Jan 18 2011 12:02pm

D&D on TV

Dungeons & Dragons on Community

Dungeons & Dragons fans should have a couple chances to see the game on TV in 2011. First up, characters in the NBC series Community will play the game on an episode to air during the February sweeps. This will probably be the most-watched game ever of D&D outside of the unofficial game the kids played in the opening reel of E.T.

(Back when E.T. was in production, the filmmakers approached TSR—the original publishers of D&D—to get permission to use the game in the film. The people in charge of the company at the time turned them down. This ranks up there with Reese’s Pieces showing up in the same film after the makers of M&Ms refused to let their candies be what leads E.T. into the kids’ home.)

Unfortunately, we won’t see the actors dressed up in fantasy hero garb and toting around wands and swords. The indie movies The Gamers and The Gamers: Dorkness Rising long since proved there’s comedy gold to be mined out of such situations, but instead the Community actors will give us a peek into how they’d sit around a table and play the game. With luck, it could be funnier than the Wizards of the Coast podcast games featuring Wil Wheaton, Scott Kurtz (of PvP), and Gabe and Tycho (of Penny Arcade), but that’s a high bar.

Later in the year, we should see something far more serious with the third Dungeons & Dragons film. Like the second, which most agree was far better than the first, this is being produced for SyFy. This installment is subtitled The Book of Vile Darkness, which was the title for 3rd edition co-designer Monte Cook’s 2002 supplement exploring evil in D&D. It bore the distinction of being one of the few official D&D titles to ever be released marked for “Mature Audiences Only.”

The rights for D&D films were granted to Courtney Solomon’s Sweetpea Entertainment back in the old TSR days, and he’s held onto them for something like 20 years with the fervor a gamer uses for his favorite dice. Despite many other games having been optioned for films over the years—like Rifts, for example, which Jerry Bruckheimer snatched up many years back—only D&D and Mutant Chronicles have made it to the feature film stage so far. (That’s assuming you don’t count obvious ripoffs like the Underworld version of CCP’s World of Darkness, which originally sprang from Vampire: The Masquerade.) Indie Reactor 88 Studios is working on films for my own Brave New World superhero RPG, Jared Sorenson’s InSpectres, and Jason Blair’s Little Fears, though, so hopefully we’ll see some more gaming goodness on the big screen soon.

Matt Forbeck is the author of thirteen tie-in novels, most of them having to do with Dungeons & Dragons or Blood Bowl. Recently, Angry Robot published his first original novel—Amortals—and his second—Vegas Knights—is due out this spring.

1. RanchoUnicorno
You think this will be more watched than the seminal Tom Hanks classic, Mazes & Monsters?
David Thomson
2. ZetaStriker
The problem with serious, big-screen adaption of a pen-and-paper roleplaying games is that they aren't pen-and-paper roleplaying games. I know it sounds obvious, but there is literally no way to recapture the appeal of these free-form RPGs in film; standardized storytelling is already robbing everything of appeal from the license. Video games when designed correctly can occasionally come close, but film is just not a good medium to adapt these licenses.

The exception to this, of course, are the very examples you happened to mention. Lampoons of gaming tropes like Dorkness Rising and mockumentaries like Gamers(not to be confused with THE Gamers) make for great comedies. The problem comes when writers try to develop beyond that. While I love a good fantasy novel or movie(would I be on Tor.com otherwise?), to remove all influences of the game from the film is to rob the license of all its power. It may as well be a generic fantasy film and skirt the trademark at that point.
Bridget McGovern
3. BMcGovern
Nice! I love Community--I didn't realize how wonderfully geeky that show is until I started watching it in earnest; now I'm totally hooked :) Also, I feel like I should give a shoutout to Bender's Game, having just rewatched it over the weekend--it's basically Futurama's love letter to D&D and epic fantasy: silly, but done with love.

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