Rise of the Dungeon Master

You are a tabletop gaming enthusiast, wandering through your local bookstore for the next bit of literature to capture your attention with. By chance you wander into the comic/graphic novel section, idly browsing, wondering if you’ll find something a little different this time. As it so happens a slim graphic novel catches your eye; you recognize the creator and game mentioned on the spine. It is called “Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D”. Do you take it off the shelf?

Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D is a nonfiction/biographical graphic novel written by David Kushner and illustrated by Koren Shadmi. As the title and subtitle might just give away, it follows the story of one Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons, covering how he came to be one of the original Dungeon Masters and how his work has created a lasting legacy. The book is actually based on a 2008 article for Wired written by Kushner, and was published earlier this year.

The format of the book often reads like box text read by a Dungeon Master to their players, addressing Gygax and others by name and posing them questions over the course of the story when they come to important pivot points in history. This spices up the account a little bit, with a wink and a nod towards the source material and a fun and unique twist on what is essentially a biography. Shadmi’s art is of a realistic style, able to draw Gygax and other real-life people as if they were images from a photograph, but equally capable of fantastical figures and embellishments like the characters and monsters from the game. There aren’t really any particularly mind-blowing pages, but the book maintains a high level of quality throughout.

GYGAX

After a brief introduction ‘taking place’ at Gygax’s home during one of his conventions the book takes us from Gygax’s family life and childhood all the way through to his death. Along the way we get to see how Gygax got involved in the wargaming that proceeded D&D, began experimenting with games of a more fantastical nature, was part of creating the original version of the game, how its influence spread, the ups and downs and ‘Satanic Panics’, and how the game passed out of Gygax’s hands and went on to influence others.

Interestingly, while the title of the book gives the impression that it is just about Gygax there is a second ‘main character’ to the book: Dave Arneson. While the book does follow Gygax’s life for longer Arneson spends quite a bit of time in the spotlight as well, having just about as many panels devoted to interviewing him as his fellow creator. The book is good about giving credit where it’s due to both parties, and is respectful about the period where their differences caused them to split, but if anything Arneson comes off as being slightly the better man about the whole thing. That might not be, and doesn’t seem like, bias on the book’s part, so the rest is up for the reader to decide.

Overall the book lightly touches upon the history within, focusing not on delving too deep into the minutiae of the tale but instead paying more heed to personal anecdotes, opinions, and the larger effect that Gygax and Arneson’s game had on culture, including the growth of other tabletop roleplaying games and video games as we know them today. For someone who really likes delving into all the different facts and facets of roleplaying game history, Rise of the Dungeon Master will probably fall short of satisfying them, or at least merely whet their appetite and send them hunting for more. For those merely wanting to know a little more about the history of the game and the creators behind it, however, and for those wanting a well-drawn and high-quality graphic novel, the book is going to be a treat.

Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D can be found in all of the usual ways, Amazon included (I found my copy at a Barnes & Noble), and is available in both e-reader and softcover formats.

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