Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons and Dragons and the People Who Play It by David M. Ewalt

Of Dice and Men is a fine book. It’s ok. It doesn’t do much explicitly wrong. It just doesn’t do what it does explicitly right… or, more to the point, in-depth. Part of this is my fault, I suppose. My expectations.

My history with D&D is limited. I played some as a kid and teen but wasn’t hard-core into it. I read more of the novels and listened to my brother and friends play (I was more into the storytelling) and played the old SSI PC games. I was aware of TSR and had some of their other (non-RPG) games and was annoyed when I heard they got bought up by Wizards of the Coast, but I didn’t know the details (I assumed, incorrectly, that Magic: The Gathering got so big they could just buy up D&D… which is more-or-less true, but I didn’t realize how poorly D&D was doing at the time… I chalked it up to the 800 pound newbie muscling into the old guard’s terrain and cockily buying them).

That said, I am fully aware of RPGs and RPG culture (most of it).

So this book is partly a history of D&D… the people who made it and the business history of TSR. This is interesting but not very in-depth. There’s a great book to be written with deeper detail about this topic, but this book was a bit too surface-level. The writer is also an admitted D&D fanatic (it’s an important part of the second aspect of the book which I’ll talk about in a second) so there’s a dearth of objective analysis. The writer is clearly too smitten by the game, the game designers, and the company to get a really good view of how things went down. It’s fun on a fanboy geekgasm level, but left me wanting from a business/history book.

The second aspect of the book is the explanation of RPGs and RPG culture. This was sometimes interesting but I’m not entirely sure how many people reading this book wouldn’t be aware of the majority of the analysis and discussion of the topic. Even if I’m wrong about that, I was personally too aware and found these chapters a little tedious.

There was also a lack of in-depth coverage of the various iterations of D&D and, to me, the more interesting angle of how D&D evolved and changed over the years. And how gamers reacted. I am aware that players were largely annoyed by 4th Edition and the book covers that… but it’s still just surface level and only related to discussion of 5th Edition (which kinda-sorta felt like an advertisement for it).

It feels like, after Gygax left, the coverage of the company went into auto-pilot and skimmed the next decade or two.

Overall, if you have any interest in this topic and you aren’t already familiar with the history of D&D and TSR, then this is a decent read. If you are already very familiar with these topics, though, then it can probably be skipped. If you aren’t familiar with what D&D and RPGs are all about, then it’s an excellent primer (though I’d recommend finding a D&D group in the area and seeing if you can join up if you are really curious).

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