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  • Leopold Huber

The History and Development of Dungeons and Dragons

Dungeons and Dragons (also referred to as DnD) is one of the biggest and most successful roleplaying games in the world and its legacy and influence on pop-culture and other tabletop-/boardgames can still be felt today. In this article I will explore the development of this game from a small box set to one of the biggest roleplaying games today.

Chainmail and Early Development

The predecessor and inspiration for Dungeons and Dragons was a small medieval miniature wargame by the name of Chainmail. The rules were mainly written by Jeff Perren and a fantasy supplement (among other things) was written by Garry Gygax shortly before its release in 1971.

At around the same time in 1970, a man by the name of Dave Arneson started developing a medieval version of older military wargames (notably Wesley Braunstein's), where instead of controlling armies, the player was locked to a single character. Arneson used Chainmail to resolve combat. As Arneson refined the game, he created many game rules which are still used today.

Then in 1974, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson (having worked together numerous times before) released Dungeons and Dragons (referred to as 0Dnd) with TSR Inc., a game publishing company that Gygax co-founded as their publisher. 0DnD contained three booklets and one small box set and had a small budget of 2,000 dollars. Even though the rules were archaic, and the production was amateurish, the entire stock was sold out within a year. Roughly 1,000 copies were sold in 1974 and 3,000 in 1975. Due to this success, the game received many additions and supplements.

First Edition

In 1977, TSR published two games. One was a revised version of Dungeons and Dragons that tried to appeal to new players while another was called Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (or ADnD) which appealed to experienced players. These are now referred to as first edition DnD. Both games continued to receive additions and revisions for the next decade. The biggest of those were supplements adding new classes.

Second Edition

In 1989, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition was released after two years of work by TSR. This expanded the game greatly compared to the first edition, featuring new rules, classes and characters. Second Edition also targeted younger audiences and removed parts that attracted negative publicity, especially references to demons and devils. The game was released as three core rulebooks and would continue to be slightly revised for several years. 400,000 rulebooks were sold in the first year, but the lifetime sales did not exceed first editions.

Third Edition and Wizards of the Coast

In 1997, TSR was acquired by Wizards of the Coast (also referred to as WotC), a publishing company previously famed for the Magic: The Gathering card game, after TSR nearly went bankrupt. Then, after three years of development, WotC Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition was released. This brought the biggest revision of DnD to this day. This Third Edition merged the basic and advanced versions of DnD and added a game system called the D20 system, which simplified the game. Third Edition also added new rules and prioritized flexibility and freedom in the in-game decision-making process.

In 2003, a revised version of the third edition (also called 3.5 Edition) was released, adding minor rule tweaks and addressing many common complaints. This is called the best edition of DnD by some, and it is still played by a large minority of players.

Fourth Edition

In 2008, the fourth edition of DnD, named Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition, was released. This version overhauled most of the game and simplified it greatly. The spellcasting system was reworked, external software tools were made to help players and a new type of game, “Encounters”, was devised, where instead of a few months or years, a campaign would take only a couple of hours to complete. The game received negative reviews from older and newer players alike.

Fifth Edition

The fifth edition (also called Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition) was released in 2014 after years of development and fan playtests. The game, while primarily going back to the third edition’s rules, incorporated many systems from a variety of past editions and was simplified for newer audiences. Since 2014, twenty books have been released for 5th Edition. The game received largely favourable reviews and is the best-selling DnD game yet, with 15 to 18 million players in North America. In 2017 alone, 9 million people watched DnD content on twitch, a streaming platform.


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