The book Art & Arcana is probably the first of its kind: a history of the art of Dungeons & Dragons. Interlaced in the text is the history of D&D itself: its creation, rise to popularity, controversy, business changes, edition changes, fall in popularity, and apparent renaissance. The first generation to grow up in an age where D&D was popular have become the first elders of a tribe, transmitting for the first time the culture of playing D&D to a generation of players that is larger than any that came before it.
But what is D&D? Defining D&D has proven difficult for a long time, because the game is played slightly differently at every table, creating a broad spectrum of experiences that each claim, with basically equal authority, to be D&D.
Some are theatrical, with improvised acting, accents, or even props/costumes, where a disagreement between the dice and the drama should be resolved in the latter’s favor. Others are tactical challenges that dare the players to plan and execute character builds and combat tactics that will keep them alive in a meat-grinder of a dungeon with little grand design behind the function of presenting the challenge. Still other games are downright goofy, where characters are named after pop culture icons and the NPCs are there to be punchlines. Most games have a mixture of these. Some are even more esoteric.
On the other side of that experience, the books those groups are using might be different editions: there have been 5 official editions, but there were certainly more forms before 1st edition, 2nd edition had optional rulebooks that vastly changed the game, there was both a 3.0 and a 3.5 edition, a 4e and a 4e Essentials, etc. Depending on the mix of books at the table, the game worked very differently. Even if two tables used the same books, house rules can change the experience extensively.
Beyond that, there are a number of games built using the same building blocks as D&D: the six attributes, armor class, hit points, d20, etc., but which have never been called Dungeons & Dragons. Some of these used the material released under the Open Game License from 3rd edition days (and renewed to some extent in 5e), like the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, while others took the mechanical inspiration of later editions but reached back to the simpler, grittier gameplay of editions that predate the OGL, like Castles & Crusades, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and other OSR games.
One thorny issue in defining D&D is deciding what is not D&D. Is the use of the D&D logo the dividing line? The use of the OGL?
I want to explore the proposition that, at least for some purposes, all of them are D&D, from TSR, WotC, Paizo, or Troll Lord Games.Continue reading