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Dungeons & Dragons (D&D, DnD, or AD&D for the advanced edition) is a fantasy tabletop roleplaying game (RPG) published by Wizards of the Coast. The original Dungeons & Dragons, designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, was first published in January 1974 by Gygax's company, Tactical Studies Rules (TSR). Originally derived from tabletop wargames, this publication is generally regarded as the beginning of modern roleplaying games and, by extension, the roleplaying game industry. The game also achieved minor notoriety, particularly in the 1980s, due to exploitation of its imagery by many fundamentalists for the purpose of scaring parents of players; they alleged that the game promoted, among other things, devil worship, witchcraft, suicide, and murder.
Players of D&D invent fictitious characters who embark upon imaginary adventures in which they battle many kinds of fictional monsters, gather treasure, and earn experience points as the game progresses. The game departed from traditional wargaming by assigning each player a specific character to play. It also developed the concept of a Dungeon Master (DM) or Game Master (GM), the storyteller and referee responsible for creating the fictional setting of the game, moderating the actions of the players' characters, and playing the supporting cast of non-player characters.
In 1977, the development of D&D was split between the original (boxed) edition and a more rule-oriented version, called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D). In 1989, a second edition of AD&D was released, which included both changes to the core game mechanics (for players) and a change in presentation (for the game's public image). In 1997, TSR was saved from bankruptcy by being purchased by Wizard of the Coast, and three years later (2000) a third edition of AD&D was released. At the same time, the "basic" version of the game was discontinued, so the word "advanced" was dropped from the game's title, resulting in the name "Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition". Three years after that (in July 2003) a smaller revision to the rules was released, one that did not change core mechanics but did significantly affect game balance. This revision was called Dungeons & Dragons v.3.5 (or D&D 3.5), at which point the original third edition acquired the analogous label "D&D 3.0". The current version of the game, Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, was released in June 2008.
Several computer games have been published based on the D&D rules. The first of these were the "gold box" titles of the 1980s (based on the original edition of AD&D), with more recent games including some of the most popular and critically acclaimed computer role-playing games of their time: Baldur's Gate, Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, Planescape: Torment, and Icewind Dale (all based on the second edition of AD&D). Neverwinter Nights is based on the the first release of the third edition rules, while the sequel, Neverwinter Nights 2 is based on D&D 3.5.
As of 2004, Dungeons & Dragons remains the best-known and best-selling RPG, with an estimated 20 million players worldwide and over US$1 billion in book and equipment sales (according to a BBC news report). Products branded Dungeons & Dragons made up over fifty percent of the RPG products sold in 2002. Outside of the gaming community, D&D has become a metonym used to refer to RPGs in general.