DM's Bookshelf: The Elfish Gene by Mark Barrowcliffe

The Elfish Gene by Mark Barrowcliffe

The Elfish Gene by Mark Barrowcliffe

DM Bookshelf discusses fiction and non-fiction books relate to games and gaming, either directly, or indirectly.

I recently finished reading “The Elfish Gene” by Mark Barrowcliffe. My copy of the book is subtitled ‘Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange’. While looking up the book on Amazon so I could post it here, I found a different edition with the text: ‘Coventry. 1976. For a brief, blazing summer, twelve-year-old Mark Barrowcliffe had the chance to be normal. He blew it.’ When I first found this book based on a search for ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ on Amazon, I knew I would have to read it, and now that I finally purchased and read it, I’m glad that I did.

Mr. Barrowcliffe is two or three years older than me, and appears to have gotten into Dungeons and Dragons a bit ahead of me as well. This book is a wonderful tale of his introduction to, obsession with, and eventual separation from not just Dungeons and Dragons, but of role-playing games in general. I found, as I believe many gamers will, his story filled with familiar characters: rules lawyers, DMs who hold a grudge, players with a flair for the (overly) dramatic, and more. Actually, Mr. Barrowcliffe’s book shows how the people’s attitudes in general made their appearance not so just at the game table, but in the social structure that is the life of teenage boys.

For me though, an almost equally interesting aspect of the book was the games themselves. Mr. Barrowcliffe did not just play Dungeons and Dragons, but also Empire of the Petal Throne, Traveller, and I’m probably missing a couple more that were mentioned. And while he talks of the people and events of his youth, he is constantly sprinkling in titles of games and modules that are now a part of RPG history. For example, one of the first campaigns he played in was the Judge’s GuildCity State of the Invincible Overlord“.

I hesitate to say ‘Mr. Barrowcliffe was more obsessed with games than I’, since he’s moved away from them, and I’m still gaming, but he certainly seemed to be more driven in his obsession, or at least the book makes it sound that way. While my parents never discouraged my interest in gaming, I can’t imagine how they would react if I informed them at the last moment that 15 or 20 gamers were going to invade their house and run games in their bedroom.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone involved in RPGs. For those who have been around a while it will be a trip down memory lane, and for those new to gaming, there’s a nice touch of gaming history sprinkled into a well told tale of growing up geeky.

On the RPG dice scale of D4 – D20, this gets a D12+2

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