This is a wiki dedicated to the game, Dungeons & Dragons. I began playing D&D just before starting grade X, at the age of 15, in 1979. I fell in love with the game right off — and for me, the game has perpetually evolved. For me, however, it has not evolved in the way it did for everyone else. While the game company and the gaming community became enamoured with the opportunity to play out personal fantasies and pretend to be someone other than who they were, what mattered to me was the world itself. I didn't want to be a different person. I wanted to go to a different place, where I would be me, pitted against the trials and tribulations of that strange new world.
Through the 1980s, as the creators of D&D became personal heroes and the game became inundated with personalized rulesets for running any kind of imaginary character we might want to run, I withdrew to my own designs. I didn't see the process of making a player character like "pimping your ride," the way others did. I felt then, and believe now, that what matters is not what your character is, or who they are, but what they do. The starting character should be an empty shell; a neophyte, knowing nothing about the world, with the barest number of personal experiences ... who then heads out into the campaign to become someone. What I see around me are players who want to roll dice and be someone important right off, without having to game. I think it is silly.
This wiki is dedicated to the ideal that a good game needs solid, well-defined rules: rules for comprehension, rules for interaction and even rules for teamwork. The best gaming rules are those that clearly define the boundaries, and the amount of play that exists within those boundaries. Combat rules should explain how fighting is resolved; how the weapons are used; and the cause and effect of every possible strategy. The game is not found in circumventing these rules, but in deciding which rules are to be employed, in which order and at which time. There are an infinite number of possible combinations in a group of players readying themselves for combat, and an infinite number of possible, unforeseen results. Good, clearly defined rules that cannot be broken do not limit the game! They force players to innovate, rather than wish problems away. This wiki tries to create good rules for as many subjects as can be named.
About This Wiki
I began to create a wiki to manage my extensive and complex house rules — which have, over time, superseded the original game rules as a massive rewrite of old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I have been rule-writing since I began to dungeon master the game, 40+ years ago. It began with writing out precedents whenever I made a ruling about something the game books didn't cover. I first assembled those precedents on 8x11 sheets of paper ... and when they became too numerous, I began to organize them by category into binders. I began to actively look for rules in the books that I did not agree with so that I could rewrite them. Today, I look to create rules about everything. In the last decade, I've learned that the best way to organize these rules is to contain them within a wiki. After several iterations, the Authentic D&D Wiki, what you see here, has come about.
If you play D&D, whatever edition you might like to play, you will find only shadows of it here. You will find that I've clung to many formats from original D&D; these never seemed broken to me, so I did not fix them. Instead, I fixed everything else. If your only experience with D&D is 5th edition, then I'm sorry; you're not going to find very much that's familiar in the wiki's content.
To date, I have spent very little time explaining the basics of the game to anyone except for new players whom I run in my own campaign. If you knew nothing whatsoever about D&D, I sould make you comfortable with the game in the space of one session. I've introduced hundreds of people and it's easy — so long as we are face to face. D&D is a hands-on, apprentice-oriented game, which is easily learned by watching other friendly, helpful companions play, and thus find yourself eager to jump in. This is how I learned to play. I did not learn by having someone thrust a rulebook at me and tell me to read it cover to cover. That is something I did after I learned to play, not before. I am, therefore, hesitant to make any promises that this introduction, or any other part of this wiki, will teach the reader "how to play."
Furthermore, I resist any notion that the purpose of this introduction, or this wiki, is to ensure than anyone has "fun." Fun is something we make ourselves; a thing that we learn how to do, when we are inspired by our own thoughts and creativity. Any and every activity that encourages imagination and problem-solving has the potential to be enormous fun for some people, and a dreary bore for others. My goal is to inspire and encourage through the building of glistening, crystal palaces constructed of musing, reasoning and vision. How much fun that readers and users have within the walls of these palaces is none of my affair.
How to Use This Wiki
Whatever edition that dungeon masters use for their game worlds, there will always arise situations that haven't been seen before by the DM or by the players. D&D is a game of innovation; and because it is, the creativity of millions of players will outstrip the paltry efforts of a few thousand game designers. No source can ever hope to foresee or solve the problems of every DM playing in a given weekend, to say nothing of 40 years of play. Sadly, the realities of this dearth are made worse in that most designers do little more than redesign the same wheels over and over, bringing nothing that is essentially new to the game.
This wiki cannot be comprehensive; each day, it will become a little more so, but this lowly host will pass away and turn to dust long before there is any hope that this wiki will help with every possible shortcoming in your game world. Still, what is found here in these pages is sure to be very different from the descriptions and approach that are found elsewhere on the internet. I know, because I've looked. I'm most definitely in another category as regards to my approach to D&D. And so, I can only offer this: that if you've looked elsewhere, and can't find what you want, your best chance to find out-of-the-box thinking is right here. Use the search engine. Best of luck.
And if you find you like my way of thinking, keep reading. My goal with this page is to eventually create an introduction that will enable the neophyte to find their way around the pages included here.
In the first years after Dungeons & Dragons came on the scene, the problem of how to explain what the game is and how it's played proved to be a conundrum. At the time, it was a game unlike any other — and though many tried hard to wrap the concept up in a neat and tidy package, it was clear that D&D in its grand complexity would defy a simple explanation. Over time, efforts to describe the game reliably were replaced with efforts to sell the game to newcomers, regardless of accuracy. An aggregate answer arose that D&D was essentially "make believe," a simplification that was instantly understood by all. Unfortunately, it was also a simplification that was dead wrong.
Make believe is a form of unstructured participation which seeks to express a child's whims and desires, almost entirely without restraint or any necessity to take problem solving into account. D&D is a staggeringly complex game in which structures and rules are fused delicately together. D&D is full of barriers and stumbling blocks that are deliberately put in place to frustrate a player's desires.
When a player comes to believe that all their fantasies are there to be fulfilled by the game, only to discover that they must first problem solve and depend upon the whim of a die, and not their own will, the consequence is that the player is made to feel cheated and misled. Rather than appreciating the game's rules, players learn to hate them. Having been told that D&D is a game of escape, they quickly resent every set-back, every expectation that they should solve problems, every moment in which they are expected to show patience. Being promised that D&D is about acting out their selfish wants, they soon begin to act out selfishly whenever those wants are momentarily denied.
As a DM, I do not run my game to fulfill the wishes of my players. I approach the game world as a difficult, dangerous, threatening place, which rewards risk and condemns entitlement. This is true regardless of the fantastic locations, strange creatures, magic items and treasures that are found along the way. Many books and pundits will praise D&D because it provides these things, like a smorgasbord just waiting for the player to come along and scoop them out in large heaps upon their plate. I praise D&D because it does not provide these things easily! Fantastic locations are sheer hell to reach and threatening besides. Strange creatures are not arranged like exhibits in a zoo — they are there to kill you if they can. Magic items are infuriatingly hard to find. And treasures ... these are in the hands of persons and beasts that will hold onto them until they are ripped from their cold, dead hands. The game world as a whole is not friendly; it is not a party; and it absolutely is not about players pretending that something is true just because they would have it so.
Yet that is the message that is sent throughout the game community. The result of that message has been the creation of petulant players who demand more and more of DMs, who feel less and less in control of their games ... and thus, less and less inclined to put up with constant wheedling, ultimatums and clamoring asks from players who expect to do nothing to get their bottle.
The Player's Part
Though often argued to the contrary, I hold that player characters are not the protagonists of a story. There is no "story," not as a predetermined narrative. The events that take place in the game are, and ought to be, a collection of moments like we experience in real life: things to do, places to go, problems to solve, ambitions to fulfill, all of it accomplished while traversing a winding, unexpected course to which meaning is assigned afterwards but which, in the moment, seems raw and incomprehensible. D&D ought to be about managing and enjoying the immediate, the here and now, with its hilarity, triumph, panic, desperate chance-taking and hope, peppered with relief and the appeal of something accomplished by one's own hand. A story may be diverting; it may have interesting ups and downs; but it is, essentially, only a story.
D&D permits the player to confront events as though they were really happening; the events may be fictional, but the emotions attached to those events are not! Players really can know fear and exaltation. They may not actually die, but they can feel the honest, prickly sensation of loss and remorse when it happens to their character. Much is made of the dangers of D&D being "too serious" ... yet no one suspends professional sports because a team wins and a hundred thousand fans flood out into the streets to light fires, turn over cars, break windows and start fights. D&D deserves to bring as much joy and bitterness as any other beloved activity, D&D deserves to bring as much joy and bitterness as any other beloved activity, no matter what damaged participants might not have the wherewithal to bear the strain of that relationship.
Therefore, upon creating their characters, players should not expect to be given directions or worksheets as to what is expected of them. They should have precisely what we have in life: a vague understanding of what we are able to do and a clear understanding that if we do not do it for ourselves, we won't survive. And one other thing: an appreciation that, unlike in real life, if our efforts and ambitions, and time spent, explode in our faces and leave us dead and dying on the battle field, it does not mean the end of our game play. We can brush ourselves off, value what we've learned, and try again.
Players must understand that their characters are expected to live. Everything else is up to them.
The DM's Part
The role of the dungeon master is to create a setting and to make that setting believable. The setting need not be like the real world; it need not be "like" anything. But it must have characteristics that enable to players to comprehend what they are seeing; and it must respond rationally and predictably to the players' actions. If these things are not the case, the players will be lost and unable to identify their place in the world; they will not have the courage to make choices, if the choices might randomly produce results that are completely suspect.
Believability speaks to the suspension of disbelief, a necessary condition of the players investing themselves into what's happening. We may suppose that a setting that is endlessly surreal would be expressive and "different" ... but in the long run, human beings are not prone to engaging with unreality on a constant and relentless level. We identify pleasure through the feedback we receive from our five senses. We understand what we can see, hear, touch, taste or smell. In the game world, none of these things can be directly offered; we call upon the player to imagine what they can see, hear or so on. They are able to do so by drawing upon their real life past experiences. We can see the mountain because we have seen them, or at least pictures of them. We can hear the sounds of a battle because we have witnessed roaring crowds, and heard the sound effects of battles as presented in films and documentaries. We know what ale tastes like; we imagine we know what a dead body smells like. But if we ask the players to imagine things with which they have NO experience, the return is a null program. The more unnatural the thing being described, no matter what scale it has, the less interested the players will be if they cannot imagine it.
Additionally, we all share knowledge about real things. This makes it possible for us to share our impressions and make plans about how to approach or manage those things. Things that are exhaustively chimerical and made-up produce wildly varying images and ideas in the players' minds. Instead of everyone feeling a sense of awe, we get instead a drawn-out process of needing to stop and correct, and address again the hard-to-comprehend elements of the fantasy. This only produces shortages in communication, confusing the players and sabotaging the game's momentum. Something profound, that can be instantly understood, is far more impressive than something utterly amazing and yet incomprehensible.
Prediction will underlie every action made by the players. They will forever make attempts to do something, hoping that their attempt produces the result they expect. As players are humans, this is how they have learned to overcome every difficulty and task they've faced through their lives. If we circumvent this predictability, we will certainly cause the players to hesitate before taking any action. The result will be endless player resistance to every risk — and perceived risks will multiply and drown the player with immobility. Point to a DM who complains that, "The players won't do anything," and we can be sure the DM has taught them that doing anything only results in completely random, unpredictable and therefore undesirable results. Players learn that it is better to sit and wait than to move boldly forward.
The DM must, therefore seek to create a setting where the players can move about freely, where their day-to-day choices result in wholly foreseeable consequences. The players must be encouraged to know when they are taking a risk; they should be able to recognize when they are safe and when they are not — even in the midst of a battle, when all hell is raging about them. When the DM controls the pace of events and referees the action, this principle of cause and effect must be perfectly clear in his or her mind. If the DM cannot adhere to it, then neither will the players.
The Die's Part
Dungeons & Dragons is a game played with dice. Throughout game play, players will imagine their characters doing all sorts of difficult and dangerous things. These actions incorporate "risk" into the game; and everything about surviving D&D is about managing this risk. Each time a player makes a decision to put themselves in jeopardy — and to a lesser extent, their material wealth or their reputation — we want the player to understand that success will always be an uncertain, and therefore a threatening prospect. Characters may improve their odds through bettering themselves over time. A character's chances may improve with planning and innovation. Players understand that, among their numbers, some characters will have better odds than others, and therefore are picked as the best candidates to make the attempt. But there is always that nagging uncertainty that the dice may fall against them — and that even the best characters have a bad day.
Uncertainty and doubt produces stress, which in turn produces a combination of hormones associated with our biological "fight or flight" response. We may be sitting around a comfortable table, laughing and joking; the danger may not be real, but only the perceived consequence of a game action. Our bodies, however, do not care. When we feel stress, the amygdala, the area of the brain related to emotional processing, begins sending signals to the hypothalamus. This regulates our metabolic processes and the autonomic nervous system, releasing hormones into our systems without waiting to ask permission of the conscious brain. Soon, our blood pressure rises, we begin to sweat, our stomach muscles tighten and we grow anxious and full of energy. Our body is getting us ready to fight whatever comes at us, even though it's only a thing in our imagination. This is where the game gets exciting. This is where voices rise, and players invest in the outcome of a simple roll of the die.
It must be understood that our autonomic systems do not understand that D&D is "just a game." Our physical bodies think the danger is real; and our bodies pump us full of chemicals in order to handle that reality. This is how players invest fully and intensively into the game's play — because to our physical selves, this isn't a game. Not any more.
Many players dislike the experience of awakening their hypothalamus. These players strive to avoid taking anything seriously; they deliberately downplay the importance of the dice or intentionally disregard the value of their player character. They court indifference about the proceedings and the emotions of others. Their voices resound throughout the community, asking to change the game to something where dice are not used. I vehemently disagree with this approach. The rules of this wiki exist, wherever possible, to promote risk and the courting of stress in players. I believe the game is at its best when we as humans feel so completely immersed in game play that we're encouraged to shout our emotions out loud, as we are exhilarated and intoxicated to our utmost.
Imagination is productive. The process of thinking takes in the information we receive from our senses, repurposing and combining what we've experienced into what we choose to believe. In this manner, imagination has the power to produce forms; and these forms may be turned over in our minds as though they are real things; indeed, they are just as real to us as places we have never been, history we were not alive to experience and languages we cannot understand. "Real" only describes something as it appears to us; even a table or a chair demands intuition and our faith that they DO exist — and yet, no matter how many times we "prove" the existence of either, they remain nothing more than suppositions, dependent on our receptivity. Immanuel Kant explores this far better than I, so I leave the remainder of this argument to him.
The product is that my game world is as real to me as this chair and this table, because I am as able to empirically define the former in my mind as easily as I can either of the latter. The game world has places; it has people; it possesses a superfluity of cultures and conflicts, joy, suffering, greed, self-sacrifice and the daily humdrum of millions who seek daily to bring food from hand to mouth. Most importantly, I do not think of this game world in grand sweeping vistas, but in street corners, back rooms, docks, hallways and empty crossroads. When my players venture into this setting, setting out from this place to that, my imagination forms the fields they walk between, the stiles of the fences they follow, the wheel tracks of previous travellers, the good woman who nods, the mounted patrol commander that scowls ... even the bluebird that sings on a branch for a moment before flitting away. What I tell my players as they walk along involves as much or as little detail as I choose to give; but every detail is there, at hand, when I want if, if I should think the setting needs one more element to give it life.
These components do not arise easily. Like everything we learn from our senses, they must be gathered, tailored, stuffed in boxes and bags and empty drawers, and ultimately catalogued and ordered so that they can be plucked out, on demand, by my thought process. To build a world of imagination, we must first experience THE world of our senses, deliberately, conscientiously and passionately, with every opportunity at hand. We must seek and study, read and relate with others, listen, discuss, propose, argue, impose on others to answer our questions and, most of all, rest back and think constantly about what's been found. If I haven't given sufficient thought to bluebirds, I cannot very well remember to have one alight near the players and sing.
Playing with Imagination
D&D is a responsive game. As players, we hear the DM describe a scene or an action, and we are expected to respond to what we learn with an action of our own. We're told that there is a room and we say that we walk across it. We're told a monster reaches for his sword and we say we're drawing our own. We cannot walk across the room until we know it is there; we would not draw our weapon except that the monster did first. In the moment we respond, we take in an idea that we have heard and transform that, in the moment, into a real response to the imaginary situation. It happens so quickly that we forget it is imaginary. Our answer comes as instantly as if we were there, actually crossing a room; actually drawing our sword.
This rapidity occurs because we are ready — and we're ready because we anticipate what the DM is about to say before he says it. We've come down a hall and through a door and into this room ... and now as we're crossing the room, we're reaching for the doorknob and thinking past our present and into our future. We are doing the same thing when we draw our sword. It is not the sword being reached for that we cherish. It is the anticipation of what comes next! The fight, the dice we'll roll, the certainty of our success, the fleeting glimmer that we may not. And as each step is taken in the game's process, there's always another description and our next response. When the play goes swimmingly, the descriptions and responses come so fast that we forget ourselves, the danger, important things that we should remember, but we won't until after it's done ... we enter a state of flow, or being in the zone, that dazzling engagement where the real world falls away. We feel an immense personal control over what's happening, our enormous potential to succeed and a merging of action and awareness. It is what every player wants from the game, not the least because it is a momentary thrill we don't encounter daily.
Gaining this thrill, however, depends on the DM describing descriptions and actions just so. The players must be willed to respond. If, as dungeon masters, we describe a room and the players just stand there; if we say the monster reaches for his sword and they just stand there — then there is none of what I've described above. Nothing is transformed; there is no anticipation. The players are painfully rooted in the now, and the "now" ain't that great.
What to do, then? Is it just how the room is described? Is it the words we use to say the sword is drawn? Do we stand up and work ourselves into a lather, in the hopes that our excitement will be infectious? If only we had some strategy we could rely upon; some ordered set of tools in our belt that we could reach for when things don't seem to be going well, when we need an idea or a burst of that experiencing of our world that we could fold into our imaginations reflexively, so easily and quickly that we didn't have time to question the fluidity and certainty of our choice to describe this room in just this way, or relate that dangerous moment of someone doing something, all as naturally as falling off a log. It would be really great if we didn't have to think about it. If the inventiveness we need right now was just "there."
This wiki is an effort to build exactly the tool set so dearly hoped for. It is a vehicle for every thought, every place, every sort of thing that flies or crawls. It is a catalogue into which data and experience is entered into daily, so that over much time it becomes a self-rationalizing imaginative mind, urging further introduction of raw information by demanding that this empty link be answered, or that half-considered page be expanded. Hopefully, so much content can be imagined and invented that much of it is "forgotten," to be rediscovered upon a later date with clear head and fresh eyes, so that it will startle us into an unexpected epiphany. The wiki isn't meant to be organized; it is meant to function as a data cloud, inspiring unforeseen inter-relationships. It is what a wiki allows.