Guide to Gaming DVDs

Dungeons & Dragons players use many movies for inspiration. If you were a child of the 80’s, your role-playing games were probably influenced by Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, and Willow. If you come more recently to gaming, you might have taken up the die because of the Lord of the Rings trilogy or the Harry Potter series.

In 2002, an indie production called The Gamers would provide a new kind of fantasy quest, but by focusing on role-playing gamers themselves as well as the adventures their characters have. The Gamers was not the first movie to feature role-playing gamers- that honor unfortunately goes to Mazes and Monsters- but it did kick off the recent trend of making movies about RPGs.

This is a list of movies that feature role-playing gamers primarily or are about the Dungeons & Dragons worlds. Each one contains an official description as provided by the publisher, followed by my commentary and recommendation.

MOVIES STARRING GAMERS

The following are all movies on DVD that star gamers as the main characters and feature roleplaying games as a central element. Many of them also feature “in-game” scenes depicting the action within the game world.

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thegamersdcThe Gamers

Dead Gentlemen Productions, 2002

One late night in a college dorm, four socially inept geeks immerse themselves in a fantasy world of their own creation. As their characters journey through forbidden kingdoms, ancient ruins, and the forsaken wilderness, the players attempt to solve a mysterious puzzle that could ultimately mean the difference between getting a life and death. Who is The Shadow? Where is The Princess hidden? Will any of them ever find a date? And how long do they have before their annoyed neighbors call the cops?

The first, and still one of the best. This movie set the style of showing the gamers playing at the table, then inserting them into the shoes of their characters in the fantasy world. While many of the film’s jokes are aimed specifically at parodying what happens at a real RPG table, there’s still plenty for even non-gamers to enjoy, especially the inspired ending. The differences between the Director’s Cut and the original are minimal but worthwhile, so pick up the Director’s Cut if given the choice, but don’t be afraid to pick up a cheap copy of the original. Highly recommended: this movie ends up being quoted more often than Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail at my gaming table.

thegamersdrThe Gamers: Dorkness Rising

Dead Gentlemen Productions, 2008

All Lodge wants is for his gaming group to finish their adventure. Unfortunately, they’re more interested in seducing barmaids, mooning their enemies, and setting random villagers on fire. Desperate to rein in his players, Lodge injects two newbies into the distrust: a non-player character controlled by Lodge, who the power gamers immediately distrust, and the rarest gamer of all — a girl. Can the group overcome their bickering to save the kingdom, or will the evil necromancer Mort Kemnon triumph unopposed? A parody of fantasy films and the adventure gaming community, The Gamers: Dorkness Rising is a hilarious romp through the world of sword and sorcery — in this case, a world of exploding peasants, giant house cats, and undead roast turkeys. Game on!

This is everything I loved about The Gamers, plus a budget. While keeping in the same style and the plot being primarily driven by the role-playing game story, this one also examines the lives and personalities of the players of the game, and they grow and evolve as characters. And of course, it still manages to keep a healthy dose of hilarious gaming in-jokes. The movie is only nominally a sequel (a joke at the beginning and a joke at the end are the only things that connect it to the first one other than style), so feel free to watch even if you haven’t seen the first one. Highly recommended: while not as quotable as the first, still a very worthy addition to the series.

gamersGamers

Sideshow Productions, 2006

Gamers is a comedy about the lives of four slacker friends (and one obsessive interloper) living at home, -“with my parents… it’s just temporary… ’til they die”- working in the real world but playing in a fantasy world. Obsessed with a role playing game called Demons, Nymphs and Dragons these “gamers” are the subject of this hilarious comedy which chronicles their journey to make it through their horrendous lives while attempting to break the world record for role playing for over 74,558 hours. The sacrifice, the obsession, the blind dedication…this is their true story.

While the previous two films focused on laughing with gamers, this film is solely based on laughing at gamers, and it even fails at that. The story follows a group of gamers as they attempt to break a world record for longest running campaign, but mostly focuses on the various dysfunctions of the players. The DM dresses up in costumes (including one that resembles a KKK outfit), one player can’t let a character’s death go (sound familiar?), one is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the game going… and of course, they all have problems talking to women. The humor is primarily juvenile, focusing on sex jokes and how pathetic the lives of these gamers are. I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to my favorite hobby, but this doesn’t succeed on being funny to gamers OR non-gamers. Not recommended.

gamerzGamerz

Pure Magic Films, 2005

A love triangle with a twist of fantasy! The hero is Ralph, a young nerd from a bad neighborhood who’s on his way to university for the first time. Ralph is completely downtrodden in life, but he escapes from a cruel reality that he can’t control by creating insanely detailed fantasy game worlds (as in fantasy games such as “Dungeons and Dragons” or “Tunnels and Trolls”), in which he is firmly in charge, as “Game Keeper”. When Ralph arrives at university he immediately takes over the fantasy role-playing society from the resident Game Keeper in a ruthless coup. His new players include neurotic risk management student Davy, metal-head theology student Hank and – most importantly – the beautiful Marlyn, a crazy Goth chick who believes she is an elf. She’s the ultimate object of geek lust, and Ralph falls for her hard. But there’s a fly in the ointment: Ralph’s old enemy from the hood, minor dope dealer Lennie who has undergone a near-religious conversion to all things fantastical having watched a LORD OF THE RINGS triple bill while on acid. Now he’s desperate to take part in Ralph’s game. Under pain of violence Ralph agrees to let him play, but soon regrets it when he notices a spark between Lennie and Marlyn. The seeds of a bitter love triangle are sown, and the story soon snowballs towards an inexorable apocalyptic explosion of freakish, geekish angst!

Gamerz too tries to balance between the on-going exploits of a party within a role-playing game (using rotoscoped characters), but instead of aiming for comedy like most films, it focuses on drama and relationships. If you understand that going in that it’s not supposed to be a comedy, and you have a high tolerance for Scottish brogue, then I recommend Gamerz. If either of those is a problem, you can safely give Gamerz a pass. Read my full review if you want to find out more. (And hopefully, with the use of the “z” at the end, that completes all the movie titles that can use the word gamers).

geekin_poster_miniGeekin’

DigiTribe Productions, 2006

Geekin’ is an original story about a group of friends united by their common passion: role-playing games. Week-in and week-out, as often as they can, these socially awkward misfits indulge their imaginations in the mythical land of Tir Sidaj, where they claim persona’s as warriors, wizards, healing witches, and one ornery gnome. The strength of this Geek Utopia is tested, however, when the one force strong enough to rend it is introduced into the mix. Friendships will be broken and bonds will be shattered as the friends must deal with the ultimate Geek weakness: an attractive girl. “Geekin'” is a lighthearted comedy that begs the question of how far a geek will go for love. Enough to back-stab his friends? Destroy his fragile social circle? Or even… break up the adventuring party?

Like Gamerz, Geekin’ is about love triangles in gaming. However, Geekin’ does try to walk the line between comedy and drama, by way of stealing liberally from Kevin Smith (complete with a silent, trench-coated character who only speaks at the end to deliver a compassionate monologue). Geekin’ does manage to be funny at times, but overall, the movie often just feels plain painful. Worth renting, but I don’t recommend owning it.

fellowship_of_the_diceFellowship of the Dice

Tough Cookie Productions, 2005

Starring indie favorite Aimee Graham, “Fellowship of the Dice” follows the plight of Elizabeth, a recovering party girl desperate for a new group of friends. After a chance meeting with avid gamer Sanford (Alastair Surprise) lands her an invitation to play the popular fantasy role-playing game, “Wizards, Warriors and Wyrms,” she spends a long afternoon and evening plagued with confusing rules, high adventure and nerdy drama. Jasper (Jeff Coatney), the Game Master, rules his gaming fiefdom with an imaginary iron fist. His painfully shy wife Gwen (Lucia Diaz) spends most of the game quieter than a deaf and dumb church mouse. Kevin (Jon Dabach), a temperamental eleven-year-old trapped in a twenty-five-year-old’s body continuously locks horns with Jasper over everything from missing DVDs to his tyrannical and unfair use of the game’s rules. Larry (Jon Collins), the gregarious aspiring actor, struggles to keep the peace. Things quickly spiral out of control and Elizabeth is forced to decide if she just wasted a night of her life, or if she truly has something in common with these oddball weirdoes.

Fellowship of the Dice walks an odd line between non-fiction documentary and fiction feature film, by splicing interviews with real gamers in-between the scenes of the movie. Somehow, it works. The overall story about a new player being thrust into a new group makes it very friendly to viewers who aren’t familiar with gaming at all, and the documentary portions help with that too. Meanwhile, the interactions of the different characters are genuinely funny and interesting. Recommended, especially to watch with non-gaming friends, before transitioning them to The Gamers.

ubergooberÃœber Goober

Scum Crew Pictures LLC, 2004

Uberr Goober focuses on the often-misunderstood, sometimes-controversial, and always-kind-of-geeky world of Gamers. Director Steve Metze examines several different groups including historical miniature gamers, role-players, and those known simply as “LARPers.” The film also explores opposition from religious groups, negative media portrayals, and some of the meanest ‘man-on-the-street’ interviews ever committed to video. Meet the Gamers, learn their exotic language, see their bizarre rituals, gasp at their semi-authentic costumes, and thrill to the painting techniques on their miniatures!

Whereas Fellowship of the Dice mixes two styles of film-making, Uber Goober is solidly a documentary about gamers, featuring interviews ranging from E. Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, to Dork Tower’s John Kovalic to random people on the street. Not just an examination on RPGs, this documentary looks at gamers of all stripes, from wargamers, to LARPers, to convention-going role-players. Quite thorough, this movie talks to people from a variety of perspectives, including a lot of footage from the Origins game convention. One interview subject is a police officer who is “in the closet” about his gaming hobby, and others are those who have devoted their life to games. Respectful, thought-provoking, and funny, Uber Goober is highly recommended. It’s unlikely to teach us hardcore gamers anything we don’t already know about our hobby, it nonetheless would be a great movie to share with non-gamer friends and family.

mazesandmonstersMazes and Monsters

McDermott Productions, 1982

Bound together by a desire to play “Mazes and Monsters,” Robbie and his four college classmates decide to move the board game into the local legendary cavern. Robbie starts having visions for real, and the line between reality and fantasy fuse into a harrowing adventure.

One of Tom Hanks first big roles, this made for TV movie also helped inflame fears that D&D players were all addicted, suicidal maniacs who liked to wield real weapons in tunnels. Not only is it fear-mongering and totally without basis in reality, it isn’t very well made either. Not recommended: read The Escapist instead.

MOVIES ABOUT DUNGEONS & DRAGONS

Dungeons & Dragons games take place in a Tolkien-esque fantasy world, so there are plenty of movies that could reasonably fit with being like D&D. There are a handful of movies that are actually branded as Dungeons & Dragons movies, and associated with the hallmarks of the game.

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dungeonsdragonsDungeons & Dragons

Behavior Worldwide, 2000

The Empire of Izmer has long been a divided land. The Mages – an elite group of magic users – rule whilst the lowly commoners are powerless. Izmer’s young Empress, Savina, wants equality and prosperity for all, but the evil Mage Profion is plotting to depose her, and establish his own rule. The Empress possesses a scepter which controls Izmer’s Golden Dragons. To challenge her rule, Profion must have the scepter, and tricks the Council of Mages into believing Savina is unfit to hold it. Knowing that Profion will bring death and destruction to Izmer, Savina, must find the legendary Rod of Savrille, a mythical rod that has the power to control Red Dragons, a species even mightier than the Gold. Enter two thieves, Ridley and Snails, who unwittingly become instrumental in Savina’s search for the Rod. Joined by a feisty Dwarf named Elwood, and helped by the Empress’s expert tracker, the Elf Norda, the young heroes go in search of the Rod of Savrille. From the deadly maze of the Thieves Guild at Antius to an Elven Village, secret grotto and abandoned castles, Ridley and his band must outwit Profion’s chief henchman Damodar at every turn while back in Izmer, Profion prepares to do battle with the Empress. All depends on the Rod, but outcome of the race to reach it first is far from certain, and Izmar’s very survival hangs in the balance.

Critically and commercially thrashed, referred to with disdain by gamers the world over as being unfaithful to the source material, it’s hard to imagine that this movie could have been a bigger failure. Throw into the mix some perceived racism and sexism, and an all-star cast who clearly don’t want to be there, and you have yourself one heck of a bad movie. Obviously not recommended, but in case my word isn’t enough, check out the 10% rating on RottenTomatoes.

dungeonsanddragons2wotdgDungeons & Dragons 2: Wrath of the Dragon God

Skyline Films, 2005

Based on the phenomenally successful role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons 2 takes you deeper into the dark and fantastical world of this fantasy epic. When the evil sorcerer Damodar braves a perilous whirlwind vortex to steal the elemental black orb he declares a sinister plan of vengeance against the kingdom of Ismir. Berek, a decorated warrior, and Melora, an amateur sorceress join four heroes representing Intelligence, Wisdom, Honor and Strength to battle against Damodar’s growing army of gruesome creatures, flying harpies and an ice dragon to reach a vault room holding the orb. Together, they build their own army to retrieve the orb using elemental forces to defeat Damodar before he summons the sleeping black dragon whose omnipotent evil powers could lay waste to the entire kingdom.

With a low bar set by the first one, it was nearly impossible not to get better. The “sequel” largely tosses out everything from the first movie, save for one bad actor. It’s not much better than typical Sci-Fi Channel fare (where it first aired), but is definitely more faithful to the source material than the previous one, and features no-name actors doing their best instead of known actors doing their worst. Recommended, if you don’t mind a fairly generic D&D romp.

scourgeofworldsDungeons & Dragons: Scourge of Worlds

DanKrechPictures, 2002

Long ago in a land ravaged by strife, an ancient race of mages crafted the ultimate weapon to destroy their enemies, and end all wars. They called it the Aryx Orthian, the Scourge Of Worlds. Hidden safely for hundreds of years, the Scourge is now sought by a new swarm of darkness threatening to unleash its secrets. To save the world, three fearless heroes-Regdar the human warrior, Lidda the rogue halfling, and Mialee the elf wizard-must embark on a treacherous quest and choose between honor and evil, between life and death. But the choice is not theirs. It is yours.

This direct to DVD film is actually a “choose your own adventure” story where you make critical decisions for the main characters, who are all ripped straight from the 3e Player’s Handbook. Fun for a few hours and surprisingly engaging at times, but as soon as you’ve beaten it once or twice, you’ll never want to pick it up again. Not recommended, unless you can borrow it for an evening from someone else.

danddanimatedseriesDungeons & Dragons: The Animated Series

Marvel Productions, 1983 (Collected and Released on DVD 2007)

An enchanted roller coaster delivers six youth into the magical realm of Dungeons & Dragons in this extraordinary animated series based on the popular TSR role-playing game. There, each of them gains magical talents and abilities, all the better to survive their time in the realm. The bow-shooting ranger, the acrobat, the thief, the cavalier, the boy wizard, and the barbarian are soon joined by a baby unicorn, and tutored by the mysterious and inscrutable Dungeon Master. Opposing them is the evil sorcerer Venger, as well as various ogres, demons, bounty hunters, dragons, lizard men, skeleton warriors, and more, all intent on keeping the kids from getting back home!

This classic kids series (co-produced by Gary Gygax himself) isn’t particularly faithful to the game, but is a fun cartoon series that brings back plenty of nostalgia. The DVD collection remasters the series and includes plenty of special features, making it a good addition to any gamer’s DVD collection… especially those with kids. Recommended.

Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Paramount, 2008

After 300 hundred years of peace, the world of Krynn has descended into darkness as the evil goddess Takhisis and her army of dragons threaten to dominate the lands. Can a small band of heroes, including the wizard Raistlin (Kiefer Sutherland), the priestess Goldmoon (Lucy Lawless), and the half-elven warrior Tanis (Michael Rosenbaum), save the world before all is lost? Based on the New York Times best-selling novel, DRAGONLANCE: DRAGONS OF AUTUMN TWILIGHT is an epic tale of might, magic, and monsters!

Dragonlance is the D&D-based book series that ignited the imaginations of many young readers, and lead to many new gamers. That’s why this adaptation of the first Dragonlance book to animated feature was so hotly anticipated. Add to that a stellar voice cast, and this should have been a recipe for a success. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Dreadful dialog, appaling animation, and a super-rushed plot make this, quite simply, a near-unwatchable trainwreck. Not recommended: read my complete review if you need more convincing.

COMING SOON

Gold: The Series

goldThe World Goblins & Gold Role Playing Game Championship is only a few short weeks away. The perennial second-place American team has undergone an upheaval: their longtime team leader, Jonathan Drake, has suffered a tragic gaming-related accident. Maverick player and loose cannon Richard Wright takes the reigns and tries to wrestle his new team into shape before the competition, while despondent Jonathan battles his personal demons. Meanwhile, the World Champion British team, led by the crafty Oliver Crane and sultry Martha Thistlethwait, prepare for the Championship by enlisting a gaming legend as their new coach.

As the two factions battle internal and external strife, another threat rears its head: despite a fervent European following, in the U.S., Goblins & Gold is on the decline. Fewer and fewer players are picking up the dice in pursuit of this proud but aging sport, opting instead for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games and the seductive simplicity of console gaming.

Can Richard whip his new team into shape in time for the championships? Will Crane’s Britons continue to dominate? And, if G&G loses its audience, will it all even matter in the end?

Gold is being released as an episodic web-series at the moment, but I’m guessing that if it is successful enough, it will see a DVD release when the series is wrapped up. Fortunately, you can decide now if you like it or not by viewing the episodes online for free, and check back for monthly updates.

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