A journalist’s new book tells the story of how a set of 20-sided dice, a character sheet, and a monster manual known as Dungeons and Dragons changed the world.
Like modern day video games, there was no shortage of fear and loathing directed at the seemingly innocuous hobby when it first gained popularity, and while the author explains how the game grew out of chess, opponents had a different argument — it came from Hell!
“In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was some hysteria about Dungeons and Dragons being satanic, corrupting children, and causing them to commit crimes and suicide,” said Forbes Magazine’s resident video-game honcho David Ewalt.
“There were a series of coincidences where a distraught kid committed suicide or a robbery, and investigators found Dungeons and Dragons in his basement.”
Ewalt is celebrating the unveiling of his new project, “Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It,” at the Greenlight bookstore on Aug. 23, which details the millenium-old influences that spawned the pen and paper behemoth and how a $70 billion nerd industry might not have existed without the world’s geekiest past time.
“I really wanted to tell the history of the game and explain to the rest of the world, ‘This is what this game is,’ ” said Ewalt.
“There are a lot of weird preconceptions about the Dungeons and Dragons, but it’s really an awesome past time.”
Ewalt traces Dungeons and Dragon’s origins to chess, the original tabletop war game, where players assemble armies of miniature soldiers and battle. Tabletop war games added dice to calculate one warrior’s chance to hit another, but what Dungeons and Dragons creators Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson did differently, Ewalt argues, is they shifted the player’s focus from the commander of an army, to the perspective of one hero — the result was nothing short of magic.
“Dungeons and Dragons came out of nowhere,” the author said. “In the space of a few years it was one of the biggest games in the world, especially in the US.”
Since then, the pen and paper game has gone on to inspire a generation of creative minds, including, Ewalt says, Iron Man director Jon Favreau, who learned how to craft riveting narratives by battling orks and beholders with the roll of a d20.
Also important is the massive affect that the hobby has had on the video game industry, which is rife with tropes invented for Dungeons and Dragons, including things like hit points and persistent characters
“No one had ever done those things before and now it seems so ordinary,” said Ewalt. “ Dungeons and Dragons has had a huge influence on the game industry. It’s bigger than music. It’s bigger than Hollywood. It’s a $70 billion global business.”
“Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It,” at the Greenlight Bookstore [686 Fulton St. between S. Elliot Place and S. Portland Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 246–0200, www.greenl