I know there are quite a few editions of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), each of which has loads of rules, source, and splat books.

But how do I know which edition the books I'm looking at are for?

A lot of the time the ones in hobby stores are wrapped up, or you'll buy from elsewhere that doesn't say in the description, and the covers just say D&D.

Is there a way to identify which edition of D&D the books I'm buying are for, either from the cover or some description in the book?

For the purposes of this question I'm asking about core rule books only. Eg. PHB, MM, and DMG. Hopefully the answer to this can be carried over to other books.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Related: Do the D&D 5e source books specify which edition they are? \$\endgroup\$
    – Adeptus
    Commented Nov 15, 2018 at 0:39
  • 12
    \$\begingroup\$ This is one of those posts that makes me wish we could bounty questions. A while back (early 2000s, maybe?) I found myself looking at the rpg shelf in a big-box bookstore and thought to myself "I haven't played in a decade, maybe I'll get back into D&D." So I bought a PHB, an MM, and some book for fighters. Nothing made sense, and it was only a decade later that I had that same thought, got into 5e, and eventually realized that I'd purchased a mix of 3, 3.5, and 4 unwittingly. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 16:14
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ One meta on the topicality of the question, and another. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 2:21
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Related: How do you tell if a D&D book is 3.0 or 3.5? And a very similar question for World of Darkness: Is there an easy way to know what edition a World of Darkness sourcebook is? \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented May 30, 2020 at 23:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is late and doesn't merit its own answer, but since someone bumped this and brought it to my attention- specifically in the case of the hobby stores, at least one person working there should always be able to answer you if it's wrapped up - politely make it clear that a sale depends on the information and they'll find a way to answer you. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 4:50

2 Answers 2


A quick, visual guide to the editions, by logo:

[note: there is no effort made here to explain or compare editions: please see Q/A like https://rpg.stackexchange.com/q/13212/23970 or https://rpg.stackexchange.com/q/336/23970 for such discussion.]

The "Dungeons & Dragons" logo has changed pretty distinctively among editions and is pretty-consistently used within an edition, and so provides a good starting point. (Of course there are exceptions, most currently the "special edition" covers for 5e.)

Pictured below are photos of the most common logo or two for each edition, both on the books' spines and front covers.


The "spine" logo also appears on the lower-left part of most covers, and both these logos are in the corresponding places on the Starter Set box.

5e also released a special edition black cover with distinctive artwork. Notably, the stylized dragon ampersand (&) in the logo is the same as the original 5e books. The black covers do not have the spine artwork on the cover. The PHB is red, the MM light blue, and the DMG dark purple.

Black cover spine tops

Black cover top fronts


The font of 4e's logo roughly resembles the 3e/3.5e logo (see below) but without the horizontal sword image in between the two words. It also has a stylized dragon ampersand, again similar to 3e/3.5e/5e, but it does look distinctly different from the other editions (the "dragon's wing" is more prominent than in the other editions' ampersands).

3.5e, 3e

3.0/3.5 used the same logo; the logo varied a bit in execution, but is fundamentally unchanged from book to book. Pictured below are two variations, spines and covers.

Books for 3.5 will say "v3.5" both on the spine and on the cover. The (few) examples I own have the "v3.5" at the bottom of the spine and in the lower part of the cover, well away from the main logo.

Books for 3e just have the logo, no version-marker.


The logo as presented in full-color (corebooks, for example) and foil. Look how nicely it proclaims itself to be 2e!


Two fairly different logos; best I can surmise it's the "when" of the book's design that determines the logo used. (The newer logo establishing the now-iconic ampersand-with-dragon's-breath!) No edition number specified, since there was no need!

Various Basic

[picture needed: click [edit] if you can help!]


[picture needed: click [edit] if you can help!]

  • \$\begingroup\$ Please tell me that the books actually state what edition they are for somewhere in either introduction, cover or anywhere in the content. While the logos here are certainly distinguishable, relying simply on the logo to convey that info seems... Argh. \$\endgroup\$
    – HellSaint
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 19:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not in any consistent place or in a clear way. As far as I know, the only place the 5e PHB actually says what edition it is, is on the back cover where it advertises the "fifth edition Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual", and the deluxe box set version doesn't even have that. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 11, 2021 at 21:58

The D&D logo or rear blurb is your best guide

Look at the logo at the top of the front cover. In short, a small red "D&D" logo means 5th edition, a large red "Dungeons & Dragons" logo means 4th edition, "Dungeons & Dragons" with a sword through it is 3rd edition. A product code near the barcode beginning with a single letter also indicates 5th edition.

Many books also explicitly state their edition on the rear blurb.

More detailed list

  • D&D 5th edition: The core rulebooks have "D&D" printed at the top in red, followed by the name of the book in white. The text at the rear of the books will say "fifth edition". This is generally true for other books of the edition, except for the special cover versions.
  • D&D 4th edition: The core rulebooks say "Dungeons & Dragons" at the top in red, followed by the book title in a smaller font on a blue horizontal banner. The rear of the book will note that they are for use with 4th edition. There was also an Essentials product line, which is marked Essentials on the front cover. Many 4e books also have an advertisement for the D&D Insider service on the back.
  • D&D 3rd edition: The core rulebooks and most sourcebooks have a "Dungeons & Dragons" logo drawn upon a brass plate with a horizontal sword through it. The books tend to be styled as if a physical book inlaid with gems and such (interestingly, this isn't CG; they made physical models and photographed them), although not all books are styled this way (e.g. Draconomicon uses full-page art). The core rulebooks for D&D 3.5 will say "v.3.5" on the front.
  • AD&D 2e: Will clearly say "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition" on the front cover. The late-90s book have an iconic black border. The 2000s special reprints have a unique cover.
  • AD&D 1e: Will say "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons", but will not note the edition, as second edition had not yet been invented. You are unlikely to encounter these still on sale.
  • OD&D, Basic, Expert, etc: You are unlikely to see physical copies of these on sale. They're usually softcover books published by TSR rather than Wizards. (Note that some D&D 3rd edition books still had a product code beginning with TSR even though they were published by Wizards.)

The only ambiguous books you are likely to encounter are the special edition versions of 5th edition books, which eschew the usual branding for special artwork; these can be clearly identified by the product ID codes listed near the barcode, which begin with a letter rather than a number.

When shopping online, looking at the product release date will also help identify the books. For the core rulebooks that's 2000 (3e), 2003 (3.5), 2008 (4e) and 2014 (5e).

  • 17
    \$\begingroup\$ If possible, example images might help clarify your descriptions for each of the editions' distinguishing marks. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Nov 15, 2018 at 1:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's not precisely a link to images, but you can see them here: drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/44/Wizards-of-the-Coast \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 7:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ What about books with AD&D logo that were released way after AD&D 2nd Edition was released already? Let's say Greyhawk Lost Tomb Series, but there's many more too. In fact it's a bloody mess in logos between editions 1 and 2. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nec Xelos
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 3:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ You missed the release date. How can a book 5+ years into the 2nd Edition be of 1st Edition? Was the release schedule that messy back in the day? I mean making modules for dead edition instead of supporting newer one? Or was "2nd" word dropped from the logo for some reason? \$\endgroup\$
    – Nec Xelos
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 3:20

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