Review: Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
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.