Why is it significant that there are now talks about Warner Brothers making a Dungeons & Dragons movie? And now Hasbro is claiming that they have a deal with Universal.
First, I’d like to put forward the incredibly heathen idea that the first Dungeons & Dragons movie is not as terrible as most people say it was. When I saw it in theaters ages ago, it was just me, my mom (I was 16), and some fatbeard. While it was not remarkable or amazing, it was fairly entertaining, I enjoyed it well enough. After the movie, the fatbeard went on about how horrible it was and how they got everything from D&D wrong and such. Now, given further retrospect, I know one thing to be true and another highly likely to be true: Dungeons & Dragons was one of the better movies Marlon Wayans has been in and if the Dungeons & Dragons movie had be called “Final Fantasy” and Final Fantasy: Spirits Within had been called anything else, there would be a lot less butthurt nerds in the world.
Okay, that’s out of the way.
D&D is the Kleenex of the RPG world, at least as far as non-gamers or casual gamers are concerned. To the non-gaming world, playing any sort of tabletop roleplaying game that isn’t LARP fodder is “Playing D&D”. However, the OSR movement has made this true among gamers as well. “Playing D&D” can mean playing Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Basic Fantasy Roleplaying, Castles & Crusades, Swords & Wizardry, Blueholme, or Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or, god forbid, actual, literal, published by the company that also gave us Littlest Pet Shop, Dungeons & Dragons! And really, those Retro-Clones pretty much are Dungeons & Dragons, with the name replaced and a handful of writers’ favorite homebrew mechanics and pet rules codified. For awhile, I was really confused about what Pathfinder was, but oh, hey, turns out it’s Dungeons & Dragons.
So, why bother with fighting over the Dungeons & Dragons name & licence for a movie? Clearly the gaming community has moved beyond caring whether the trademark name is slapped across something. They already know what’s up. Anyone could make a Dungeons & Dragons movie pretty much the same way anyone can make a Dungeons & Dragons retro-clone: strip out the names and product identity. Everything else can be done with a wink and a nod. Don’t call your movie Dungeons & Dragons and don’t base it on published books and settings. Fill it with dangers, monsters, magic, and, of course, dragons. Give your wizards Vancian magic and familiar spells (“Magic missile!”). It’s cool. We’ll know it’s Dungeons & Dragons. But you can stick a copy of the OGL in the credits if you must.