FELLOWSHIP OF THE DICE
Written by Tom Hietter
Tough Cookie Entertainment, Inc.
82-minute color DVD, $19.95

Okay, this is a new thing for me: my first movie review! But when Tom Hietter emailed me (and the other EN World staff reviewers) asking if any of us would be interested in reviewing his new movie, Fellowship of the Dice, I figured I'd give it a shot. After all, it's a free movie about gaming, and unlike the 160-page RPG books I usually review, it would definitely only take me an hour and a half to finish the source material! And no stat blocks to dissect!

The only downside about me reviewing this movie is that it's the first movie about gaming that I've seen, so I'm unable to compare it to similar recent movies like The Gamers or Gamers: The Movie. But, regardless, I can at least tell you what I thought of this one.

The short answer: I liked it. It was entertaining, with a group of interesting characters, some funny lines, and a bunch of interviews with actual gaming convention-goers sprinkled throughout.

I don't think I'll be ruining the plot if I mention that the main character, Elisabeth, starts the movie out having gotten into a fair bit of trouble - enough that she's under house arrest, with the full ankle bracelet and everything. She's supposed to only leave her home to go straight to work (a hotdog-on-a-stick place) and back again, but after bumping into a gamer named Sanford, he invites her over to join their weekly RPG campaign, "Wizards, Warriors, and Wyrms." (The funny thing about "Tres W" - as it's called - is that while the prop guys have crafted a couple game-specific items, like the Game Master's GM Screen, you can clearly see that their character sheets are the standard D&D sheet from the back of the Player's Handbook.) She takes him up on his offer, and the rest of the movie documents her first gaming experience. Interspersed throughout the movie are clips from interviews with gaming aficionados taken at various RPG conventions, discussing such topics as sexuality in RPGs, kicking "problem" players out of a game, and, of course, details about their current characters. Some of the funnier moments in the movie are from these real-life gamers, and you'll be able to spot a lot of gamer stereotypes among them as well. (The guy with the fangs just kept getting weirder and weirder throughout the movie, and I'd swear I've seen the thin guy with the goatee before in person - if not him, then surely his doppelganger!)

Here's a quick rundown of the gaming group in "Fellowship of the Dice," in no particular order:
  • Elisabeth (Aimee Graham): The "newbie," entering her first RPG game ever.
  • Sanford (Alastair Surprise): A former military guy, apparently kicked out of the service because of an unfortunate incident involving Tourette's Syndrome and the Dwarven language. He's painfully uncool when it comes to interacting with women. I'm sure Alastair had a lot of fun with the "dwarven digits" speech - and judging from the "outtakes" feature, so did the rest of the cast!
  • Jasper (Jeff Coatney): The Game Master, rather full of himself at times and yet completely unsure of himself at others. When he's not reveling in his power as the "in-game god," he's seeking "performance feedback" from Larry, the longest-standing member of the gaming group. There's also a great bit with him in the beginning as he talks about the novel he's currently writing, and his own comparisons with Stephen King.
  • Larry (Jon Collins): The would-be actor (I loved his commercial, which was added to the movie in a kind of sidebar), who naturally plays the "Tres W" equivalent of a bard, a "troubadour," and sings throughout the gaming session. (Interestingly, Jon is also the executive producer for the movie.)
  • Gwen (Lucia Diaz): The painfully-shy wife of the GM. Her first on-screen, "behind the scenes" interview was great!
  • Kevin (Jon Dabach): The whiney player who takes everything too seriously, and isn't particularly overburdened with an abundance of intelligence. (He spends about a minute explaining how dice work to Elisabeth, by rolling a d20 and calling out the numbers.) Definitely one of the funniest characters in the movie, and responsible for a lot of great lines.
There are also a few other former game members seen only in flashback, who add a few other stereotypes of gamer behavior: the guy involved in other activities when he's supposed to be playing (and I won't spoil it for you by mentioning what else he's doing, but it was pretty funny), and the "player given a shot behind the GM's screen for a session."

Fellowship of the Dice is a self-described "mockumentary," and gamers are definitely its target audience; I don't know that a non-gamer is likely to get as much out of it, since much of the humor comes from "inside" jokes. Many of the lines seem ad-libbed, so I'd wager that the actors are gamers themselves - if not, they've done a very fine job of convincing me otherwise.

As for the packaging, the little card on the inside front cover of the DVD box that breaks down the scenes has been done up as an excerpt from the Wizards, Warriors, and Wyrms Player's Tome, with little tidbits about the game. The extra features - outtakes, deleted scenes, official trailer, and gallery slideshow - are labeled as "Bonus XP." Even the opening credits involve character sheets and character sketches, which I thought was a cool touch.

That's really about all I want to say about the movie. I don't want to quote any specific lines and ruin them for you before you see the movie yourself, or mention any of the "Tres W" gaming terms that I found amusing (and will no doubt be similarly amusing to other gamers but leave non-gamers wondering what's so funny), because I don't want to ruin the experience for anybody. I'll just finish this review by mentioning that the humor is rather wry and tongue-in-cheek. In a way, it kind of reminds me a bit of Napoleon Dynamite, which didn't have a whole lot of bust-out-laughing-aloud moments but kept up with a constant smile-on-your-face pace; Fellowship of the Dice is rather like that, with a decidedly gamer focus.

I give Fellowship of the Dice 4 stars (Good).