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What is Dungeons and Dragons?

A.E. Jaquith
A.E. Jaquith

Dungeons and Dragons™, sometimes D&D or DnD for short, is a table top role playing game created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson that was first published in 1974. The game has continued to evolve, with additional materials available for purchase that expand the experience. The game relies on the imagination of the players, but strict rules govern the course of play.

To play Dungeons and Dragons™, it is important to have the three core rule books. These are the Players Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and the Monster Manual. The Players Handbook contains all the information a player will need to create a character, and the rules governing the actions a player's character is likely to take. The Dungeon Master's Guide contains all the detailed rules and information one needs to be the dungeon master, or referee. Finally, the Monster Manual contains the statistics of monsters that the players will likely face during an adventure, with combat scores, ability scores, and a description of habitat and temperament.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Players of Dungeons and Dragons™ must first create characters using a character creation system. Characters receive ability scores during the creation period which describe the attributes of the character, such as strength, intelligence, dexterity, etc. Players must then choose a limited number of skills and proficiencies for their characters, as well as buy starting equipment from a set amount of fictional gold.

Originally, the available character classes were fighter, cleric (priest), and magic user, with each class specializing in a specific area. The game has developed over the years, and now Dungeons and Dragons™ offers a wide variety of starting character classes. Additional classes can be found in supplemental materials created for the game.

After the characters have been created, the game's dungeon master will lead the players through a high fantasy environment. The dungeon master will describe the environment and situation that is presented to the characters, and the players will each describe how their individual character will respond. Common situations presented to the characters include overcoming obstacles in their journey, defeating monsters, and finding treasure.

The outcome of a character's attempted actions in Dungeons and Dragons™ usually require the player to roll a die, with modifiers depending on the characters class, abilities, and environmental difficulties. Though not created specifically for Dungeons and Dragons™, the game requires each player to have several four-, six-, eight-, ten-, twelve-, and twenty-sided dice. A digital random number generator may also be used, if allowed by the dungeon master.

By defeating monsters and solving problems, player characters receive experience points that symbolize the knowledge gained from their adventures. After the characters gain enough experience points, they will increase their "level," a trait that is common in many role playing games. After gaining a new level, characters will increase in strength, receiving new skills, abilities, and better attack and defense scores.

Discussion Comments


Ah, yes. Dungeons & Dragons. Brings back a memory or two. When I was in high school, my group of friends and I would spend hours on end playing this game. More than a few all-nighters revolved around playing Dungeons & Dragons, in fact.

What is amusing now is the "geek" label that's been applied to folks that played this. In my group, there were three obsessed with hot rodding their cars, more than a couple who liked hunting and a pretty good poker player or two -- pretty much your average, high school kids.

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