Book Report: ‘Of Dice and Men: The story of Dungeons and Dragons and the people who play it’

of-dice-and-men-coverIn “Of Dice and Men,” David Ewalt does a great job of explaining D&D to the uninitiated, and he also nails why the mother of all tabletop RPGs is so important to so many.

Part history of the game and part personal journey, “Of Dice and Men” would be the perfect thing to hand to an in-law or friend that just doesn’t get your hobby.

It’s a great read, and Ewalt’s exploration of his own love of the game helps inform the history. It’s not just about the ins and outs of how Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson made the game, but it’s about why D&D captured the attention of so many.

Despite all that, the book does feel a touch incomplete, and it would greatly benefit from a sequel or an expanded second edition.

In the book, Ewalt dives head-first into the origins of the RPG. He goes all the way back to centuries-old tactical games and even tells tales of trying his hand at hefty historical wargaming.

Passages of the book describing the earliest games of D&D feel like Ewalt was sitting at Gygax’s kitchen table. He nabs interviews with the most unlikely people: early players of the game who are now just regular folks. They’re not famous, but they were important to the game.

But in later chapters, it started to lose me.

There are huge holes where descriptions of 3rd, 3.5 and 4th edition should be. At a point when D&D’s parent company, TSR, was acquired by an outside party, he pretty much stops the historical narrative. The book also barely has a chance to explore 5th edition, which at the time of the book’s publication was still being playtested.

(Ewalt promises in the afterword that he wrote about this info and it’s on his website, but I can’t find it anywhere.)

There’s also not nearly enough in the book about the “satanic panic” that accompanied the game’s rise in popularity. There’s a wealth of information on the topic, but the book doesn’t talk about it much. (As someone who still regularly hears, “Isn’t that game satanic?,” I was expecting to read more.)

An entire chapter is spent exploring LARP, live-action roleplaying, an activity that is related to D&D but didn’t really feel like it fit in the narrative.

I expected “Of Dice and Men” to be something of a complete history of D&D. And it is, but only to a point.

And despite all that, it’s still a great read.

When Ewalt began to explore his own relationship with the game, at first I thought it was a little strange. As he wrote, I realized it’s Ewalt’s very personal relationship with D&D might be the most important aspect of the book.

There’s a reason why we plunk down hundreds of dollars for books and miniatures or spend dozens of hours meticulously crafting new campaigns.

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