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Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It

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Here, there be dragons.

Ancient red dragons with 527 hit points, +44 to attack, and a 20d10 breath weapon, to be specific. In the world of fantasy role-playing, those numbers describe a winged serpent with immense strength and the ability to spit fire. There are few beasts more powerful - just like there are few games more important than Dungeons & Dragons.

Even if you’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons, you probably know someone who has: the game has had a profound influence on our culture. Released in 1974 - decades before the Internet and social media - Dungeons & Dragons inspired one of the original nerd subcultures, and is still revered by millions of fans around the world. Now the authoritative history and magic of the game are revealed by an award-winning journalist and lifelong D&D player.

In Of Dice and Men, David Ewalt recounts the development of Dungeons & Dragons from the game’s roots on the battlefields of ancient Europe, through the hysteria that linked it to satanic rituals and teen suicides, to its apotheosis as father of the modern video-game industry. As he chronicles the surprising history of the game’s origins (a history largely unknown even to hardcore players) and examines D&D’s profound impact, Ewalt weaves laser-sharp subculture analysis with his own present-day gaming experiences. An enticing blend of history, journalism, narrative, and memoir, Of Dice and Men sheds light on America’s most popular (and widely misunderstood) form of collaborative entertainment.

(P) 2013 Brilliance Audio, Inc.


First published August 20, 2013

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 735 reviews
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,145 reviews1,782 followers
January 14, 2019
So...what can I say here? Reading this book I had to do what most gamers do all the time (disagree with the writer's take on the "best version of D&D [Dungeons and Dragons]). That said throughout the book I identified with the sentiments and thoughts presented. I found myself nostalgic about the games and groups I'd participated in, both as Game Master (Dungeon Master) and player.

I "discovered" D&D (from here on just think Dungeons and Dragons when you see D&D) around 1978. I bought the "Basic" boxed set. But as with most adults I/we quickly moved on to AD&D (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons). I was the one who got the books supplied the dice and designed the games. Over the next several years my group bought their own books, and we adventured together once a week (at least, sometimes more often).

I also lived through the period of time he describes where D&D became "anathema" and was blamed for everything from juvenile delinquency and juvenile suicide to bird flu. I am now as many of you know a Christian Pastor. At that time I wasn't...and our local minister pronounced from the podium that, "If you are playing Dungeons and Dragons you're sinning!"

For a time I gave it up to stay in good standing with my church.

I read Mazes and Monsters (a pathetic book by the way).

Eventually saner heads prevailed and the idea that playing a game would immediately seduce someone into "evil" or the "service of the devil" was recognized as, "possibly" an over reaction.

By the way I've played D&D with women (and girls) actual females...so there are those of the feminine sex who like the game, Big Bang Theory not withstanding. (The game I'm in now has 2 regular female players so...another myth exploded).

Anyway, if you've ever played an RPG (Role Playing Game) you'll probably like this book. We get a good (if not detailed) overview of how the game(s) we love came about. It also looks at the people behind the forming of those games. If you haven't played in an RPG (you poor schlub) but have friends or loved ones who have/do this may give you a little insight.

Like all gamers when I think back on the games I've participated in the things that happened are in a way (a harmless way people like when we enjoy a novel or movie only more so as the action takes place in our mind's eye...the theater of the mind so to speak)real to me. They become real to all of us. The struggle, the quest all are our own adventures.

That's why we end up sometimes boring "you" with accounts of a fight or a rescue that we are thrilled over and you're thinking, "yeah but it's just imagination and a bunch of dice rolls".

Look, read the book. I recommend it, it's good, enjoy.


The Paladin Alimer (me) looked down from the balcony and saw a group of Drow torturing a victim on a stone table. No wait! It's a stone alter and the evil Drow are sacrificing the victim.

These are obviously Drow wizards and very powerful. The Paladin's companions council caution but the Paladin points out that as a paladin he has no choice but to intervene.

The Paladin's player (me) asks the DM (Dungeon Master) if he sees clearly, the DM rolls dice out of sight and says the Paladin sees the sacrifice in progress.

The Wizard of the adventuring group casts Enlarge on the Paladin (effecting him and all his equipment) giving him a plus 2 on strength (bringing him to a 21 strength along with his +1 ring).

Tying off a good rope the Paladin drops into the midst of the evil magic users...

Only he discovers that he's been fooled by an illusion and the stone alter stands empty! There is a group of Drow wizards however. They are across the room waiting to ambush whoever would interfere.

Now it's time to role for initiative...three Drow will go before him. Struck by magic missiles the Paladin takes damage but not enough to slow him. The next two drow cast...but the Paladin makes both saving throws. Now it's the Paladin's turn and then the wizard still on the balcony above can go.

The Paladin standing across the room is too far away to draw his Holy Sword, charge across the floor and make an attack.

So he announces to the DM:

"I'm going to hurl the stone table". With his increased strength he can do this.

"Okay", the Dungeon Master replies. "Roll".

The Paladin's player (me) rolls his favorite D20 (Twenty sided dice). It's the one that has become legendary for rolling 20...

The die (or dice if you prefer to use dice for both plural and singular) comes up 20.

The group around the table sigh.

Now roll for critical hit the DM says...

The Paladin does...another 20. Two in a row! The group cheers!

The Dungeon Master rules that the stone table crashes into the group of Drow wizards and kills them all!

Now relate this to a none player and you get a blank look. Relate it to another player and he/she gets it. The battle felt real and that your idea to throw the table and the dice rolls made the character a hero. To the players it can be an exciting shared experience.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,863 reviews10.5k followers
July 22, 2013
Of Dice and Men is the story of Dungeons and Dragons and David M. Ewalt's lifetime of being a player.

I got this book from Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley.

David M. Ewalt and I have several things in common. Both of our first names start with the letter D. He writes for Forbes and I was in an infographic Forbes did about Goodreads. And both of us are tremendous nerds in that we've both been avid Dungeons and Dragons players.

Ewalt explores the history of Dungeons and Dragons, starting from its humble beginnings in Gary Gygax's basement, to becoming a million dollar a year company, to Gygax getting forced out and the company being sold out from under him. Ewalt also covers the evolution of the game itself, from the original edition all the way to its current incarnation, D&D Next.

More interesting to me, however, is David's account of his own gaming experiences, until he drifted away from the game only to come back as adult and find the old fires still burned, culminating in a pilgrimage to Lake Geneva and Gary Con, the memorial/convention dedicated to Gary Gygax. Separating the sections are material from his gaming sessions, frequently paralleling what topic is being discussed.

It's not all bags of holding and cloaks of displacement, however. Too much time is spent covering LARPing and not enough is told of D&D from 3.0 on. Other than that, I have no complaints. It was a pretty entertaining read and even a grognard like me learned a few things from the early days of Dungeons and Dragons. It brought back some fond memories of evenings drenched in nerd sweat, trying to slay some beast or other. 3.5 out of 5.
Profile Image for David.
44 reviews4 followers
August 1, 2013
Before I even get into my feelings, first: Dude, kudos for writing this book and getting it published. It's long overdue, and I've wanted to read this book for a long, long time, even before I knew it existed, and I ripped through it in a single sitting. Now, having said that...

This never entirely comes together as a proper history of the hobby or as a demimonde-joiner narrative like Word Freak, though of the two I think he executes the history part better. He also really never seems to shake off the sense that the hobby is ... shameful in some way, and if you're looking for a book to dispel stereotypes about gamers, this isn't it. Almost everyone here is a straight white male grognard, and there's a lot of only semi-joking prescriptivist stuff about what makes a "real" nerd. Female gamers, for example, show up exactly once, and kind of coincidentally, and the author's response is kind of like, "Whoa, wild, right?"
Profile Image for Hal Johnson.
Author 7 books132 followers
February 18, 2015
The fact that this book is selling better than Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World summarizes everything that’s wrong with publishing today.

Of Dice and Men isn’t so bad, but it’s breezy, light, and glib. It reads more like a magazine article than a book, including the smirking bits of “humor.” A sentence as annoying as “Paladins might make great CEOs, but you’re better off with a wizard in accounting, a couple of rogues on the sales team, and a bard handling marketing” comes one page after a comparison of different characters to “Michael Cera, Channing Tatum, and Kristen Stewart.” Do you see what Ewalt did there? Do such pop culture references make this book easier to understand, or do they just feel condescending?

I may be somewhat prejudiced here, because I absolutely hate books that feature an author’s “quest” intruding on the text; but I absolutely hated the parts about Ewalt’s personal journey, etc. I thought they intruded on the text; also they were annoying and boring and false. A little about your own campaign makes sense (and the postapocalyptic campaign Ewalt’s in sounds pretty boss), but by the time you get around to writing about how you told your girlfriend about your hobby I’m already asleep. You don’t need to go on a pilgrimage (to Lake Geneva) to become a dungeon master, and deciding you do feels like a writer’s contrivance. I don’t know who decided that books should include lengthy passages that read like blog posts about feelings and vacations, but I’m agin it.

There’s a chapter on wargaming conventions, but it’s not really researched; instead, it’s a personal essay on “the time I went to a wargaming convention,” which is lame. An understanding of wargaming—as an evolving set of rules and as a culture—is central to understanding the origin of D&D, and doing a cute write-up of the one Napoleonic battle you played in isn’t going to cut it.

Throughout the book there are novelistic “in-universe” passages describing the action of the game. They’re okay, except the one about the wargame, which is mornoic. Ewalt is controlling a regiment in this game, of course, but he chooses as his POV character a footsoldier, trapped in the middle of the ranks and unable to see the action. This gives Ewalt the opportunity to write some Stephen Crane-like chaotic battle passages, but it’s an absurdity. If the player in a wargame is assuming any game identity, it’s the identity of a commander. Ewalt is making all the choices for his forces’ actions; why would he take a viewpoint with no agency, who can’t even see what’s going on (while Ewalt has a godlike view of the board)? I don’t mean to harp on the wargaming section, but this is really dumb.

The book comes across as an uncomfortable blend of three books, none of which is very good. It’s a superficial history of D&D; it’s a personal journey (snooze); and it’s a Tom Wolfe-style sociological investigation. The last could be good, except it’s just not impressive enough to go play one wargame, or one LARP, or at one Gary Con. If I’m going to read a book about a reporter “going somewhere and doing something” (like so many books), it had better not be something that literally any American with fifty bucks to spare could do.

I guess as an extremely basic introduction to gaming this book is not so dumbed down that it’s completely useless (although does the “what is an RPG anyway?” section have to go one for 27 pages straight?). As an introduction to the history of gaming, it is very, very simplified, but not without value.

But overall I’m disappointed. I read Playing at the World earlier this year, and was blown away by its depth and breadth of research; for the early years of D&D it is the final word, and I do not envy whoever writes the book that competes with it. But I was excited for Dice and Men regardless, because I thought it might be able to do what Playing at the World did not: advance the narrative beyond the ’70s and offer a sociological perspective for gaming after it had moved from subculture to mainstream to subculture again.

What I got did not live up to my expectations. But it sure was breezy!
Profile Image for Chad.
7,306 reviews851 followers
January 6, 2022
Fun book on the history of D&D.
Profile Image for B Schrodinger.
305 reviews642 followers
August 25, 2013
Thanks to Netgalley and Scribner for an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Cross-posted from my blog The Periodic Table of Elephants

David Ewalt is a D&D fan. And like a significant portion of D&D fans he played a lot as a youth, gave it up as a young adult and has recently come back to the game. Combine these facts with a career as an award-winning journalist and it's not surprising that the product is a warm look at the culture of D&D combined with an accurate and unbiased look back at it's history and development.

Growing up I think I missed out on the initial D&D craze by 5 years, and by a continent. I'm curious and I have been looking at playing D&D when I have more time. Possibly when the new edition comes out. So I guess I am part of the ideal 'D&D virgin yet curious' audience.

I feel like I should contrast this book with another I read last year, Mark Barrowcliffe's 'The Elfish Gene'. This book was more of a personal memoir, with the attitude being that the author wasted his youth playing D&D and is a bitter about it. It did not portray the game in a positive light at all. Although there was a few chuckles and some connections with growing up a geek, it left a bitter taste in my mouth and did not inform me on why I should consider playing the game.

David Ewalt's book is less memoir, more journalism, with an enthusiastic pro-D&D message that is not fanatical. The most interesting parts were looking at the development of the game, the personalities of the developers and the dismal history of the companies formed around it. This information seems balanced and based upon a lot of interviews and documentation.

So, if you're like me, curious about D&D and would like a balanced view on it's history and how it is played this book is highly recommended.
Profile Image for André.
116 reviews12 followers
April 16, 2020
Came for the history of D&D, struggled through the author's stories of his own life/experiences with the game, but made it through anyway. The history stuff was really interesting! But also very stereotypically male-focused (with occasional & unfortunate asides of the "women! playing RPGs! Can you imagine!" and "maybe game conventions are full of middle-aged straight white dudes because they just like this sort of thing more??" variety). And, as to be expected, with those attitudes comes a similarly biased view of the game's history, which included one (1) mention of Gary Gygax's wife, and I think one single other mention of a woman (Lorraine Williams, who bought TSR out from Gygax in the 80s) and that's it. Several quotes from Tracy Hickman, but not a single mention of his co-writer & Dragonlance co-creator Margaret Weis? Even at the end of this book, in his descriptions of the then-upcoming 5th edition D&D, there's much talk about what Wizards of the Coast wanted to accomplish with the new edition, but nowhere is their greater focus and dedication to making the game more inclusive of women and people of colour.

Anyway. Some fun history, enmeshed in a painfully stereotypical and unself-aware straight white male viewpoint. There are probably better places to learn about this stuff.
Profile Image for Hudson.
181 reviews47 followers
July 13, 2015
Well this was a fun trip down memory lane! There was a time in my life when my biggest desire was for an awesome set of die which back in the early/mid 80's might run about $50, a fortune for me back then.

This was a fun read about the history of Dungeons and Dragons. The author interjects some scenes from one of his own D&D campaigns which I liked, but sometimes strayed a bit far from the subject and covers a lot of other role playing games which I didn't like. I was really able to identify with a lot of scenes in this book and not just from playing the game. I remember the big (and pathetic) scare about satanic influences and teen suicides. Had to laugh when I saw Tipper Gore had a hand in that.....she would be a prime mover of the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) which tried to ban heavy metal. I remember Dee Snyder from Twisted Sister testifying on Capitol Hill. Those guys would have HATED Marilyn Manson, haha.

All in all a solid read and highly recommended to former or current players.

Profile Image for Melissa Stacy.
Author 5 books191 followers
July 8, 2022
Published in 2013, "Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It," by David M. Ewalt, is a great introduction to the history of the tabletop game, D&D, as well as other activities that have been influenced by, and created from it, such as video games and Live Action Role-Playing/LARPing.

I enjoyed reading about the history of tabletop gaming so much that I'm giving the book five stars, though "Of Dice and Men" did have its drawbacks for me. I found myself really bored by the author's long sections of fictional narrative describing his own D&D campaigns, which are interspersed throughout the whole book. At first, I enjoyed seeing an example of the fun Ewalt has playing D&D. But by the halfway point of the book, I was over these passages, and they just kept appearing in the text, relentlessly, and it got really tiresome.

By the last third of the book, I gave myself permission to just skip those passages entirely, I was just so sick of them and found them so boring.

It was another reminder to me that any Role Playing Game/RPG is so absorbing to the players that they lose the ability to comprehend the stark fact that unless you are playing the game yourself or are extremely keen to follow that specific type of game-play, listening to the game narration quickly becomes outstandingly boring. Even the author of this book wasn't immune to the force of that reality-blocking enthusiasm for gaming.

I also felt a bit confused as to why Gary Gygax stayed on such a high pedestal of adoration. I mean, sure, I understand that Ewalt reveres D&D. But Gygax did a lot of questionable and outright shitty things in his life. My takeaway from the creation of D&D is overwhelmingly this one: Gygax and Arneson were both really greedy people with a ruthless addiction to money and status, both were happy to sue people and hurt people to benefit their own pockets. I wish Ewalt had touched on how those personality traits might have influenced gaming design in some way. But the information is just presented flatly, and then Ewalt shifts back into "I worship Gygax" mode.

I didn't mind the wonkiness, though. Ewalt consistently claims his status as a white male grognard aspiring to lifelong Dungeon Master status, and I think certain types of analysis were clearly beyond the ken of this book.

This was a good gaming research read. I'd recommend this book to anyone curious to learn more about D&D.

Five stars.
Profile Image for Josh.
58 reviews4 followers
November 7, 2013
Of Dice and Men sets out to be the definitive book on Dungeons & Dragons. Facing few if any serious competitors for the title, it succeeds somewhat. It also seeks to be a sympathetic ambassador, or bridge, to those who know little about the D&D world. With this, the book is probably more effective.

Its centerpiece is an offering of a quick paced history of the development of war gaming, role playing and it’s preeminent game, and the shockingly bizarre rise and fall of the company – TSR – that originated the hobby. Of Dice and Men is padded by first person short stories, which relate fictional characters to their gaming worlds as well as the often hard to describe role playing workings to outsiders. Additionally, the author drops in numerous personal concepts for future games and a tale of a struggle with his own inner role playing demons.

However, this multifaceted work, which should be appreciated for the innovative intent, constantly feels rushed and over stretched. The reader will be exposed to more topics than they expect, including discussions of live action role playing and chess basics, without getting the depth on other consequential topics in D&D’s history that they may have sought.
Profile Image for Dave.
490 reviews14 followers
January 27, 2022
Ewalt's love and passion for D & D easily goes up to 11 and beyond. This is a rather breezy read ( I have been gaming since 8th grade ) but there were things I didn't even know about the games history and how war gamer Dave Arneson drove down from Minnesota to Lake Geneva to meet Gygax and thus co-create Dungeons and Dragons in the 70's.
My two favorite quotes from the book were "There are a lot of people named David involved in this game, aren't there?" which made me chuckle. The author, Arneson, Dungeon! The board game creator David Megarry, David Wesley ( who came up with the brilliant idea to have a referee for the war games thus the origin of the DM in a way ), original Monster Manual artists David Trampier and Dave Sutherland, my friend Dave and myself to name a few Dave's who have D & D ties. The other quote was "For a chance to be one of the first people to see D & D 5.0, I'd fight a bugbear with a sling made from the elastic band of my own underpants".
Ewalt inserts stories from the home brew D & D campaign he plays in involving vampires while explaining game play throughout the book. He even makes a pilgrimage to Lake Geneva where the game was invented and a place I am quite familiar with as well.
I was kind of expecting a deeper dive into the game, its mechanics, and more crunchy bits than what Ewalt presented, but overall it was fun read.
Profile Image for Matthew.
381 reviews135 followers
June 5, 2015
Hilarious and entertaining history of Dungeons and Dragons, and the people who play the game around the world. I loved the author's personal inclusion of his own characters and games, brought back memories for me. Full review to come.
Profile Image for Stewart Tame.
2,280 reviews88 followers
November 25, 2018
This makes a nice companion volume to Shannon Applecline’s Designers & Dragons books. It's basically a closer look at the D&D history from those books, mixed with details about the history of wargames--from whence modern RPGs sprang--and larded with personal memoir. I found it quite enjoyable, but then, I’ve lived through a fair amount of this history, discovering D&D in the early 80's.

Ewalt is a bit too defensive about being branded a nerd--some trauma from his school days, perhaps?--but he's possibly playing it broadly for comic effect. He’s definitely done his homework though, and delivers an engrossing history of the game and the people who created it. He also does an excellent job of conveying just what it is that makes the game so appealing and enduring.

As a lifelong gamer, I was pretty much destined to like this, though I like to think that it will appeal to the casual reader as well. Recommended!
Profile Image for Tom.
223 reviews33 followers
August 31, 2013
This is a difficult book for me to review, because as a D&D nerd it's hard not to have a lot of Opinions on it. My inner geek found lots of nits to pick with this book: annoyance with the casual dismissals of the versions of the game the author didn't personally play (2nd and 4th edition, primarily) and a wish that the author would have dived deeper into some of the historical bits (the whys and hows of the 'satanic panic' of the 80's are skimmed) are chief among them. The post-Gygax years of TSR and the release of 2nd Edition or any setting the author hasn't played (Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Eberron) are also conspicuous by their absence.

So let me review this as a writer. From that perspective I also found this book somewhat lacking. The author centers the book around his own personal journey with tabletop roleplaying games. Chapters alternate between the history and business of the game and the author's own stories. The latter are interspersed with dramatic prose-style descriptions of games the he has played in. At first this is fun, but it quickly wears out its welcome to the point where I found myself skipping the endless paragraphs of italicized purple prose. What works well for, say, the read-aloud text for a D&D campaign is tiresome in a non-fiction book.

And while I understand the David Ewalt is using his personal experiences to make the topic accessible, it has the result of making him the main character of this book. And he's one I tired of quickly.

There are also the cliched 'lessons to be learned' from every single experience, something that really annoys me in non-fiction books. In life not every event is pregnant with meaning. Attempting to find personal revelation in everything just to fit a narrative feels extremely forced, and Ewalt does this in spades.

Finally, and I just have to get this out there, as a Fourth Edition player it's clear to me that the author has never so much as even skimmed a rulebook, and is going entirely off what he's heard and read elsewhere. Some of the things he was oohing and ahhing over about D&D Next had me rolling my eyes. "Yeah, you could do that in 4e dude." I will grant the author his personal preferences, but I think if you're going to write a book about the history of D&D you could pretend to have at least a modicum of objectivity.

Nerd wars aside, I did learn some things. Ewalt does a good job introducing us to the personalities involved in creating D&D between 1970 and 1980. Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, and many of the lesser known (but still important) players get full treatment.

For someone looking for a light, quick introduction to what Dungeons & Dragons is, how it got started, and why it's important to millions of people the world over, this book is probably worth picking up. But if you have more than a passing knowledge of the game, you can probably safely skip it.
Profile Image for Jamie.
Author 4 books158 followers
September 24, 2013
Most of this book is pretty much what you would expect from the subtitle: a history of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game and the people who created it, with an eye towards how pop culture entertainment borrowed many of its fundamental concepts from the game. David Ewalt actually layers on three stories, though, and the effect is pretty compelling even if you only have a passing interest in the topic.

The first layer is the history of the game itself, including its prehistory in the tabletop wargaming community, its origins as a Castle Blackwell adventure created by Dave Arneson and the role-playing game that Gary Gygax developed on top of all that. This flows seamlessly into the business biography of D&D publisher TSR, including its ups, downs, mismanagement, and successes up until the current day.

The second layer to the book is author Ewalt's own personal history with the game, starting with his childhood memories and then turning to how he became infatuated all over again in the course of conducting "research" for this book. It feels authentic, and I can certainly appreciate the perspective of a near middle age man who struggles with interests that are compelling but a bit on the fringe of acceptable by most mainstream standards.

The third layer, which is used sparingly, is an adventure log by Ewalt's character in one of his homebrew D&D campaigns. This is used early on to illustrate game concepts when the book is still in "explaining D&D" mode, but then further employed later on to draw dramatic parallels to the events of the first two layers. The tale of one game character's death and resurrection, for example, coincides with the story of how TSR finally succumbed to its marketplace-inflicted wounds but was reborn as a Wizards of the Coast property.

The only complaint I have about the book is that the history of Gygax and TSR ends kind of abruptly, only to be replaced with what seems like a thinly veiled advertisement for D&D version 5 and some sundry experiences Ewalt has LARPing and going to more conventions. As a result the pacing of the book feels weird, but I'm not sure how it could have been fixed; sometimes history doesn't follow a very good narrative structure.

I did enjoy the book overall, though, and would recommend it especially if you're interested in the history of the game and its creators. It's well researched, entertaining, and accessible to anyone who might even consider reading it.
3,029 reviews10 followers
September 9, 2013
While not exhaustively complete, this book is an excellent overview of the history and culture of fantasy role-playing games in American culture, focusing mostly on Dungeons and Dragons.
The writing style was very approachable, with brief narrative inserts of events within a particular game, to give the casual reader a better understanding of the game itself without lots of nuts-and-bolts rules explanations.
Some of the controversial aspects of the business problems of Gary Gygax and TSR were covered, as well as the prickly personalities that came out of the game industry's emphasis on quirky creators.
The only omissions in the book seem to come from the fact that no one can find absolutely every fact or event on every subject. For the most part Ewalt, a Forbes journalist, didn't choose sides in the various disputes or controversies. In the few cases where he took sides, it was against cases of bad journalism related to games and gamers.
If you've ever wanted to read about where Dungeons and Dragons came from, or learn why people play the game, this is an excellent book. For experienced gamers, the footnotes are often hilarious, but those might be too in-jokey for the casual reader.
Profile Image for Jeff.
115 reviews502 followers
September 28, 2013
I have never played dungeons and dragons, I know absolutely nothing about the game its history or how it is even played. However I picked this book up off a display at Chapters and 20 minutes later I was 40 pages in and lost track of time and location. I knew it was worth my while to purchase and finish off the book. I must admit that I fall into the category of people who assumed D&D was played by socially inept teens who couldn't fit in with normal society. Obviously I have grown up much since that adolescent viewpoint, to realize that is not the case at all, and this book was a nice segway into understanding the D&D phenomenon more personally. Written by an avid D&D fan, it was very interesting to get an inside look into the D&D history and development, and learn more about what the game represents to people and the way it can shape character outside of the game. As a sucker for fantasy and sci-fi novels, as well as RPG video games and the like, this book was right down my alley. I certainly recommend it to anyone that is a fan of or plays D&D, but also to those people like me who have an appreciation for the fantasy genre as a whole, who may want to learn more about the game and the influences behind it.
Profile Image for Shedrick Pittman-Hassett.
Author 1 book56 followers
August 26, 2013
From my website: http://masterofthegameproject.com

Of Dice and Men is essentially three-books-in-one. It is a history of the role playing game hobby, with a spotlight on early days of Dungeons & Dragons. It is an investigative report on the gamer community. And finally, it is the fascinating journey of one man’s return to the hobby. And while all three tasks are performed adequately and even entertainingly, none are particularly handled with a great degree of depth. Like the similar Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks (by Ethan Gilsdorf), I was left essentially unsatisfied, only because I felt that the book merely scratched the surface of the hobby that I love.

After finishing the book, I found that, ultimately, I wanted more. More of the history of “The World’s Most Popular Roleplaying Game”, more stories from the author’s own gaming group’s campaign, and more stories from the gaming community at large. Given particularly short shrift was the increasing role of women in the gaming hobby. I would have like to seen this addressed with perhaps a discussion as to why there have traditionally been fewer female gamers and how (and why) that’s changing. Further, while the historical sections have many interesting anecdotes about the Apple-like history of TSR and D&D’s co-creators, the author seemed to only hit some of the high points of that history. For instance, the controversial reign of manager Lorraine Dille Williams received only about five pages of coverage (and a note to see more on the website). Make no mistake–this book is extensively researched but it seems like more information, more of the story, could have made it onto the page. I also wanted to hear more about the author’s own reawakening as a gamer and the fascinating campaign that he and his group play in. The asides that he presents “in-character”, and the way in which his character’s journey parallels his own, was a brilliant conceit. The stories that are presented are done well. Ewalt is a good writer and shows obvious love for the hobby and its history. The book is a quick, highly informative, and entertaining read. I just wish there was more of it.
Profile Image for John.
1,456 reviews36 followers
December 15, 2014
Just not very informative. Unless maybe you know absolutely nothing about nerd culture...but, in that case, why read up on it now?
As for myself, I have played D&D only once. Even with such limited experience, the first couple chapters of the book told me nothing that I didn't already know. When I first picked up the book, I was under the impression that the author was one of the original creators of D&D or something, but it turns out his only connection to D&D is as a long-time player. Mr. Ewalt writes in a very conversational style that is easy to read but comes across as very superficial and shallow. The best part of the book has to do with the history of gaming, but even in this respect I felt as though I'd be better off just reading Wikipedia. The worst parts of the book are the fictional passages that read like a pulp fantasy novel and try to illustrate how D&D players use their imaginations to immerse themselves in the game. As though maybe you don't understand the concept of using your imagination and need to have it explained to you.
Much of the book is like that, just one statement-of-the-obvious after another. The extent of Mr. Ewalt's research on a given subject is to attend a single convention or visit a single museum. If you've ever visited a game store in your life, then there will be little in this book to surprise you.
I gave up on this book about a third of the way through, so perhaps it gets better. But, based on some of the other reviews that I've read, it seems that the book never really goes in-depth about its subject matter. In a way, this book is more of a memoir than anything else, the story of man who re-discovers the game after a decade spent pursuing other interests. Nothing wrong with that; just not what I signed up for.
Profile Image for Ron.
3,424 reviews9 followers
August 8, 2013
You do not have to have been a nerd, geek, played D &D, read Conan the Barbarian, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, or other sword and sorcery books to appreciate Of Dice and Men. But it does help with the jokes.

David Ewalt takes the reader on an enjoyable, whirlwind tour of Dungeons and Dragons from the beginning in 1974 to the introduction of the newest rule set in 2012. Along the way, he introduces you to all the major personalities in the evolution of the role-playing system. This is a book of how a concept became a phenomenon that swept the country and the world before the age of the Internet while showing how it had changed to fit the times.

Like Man of War and Leaving Mundania, David Ewalt mixes his personal involvement with D & D into the history and stories using excerpts of his gaming sessions to introduce chapters and clarify concepts. He is not afraid to discuss problems the D & D may cause in a life, but he also illustrates how it can help. The book reminded this reviewer of the fun times he had with D & D in college and brought back many memories.

Highly recommended for readers interested in brand creation, company histories, gaming history, and role-playing.
Profile Image for Kifflie.
1,425 reviews4 followers
September 9, 2013
This is a good introduction to D&D for those who are unfamiliar with it. As someone who knows a few of the protagonists mentioned in the book, and as someone who's played the game off and on since 1979, it didn't work quite as well (though that's not really the author's fault).

Ewalt clearly loves the topic and has done extensive research on the history of wargaming and how fantasy RPGs grew out of them. I had to smile at some of my own memories of the TSR days (I hung out at the Hotel Clair site for a couple of years and remember the rickety old place with fondness). Ewalt also does a great job at discussing all the negative publicity D&D got over the Egbert affair and helps debunk the idea that D&D amounts to devil worship and all that other crap.

He intersperses the narrative by including scenes from some of his own D&D adventures. It's a tad distracting, but then one realizes that he's building up to learning how to run his own campaign. Which is kind of cool. As someone who's only played the game but never had the time or inclination to run it, I admire that he took that step.

Personal Geek-out Moment: I played the very same Frank Mentzer adventure that Ewalt did (Death in Wretched Swamp) at Gary Con 2012 (though I think it was a different session of the game).
Profile Image for Stephen Newton.
Author 7 books3 followers
April 14, 2014
This book is an interesting mix of the history of role playing games (and D&D in particular) and the author's very personal experiences with gaming, and how it has affected his life. It's a pretty fast read and interesting to anyone who likes to know about the "backstory" of how Gygax, Arneson and others introduced the game.
Profile Image for Pete.
741 reviews52 followers
November 22, 2020
Of Dice and Men : The Story of Dungeons and Dragons and the People who play it (2013) by David Ewalt is an interesting tale of D&D’s creators and Ewalt’s experiences with the game.

In reviewing this book it’s probably worth noting my own experience with D&D which is to have played the game exactly once and not really appreciated it at the time decades ago. However, I’ve had friends who played and understand the impact it’s had on media since then. Indeed now as a middle aged parent the friendships the game seems to keep going seem very admirable, as do those nourished by player poker, sport together or any activity really.

The book goes over the history of the game, evolving from the ‘grognard’ war games to become something quite different. I’d heard the name Gary Gygax and knew he started D&D but that’s about it. How the game grew from trying something new to a successful company before being ruined and the purchased was something I was unaware.

Ewalt also explains the role the game has had in his life and his current game as a working adult. This works to explain why people enjoy the game and does this quite well. Towards the end Ewalt also tries his hand at some Live Action Role Playing (LARPing) which works to show the impact of the game.

Of Mice and Men is well worth a read for anyone curious about the history of D&D, it might not be ideal for people who already know a lot about the story but it’s well worth it for the curious.
Profile Image for Michael.
900 reviews133 followers
February 17, 2018
In a review of a different work, I wrote this book off as a “breezy, journalistic account with a lot of irrelevant personal data about the author’s gaming.” That’s the one-sentence summary, and it more or less still stands. And yet…

I will admit that Ewalt drew me in, and that on a closer look, those “irrelevant” details seem to me to be the more successful part of the book. He’s certainly no historian, although at least he was lucky enough to have Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People, and Fantastic Adventure from Chess to Role-Playing Games, to use as a source, so where he covers material from that tome, he gets the facts right and also makes them a bit more accessible to a popular audience. When he strays from that source, his history suffers. The worst part is his chapter on Live Action Role-Playing (“LARPing”), which manages not to mention the Society for Creative Anachronism, “Vampire” The Masquerade,” or the name of Mark Rein-Hagen, rendering it effectively worthless. And yet…

Even in that chapter I got drawn in by his account of his own experience. Ewalt admits that he returned to D&D reluctantly as an adult, that it slowly became more and more important to him until it began to take over his life, and that he became increasingly un-self-consciously “nerdy” as he went from experiment to experiment. I had a similar experience with the book. I started with it at arm’s length, chuckling occasionally over a familiar reference, and became more and more drawn in, until I was intimately fascinated by his description of designing his first campaign while at a Con where the new Fifth Edition was being play tested. I really appreciated his description of 5th ed as an effort to reunite the various warring tribes of the previous editions: I just wish it had worked out that way (1st Ed grognards like me find it almost as bad as the previous one).

What Ewalt succeeds at doing is awakening in the reader (this one at least), the memory of the romance of D&D. In order to understand WHY it is important, or to get the facts right on its history, I would recommend Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic Over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds instead. Still, this book was a lot of fun to read, even when I was nit-picking in all the ways he says not to in his introduction.
Profile Image for TPK.
82 reviews7 followers
August 2, 2019
Author David Ewalt describes himself (right on the front cover) as a level-fifteen cleric, so you know from the outset that this book is going to be a regular geekgasm over D&D. It doesn't disappoint in this regard. The book covers the history of war games, the founding of tabletop roleplaying games, the crazy success of D&D in the '70s and early '80s, the odd moral panic about Satanism, and the current renaissance of tabletop gaming. The first few chapters start out slow, but things pick up after that, so hang in there.
Profile Image for Kressel Housman.
966 reviews217 followers
September 9, 2016
I’m not a big fan of Dungeons and Dragons, but I did play in high school and college, which tells you something about the kinds of guys I dated. Apparently, the kind of girl who dates D&D players grows up to become the mother of D&D players because my two youngest sons are playing now, and middle kid is especially into it. (If you read my review of Reality Is Broken, written about two years ago, it won’t be surprising to see that things have shaped up this way.) I’ve played a little with my son, but as an adult looking at these games again for the first time in years, the first question in my mind was, “I wonder how this game got started?” A few weeks later, without any efforts toward research, I came across a radio interview with the author of this book, which answers precisely that question. Given my family’s interest in the game, I had to look into it.

The book tells the story of D&D founders Gary Gygax and David Arneson, two hobbyists who played history reenactment board games in the 1970’s. The trouble with these games, according to the book, is that players spent half the time arguing about history and the other half arguing about the rules. So to interject some fun into a game one day, David Arneson had a Druid priest kill a Roman war elephant, seemingly by magic. Not all the players liked this departure into fantasy, but several did, and so David Arneson developed a game of his own just for them, becoming the first Dungeon Master of a fantasy universe. At a hobbyist convention, he and his group met fellow gamer Gary Gygax who loved Arneson’s variation and saw its commercial potential. The book likens the meeting of these two to John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

The book goes on to describe the game’s development, the ten-month partnership between Gygax and Arneson and its break-up, and the lawsuits over money that followed. What saves it from being a mundane business story is the use of D&D analogies throughout. (Gygax was the fighter, Arneson the magic user, and they squabbled over the treasure.) The post-Arneson phase is also explored in depth, including a chapter on the backlash the game faced with its rise in popularity: the scare that D&D was causing its players to become Satan worshippers.

Interspersed within the story is the author’s personal history with D&D, his reconciliation with his “nerd” identity and descriptions of some of his own “campaigns.” The campaigns didn’t interest me as much as the rest of the book, but I’d imagine that a fan like my son would say precisely the opposite.

A passing familiarity with D&D does help for full enjoyment of this book. The D&D metaphors, references, and jokes are everywhere. I liked the book mostly because it represents the triumph of creativity; this is capitalism at its best. And because D&D is such an imaginative game and the author is such a fan of it, it’s a fun and entertaining rendering, too.
Profile Image for RJ.
Author 6 books59 followers
February 17, 2017
I would probably give this 3.5 stars? I don't know. For one thing, I have no idea if this would appeal to someone who wasn't already deeply interested in the subject - I share the author's self-described preoccupation with the game (I cracked the cover on this book about D&D to give myself a distraction from... thinking too much about D&D) and I still found myself glazing over and skipping paragraphs during lengthy descriptions of historical miniatures wargaming. Though the fact that I blazed through any non-fiction in a few short days speaks to its merits.

The best stuff happens in the middle, when the writer connects the dots of tabletop gaming from ancient board games to the rise and fall of TSR Inc, while weaving in the dramas from his own D&D party's adventures. This keeps the reporting personal without becoming self-aggrandizing - that happens in the last chapter, in which he literally compares going to Gary Con to visiting Mecca, something he must do before he DMs his first homebrewed campaign. I relate to the author's passion, his preoccupation, but not his religious reverence. And with all due respect to Gary Gygax, I hope I never define my experience by how many degrees of separation I am from his table.

Here's the thing that's stuck in my craw: I think like many nerds of his demographic, the author has a good sense of history, and of how to tell an engaging story, but lacks the perspective to put it in a broader social context. Multiple times he references the lack of women and people of color in the world of tabletop games, but can't seem to wrap his head around why that might be. Really? You noted the insular culture of white men, you traced these games back to military training exercises, you mentioned disposal income and leisure time as gateways to entry, you talked about your reluctance to ask a creepy misogynist to leave your table because this was supposed to be a "safe place" (for whom?), and you think maybe women and marginalized people are not visible in this hobby (one which necessitates a level of vulnerability) because white men are "more likely to obsess"? Ya. Ok.

The book also suffers from a few poorly made jokes. It's like that friend who you think is mostly cool, and he likes the same geeky stuff you do, but then he brings out these busted one-liners about how hipster women are nicer to look at than nerd women, with this winking tone of "but we all know I'm no misogynist." And it's like: no, Dave, we don't know that about you, and when you make these gross references to cheerleaders being good for sex you are not exactly building your case. This stuff is a small part of the book, but they're the kind of comments that can absolutely knock the wind out of an otherwise-enthusiastic reader, destroying the fantasy that your "fellow nerds" are "more evolved" and might see you as an equal rather than a prospect. I wonder why more women don't play D&D??

Also if I have to read the word "grognard" one more time I will pass out
Profile Image for Brad.
Author 9 books32 followers
July 27, 2014
It's wildly difficult to write a first-person account of a phenomenon. The reason: Authors-as-characters only work when they become surrogates for the reader. Too often writers inject themselves into the story, which breaks the narrative flow by separating the reader from the action of the book.

When Of Dice and Men is at its best, David M. Ewalt paints an interesting tale that follows the birth, demise, and rebirth of both Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop role-playing. While the territory of the game's history isn't new, Ewalt nevertheless wrote a fan's history, which painted a tough by understandable picture of the original founders. I flew through those parts of the book, oftentimes finding myself up well after my wife had fallen asleep. I wanted more of that.

Unfortunately, the book has two major narrative flaws that frustrated me. The first was the author's injection of himself into the story, which didn't give me a better understanding of the game, its psychology, or its community friendships. Instead, Ewalt assumed the reader understood those ideas (in contrast to his excellent descriptions of how these games are played).

The second was that the author didn't trust the reader. Ewalt diverges repeatedly throughout the narrative to explain how much of a nerd he is (while simultaneously trying to tell us that it's not just nerds who play), as if that's imperative to appreciate and understand the phenomenon. He also peppers the narrative with overblown descriptors to artificially create drama.

My headlong leap into the deep end of D&D gave the trip an almost religious significance: I started to think of it as my version of the hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. An expression of devotion; a chance to seek wisdom; a time to show unity with my brethren.

It's this dichotomy that concerned me. The book is clearly written for people who don't understand D&D and role-playing games (RPGs) based upon the lengthy descriptions of the various games, and yet Ewalt never settles on exactly who the "people who play" are.

Despite the narrative imbalance, people who enjoy D&D and RPGs will find this a satisfying, quick read and those who have never held a 20-sided dice won't be intimidated by lots of geek-speak.
Profile Image for Monika.
508 reviews146 followers
June 11, 2013
David Ewalt has written this history of Dungeons & Dragons for a mainstream audience - a point he explains with humor at the start of the book, to ward off any nitpicking by hardcore fans. He stresses the fun of cooperative (as opposed to competitive) gaming, the allure of tapping into the collective imagination and having an open-ended and unlimited experience, and shows how RPGs can be a great way to make friends.

Ewalt also debunks some of the myths that keep people away from the game (for many years, myself included). He gives examples showing how D&D is not playacting, how gameplay is fairly normal with players taking turns, and how you aren't "constrained to a standard medieval setting."

Of Dice and Men is more than a history of D&D. It explores why people play games in the first place, their purpose, and what RPGs have in common with board or playground games. The book talks about how D&D influenced the evolution of future games, including video games. In many sections, the book reads like a memoir as Ewalt reminisces about his own gaming adventures.

I did feel bogged down by the historical miniatures war games and felt those sections could have been abbreviated a bit, but I realize it was important in order to show how RPGs have evolved, and how D&D came about.

Throughout the book Ewalt intersperses storylines of past games, as well as a sketch for a future game. Here he completely embraces his nerd side and displays it without embarrassment. I loved that.

I'm a fairly new RPGer. I was glad to see a shout-out to Traveller (the "most complete and most epic" sci-fi RPG), since MegaTraveller has been my introduction to the RPG world. I finished Of Dice and Men with a better understanding of role-playing games overall, as well as a deeper appreciation and respect for the work of our GM (game master).

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.
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