Review: Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D

Review of

There are many stories floating around the internet regarding the rise and fall of D&D (or at least, TSR). This graphic novel provides a very comprehensive overview of that story and does a bang up job of telling it in one enjoyable sitting.

This 136 page, black & white graphic novel, is a quick and easy read. Illustrated by Koren Shadmi, he does a wonderful job of reproducing all the characters. He further beautifully reproduces a very stylized rendition of all appropriate scenes; from Gygax’s Hawaiian shirts to the D&D books and even a perfect recreation of the 80’s D&D animated cartoon. Although the entire book is B&W, the color front and back cover are gorgeous.

Rise of the Dungeon Master

Written by David Kushner, the book is broken down into 9 chapters and told from the perspective of the various figures in the D&D story. Of course, Gygax receives a considerable amount of this time and next off is Dave Arneson. Also included is a whole montage of the whole Satanic Panic from the 1980’s mostly told from the perspective of William Dear, the private investigator hired to find James Dallas Egbert III.

Rise of the Dungeon Master

I’ve read quite a bit about the creation of D&D, with the various accounts regarding the contributing influences other than Gygax. This story, I think, does a good job of succinctly telling the story as I’ve come to know it. One where Gygax was certainly the visionary, however, Arneson is probably under-recognized as an instrumental creative force in D&D’s initial inception. Furthermore, the differences in the two’s early personalities are still seen today as a split between “rules light” and “rules heavy” styles of D&D play (although the book makes mention of Gygax moving to the rules light side later in life).

We see various examples of how D&D influenced a wide swath of geek culture (which is now “pop culture” in many ways). Then the story gets bleak in chapter 7 with what I’ve best seen referenced to as “The Ambush at Sheridan Springs“. This story is brief in this graphic novel. If you are interested in these sorts of things, then give this a read. It is long, but is a fascinating account of just how badly the Blume brothers and Lorraine Williams fucked everyone over and sank TSR like the RMS Titanic.

The story eventually picks back up again on a positive note as it leads into essentially the reason why I’m posting this right now. That is, the intersection of older players getting back into the hobby, rise of geek culture, what is called OSR, and the release of D&D 5e.

Lastly, chapter 9 is legitimately a little sad as it covers the deaths of Gygax and Arneson. I didn’t know a couple of the things mentioned here. For instance, I actually didn’t know that Gygax was a born again Christian. That’s really awesome and I’ll have to research this further.

This is a beautiful book. Very well written, telling a very good version of the story. One that tells some of the hard truths without minimizing at all the great contributions to the modern of storytelling which these artists brought to life.

Rise of the Dungeon Master

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