Sunday, June 29, 2014

D&D: A Documentary versus The Great Kingdom: Update

I’m truly beginning to wonder if I stirred up a hornets’ nest. I’m not some ego maniac like some RPG folks who thinks anyone really reads this blog. I wouldn’t expect it because I barely blog. But coincidences are happening.

Before I get started, I want to thank Andrew Pascal, one of the producers of The Great Game, and former producer of D&D: A Documentary. With this blog, I really was making an offhand comment about the oddity of the situation and how something had been gnawing at me for a while, and he was kind enough to respond.

On with the show…

In my email to Andrew, I proposed what I figured was the reason for the situation:
“My guess is that in the process of doing the groundwork of interviewing all of those people, some of them several times or follow-ups or whatever, a story started to emerge. And not just the story of how D&D came about (Mr. Peterson's tome does that in spades), but a more personal tale of the men involved and the rise and fall idea, I suppose. And that story was far more gripping and appealing and exciting for you to tell than simply a kind of record of What Happened.”

Mr. Pascal responded with broad confirmation. It was creative direction that led to the separation, driven by a desire to tell the story of the creators more than an overall history of The Game. It should also be noted that he expressed that what to do for folks like me who gave to the Kickstarter for D&D: A Documentary has remained foremost in their minds.

So while it didn't explore much detail of the need for separation, nor did it offer for anything more than the digital download, I did get a response.

Now the coincidence. Within 5 days of the previous blog post, I received a Kickstarter update from the D&D: A Documentary project. It’s not unheard of, I mean, we got updates in January (26th), April (18th), May (22nd), and June (6th) - four so far in the almost 6 full months of 2014. But now we got two in one month…and this one was titled “An important update” and includes a bit more detailed discussion of this very topic (as well as a possible short preview at GenCon)!

Either way (coincidence or new readers), one of the things most interesting about this update is that it included a reference to the complaint filed in New York involving these two films (or more accurately, the producers of the films) – as JRT references in the comments of the previous post. Now I suspect I know why very little details is being provided..."I can't comment while legal action is pending."

Read's very, very interesting and appears to be a kind of legal representation of what I was feeling. That is – it basically alleges that the producers who left D&D: A Documentary continued to use the “assets” of that project to kick start…yeah, I said it…the new project, The Great Kingdom.

Now, let us return to the reasons for the creative differences – a desire to tell a different story. From that legal document, here’s the original subject of D&D: A Documentary, as submitted to the United States Copyright Office for preregistration:
“An analytical look at Dungeons & Dragons, a role-playing game created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson (TSR), its history, effects and appeal. Subjects will include (but not limited to): - Early history of Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, et al - Creation of TSR - Legal battles between Gary and Dave - Legal battles between Gary and TSR - The influence of the role-playing and D&D on modern gaming and culture. - Interviews with celebrities, historians and cultural experts on their experience of D&D.”

That’s a really broad scope. It leaves a lot of room to turn and tack as information is gathered. Now at some point there was a desire to break out of this constraint to make a different movie. What kind? Well, here’s the United States Copyright Office preregistration for The Great Kingdom:
“The Great Kingdom is the story of families, blood and personal bond, affected by the success of the game, a game that brought joy to millions but heartbreak to its creators. In 1969, Gary Gygax, a family man and game designer with an entrepreneurial mind meets Dave Arneson, another brilliant game designer from Minneapolis/St. Paul. Their collaboration over the next few years would change the gaming world and themselves. This is the story of the people behind the creation of the epic role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. The history of how Dungeons & Dragons was created has been told in many forms. The Great Kingdom will look to explore the personalities behind the game and the families and gaming groups they engendered. From humble beginnings, in the heart of America, a brand new game was created. A game that would have far-reaching effects and would lay down the foundation for the for modern-day RPG video games. What happens to these individuals as they whether through the success, the betrayals, the excess, the downfalls and eventual redemptions all happens within The Great Kingdom."

Now, like I said in the first post and in my email to Andrew, I can see where something like this might happen. Start out making one film to tell story X and then, in compiling the research and doing the legwork, realize that you really want to tell story Y.

But here’s where things get dicey for me (look, more gaming puns!). There’s a way to do this. You finish the one you started…then you go and make your other movie. I mean, it seems different enough, right? You’re not going to lose anything by finishing the one you started, right? Unless…

What could you lose?

First and foremost in my mind is attention…that’s what you could lose; attention from the people you need to interview, attention from people who will want to see it, attention from people who you might need to help fund it with something like a Kickstarter project to, say, finish the film. How would you do that if there’s a slightly-different-but-not-different-enough film already out there – one in which you were a principle player?

So I think when this wasn’t going in the “new” direction the producers of The Great Game wanted (or didn’t focus creatively in the areas they desired), they knew they had to strike while they could. They had to in order to keep interest in all of those various camps alive and working for them - because a second film coming out at a later date without enough to distinguish it from the first film would be a death knell.

I have a terrible feeling that Andrew is not going to be as nice to me as he was the last time we ran into each other. I hope it does not prove true. It would be a shame. I don’t know him well enough to hold any animosity towards him, or James Sprattley for that matter. They’ve always seemed like nice enough folks when I’ve run into them in the past. I hope the fact that I don’t think they handled this very well doesn’t burn that bridge.

Besides, I'm still open to both sides of this little tempest in a teapot. I'd love to hear Mr. Savini's (of Westpaw films) perspective as well or some further details from The Great Game producers as to why this was really the right way to handle this situation...

Oh…and Rich….you want to get really meta? We need to create a game about the small independent film industry and how it leads to these kinds of implosions using these D&D films as a model. Then we need to have creative differences and publish similar-but-different rules sets…and then sue each other.


  1. Naw...Jim, I like you, man. I don't want to end up in court.

  2. Jim---

    A few other options stand out to me about the two documentaries that could have impacted their need to go separate ways:

    - without an infusion of funding to continue the first film, it's dead dead dead, so doing a second film would be required to raise new funds assuming that explaining why/how the first film ran out of money wouldn't go very far to most of its initial investors/supporters
    - either film may have been founded to sell a particular version of a story if one or more primary funders were from the Gygax, Arneson, Blume, Williams, etc. families, for example, and the original or the new direction of the recounting may not have agreed with the first film funders' original intent after more interviews/facts were gathered
    - the sources may not agree to the shift in focus between films---if they were interviewed on the basis of the first film's (c) statement's slant of the story, but their content is being used to tell the second film's (c) statement's slant of the story, they may not be happy participants....

    Anyway, my random speculations.

    Oh, and your game idea sounds like a good supplement for Hol 2: The RPG Industry in a Nutshell ;)