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NetGalley Review: Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons by Ben Riggs

Hey all, Sam here.

Well, what do you know, I actually have a review for a book BEFORE its release date. I’m really trying to do better; hopefully it sticks. Because, overall, I actually do miss working on this blog. It was such a big part of my life for a number of years, and the past two years have felt off because I haven’t had a regular post schedule. I’ve really missed it.

Also, today isn’t just a book related post, because it’s also a gaming/D&D related post. I keep wanting to post about D&D on this blog but I keep freezing up every time I try to get a post prepped, so I’m working on it. Until then, I guess I’ll keep talking about books and writing.

Let’s get started.

Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons by Ben Riggs

Role-playing game historian Ben Riggs unveils the secret history of TSR— the company that unleashed imaginations with Dungeons & Dragons, was driven into ruin by disastrous management decisions, and then saved by their bitterest rival.

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.

As epic and fantastic as the adventures TSR published, Slaying the Dragon is the legendary tale of the rise and fall of the company that created the role-playing game world.

My Thoughts

Rating: 4 stars

So, I’ll be honest…I don’t often pick up non-fiction books. I haven’t really since getting out of grad school, unless it’s a topic I’m really interested in. When I saw this book on NetGalley, I had to put in my request.

TTRPGs have been a part of my life since college, and D&D has been a huge part of my life the past six years or so. I met my husband because of D&D. I met a nice group of amazing and supportive friends because of D&D.

But, while I knew some of the generalities of the history of Dungeons & Dragons, I hadn’t done any deep diving research into it. So this book taught me a lot, and I thought that was really great.

What I can say through all of this is that I feel author Ben Riggs spent a lot of time doing research and reaching out to everyone possible who was involved in the history of this great game. Not everyone responded, and even when one of those people was pretty important to the overall story, particularly the decline of the game, it is my opinion that Ben Riggs still tried to be as balanced and fair as he could be in telling this tale.

There was so much more than I originally thought to the story. It was an experience to make my way through this book and watch the puzzle pieces fall into place. Because of how invested I am these days in D&D, I definitely got excitedly emotional hearing of the successes of D&D and sad emotional when reading over all the trials and tribulations as the decline happened.

And while this book is nonfiction, it didn’t read as dry as some nonfiction books do. It was more like a story, just with more information involved.

All in all, I’m glad I read this book, and if you want to read about the rise and fall of the early days of Dungeons & Dragons, then this book is for you. Of course, this book only covers to the point where Wizards of the Coast bought the company, so perhaps in the future there will be a sort-of sequel book detailing the incredible rise of D&D in the modern era.

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You can pick up your own copy of this book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-million, Book Depository, or your local indie bookstore. Slaying the Dragon will be released July 19, 2022.

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