D&D General Fifty Years of Dungeons & Dragons, collection of essays published by MIT Press

overgeeked

B/X Known World
It felt odd having Tieflings on the list of positively called out 4e contributions, are they problematic in the way half-elves and half-orcs are?
You mean the race whose ancestors have a demonic blood curse from an ancient evil act? There are some potential troubling connotations, yes. But they involve real-world religion.
 

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Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Ongoing review part V of V - Chapters 18-20 and Overall:

Ch. 18 by Wee is on D&D in Singapore. I like the point that the experience of D&D players in other parts of the world than the US should be studied. I sometimes forget when I start reading these that it's an academic style book, and so the introductory few pages of some of the chapters just bore me in parts since it feels like "doesn't everyone know that"? After getting through that I found a lot to like about this chapter and I would love for the author to get a chance to edit a collection of just views of D&D from around the world (and have a lot of the introductory stuff up in the introduction chapter so it doesn't need to be repeated).

Ch. 19 by Raymond and Fine is ostensibly on the rules of the D&D sub-culture (in terms of players as people, players as players, and characters) from the early 1970s to mid 1980s as seen in Strategic Review and Dragon. I found myself wondering what this chapter could have been like if they just showed a lot more of the letters they read in putting it together, and also drew on other fanzines and the like as well.

The fourth set of vignettes has two. The first is kind of rambling and the second is fine. My hopes after the first set didn't hold true through the whole book... although I wonder if just having more of them would have helped.

Ch. 20 by Walton is about speculating what D&D will look like in the future, with random tables to generate your own possible future. The first half of the chapter seemed a bit long - I wish @Snarf Zagyg had written it because it would have been shorter and also amusing. Some of the random tables were fine, some were ludicrous, and some were boring. My favorite part was picking out all of the things that applied from the time of OD&D through the first years of AD&D.

The book ends with a two and a half page brief summary of the D&D editions. There's not much you can fit in 2.5 pages. I really wish they had revised the final entry before publication (it has "One D&D (2024 Onward)" as a new edition coming up).

----

In terms of writing style, much of "Fifty Years of Dungeons & Dragons" is what you would expect from a bunch of scholars in a book published by an academic press.
  • There are some chapters I thought were well written, interesting to me personally, and seemed eminently appropriate - 2, 3, 5, 6, 13, 16
  • One I may be overrating because I really like the topic (so not surprised if others feel differently) - 10
  • One I think had a place in it, even if it didn't speak to me personally (so not surprised if others really like it) - 7
  • Some that I would have "Accepted with minor revision" and could then likely move to the top category - 9, 11, 12, 15, 18
  • Others that I would have had to choose between "Accept with major revision" or "Reject with encouragement to resubmit" (and so probably would have eventually made it in if there was time) - 4, 14, 19, Vignettes
  • And some I probably would have leaned towards "Reject" and not putting in - 8, 17, 20, New Art
  • Chapter 1 is the introduction, so I didn't rate that one; and I guess the edition summary is fine (except for the upcoming 2024), but I don't know what one would do with it to make it better but not huge.

I think there is a lot of room for more academic books on D&D and ttrpgs with an appeal to a general audience, and some of the chapters here (see individual chapter reviews) could serve as a basis to build out an entire book of similar things. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for what some of the authors are doing.

Giving an overall rating to a book like this is like rating an anthology of fiction where you really like some stories and others were kind of all over the place. I'm left wondering what I would have rated it if the major revisions and the rejects just hadn't been in it, or if the minor and major revisions were all done. Luckily, since this isn't Amazon or Goodreads, I don't have to give an overall rating. (With apologies for those who really wanted one!)
 
Last edited:

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Ch. 17 by Trammell and Antero also focuses on race in D&D. If you want to briefly read that D&D is an irredeemable excrement-pile of racism that has possibly "colonized the hearts and minds of designers in games across all genres" (Trammell, pg. 278), then these two short (a bit under three pages each) memoirs try to give you that.

Given what I know about Trammell, I am not surprised by your characterization of his contribution. But I now i am going to see if my local library can get me a copy so I can see for myself.

As someone who has seriously mixed feelings about race, racial assumptions, and perspectives on the histories that inform D&D and has been trying to sound that trumpet since some time in the 90s (and a scholar who does not work in games, but has similar perspectives on comics, which I did work with) I get where he is coming from, but often find my own view to be both more practical and willing to read against the grain to see what gamers from minority communities can find and put into the game.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Given what I know about Trammell, I am not surprised by your characterization of his contribution. But I now i am going to see if my local library can get me a copy so I can see for myself.

As someone who has seriously mixed feelings about race, racial assumptions, and perspectives on the histories that inform D&D and has been trying to sound that trumpet since some time in the 90s (and a scholar who does not work in games, but has similar perspectives on comics, which I did work with) I get where he is coming from, but often find my own view to be both more practical and willing to read against the grain to see what gamers from minority communities can find and put into the game.

Chapters 14-18 all focus on different aspects of the minority (or at least not white US) centered experience and/or portrayal in D&D. The book as a whole tends to be more scholarly/academic in style, but does have some memoir chapters or parts of chapters. I got to 17 reading it in order, however that may have affected things. I also could not be less of a minority in just about any sense.

I am definitely interested in what others have to say about the chapters!
 
Last edited:

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Ongoing review part V of V - Chapters 18-20 and Overall:

Ch. 18 by Wee is on D&D in Singapore. I like the point that the experience of D&D players in other parts of the world than the US should be studied. I sometimes forget when I start reading these that it's an academic style book, and so the introductory few pages of some of the chapters just bore me in parts since it feels like "doesn't everyone know that"? After getting through that I found a lot to like about this chapter and I would love for the author to get a chance to edit a collection of just views of D&D from around the world (and have a lot of the introductory stuff up in the introduction chapter so it doesn't need to be repeated).

Ch. 19 by Raymond and Fine is ostensibly on the rules of the D&D sub-culture (in terms of players as people, players as players, and characters) from the early 1970s to mid 1980s as seen in Strategic Review and Dragon. I found myself wondering what this chapter could have been like if they just showed a lot more of the letters they read in putting it together, and also drew on other fanzines and the like as well.

The fourth set of vignettes has two. The first is kind of rambling and the second is fine. My hopes after the first set didn't hold true through the whole book... although I wonder if just having more of them would have helped.

Ch. 20 by Walton is about speculating what D&D will look like in the future, with random tables to generate your own possible future. The first half of the chapter seemed a bit long - I wish @Snarf Zagyg had written it because it would have been shorter and also amusing. Some of the random tables were fine, some were ludicrous, and some were boring. My favorite part was picking out all of the things that applied from the time of OD&D through the first years of AD&D.

The book ends with a two and a half page brief summary of the D&D editions. There's not much you can fit in 2.5 pages. I really wish they had revised the final entry before publication ("One D&D (2024 Onward)" as a new edition).

----

In terms of writing style, much of "Fifty Years of Dungeons & Dragons" is what you would expect from a bunch of scholars in a book published by an academic press.
  • There are some chapters I thought were well written, interesting to me personally, and seemed eminently appropriate - 2, 3, 5, 6, 13, 16
  • One I may be overrating because I really like the topic (so not surprised if others feel differently) - 10
  • One I think had a place in it, even if it didn't speak to me personally (so not surprised if others really like it) - 7
  • Some that I would have "Accepted with minor revision" and could then likely move to the top category - 9, 11, 12, 15, 18
  • Others that I would have had to choose between "Accept with major revision" or "Rejected with encouragement to resubmit" (and so probably would have eventually made it in if there was time) - 4, 14, 19, Vignettes
  • And some I probably would have leaned towards "Reject" and not put in - 8, 17, 20, New Art
  • Chapter 1 is the introduction, so I didn't rate that one; and I guess the edition summary is fine (except for the upcoming 2024), but I don't know what one would do with it to make it better but not huge.

I think there is a lot of room for more academic books on D&D and ttrpgs with an appeal to a general audience, and some of the chapters here (see individual chapter reviews) could serve as a basis to build out an entire book of similar things. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for what some of the authors are doing.

Giving an overall rating to a book like this is like rating an anthology of fiction where you really like some stories and others were kind of all over the place. I'm left wondering what I would have rated it if the four major revisions and the rejects just hadn't been in it, or if the minor and major revisions were all done. Luckily, since this isn't Amazon or Goodreads, I don't have to give an overall rating. (With apologies for those who really wanted one!)
Thank you for the review. It's really helpful.
 

Ornat1994

Villager
Thanks for sharing this! I'm always on the lookout for new perspectives on Dungeons & Dragons, especially as it hits such a significant milestone. Pre-ordering the Kindle version sounds like a great idea—I might just do the same.
 




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