Empire of Imagination – Michael Witwer

 

I love to read. When it comes to books I consume everything I can get my hands on. Most of the time I read fiction, but occasionally I enjoy non-fiction as well – especially biographies. A while back I posted a review of Richard Garriott’s autobiography Explore/Create. Being a fan of RPG games, it was just the type of non-fiction I enjoy. A few months later, I found myself itching to read something similar. That’s when I found Empire of Imagination, a biography about the the Dungeons & Dragons founder, Gary Gygax.

That’s right. For those that might not be familiar with Mr. Gygax, he is the original inventor of Dungeons & Dragons. A game that he created out of love rather than for profit.  This book covers Gygax’s life from his early youth all the way until his final days, with of course, the main focus being his time as CEO of TSR. Gary, while beloved by many gamers and grognards, was infamous for his temper and over-indulgent behavior. This book takes a very unabashed look at every aspect of his life. Nothing is off the table here.

Each chapter starts with a mock D&D session that ties-in with the overall theme of the upcoming content. This is an interesting presentation that starts off strong, but eventually ends up feeling a bit weak after a few chapters. Despite being a biography, the book is written in a strange mixture of both historical narration and dramatization. I found this to be a bit odd. Writing out real-life events in a fictional-style narrative tends to cast doubt on the authenticity of the story being told. I have no doubt that the author took a number of liberties when discussing Gary’s life in this regard. However, in the end, I feel like this was nothing more than an artistic decision.

Having been a fan of D&D for many years, I thought I knew nearly everything there was to know about Gary Gygax. This book opened my eyes to a number of details about his life I was unfamiliar with. Namely, how his youth and his deep-rooted love to his hometown inspired his artistic vision. For this alone, I found it to be an excellent read.

If you’re a fan of D&D and you’re interested in learning some of what went on behind the scenes in the glory days of the game, this might be a book for you.

Story: Despite the odd presentation, this book is well written and interesting. Gary Gygax is an interesting case-study. When it comes to running a business Gary seemed to have his heart in the right place, but ultimately made a number of bad decisions that he ended up paying for until the end of his days.

Recommended:  This is a book that’s likely to only be appreciated by hardcore D&D grognards or those with a working interest in tabletop role playing. I personally found the book to be insightful and interesting, but admittedly it’s only going to appeal to a specific audience.

Dungeons & Dragons: Father and Son

One subject that I don’t discuss as frequently as I like is Dungeons & Dragons. I try to stay up to date regarding the latest supplemental material and core books, etc. But It’s been several years since I actually made a post about the current state of the game.

If you look back on this site, you’ll see my very first entry regarding Dungeons & Dragons is when I discussed the upcoming release of what is now known as Fifth Edition. Dungeons & Dragons has has a tumultuous history. But I think it is safe to say that D&D 5E has ended up being a smashing success. In my opinion, Wizards of the Coast (D&D’s parent company), has finally hit on the right formula. No longer are the bookstore shelves packed will useless, poor quality supplements. Instead, every single release is filled with quality, well tested material. Any “up in the air” play-options are instead posted online in a series of articles called “Unearthed Arcana”. Players are encouraged to download these game options for free and try them out. This allows 5E players to customize the style of the game they are playing, without weighing down the core rules with countless, redundant options.

Recently, my thirteen-year old son expressed a serious interest in the game. So, I began a search to find a new group of players that are family-friendly. I’m happy to say, I found what I was looking for! For the last month or so, my son and I have been spending our Saturday Nights at a local game shop playing D&D.  It was a bit of a proud moment when I gifted him with his very own copy of the Player’s Handbook… I still remember my father buying mine for me. So far, he has really enjoyed the game. Plus, getting out and meeting new people has also help foster some valuable social skills.

When I started playing again a few years back, I found myself participating in some official, sanctioned games. These days, I no longer concern myself with that. Currently, our DM is running the Out of the Abyss adventure, which is an actual official D&D story, but we’re not actually participating the “Adventurer’s League”.  It’s a much more relaxed and laid back atmosphere.

I plan to begin posting a little more regularly about my D&D adventures. I’ll also be covering some of the books that I previously decided against reviewing on the site. Aside from the PHB, DMG and MM, there’s really only been two other “source books” released – the rest have all been hardback adventures. So I had originally planned not to really spend my time on those. But, to keep things chugging along, I have changed my mind about that.  So, sometime within the next month I’ll start discussing some of these. Stay tuned!