Sunday, March 12, 2023

D&D Documentaries


Did you know there were a couple of documentaries about D&D in the process of getting made? Me either, at least not until a couple of days ago.  The first one, Dungeons & Dragons: A Documentary is produced by Westpaw Films /Iconoscope Films and funded through Kickstarter back in 2012. The company plans to release the finished film this year, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the original Dungeons & Dragons game. From the Kickstarter page for this film:

2014 marks the 40th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, a game that is, simply put, a cultural phenomenon.

Whether you know it or not, you may be playing Dungeons & Dragons. Any computer game you play, any role-playing game you play, any online profile you fill out, have their elements and DNA rooted in Dungeons & Dragons. It's a game that has had far-lasting, powerful and yet subtle influence in our culture. 

From its humble beginnings in a basement in Lake Geneva, WI, D&D was created by a group of game enthusiasts and game designers. The story of D&D and its creation spans four decades and is a complicated, heart-breaking story. Imagine "The Social Network", the creation of Facebook, but no one ends up rich. This is a cautionary tale of an empire built by friends and lost through betrayal, enmity, poor management, hubris and litigation.

Dungeons & Dragons is a game beloved by its fans. A game that brings family and friends together, creates communities, societies and sub-cultures. D&D teaches. We have heard countless stories of gamers who have delved deeper, studying history, language, science and math purely for the desire to be better players. Gamers have created lifelong friendships because of this game and come in all walks of life; firefighters, educators, computer programmers, entrepreneurs, and yes, even a few documentary film-makers.

Sounds good, right? Well, not so fast. Here comes Fantasy Game Films with their documentary The Great Kingdom. Yep, you guess it, they have a Kickstarter too (but don’t plan to release until July 2015):

In 1969, GARY GYGAX, a family man and an insurance underwriter with an entrepreneurial mind meets DAVE ARNESON, an idle, yet brilliant game designer. Their collaboration would change the world, their families and themselves.

This is the remarkable true life story of the rise and fall of Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson and the people behind the creation of the epic role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons.

THE GREAT KINGDOM explores the personalities behind the game and the families they engendered. This is the saga of the people who brought a company from its humble basement beginnings and transformed it to a multi-million dollar corporation. A story for our time that parallels the rise, fall and redemption of Steve Jobs and echoes the who-invented-what question of the creation of Facebook.

The story of families, both blood and personal bond, affected by the success of the game, a game that brought joy to millions and heartbreak to its creators. What happens to these individuals as they weather through the success; the excess, the betrayals, the downfalls and eventual redemptions, all takes place in THE GREAT KINGDOM.

It gets even better though, as it appears the makers of The Great Kingdom worked on D&D:  A Documentar, as Iconoscope Films, before creative differences led to a parting of the ways. Again, from The Great Kingdom’s Kickstarter page:

Some of you may know James and myself from a different D&D documentary project that was started on Kickstarter a couple of years ago. As projects like this go and part of the nature of filmmaking, there were creative differences that led to our new direction and separation from the previous project.

We started from scratch, raising private funds and some of our own to get us to this point. We knew there was an amazing story to tell. And like any complicated story, there will always be room for different interpretations.

So, to those who helped support the previous documentary, we would like to offer a digital, downloadable copy of THE GREAT KINGDOM for FREE. It's our small way of thanking you for your support and patience. All you need to do is email us and there will be a copy waiting for you when the film is done.

Now, Westpaw Films, the original producers of the D&D: A Documentary film is now suing Fantasy Game Films. From the complaint, Westpaw is suing the company for:

usurping D&D Production opportunities through the actions of Pascal and Sprattley (FantasyGame Films)

who were secretly competing with the D&D Production by planning and undertaking to produce

a different Dungeons & Dragons documentary referred to as “The Great Kingdom”

This will drag out the production of both for the forseeable future.

Meanwhile, if you want to watch a D&D documentary, PBS, surprisingly, has a pair of them.  Can Dungeons and Dragons Make You Confident and Successful? runs on PBS’ Idea Channel while you can find Dungeons & Dragons and the Influence of Tabletop RPGs at PBS’ Off Book. You will be able to see these much more quickly than either of the competing D&D documentaries, I’d wager.

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