Of Dice & Men
What began as a "storytelling adventure" for Gary Gygax’s kids turned into a game-changing game played by some 30 million people, reports John J. Miller in a Wall Street Journal review of "Of Dice and Men" by David M. Ewalt (8/27/13). Gary always loved games, "from pinochle to chess. This enthusiasm led to war games – tabletop battles, featuring miniature soldiers and, in many cases, rules of dizzying complexity." After publishing "his own rules on medieval-warfare gaming," Gary heard from fellow enthusiast David Arneson, and the two began to collaborate.
The breakthrough concept was that players could control individual warriors, and instead of re-enacting famous battles, would confront "trolls and dragons in a world of swords and sorcery." The net effect was a "role-playing game" that turned "the traditional board game into a kind of theater. Players assumed alternate identities in a narrative adventure overseen by a ‘dungeon master,’ who served as a sort of storyteller and referee." It was like "a videogame conducted with paper, pencils and polyhedral dice instead of screens."
Gary tested the game with his own kids, who loved it – and its alliterative name, Dungeons & Dragons. It was a hit by the early 1980s, but "also began to get a reputation for cloistered, cult-like fanaticism," stereotypically played by nerds "with no social skills" or adults who still “live in their parents’ basement." The enterprise hit the skids as the co-founders mismanaged the company and began suing each other. Now owned by Hasbro, D&D is seeking a popular revival, but its legacy is "an impressive subculture" and an enduring influence on videogames.