“The game is played basically with paper, pencils, and a reeling mind,” one convert reports in a 1974 newsletter. Elsewhere, UC-Berkeley kids complain of having to ransack every Bay Area game shop before finally finding one copy of the first edition — which, like many early adopters, they promptly photocopied.

Peterson’s account stops before D&D has become a mass-marketed phenomenon and the source of those batshit '80s devil-worship controversies. But his account of its intellectual history is exhaustive, and, if you were to plow straight through, exhausting. Still, there’s much here to fascinate even readers with only a cursory interest in simulated dragon-slaying. All it takes to get caught up in this material is curiosity about why the trolls of Peter Jackson, which are of the high-def world of video games, seem so at odds with the trolls of Tolkien, which hail from the murky, unknowable world of fairy tales.

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