“Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It” by David M. Ewalt; Scribner (288 pages, $26).
Published in 2013 in celebration of D&D’s 5th Edition, David Ewalt’s Of Dice and Men is a deep dive into the classic fantasy tabletop roleplaying game and cultural phenomena that is known as Dungeons & Dragons.
In Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), players form an adventuring party to explore grand fantasy worlds together, embark on epic quests, loot lost treasures, and level up. The Dungeon Master (DM) is the game’s referee and storyteller. There’s no winning or losing in D&D, at least, not in the conventional way. D&D focuses on storytelling, the dice rolls just help you along. Everything is the player’s decision, from how they look, to how they act, to what happens next. The collective creativity in a D&D game builds stories that players will tell again and again—ranging from the stuff of legend to absurd incidents that’ll make them laugh years later.
From D&D’s creation in 1974 by American boardgame designers Ernest Gary Gygax and David Arneson, to the copyright battles with J.R.R. Tolkien and the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, to the game’s rise to fame and influence in modern pop culture, books, video games, and films, Ewalt has done a fantastic job encapsulating the gargantuan cultural impact of Dungeons & Dragons into a single book of just under 300 pages.
Along the way, Ewalt happily regales the reader with his own experiences playing Dungeons & Dragons from both his childhood as well as his ongoing man-child years. Of Dice and Men easily doubles as a memoir of Ewalt’s time with D&D. I greatly enjoyed hearing about his epic and amusing D&D adventures, both those that occurred in the game and those that occurred in real life because of the game.
My one critique of the book would be that while Ewalt does a generally excellent job of summarizing the many topics of D&D’s long and complicated history, there are some missed opportunities for flushing out the more complex or controversial topics that would have been of great interest to long time D&D players and outsiders alike. My guess is that since the book was published as a celebration of D&D’s latest edition of rulebooks, the author wished to paint the game in a positive light overall without dragging out any of D&D’s skeletons in the closet for discussion, such as how Gary Gygax lost the creative rights to his own creation.
That being said, Of Dice and Men is still a great read full of fun facts you probably never knew! Ewalt’s writing style is easy on the eyes and flows well from topic to topic. Whether you’ve played D&D for years or never rolled dice in your life, this book remains a great overview of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as a study of how this simple game of dice and imagination wonderfully infects every form of media it touches.
David M. Ewalt is an award-winning journalist and author widely regarded as an expert on the intersection of technology and gaming. He currently works as the Editor in Chief of Gizmodo, a news website for design, technology, science and science fiction. Previously he was an editor at The Wall Street Journal and Reuters, and has written for a wide range of media outlets including The Wall Street Journal and New York magazine.
Donavon Anderson is a reference library assistant at May Memorial Library. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.