Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 12/09/2014

The curse of D&D


04_Right_Inline_Block_ImageFTApparently Dungeons & Dragons is cursed. No, I don’t mean the curse of the D&D business model, whereby the game is reinvented every few years in a new edition (complete with expensive new rulebooks), and players are then milked for a  series of supplemental book on top of that—most of which muddy up whatever elegance the latest game system had, until the process is repeated again. (Full disclosure: I currently have 49 volumes of D&D rules and supplements on my bookshelf stretching back to 1978, a mere fraction of the total I’ve owned at one time or another.)

No, I mean the curse whereby creators fall out with one another amid arguments and lawsuits. According to the New York Times:

For a certain sort of fan, the crowdfunding pitch was impossible to resist. Here was a chance, it announced, to support a documentary about the immortal saga of the legendary game that all but revolutionized modern life. No pressure.

Three filmmakers promised nothing less than the origin story of the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, “a cautionary tale of an empire built by friends and lost through betrayal, enmity, poor management, hubris and litigation,” they wrote on their Kickstarter pagein 2012. They planned to chronicle the bitter battle waged by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the game’s creators, over credit and royalties.

In other words, they wrote: “Imagine ‘The Social Network’  ” — the tortuous tale of Facebook’s founding — “but no one ends up rich.”

If the filmmakers saw a cautionary tale in the story of their shared passion, they failed to heed its lessons. More than $250,000 in Kickstarter pledges and two years later, there is no documentary, only broken friendships and a lawsuit.

The director of “Dungeons & Dragons: A Documentary” has sued his former partners for embarking on another documentary on the same subject. Gaming conventions like GenCon (“The Best Four Days in Gaming”) andGaryCon (“a living memorial to E. Gary Gygax”) are abuzz with rumors of backstabbing and creative theft. Gathering around their tabletop games and in online forums, Dungeons & Dragons fans are distraught.

“Every story has 20 sides,” reads the tagline for the upstart second documentary, a reference to the 20-sided dice Dungeons & Dragons players use to direct their tabletop fantasy narratives. So far, this one has two.

It began, of course, with a game of Dungeons & Dragons….

You’ll find the rest of the story here. And, in the meantime, if you really want to know how the world’s most influential roleplaying game got started, you could do no better than to read Jon Peterson’s excellent history, Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People, and Fantastic Adventures from Chess to Role Playing Game.

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