Empire of the Imagination by Michael Witwer (Book Review)

Gary Gygax played a huge role in gaming history and his contribution is still felt to this day across many tables and platforms. Find out more about this rarely spoken of legend and read what we think of the book.

Written by: Michael K Grymm

“I would like the world to remember me as the guy who really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge and his fun pastimes with everybody else”.

Gary Gyax,

Author, Game Designer & Legend

Unlike many of the contributors and bloggers online today who write at length on the subject of tabletop RPGs from a long history of gaming I came late to the party so to speak (forgive the pun). Though I was first introduced to Dungeons & Dragons through the cartoon that was airing on KTV2 in the early 90’s, which introduced me to basic lore and class concepts of the game despite it being severely watered down I got the idea of what fantasy as genre was.

Being a young boy in that era, growing up with tapes of Conan the Barbarian, The Hobbit animated film and the Heroic Legend of Arslan my mind already had awesome imagery populating the depths of my imagination. Heroic swordsmen dueling for the honor of their people and mages casting powerful magic against unholy demons were but a few of the cool scenarios I already had in my head running to a metal soundtrack.

            The cartoon was campy even for me as a child but I loved the idea of a group of friends coming together to defeat evil, if only around a table in a ‘let’s play pretend’ fashion. Being born and raised in Kuwait until I was 13 getting your hands on the game was next to impossible as most content in the country is still censored and certain board games, books and movies were not available. This would not be the case for videos games and movies as much because piracy was a big thing in the Middle East but nobody was pirating D&D to my knowledge.

The first copy I ever saw of the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide were when a new American family moved into the building and one of their kids played 3.5 with their friends back home. Sadly we never got around to playing but I remember being fascinated by the class options while also being intimidated by all the charts and numbers. It was not until my mid teens where I would get a firmer grasp on what RPG systems would become thanks to computer and video games having the global impact they did in the mid 90s to mid 00’s. I can still remember playing Blizzard’ Diablo on the Sony Playstation and later Diablo II on PC before getting hooked on Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 1 & 2 for the PS 2. The Dungeons & Dragons novels and the Dragonlance books would allow me to quest further into imaginary realms with heroes and villains doing epic magical battle and added more material for our talks in the playground. These ingredients would be the fabric of day dreams and short stories my brother and I would write in our primary school education, some would even win my brother his first writing awards. Fantasy will continue to be a big part of our pastime and content we enjoy even now as adults and Gary Gygax played a part in it much like he did for millions of others.

            All these great memories and feelings of nostalgia can in a large part be contributed to work of 2 men, Gary Gygax and David Arneson. Two avid, imaginative and almost obsessed creative giants whose talents we lost far too soon. This article will focus more on Gygax, the man who would co-found Tactical Simulation Rules in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin with a few friends and change the nature and shape of gaming and entertainment forever by publishing the still popular and relevant Dungeons & Dragons tabletop rpg system.

            I first heard about this book the first year it was published but only got it to read it the following year. Myself being a huge fan of history in general I find that I too love learning about the history of authors and the games that made my childhood so interesting and colorful. This autobiography chronicling the life of a man who I feel generations owe a lot to first emerged as the thesis for author’s Master Thesis at the University of Chicago.

            The author, Michael Witwer has been in writing professionally for most of his post graduate life but also is an accomplished stage performer with a history in community service and healthcare. Michael also has a blog and has appeared on several blogs and videocasts where he not only talks about the process of writing Empire of Imagination but also the stories surrounding that time and what could not make the book. I suggest checking out his appearance on Matt Chat to find out more about our author and get some other tasty pieces of information.

            I pushed play on this audio book knowing more than the average nerd about the origins of D&D and it’s creators. Having read whatever I could find online as well as the documentary ‘Secrets of Blackmoor: The True History of Dungeons & Dragons’, the review, which will be published on Nerd Dimension next week. Familiar with Gary’s troubled past at TSR (Tactical Studies Rules) and the legal feud between himself and Dave Arneson was also something that I hoped would be cleared up through the passages of Empire of Imagination. The author did his homework and attempted his best to deliver a man’s life story with great care to his legacy while also staying the course on keeping it balanced and true to events that surrounded this overlooked legend. This was no easy task when you consider that the author had a subject that had already passed by the time he started his research and had to find contacts and sources who could still testify to the events and Gary’s character. Some of the key actors in the drama would obviously avoid making comment, namely the conniving Blume brothers who this writer feels personally and directly contributed to many of the financial headaches of TSR prior to Lorraine Williams’ arrival at the company.

            Empire of the Imagination is a collection of authentic accounts in which the reader is taken through the life and times of a simple man, not a hero fighting in a war against a maniacal tyrant nor a political leader who captivated the hearts and minds of millions. Gary Gygax for the most part was a storyteller and gamer in a time where neither would get you far in life. The man spent half of his life working a 9 – 5 struggling to get by to feed his family of 4, which would continue to grow but it is this very struggle and his optimistic attitude that endears him to the reader. Witwer would write about the highs and the lows and the moments that molded Gary in his youth to his actions and digressions in adulthood. This expose of sorts brought home to me the nature of this man and how he truly cared about gamers and the game when RPGs, videogames and publishers looked at the genre as a whole as a fad and a niche that would eventually fizzle out. He started conventions and collaborated with people via snail mail and long distance phone calls just to enhance the experience for not just his players but also all players.

            Hearing about how Gary and his war gamer buddies went from reenacting historic military battles to designing an entirely new way to play and create a format of entertainment is inspirational and warms your heart to those independent creators out there today doing the same thing. You can identify with the working class man still devoted to his passion and seeing it come to fruition left me with a good feeling.

            This book is a must read for anybody who is a fan of the RPGs and classic Dungeons & Dragons as much as it is for the novice player just entering the universe that is RPGs. The story is gripping from beginning to end and you will feel for not only Gary but also for those around him while learning what it took to keep the game going for as long as he did. His determination and drive and eternal boyish nature would allow him to repeatedly pick himself up from any thing from financial ruin which would cripple anyone else to the emotional desolation of two divorces this small and great man would rise and be responsible for how we spend countless hours of our lives today. The book is well worth the purchase and I warmly recommend it to anybody who is thinking of getting to rpgs and not just a MUST read for writer and creators already in the industry.

I will have to give this book an 8 out of 10 and is worth having as I myself have revisited it 3 times until now and every time I pick up something new.

Dungeons & Dragons – Shadowplague (Comic Book Review) IDW

IDW pairing with TV writer John Rogers and what we thought of it. At a time when D&D was loosing fans because of 4th Edition did they get this right?

It is no mystery that most of us at Nerd Dimension are RPG Players who have played or still continue to play Dungeons & Dragons. It is synonymous with nerds, adventure and chances are that most of the people you know have heard about it or know something about it.  In the dark era in which Wizards of the Coast got greedy and foolish by releasing what is still dubbed the worst version Dungeons & Dragons. In this time IDW had the license agreement with WOTC to publish D&D comics. IDW had already obtained licenses were already coming off successes with popular TV franchises which they turned into comics with 24, CSI and Star Trek. The publisher also would give readers also print comics for popular gaming titles (Silent, Castlevania and Metal Gear Solid) and IDW continue to cater to their readers so D&D would make perfect sense.

I had already read two volumes of classic D&D comics (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) published by the giant DC comics and was curious to see how the newer material would read. Having also real several novels including The Crystal Shard & Homeland I went in knowing a lot about D&D and the lore.

The duo that put together Shadowplague were screenwriter John Rogers (The Core and Leverage) and seasoned artist Andrea Di Vito ( Marvel’s Annihilation), peaking my interest as I had not heard of Rogers prior to this book and actually thought it could be a idea getting someone from TV for the writing. Later I would see he worked on Catwoman.I feel I need not add insult to injury but this guy did go on to do bigger and better things. John Rogers would write for the Young Justice, Librarians and the Teen Titans all shows which I enjoyed so he was up two in my grade book.

shadowplague

I loved the art on the cover, the characters well drawn and it looked a lot fresher than the older issues I had read before. A big step up but then again I was reading content from the late 80’s & early 90’s.  The writing in Shadowplague is not the best but it is well written with the average reader in mind. I could see how the writers work in television helped him in making the story a little more engaging to those who would come in as novices. Not too many people will understand the difference between a spell and a cantrip and like most of us in high school we hated reading old English. The writer here managed to meet you halfway so that the dialogue feels modern but not too modern that it works against the feel of the setting. I like the coloring and the shading in the panels, especially how some of the characters get those extra details in the right places. I do however miss the rugged look of the older comics but the visually the comic is up to standards and I cannot complain nor praise it.

The plot is not the most original but then again what do you expect buying a Dungeons & Dragons comic? I did like that this was not a comic version of other stories but more a continued comic book series. The characters and story did not have to measure up against previous bestsellers and both the artist and the writer could add more of themselves to the creation of the book. The story revolves around a party that have just joined forces out of common interests and we read the unfolding of the stories. Some have intriguing conflicts that push them further forward whereas others are more stereotypical in a fantasy sense, meaning the elf and dwarf are not that keen on each others company. Through the story it does feel like D&D in the sense that the characters classes do get to play to their strengths in the story and the story, though dry does get you the last page.

I still prefer the older version of the comics but that is my opinion. I feel they were more original with some of the storytelling and think that Shadowplague is a light entry. I saw that quite a few people gave this book a favorable review but I will have to be the outlier…again. The writing and page count left me with things to desire, more chapters and a better conclusion for the price I paid. The book I bought online through amazon did not last two readings before falling out from the spine. I feel they could have been a little more creative with the characters and perhaps added more so that I would feel tempted to fork over more money for the next book. The way things stand now I will not be purchasing the remaining books as I have got into their more recent D&D Publications which you can bet we will talk and write about in posts to come.

Rating: 6 out of 10

 

In closing, if you can source this book or the whole run for cheap then by all  means pull out the plastic and make your bid. I could recommend this comic to someone thinking of getting into D&D and it is a good, light introduction without being too heavy. I talked with some younger readers who said it was fun to see the different races and got curious about the tabletop and video games after reading so in that sense the book does serve a purpose.  For more information on the pair behind the book they did an interview with Newsrama in 2010 we invite you to read.

Thank you for reading, please leave a comment even if it is to contradict my opinion, rate even if it is 3 out of 5  and most importantly subscribe/follow our pages on FACEBOOK + MIXCLOUD as to stay up to date on content and contests. We are always interested in your feedback and welcome your submissions and entries. To hear more on the book the in audio format visit The Nerd Dimension episode in the link.

 

International TableTop Day 2015, held on 11. 04. 2015. @ FESB powered by : Carta Magica Split & Stari Svijet

That Saturday it was a sunny day in Split, the sun was shinning and a cool breeze was blowing. Almost too hot for the hoodies and jackets many of the students from FESB ( University of Split Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture … the translation is brutal). This writer was on route to the college to DM a session at the first ever International Table Top Day event to be held in Split. It was the brain child of the gracious owners of Carta Magica and the members of Stari Svijet who decided to throw an open door event to promote the culture of gaming.

I was approached and volunteered to do be a Dunegeon Master and even considered bringing my guilds set of Summoner Wars and maybe school some noobs in between D&D sessions. Or so I thought. Fast forward to your beloved blogger speeding towards the venue with half his notes missing as well as his second fix of caffeine. Upon arrival I was welcomed by the part I was to DM for that faithful morning but first shook hands with my inside guys : Marko Mlinar and Kruno Lapenda (two of the three Owners of Carta Magica Split).

Preparations were still underway as the final waves of promotion went down. I laid down my materials and ran across to the Carta Magica store to print some character sheets and buy some cigarettes where I bumped into a few guys who looked like they would be interested in throwing some dice and squashing some minions. Returning to the venue I saw that we had table 1 next to the blackboard and my party awaited :

encounterJerko Sanja Kruno Ivan

ROLE CALL :

Sanja M. aka Scarlet > a fiery dragonborn sorcerer in pursuit of knowledge and magical artifacts. Not too bad to look at neither.

Boris M. aka Skaras > A water Genassi cleric whose neutrality would make the Swiss look like bullies. Not for nothing but it was not the water that made this Cleric slippery.

Nikola aka Rockslide: Sadly Nikola had to jump ship half way through the questing and was picked up by Ljubo Simic temporarily. Sadly no one has seen or heard from Rockslide since…dare we call it a conspiracy?

Marin M. aka Heldeggar: Interesting rogue, always bouncing around but despite his size asked the big questions.

Josip B. aka Arthos: A curious caster who found himself in a bit of a pinch with some Planar chick but how can you blame him, those eyes are hypnotic !

Jerko HP. aka Bruce Banner: Bruce is truly smarter than you average barbarian, no seriously he is 😀

Ivan P. aka Scottish Legolas : In between drinking and hitting on some of the shadiest women in Ashroft he is … stabbing himself with his arrows or contracting parasites.

game Runebound

Considering I myself was new to D&D 5.0 there was no shortage of laughs, puzzle solving and ofcourse a dungeon was entered and a fight broke out in the tavern. All in all dice were rolled, role play points were awarded and most of all fun was had. In the down time other games could have been played ranging from Warhammer 40 K, Arkham Horror, Runebound 2nd Edition, Race for the Galaxy, Game of Thrones, World of Warcraft, the epic Twilight Imperium to name a few. No gamer walked away without getting their fix of their favorite table top games or trying something new out. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organizers for getting us the big hall and providing us with food and beverages. For the first time ever in Split gamers had a space they could call home and the place and the gaming ran well into 21:00 before an after party was announced for the brave few.

I was sad to see all the games boxed up but in my eyes and those I played with it was a success and they can count on our support any time. I would recommend that anyone visiting ST and looking to kill some time to pencil in a game, or if someone from ST is looking to dive into the magical world of board games and RPGs to also swing by, the people at Carta Magica are very forthcoming with information and even offer a 5% discount on cash purchases for members of their club. Below I have attached the links where you can check for time slots, browse the pictures and like their group.

Word is a con is coming to Split in the very near future and we are expecting more people to show up and support. I encourage those visiting Split, studying in split or just living in Split to check out the store because you never know when you can meet your next board game buddy or just start a new friendship.

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Dungeons and Dragons : Legends of Drizzt ( Review )

It’s Drow Time at TFD as we sink our teeth into Wizards most popular popular board game. Read on to see more.

My guild and I decided to purchase The Legends of Drizzt board game (Wizards of the Coast) from  Carta Magica to make the winter a little more fun. The reviews we managed to see online from Dice Tower and other channels on YouTube all praised the game and what truly drew us into it was that it is a 5 player coop board game using the characters from the Forgotten Realms novels. We all were familiar with classic Dungeons and Dragons so it was not hard to make our decisions and don’t expect me to trash the game. They provide you with minis that you can use for your traditional D&D campaigns as well as a decent D20. As for adventures they provide you with a simple rulebook and an adventure book but fret not my fellow gamers there are also home brew and custom scenarios you can find online to keep the steam going.  What made this more interesting is that the original D&D Fantasy adventure game was only 4 players and required a DM whereas Wizards fixed this kink so that everyone can quest together. The coolest part is that the game is one of 3 released (Wrath of Ashardalon & Castle Ravenloft) which all serve as stand alone expansions meaning you switch treasure cards, heroes, tiles and adventures. In the last 6  months Wizards released Temple of Elemental Doom which too is a standalone expansion. The fact that Wizards provide advanced decks to keep the game playable longer than other similar products which you can get bored of recently. The hero selection is impressive but the lack of female heroes did not farewell with the female guild members but what can you do. I personally would recommend the game for anybody looking for a tabletop game one can play with family or friends and have a good hour and a half to kill.

drizzt

My rating would be 9/10

A must buy for anyone trying to get into fantasy RPG and a great gift for someone trying to get their friends into it.

 

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