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July Reader's Den: "Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It" by David Ewalt Part 2
Welcome back to the Reader's Den for part two of Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It by David M. Ewalt. Dungeons & Dragons is one of those games that garner many reactions. There are those that still play and scream its praises to the mountaintops, those who remember it with fondness as a game from their youth, and still those who decry it as a game for social misfits, nerds, and Devil worshipers. No other non-electronic based game seems to bring up so many different emotions from so many different people. I am sure every gamer has been asked ‘What is so important about Dungeons & Dragons?’, “What is “D&D?” or “Why do people still play this game?” While Of Dice and Men is essentially a history of Dungeons and Dragons it also seeks to explain gaming to the non-gamer or the curious. In this post I will discuss his roleplaying chapters; while in the next one I will discuss the history of Dungeons and Dragons and its founders.
As a child I played Dungeons & Dragons, watched the cartoon, and also bought the requisite toys that followed it. Later on I read the books, and still read many of the novels that were part of the multifarious universes that were part of it and even I am like “This might take a few minutes”. It is not just a group of people making up a character, fight monsters, and eat snacks. This is why I like this book so much Mr. Ewalt's book was not some new experience to me; it was more like reading some new information on a subject one already enjoys, but the author does a great job of explaining concepts to the non-(role) player. If a reader feels he won't understand this game, let me tell you that won’t be the case after reading this book.
The first chapter starts off with an explanation of what role playing is, character creation, and other basics of what makes a D&D Campaign what it is, while interspersing a campaign that he is playing known as “Vampire World”. This is something I found rather enjoyable because it not only gives a new reader a better view of what fantasy “role playing” entails, but doesn’t talk down to the ‘newbie’. It was a good idea to sprinkle this experience throughout the book, giving the reader a very interesting breadcrumb trail to follow. Ewalt not only explains what different terms (Summon Monster, Sunburst) mean, but also what playing D&D is like. This is no easy feat as D&D is, at its most basic, a mix of bonding, game night, problem solving, storytelling, and goofing off all at the same time. Ewalt seems to do a good job though.
He also has chapters on the psychology of why people play these types of games, and documents his own journey as a player both from his youth and his eventual return to the game in his adulthood. It was interesting to see it from his point of view, especially his admitting that it became an addiction to the point that if his game was canceled he got restless during the week. Lastly we see him LARP (Live Action Role Play), and get over his prejudice toward this type of gaming by getting involved in Otherworld, a LARPING weekend adventure. Ewalt visits a D&D style convention for the next generation known as “D&D” Next, and visits the house that “D&D” started in. The end is like “coming home” when Ewalt goes to Gary Con, A D&D convention created after founder Gary Gygax's death in 2008, where players and creators come to honor him and play the games they love. He plays a game with the Founder's son Ernie as well as another on the original ping pong table of David Arneson. You can feel the love the author has for the game and his catharsis at being that close to the founders.
All and all I found these chapters to be a good introduction to the game and why people play it. Whether you are new to the game, just coming back, or an experienced player, all players will find something they can relate to.