Author David Ewalt was in the fourth grade when he got hooked on Dungeons & Dragons.
"I was at one of my friends' houses on a weekend after school. And he broke out this weird game," Ewalt tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "[He] said 'hey, do you guys want to fight some monsters and explore a dungeon?'"
Now a grown man, Ewalt still can't help but spread the good word about the game. He's written a new book about it, called Of Dice and Men.
In it, he explains how and why Dungeons & Dragons grew so quickly, from its 1970s origins as a nerdy pastime to its current status as a worldwide phenomenon.
And as in any D&D campaign, it's best to start with the basics. "Dungeons & Dragons is not a game that you necessarily win, or that even has an endpoint," Ewalt says. "What you're trying to do is grow your character over time, become more powerful, and tell a story."
On keeping his childhood character-building sheets
"Well, one of the unique things about the game is that you do create a character for yourself. And because there are rules mediating who you are, you can't just say, oh, I'm the Lone Ranger or I'm Frodo Baggins. You roll some dice, you pick out skills, you sort of describe what your character can and cannot do. And you sort of live or die with its successes and failures. So you start to identify with the character very strongly.
"And the only physical artifact of that character is this piece of paper that says how strong they are, how fast they are. You know, I started to really fetishize those pieces of paper! This paper is important, this is my friend, this is my hero! Decades later, I have all of those characters that I've played when I was a kid, because I can't throw those out, those are my friends!"
On his non-playing wife, and non-players in general
"When I started working on this book project, and I told her, hey, I'm going to start playing Dungeons & Dragons again, she was supportive, but she really didn't understand what the game was, and there's a lot of people who really don't understand D & D, and some people who even think that it's something deviant or something dangerous."
On the legacy of Dungeons & Dragons
"The game is really hugely influential. In the game world, a lot of concepts — things like having a character that persists over time, that becomes stronger, that was really an innovation that Dungeons & Dragons brought in. Beyond that, the game also had a huge impact on the business world. I started covering the games business for Forbes magazine, and I would talk to executives in the game business, and I would talk to game designers, and I would say to them, what made you want to create games for a living? And the vast majority of the people would say to me, oh, you know, I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons when I was a kid. So Dungeons & Dragons really kind of gave birth to the entire modern video game industry."