Welcome back to the Reader's Den for part three of Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It by David M. Ewalt. In Part two we discussed the chapters on Roleplaying. In this post we discuss the history of Dungeons & Dragons itself.
D&D did not just appear out of nowhere and Ewalt starts by going through the evolution of role playing games. Who would of thought that chess would be one of the early ancestors of the game, or that the first modern war game started during the Napoleonic wars in what would later become modern Germany. WarGames are historical battles, such as Gettysburg or Waterloo, played in miniature and board. He shows how war games came to be so popular, and even shows us an actual war game convention that he plays in, and explains the rules for.
From this tradition we see how the founders started on their journey to create Dungeons & Dragons. The founders were Dave Arneson, Donald Kaye and Gary Gygax. All were WarGamers and two had started role playing games before D&D.. Arneson created Blackmoor and Gyax the game Chainmail. From this merging of the two would TSR Inc (Tactical Studies Rules) come about. TSR inc is the company that created Dungeons & Dragons. It was very interesting to see how the company developed and the relationship between Gygax and Arneson, including the eventual leaving of Arneson, and the lawsuits that followed.
The book goes through the '80s when TSR flourished, the creation of its many products, and the eventual panics and backlashes that accompanied its great success. Later we learn about Gygax's Hollywood adventure and later ouster. By the mid '80s TSR was under management and was beginning to move into the video game market to the late '90s when its money problems lead it to being sold to Wizards of the Coast, the creators of the Magic: the Gathering card game and later to Hasbro. I remember when TSR became the company Wizards of the Coast, and it was interesting to read how it happened. I liked how the author didn't glorify anybody or make anyone a villain and just stated the facts as he discovered them. An example would be Gygax zealously defending “D&D” copyrights when he had been sued by the Tolkein estate for copyright infringement. That's why in the game one doesn’t say “Hobbit”, but instead “Halfling”.
There are things that I wish had been explained in greater detail. It would have been nice to learn more about the Wizard of the Coast/Hasbro years and I would have liked more information about the Satanic Panic of the '80s, and the movie Mazes and Monsters (which I found out starred a young Tom Hanks in his first lead role). I also would have liked to see more about some of their games such as Greyhawk, Dragonlance, and the Forgotten Realm campaigns. These were some of the bigger game worlds and should have been explored more thoroughly. Also I wish he had explored later versions after 3.0. All in all, this book is a fun and fast read that anyone interested in the subject will enjoy, or a good point of entry for those just beginning their D&D journey.