20th Century Fox, 21st Century Dragon


Is there a "chain-mail" link between fantasy Role-Playing Games and fantasy films? I certainly think so - at least in one noteworthy case. And that link becomes obvious when you take a closer look at the 1980s, a decade of Reaganomics, Rubix Cubes, Role-Playing and Really good fantasy flicks...

I don't care who's not funding what efforts for whom - the entire Hasbro/WotC/TSR conglomerate has obviously got a heck of a lot riding on the upcoming release of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition. One might even suggest that the fate of paper-based Role-Playing Games hangs in the balance. But that goes without saying.

What everyone seems to forget is that on the other side of that set of dragon scales is the forgotten offspring of the fantasy Role-Playing Game - the fantasy film.

1978's Ralph Bakshi-animated Lord of the Rings marked a certain attitude shift towards a more widespread acceptance of fantasy films. Granted, nobody's going to tell you that 1978's LotR changed the world, least of all me. But that may be simply because it was just a shade too early to catch the wave of fantasy film popularity that saturated the 1980s like a poorly-oiled wineskin.

Starting in 1979, and running through 1989 before petering out miserably, the fantasy film genre produced more than twoscore cult classics that just about every FRPGer will remember fondly. Ask any gamer over the age of 20 to list his or her favorite films, and more than a few of them will feature swords, sorcerers, dragons or dungeons: Conan the Barbarian(1981), The Beastmaster(1982), Krull(1983), Legend(1985), Labyrinth(1986), The Princess Bride(1987), Willow(1988).

What many people don't realize, however, is that most of these films would probably never have seen the light of day if not for the help of a single game: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Released between 1978 (Player's Handbook) and 1979 (Dungeon Master's Guide), AD&D was the catalyst that sparked a Hollywood revolution. Perhaps not as big as George Lucas managed with Star Wars, but sizeable and memorable nevertheless.

Of course, the relationship between AD&D and fantasy films isn't totally clear until you look a bit more closely at the latter half of my range - 1989. Because the best 1989 could muster up was Erik the Viking, and after that it was all downhill.

And what else did 1989 bring us?

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition.

Personally, I find it more than a bit fascinating that so many of the most memorable fantasy films released in the past score years or so are sandwiched firmly between 1979 and 1989, the release dates of AD&D 1st Edition and AD&D 2nd Edition.

And now, almost exactly a decade after the genre fell into a magical slumber, we're going to get D&D 3rd Edition and two huge fantasy films (D&D and Lord of the Rings) all at the same time. It seems somehow appropriate that our story begins in 1978-79 with LotR and AD&D 1st Edition, and now finds us back on the same ground.

But is history truly repeating itself? Will the release of 3rd Edition breathe new fire into the lungs of the sleeping dragon? And if D&D: The Movie fails to take off, will the upcoming LotR film save the genre in its stead? Do we have a whole new decade of three-bladed swords, ferret companions, scantily-clad princesses and bad British accents to look forward to?

I don't know.

But I certainly hope so.

You know... thinking about my days as a yoot has got me all nostalgic for those movies. I'm thinking I may just spend a few days locked in the house with a stack of movies. How does "Aeon's Grande Revue of Movies Past" grab you? We can take a little retrospective jaunt through the past, spending a little time in each year between 1981 and 1989, looking at the good, the bad, and the ugly, and why we loved all of it. Should I start in 1981? It looks like a good year to me... Conan... Time Bandits... Excalibur... Let me know what you think.

Oh Lord, I just send this article off and I go turn the TV on and what's on but that awful BeastMaster TV series. As if we're not supposed to notice that they replaced a panther with a lion. Oi. This just cements my theory, imho. The TV-series fantasy stuff just doesn't cut it. Granted, Xena:Warrior Princess is amusing in a lesbian-undertone sort of way, but for the most part it all just leaves me wanting to run out and rent the originals. And the video store doesn't open for another two hours. Grrrr...

Heh, I love those movies.

From what bits and pieces I've scavenged off the web, 3d Ed. won't save much of anything, much less the fantasy movie industry. D&D, the movie will probably turn out to have spent it's $50 megabuck budget on pretty looking CGI effects, forgetting all about trivial stuff like "competent actors" and a "plot" in the process of negotiating with the five visual FX companies involved in it's making.

But ye RPG geeks may rest easily, if you're willing to tolerate commercial, not-too-inventive stuff like the Diablo RPG. Fantasy will never die. Not with the billions of WotC backing it. Until they decide to drop it in exchange for something more profitable.

Timebandits! Yes. Terry Gilliam is god. This was so much better than the Neverending Story and Princess Bride could ever be, even though they had similar themes. Plus it had Sean Connery in it. Woo!

Hmm. I strongly dought that the future of TT-RPGS hangs in the balance with D&D 3rd edition.

As for the film, well I have a healthy policy of wait and see for any spin off film (pleasently surprissed with the X-Men film, Wing Commander however... :( )

The RPG world has long gone beyond D&D, I'm sure White Wolf would have something to say about D&D being the lynchpin of the games world.

Also what about LA-RPG worlds, not all LARP-ers are or were TT-RPG'ers, although the crossover is pretty extensive.

Basically I find the suggestion that the TT-RPG world hangs in the balance with D&D3 quicky frankly, a joke.

Though your (Cyber's) discussion of the future of RPGs was not the core premise of my story, I have to disagree with your (his) disagreement all the same.

More and more money is being pumped into online games and CCGs, and less and less into paper-based games, partly because there's more of a market for online gaming. After all, if you can charge people $20 a month to play Everquest, who's going to want to charge people $20 once to buy a rulebook? There's more money, long-term, to do it electronically. The long-term viability of CCGs is another story that I won't get into.

This is part of the reason the publishing industry is a little concerned about e-publishing. Not only is it difficult enough to make money off of print ventures in an electronic age, but now even the things that used to rely on paper-based publishing are shifting gears to an electronic forum.

I won't belabor the point further - suffice to say that if Dungeons and Dragons, the king-daddy of all paper-based RPGs, cannot pull off at least a minor resurrection here, (especially considering the marketing might of Hasbro and WotC), then I don't know if anyone else will be able to. Not saying that the days of buying rulebooks and modules will burn out entirely. Merely that they will likely fade into the background a bit more.

Interesting that paper gaming's in the same rut comics are, and have been, for like six years now. I'm just finishing up Scott McCloud's Reinventing Comics, and he has some interesting ideas about comics moving online. I think, ultimately, paper RPGs will move the same way, even if they just use it as a means of cheap distribution. Look how aggressive WOTC's being online now! Time was TSR wouldn't go near the net with someone else's... you get the idea.

Not to take away from the tiny, dank comic/RPG shops here in Boston, but even their square footage has got to be too expensive to justify the sales they're not making. Maybe roleplaying guilds could charge a membership fee in return for a place to play...

ps thanks for the preview function, Morb. Rewrote this one three times.

You do have a point.

I sit pretty close to the whole damn thing, as a games programmer I see the industry from a close up perspective.

My point

No computer game has managed to be a RPG,

I played U.O. for over a year, and that only just mananged to have some RPG elements.

RPGs are a minority hobby, they still are, and probably always will be.

The number of RPG'ers is shrinking, thank Nintendo and Sony for that.

Forget online games and CCGs they are a minor drain on people who would RP. The real hobby killer will be the consoles.

Even then, I really do not see Roleplaying ever dieing out, its been around in one disguise or another for many many years.

What I say to everyone is this, keep playing and enjoying the games, don't worry about the hobby, if we keep playing and enjoying then the hobby will quite happly survive.

Funny, I was doing a search for Hawk The Slayer (1980) and this site was listed. I like it and the other movies as well. I will say I disagee with the analysis you provided. AD&D spurring the fantasy movie genre? Not as an influence to make them, but the games did provoke the players to see the movies. I believe that many of the movies became popular with the gamers after they came out on Video. Rental is a bit less expensive to risk a bad film than in the movies, even at the 80's prices.

Actually, I think that the reverse happened. Some of the movies may have sparked the imagination and interest of non-gamers to enter the hobby. With the coming of the 2nd Edition and the "NEW GAME" approach the marketing took, I think the number of players increased. I have been gaming in the D&D genre since 76. I saw more people playing in the late 80's than early 80'.

As far as Bakshi goes, his first fantasy film, "Wizards" got to me before LotR. At the time, I thought the movie was good, but now I see it for the half-assed job that it is..

I have an incredible desire to share a certain roleplaying incident that happened in a game I was in one time.

Me and my group where encamped, I had thrid watch and was asked to make a spot check, I succeeded and my char, a dwarfen fighter, saw a four foot eye staring at us through the forest. I started waking up my comrades one at a time, explaining the situation to them so they wouldn't panic. Then I got to a certain character named Ash played by my friend Bay. I tell him, he FREAKS, sreaming for us to run, which he begins to do. At this moment all of us began to tell our DM what we where doing and the table was kind of loud until we heard this statement. "I'm going to throw a stick at it!" yelled by Bay. He rolled a 20 and needless to say, the dragon the eye was attached to really didn't appreciate it.

Don't forget "Hawk The Slayer," whatever you do. That was one of the niftiest fantasy B-movies, IMHO. The presence of Jack Palance alone is worth the price of admission...

Aeon, I don't agree with your almost conspiracy theory linking of movies and TT-RPG's. I will agree that the 80's offered many a sacrificial lamb for our delight. I don't think you should limit yourself to the fantasy movies only though. By limiting your scope of reviews, you are leaving off such wonderful edeavors as Buckaroo Banzai. You mentioned asking someone over 20 to rattle off their favorite movies. I think you should make the age closer to over 25. My wife is 21 and you should hear the groans of pain everytime I suggest we watch Time Bandits or other fine films. I would love to read the reviews of almost forgotten films. I may even have to try and contribute as best as I can. Please, review Beastmaster so that the young ones (Not the Young Ones!) can be set straight. My aforementioned wife was surprised about my hatred for the TV show. She had never heard of the movie! I explained the original movie and Kotos and Potos to her and all I got was a blank stare. She just couldn't believe I was permitting such information to hang around in the back of my head.

I just wanted to make a brief answer to Cyber's post.

You have overlooked one type of game which in fact is a true RPG on the computer. I' talking about MUDs and their like. True that most muds are not very unlike Diablo except they are text based, but there are many where you also do RP. Also there is a branch in the mud family called MUSH which doesn't include any code for fighting or levelling which is only for RP.

Other than these I would say that you are right and there aren't any true RPGs for the comp...

You guys forgot the following excellent movies:

Lady Hawk (low magic),

Red Sonya,

Name of the Rose (no fantasy but inspiring),

Dogs of war (no magic but great characters, no?),

The Magic Sword ((early 70's)that one is baaad especially the guy with the fake french accent),

Monty Pithon: Quest for the Holy Grail (come on guys who hasn't fought the Knights of Nee or gotten in a castle via a wooden Badger or Bunny?),

Golden Child (boy what a waste of money),

Dark Crystal (that was good),

and of course "Les Visiteurs" another excellent French Movie like "Nikita" that the americans remade american style, completly fucked up and renamed it "Just Visiting".

I think we're stuck in a loop if we try to ask ourselves what made what more popular (movies or RPGs) kinda like the chicken and the egg connundrum.

I started playing D&D back in 1983 (I was 12), back then I had already read The Hobbit and LotR. I was a fantasy fan before becoming a gamer, but I must admit that playing RPG's was the only reason I tried some of these movies or some books.

Oh by the way, I'm sorry to point this out to you Aeon, but the 90's and early 2000's have brought out some excellent movies as well:

The BEST so far is of course (IMOHO): Crouching Tiger & Leaping Dragon

The 13th Warrior (from that book by Crichton)

Kevin Costner's Robin Hood (just kidding that sucked almost as much as First Knight and Knight's Tale)

The ever so funny Army of Darkness (early 90's with Bruce Campbell)

Let's not forget the excellent mangas: Record of the Lodoss Wars.

But then there was the D&D Movie, man I'm gonna be sick again if I think too much about it. What a waste of film, come on that Damodar guy, he was the vilain in Highlander...4? At least I rented that one and could press fast forward and stop.

If you check out foreign films you'll find some good ones too (if you can bear to learn a second language (yeah right) or read the subtitles which is what I do for oriental movies)

I haven't dared watch the Beast Master series yet, although it can't be that much worst than the movie... right?

Army of Darkness kicks ass. So do all the other Evil Dead films. I love 'em.

What about the superbly awesome Masters Of The Universe? Simply the best fantasy film of all time. Followed closely by Conan The Destroyer and Beastmaster 2: Through The Portal Of Time.

Master of the Universes?

Bwa ha ha ha ha ha hah ah aha ha!
Bwa hah aha ha ha aha ha ah aha hah!
Ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Ha ha haaaaa ha!

Oh you were serious?

Pffff bwa ha ha ha ahahaha ah aha ha!

Thanks eater you've made my day ; )

No prob, Sam. I do my best.

Hey! Wait a second! You were making fun of me.


Actually I just listed off the three worst fantasy films I could think of.

Some of my fovorite fantasy films, in all seriousness this time, would include the following: Conan The Barbarian, Beastmaster, Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings really go without saying, Dragonslayer, Labyrinth, Dark Crystal and Monty Python And The Holy Grail. I'm sure there are others but I can't think of them right now. I would include Final Fatasy: The Spirits Within but I think that falls more under the realm of sci-fi.

If you haven't checked it out....and I don't think anyone mentioned it...but there's Brotherhood of the Wolf.

A French taxidermist...his Native American buddy...a cute royal chick...a one-armed evil brother...a super-wolf...kung fu...an Italian assassin posing as a hooker...this is too good to pass up

I've heard from lots of folks that that movie is awesome.

One to avoid would be the Christopher Lambert version of Baeowolf. Sucked bad and had nothing to do with the poem.

Oh, two b-movie classics that should not be missed are Big Money Hustlas and Bikini Bandits Experience. Must sees, both of them.

How can you guys miss 'Big trouble in Little China' starring Kurt Russell. Its hilarious with lots of magic, kungfu, knives , guns, machine Guns, undead, magic potions and 2 girls with green eyes.

Seriously this is an excellent film.
My favourite quote from it is from the undead wizard who is trying to regain his life by sacrificing a girl with green eyes. He captures an anglo-american and a chinese-american girl, both with green eyes. He says:

'two girls with green eyes ? whatever can it mean ? he! he! he! he! he! he!'

I may, and have, get yelled at but, I have never seen Big Trouble In Little China. I have seen Showdown In Little Tokyo with Dolph Lundren and Brandon Lee. Now that movie sucked.

I liked Krull...

and The Dark Crystal...

(I'm just naming ones that have not been mentioned yet)


The Good Cap'n

:: looks up at article heading ::

Oh...well DUH to me! I see they have their OWN articles...so nevermind.

It's okay everyone, Ass is what we call 'special'.

Come on Ass the short bus is here to pick you up.

::escorts Ass away after adjusting the straps on his helmet::

ha yoo see muh baseball?!?

Big Trouble...

If we're not back by dawn...call the President.

We really shook the pillars of heaven...didn't we, Wayne?

David Lopan? DAVID...Lopan?

I dont know about u guys but i think the creaters of Xena warrior princess should make a new videogame for the x-box about xena. You should be able to be one of the heros (xena, Gabrielle, ect.) and fight the bad guys (callisto, alti,ect.) and be on a quest more of a story not just a fighting game... to be on an adventure.

hey thats a great idea. If anyone here can tell this to a videogame person... think of all the xena loverz.. its just perfect!!!

something that has bothered me for a while is that as a fantasy lover and as a film maker i havent been able to find any online fantasy fan film sites. there is a large fan film site for SW ( http://www.theforce.net/fanfilms/ ) which also hosts some non SW themed films, but no fantasy. if anyone here knows of any good sites for fan films please do let me know