Of Dice And Men written by David M. Ewalt is the story of Dungeons and Dragons, how it came to be, the creators who worked together to shape it, and the millions of people players who have gathered around tables across the globe to have adventures ever since it came into their lives. I don’t usually read nonfiction, but something about this book caught my eye. I was so excited by it I actually reserved a copy at Barnes and Noble and bought it the day after my birthday. A few weeks later I found myself sitting at my new desk at my first real job, and I decided I’d see if I could read a respectable book like an adult.
For those of you who fear a heavy tome stuffed with dates, names, and footnotes you don’t need to make a saving throw against intimidation. Ewalt relates the history of Dungeons and Dragons like a GM relaying the details of a magical kingdom shrouded in mystery and magic. Highly entertaining excerpts from a campaign he took part in with his own gaming group set in a futuristic fantasy setting where vampires vie for supremacy with humans add an ongoing sense of adventure to the book. Reading about their adventures from the point of view of his character Weslocke, a level-fifteen cleric, is exciting and represents many of the things I have come to love about this game. Even the footnotes are filled with wonderful little bits of information I found myself darting to the bottom of each page to read.
I really don’t want to given anything about the story away, but one part was especially important to me so I’ll try to share a portion without spoiling it. Towards the end of the book Ewalt finds himself playing Dungeon! with David Megarry, the man who created the game in 1972. Nearly everyone whose rolled a D20 knows who Gary Gygax is, but Megarry never became rich or famous for his efforts. He did however create a game that people have been playing for decades and continue to love. It was also one of my first steps into the world of roleplaying games. As a child I found a copy of Dungeon! on a toy store shelf and begged my mother to get it for me one year while we were on vacation. I was fascinated by the character cards, the molded plastic figures, and everything else I found within that box. I spent years making up stories for the characters and playing each of them by myself as they made their way through dungeon after dungeon. That copy of Dungeon! is still on my gaming shelf, except for the wizard’s figure which I keep on my bedside table. I never knew about David Megarry, but now I feel like he’s been a lifelong friend and I wouldn’t known his name if it weren’t for this book.
What is Greyhawk? What is Blackmoor? Who is David Arneson? What is a yeth hound? What is a grognard? These are all questions I couldn’t have answered before reading Of Dice And Men, and now that I have I feel like a wise master has imparted some secret wisdom onto me.
In the end finishing Of Dice And Men left me with the same bittersweet feeling as ending a campaign. With the players weary but victorious, the monsters slain, the treasure safely stowed in a bag of holding, and all of the snacks consumed there’s nothing left to do but pack up your dice and head home dreaming of your next adventure.