Rise of the Dungeon Master book review

Posted by Matthew on May 2nd, 2017

Over the years roleplay games have gone from strength to strength. The genre has captured players of all kinds, and in all kinds of spaces. The lineage of roleplay games can be traced back to Dungeon & Dragons, and it’s now well-known creator, Gary Gygax. And while fans have known of Gary since the games inception, the story of how he came to author the game is less well known.

Rise of the Dungeon Master is the story of Dungeons & Dragons. It is also the story of the games co-designer, Gary Gygax. The two are so intimately linked that often they cannot be separated. Other key figures in Dungeons & Dragons history, including co-designer Dave Arneson, make smaller but no less important appearances.

The book is broken up into chapters, with each focussing on either an aspect of Dungeons & Dragons or a particular person of note. These include the life of Gary Gygax, what role the game has had in influencing modern tabletop and digital games, and the missing college student which fuelled D&D’s infamous link with the occult.

Rise of the Dungeon Master

Because it is real people and events being portrayed, things don’t always work out to mutually benefit all the characters. Gary and Dave’s relationship becomes strained, TSR is taken over by a third-party, and more, happens during Dungeons & Dragons lifetime. It would be easy for the writer to gloss over or ignore these personal faults and dark times.

However each subject is dealt with in a positive, but honest, manner. Using multiple references and sources, the subjects are given a chance to voice their thoughts and decisions. It not only helps to explain the long and winding road Dungeons & Dragons has taken, but also gives near-mythical figures like Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson a relatable and vulnerable side.

Writer David Kushner achieves this by drawing on interviews he conducted with Gary and Dave in 2008, as well as carefully researching the effect Dungeons & Dragons had on the world throughout the years. He seems to capture the voices of the various people quite well, and intimately explores their contribution to the games legacy.

Rise of the Dungeon Master

This is all complemented really well by Koren Shadmi’s drawings. An experienced illustrator and cartoonist, Rise of the Dungeon Master is presented as a graphic novel. Koren’s images are quite loose and clean, and have an effortless freedom about them. He does an excellent job of evoking mood and atmosphere where needed, and each panel is as integral to the telling of the story as the text.

While Rise of the Dungeon Master is an excellent book, it can occasionally be hard to follow. The timeline of events can jump around, and so it can be hard to pinpoint exactly where events are happening in relation to others. While this doesn’t affect the overall tale the book is trying to tell, for those trying to understand the chronological history this can make the exercise quite difficult.

Rise of the Dungeon Master is a thought provoking and enjoyable read. It is a must for fans of Dungeons & Dragons, and will give them a greater understanding of the trials and tribulations that went into bringing their favourite game to life. Even those not interested in the game in particular, or roleplay in general, should find some enjoyment in the book. The inspired creation and turbulent life of Dungeons & Dragons, and those involved with it, should capture the interest of even the most unsure of readers.

Rise of the Dungeon Master is available now from Nation Books or good book stores.

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