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Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It Paperback – September 9, 2014
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Gaming expert and Forbes senior editor Ewalt freely admits at the outset of this fascinating expedition into the world of Dungeons & Dragons that aficionados of the role-playing game don’t exactly enjoy a stellar reputation in the larger public eye. Geeks and math fanatics are often viewed as D&D’s main adherents, and the game’s subculture is still tainted by false stories from the 1980s linking it to suicide and Satanism. Yet, despite the current market rage of Xbox and multiplayer Internet games, D&D remains immensely popular, with fans numbering in the tens of millions. Drawing on his journalistic skill and lifelong passion for D&D, Ewalt walks readers through the game’s eclectic rules, sheds light on its surprising origins, and introduces some of its quirky celebrities. From the author’s own years of experience designing D&D scenarios, he also reveals some choice secrets behind becoming a Dungeon Master. Even audiences normally indifferent to D&D’s charms will find Ewalt’s overview witty and absorbing, and the game’s devotees will discover much here to revel in and quibble with. --Carl Hays --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Dungeons & Dragons has been a huge part of my life. The book sheds light on the world of [D&D co-creator] Gary Gygax, and it also lets the reader into the mind of somebody questioning how cool this game is.” (Vin Diesel)
“An engaging book that fuses history and memoir. [Ewalt] tracks D&D's turbulent rise, fall and survival, from its heyday in the 1980s… to the 21st century.” (The Wall Street Journal)
“David Ewalt’s wit, insight and infectious love of D&D make him the perfect guide to the most significant game of the twentieth century. The book is a joy to read.” (Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist)
“It's almost impossible to explain how Dungeons & Dragons works, and harder still to explain how it feels. This book comes as close as any I've ever read.” (Chuck Klosterman, author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs and I Wear the Black Hat)
“David Ewalt writes about the world of fantasy role-playing junkies with intelligence, dexterity, and even wisdom. (I am unable to speak to his strength, constitution, or charisma.)” (Ken Jennings, author of Maphead and Because I Said So!)
“Long before I made my mark in software, I was a pretty good Dungeon Master, and D&D has played a significant part in my life. In addition to covering much of the deep history of the game that I never knew, Of Dice and Men brought back tons of fond memories, and damned if it didn’t make me pull some dusty old rulebooks off the shelf at home.” (John Carmack, co-founder of Id Software)
"A fascinating history of D&D written by an author who authentically loves the game. Whether you know what d20 means or not you will love this book!" (Felicia Day, actress, producer, creator of The Guild and Geek & Sundry)
"The best book I've read since the Monster Manual." (David X. Cohen, executive producer of Futurama)
"A fascinating window into the storied history of fantasy pen and paper gaming. A must-read for anyone curious about the genre." (Dr. Ray Muzyka, co-founder of BioWare)
“David Ewalt offers a genial history of Dungeons and Dragons and its impact on his own geek life…. A highly readable account of a game that seized the imagination of a generation and maintains its grip three decades later.” (Publishers Weekly)
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Now, the rules in that very first edition weren't very good, and I think within six months we had come up with our own ways of handling many aspects of the game, but the very concept of D&D was ground breaking. A year or two later I had moved on to different, similar games and then to college, leaving the realm of role-playing games behind me, but the fond memories of those sessions have remained with me. Even now, 40 years later, I still look for games that will give me a taste of that experience.
David Ewalt's cleverly titled and engagingly written book tells his own, personal story with D&D. It comes from what I think is an experience similar to my own, but certainly one that constitutes a deeper and considerably more long-lasting relationship with the game than I ever had.
The book suggests itself to be a history of D&D, and it is, of sorts. You will learn how the game came about and certainly something about the dominate personalities involved in its creation: Dave Arneson and most notably, Gary Gygax, the essential man in the creation of this wing of the gaming hobby. (I appreciate that while Ewalt has respect and a little awe for Gygax, he doesn't steer away from some of the questionable decisions Gygax made while at the helm of TSR, the company formed to produce D&D and other games.) You will also learn something about the legal, financial and focus troubles that beset TSR once the game took off, as a bunch of gamers sought to manage a growing business; it’s some interesting stuff.
While Ewalt takes a look the public relations nightmare that was the “Satanic panic”, so named because a number of social crusaders falsely associated playing D&D with devil-worship and suicide by despondent gamers—a scenario exploited by novelist Rona Jaffe in her novel “Monster and Mazes”, later made into an execrable TV movie starring Tom Hanks of all people. This is an interesting phenomenon, but Ewalt’s look is rather cursory and I felt the topic deserved more. Similarly, once TSR falls into bankruptcy and is bought out by Wizards of the Coasts, Ewalt’s narrative of the game’s history drops off, even though, arguably, D&D has enjoyed its best days under the Wizards, rather than TSR, banner. Ewalt acknowledges this in the 2014 afterward to the paperback edition. It’s not a major failing, but the book does seem to trail off a bit at the end because of it.
In summary, what this book is not is a comprehensive history of D&D over the last forty years. If you are looking for details on the lawsuits and business problems that plagued TSR in the early days, or comparisons between the various editions of the game, you may need to look elsewhere. What the book is, is the history of one person’s involvement in the game, what interested him about the game and what he got out of playing, how he sought to improve his abilities and experience with the game and those he plays it with. (Ewalt interweaves narrative passages drawn from a campaign he was a player in, which nicely illustrate how the mechanics on the game translate into a collective story in the minds of the players and dungeon master.)
And as memoir of Ewalt’s time with D&D, Of Dice and Men does quite well. I enjoyed his adventures, both in the game and in real life, and I think those of who have had a passing acquaintance with +3 swords, saving throws and umber hulks will enjoy this book.
Excellent history. Ewalt clearly did impeccable research, interviewing a lot of people, and all the big names of D&D are in here. He begins his tale long before D&D and even Chainmail, so it’s very thorough.
Unfortunately he spends too much of the book retelling his own exploits as a player in campaigns, and anecdotes. This is fine if you genuinely have no experience or knowledge of how a roleplaying game works, but for those diehards among us, this gets old very fast and I ended up skipping all these bits.
Be advised that 20% of this book is an overly detailed index. That’s a lot of wasted space. He also doesn’t tell the whole story of Wizards of the Coast, instead foisting us off to a web link. Lazy. I’d rather have had that story than the index, because as I said, his retelling of the actual history is extremely well done. I’d also have liked to see more about other TSR games, like the classic Star Frontiers.
I also wish he’d included photographs. That would have been fantastic.
All in all, a great history, but padded in my opinion, especially considering the ebook price.
It's been many years and as a guy on the downhill side of my 30s with a job and family, a world that was so far away came back with a beautiful clarity. Many people in reviews nitpick this or that but leaving aside all the particularities having a visit with my younger, imagination laden self was the totality that kept me in lock step with Ewalt from start to finish.