Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) doesn't exactly have a super cool reputation. It's a fantasy role-playing game popular among nerds with no social skills living in their moms' basements, or so the stereotype would have you believe. In reality, D&D is an incredibly rich communal storytelling experience where you control and guide a single character, week after week, through a fantasy world adventure.
Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt explores the rich history of the game and the incredible variety of people who play. It started in Lake Geneva, WI and St. Paul, MN where two guys, Gary Gygax and David Arneson (respectively), ran fantasy role-playing games of their own creation for their friends. People were so excited by the prospect of having a character (persona, really) you create and play week-to-week, instead of a stagnant predetermined character. Your character has adventures where you could make any decision and do anything your imagination wanted, and molding your character and gaining experience. The game started gaining a foothold among wargamers, but it grew pretty quickly when people started realizing the potential of a game you had a stake in shaping. It grew through the 70's, and became quite a cultural force by the 80's. The book delves into the company's unconventional and tumultuous history, from self-publishing in a basement to a multimillion dollar enterprise.
Aside from hearing about it second-hand from people nerdier than me, D&D came to my attention as the focus of an episode of the TV show Community. The game is used to frame a conflict between the characters. Someone can easily become the villain because they can do whatever they want! You can turn against your friends! You can loot a corpse! You can do a musical number! You can breakdance until you puke! Anything you can imagine, you can do. In the game, as in life, your success or failure isn't totally in your control. You have a character sheet with your features on it, your level determines what kind of stuff you can do, and furthermore the Dungeon Master rolls dice to factor in chance. You are only limited by your imagination. I know that sounds cheesy, but just imagine how much fun Monopoly would be if you could decide to trek the opposite direction around the board, attack a rival's hotels, or cast spells to escape from jail.
The book alternates between chapters about the history of the game/the company that made the game, an exploration of the D&D community, and Ewalt's own experience. The running narrative of Ewalt's game provides a glimpse at actual game-play, so you can see the exciting fiction that draws players in. Dungeons & Dragons is a game, but also an entire world, an escape, a way of life, a creative outlet, and a fantasy. You might not be that impressive in real life, but within a game you can be a total freakin' hero.
Allie @ Central