Rise of the Dungeon Master cover

Rise of the Dungeon Master, written by David Kushner and illustrated by Koren Shadmi, is a graphic novel introduction to the history of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s meant to be informative to someone who has no previous knowledge of the history of the game. As such it might be a good book to hand out to a brand-new player in a game of Dungeons and Dragons. It would depend on the person though. The art is in black and white comic style and is very accessible. The story on the other hand is oddly done. The book is written in second person as if the reader were a character in various scenes of D&D history.

In chapter one, the reader is a con attendee in Lake Geneva in 2007. The reader is invited by Gary Gygax to play a game with him. The game of course is D&D and the reader is then given an introduction into what the game is. In the second chapter, the reader becomes Gary Gygax, following him from his early childhood years up through his early adulthood and his creation of the wargame Chainmail. Chainmail included fantasy creatures as playable soldiers in a medieval setting. In chapter three, the reader becomes Dave Arneson. The chapter follows Arneson in his early 20s as he meets Gary Gygax and then subsequently modifies the Chainmail system to create a game with fantasy creatures in a dungeon being fought by the players who control just one hero which levels up as he or she gains experience. In chapter four the reader once again becomes Gygax as he creates Dungeons and Dragons out of Arneson’s concepts and then forms TSR to sell the game. In chapter five the reader becomes Dave Arneson again, followed by several creators of early computer games based off D&D, from Will Crowther to Richard Garriot. In chapter six, the reader is at first William Dear, the detective who started the D&D satanic panic in the 80s. Then the chapter shifts and follows the satanic panic itself. In chapter seven, the reader first follows Gygax as he grows the D&D brand. Then the persepctive changes again to Arneson as he battles legally for credit in the creation of D&D, becomes a teacher at Full Sail in Florida, and sells off his remaining stake in TSR. In chapter eight, the reader becomes a 70s teenager who grows up to have a career in the gaming industry. The chapter covers Wizards of the Coast buying TSR and then releasing third edition and fourth edition. Chapter nine ends the book by covering the deaths of Arneson and Gygax, as well as the release of 5th edition D&D.

All told the book felt a bit disjointed to me, due to its approach of a changing second person perspective. It does provide a general overview of the history of D&D in a way that’s very accessible. There is a small amount of adult language in the book and so parents should be aware of that if they are looking to get the book for their children to read. If it weren’t for those couple of uses of adult language the book would be perfectly useful in an elementary school library’s collection, as it is written on a level that children of about third grade and up could easily understand. Due to that low level of content complexity, the book may feel rather juvenile to an adult reader at times. Thus, the book ends up in a rather weird hybrid situation of child-level complexity mixed with some minor adult content.