Of Dice and Men by David M Ewalt is a rather slim volume of non-fiction. Within its covers are a brief history of the development of Dungeons & Dragons and the early years of TSR. These anecdotal histories are intercut with a biographical account of the authorís experience with the game, descriptions of his current life as a born-again gamer, a retelling of the events of his current Pathfinder campaign along with a brief interlude about LARPing. I mentioned this was a short book, right? As such none of these elements is fully detailed enough for satisfactory reading.
As a historical essay, Ewalt has uncovered a great deal of the earliest days of the granddaddy of RPGs, along with the men and the company behind that game. Itís presented in a casual style, as though he was relating his findings in an informal seminar. Itís a very enjoyable read. At the same time the Old School Renaissance crowd is engaged in a concerted effort to uncover as much of Gary and Dave's original gaming styles as possible, this volume serves as an excellent companion to those interviews. The narrative does fall apart in the early nineties after Gygax's departure from TSR. The crumbling of the brand under Lorraine Williams isnít even mentioned; the acquisition by Wizards of the Coast, 3rd Edition and the Open Gaming License are mentioned in one sentence. 4E does not merit even a footnote. Perhaps those two decades could have gotten some more attention at the expense of the other sections of the book.
Those other sections being really dull. Ewalt goes into some detail about his introduction to the hobby and his reintegration into it as an adult, which does build some context for the historical elements of the game. However, he already opened the book with a brief rundown of wargaming and roleplaying's roots in wargaming. And then thereís a chapter about LARPing, because any journalist making a foray into our hobby has to sidetrack into explaining live-action roleplay. I donít know why everyone does this, even though I've done it myself. LARP doesnít have much to do with Dungeons & Dragons and this book doesnít mention any other style of gaming or even other tabletop brands. So this just feels even more out of place.
Bookending each chapter are fictionalized recaps of Ewalt's various Pathfinder campaigns. There are three different stories to follow, none of them is a complete narrative arc, but one of them still manages to bring along a giant pile of backstory for readers to wade through. There are hundreds of blogs out there for this sort of thing that I am not reading right now. I don't want this from my non-fiction, either. An example of play is one thing, this is another; and that thing is kinda masturbatory.
One last complaint is that the author doesn't seem to have a clear idea of his audience. He goes out of his way to annotate gamer-specific jargon for better explanation. Except that most of the time the footnote introduces more jargon by copy-pasting text from the d20 system reference document, often unnecessarily. No one really needs a footnote to understand what a fireball spell does, and explaining that it is a third level evocation spell that does a number of six-sided dice based on character level just confuses non-gamers and exasperates veterans.
David Ewalt has set out to do at least three things with one book, and has succeeded at none of them. This is made worse by the fact that it advertises itself for one thing and then includes a number of unwanted things for reasons that the reader can't really fathom. I do not recommend this for anyone.
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