The trials and tribulations of a group of D&D playing friends are at the center of Brian Prisco’s Twenty-Sided Die. The collection of 20 connected short stories (get it?) mix up real world adventures with the experiences of the gang while playing Dungeons & Dragons. As the dynamic of the group changes, whether it’s through one of them getting a girlfriend, another having trouble at home, or a betrayal by one of the members, the campaign changes as well. I found those sections to be the most enjoyable to read and Brian Prisco, a former Pajiba writer and co-founder of the original Cannonball Read, does a great job of integrating external events into the story fabric of the campaign. The dungeon master, Dobby, is a latter day Ignatius J. Reilly crossed with Eric Cartman. He fancies himself both the leader of the gang of mismatched friends, while the rest of the gang tolerate him rather than feel any particular warmth. Dobby is the prototypical insufferable geek. He mistrusts girls, overeats on junk food, seems to be generally unkempt, and always knows more than anyone else about whatever the subject is at hand. The primary target of his ire is Scotty, the poor bastard who had the temerity to get a girlfriend and (in Dobby’s mind) upset the delicate balance of the weekly gathering of role players.
There are other characters as well; Caleb – the conflicted jock, Spense – the budding delinquent, Ben – the kid from the trailer park, Brick – the jock bully, Mr. Ambler – the teacher who cares, and more. The characters are more archetypes than fully fleshed out human beings, but for the story it works. Mixing Stand By Me, Clerks, The Breakfast Club, I Love you, Beth Cooper, and dozens of other influences big and small, Prisco has crafted a very readable story.While the stories are all connected with the same connectors they are more like individual vignettes rather than having one large plot arc. Some stories flesh out the relationship and background for certain characters, others focus on the high school life of the younger members, and others take us back to the campaign to see how the drama outside is affecting the group. It’s a structure that works and the book moves quickly.
The only real problem is the same thing that affects Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino: every one’s dialogue kind of sounds the same. While that is not bad writer company to be in it makes it much more difficult to tell some characters apart, especially when many of them share the same basic personality. The D&D group especially suffers from this, I confused Spense and Ben throughout the entire book. However the dialogue itself is very good and picking up on the pop culture references scattered throughout is great fun.
Twenty-Sided Die is a fun book and for a first time writer remarkably accomplished. I look forward to reading the continued adventures of Dobby and the gang.