Non-Fiction Book Review: 30 Years of Adventure – A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons

When this book came out 6 years ago, I kind of missed it. I never got around to picking it up and reading it. Now, after the 4th Edition of D&D has come out, I have finally picked it up from the library and read it.

General Information

Title: 30 Years of Adventure – A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons
Author: Forward by Vin Diesel, Essays by Harold Johnson, E. Gary Gygax, Steve Winter, and others.
Original Publication Date: 2004
ISBN: 0-7869-3498-0
Cover Price: $49.95 US when it was published. It runs considerably less from used now.
The book is available from in Paperback or Hardcover.

Subject Matter

In honor of D&D’s 30 year anniversary, this book charts the history of Dungeons & Dragons, from it’s beginnings as a spin-off of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s Chainmail game, running all the way to the design process for D&D 3rd Edition. Along the way we get remembrances from people who were within TSR, and from people in the Entertainment industry who played D&D, from Wil Wheaton, to Vin Diesel, to Genndy Tartakovsky, to Laurel K. Hamilton.

High Points

It’s just fun to go through the history of D&D, especially when they go through the various changes of classic Dungeons & Dragons, from White Box to Red Box to Other Red Box Sans Erol Morris and so on. Similarly, it was nice seeing the mindsets that lead to the shift from Dungeons & Dragons to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It was also nice to learn about the decisions that lead to some of D&D’s greatest campaign settings – Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Planescape, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Greyhawk, and Spelljamer.

Low Points

As someone who finished reading The Soul of a New Machine, and Game Over before I started this, and someone who started using the Internet around the end of TSR, I have to say that this book’s omissions are just as notable as it’s inclusions. Firstly, the book really downplays the problems that happened with TSR. In particular, the problems that lead to Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson being ousted from the company they founded. They don’t cover the problems that came up under Lorraine Williams run in charge of the company, including their problems with handling the community (especially fan-sites). They don’t go into the serious difficulties that D&D had to overcome in the mainstream media, particularly thanks to people like Patricia Pulling. Hell, just getting an essay from Aaron Alliston about the Pulling Report, what lead him to write it, the process of writing it, and responses to it would have been great.

Additionally, the book also omits coverage of some more favorable things that I wouldn’t have minded reading about – Dungeon & Dragon magazine – how they started and how they evolved. The magazines do get some mention in passing, but I really would have liked to know more, especially since material covered in the magazines later lead to the changes leading to 2nd edition, as well as leading to the start of the Forgotton Realms campaign setting.

I also was disappointed to find that there was no coverage of the Birthright campaign setting – which in my eyes was the setting that was most different from all the other campaign settings (including Planescape). That was one setting which I would have loved to learn more about, in an Inside Baseball-how did you get the idea for this setting sense. Finally, of all the VIP’s and entertainment people who contribute to the book, the one who I felt was really missing was P. N. Elrod. Aside from all her other mainstream vampire fiction, Elrod contributed adventures to Dungeon Magazine, as well as later writing the first novel for the Ravenloft Campaign setting, I, Strahd.

The Scores

Note: As this is a non-fiction book, I’m using the review scores that W. Blaine Dowler used for his Textbook review 4 years ago, with some significant modification.

Clarity: The book is clearly written. Most of the essays are written by people with first hand knowledge of the events at TSR, and fairly keen memories (and if they don’t remember something, they do a good job of checking with someone else). 5 out of 6.

Structure: The structure is generally pretty good, with separate chapters for different “eras” of D&D, as well as different chapters for different D&D settings. That said, the order of the chapters could have been shuffled a bit, to make them fit more by era – Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance’s chapters coming after the chapters for 1st Edition AD&D, chapters for the Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Planescape, and Spelljammer campaign settings coming after the chapters for D&D 2nd edition, and so on. However, the book doesn’t have a table of contents and doesn’t have an index. 4 out of 6.

Layout: There is a lot of art in this book. Just about every page has some piece of art from a prior D&D book, from cover art to interior art. The short 1-page essays from VIPs are also done in the style of pages from the 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendium, which is a nice touch. However, I could have stood to have more text on each page and less art, if that allowed us to get into Birthright, Dungeon and Dragon Magazines, and the more… tough stuff at TSR, with Gary & Loretta, since that’s kind of important stuff. 4 out of 6.

Complete: There are some substantial omissions here, as I mentioned in the low-points. It’s enough to make me want to get another book about Dungeons & Dragons and TSR, in the vein of Game Over (which I linked earlier). Something that’s willing to go much further inside what happened TSR, so that fans could maybe, hopefully, get those last gaps in the picture of what TSR was filled in at last. 4 out of 6.

Tone: The tone of the is, as the title suggests, celebratory and complementary. The problem is by spending so much time patting itself on the back over lasting so long, it fails to take the time to get into the challenges that Dungeons and Dragons had to overcome to get where it is today. If the book had taken a more neutral tone, and had spent more time developing its points, it would have done a better job of showing that D&D survived and thrived through innovation and change – both in game mechanics and in the worlds that were constructed for the game – something born out by the success of 3rd edition (and after this book was published, 4th edition). 3 out of 6.

Editing: The book was very well put together – I didn’t notice any significant errors, (spelling or factual). 6 out of 6.

Overall: It’s a good book. I enjoyed reading it. However, this book is really meant for people who are fans of D&D. It’s meant as a coffee table book, so you can sit down and examine the art from prior editions of D&D, and read interesting anecdotes from the game’s history, and little more than that. 4 out of 6.

Total: 30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons gets 30 out of 42.

One reply

  1. I totally agree with your Low Points. But I kind of expected it as it’s published by Wizards and meant as a bit of a vanity piece. I would love to see a D&D book written by someone without a stake in the game (positive or negative).

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