Numerous different editions of the Dungeons & Dragons game have been published since the game's original release in 1974. Each edition features significantly different rules, which are typically incompatible with previous editions. As of 2018, the most recent edition is Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, released by Wizards of the Coast in 2014.
Opinions over which edition of the game is best are a major topic of discussion in the Dungeons & Dragons community.
Original edition (1974)Edit
- Main article: Original Dungeons & Dragons
This initial release was simply known as Dungeons & Dragons, but is retroactively called Original Dungeons & Dragons or OD&D to disambiguate it from later editions. Other names include 0th edition (zero-th edition, or 0e), White Box (after the color of the box used from 1975 in its 4th printing onward), wood box (after the design of its original box), Original Collectors Edition or OCE (a name applied to its sixth printing in 1977 to distinguish it from the new Basic D&D), or simply "Dungeons & Dragons (1974)".
Advanced Dungeons & DragonsEdit
From 1977 until 2000, the D&D game was divided into two product lines: the more complex Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and a newbie-friendly Basic Dungeons & Dragons.
AD&D 1st edition (1977-1979)Edit
- Main article: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was released as three separate books over three years: Monster Manual, Players Handbook, and Dungeon Masters Guide.
TSR was unable to afford to run the company without a product release during the game's long development, leading Gygax to write and release one book at a time. Owing in part to this edition's staggered release schedule, many players would mix-and-match between different editions of the game, despite the fact that the rules systems were not completely compatible.
AD&D 2nd edition (1989)Edit
- Main article: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition
Following the departure of original designer Gary Gygax from the company, TSR wrote and published a new second edition of the AD&D game. Its rules content was substantially similar to AD&D first edition, and Gygax later claimed it was done to deny him royalties on sales of AD&D.
Basic Dungeons & DragonsEdit
During the publication of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons' 1st and 2nd editions, TSR continued to produce a separate Dungeons & Dragons product line based on Original Dungeons & dragons and intended an entry-level game.
Holmes Basic (1977)Edit
Basic D&D was written in 1977 by Eric Holmes, based largely on the original D&D White Box rules. This edition is identified by its cover, featuring a dragon lying upon a pile of treasure. It is often called Basic D&D, D&D Basic, or Holmes D&D after its author.
It featured four character classes (Fighting Men, Magic-users, clerics and thieves) and three races (dwarves and halflings, who were effectively limited to the Fighting Men class, and elves, effectively limited to dual-class Fighting Men/Magic-users).
In many places, Basic refers players to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons for further rules, and many players effectively played some ad-hoc combination of the two systems. Notably, Basic has no rules for characters above third level.
This edition featured the two-axis alignment system. It also used the word "Dungeon Master" to refer to the game referee, something which the original D&D White Box set did not.
Moldvay B/X (1981)Edit
In 1981, a new edition of the D&D Basic Set was written by Tom Moldvay. It can be distinguished by its cover, featuring a spearman and sorceress fighting a green dragon. This edition is sometimes called B/X (Basic/Expert) after its two core rulebooks, red and blue books after their color, or Moldvay D&D or Moldvay/Cook after its primary authors.
In this edition, each non-human race is explicity a character class. The classses available are clerics, dwarves, elves, fighters, halflings, magic users, and thieves. It returns to the single-axis alignment system (law, neutrality and chaos).
This edition expanded on the 1-3 level Basic Set with the Expert Set, which took characters up to 14th level. Its cover features a wizard scrying on the events of the Basic book's cover.
Mentzer BECMI (1983)Edit
Yet another new edition of the basic D&D game was released beginning in 1983. This edition is known as Mentzer D&D, for its author, or BECMI, for the initials of its five books. It is noted as the edition of D&D played in the TV series Stranger Things. It is sometimes called fourth edition, but this has fallen out of favor to avoid confusion with WotC's D&D 4th edition (2008).
The Basic Rules (1983) is a red book, and has a warrior fighting a red dragon on the cover, drawn by Larry Elmore. It takes players from levels 1-3. Like Moldvay's edition, it has single-axis alignment, and elf, dwarf and halfling are classes rather than races.
The Expert Rules (1983) is a blue book, with the cover featuring a mounted warrior fighting a dragon. Like Cook's Expert rules in the 1981 edition, it takes characters through levels 4 to 14.
The Companion Rules (1984) is a green book, with the cover art featuring a warrior with a magical two-handed sword fighting a green dragon. It takes characters through levels 15 to 25, at this point surpassing AD&D, which limits characters to level 20.
The Master Rules (1985) is a black book, with the cover featuring a warrior riding a gold dragon. It takes characters through levels 26 to 36, and establishes level 36 as the maximum possible humans.
The Immortals Rules (1986) is a golden book featuring a flying man and a red dragon on another world. This book throws out the entire class system and establishes a system for characters who have ascended to a kind of divinity.
Easy to Master (1991)Edit
This edition took players from levels 1-5.
Rules Cyclopedia (1991)Edit
In 1991, TSR published the Rules Cyclopedia, by Aaron Allston. This edition is usually simply referred to by players as the Rules Cyclopedia or RC.
This edition combines elements of all five BECMI books, detailing character classes from level 1 to 36 in a single book. It introduces the optional druid and mystic classes. It includes rules for converting game supplements between RC and AD&D 2nd edition, and optional rules removing the harsh level caps on dwarves, elves and halflings.
Classic D&D (1994)Edit
This edition takes characters from level 1 to 5.
Dungeons & DragonsEdit
D&D 3rd edition (2000)Edit
- Main article: Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition
D&D 3e drew considerably from AD&D 2e, including in its decision to officially continue the version numbering system from that edition. However, Wizards of the Coast decided to retire the "Advanced" product title, since it had no intent of maintaining the "basic" product line and did not wish to divide the audience between two incompatible sets of D&D Rules.
Third edition's lead designers were Skip Williams, TSR's former AD&D rules expert; Monte Cook, a Planescape writer unrelated to AD&D 2e author Zeb Cook (although Zeb Cook's name originally inspired Monte to become a D&D writer); and Jonathan Tweet, creator of rival fantasy RPG Ars Magica.
This edition unofficially became known as "D&D 3.0" after the 2003 release of D&D 3.5. The term "third edition" is variously applied to D&D 3.0, and to the 3.0/3.5 era in general.
D&D 3.5 (2003)Edit
In 2003, Wizards of the Coast released a revised and updated edition of D&D third edition, termed Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. This was largely similar to the original third edition, but made numerous minor rules adjustments.
The decision to revise the rules in this manner was initially controversial in the D&D community. Many players resented being forced to re-buy three core rulebooks (Player's Handbook (2003), Dungeon Master's Guide (2003), and Monster Manual (2003)). Designer Monte Cook thought 3.5 came out too soon, made too many changes, and was motivated by profit rather than need for improvement.
However, D&D 3.5 was ultimately popular, and remained so even after the release of D&D's fourth and fifth editions. As of 2018, D&D 3.5 is the third most popular game on digital gaming platform Roll20 with 22,731 players, after Paizo's D&D 3.5-based Pathfinder RPG (25,443 players) and D&D 5th edition (59,806 players), and ahead of D&D 4th edition (8,714 players). 
D&D 4th edition (2008)Edit
- Main article: Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition
In 2008, Wizards of the Coast released D&D 4th edition. The three core rulebooks for this edition are the Player's Handbook (2008), Dungeon Master's Guide (2008), and Monster Manual (2008). Fourth edition also introduced a subscription-based online component, D&D Insider.
Fourth edition made several of the the most radical changes in D&D's history. Miniatures were now mandatory, and most combat abilities have precise area. All classes have explicit MMO-style roles (tank/DPS/support/CC). The game plays more like a tactical miniatures game than earlier editions of D&D, where miniatures were optional.
These changes were controversial with players, many of whom felt D&D was abandoning its identity and dumbing down in an attempt to simulate the vastly more popular massively multiplayer online games of the time, such as World of Warcraft. The addition of miniatures, sold by Wizards of the Coast in random blind packs, made the game expensive to play in the intended manner. A digital gametable promised in the Player's Handbook was never released.
D&D 4th edition Essentials (2010)Edit
In a response to feedback, Wizards of the Coast released the D&D Essentials product line, a revised edition aimed at restoring many traditional D&D game mechanics and appealing to new players. It was largely compatible with the standard D&D 4th edition.
D&D 5th edition (2014)Edit
- Main article: Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition
According to Wizards of the Coast, as of 2018 D&D 5th edition is the most successful edition of the game yet. The advent of online game streaming, with D&D play streams like Critical Role introducing countless new players to the game, has been cited as a major factor in its success.
The design of D&D 5th edition draws design-wise from D&D 3rd edition, with influences from rules systems such as E6, Dungeon World and D&D 4th edition. The rules are more streamlined than third edition, with less focus on character optimization.
The departure of D&D 4th edition from D&D's traditional roots in 2008 sparked a period of renewed interest in early editions of the game, known as the old-school revival or OSR. At the same time, the Open Gaming License used by D&D 3rd edition gave publishers the legal option to use copyrighted D&D game terminology.
The result was a number of unofficial games intended to simulate the rules and atmosphere of older editions of D&D, known as retro-clones. Well-known retro-clones include Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, and Dark Dungeons.
In 2002, Wizards of the Coast outsourced its magazines Dragon and Dungeon to Paizo Publishing, on the conventional wisdom that print magazines were on the way out. In 2007, with the upcoming release of D&D 4th edition, Wizards chose not to renew Paizo's license to print the magazines.
Paizo responded by publishing Pathfinder, initially a series of adventure modules for D&D 3.5. As that edition of D&D went out of print, Paizo published Pathfinder RPG, their own spinoff of the D&D 3.5 ruleset.
As of 2017, Pathfinder is the second most popular RPG at digital gaming site Roll20.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Original D&D Set, The Acaceum.
- ↑ Original Dungeons & Dragons RPG (2013)
- ↑ "When Zeb Cook rewrote AD&D, I was no longer associated with TSR is any way." - Gary Gygax, Q&A with Gary Gygax part 1, ENWorld (2002).
- ↑ "It was done so as to remove my name and have a “derivative” game for which no royalties were payable to me per agreement." - Gary Gygax, Q&A with Gary Gygax part 7, ENWorld (2005).
- ↑ "This revision is too much, too soon. In fact, it's much more than just a "revision." ... Even before 3.0 went to the printer, the business team overseeing D&D was talking about 3.5. Not surprisingly, most of the designers -- particularly the actual 3.0 team (Jonathan Tweet, Skip Williams, and I) thought this was a poor idea. Also not surprisingly, our concerns were not enough to affect the plan. The idea, they assured us, was to make a revised edition that was nothing but a cleanup of any errata that might have been found after the book's release, a clarification of issues that seemed to confuse large numbers of players, and, most likely, all new art. It was slated to come out in 2004 or 2005, to give a boost to sales at a point where -- judging historically from the sales trends of previous editions -- they probably would be slumping a bit. It wasn't to replace everyone's books, and it wouldn't raise any compatibility or conversion issues. Here I sit, in 2003, with my reviewer's copies of the 3.5 books next to my computer, and that's not what I see." - Monte Cook, Looking at D&D v 3.5 (2003).
- ↑ The Orr Group Industry Report: Q4 2017 (2018).