Review: Of Dice and Men

D&D is a cultural phenomenon that has lasted decades, survived the sophistication of video games and artificial intelligence, rival RPGs and even the Satanic Panic. It’s goneDice and Men from nerd pastime to geek chic to sociological interest, and now its history has been documented in the wonderful Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It, a nostalgic romp through the author’s (and my) childhood.

Ewalt, a senior editor at Forbes and self-described “writer, gamer, geek,” has done a great service to anyone who, with sweaty palms, has had to make a campaign-defining saving throw (or at least knows what that means). His smooth writing style and flair for narrative pacing makes the story of this greatest of games one of general interest, even if you’ve never tossed the 20-sided die.

There are two key threads running through the book. The first, of course, is the history of D&D, from its precursors through its growing pains, its competitors and controversies, and finally its legacy as second- and third-generation dungeon crawlers have been drawn to the table. The second thread is Ewalt’s personal tale of rekindling his love for D&D in adulthood.

While both storylines are interesting, the content of the historical narrative is a bit more compelling, particularly due to the big personality of its founder, Gary Gygax. But the personal narrative is most affecting because it traces a familiar thread: Imaginative loner boy discovers D&D; becomes hooked; discovers women; hangs up the broad sword and chainmail; rediscovers D&D; realizes you can take the halfling out of the dungeon, but you can’t take the dungeon out of the halfling.

Ewalt and I have a lot in common.

The book has been described as being similar to Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, but I disagree with that description. Economics are addressed, but this book is truly about passion, not money. Which is fitting. At the end of every D&D campaign comes the distribution of treasure that the group has acquired, but this is not the reason for playing. The true reward is the quest to find and slay the dragon guarding that treasure.

The only downside to the book is the fantasy sequences in which Ewalt recounts fictional events from his weekly campaigns. Unfortunately, these feel forced and, for me at least, didn’t really add much to the narrative. I feel comfortable in critiquing this element of the book as I have done this myself.

But aside from that, this is an amazing book, a perfect summer read and hopefully the first of many books from Ewalt.

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