Clerics, fighters, rangers, rogues, and wizards all have long histories in the D&D game.
Throughout the Tyranny of Dragons storyline, we’ve been following the online comic adventures of five heroes—representatives of their factions, but also of five key classes to the game. In today’s D&D Alumni, we take a brief look back at the history of these classes, and how they’ve evolved into their current inception in the Player’s Handbook.
The fighters of D&D can trace their genealogy back to the heroes and super heroes of the Chainmail (1971) miniatures game, who were “well-known knights, leaders of army contingents, and similar men”. However fighters more obviously appeared in their modern form as the “fighting men” of OD&D (1974)—who became heroes at 4th level and super heroes at 8th.
From there, D&D fighters embarked on a long road to balance their power levels with their magical brethren. When they picked up the name “fighters” in AD&D (1977-1979), they also got multiple attacks a round, going as high as two attacks per round at 13th level; while Unearthed Arcana (1985) introduced weapon mastery and specialization for fighters only. Meanwhile new subclasses like the ranger, the paladin, the cavalier, and the barbarian were proliferating—and usually overshadowing the original fighter class. AD&D 2e (1989) was more of the same, except the fighter was temporarily a member of the warrior category.
The 21st century has seen the biggest changes to fighters. With D&D 3e (2000) their damage potential went through the roof, helped in part by the game’s new feats, which made high-level fighters truly dangerous for perhaps the first time. Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords (2006) made fighters even more interesting by giving them evocative special attacks, an idea that also underlay D&D 4e (2008).
In D&D 5e (2014), fighters now lie somewhere between earlier editions. The base class has more class features than early incarnations, while players who want to have more tactical options can play the Battle Master archetype and select different fighting maneuvers each turn.
Like fighters, wizards originated with Chainmail (1971). They appear there in a surprisingly mature form, already possessing well-known spells like fireball, lightning bolt, phantasmal force, protection from evil, cloudkill, and anti-magic shell. Seers, magicians, warlocks, and sorcerers also appear as less powerful wizard variants.
When the wizard returned in OD&D (1974), he was now called the magic-user, but all the wizardly variants from Chainmail appear as level titles: seer at 2nd level, magician at 6th, warlock at 8th, sorcerer at 9th, and wizard at 11th. Magic-users now also had to memorize their spells, then lost them when casting. Those primeval OD&D wizards got just six levels of spells; they’d have to wait for Supplement I: Greyhawk (1975) to learn higher level spells like power word: kill, time stop, and wish.
AD&D (1977-1979) kept magic-users largely the same, though the illusionist subclass from The Strategic Review #4 (Winter 1975) also appeared. 2nd Edition (1989) saw magic-users reclassified as mages, who were a member of the wizard category—which once more became their official name. More importantly, mages could now specialize in specific types of magic, changing the special rules for illusionists into a much more general framework that allowed for eight types of magicians. When Dark Sun (1991) was published a few years later, it introduced even more variety with defilers and preservers who cast magic in connection with the world (parasitically or cooperatively).
More variants appeared in D&D 3e (2000), which introduced new sorts of magic-users who cast their spells in different ways: the core rules brought in sorcerers, who didn’t need to memorize spells; while Complete Arcane (2004) premiered warlocks, who could cast spell-like invocations at will. These ideas created a foundation for D&D 4e (2008), which allowed wizards to cast many of their spells round after round—with more powerful spells limited to fewer uses.
More recently, D&D 5e (2014) brought back the fire-and-forget mage of old with a few compromises: wizards can recover a few spells more quickly through the study of the spellbooks in the middle of day and at high levels can cast a few spells constantly. Meanwhile, fans of other styles of casting can still play the newest versions of the sorcerer and the warlock.