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Storytelling is an intrinsic part of our humanity. We weave them at the pub, telling friends about that funny thing that happened. Children are taught lessons through fairy tales. History is retold through scholars and film makers alike – fictional and non-fiction. And the mediums we use to tell these stories have expanded with technology; from cave paintings and spoken histories to novels and photographs, which then morphed into modern day cinema, youtube, and even TikTok. Each medium requires a different method of story telling in of itself. Ask any creator! The written form of story telling is vastly different from visual story telling, using a different wheelhouse of skills. And I could talk for hours on this subject and the language of film, show-don’t-tell, and the hero’s journey… but that’s not what we’re doing today. However, I do have a point in bringing this up.
Tabletop Role-playing Games are getting the adaption treatment. There’s a D&D movie coming out in a few years and I’ve heard recently of a Blades in the Dark TV show. For myself, this seems to be the continuing efforts of Hollywood to harvest content from other mediums. They’re likely looking for “the next big thing” after Marvel absolutely crushing it with their comic book films over the past decade-plus. This isn’t generally an issue if done right. The adaptions of books to film have been done since the art of film making was first born. But to adapt of TTRPG is a much bigger fish to fry than a novel or comic book. Sure, you can find examples of D&D being played in popular culture, in shows like Stranger Things, IT Crowd, and Community. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed them immensely! Those are some of my favourite episodes of Community! But the thing that they did right was actually showing the players at the table – that’s what a TTRPG is. It is a group of friends, sitting around a table and creating a story together. When it comes to films based solely on the games, there are mixed feelings across the board, especially given the attempts made in the past.
Why is it so hard to make a D&D movie? Well, what is a movie? It’s a few hours (or more) where we follow a cast of characters through a plot/story. When you adapt a book, the story is there for you already. But when you adapt a tabletop RPG game, what is the story? How do you pick it? And this is where I stand.
The magic of a Tabletop Role-playing Game is sitting around the table (online or IRL) and crafting the story together. When you sit there, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Even the Games/Dungeon Master doesn’t know the outcome most of the time. From across the spectrum… Dungeons & Dragons, Blades in the Dark, Scum and Villainy, Monsterhearts, Powered by the Apocalypse, Fate, and more. These Table Top Role-playing Games are spaces for you to enter into and join an experience from within the story. The story is born at the table, and you are an active participant.
How do you adapt something like this to the screen? Who’s story do you tell? You can’t simply tell a fantasy tale, because that would ultimately cheapen what D&D is. It would cheapen what TTRPGS are. If you’re going to make a D&D movie, you must include the players and the GM, and not in the fantasy setting exclusively – but the modern spaces as well. The transformation of the players into their characters. Capture the joy of escapism, the healing that can come from role-play, the friendships that are forged over the dice. Explore “character bleed” and the issues that can arise around the table with the players. TTRPGs are more than just the fantasy worlds and critical hits. TTRPGs are those around the Table and beyond. (This is actually why I think the TV shows that adapted the game successfully worked. It was about the people more than the game itself.)
So, no, I don’t need Hollywood to do Generic Fantasy Romp(TM). I’ll watch Lord of the Rings (or Monty Python and the Holy Grail) for the umpteenth time if I’m looking for my fix. In the meantime, I’ll continue to sit down at the Table with amazing people and live countless lives and build lasting memories.
(P.S. – I’m still going to watch all these adaptions. I’m sure they’ll be entertaining, as that’s the job of Hollywood, but -regardless of quality of the film- they will all fall short of the actual experience of TTRPGs. If you’d like to step into this world with us, hop over to our events page to see what we have running and join our Discord server – link on the home page.)