By Dustin Cabeal
If you haven’t gathered by the extensive amount of reviews I’m doing this week, I’ve had a lot of books sitting on my desk waiting to be cleared out. Rise of the Dungeon Master is one of the few that have been on my desk for too long. Ideally, I would have loved to have posted this review when the book released, but it’s been a hell of a summer for me off the site.
Rise of the Dungeon Master is a story about Gary Gygax and the creation of Dungeons & Dragons, which I will call D&D going forward in this review. Now big D&D fans probably know a lot of this story or at the very least have read a wiki page or something. Writer David Kushner and illustrator Koren Shadmi do a fantastic job of bringing the story to life and keeping it interesting.
What’s the most interesting tidbit that I gleaned from this story was the fact that the people that came to associate with D&D the most, the nerds and disenfranchised, etc., etc., were not people that Gary grew up associating with; instead, his upbringing seems all too normal and carefree. The game he helped bring to life found so many people looking to escape their lives in different ways.
The narration is fantastic, and while repetitive it suits the story. Kushner takes the approach of narrating as the Dungeon Master. That means there’s a lot of “You arrive here,” “You’re approached by” and so on. Yes, it’s a bit redundant at times, but it stays true to this format all the way through which keeps it in line with D&D.
The story doesn’t shy away from the dark spots in Gary and D&D’s past, the religious attack on it or the events around Dave Arneson. I found the bits about Arneson the most interesting because it’s his system that everyone uses, but it was Gygax’s additions and production that made the game. It’s a weird, Stan Lee/Jack Kirby ordeal where everyone is going to pick a side and see a different logic when it comes to the credit of D&D. The story doesn’t offer any solutions.
Kushner intelligently picks the parts of Gygax’s life that contributed to his journey with D&D. It’s one of those stories that can only be told with hindsight but could easily be lost in excessive details. That’s what makes this biography work; there’s just enough of the right details to keep the story interesting and the moving.
The artwork is also wonderful, and while it, unfortunately, shows what the narration is already telling us, there’s a charm to it. The people feel real which is very important given it’s a story about real people that have lived in my lifetime. There’s a lot of detail to their designs and emotions. The only downside is that in a story like this the “show don’t tell” rule doesn’t apply so much.
While it’s a story you’ll likely read once and be done with; it’s a solid read and worth the effort. Not just if you’re a D&D fan, but if you like biographies or just nerd culture. For me, I’ve never actually played D&D, but it’s thanks to D&D that I have played other role playing games. Gary Gygax’s life is interesting, and the creative team has done a wonderful job of capturing that.
Rise of the Dungeon Master
Writer: David Kushner
Artist: Koren Shadmi
Publisher: Nation Books