- Editions of Dungeons & Dragons
Several different editions of the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game have been produced since 1974. The current publisher of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), Wizards of the Coast, produces new materials only for the most current edition of the game. Many D&D fans, however, continue to play older versions of the game and some third-party companies continue to publish materials compatible with these older editions. Parallel versions of D&D throughout its history and inconsistent product naming practices by D&D's original publisher TSR can make it difficult to distinguish between some editions of the game.
Dungeons & Dragons Version History
noting key rule publications
YEAR GAME 1974 Dungeons & Dragons (original white box edition with three booklets)
Men & Magic • Monsters & Treasure • The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures
1977 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition)
Monster Manual (December)
Dungeons & Dragons (2nd version)
Basic Set (blue box) (levels 1–3)
1978 Players Handbook (June) 1979 Dungeon Masters Guide (August) Core rulebooks complete 1981 Dungeons & Dragons (3rd version)
Basic Set (magenta box)
Expert Set (light blue box) (levels 4–14)
1983 Core rulebooks reprinted with
new cover art and orange spines
Dungeons & Dragons (4th version)
Basic Set (red box)
Expert Set (blue box)
Companion Set (teal box, levels 15–25)
1984 Master Set (black box, levels 26–36) 1985 Unearthed Arcana (a fourth "core" rulebook)
Immortals Set (gold box, levels 36+) 1989 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition
Dungeon Master's Guide
Monstrous Compendium Replaces Monster Manual
1991 Dungeons & Dragons (5th version)
Rules Cyclopedia (levels 1–36)
1992 Wrath of the Immortals (levels 36+) 1993 Monstrous Manual Replaces Monstrous Compendium 1996 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition revised
Dungeon Master Guide
2000 Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition (three Core rulebooks)
Player's Handbook • Dungeon Master's Guide • Monster Manual
2003 Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition revised (v3.5)
Revised editions of the core rulebooks (compatible with 3.0 via errata)
2008 Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (three Core rulebooks)
Player's Handbook • Monster Manual • Dungeon Master's Guide
2009 Player's Handbook 2 • Monster Manual 2 • Dungeon Master's Guide 2 2010 Player's Handbook 3 • Monster Manual 3 Dungeons & Dragons Essentials
Fantasy Roleplaying Game (levels 1-2)
Rules Compendium • Heroes of the Fallen Lands • Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms • Dungeon Master's Kit • Monster Vault (levels 1-30)
Edition and version history
Dungeons & Dragons
The original Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) was published as a boxed set in 1974 and featured only a handful of the elements for which the game is known today: just three character classes (fighting-man, magic-user, and cleric); four races (human, dwarf, elf, and hobbit); only a few monsters; only three alignments (lawful, neutral, and chaotic). The rules assumed that players owned and played the miniatures wargame Chainmail and used its measurement and combat systems. An optional combat system was included within the rules that later developed into the sole combat system of later versions of the game. In addition, the rules presumed ownership of Outdoor Survival, an Avalon Hill board game for outdoor exploration and adventure (an unusual requirement, since Tactical Studies Rules was never in any way affiliated with rival Avalon Hill until two and a half decades later, when Wizards of the Coast – the purchaser of TSR's assets and trademarks – merged with Hasbro, which then owned Avalon Hill). D&D was a radically new gaming concept at the time, but the rules provided no overview of the game so it was difficult, without prior knowledge of tabletop wargaming, to see how it was all supposed to work. The release of the Greyhawk Supplement removed the game's dependency on the Chainmail rules, and made it much easier for new, non-wargaming players to grasp the concepts of play. Ironically, the ambiguities and obscurities of the original rules helped D&D's success as individual groups had to develop their own rulings and ways of playing and thus gained a sense of ownership of the game. It also inadvertently aided the growth of competing game publishers, since just about anyone who grasped the concepts behind the game could write smoother and easier to use rules systems and sell them to the growing D&D fanbase (Tunnels & Trolls being the first such).
Supplements such as Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry and Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes (the last predecessor of Deities and Demigods), published over the next two years, greatly expanded the rules, character classes, monsters and spells. For example, the original Greyhawk supplement introduced the thief class, and weapon damage varying by weapon (as opposed to character class). In addition, many changes were "officially" adopted into the game and published in the magazines The Strategic Review and its successor, Dragon.
During this era, there were also a number of unofficial supplements published, arguably in violation of TSR's copyright, which many players used alongside the TSR books. The most popular of these were the Arduin series. For the most part, TSR ignored these unofficial supplements, although a few of the innovations from the Arduin series eventually made their way into mainstream D&D play, including critical hits, and the two-axis alignment system (pre-Arduin D&D had only a law/chaos axis, not a good/evil axis). Until the brand unification of D&D and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in 2000, all of the "versions" of original D&D were referred to as editions; the Rules Cyclopedia represented the fifth (and final) edition of "original" D&D.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
An updated version of D&D was released as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D). This was published as a set of three rulebooks, compiled by Gary Gygax, between 1977 and 1979, with additional supplemental volumes coming out over the next ten years. The AD&D rules are much better organized than the original D&D, and also incorporate so many extensions, additions, and revisions of the original rules as to make a new game. The term "advanced" does not imply a higher level of skill required to play, nor exactly a higher level of or better gameplay; only the rules themselves are a new and advanced game. In a sense this version name split off to be viewed separately from the basic version below. The three core rulebooks are the Monster Manual (1977), the Player's Handbook (1978), and the Dungeon Master's Guide (1979); later supplements included Deities and Demigods, Fiend Folio (another book of monsters produced semi-autonomously in the UK), Monster Manual II, and Unearthed Arcana (which took most of its additional playing information from Dragon magazine). This was followed by a fairly constant addition of more specific setting works and optional rule supplements.
Differences from Dungeons & Dragons
- The game rules were reorganized across three hardcover rulebooks (the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual) rather than one boxed set (of three books, Men & Magic, Monsters & Treasure, and The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures), and a series of supplemental booklets.
- Supplemental rules cut included hit locations.
- The Chainmail-based combat system was completely abandoned.
- Many details in class abilities were altered and clarified.
- Character classes (bard, illusionist and ranger) that had only appeared in magazine publication were added to the game.
- Alignment is broken down into two polarities, "ethics" (lawful, neutral, or chaotic) and "morals" (good, neutral, or evil), so there are now nine alignments: lawful good, neutral good, chaotic good, lawful neutral, true neutral, chaotic neutral, lawful evil, neutral evil, and chaotic evil.
- Character classes from original D&D supplemental material (assassin, druid, monk, paladin, and thief) are added in the core rules.
- Fighting-men are renamed "fighters".
- The relationship between race and class is changed. In the original Dungeons & Dragons, elf, dwarf, and hobbit are considered classes, where in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons the players select races and classes independently.
Dungeons & Dragons, or the Basic Set and its sequels
While AD&D was still in the works, TSR was approached by an outside writer and D&D enthusiast, John Eric Holmes, who offered to re-edit and rewrite the original rules into an introductory version of D&D. Although TSR was focused on AD&D at the time, the project was seen as a profitable enterprise and a way to direct new players to anticipate the release of the AD&D game. Sold with dice and a module as the Basic Set, the first edition of Basic D&D, published in 1977, collected together and organized the rules from the original D&D boxed set and Greyhawk supplement into a single booklet, which covered only character levels 1 through 3. The booklet featured a blue cover with artwork by David C. Sutherland III. The "blue booklet" explained the game's concepts and method of play in terms that made it accessible to new players not familiar with tabletop miniatures wargaming. The original Basic Set is notable in that it was intended as a bridge between the original D&D and the AD&D rules rather than a simple introductory version of the game. Unusual features of this version include an alignment system of five alignments as opposed to the three or nine alignments of the other versions. This Basic Set was very popular and allowed many to discover and experience the D&D game for the first time. Although the Basic Set is not compatible with AD&D, players were expected to continue play beyond third level by moving on to the AD&D version; evidently the radical changes AD&D would make to the rules were not yet appreciated when the original Basic Set was produced.
Once AD&D had been released, the Basic Set saw a major revision in 1981 by Tom Moldvay, which was immediately followed by the release of an Expert Set (supporting levels 4 through 14) to accompany the Basic Set. With this revision, the Basic rules became their own game, distinct both from original D&D and AD&D. The revised Basic rules can be distinguished from the original ones by cover colors: the Basic booklet had a red cover, and the Expert booklet a blue one.
Between 1983 and 1985 this system was revised and expanded by Frank Mentzer as a series of five boxed sets, including the Basic Rules (red cover), Expert Rules (blue), Companion Rules (green, supporting levels 15 through 25), Master Rules (black, supporting levels 26 through 36), and Immortal Rules (gold, supporting Immortals - characters who had transcended levels).
This version was compiled and slightly revised in 1991 as the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, a hardback book which included all the sets except Immortal Rules which was also revised and renamed Wrath of the Immortals. While the Cyclopedia included all information required to begin the game, there were also several editions of an introductory boxed set, including the Dungeons & Dragons Game (1991), the Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game (1994) and the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Game (1999).
Though often seen as simpler than AD&D, with the collection of all five boxed sets D&D players had access to rules for everything from interdimensional and interstellar travel to the cost of hiring an animal trainer, including areas such as domain rulership which AD&D did not cover.
It is widely suspected in some[who?] circles that the Basic Set was originally created for legal reasons, to give backing to the claim that original D&D co-creator Dave Arneson was not entitled to credit or royalty rights for the AD&D game. (See the Controversy and Notoriety section in the main article.)
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition
In 1987, a small team of designers began work on the second edition of the AD&D game, beginning the most massive coordinated task ever undertaken by TSR to date, which would take nearly two years to complete. In 1989, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition was published, featuring new rules and characters. By the end of its first decade, AD&D had expanded to several rulebooks, including three Monster Manuals, and two books governing character skills in wilderness and underground settings. Initially, the 2nd edition would consolidate the game, with three essential books to govern Dungeon Masters and players alike. Periodically, TSR published optional rulebooks for character classes and races to enhance game play.
The combat system was changed. The minimum number required to hit a target uses a mathematical formula in which the defender's Armor Class (AC) is subtracted from the attacker's THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class "0") instead of 1st edition's attack matrix tables. Distances are based on in-game units (feet) rather than miniatures-board ones (inches). Demi-human races are given higher level maximums to increase their long-term playability, though they are still restricted in terms of character class flexibility. Critical hits are offered as optional rules.
Moreover, the release of AD&D 2nd Edition corresponded with a policy change at TSR. An effort was made to remove aspects of the game which had attracted negative publicity, most notably the removal of all mention of demons and devils (although equivalent monsters were later added, now renamed tanar'ri and baatezu respectively). Moving away from the moral ambiguity of the 1st edition AD&D, the TSR staff eliminated character classes and races like the assassin and the half-orc, and stressed heroic roleplaying and player teamwork. The target age of the game was also lowered, with most 2nd edition products being aimed primarily at teenagers. The 2nd edition art and marketing were also modified to appeal more to female players.
The game was once again published as three core rulebooks which incorporated the expansions and revisions which had been published in various supplements over the previous decade. However, the Monster Manual was replaced by the Monstrous Compendium, a loose-leaf binder in which every monster is given a full page of information, the justification being that packs of new monsters (often setting specific) could be purchased and added to the binder without the expense or inconvenience of a separate book. However, this idea was eventually dropped and the Compendium was replaced by the hardcover Monstrous Manual in 1993.
The concept behind the loose-leaf binder was it would allow updating the book. Originally this was considered for all the core rulebooks, based on the concept that had been used by Avalon Hill for Advanced Squad Leader. While eventually adopted only for the Monstrous Manual, it was abandoned because of the issues of wear and difficulties in keeping alphabetic order when many pages had been printed with more than one monster. Besides the formatting, the major change in the contents of the Monstrous Compendium is greatly increasing the power of dragons. This was done to counter the perception of the relative weakness of the game's "name" monster.
Critics of TSR have suggested that the 2nd edition was produced mainly to have a set of core rulebooks to sell which did not list Gary Gygax as the primary author, and thus deprive Gygax of royalties; certainly, few major changes to the rules were made, aside from the addition of non-weapon proficiencies (which were introduced in various 1st edition supplements) and the division of magic spells by group into Schools (for mages) and Spheres (for clerics) of magic. Gygax himself had already planned a second edition for the game, which would also have been an update of the rules, incorporating the material from Unearthed Arcana, Oriental Adventures, and numerous new innovations from Dragon magazine in the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide and would have consolidated the Monster Manual, Monster Manual II and Fiend Folio into one volume.
In 1995, the core rulebooks were slightly revised and a series of Player's Option manuals were released as "optional core rulebooks". Although still referred to by TSR (and later Wizards of the Coast) as the 2nd edition, this revision is seen by some fans as a distinct edition of the game and is sometimes referred to as AD&D 2.5.
Differences from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
- Half-orcs are removed from the Player's Handbook.
- Character classes are organized into four groups: warrior (fighter, paladin, ranger), wizard (mage, specialist wizard), priest (cleric, druid), and rogue (thief, bard).
- Assassins and monks are removed from the game as character classes.
- "Magic-users" are renamed "mages".
- Illusionists are made into a subtype of the wizard class, along with new classes specializing in the other seven schools of magic (which were first introduced in Dragonlance Adventures).
- Bards are made a normal character class, rather than the multiple-classed character that they are in 1st edition, although they still possess elements of fighters, thieves, and mages.
- Rangers are changed dramatically, both thematically and mechanically, from a heavily armored, commando-style survivalist and "giant-class" monster hunter, to a much more nature oriented, lightly armored, two-weapon-wielding, druid-influenced nature warrior.
- Proficiencies are officially supported in the Player's Handbook and many supplements, rather than being an optional add-on.
- Attack matrices are replaced with a mathematical formula involving a character stat called THAC0, and the table printed only once in the Dungeon Master's Guide is reprinted in the 2nd edition Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide.
- References to "segments" (individual units of time representing one phase of initiative, or six seconds of game-time [simulated time]) are removed from the game; instead, actions are given an "Initiative Modifier". "Melee rounds" are unchanged, representing one minute of game-time, with a "turn" representing ten rounds (ten minutes). An optional alternative where one "melee round" represents 12 to 15 seconds of "game-time" is presented in the Player's Option: Combat & Tactics book, first of the so-called "2.5" edition.
- Other changes are made to combat including the function of weapon speed, initiative, and surprise rules.
- Priest and druid spells are organized into themed "spheres" that are similar to the wizard spell schools that had been introduced in Dragonlance Adventures, with access to spheres being determined by the priest's class and deity.
- Descriptions of artifacts (unique magic items) are removed from the Dungeon Master's Guide.
- Many utilities, including tables for random generation of dungeons, are removed from the Dungeon Master's Guide.
- Exchange rates for the low-valued coins are doubled; it now takes only 100 copper pieces or 10 silver pieces to make one gold piece; coin weights changed from 10 per pound (1st edition) to 50 per pound (2nd edition).
- The hardcover Monster Manual was initially replaced by the looseleaf binder-format Monstrous Compendium; but this was eventually replaced by the hardcover Monstrous Manual.
- Fiendish and angelic creatures (demons, devils, daemons, devas, solars, etc.) are removed from the game, as are spells that allowed such creatures to be summoned or controlled. These creatures were later renamed and modified in the Monstrous Compendium supplement on the Outer Planes.
- Psionics are no longer included in the Player's Handbook, though they later appeared in their own supplement.
- Maximum level is standardized at 20 rather than varying by class.
- Magic resistance is changed so that a mage above 11th level would not impose a 5% penalty per mage level above 11th on an unwilling subject the mage is casting a spell on.
Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition
A major revision of the AD&D rules was released in 2000. As the Basic game had been discontinued some years earlier, and the more straightforward title was more marketable, the word "advanced" was dropped and the new edition was named just Dungeons & Dragons, but still officially referred to as 3rd edition (or 3E for short). It is the basis of a broader role-playing system designed around 20-sided dice, called the d20 system. The 3rd edition removes previous editions' restrictions on class and race combinations that were supposed to track the preferences of the race, and on the level advancement of non-human characters. Level advancement for all characters is greatly eased, allowing players to reasonably expect to reach high level in about one year of weekly play. Skills and the new system of feats are introduced into the core rules to encourage players to further customize their characters.
Monte Cook, Jonathan Tweet, and Skip Williams all contributed to the 3rd edition Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual, and then each designer wrote one of the books based on those contributions.
The d20 system uses a more unified mechanic than earlier editions, resolving nearly all actions with the same type of die roll. The combat system is greatly expanded, adopting into the core system most of the optional movement and combat system of the 2nd edition Players Option: Combat and Tactics book. Third edition combat uses a grid system, encouraging highly tactical gameplay and facilitating the use of miniatures. The wizard class is divided into Wizards and the new sorcerer class, and in later books such as the Complete Arcane further classes such as warmage are added. The thief is renamed rogue, a term that 2nd edition uses to classify both the thief and bard classes. Third edition also presents the concept of prestige classes, which characters can only enter at higher character levels, and only if they meet certain character-design prerequisites or fulfill certain in-game goals. Later products included additional and supplementary rules subsystems such "epic-level" options for characters above twentieth level, as well as a heavily revised treatment of psionics.
The d20 system is presented under the Open Gaming License, which makes it an open source system for which authors can write new games and game supplements without the need to develop a unique rules system and, more importantly, without the need for direct approval from Wizards of the Coast. This makes it easier to market D&D-compatible content under a broadly recognizable commercial license. Many other companies have produced content for the d20 system, such as White Wolf (under the Sword & Sorcery Studios label), Alderac Entertainment Group, Malhavoc Press, and Privateer Press.
Differences from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition
- The game system converted to the d20 System, which standardized task resolution to a roll of a 20-sided die ("d20"), adding or subtracting relevant modifiers, and then comparing the result to a "Difficulty Class" (DC) in order to determine the outcome.
- THAC0 is replaced by a bonus to attack rolls. Armor Class (AC) operates as the Difficulty Class for attack rolls, and therefore increases (rather than decreases, as in 2nd edition) as defensive capabilities increase.
- Ability scores follow a single table and give standardized bonuses. Ability scores are no longer capped at 25.
- Saving throws are reduced from five categories (based on forms of attack) to three (based on type of defense): fortitude (constitution-based), reflex (dexterity-based), and will (wisdom-based), and also go up instead of down.
- "Non-weapon proficiencies" are replaced by skills, and become a fundamental part of the game rather than an optional one, with class abilities such as thieving skills being translated directly into skills. All characters are given a pool of points to spend on a wide range of specific skills to further define a character.
- Special abilities known as feats allow greater customization of characters. Fighters are no longer differentiated simply by weapons, roleplay and equipment selection, but rather by the number of feats they possess relative to other characters.
- Magic item creation is simplified, requiring a prerequisite feat, spells, and monetary and experience costs, replacing the obscure rules of earlier editions.
- Barbarians, monks, and half-orcs return to the Player's Handbook as basic character types.
- Class groups are removed. "Mage" is renamed to "wizard", with "specialist wizards" being simply wizards that specialize in one school of magic, and "thief" is renamed to "rogue." The bard class is no longer considered a type of rogue.
- "Priests of a specific mythos", also known as specialist priest classes, are eliminated (except druid), though some make their return in the form of prestige classes or through other options such as feats.
- The sorcerer class is added to the game as an arcane caster that uses magic naturally, instead of through study.
- Multi-classing and dual-classing as per previous editions is removed. In the new multi-classing system, multi-classing functioned similar to dual-classing had previously, except that a character could gain a level of any character class upon gaining a level instead of only gaining levels in the second class. Multi-classing is made available to all races, although easier for humans and half-elves, and characters with multiple classes of differing levels are penalized.
- Prestige classes are added, representing special training or membership in an organization outside the generic scope of core classes. Entry into prestige classes requires characters to meet certain prerequisites. Assassins make their return here, as well as blackguards (fallen paladins) and several others.
- Any combination of race and class is now permitted, with the exception of some prestige classes. (In 2nd edition, characters of some fantasy races/species are not allowed to belong to some character classes.)
- Priest spell spheres are removed from the game; each spellcasting class now has its own specific spell list (although wizard and sorcerer share a list). Instead, clerics gain domains that allow them to use bonus spells and abilities based on their deity's area of influence, as well as the ability to swap out prepared spells for curative spells.
- Initiative is changed to a cyclic system where the order of resolving actions is determined once per encounter and then repeated, and actions are resolved on the players turn. In previous editions the order is redetermined each round and many actions do not resolve on the player's turn but at the end of the round.
- Diagonal movement and range are simplified. Each square of diagonal distance is equivalent to 1.5 squares of orthogonal distance, rounded down.
- The system for multiple attacks is changed so that, when making multiple attacks in the same round, later attacks are generally less accurate than earlier attacks.
Dungeons & Dragons v3.5
In July 2003, a revised version of the 3rd edition D&D rules (termed v3.5) was released that incorporated numerous rule changes, as well as expanding the Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual.
Differences from Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition
This revision was intentionally a small one (hence the name change of only "half an edition"), small enough so that the basic rules are nearly identical and many monsters and items are compatible (or even unchanged) between those editions. In fact, some players, disliking some changes v3.5 made, use some 3rd edition rules as house rules. Official errata for many of the most popular books are available for download as D&D v.3.5 Accessory Update Booklet.
- Barbarians receive more and improved class features, especially regarding barbarian rage.
- Bards receive more skill points and bardic music abilities.
- Druids can cast summon nature's ally spells spontaneously in place of any prepared spells, just like clerical spontaneous casting of cure/inflict wounds spells. Their abilities are also reworked and animal companions are improved, but restricted to one, having become a class feature, making animal companions akin to familiars in this regard.
- Monks had a major rework of their class features, some balancing unbalanced aspects, others improving old abilities.
- Paladins can summon their mounts, instead of finding them; they can also smite more often.
- Rangers receive more skill points and new class abilities, though fewer hit points, and is able to choose between being a dual wielding melee specialist (which all rangers are forced into in 3rd edition), or an archery specialist.
- New spells are added, and numerous changes are made to existing spells, while some spells are removed from the updated Player's Handbook.
- Spontaneous arcane spellcasters can change a few of their spell choices in later levels.
- New feats are added and numerous changes are made to existing feats.
- Several skills are renamed or merged with other skills.
- Monsters gain feats and skills the same way as PCs, usually resulting in more skill points and feats for every monster.
- The chapter on combat in the Player's Handbook is modified to increase focus on grid-based movement and combat.
Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition
On August 15, 2007, Wizards of the Coast created a countdown page for a product called 4dventure, suspending all other D&D articles on their site. IVC2 announced on August 16, 2007, that this was the announcement of D&D 4th edition. Unlike 3rd edition, which had the core rulebooks released in monthly installments, the Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master's Guide were all released in June 2008.
Slashdot reported anecdotal evidence of "anger" from some players and retailers due to the financial investment in v3.5 and the relatively brief period of time that it had been in publication; However, the 4th edition initial print run sold out so quickly due to preorders that Wizards of the Coast announced a second print run prior to the game's official release. In December 2007, the book Wizards Presents: Races and Classes, the creation of 4th edition, was released. This was followed by a second book in January 2008 named Wizards Presents: Worlds and Monsters.
Unlike previous editions with just three core rulebooks, 4th edition core rules includes multiple volumes of the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual that are released yearly, with each new book becoming a part of the core. They include core classes, races, monsters, powers, feats, paragon paths and epic destinies not present in the first Player's Handbook and Monster Manual.
Differences from Dungeons & Dragons v3.5
Specific changes in moving to the 4th edition include:
- Revision of saving throws and defense values. Fortitude, Reflex and Will are now static defense values which the attacker rolls against in the same way physical attacks roll against Armor Class. "Saving throw" now refers to rolls made at the end of one's turn in order to end certain ongoing detrimental effects; saving throw rolls generally have no bonus and a DC of 10.
- Changes in spells and other per-encounter resourcing, giving all classes a similar number of at-will, per-encounter and per-day powers. (This applies to all classes, in contrast to previous editions where each spell is cast on a daily basis while non-casters are more likely to receive combat and non-combat bonuses than any specific powers.) Powers have a wide range of effects including inflicting status effects, creating zones (such as a stinking cloud), and forced movement, making combat very tactical for all classes but essentially requiring use of miniatures. Powers are typically used with particular types of equipment; for example, powers for the fighter class receive bonuses for certain types of weapons, while rogue powers usually require rogue weapons such as daggers and crossbows, and more magical classes can use implements (such as wands) with their powers to add their enhancement bonuses in the same way weapons do for weapon powers.
- In the first Player's Handbook, the warlock and warlord are included, while the barbarian, bard, druid, sorcerer and monk are not present. Of those classes, the first four have been published in Player's Handbook 2, while the monk class appears in Player's Handbook 3.
- Characters at 11th level choose a "paragon path", a specialty often (but not always) based on their class, which defines some of their new powers through 20th level. At level 21, an "epic destiny" is chosen in a similar manner. In many respects, the paragon path and the epic destiny replace the prestige class system of v3.5.
- Core rules extend to level 30 rather than level 20, bringing "epic level" play back into the core rules (level 21+ play had last been explicitly written into core rules in the black-covered "Master" rule set of classic D&D).
- The multi-classing system is revised. Rather than splitting levels between multiple classes, characters properly belong to only one class but may choose feats to gain abilities from other classes. Hybrid characters combine selected features from two classes. Eleventh level characters with sufficient multi-class feats can use "paragon multi-classing" to gain additional powers from another class in lieu of picking a "paragon path".
- Standardized level-based bonus increases. Attack rolls, skill checks and defense values all get a bonus equal to one-half level, rounded down, rather than increasing at different rates depending on class or skill point investment. This bonus also applies to ability-score checks (such as strength checks).
- Revision of the healing system. Each character has a number of daily "healing surges" based on their class and Constitution score. Spending a healing surge usually heals a character for slightly under one-fourth of a character's maximum hit points. Generally, characters can only spend a healing surge during combat by using a special once-per-encounter "second wind" action; however, certain powers allow additional surges to be spent (by the character using it or another character), and characters can spend any number of their healing surges while taking a five minute "short rest" outside of combat. Finally, players recover full hit points after a (once daily) six hour "extended rest".
- Elimination of skill points. Each skill is either trained (providing a fixed bonus on skill checks, and sometimes allowing more exotic uses for the skills) or untrained, but in either case all characters also receive a bonus to all skill rolls based on level.
- Many non-combat spells (such as Knock, Raise Dead, Tenser's Floating Disc, and Water Breathing) are replaced by rituals, which are not class-specific but require a feat (given to certain classes for free) and a skill check to perform. All rituals have a financial cost in the form of material components, such as herbs and alchemical reagents. Item creation feats are also replaced by rituals.
- Elves are split into three races (excluding half-elves) rather than numerous subraces. Eladrin (not to be confused with the quite different monster of the same name in previous editions) are more civilized and magical, while regular elves are agile forest dwellers rather than city builders, and the evil subterranean drow are largely unchanged in flavor. All three elven races are considered fey. Gnomes are also considered fey.
- The Dungeon Master's Guide officially supports leveling monsters down and up to allow for easier encounter design and flexibility. Many monsters have their mechanics redesigned to help differentiate them from others. Some monsters are designed to work well in group fights whereas others can be used as a solo monster versus the players' party.
- Distances previously measured in feet are now measured in five-foot squares; a diagonally adjacent square is considered to be one square away, so effect areas are generally square rather than circular or cone-shaped. The five-foot step, usually taken to avoid attacks of opportunity, is replaced with a type of movement called shifting. Normally a character can shift one square as a move action, but some powers can allow shifting a greater distance or as part of another action.
Dungeons & Dragons Essentials
This product line debuted in September 2010 and consists of ten products. Essentials uses the D&D 4th edition rule set and provides simple player character options intended for first-time players. Many of the new player character options emulate features from previous editions of the D&D game, such as schools of magic for the wizard class.
The Essentials line contains revisions to the ruleset compiled over the past two years, in the form of the Rules Compendium, which condenses rules and errata into one volume while also updating the rules with newly introduced rules changes. The player books Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms contain rules for creating characters as well as new builds for each class described in the books. Future releases will revisit classes from earlier Player's Handbook releases. Class Compendium: Heroes of Sword and Spell will provide Essentials characters with cleric, fighter, rogue, warlord, and wizard rules, while Player's Options Heroes of Shadow will add rules for such classes as assassins, hexblades, and necromancers. On January 12, 2011, Wizards announced that Class Compendium: Heroes of Sword and Spell had been removed from the 2011 release schedule, without indicating that the book had been canceled entirely.
The D&D franchise was translated and published in many languages around the world.
A particular challenge was the word dungeon, which in standard English means a single prison cell or oubliette originally located under a keep. Some languages, like Spanish, Italian, Finnish, and Portuguese, didn't translate the title of the game and kept it as it is in English: Dungeons & Dragons. In Spanish-speaking countries the 1983 animated series was translated in Hispanic America as Calabozos y Dragones and in Spain as Dragones y Mazmorras (calabozo and mazmorra have in all Spanish-speaking countries the same meaning: a dungeon). Still nowadays this brings great confusion amongst Spanish-speaking gamers about the name of the game, since all Spanish translations of the game kept the original English title. In gaming jargon, however, a dungeon is not a single holding cell but rather a network of underground passages or subterranea to be explored, such as a cave, ruins or catacombs. Some translations conveyed this meaning well, e.g. Chinese 龙与地下城 (Dragons and Underground Castles, or Dragons and Underground Cities). Some translations used a false friend of "dungeon", even if it changed the meaning of the title, such as the French Donjons et dragons (Keeps and Dragons). Other languages adopted a more liberal translation to keep the alliteration, e.g. Swedish Dunder och Drakar (Thunder and Dragons). In Hebrew, the game was published as מבוכים ודרקונים (Labyrinths and Dragons). Additionally, some translations adopted the English word "dungeon" as a game term, leaving it untranslated in the text as well.
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