic-Users gained 7th-9th level spells, but only if their Intelligence score was high enough, while Clerics gained 6th and 7th level spells. It also introduced an "alternate combat system" and revised other rules in order to distance itself from Chainmail.
- Supplement II: Blackmoor - 1975: Introduced the Monk as a Cleric subclass, the Assassin as a Thief subclass, a system for diseases, a "hit location" system, rules for underwater adventures, and even more monsters. Also contains the very first TSR-published adventure module: The Temple of the Frog for the Blackmoor setting.
- Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry - 1976: Introduced the Druid as a Cleric subclass and the option for human psionics (restricted to Fighting-Men, Magic-Users, Clerics, and Thieves). It also marks the first appearances of the Demon Princes Orcus and Demogorgon, as well as the lich-turned-deity Vecna.
- Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes - 1976: The last official supplement. Introduced deities, demi-gods, and legendary heroes from mythology and religions both real (Egyptian, Celtic, Norse) and fictional (Hyborean and Melnibonéan) for two purposes: 1) as a means of integrating pre-established mythologies into campaigns, and 2) a last-ditch effort for reaching the "Monty Hall" style DMs who ran giveaway campaigns and to show the absurdity of 40+ level characters by giving them opponents that could wipe the floor with them. Unfortunately started the concept of "if you stat it, they will kill it". Modern reprints dropped the fictional pantheons due to licensing issues.
- Swords & Spells - 1976: The unnumbered "fifth" supplement, written by Gygax. Touted as the "grandson" of Chainmail, this sourcebook introduced rules for upscaling the combat in order to portray large scale battles. The supplement was not that well received when it was released and was not included in the 40th Anniversary White Box collection.
- Basic Dungeons & Dragons - 1977-1991: Originally introduced in 1977, and edited by brain surgeon John Eric Holmes.note Originally this was a starter set for new players to more easily learn the game (which was considered rather difficult to learn from the original set). The first release only covered levels 1-3, and players were intended to move on to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons after this. It is commonly called Holmes Basic.
- The first revision was published in 1981, edited by Tom Moldvay. It simplified the game further, making it a distinct game system and product line. The most notable simplification is that Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling are 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 i.e. classes are archetype-based. An Expert Set expansion edited by David "Zeb" Cook accompanying the 1981 version let players advance with these simpler rules up through 14th level. Often referred to as Moldvay Basic or B/X.
- The next revision was the BECMI series of boxed sets by Frank Mentzer (Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortal, respectively), begun in 1983. This version made the line its own complete game, which extended character levels up to 36th and beyond with the Immortals set. The rewrite also turned the Basic set into an excellent tutorial for players and DMs completely new to role-playing games. The rules from the first four of the BECMI series were later compiled in 1991 into the Rules Cyclopedia written by Aaron Allston, which is still considered a classic.note A revision of the Basic Set was published in the same year, now covering levels 1-5. This is usually referred to as Mentzer Basic or simply BECMI (usually pronounced "beck-mee", although there are a few "bess-me" holdouts!)
- The final entry in this line was the last version of the Basic Set from 1994, called The Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game.
- Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st edition) - 1977-1979: The more complete rules, including more character classes, and the enshrinement of the classic Dungeons & Dragons alignment system. More or less completely compatible with the simpler Dungeons & Dragons, and many gamers mixed and matched at will. As well, Character Class System was unified but some classes are human-only, others forbidden to certain races.note
- 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 & Dragons (2nd edition) - 1989: The first full-scale revamp. 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.
- Player's Options and Dungeon Master Option - 1995-1996: Highly detailed set of rules intended to expand and customize AD&D 2nd edition (which was re-released with new covers and artwork at the time). Included new interesting rules, mainly customization via a character points system allowing to easily build variants of basic classesnote 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 playtestingnote made it barely usable "as is", which demoted PO from the new generation to one more cherry-picked set of sourcebooks.
- Dungeons & Dragons (3rd edition) - 2000: 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", whereas only specific classes had access to them before. This time the Character Class System dominates the 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, although each race had a "favored class" that factored into multiclassing. 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.
- Dungeons & 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.
- Dungeons & Dragons (4th edition) - 2008: A major overhaul 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 that scared fans away included concerns that it plays too much like a MMORPG and/or a tabletop miniatures war game. Indeed, the assumption that players use miniatures on a map is even expressed throughout the core rules, such as movement being described in squares, not feet. Fans were also unhappy with changes to published settings from the time period as well.
- Dungeons & Dragons Essentials (4th) - 2010: A new line of products launched in 2010, compatible with 4th edition rules. Essentials had 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 (Fifth Edition) - 2014: Developed under the title D&D Next and officially launched in 2014, Fifth Edition was an attempt by Wizards to recapture and unite some of the fractured fanbase. The basic mechanics resemble a mixture of 2nd and 3rd editions with some influences by 4th edition. The overall power levels have been reduced: the max level cap is 20 period, magic items are much more rare and do not scale in levels, and the bonuses/penalties to an action seldom, if ever, break double digits. Stacking modifiers have been replaced with a simple advantage/disadvantage system where the character with the advantage/disadvantage rolls two dice for the action and picks the higher/lower die. Magic spells with durations are now 'concentration' type, meaning a magic user can ever only have one such spell active at any time. Most major, world-altering magics are rituals that take minutes if not hours and days to cast. Each class is now firmly wedded to a single character concept, with class archetypes and character backgrounds (representing social class and upbringing) chosen at creation being used to hybridize characters. Most post-creation exclusives are gone, but multiclassing has been returned to 3rd edition standards and feats are completely optional, although they are fewer in number but much more powerful and robust than before. Roleplaying and flavor have been increased in importance, with the old 2nd edition alignment system restored and canonical D&D characters from related media being used as examples of their respective classes, alignments and backgrounds. Pinning down the primary world for Fifth Edition is a bit dodgy: while the core books are mostly written in a multiverse view and are near-completely adaptable to any setting, all of the official Adventurer's League material for organized play is primarily set in the Forgotten Realms. Fan response has been very positive, with some praising the return to a more roleplaying-based system based on in-universe-justified abilities, though complaints exist about a lack of character options on release, a feeling that the game has returned to Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards, extremely poor and glacially-paced post-launch support compared to the prior editions, backlash from Rangers and Sorcerer players due to reviled changes that Wizards has no intention of fixing, and less intricate character building. Despite some complaints, its been seen as a triumph by long time fans, and has been been a major reason for the resurgence in the game in the modern period.
- In an effort to get the game in as many hands as possible, Wizards has released "Basic Rules" PDFs containing a fully functional subset of the full rules for free via their website. The idea is that one can use them to play basic games using the four archetypical races (Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, and Human) and classes (Cleric, Fighter, Rogue and Wizard), while the full array of character options, monsters, and variant mechanics are available in the core rule books. It has been praised as a good marketing move.
- Unearthed Arcana made a return in February 2015 as a monthly R&D Workshop article instead of its own supplement book. Just like the "Basic Rules", the Unearthed Arcana articles are available for free on the Wizards website. The articles are explicitly stated to be "written in pencil, not ink", meaning that the contents are still a work-in-progress until they're officially released in sourcebooks.
- On the note of sourcebooks, WotC decided to slow down the release of new books for Fifth Edition when compared to previous editions. While this has the positive benefit of the writing team making sure the contents are as balanced as they can make them, some people feel like they're doing the bare minimum to keep the lights on.
- As a show of good faith to the digital distribution market and the Open-Gaming License, WotC started their own storefront, the Dungeon Masters Guild, which allows the fans to self-publish their own material and WotC to publish both PDFs of all the past TSR/WotC releases from the "Original" Edition through 4th Edition and new Adventurers League content. As of November 2016, they've started a print-on-demand service so people can get physical copies of select TSR products.
- 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 but was published as a separate game to keep the system going after the publication of D&D 4th edition. It surpassed 4th edition in sales, and retains a strong following, though the launch of D&D Fifth Edition has swung fans back to the D&D brand. See the article for more details. Pathfinder even has it's own spin-off, Porphyra Roleplaying Game, announced by Purple Duck Games after the announcement of Pathfinder 2nd Edition. Mechanically maintains much from 3.5, but nixes Alignments (replacing Paladins with Champions), and makes a number of substitutions in Classes and Races to make the game more suited to Purple Duck's setting. The creator has said a number of Core classes will be reintroduced at a later date with some changes made.
- 13th Age is a d20-based fantasy game written by Jonathan Tweet (one of the lead designers on 3rd edition) and Rob Heinsoo (lead designer for 4th edition). It's essentially an alternate take on a D&D featuring story game inspired house rules from those two designers and high production values.
- 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 playing and writing new adventures for the older editions and using the Open Game License to provide "retro-clone" games that do their best to recreate the feel of the out-of-print older editions for the gaming audience of today. While listing every retro-clone would be near impossible, here's an example list:
- Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea: A retro-clone of first edition AD&D created by Jeffrey Talanian, the writer that was helping Gygax produce the Castle Zagyg products for Troll Lord Games. The foreword admits to taking inspiration from the Weird Tales pulp works to the point that it even says the system's alternate name would be Weird Tales: The Roleplaying Game. While humans are the only playable race, they are divided into 12 different ethnic groups. Uses the base four classes (Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User, Thief) and a host of subclasses (18 in 1e, 22 in 2e). The max class level cap is 12, while spells cap at level 6. Rather than the nine-point alignment chart, it uses the five-point chart introduced in Strategic Review #2.1. First edition AS&SH was released as two books, a player's book and a referee's book, while the Second Edition was released as a single book containing everything.
- Basic Fantasy: A retro-clone of the B/X Basic D&D, 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: Published by Troll Lord Games. Not strictly a retro-clone as it doesn't mimic a specific prior version, but goes for an old-school feel, as outright emulation wasn't considered legally possible at the time (it predates the other retro-clones). The general idea was to keep the updated mechanics from 3rd edition that players liked, while bringing back the more rules-light mechanics 1st edition classes (by leaving out the skill points and stacking bonuses of feats), and keeping paperwork to minimum skill checks and saving throws are simple d20 + Ability modifier checks, with only a bonus if it's a prime attribute. 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.
- Crypts & Things: Created by D101 Games. A variant of the Swords & Wizardry Core system that more mirrors the classic Sword & Sorcery stories of Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith, instead of the more traditional Tolkienesque High Fantasy flare. Humans are the only playable race and alignment is done away with. There are only four classes: Barbarian, Fighter, Thief, and Magician. Clerics don't exist, meaning that there's no ability to turn undead, with the Magician using a combination of Cleric and Wizard spells, which is then divided into White, Gray, and Black Magic. Hit Points gauge the PC's mental faculties rather than their physical health; once their HP is gone, they take Constitution damage until death. As such, healing magic and potions only heal Constitution, not HP. Wisdom doubles as a character's sanity score, so once their Wisdom hits 0, the character is rendered insane. Magic items carry a hefty penalty more often than not and are very rare. Characters get three Life Events, which dictates their background and grants them specific bonuses.
- Crypts & Things Remastered: A revised version of the original Crypts & Things. Adds five new "exotic" classes: Beast Hybrid, Disciple, Elementalist, Lizard People, and Serpent Noble. Life Events where changed: the Barbarian, Fighter, Sorcerer, Thief, Disciple, and Elementalist get two Life Events (homeland and how they learned their trade), while the Beast Hybrid, Serpent Noble, and Lizard People get only one.
- Dark Dungeons: Named after the infamous Jack Chick tract, this is a very faithful retro-clone of the BECMI / Rules Cyclopedia version of Basic 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.
- Epées & Sorcelerie: A French adaptation of the original 1974 D&D, which was never released in France. Built around using a 2d6 system - ability scores range from a 2 to 12 instead of 3 to 18. The overall level cap is 12 period for all races, so demihuman races are instead limited by a Hit Die cap in the three available classes.
- Labyrinth Lord: Another retro-clone based on old-school D&D, this one uses the B/X version of Basic D&D as its base. There are also two supplements which recreate Original 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.
- Scarlet Heroes: Created by Kevin Crawford. Unusual in that it is designed to be played with only one, or at most a couple, of PCs while still being compatible with other old-school material.
- Swords and Wizardry: Created by Matt Finch of Mythmere Games and published by Frog God Games. One of the more well-known retro-clones, this game goes all the way back to the original 1974 edition of D&D. Notable for condensing the original five saving throws into a single one, although it includes the option to use the original system. You get to choose whether you want to play with descending or ascending AC. Has a number of variants based on the system, such as WhiteHack, White Star, and Crypts & Things. There are four versions of this game, all of which are free to download:
- The White Box Rules, which closely emulates the rules of the core three LBBs of OD&D, but capped all three classes to 10th level, with the Magic-User having the option to advance up to 16th level for access to 6th-level spells.
- The Core Rules, which incorporates parts of the Greyhawk Supplement like the Thief class...as of the fourth printing. The first through third printings were more faithful to OD&D and didn't include the Thief class, but did include special versions of the Fighter for dwarves (Dwarven Warrior) and the Fighter/Magic-User for elves (Elven Adventurer).
- The Complete Rulebook, which incorporates most of the content from Supplements 1-3 and some from both Strategic Review and early issues of Dragon, resulting in something of a middle road between OD&D, Basic D&D, and AD&D 1e, making it easily compatible with material from those editions. There's nine available classes (Assassin, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Magic-User, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Thief) and five races (humans, dwarves, halflings, elves, half-elves). Humans can be any class and can dual class between the core four classes, save for a Magic-User dual classing to a Cleric and vice versa, while demihumans have two or three class setups to choose from the core four classes. Due to company restructuring spanning from 2019 to 2020, Complete will be the only supported variant of Swords & Wizardry that Frog God Games will continue releasing and supporting.
- Swords & Wizardry Light, a version created by Erik "Tenkar" Stiene of Tenkar's Tavern, officially endorsed by Mythmere Games and published by Frog God Games. Essentially what Basic D&D was to AD&D: an easier to play version designed to help people learn the system. It heavily condenses the White Box Rulebook down to 4 print-and-play pages. While Light runs from 1st level to 3rd level, with players converting to one of the three other versions at 4th level, an expanded version called Continual Light extends it to 7th level and introduces subclasses for the default, four classes.
- Seven Voyages of Zylarthen: A neo-clone of 1974 D&D by Oakes Spalding and published by Campion & Clitherow. Apparently named after "Xylarthen", the example Magic-User character in the original Men & Magic booklet. Removes the Cleric class and replaces it with the Thief class, but makes up for it by granting all classes the ability to Turn Undead while presenting the proper holy symbol and adding the Cleric spells to the Magic-User's spell lists. Priests are instead restricted to solely being NPCs, alongside Druids, Paladins, and Rangers. Thieves have a simpler repertoire of abilities compared to the original's table of rolling percentile dice. Dwarves, elves, and halfings are available as playable races and have the same restrictions they had in 0e, although halflings are restricted to being a Thief instead of a Fighting-Man. Combat uses three matrix tables: Man vs Man/Monster (Melee), Man vs Man/Monster (Missile), and Monsters Attacking. The original five saving throws are used. Equipment prices are based on a silver standard, rather than the usual gold standard. Available as either a series of individual print paperback booklets or an all-in-one PDF of the initial four booklets plus the supplement booklet.
- WhiteHack: A variant of the Swords & Wizardry White Box system, created by Christian Mehrstam. Classes are defined down to archetypes: the Strong, the Deft, and the Wise. The "Deft" are rangers, monks, thieves, etc., and can "attune" to something so that they use them for extraordinary feats. The "Strong" are soldiers, pit fighters, paladins, etc., and can choose between 8 special combat maneuvers and can "absorb" a single power from a defeated enemy, so long as they're the one to deal the finishing blow. The "Wise" are mages, healers, alchemists, scientists, etc., and can perform "Miracles" at the expense of HP and can't be healed through magical means, but heal naturally at twice the normal rate. The Miracles that the Wise use don't have to outright be actual magic, they could be alchemical or scientific experiments. Despite the "classes", all characters can choose from joining at least two "groups" that they are a member from lists of species, vocations, and affiliations, leading to hybrid skill sets. Has 4 AC tables: two versions of Ascending AC (one at base 10 and one at base 0) and two versions of Descending AC (one at base 9 and the other at base 10). The level cap is 10, and it's recommended that the players retire their characters at that point and make new ones, although there are a couple optional rules for playing beyond 10th level.
- White Star: A variant of the Swords & Wizardry White Box system, created by James M. Spahn. Basically Swords & Wizardry IN SPACE!, giving a sci-fi spin to the fantasy system. Has 4 humanoid classes (Aristocrat, Pilot, Mercenary, and Star Knight) and 3 nonhuman classes (Alien Brute, Alien Mystic, and Robot).