NOMENCLATURE OF D&D EDITIONS
An Essay by Justin Alexander
I had someone drop me an e-mail requesting a
quick overview of the various editions of D&D. In the context
of the Reactions to
OD&D essays, I thought it might be a useful
reference for people who are a little less familiar with the history of
If you want more details on the history of
D&D, the "Editions
of Dungeons & Dragons"
article at Wikipedia is a
pretty solid resource. If you want an exhaustive detailing of every
single change made between each printing of the early rulebooks, then
is an excellent resource.
The only important thing you need to
here is that D&D split into two separate games in
Dungeons & Dragons and Dungeons & Dragons
(with the latter often being referred to as Basic D&D or
The terms used below are not official, but
they are the most commonly used nomenclature in the fan community.
With the exception of the Rules Cyclopedia,
all of these games were sold as boxed sets.
(Original Dungeons & Dragons, White Box): The original edition
of the game designed by Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, first published in
1974 as a boxed set comprising three volumes -- Men & Magic,
& Treasure, and Underworld & Wilderness
Adventures. These books would receive various errata in
subsequent printings (with the most notable change being the purging of
references to Tolkien's works following a lawsuit from the Tolkien
Estate), but remained substantially unaltered.
Edition (1977): Published as the Basic Set in 1977.
Eric Holmes is credited as having "edited" the book, but it's actually
a complete re-design and re-edit of the original game.
Edition (1981): A completely revised Basic Rulebook and
a brand new Expert
Rulebook published in 1981. Tom Moldvay is credited for
"editing" the Basic Set.
David Cook and Steven Marsh are credited for "editing" the Expert Set. (I'm
not clear on why Tom Moldvay is usually the only guy who gets credit
for this version of the game. But he is.)
(1983 - 1985): Comprising the Basic
Rules, and Immortal
Rules. (With the exception of the Expert Rules, these
boxed sets each contained two volumes -- one for players and one for
the DM. The first two sets are, once again, completely
sets are variously credited as being "edited", "compiled", or simply
Cyclopedia (1991): A single-volume hardback
collected the BECMI rules with minimal alteration (basically just
applying errata). However, the Rules Cyclopedia
lacked the rules for Immortals (which were published separately as the Wrath of the Immortals
In addition to these rules, a total of five
different Basic Sets were produced between 1991 and 1999 under the
names The Dungeons
& Dragons Game or The Classic Dungeons &
Dragons Game. These all differed from each other in
various ways, but all of them were designed to serve as "teasers" or
"primers" for the Rules
Cyclopedia edition of the game. So if you're considering
distinct iterations of the rules, they can be ignored.
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS
All of these editions were published as
three separate core rulebooks: A Player's
Handbook, a Dungeon
Master's Guide, and a Monster
Manual (the last of these under various titles, as
1st Edition (1977 - 1979): Designed by Gary
original Monster Manual
was published in 1977, followed by the Player's Handbook
in 1978 and the Dungeon
Master's Guide in 1979. These books were re-issued with
new covers in 1983 (which are easily recognizable due to their orange
spines), but were not revised. Also referred to as AD&D1.
Arcana (1985): TSR officially identified Unearthed Arcana as
a core rulebook. Since it included not only expansions but also
alterations in the game, it is sometimes referred to as the Edition 1.5.
2nd Edition (1989): The 2nd Edition was
published in 1989
as the Player's Handbook,
Master's Guide, and Monstrous
Compendium. The re-design is primarily credited to David
"Zeb" Cook. In 1993 the Monstrous
Compendium was replaced with the Monstrous Manual.
In 1995, these books were re-issued with new covers and a new layout
(but no meaningful change to the rules). Also referred to as
Options (1995): Also referred to as Edition
optional core rulebooks known as the Player's Options released in 1995:
& Tactics, Skills
& Powers, and Spells
& Magic. There was also the DM's Option: High Level Campaigns.
3rd Edition (2000): Released as the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide,
and Monster Manual.
This edition was designed by Monte Cook, Jonathan Tweet, and Skip
Williams. Also referred to as D&D3 or 3rd Edition.
3.5 (2003): Revised versions of the 3rd
rulebooks. The revision team was Rich Baker, Andy Collins, David
Noonan, Rich Redman, and Skip Williams.
So, if you count the Unearthed Arcana
and Player's Options
as distinct edition, then there have been 10 editions of D&D:
Holmes D&D (1977)
Moldvay D&D (1981)
BECMI / Rules
AD&D 1st Edition (1977)
AD&D 1st Edition + Unearthed
AD&D 2nd Edition (1989)
AD&D 2nd Edition + Player's
D&D 3rd Edition (2000)
D&D 3.5 (2003)
And then, of course, 4th Edition in 2008.