Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt

Title: Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It
Author: David M. Ewalt
Publisher: Scribner
Expected Release: August 20, 2013
Source: publisher (Edelweiss)

Synopsis (from Amazon):

The Hobbit meets Moneyball in this definitive book on Dungeons & Dragons—from its origins and rise to cultural prominence to the continued effects on popular culture today.

Even if you’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons, you probably know someone who has: The game has had a profound influence on our culture. Released in 1974—decades before the Internet and social media—Dungeons & Dragons is one of the original ultimate nerd subcultures, and is still revered by more than thirty million fans. Now, the authoritative history and magic of the game is revealed by an award-winning journalist and life-long dungeon master.

From its origins on the battlefields of ancient Europe, through the hysteria that linked it to satanic rituals and teen suicides, and to its apotheosis as father of the modern video game industry, Of Dice and Men recounts the development of a game played by some of the most fascinating people in the world. Chronicling the surprising history of D&D’s origins (one largely unknown even to hardcore players) while examining the game’s profound impact, Ewalt weaves laser-sharp subculture analysis with his own present-day gaming experiences. An enticing blend of history, journalism, narrative, and memoir, Of Dice and Men sheds light on America’s most popular (and widely misunderstood) form of collaborative entertainment.

David Ewalt has written this history of Dungeons & Dragons for a mainstream audience – a point he explains with humor at the start of the book, to ward off any nitpicking by hardcore fans. He stresses the fun of cooperative (as opposed to competitive) gaming, the allure of tapping into the collective imagination and having an open-ended and unlimited experience, and shows how RPGs can be a great way to make friends.

Ewalt also debunks some of the myths that keep people away from the game (for many years, myself included). He gives examples showing how D&D is not playacting, how gameplay is fairly normal with players taking turns, and how you aren’t “constrained to a standard medieval setting.”

Of Dice and Men is more than a history of D&D. It explores why people play games in the first place, their purpose, and what RPGs have in common with board or playground games. The book talks about how D&D influenced the evolution of future games, including video games. In many sections, the book reads like a memoir as Ewalt reminisces about his own gaming adventures.

I did feel bogged down by the historical miniatures war games and felt those sections could have been abbreviated a bit, but I realize it was important in order to show how RPGs have evolved, and how D&D came about.

Throughout the book Ewalt intersperses storylines of past games, as well as a sketch for a future game. Here he completely embraces his nerd side and displays it without embarrassment. I loved that.

I’m a fairly new RPGer. I was glad to see a shout-out to Traveller (the “most complete and most epic” sci-fi RPG), since MegaTraveller has been my introduction to the RPG world. I finished Of Dice and Men with a better understanding of role-playing games overall, as well as a deeper appreciation and respect for the work of our GM (game master).

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.

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