When I saw this book at the Amazon Books store at the University Village in Seattle, I couldn’t believe my luck. The 20 sided die, 1d20, my favorite polyhedral, was featured in the cover and the subtitle made me wonder if the experience of playing a D&D campaign could be captured in 285 pages. Magically, David M. Ewalt was able to do so with a witty and nerdy fascination that passionately describes the feeling of wonder and excitement one has when playing a role in the game.
The first time I played D&D was with my ex-boyfriend’s crew. They would get together every Friday night to build characters and play quick campaigns that lasted way into the wee hours of the morning. As a nerd and fantasy enthusiast, I looked forward to entering this mythical world where a rat with superpowers could easily decimate our party (as it had happened in the past to this team), even after spending a full hour tweaking my character and her story. Like Mr Ewalt, I was a cleric, but definitely not a level 15, and for some reason I was able to rescue our party after a halfling stabbed the guys down to 1 hit point getting inside the first dungeon. The amount of hard work our Dungeon Master put into his narrative and the love I felt for the piece of paper holding my stats gave a whole new meaning to the word gathering.
The book itself feels like a D&D experience. Ewalt walks us through his team’s campaign using it as a parallax to describe the inception and rise of this national past time. With flair, excitement and carefully chosen words, he describes the world he loves and the history that preceded it, aligning the crucial points of both tales to show how life can imitate life and vice versa. Although the device is not perfect, you can follow either train of thought without having to follow the other; it is almost as if you had two books in one.
Neophytes to the genre can easily follow the historical portion of the discourse, but if you aren’t really into role playing or fantasy the italics text may be a little harder to digest. However, it cleverly proves the point that D&D is an immersive experience and that as you are presented with enemies, situations and choices, you can use the character’s resources and stats to pull of the adventure of a lifetime. The imagery and environments can feel so real, you become engrossed in the action, not wanting to stop and return to your actual life. It is an incredible journey.
The advent of video games and computer entertainment ate up a share of the RPG market but I still hold out hope that when I have children we will enjoy going on one of these magical quests. It is too much fun to forget how much we enjoyed finding treasure and kill monsters in what became our rite passage as teenagers of the 80s and 90s. D&D was the most entertaining way to learn about resource management and ingenuity, to bond as friends and explorers. Looking back, I almost want to run to the store and buy all the rule books and guides and start over again. One is never too old to slay dragons and walk around town with a freshly earned battle scar.
This book is the best stocking stuffer a D&D Dungeon Master could get, and is definitely a great way to get to their heart. Understanding these rare creatures is an adventure in its own right, and one only those courageous and brave should endeavor. Read with an open mind and with real care; your next campaign awaits you. All you need to do is roll the dice and enjoy.