Book Review: Of Dice & Men by David M. Ewalt

Book Review: Of Dice & Men by David M. Ewalt

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In a way, I’m surprised I bothered to read this book.

I haven’t really played role-playing games since the 80’s, when I was in high school. But in the last year, my teenage son had expressed an interest in playing them just to give it a try. So, we tried a 4th Edition D&D game with a friend and, despite the earnest effort on the part of our awesome DM, it wasn’t for my son or me. A long time and little action. Yawn-tastic. Later, at the urging of the same trusted and great friend, I played an ‘indie RPG’ and it was also not at all for me. We have, however, had fun playing Descent (well, the one time) and have actually had a really enjoyable time playing Mice & Mystics from Plaid Hat Games with our friend and his elementary school age son. Since my son thinks of our friend’s son as a kind of little brother, he’s having fun spending time with him even if the M&M game is more geared to the younger crowd.

All this RPG-like activity led me to pick up Ewalt’s book, Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It, and I’d hoped for a good history of the game’s origin, which I knew little about. I knew Gary Gygax was the man and then he wasn’t the man so much, that Wizards of the Coast swallowed up TSR when they were in dire straits, only to sell the whole shebang to Hasbro a couple of years later. But that’s about it.

The book, which is ridiculously cheap on Amazon.com.
The book, which is ridiculously cheap on Amazon.com.

Unfortunately, Ewalt’s book is decidedly gonzo (I shouldn’t say this in a negative way since I tend towards the same) and is much more about him than about the game. Sure, you get a serviceable account of the early days of TSR/D&D that worked well enough when it stayed on point. Sadly, the book is dominated more by Ewalt’s geek-guilt, professions of love for the game, and tiresome ‘fantasy interludes’ written in italics that document the D&D game he’s playing in. I think there’s an ancient joke about how much fun it is to hear about another person’s RPG games and reading about them is even worse. Tracy Hickman he is not and when I read the title of the book, I did not expect so much of it to be devoted to this doofus and his adventures in desperately finding D&D games when he travels, his brief exploration of LARPs, and his eventual attempt to DM a game himself.

When the book sticks to the history and the fun encounters the author has when he makes a few pilgrimages to D&D’s historical locations (Lake Geneva, Gary Con, and some other things I can’t recall), it’s good and pretty breezy. But I had to push hard to get through the chapters when he went on and on about his game, his goofy obsession with it, and shame over being such a dork. It’s 2015, dude, D&D dorks are everywhere. Your geek guilt just seems silly now.

In the end, I found myself skipping over the hard-to-read italicized adventures and stuck to the history. I’d advise readers interested in learning about the history of the game to do the same. Helpfully, Ewalt suggests some more on-point books at the end of the tome and I’m toying with the idea of reading one of those but not right now. I think I’ve had enough D&D for the time being and it’s back to the board game table with me.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Of Dice & Men by David M. Ewalt

  1. Hi – I’d send you a personal message but afraid I couldn’t find a contact address.

    I was wondering whether you and your son might be interested in Neon Sanctum? DIsclaimer: it’s my game, and we’ve just launched the Kickstarter, but it’s an RPG which uses cards instead of character sheets, and so works more like a card game. We’ve had lots of feedback that it’s much more accessible for new players than traditional RPGs.

    If you’re interested, I’d be more than happy to send you a review copy, or I could play it with you on Tabletop Simulator.

    1. Adam – Sorry for the delay. This review was a fluke. I’m mostly a board gamer and RPGs aren’t really my thing. Good luck with your game.

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