Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne looks ahead at the odds for the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons movie.

As I mentioned in last week’s column, I do not have high hopes for the Dungeons & Dragons movie: Honor Among Thieves (see "D&D Fireside Chat and RIP Kim Mohan").  Much like many movies today, I think it will do decently the first weekend of release and then drop off rapidly.  At least it will make it into theaters, unlike the second and third D&D movies ( I really did not know, until looking up the history of the D&D movies, that there was a second film, see "Judge in D&D Case Urges Settlement").

I hope I am wrong, but the problem I see with a Dungeons & Dragons movie is that it is not based around a particular worldview or characters or a creator’s vision.  Instead, Dungeons & Dragons reflects the vision of millions of people who use the rules system to create their own worlds.  You can use one of the worlds created over the past 40+ years and have fun with it or you can create your own.

Mention you are playing Dungeons & Dragons to someone familiar with the game and one of the first questions is, "Which edition?"  I know of games in our area running using the 1st, 2nd, 3rd (never 4th and 5th edition) rules.  A set of rules is not something you can reasonably reflect in a movie.

Likewise, there are a number of different settings in which a Dungeon Master can run a game, such as Faerun, Greyhawk, Spelljammer, Eberron or a home brew campaign. While each uses the common D&D tropes such as character class, character species and creature types, they vary widely in terms of interpretation.

Since D&D is a rules system and not a "universe," filmmakers could arguably put any fantasy trope into the movie they wanted.  A filmmaker could not do that with a Marvel movie or a DC movie or a Star Trek series or even a new season of Bridgerton as those have established storylines and characters that make them "believable."  Spider-Man always gets his powers from the bite of a radioactive spider while Batman takes up his crusade after his parents are killed.  There is no storyline or book, so to speak, to draw upon for Dungeons & Dragons, so one could reasonably make almost any fantasy movie and call it Dungeons & Dragons.

Looking at the trailer for the film (see "New D&D Movie Posters"), it does give me hope that D&D players will recognize aspects of the game.  I remember watching the first D&D movie and the only thing I saw that differentiated it from a generic fantasy movie was one scene that had a beholder in the background.  In the trailer, we get an eclectic assortment of character classes (no cleric that I can tell, though) and species as well as appearances by classic D&D creatures such as the black dragon, owlbear and mimic, which does give me hope.  Maybe a cameo by Elminster or Drist Do’Urdan would help to bring the movie further into a D&D-specific universe and farther from a generic fantasy one.

Games are notoriously hard to translate into other media.  Battleship failed pretty quickly and we have waited since 2008 for the long-delayed Monopoly movie (see "Kevin Hart will Star In Monopoly Movie").  I certainly hope the movie does well but the track record is not good.

Next week?  A look back at 2022.

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The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of