Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Book Review: Slaying The Dragon

Co-created by wargame enthusiasts Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the original Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game released by TSR (Tactical Studies Rules) in 1974 created a radical new medium: the role-playing game. For the next two decades, TSR rocketed to success, producing multiple editions of D&D, numerous settings for the game, magazines, video games, New York Times bestselling novels by Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, and R. A. Salvatore, and even a TV show! But by 1997, a series of ruinous choices and failed projects brought TSR to the edge of doom—only to be saved by their fiercest competitor, Wizards of the Coast, the company behind the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering.

Unearthed from Ben Riggs’s own adventurous campaign of in-depth research, interviews with major players, and acquisitions of secret documents, Slaying the Dragon reveals the true story of the rise and fall of TSR. Go behind the scenes of their Lake Geneva headquarters where innovative artists and writers redefined the sword and sorcery genre, managers and executives sabotaged their own success by alienating their top talent, ignoring their customer fanbase, accruing a mountain of debt, and agreeing to deals which, by the end, made them into a publishing company unable to publish so much as a postcard.

Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons &d Dragons is scheduled for release on July 19, 2022. The publisher St. Martin's Press provided me an early galley in exchange for an honest review.

Over the years, I have read a number of books about the creation of this popular tabletop roleplaying game and the company that first produced it. That includes Game Wizards by Jon Peterson and Of Dice and Men by David W. Ewalt (the latter of which was a reference for this one). I have been playing Dungeons & Dragons since 1982 (when it was known as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) through today (the 5th Edition of the rules). Therefore, any books on the subject are a huge draw for me.

Riggs covers a good bit of, for me, familiar ground as he sets the stage and presents the history of the game's origins. He does so in a very friendly, accessible manner; he does not let dry facts and minutiae of details bog down his presentation of the entire history of the company. After just a quarter of the way in, he already has moved past the first iteration of TSR with the departure of Gary Gygax. I appreciated getting further into the company's and the game's story that quickly.

Another aspect that I enjoyed of this book was that it touched upon a number of the creative projects and endeavors from the company, outlining which ones were successes (moderately or otherwise) and which ones were failures. He talks about details of the projects, clearly coming from a fan viewpoint. But he also talks about the business decisions and feelings from the folks who were involved. From interviews, Riggs tries to get as many sides of the story as possible in hopes to paint the complete picture.

In the end, I found this a good discussion of the company who created one of the most enduring role-playing games so far.

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