Patrick Recommends: Pop-Culture Spotlight: Dungeons & Dragons at the Peabody Institute of Danvers

First published in 1974, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is the predecessor to electronic role-playing games like Diablo, Skyrim, World of Warcraft, and more. In a game of D&D one person takes the role of the Dungeon Master, acting as storyteller and referee. Characters and monsters controlled by the Dungeon Master are called Non-Player Characters or NPCs for short. The remaining participants control one or more Player Characters, or PCs. In practice this functions like a choose your own adventure story, with the PCs acting as protagonists.

To run a Dungeons & Dragons game three books are typically needed: the Players Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual. The Peabody Institute of Danvers has a selection of Dungeons & Dragons books spanning several editions.

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition

Released in the summer of 2000, Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition represented a major departure from earlier versions. Complex charts and dice rolls were replaced by the D20 core mechanic, in which the player rolls a twenty sided die to determine success or failure. D&D 3rd edition was published under the Open Game License, effectively making the rules open source. This allowed other companies to utilize the D20 mechanic in their games and supplements.

For the Dungeon Master, the 3rd edition Dungeon Master’s Guide provides rules and guidelines for running a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Significant changes included the addition of NPC classes and upgrading monsters with class levels. Players received a boost with the 3rd edition Player’s Handbook. Rather than being limited to simple archetypes there was now a variety of options to customize their characters.

What I love about Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition

Four words: Monsters with Class levels. A challenge I found running earlier version of Dungeons & Dragons was surprising players. These were folks who knew the books better than I did at times, especially the rules for monsters. With 3rd edition I was able to turn familiar creatures into an unknown quantity. Are the players being attacked by a goblin rabble, or highly trained goblin rogues and fighters?

The 3rd Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual II, and Player’s Handbook are available at the Peabody Institute of Danvers, or through interlibrary loan.

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game

When Wizards of the Coast made the jump from D&D 3rd edition to 4th, they angered customers who had invested in the previous edition. The move also threatened companies producing third party supplements under the Open Game License. While D&D 4th edition included a variant of the OGL, it was far more restrictive. In response Piazo Publishing produced the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. An updated version of the D&D 3rd edition rules that was compatible with prior third party material.

The Pathfinder Core Rulebook contains most of the rules needed to run a game. Monsters are not included in the Core Rulebook, but most D20 Monster Manuals should suffice. In addition, Piazo hosts an online Pathfinder Reference Document, containing rules for their core books and supplements.

What I love about the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game

Most roleplaying games require only one core book to run or play, with Dungeons & Dragons as one of the few exceptions. I appreciated that Pathfinder kept the majority of core rules in one book.

The Pathfinder Core Rulebook is available at the Peabody Institute of Danvers, or through interlibrary loan.

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition

Just as its predecessor represented a major change in how the game functioned, Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition was another animal entirely. This version was heavily criticized for having a massive multiplayer online feel to it. There was a greater emphasis on tactical movement, making the use of battle maps and miniatures a near necessity. Out of the various editions I have run and played over the years, D&D 4th edition has been my favorite.

In attempt to balance character classes the 4th edition magic system was completely overhauled. Moving from the Vancian fire and forget magic system, to one where all classes gained a set of powers. Wizards and clerics had their spells, fighters and rogues had exploits. No longer would spellcasting classes outshine their martial counterparts.

What I love about Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition

Overall I felt 4th Edition addressed many of the issues that existed in earlier versions of the game. There were significant balance issues between classes that used spells and those who did not. At low levels a wizard was vulnerable and limited in their options. Even at middling levels they were a glass cannon. Once they had eight or nine levels under their belt, wizards became one of the most powerful classes in the game. Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition fixed this by giving the character classes an even progression in power level. The spells and special abilities from 3rd edition were turned into a series of powers that characters could use each combat round, once per combat, or once per day. A 1st level wizard was no longer useless after casting their one spell for the day, nor overpowered once they hit 10th level.

The 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s guide, Monster Manual, and Player’s Handbook are available at the Peabody Institute of Danvers, or through interlibrary loan.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

In response to feedback on Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition, Wizards of the Coast came out with an edition that harkened back to earlier versions of the game. This new iteration kept some of the streamlined rules of its predecessor. It also brought back a variant of the 3rd edition magic system, one geared to even the playing field between spellcasters and martial classes. Finally, Wizards of the Coast published 5th edition under a less restrictive license. You can find the 5th edition System Reference Document here, along with support for self-publishing your own adventures.

What I love about Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

The random generation tables in the Dungeon Master’s Guide are comedy gold. I spent a good hour playing around with the villain generation table. You can either build these antagonists from the ground up or come up with random combinations, such as a plotting their ascension to godhood through gossip and slander.

The 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s guide, Monster Manual, and Player’s Handbook are available at the Peabody Institute of Danvers, or through interlibrary loan.

If you are looking for a place to play Dungeons & Dragons, or an area for quiet study the Peabody Institute of Danvers has several study rooms available. For more information or to reserve a room you can e-mail the reference department at, or give the library a call at 978-774-0554.