Non-Fiction Spotlight: Slaying the Dragon – A Secret History of Dungeons and Dragons by Ben Riggs

After the Hugos is before the next Hugos, so I’m continuing my Non-Fiction Spotlight project, where I interview the authors/editors of SFF-related non-fiction books that come out in 2022 and are eligible for the 2023 Hugo Awards. For more about the Non-Fiction Spotlight project, go here. To check out the spotlights I already posted, go here.

For more recommendations for SFF-related non-fiction, also check out this Facebook group set up by the always excellent Farah Mendlesohn, who is a champion (and author) of SFF-related non-fiction.

RPGs are not just SFF-adjacent, especially the granddaddy of them all, Dungeons & Dragons, has deep roots in the genre via the famous Appendix N.

Therefore, I am pleased to welcome Ben Riggs, author of Slaying the Dragon – A Secret History of Dungeons and Dragons, to my blog today:

Slaying the Dragon by Ben Riggs
Tell us about your book.

My book is the shocking and true story of the rise of Dungeons & Dragons and how it almost imploded in the 90s under the weight of terrible management decisions. If you’re interested in an representative sample, Dicebreaker excerpted the disastrous attempt of TSR to create a comic book company in the 90s.  https://www.dicebreaker.com/series/dungeons-and-dragons/feature/dnd-comic-books-failed-attempt-tsr-dc-comics

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a teacher/writer/podcaster/historian/mage.

I speak five languages, and I’ve taught in four countries on three continents.

I have tutored royalty, and visited students in jail.

Once, I lived next to a yakuza, and put a hole in his wall. It is not something I would recommend.

Another time, I went to a Christmas party thrown by expat Communists in Beijing. We sang “The Internationale,” and then “Silent Night.”

Once, law enforcement got me out of my bathtub.

Another time I took some 8th graders from Milwaukee to New York City. We were walking through the Gold Distict at closing time, and apparently the gold trade in New York has a lot of Hasidic Jewish proprietors. As they closed up their shops and headed home, one 8th grader said to me, “Wow. The Amish are really making a go of it here in New York!”

I still teach fulltime in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I have one wife, one son, and not enough time to write.

I will further add that everything above is Gospel truth. I am not one of those writers who makes things up for their bio.

What prompted you to write/edit this book?

The book chose me.

The book started out as an article for Geek & Sundry, and as I researched the article, I discovered more and more about TSR and D&D that I had no idea was the case. The failed attempt to start a comic company. The failure to pay its printer. The loans from their distributor. The shocking way bestselling authors were treated. These tales demanded I record them. I chased the story and 100,000 words later, there was a book!

Why should SFF fans in general and Hugo voters, in particular, read this book?

I have been told that even if one is not a D&D fan, the book is a great look into a geek company and the choices that can lead to its failure. Furthermore, the D&D community and SFF community are adjacent, and what happens in one often informs the other.

Do you have any cool facts or tidbits that you unearthed during your research, but that did not make it into the final book?

No, actually. I mercilessly crammed every scandal and frak-up into the text. I wanted to earn the subtitle, “The Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons.”

SFF-related non-fiction is somewhat sidelined by the big genre awards, since the Nebulas have no non-fiction category and the Best Related Work Hugo category has become something of a grab bag of anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere. So why do you think SFF-related non-fiction is important?

Geek non-fiction, or geek history as I would peg my genre, is the story of our wheezy and wonderful tribe. Lord of the Rings is a staggering and monumental work. But in The Inklings, which covers Tolkien’s writing of his opus, we hear that when he rose to read a portion of the book, which was then in its tenth year of composition, one audience member yelled, “Oh God! Not another fucking elf!”

LotR is improved by the work of Tolkien critics and historians. I hope my work does the same for D&D.

Are there any other great SFF-related non-fiction works or indeed anything else (books, stories, essays, writers, magazines, films, TV shows, etc…) you’d like to recommend?

As mentioned above, I’d shout out to The Inklings by Philip and Carol Zaleski, Game Wizards and Art and Arcana: A Visual History of D&D by Jon Peterson et al. Also, History of the Hobbit by John Rateliff.

Where can people buy your book?

In North America, anywhere fine books are sold!

In the UK/Ireland/Australia, on Amazon ebooks.

In Poland, it will be in print in the next 18 months.

Where can people find you?

I’d point you to my blog (https://www.writerbenriggs.com/blog) and my Twitter @BenRiggs_

Thank you, Ben, for stopping and answering my questions. Do check out Slaying the Dragon – A Secret History of Dungeons and Dragons, if you’re at all interested in the history and development of the RPG and the company behind it.

About Slaying the Dragon – A Secret History of Dungeons and Dragons:

Role-playing game historian Ben Riggs unveils the secret history of TSRthe company that unleashed imaginations with Dungeons & Dragons, was driven into ruin by disastrous management decisions, and then saved by their bitterest rival.

Co-created by wargame enthusiasts Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the original Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game released by TSR (Tactical Studies Rules) in 1974 created a radical new medium: the role-playing game. For the next two decades, TSR rocketed to success, producing multiple editions of D&D, numerous settings for the game, magazines, video games, New York Times bestselling novels by Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, and R. A. Salvatore, and even a TV show! But by 1997, a series of ruinous choices and failed projects brought TSR to the edge of doom—only to be saved by their fiercest competitor, Wizards of the Coast, the company behind the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering.

Unearthed from Ben Riggs’s own adventurous campaign of in-depth research, interviews with major players, and acquisitions of secret documents, Slaying the Dragon reveals the true story of the rise and fall of TSR. Go behind the scenes of their Lake Geneva headquarters where innovative artists and writers redefined the sword and sorcery genre, managers and executives sabotaged their own success by alienating their top talent, ignoring their customer fanbase, accruing a mountain of debt, and agreeing to deals which, by the end, made them into a publishing company unable to publish so much as a postcard.

As epic and fantastic as the adventures TSR published, Slaying the Dragon is the legendary tale of the rise and fall of the company that created the role-playing game world.

About Ben Riggs:

BEN RIGGS is a writer, teacher, and podcaster. He traveled the world teaching in his 20s. During his journeys, he tutored a princess, saw both the Sahara and Mt. Fuji at dawn, and discovered his wife and fellow traveler, Tara. He has settled down in his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he teaches English and history, and he and Tara have a son, Simon. Ben’s RPG podcast, Plot Points, has been running for the last decade, and his work has appeared on NPR and Geek & Sundry. Slaying the Dragon is his first book.

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Are you publishing a work of SFF-related longform non-fiction in 2022 and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.

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