Hello, Reddit! I'm a business and game journalist, and I've written a book called Of Dice and Men, which is about one of the most important games of our time. I'll answer questions about the history of role-playing games and their unique cultural impact; about the modern video game business; about journalism and publishing; or anything else you care to ask.

I'm also here to tell you about a big giveaway I'm running where you can win free games and other cool stuff if you buy the book: Check out the Of Dice and Men Treasure Hunt for details.

Comments: 541 • Responses: 31  • Date: 

New_Hampshire_Ganja104 karma

As someone who has never played dungeons and dragons, and with friends who are also interested in playing, where do I begin?

Classic-Redditor161 karma

Watch the Community episode of Dungeons and Dragons.

utherdoul180 karma

Just don't be Pierce.

utherdoul96 karma

There are a couple routes to getting started. My best advice is to join a group of experienced players first, for at least one game; you'll see how it's done and will get a chance to ask lots of questions. I've had good luck finding games online; look for local meetups or ask around on sites like Enworld or the various role-playing game subreddits. You might also go check out Wizard of the Coast's Encounters program, which sets up short games at local game and comic book stores.

If you can't find an existing game to get into, just buy yourself a Player's Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. Both books explain how to get started if you're totally new to the game. You could also download the free playtest materials for D&D Next. They won't be quite as clearly written, but the new rules are simple and an excellent place to start.

turner_prize17 karma

/r/dnd is a good place to start. Plenty of info on different editions of the game, and a lot of people willing to help you with any questions!

utherdoul18 karma

Reddit's various role-playing subreddits are great... not just /r/DnD but also /r/rpg, /r/DungeonsAndDragons and /r/lfg, to name a few.

rolls20s12 karma

I introduced my wife to it by having her listen to the official D&D podcasts done with the guys from Penny Arcade (along with some special guests). They started these a few years ago, and are actually finishing up another one this week. Now, they are playing 4th edition (and D&D Next), which some people may scoff at, but for a newbie it really is a good way to learn about how general play and storytelling works. In the beginning of the first podcast, Mike Krahulik from PA had never played before, and therefore you can sort of learn along with him. Nowadays he's really into it as a result. There's also a video of them playing live at PAX, but it comes after the first 4 or 5 podcasts chronologically. The current (6th) podcast is leading up to a new live session at the upcoming PAX Prime. It's also just genuinely entertaining.

Edit: As /u/Menacing mentioned below, here is a more complete list of the Podcasts and videos.

utherdoul8 karma

The PA guys are great. I interview Mike & Jerry in my book.

Fun fact: On on of my reporting trips to Wizards of the Coast's headquarters, I spotted Mike's painting of Jim Darkmagic hanging right outside the CEO's office.

Roosterman5966 karma

Did you find out anything unexpected while writing your book?

utherdoul67 karma

A lot. One thing sure to get the RPG partisans up in arms: TSR owner Lorraine Williams, the woman who booted Gary Gygax from the company, isn't the one-dimensional evil figure many gamers have made her out to be. I certainly don't agree with many of her decisions, but TSR did a lot of interesting work with her at the helm, and she had good intentions for the company.

n1nj4squirrel37 karma

how do you feel about the change from 3.5 to 4th

crash__bandicoot53 karma

In a reply to /u/Yourhero88:

/u/uthedoul: The leap from 3.5 to 4.0 was a mess. I'm still playing 3.5 in my primary campaign, and one of the main reasons is that our characters would have changed too radically in the translation; they wouldn't be the same people.

I saw the two separate comments and thought, in case he doesn't reply to you himself, I could help close the gap.

utherdoul51 karma

Crash Bandicoot saves the day again.

LordFluffy32 karma

Thanks for doing this.

I'm curious how you feel about the stereotypes surrounding tabletop gamers (i.e. unwashed, socially inept virgins living in their parents' basments) and how or if that's changed over the years, especially as we're now seeing people teaching the games to their kids as well as celebrities and successful people who have gamed or who still game. Any comments or insights?

utherdoul67 karma

I think like most stereotypes, they're mostly (but not entirely) nonsense. One of the reasons tabletop games have been so popular over the years is that the community is very welcoming to geeky people who feel outcast from other pastimes; that's a very good thing, but it's helped saddle the hobby with some of the negative stereotypes you're referencing.

Perceptions are changing quickly, though. One big factor has been the general explosion of gaming as a pastime; today nearly everyone from grandmas to toddlers plays some kind of video game, so tabletop gaming doesn't seem so alien and weird anymore. The emergence of celebrity gamers is a big help, too: When respected people like Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, Patton Oswalt and Aisha Tyler play games, it's hard to say that gamers are all sad, lonely neckbeards.

gnomestress3 karma

On the topic of stereotypes, I have friends who are gamers that embody the stereotype (socially awkward, chronically unemployed, overweight...and so on) and I value them as much as people who don't fit the stereotype. Their bathing status, weight, and/or employment history don't change their ability to be a good friend and someone who is fun to game with. I've made a lot of friends and had great times with people because I pushed past the initial impression that I got from them.

I was at GenCon this past weekend so I have examples that are pretty fresh in my mind. I'm very shy in a lot of situations. The fun thing about conventions is that I know that the majority of people there are at least at bad at talking to new people as I am. That knowledge gives me the courage to break the ice. Conventions have helped me get better at meeting and talking to new people. So maybe my personal experience has increased my tolerance for those who lack people skills.

I went this year with several of my friends. Three of us sat down to playtest a game. Since we needed a fourth, someone who was at the con alone was sat at our table. He was quiet, sullen, and seemed a little overcritical. By the time our game was over he was smiling and joking with us. At another point in the con I talked to a couple of nervous teenagers while I was waiting in line to playtest D&D Next. They were pretty hesitant at first and talking to a girl about gaming was clearly a new experience for them. We had a great conversation about Dr Who, different gaming rulesets, and the fun we'd had at the con so far. Eventually it was time to get split into groups to be assigned a DM and we had to part ways.

My friends and I ended up getting sat down with a father and son who were at their first Gencon on a Saturday pass. They'd played Heroclix and wanted to try out D&D because they liked games with dice and stats. I got to see a dad and his son have a bonding experience and I knew by the end of our game they were hooked. While we waited in line for our free goodies (woo, swag!) I talked to them about different systems and genres of RPGs. It was exciting to see a family find a new hobby to enjoy.

TLDR: Be kind to your neckbearded friends. That wingus could be somebody's brother.

utherdoul3 karma

I'll second that. For a crowd full of "socially awkward nerds," the people at GenCon are genuinely the nicest group you can imagine. Everyone is so happy to be there, and so glad to be surrounded by like-minded people; I've had so many wonderful, unexpected interactions with random people at Gen Con over the years. Just because someone isn't very good at starting up a conversation with a stranger doesn't mean they won't be super amazing to talk to once they finally do.

Yourhero8830 karma

What do you think about the move from D&D that was, a complicated nerd right of passage, to 4th edition (and even the play tests of 5th) which has considerably simplified the rules, but broadened the user base?

Looks like the book is getting some great buzz, definitely going to pick up a copy.

utherdoul66 karma

Mechanically: The leap from 3.5 to 4.0 was a mess. I'm still playing 3.5 in my primary campaign, and one of the main reasons is that our characters would have changed too radically in the translation; they wouldn't be the same people.

Theoretically: I understand what WotC was trying to do when it moved to the simplified, video-game mechanics of 4.0, and while that wasn't a decision that served my tastes, I understand that a lot of new and younger players really responded to it. The transition to 5.0 is something different; while the rules are indeed simplified, the intention is to emphasize the "core" values of role-playing and adventuring, not to mimic a different kind of game altogether.

Spiritually: It's all D&D, and I'm psyched whenever someone's playing, whether they prefer 4.0, 3.5, AD&D 2e or whatever else.

agonist538 karma

Pathfinder was the solution to 3.5 ending for our group.. It's like 3.75

utherdoul51 karma

Pathfinder is a great game; the only reason my group didn't migrate is that we didn't want to have to buy a new batch of books. If someone is new to role-playing games and has tried and like "3.5-style" play, I'd heartily recommend that they get into Pathfinder as opposed to hunt down the 3.5 books.

turtlepowerpizzatime28 karma

You enter a room lit with only a couple of torches, 24'x24', so it's fairly dark. There is a small dragon skull in the center of the far wall and a large treasure chest directly under it that looks like it's centuries older than the room itself. What do you do?

utherdoul33 karma

Flatter the wizard and get him to cast a Light spell; convince the fighter that there might be something to kill hiding under the skull; tell the thief that the chest definitely isn't trapped and is probably full of gold. Hang out in the entryway until everything goes wrong, then collect any treasure once it's over.

turtlepowerpizzatime28 karma

As soon as the rest of the party enters, the floor shifts a bit and a Mind Flayer and two Beholders appear in a cloud of black smoke. As this happens, iron spike poles shoot up from the floor where you stand to block the only exit, impaling you in the process. You are dead and the rest of your party goes on to defeat the monsters, gaining massive xp and loots. The dragon skull turns back into the dragon it once was, thanks them for freeing him, and gives them women (and men for the ladies playing), power, and all the gummy bears they can eat. You are still dead.

utherdoul44 karma

I know one Dungeon Master who isn't getting any of my pizza.

ClicheHenchman20 karma

Gamer opinion on Wizards of the Coast seem so split. Anything in particular generate this animosity? Lots of little things? Do gamers just like to complain?

Got a favorite board game?

utherdoul20 karma

Gamers are incredibly passionate and involved in their hobby. I think it's because we have to project ourselves into our characters; we create an emotional connection with the game that doesn't exist in other activities. As a result, we sometimes take decisions made by a faraway company way too seriously.

Now, with that said, WotC has definitely contributed to this problem in the past. They've pretty much copped to bungling the launch of D&D 4.0 and alienating huge chunks of their fan base; for what it's worth, they're trying very hard to listen to fans now, and to deliver a new game that represents what fans want, as opposed to what WotC thinks they should have.

Edit: Forgot to answer your board game question. Catan and Carcassone are favorites, naturally. I'm also very fond of Ticket to Ride, Dungeon!, and Puerto Rico. And I just played Shadows over Camelot at Gen Con, and really enjoyed it.

psychicmachinery20 karma

I've been playing tabletop rpg's off and on for nearly 30 years, and I love them, but even I would be a little hesitant to call D&D one of the most important games of our time. Would you care to elaborate on what makes it important, or expand on their cultural impact?

utherdoul55 karma

I wrote a long and thoughtful reply to this question, but it was apparently eaten by a grue. So I'm going to attempt a quicker answer:

  • D&D pioneered and popularized many game concepts and mechanics that are ubiquitous in modern tabletop and video games, from the basic idea of a character who persists and gains levels over time, to the idea of a dungeon crawl full of monsters and loot.

  • D&D gave birth to the modern video game industry; many of the earliest and most popular video games were essentially attempts to automate the D&D experience. And a huge percentage of today's most powerful and respected game designers say they got interested in making games because they played D&D as a kid.

  • D&D helped popularize the modern fantasy genre, and helped make fantasy films and tv a mainstream, marketable proposition

  • D&D inspired a whole generation of writers, artists, and content creators. Just one example: Iron Man director John Favreau says he learned how to tell a story by playing D&D.

hircine114 karma

I heard your interview on NPR this weekend. I'll be checking out the book for sure.

Did or do you play any other RPG systems? The old West End Star Wars, RIfts, etc? How did they compare in your experience?

utherdoul14 karma

I've played many different systems, including the two you mention. When I was in high school we played a lot of R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk, White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade, and FASA's Shadowrun.

At the moment, the two long-term campaigns I'm involved in are both D&D (3.5 and Next). But I like changing genres and trying new systems. Typically, I'll try other games at a convention or as a short one-off adventure with friends. When we like something we might return to it again later.

The latest discovery that we've tried several times and I recommend heartily: Dread.

MiShirtGuy12 karma

I'm a former gamer, and former game industry insider. I'm curious, how do you feel about the stagnation and overall trend of game stores closing in America, and what that says about the future of traditional table top/ccg/miniature wargaming etc? Moreover, as a Retailer & Liquidator, I watched store after store die a slow death from it's own customer's turning on them through demanding discounts, or just going online for their gaming gear. I've always asserted that it's the community aspect of table top gaming that has kept it alive and well, and watching the network of stores dying over the years is disheartening to see, since it reduces the exposure to gain new gamers. Obviously video games has taken their chunk of the market, but with Magic The Gathering still going strong, and other games more popular than ever, where do you see the game industry going since the foot soldiers of gaming, the stores, are growing less and less each year? Thank you for your thoughts, and I look forward to reading your book. If you wouldn't mind, please PM me information regarding how I can carry it in my store for my customers to purchase :)

Edit: Grammar.

RampantAnonymous14 karma

Not the OP but... The FLGS (Friendly Local Gaming Store) suffers frankly from the fact that RPGs simply don't NEED them.

An RPG requires only a set of rules (information) and maybe some dice. As we all know, transmitting images and text is much cheaper and easier on the internet. Everything about an RPG can be virtualized. As we move further into a paperless world, FLGS will simply be unable to support RPGs as a revenue stream.

They DO have one thing they can do. RPGs require lots of people to play, and lots of room. It's enhanced by using special props, tools, tables, etc. An FLGS can profit by charging for that.

The FLGS simply needs to transition from a place to BUY games to a place to PLAY games. Spaces where people merely hangout- restaurants, diners and bars are not suffering from being technologically displaced. The FLGS simply needs to turn into a place where people hang out. Let's not forgot gamers are also pretty notorious for buying lots of pizza, soda and beer (Although selling beer at an FLGS is probably not good for minors..)

If the FLGS moved over into the hospitality space from the retail space, I think it has a place in future markets.

utherdoul5 karma


Okay, I'll expand a little. In a digital world, all game stores must offer something you can't get online. This is true both in the video game world (where shops need to offer trade-ins and used games) and in the tabletop world (where you need to offer space to play). In the 70s and 80s, often the only way to get obscure hobbyist stuff like RPG manuals was to go to your local game store; today, I can download a pdf to my phone anytime, anywhere!

I live in Brooklyn, New York, and am a great fan of two local game shops that know the key to success is offering the community space to play their games, and a place to find like-minded gamers: The Brooklyn Strategist and the Twenty Sided Store.

binnseyatwork8 karma

Do you have a favourite d20 game/edition?

utherdoul15 karma

The version I play the most with my friends (and the campaign I write about in Of Dice and Men is D&D 3.5. But we're also playing the D&D Next playtest, and I'm really enjoying those rules, so far.

Other systems I am especially fond of include Paranoia, Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun, Dread and Adventurer Conqueror King.

nermid5 karma

Shadowrun is the one game I've always wanted to play, but I've never met another tabletop player in meatspace who was interested.

utherdoul14 karma

Go to a convention! There were a bunch of Shadowrun games (across multiple editions) at Gen Con last week.

Stu2du8 karma

D&D, and by extension Gary Gygax, was a big positive influence on my youth. I have a question, though...

Was Gygax cursed? It seems like he was gifted with creating amazing things that lots of people enjoy but then someone else would take that thing and mess things up in one way or another in the pursuit of profit.

D&D is an example. Was the sale of the game to WOTC and all the financial and legal fighting around that as bad as it seemed?

GenCon is the other example.

utherdoul4 karma

Gary's a complicated figure. He unquestionably got screwed by the actions of other people, and was a victim of circumstance and fate. But he wasn't an innocent, either: He contributed to the financial mismanagement of TSR, and he threatened a lot of small game-makers the same way TSR later harassed him.

The sale of TSR to WotC and all the various legal and financial battles in the history of the game were indeed as ugly as you've heard. There's a reason why people are still so polarized and angry about those events, even decades later.

Ultimately, I believe all the negativity will fade away. Gary's legacy is that he created an awesome game, and that's what's going to survive the ages.

Sonez228 karma

How does one survive in the print journalism business?

utherdoul20 karma

How to survive in print journalism? Be Malcolm Gladwell.

Seriously, though; there's only a handful of people that can survive as exclusively print journalists. Today you have to be a master of print, online, video and social media in order to survive. I think that's a good thing. Specialization is limiting: It doesn't give you an advantage in the medium of your choice, it shackles you in all the others.

ajtexasranger8 karma

As someone who has never played D&D, why should I start playing?

Just wondering some reasons on why people play this game.

utherdoul2 karma

Role-playing games offer a really unique and powerful form of entertainment; they're more interactive than video games, more engrossing than TV or film, and more social than books.

Mostly, they're just tremendously fun. Who doesn't want to sit around a table with their friends and tell a cool story?

Aldrahill7 karma

How did you get into journalism?

Simple question I know, but... Damn, it's hard. I've been trying for a while, eventually creating my own site for a portfolio of sorts, and I've written for a variety of sites pro bono, but how does one make the leap to a formal position?

Would you say formal qualifications are needed? I regret every day I took English instead of Journalism :(

utherdoul11 karma

Basically, I developed a personal expertise (I was a computer nerd) and then got some basic experience (I edited my school paper in college). That lead to a job writing about technology for a trade magazine, and after several years doing that, I had a strong enough set of clips to get a job writing about technology for Forbes.com, and then later Forbes Magazine.

I feel for you; it is hard. But the best thing you can do is to find a topic that you're really passionate about, learn everything you can about it, and then write, write, write. Even if you're just posting to your own blog, post stories about your topic every single day.

When I hire new reporters, I care a lot more about the quality of their writing and the depth of their expertise than about their formal qualifications. And the best way to become a good, smart writer is to do write all the time.

Keep at it, and don't get discouraged. This is one business where intelligence and talent can still shine through.

Aldrahill2 karma

See, I have a problem.

We sound the same, up until the part where you get a paying job at a tech magazine! How did you get the position? Was your college degree linked to journalism at all?

I agree about the writing. I mean, honestly lately I've been really lax in my writing recently, but that's because I'm working full time at a temp job. Once I get home, I'm just so tired and creatively drained that I never properly complete and article or story or anything.

This is my site (ignore the Crusader Kings 2 AARs, the writing on them, was trying something new that didn't work out :P ), and it's had rather infrequent updates recently, mostly because I've been doing so much work! It's hard to get to the time to just write, you know?

Good to hear that you at take people based on skill! Hopefully I'll one day be good enough to be taken in based on just that.

I just don't really have anywhere to apply to, however... I live in Canterbury in the UK, and there's not really jobs available for journalists.

utherdoul5 karma

I got the paying job at a tech magazine because I met an alumni of the school newspaper who was now working at that company. He wanted to support the editors who came after him (shout out to the Stony Brook Press!), so he told me about the opening and I applied.

Journalism is not special in this regard; in every industry, it helps to know someone who is already in it.

That said, I can tell you that I've hired (or seen hired) people who were entirely self-starters, and didn't know anyone in the business. Just keep an eye out on journalism job boards and media gossip sites, and apply whenever you see a job opening.

I don't deny it's the hard way to get into the business, but it's certainly still possible.

One other thought: You'll note that I started out at a trade magazine, not at Forbes. Too many young journalists expect to get out of school and go straight to a national consumer magazine. Trade magazines and web sites are a great way to get in the business; the bar for entry is lower, and you'll be super-focused on a single topic, which really helps you develop expertise and reporting skills.

surrealasm_atwork6 karma

Would you rather fight one horse-sized Chaotic Evil duck or 100 duck-sized Lawful Good horses? You can have a +1 sword.

utherdoul2 karma

Considering how long I've been on Reddit, I can't believe I have never thought to make the players in the campaign I DM fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses. Our next session is going to be very interesting.

For the record: I'd choose one horse-sized duck. A hundred duck-sized horses just sounds exhausting.

facecube4 karma

Hey Mr. Ewalt, thanks for stopping by.

I recently read Playing At the World, which seems to cover similar territory. What distinguishes your book from that one? I'm going to need a defense to tell my girlfriend about why I have two big histories of D&D.

utherdoul6 karma

Peterson's book is great, and an impressive work of scholarship. I highly recommend it for passionate RPG fans, but it's not for everyone; it's 700 pages, very detailed, and goes to great depth on the history of role-playing games.

My intention with Of Dice and Men was to reach a mainstream audience, to explain D&D to people who have never played the game, or to share the basic history to casual players who like the hobby but don't know much about it. I believe that even the most hardcore fans will learn something from the book, but that it's also something you could give to a family member or friend who has never even picked up a 20-sided die.

phillipgerba5 karma

I'm not Dave, but I am featured in his book. I can tell you that Dave's book is the best history of D&D ever written, and probably the best book ever written because I, the most humble person in the world, am featured in it.

utherdoul6 karma

Phillip is "Genubi" in the D&D campaign I write about in the book!

mbss3 karma

hey there. D&D is interesting to me even though i've never really played. i recently saw one movie on the subject that i believe was called "Dungeon Master," and i've seen a couple of LARP movies. i'm pretty sure one was called "Darkon." do you have any more movies on the subject you would recommend?

utherdoul3 karma

The currently-in-progress DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: A documentary is going to be amazing. You might also check out a comedy called The Gamers, or on TV, the D&D episodes of Community and Freaks & Geeks.

well_uh_yeah2 karma

What's the closest D&D has ever come to really going mainstream? Like, was it ever a possibility that we would see televised games? I always sort of wonder why poker on TV caught on and not other things.

utherdoul2 karma

Check out Penny Arcade's Acquisitions, Inc live games. I can easily imagine a future where these sort of games appear on television.

RampantAnonymous2 karma

How did you manage to get publishers to pay you to write a book about playing RPGs?

utherdoul9 karma

The Charm Monster spell is surprisingly effective against even high-level publishers.

Menacing1 karma

What are your thoughts on (mostly) dice-less games like Fiasco that focus almost exclusively on storytelling?

utherdoul2 karma

I have mentioned the game in a few other answers, but I'm completely enamored with the totally dice-less system used in the role-playing game Dread.

It's an indy RPG focusing on horror stories, and every time your character tries to take an action that might require rolling dice, you pull a single piece from a Jenga tower. It sounds silly, but it works perfectly for the horror genre; as you get further into the game and the plot starts to get scary, there's a physical manifestation of that tension right there on the table. It's beautifully executed.