In Of Dice and Men, (Scribner, 2013) David Ewalt, a contributing editor and blogger for Forbes magazine, presents the reader with two books in one. The first is a history of the people and games that led to the creation of Dungeons and Dragons, (D&D) as well as the businesses that brought the game to market. The second is a personal history of his love of the game and his quest to better understand those people and games behind the game.
Ewalt provides a good overview of the diverse elements that provided the foundation from which Dungeons and Dragons was developed: miniature war games, the formation of various Midwest-based gaming groups and their fan base newsletters in the 1960s, Swords and Sorcery fantasy fiction, and the early conventions where people who shared these interests could meet.
The major players, David Arneson and Gary Gygax, are given cursory biographies before moving into the circumstances that saw them collaborate on what was to become the first sellable set of D&D rules. Ewalt then chronicles the successes and failures of their initial company and loose partnership, along with the business and politicking behind the rise and fall of TSR in all its various incarnations.
In order to better understand the gaming that led to D&D, Ewalt attends Historicon, a miniature wargaming convention, where he plays Napoleon’s Battles and Boot Camp. Other personal experiences include a weekend at OtherWorld, a Live Action Role Playing adventure, and attending GaryCon where he plays a four-hour D&D session led by Gary Gygax’s son, Ernie Gygax. His writings on D&D attracted the attention of the current purveyors of Dungeons and Dragons, Wizards of the Coast, who invited him to Washington state to take part in an early preview of D&D Next, the gaming system that became Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.
Much of the book is given to Ewalt’s own history playing D&D (his cover byline includes the parenthetical “Level-Fifteen Cleric”) and his narratives of his gaming group’s Adventures. These stories appear throughout the book, occasionally taking up entire chapters. Anyone who has played D&D will appreciate not only the Dungeon Master running the group but Ewalt’s storytelling and the cleverness of his Adventuring companions.
Ewalt’s book is a fine overview of the history of people and games that preceded Dungeons and Dragons, the fandom culture that continues to surround the game, and a first-hand look into why the game is still popular today.