Of Dice and Men, a Book Review

The day I met Gimbur, I wasn't looking for adventure. I was enjoying a hearty ale and minding my own brew. I wasn't looking for trouble. In my defense, I didn't start the brawl, not really. It was Bjorn. He always did think he was bard when he was deep in his cups. It was the joke that did it. How many dwarfs does it take to kill a dragon?*… He never saw the mailed fist that struck his gorget.**

Every character has a story and in Dungeon & Dragons the chances are that story starts in a tavern. Even if you've never played D&D;, you've probably heard of it. It's not a board game, though there are specific rules like Monopoly or Scrabble; it's drastically different. It takes place in fantasy world created by its players, but inspired by centuries of storytelling.

The setting is conceived in advance by the dungeon master, or DM. It's his job to create the scenario-such as a dragon has been raiding nearby villages, and the players have to find the lair, slay the dragon, and retrieve the treasure.

The DM sketches out the details, like making a map, deciding where the traps are, and what monsters are lurking in the darkness. This gives the other players an unknown world to explore making each gaming session different from the last.

Most players don't sit down for a single, self-contained playing session, but instead join a campaign, with the same people who use the same characters, building on past actions. Many of these campaigns go on for months or even years.

Players are both audience and author, and play is cooperative, not competitive. Frodo Baggins needed help, and so will you. Players work within the narrative created by the DM, but rewrite the story with their actions. The result is game play that is more open-ended and can become more like writing a screenplay or novel.

Literature and books–such as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy-inspired the first role-playing games. Players control characters in a world that exists in their collective imagination. There can be heroic quests, knights, wizards, and monsters lurking in the dark. There's a promise of adventure, treasure, and a good story

There's rarely a winner in D&D; campaign. Most campaigns never last long enough to reach their dramatic conclusion. It's more about the journey than the destination. It's hard to explain how it works, and even harder to explain just how much fun it can be, but David M. Ewalt, has done a masterful job with his new book, Of Dice and Men.

David began playing D&D; when he was ten years old and uses his first person experience to give a sharp analysis of D&Ds; impact. Before computer games, before the internet, and before social media, this game influenced one of the first nerd subcultures.

Of Dice and Men is blend of history, journalism, and memoir. David traces the history of the game's roots from the medieval battlefields of Europe, to chess, miniature war games, and the games' influence on the modern video game industry.

In the same way Tolkien's fiction inspired the first role-playing games, D&D; provided a model for the first video games–having a character that has resources, encounters obstacles, and develops over time all came from D&D.; According to Ian Bogost, a professor of media studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology, "Almost everyone I know in the game design field played Dungeons & Dragons."

Great characters, interesting situations, plots twists, and storytelling–it's the storytelling that continues to draw people to the game, and keeps them coming back, even years later. A good campaign is communal storytelling at its finest, and you tell it together. Now, you are in a tavern…

*Dwarfs can't kill a dragon. The need a halfling to do it for them…

** A piece of armor protecting the throat.

Roll the die? Or a role to die for? Comment and let me know…

 

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